Tag: Oxford

Swineherd of the brass pig

Friday, 8 April, 2016 0 Comments

etymology: A swineherd is a person who looks after pigs, but the more popular term today is “pig farmer”. The word “swineherd” is a compound of swine + herd and comes from the Late Old English swȳnhyrde, from Old English swȳn (‘swine, pig’) + Old English hierde (‘herd, herder’).

Swineherd is a poem by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, who was educated in Cork and Oxford and is now a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin. Along with Leland Bardwell and Pearse Hutchinson, she founded Cyphers, a fine literary magazine.

Swineherd

When all this is over, said the swineherd,
I mean to retire, where
Nobody will have heard about my special skills
And conversation is mainly about the weather.

I intend to learn how to make coffee, as least as well
As the Portuguese lay-sister in the kitchen
And polish the brass fenders every day.
I want to lie awake at night
Listening to cream crawling to the top of the jug
And the water lying soft in the cistern.

I want to see an orchard where the trees grow in straight lines
And the yellow fox finds shelter between the navy-blue trunks,
Where it gets dark early in summer
And the apple-blossom is allowed to wither on the bough.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

The brass pig


The Triumph of Isis

Sunday, 13 December, 2015 0 Comments

No, this is not a post about the victory (God forbid!) of the evil scourge that rules parts of Iraq and Syria and incites its hate-filled followers to slaughter concert-goers in Paris and workers in San Bernardino. Actually, The Triumph of Isis is a poem in praise of the University of Oxford and its students composed in 1749 by Thomas Warton, who was the Poet Laureate of England from 1785 to 1790. The Triumph of Isis rebutted William Mason’s Isis, an Elegy published the previous year, which was rather unflattering to Oxford. Warton’s language appears orotund and arcane to our eyes and ears today:

In vain the thunder’s martial rage she stood,
With each fierce conflict of the stormy flood;
More sure the reptile’s little arts devour,
Than waves, or wars, or Eurus’ wintry pow’r.

Anyway, it so happens that today, 13 December, marks the 231st anniversary of the death of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great English writer, biographer and lexicographer. Johnson was very witty, had a wicked sense of humour and could dispatch challengers and pretenders in style. He found Warton’s verses unbearably turgid and he disposed of the writer memorably in a mere eight lines Written in Ridicule of Certain Poems {of Thomas Warton} published in 1777:

Wheresoe’er I turn my view,
All is strange, yet nothing new;
Endless labour all along,
Endless labour to be wrong;
Phrase that time has flung away,
Uncouth words in disarray,
Trick’d in antique ruff and bonnet,
Ode, and elegy, and sonnet.

When it comes to ridicule, it’s hard to better “Endless labour all along, Endless labour to be wrong,” while “Phrase that time has flung away” is a perfect definition of cliché.


Words: selfie and dronie

Wednesday, 4 November, 2015 0 Comments

The word “selfie” was first used in September 2002, in a forum posting on the website of the Australian public broadcaster ABC:

“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps,” said the poster, student who called himself Hopey. “I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

No surprise, of course, when one considers other Australian diminutives: “barbie” for barbecue and “firie” for firefighter. It was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013. Definition: “informal noun (plural: selfies), a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Speaking of selfies and their place of etymological origin, here’s a cautionary tale: a woman who posted one with the barcode on her Melbourne Cup ticket had her $825 winnings stolen. In happier news from the neighbourhood, All Black rugby star Sonny Bill Williams took an Oscar-inspired selfie. BTW, if you need some selfie esteem, Andrej Karpathy has written an algorithm to rate the results.

Last year, the noun “dronie” entered the vernacular. It’s “a video self-portrait taken by a self-controlled drone” and Vimeo employee Alex Dao is credited with coining the word in response to this excellent video posted by Amit Gupta.

Meanwhile, Alex Chacon, the creator of the around-the-world epic selfie video has made an epic “dronie” of his latest adventure in Mexico.

Finally, “Dronestaventure” was made by Michael Lopp using a DJI Phantom 3 Standard. The music is Buzzin’ by the Canadian DJ, producer and graphic designer Edmond Huszar, better known by his stage name OVERWERK.

This year’s Word of the Year? In our age of emoji, either # or ♥.


Armitage, the Aga and slices of lemon drizzle cake

Sunday, 21 June, 2015 0 Comments

The first ever Professor of Poetry at Oxford University was Joseph Trapp, in 1708. Among his literary works was The Church of England defended against the Church of Rome, in Answer to a late Sophistical and Insolent Popish Book. Trapp was followed down the centuries by names including Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, John Wain, Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon. The incumbent is Sir Geoffrey Hill and he will retire at the end of this academic term. On Friday, it was announced that Simon Armitage is to be his successor. Charlotte Runcie was lukewarm in her reaction: “Certainly his lectures will be warm, contemporary and thoughtful. But his genial, slightly scruffy demeanour on endless arts documentaries has lent him the reputation of a poet to read while taking a second helping of lemon drizzle cake with your feet up by the Aga. This is not a good thing,” she wrote in The Telegraph.

On the other hand, Britain’s Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, welcomed the decision, calling Armitage “a fine, vocational poet and a brilliant communicator for the modern age who never forgets the roots and ancestry of poetry.” Anyone who can divide the house of poetry must be worth reading.

I Say I Say I Say

Autoplay next video
Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let’s show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let’s tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line ‘Just like blood’
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.

Simon Armitage


The New German Question does not have an Answer

Friday, 2 August, 2013 0 Comments

“The trouble with the German prescription for the eurozone is that it is — according to taste — either just not working or not working fast enough. One simple, theoretical point seems to me worth stressing. Germany, the export champion, has been described as Europe’s China. Just as not everyone in the world can be China, and if everyone were like China, China could not be China — for who would then buy its exports? — so not everyone in the eurozone can be Germany, and in the unlikely event that they did become like Germany, Germany could no longer be Germany. Unless, that is, you assume that the rest of the world would cheerfully expand its domestic demand to buy an all-German eurozone’s increased supply of exports.”

A witty, insightful snippet there from “The New German Question” by Timothy Garton Ash in the 15 August issue of the New York Review of Books. As Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Timothy Garton Ash is well qualified to discuss German questions, old and new. The fact that he is one of the few English historians who speak German fluently and has spent years living in the country copper-fastens his authority on the issues. Unlike some of his English historian colleagues, however, Garton Ash is sympathetic towards and supportive of the German position in most matters, European and global. Not everyone in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Ireland would agree with his conclusion: “Germany therefore needs all the help it can get from its European friends and partners. Only together can we generate the policies and institutions, but also that fresh breeze of poetry, to get the European ship sailing again. The answers to this new German question will not be found by Germans alone.”

This is a bit rich as Germany’s “European friends and partners” will have no say in the Bundestag elections on 22 September. Because they won’t be asked The New German Question, they cannot answer; they can only guess. And that’s Europe’s dilemma.

Germany