1. Is John Rentoul an unmissable columnist, an essential read?
2. Does John Rentoul’s unreconstructed, irredeemable Blairism grate and irritate?
3. Should we agree with his sane, sensible and shrewd analysis of all that is wrong with this benighted (and, increasingly, becalmed, not to say — marooned) ConDem coalition?
4. Are his blogs, tweets and Facebook updates essential daily reading?
5. Is his frisking around in linguistics and semiology unfailingly both fun and illuminating?
6. Should we not celebrate his war on clichés, which spawned the Banned List? —
It was “any time soon” that pushed me over the edge. No. No time soon. Or ever. Just get rid of it. It is not a different way of saying “soon”, just a longer one. That was when I posted on The Independent’s blog, saying that the phrase “has been added to the list of Prohibited Clichés. By order”. It was a passing remark, about a BBC television report about when British troops might return from Afghanistan, but it prompted enough comments for me to return to the subject and outlaw other verbiage. There was no list of Prohibited Clichés when I started, but within days the Banned List had become an established theme on the blog. Each time I returned to it, readers added their own suggestions of jargon, vogue words and over-used phrases that annoyed them. It turns out that pedantry is popular.
Three years later, there is a list of the top 100 banned words and phrases on The Independent’s website, atindependent.co.uk/bannedlist, and the feature is popular on Twitter. The hashtag is #bannedlist, although “hashtag” itself is in danger of being put on the list, because it is a horrible new construction used only by insiders.
Since too much similar verboten verbiage is preserved for posterity in the annals of Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service, we will pass swiftly on. And there are just two of them exemplified.
7. Did Rentoul seem to have reached a creative peak with his QTWTAINs, which derived from those insistently mock-querulous Daily Mail headlines?
8: Had the Master anything left to offer?
[Memo to self: only 992 to go.]
Answer to 8: well, of course.
Today’s squib: The top ten: Unexpected etymologies
Well, actually, Mr Rentoul, we were aware of Gerrymander:
A new voting district in Massachusetts in the shape of a salamander favoured Governor Elbridge Gerry’s party.
What goes unremarked is he had (hard)-G Gerry as in “grab” or get”, not “Jerry”. He was also a Vice-President to James Madison, before he died in office in 1814. He had been a Governor of Massachusetts for just a couple of years previous to that; and served in the House of Representatives in the Second Congress, which produces another small wrinkle — his successor in the Massachusetts’s 3rd district was one Shearjashub Bourne, one of those Biblical names which must appeal to Rentoul, himself the son of the South Indian manse. So Shearjashub — who he? Well, it’s Isaiah 7:3:
Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field;
And say unto him, Take heed , and be quiet ; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.
Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying,
Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal.
As for the meaning of Shearjashub, it comes down to “The remnant may remain”, which seems somehow appropriate when apportioning electoral districts.
There may be a bit of irony in Governor Gerry, who was no aficionado of definitive political parties, having his name forever linked to demographical skulduggery. The term makes even more sense when it is displayed graphically:
Tawdry: Early 17th century: short for tawdry lace, contraction of St Audrey’s lace, after patron saint of Ely, where cheap finery was sold at a fair.
That, too, is worth a further scroot (contraction of “scrutiny”).
You will find “tawdry lace” in Shakespeare. Reach for C.T.Onions: