Friday, 4 July 2008

Your questions heard

As a small boy I was sent to an English boarding school (not my idea). For calibration, take Dotheboys Hall, subtract the physical cruelty and divide by three. That is, nobody there cared a damn about you, and you couldn't get away. I enjoyed the lessons, though, including Latin and Greek. Here the model verbs were the usual ones: amo, I love, in Latin and luo, I set free, in Greek. (Sorry, we haven't yet figured out the typesetting of Greek here at Precision Handling.) An ordinary illustration of irony, one might say.

Irony, however, is a complicated concept, as its Wikipedia page indicates, partly because over the centuries people have attached divergent meanings to the word. This is situational irony, not dramatic, but is it intended or unintended? Well, it depends on your point of view. For the teachers, I'm sure it was unintended; they simply used the standard books (Kennedy, and Abbot and Mansfield) and got on with the job. But what about the authors? Is it plausible that from the thousands of verbs available in each of these languages they chose these particular examples at random? Occam's Razor tells you that this was deliberate and that what we have is a fine example of situational irony that is both intended and unintended.

Or just a joke. After all these years I still can't tell.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Help wanted

Baudelaire often describes girls as having deep-dug eyes ("yeux creux"). Is this an accurate description of young women in 19th century France, or was he just desperate for a rhyme? Beyond deux, obviously. I mean, duh-huh.

Scholars of French literature and physiognomy, please advise.