Cf. supra? Wevs, bro.

This is a rant, and it’s a rant about language. I have been having an intermittent altercation with a friend on Facebook—

a reader [who we could just as well call the plain people of ireland, so nakedly is this device stolen from Myles na gCopaleen]: Facebook? Again? Are you ever off that dratted site?

me: Look, buster, it’s my only contact with the world at the moment. I just moved to a new city where I have no social circle and have had no time to form one, what with the hours spent producing beautiful Arabic/English books, writing witty invective such as this and, um, faffing around on Facebook.

—concerning certain items in use in certain registers of English, and the time has come for me to set out my views clearly for the world to hear. Tremble, you pillars of academe, for it is at you that my guns are turned. My thesis is simple, and it is the following:

Enough! Enough with your cfs and your vide supras. Enough with your flourits and enough with your ibids. Your passims are passé. I am counter-contra, I oppose your opus, I vilify your videlicet. And the loc where you may cit your anno domini, well, in ano est.

These and similar abbreviated Latinities are, in my possibly not-so-humble opinion, stuffy and antiquated relics that serve no purpose other than to obfuscate and obscure, and should be done away with, with immediate effect. There is not a single one of them for which a simple English-language formulation will not perform an exactly synonymous function, with the added benefit of not sending newcomers hunting through abbreviation lists or glossaries.

I am not opposed to jargon. In fact, as a sociolinguist and lover of all things meta, I would have to point out that “jargon” can itself be jargon. Every specialist domain needs words for things not in general use (such as “quark” or “alveolar flap”), or more constrained meanings to words in common use (such as the physicist’s understanding of “energy” or the linguist’s understanding of “jargon”). But these, the objects of my ire, are not specialist terms, they do not have specific meanings that require a special word. They have simple and exactly synonymous English cognates.

Here’s a piece of jargon for you, in fact. Barrier to entry. This term, from economics, applies in its narrow meaning to costs that have to be incurred by newcomers to a market, that are not borne by existing participants in that market. But in its wider sense, it can be seen as “anything that prevents entry when entry is socially beneficial” (Franklin M. Fisher). Free market comparisons? Do they really stand? I suppose it’s whether you think academe should be a self-selecting elect guarded by portals such as grammar schools, the Oxford entrance exam, and the ability to conjugate the verb “to go” in a language not productively used since the nineteenth century, and vernacularly not since long before that. But I take a different view. Karl Popper, in The Poverty of Historicism observed that “Science, and more especially scientific progress, are the results not of isolated efforts, but of the free competition of thought.” Amen to that. And these Latinities are nothing more than barriers to entry, unnecessary hurdles placed to socially restrict access to certain types of text by making them abstruse and difficult to the uninitiate — regardless of whether that individual would actually have the ability to understand the content itself.

I’m a publisher, and I have spent the majority of my career working in the academic sector on supposedly audience-broadening texts, and it boils my blood that many of these books, which are purportedly intended to draw in new readers to the wonders of non-western literatures, speckle themselves with these alienating italicised lexical affronts. In fact, one of my authors — an Emeritus at Oxford, no less — routinely confused q.v. and s.v. Presumably, in fifty years of publishing, he has had editors fix them for him. If you really must know, q.v. is quod vide (“which see”) and comes after a mention of a topic or word indicating it is discussed in depth elsewhere, whereas s.v. is sub verbo (“under the word”), comes before said word, and is specifically and only used to give the headword in a glossary or dictionary under which to look. If he’d have been able to bring himself to simply write “see elsewhere” and “see under” then he wouldn’t have made these errors. And if an Oxford don can’t actually correctly handle this vocabulary, what chance for the rest of us?

Here is my golden rule: if the expansion of a term in your abbreviations list itself requires a gloss then there is something very wrong with your idea of clarity.

Enough! I have more on this topic: so far I have only covered the first part of the title. Wevs, bro is to come, and will clearly and simply, with no obscure Latinities and no italicised alienation, explain why initialised and contracted slang terms are a whole different issue: they are to be celebrated and savoured as part of the joyous innovation that keeps language alive and exciting, not fossilised, elitist, and occult. But no tl;dr posts from me, so I shall save that for later. Vide infra, when it comes. Bah!

On pantries

The other day I was staying at the flat of a friend and, as he handed over the keys, he apologised for the apparent mess. The general needlessness of this apology to me of all people (see above, floordrobes) does not require mention; and his mess in particular was wholly forgivable, as he was in the process of building a pantry.

Pantries, even those partially-constructed, are never to be apologised for. Pantries are awesome, and I encourage you to relish them, not to mention to put your relish in them. Pantries, properly used, not only keep your butter at a usable temperature and allow your veg to gently ripen, but they spontaneously generate all manner of bizarre and exciting foodstuffs for you to gaze upon, occasionally sniff, and — if you are very brave — to sample.

When I was a lad my grandparents’ house, I recall, had a pantry, and any childhood excuse to nose in there was seized with ardour. The very front of it may have been in regular use but then, beyond a certain point marked by Spam tins, one entered a veritable Narnia of antique and glorious items. Sardine cans with keys that seemed solely designed to rip the thumb off their wielder whilst leaving the lid unscatched nestled against tins with labels like Mrs Sprogget’s Easy-Cook Tripe, Hackney Jack’s Jellied Eels, Fetid Onion Relish, and Thrupenny Meat Essence. Half-used packets of powdered custard glowered menacingly from a musty corner, and strange organic smells layered themselves through the air. Tubers of differing types that had fallen to the floor had, abandoned, performed strange and unholy acts of cross-fertilization, with the resultant species slowly evolving into gnarled, facelike roots that were clearly forming their own restless protoconsciousnesses. It was mysterious, arcane, and thrilling.

In fact, when I was very young, we had a pantry of our own in my house, which my parents had demolished for the unforgivably trite reason of moving the back door. “Oh! You scoundrels!” my youthful brain yelled furiously at my parents: “How, how can you do this to me? Do you not know how brittle the fingernails with which one clings onto the ledge of middle-class respectability? How easily they may break, and leave us falling into the chasm of pantryless oikdom, where butter is served hard from the fridge and tubers grow bored and lethargic in darkened cupboards? And you have willingly — willingly, I say! — destroyed this treasury for what? To move a fucking hole from one bit of a wall to another!” We all must learn, one day, that our parents are not infallible superbeings, but are flawed humans like the rest of us: and oh, how bitter that discovery when it came via the wanton destruction of a faultless larder.

After my stay in the home with the laudable, newly-constructed pantry that, in years to come, will be spawning its own occult foodery, I had a brief trip to pantry heaven, in the listed, thatched farmhouse of a different friend, whose pantry rises to levels of magnificence that leave me lost for words. Formed by walls so thick that it can back onto a fully-blasting oil-guzzling Aga, yet remain cool and still inside, accessed by an oak door with an old-fashioned latch, and made up of two separate rooms, one of which boasts a dusty and impressively full ceiling-to-floor wine rack, the pantry in Lavelle Lodge is a true work of art, and I could have stayed in there for many an hour, were it not for a more pressing need to drink gin and run over innocent pedestrians in morally suspect games on the XBox.

Pantries are what distinguishes us from beasts. The lion stores not his kill in a cool, dry place, but leaves it for the jackals and vultures. The jaguar, it is true, is onto the right idea; but until such a time as they construct a true pantry, I shall grant them no self-awareness or spirit. The Soul of Man was forged in his pantries.

There's wine racks, and there's pantries, and then there's wine racks IN pantries.

There’s wine racks, and there’s pantries, and then there’s wine racks IN pantries.