Monthly Archives: December 2009

Quoting Shakespeare

Most journalists presumably harbour (sorry, ‘harbor’ for those of you over the pond) a secret desire to be hailed as much as Bernard Levin. He was quite brilliant.

And today a pal of Ety’s was moaning about Shakespeare (he’s a scientist). So Ety feels the need to bring up once again Bernard Levin’s very famous lines On Quoting Shakespeare:

“If you cannot understand my argument, and declare “It’s Greek to me”, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger; if your wish is farther to the thought; if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise -why, be that as it may, the more fool you , for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then – to give the devil his due – if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness’ sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! – it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.”


If you happen to be an English teacher and would like this on your classroom wall, you can do so and help the fantastic Shakespeare’s Globe theatre at the same time by buying it here.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Monkey Talk

If this isn’t etymological, Ety doesn’t know what is. Fascinating stuff.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Languages in the Lords

Ety wouldn’t normally link to a debate in the British House of Lords. You might not know this, but Britain still has an unelected upper house in its legislature. Most of them are appointed by the Government and opposition political parties, some are Bishops of the Church of England and others are – astonishingly – hereditary. Yes, you can still inherit a position in the legislature of Great Britain.

Whilst the system is wildly undemoncratic and archaic, it does have its uses. Namely, you end up with a bunch of people who care passionately about a huge range of subjects and are more interested and expert in those subjects than in scoring partisan points.

So, Ety would like to direct you to a part of a Lords debate on modern languages teaching which features a certain Lord Selsdon. Lord Selsdon makes a fascinating speech about the churn and interplay involved in languages. Thought you’d enjoy it.

Hat tip: Prof. Mary Beard

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Come Visit the Great Land of the Tatooed!

Ety lives in the Shire of Stagford, which is just north of the Unfordable River Town, which of course sits on the banks of Darkwater.

To the East lies East Stone Sword. To the West, the Shire of Oxen Ford.

Darkwater flows through Oxen Ford, through the Unfordable River Town and its river mouth flows out next to Edge.

Far to the North, beyond the border, lies the Land of Darkness. To the West, the Land of Stangers. Over the Westland Sea are the lands of Westland and Northern Westland. Together, they form the Great Land of the Tatooed.

Ety isn’t typing this out dressed in a tunic and a fake beard. Ety’s not writing an amateur sequel to The Lord of the Rings. Ety has, however, discovered a really brilliant thing called the Atlas of True Names. The premise is that some wonderful people have applied their etymological skills to the world atlas with some brilliant results.

Ety was actually describing Hertfordshire, which is a county just north of London, which is on the bank of the River Thames. Edge is really Kent, the Land of Darkness is Scotland (that made Ety laugh), Westland is Ireland and it all comes together to make Great Britain. We love our tatoos, we do.

If you’re reading this from over the pond then some fun names from the ‘United States of the Home Ruler’ are:

 – New York or the New Yew-Tree Village
 – LA, or The Messangers
 – Las Vegas or The Floodplain
 – California, aka Land of the Successor
 – Washington DC, aka Marsh Farm
 – Miami, People of the Peninsula

Obviously that’s just a few. Check it out at

Definitely one going on Ety’s Christmas wishlist. Isn’t it brilliant?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Cannibals of the Caribbean

Carib family

Have you ever forgotten whether there are two Rs or two Bs in Caribbean?

Well it’s about to get harder. You see, Caribbean (which has two Bs) comes from exactly the same root as cannibal (which has one).

Carib was the 16th century word used to describe an indigenous tribe of the West Indies with whom Christopher Colombus came into contact. Carib actually comes from the Carib word karibna, which means people.

It conjures up rather a nice image of conquistadors arriving on the sands and asking “Who are you?” only to be told “We’re people [karibna].”

The Caribs apparently had a habit of eating parts of their opponents’ bodies after battle. Ostensibly, that was to consume the warrior virtues of the defeated (although that seems rather illogical to Ety, if you’re used to the idea of survival of the fittest).

So Europeans got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the Caribs’ preferred meal was human flesh.

So the Caribs came to give their name not only to the azzure waters around their islands but also to the practice of people eating people.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering why Ety is thinking about cannibalism, it’s because of news that a study into a large burial site in Germany shows signs of possibly mass cannibalism.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ety’s Friends Get Involved

Ety’s pal – who to be fair isn’t usually all that interested in etymology and so this is a bit of a shock – over the weekend offered an interesting piece of etymological knowledge:

Diatribe means a ‘wearing down’. It actually started out life as a rather positive thing, meaning a lengthy, learnéd discussion. That was back when it was the Greek diatribe, which came to us via 16th century Latin as diatriba. It only gained a negative connotation in early 19th century French.

As the roots are in the Greek though, you can see that dia- is a prefix meaning ‘away’ and -tribein means ‘to wear’ or ‘rub’. So diatribe was originally intended to mean ‘to wear away’ time (in lengthy, learnéd discussions like on this blog).

But you have to admit there’s a certain sense of homecoming when a word which started off meaning ‘to wear down’, was used in a positive sense, then turned into a negative word which had the effect of wearing people down. Brilliant.

Well done Jade for knowing all that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized