Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A wee bit of humour

His majesty’s urinator, Mr Curtis, published in the Gazette, how he had practised.
That wasn’t just any old his majesty, that was Charles II. The sentence is from a letter by Robert Boyle, quoted in Samuel Johnson’s great Dictionary of 1755. The word meant then “a diver; one who searches under water”.

Which just goes to show how language changes and why we shouldn’t always fight it. Writing about Johnson to mark his birthday last week, Dot Wordsworth (yes, it’s a pseudonym for a chap but I can’t remember who) quotes from his preface to the dictionary:
words are hourly shifting in their relations, and can no more be ascertained in a dictionary than a grove, in the agitation of a storm, can be accurately delineated from its picture in the water
I wouldn’t recommend his novel Rasselas to anyone, but as that brief passage shows, Samuel Johnson was a great writer.

This reminds me of the joke in Chapter 1 of Ulysses about old mother Grogan who says, “When I makes tea, I makes tea. And when I makes water, I makes water. ” To which Mrs Cahill replies, “God send you don’t make them in the same pot.”

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