Monday, 26 April 2021


I was listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 the other morning when - shock, horror! - the presenter used a word incorrectly. I know, incredible, isn't it?

It was Justin Webb, I think, and he was interviewing someone about how long we would need to go on wearing masks and using other safety measures against COVID -19. Twice he said something along the lines of "but isn't all becoming a bit performative?" Husband and I both said, "he doesn't know what "performative" means - it means the opposite of what he thinks it does."

It took me right back to my Linguistics years at University College, London where Professor Michael Halliday taught us what a performative verb was. Basically, it does what it says on the tin. If someone says "I promise to marry you," or "I promise you a biscuit if you eat all your dinner," the very act of saying "I promise" means that you have made that promise. (Hence breach of promise lawsuits).

Here are some other examples:

I apologise for upsetting you (= I'm saying sorry now for upsetting you)

Smoking on the plane is forbidden (= this notice forbids you to smoke)

I swear to tell, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (= I am in the very act of promising to be truthful in my answers)

She named the ship Dreadnought (=  she gave the ship that name)

I accept your invitation (= I'm coming)

I advise you not to use that word in my presence (= I'm giving you my opinion of your choice of words)

There are some other verbs, like "confess," "like," "prefer," "declare," etc. which could be considered performative. Justin Webb clearly thinks it means "putting on a performance," or "following an empty  ritual." Shame on him.

Word of the week: Woman of Colour

My husband wants it to be "micro-aggression;" maybe next week. 

But I'm going with "woman of colour" because I keep hearing it today in relation to the winner of the Best Director Oscar yesterday, Chloé Zhao. Now, Ms Zhao is Chinese by parentage and by place of birth. Unless she has specifically asked to be referred to in this way I think it's a very peculiar choice. It makes it clear that what is meant is "non-white," which somehow makes it more racist, not less so.

Here  is my headline: Chlo√© Zhao wins best Director Oscar for Nomadland.

Tells you everything you need to know, doesn't it?

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Who needs Latin?

Last Monday I spent the whole day writing an assignment for my online course on cathedral architecture, about 14th century Lady chapels. It was one way to spend a Bank Holiday, I suppose, but that was why I didn't give you a Grammar Grandma post. I have spent most of today dealing with admin attendant on our house move, four months after it happened. One of the many reasons we intend never to move again.

I'm starting another online course, on the Wars of the Roses on 26th so there might be further hiatuses  but I am much more comfortable with that material, Plantagenets being like mother's milk to me, so I hope not to be so distracted.

And so to today's question, "who needs Latin?" Educational policy-makers decided decades ago that most of us didn't and dropped it from the curriculum of State schools long before their was a National one. If you went to an independent school, as I did (on a scholarship), the opposite decision was made. The two forms both started with French for a year and then the A stream added Latin and the less clever form were taught German. Isn't that disgraceful?

It took a while for me to fall in love with Latin but I chose to do it at A level and added Classical Greek a year later. I can honestly say I use them every day. But Latin is now seen as a great divider. Only horrible, snobbish, privately-educated people like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson use Latin tags and they do it to show off and make other people feel inferior.

You might well feel you know no Latin and never use it but if you've ever said or written "et cetera" or used "e.g". to mean "for example," had a "bonus"at work in addition to what you were paid "per annum," or even said a sporting event was one team or person "versus" another, you are using Latin.

You might talk about being "pro-" one political party and "anti-" another. You might take it for granted in reading or watching a crime story that suspects will have an "alibi." The victim of a murder will be subject to a "post mortem." A criminal might use an "alias."

And if you're a fan of the film Dead Poets Society, you will surely know "Carpe diem," usually translated as "seize the day," though the verb is more like "pluck" as you would do a flower. Your meetings at work will certainly have an "agenda" and you might need to analyse "data."

This "dead" language certainly gets about.

Word of the Week: Consort

A "consort" is the spouse of a reigning monarch, at least in the UK. Only Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, has been officially styled as "Prince Consort;" the recently deceased Prince Philip was never given that honour. Indeed for ten years he wasn't a prince; although born one, he renounced all titles along with his Greek citizenship before marrying Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and was styled HRH the Duke of Edinburgh until 1957 when he was again given the title of "Prince."

Of course "consort" can also be a verb, usually with a rather negative association, as Oxford defines it: "habitually associate with (someone), typically with the disapproval of others."

Monday, 5 April 2021

No post today

Grandma is not just recovering from a surfeit of chocolate but has had to write a university assignment for submission tomorrow. Back next week.