Josna Rege

Posts Tagged ‘Ronald Searle’

397. Why Should Not Old Women Be Mad?

In Education, Stories, Teaching, Words & phrases, Work on April 28, 2017 at 10:21 pm

St. Trinians girls (Ronald Searle)

I’m so old that when I was in secondary school in England, the teachers still addressed the boys by their last names, as if, anachronistically, we were in some sort of Monty Python sketch. (I’m so old that I was in secondary school before the advent of Monty Python.)

I’m so old that I become enraged by fundraising emails that address me by my first name.

I’m so old that students sending me their late essays via cell phone infuriate me, not by their lateness, or by the fact that I am forced to print them out, but by their failure to include a cover note.

I’m so old that when a student sends me an email message without a cover note, I reply with a cold (and to them, bewildering), “Were you addressing me?” or “Excuse me, but did you intend to send that message to me?”

I am so impossibly old that when, in their essays, students call eminent scholars like Edward Said “Edward,” or Martin Luther King, Jr. “Martin,” I say, with withering sarcasm, “Oh, I didn’t know you were on a first-name basis with him.” (It goes right over their heads.)

It’s contradictory, I know, that in email messages to my students I sign off with my first name, but have the urge to (cyber)slap them if they dare to address me as such. Although to tell you the truth, I am grateful when they address me at all. Nowadays one is lucky if a message from a student starts with a “Hey!”

By the way, while I’m giving vent to righteous indignation, Woe Betide any student who makes any of the following cardinal slip-ups, whether orally or in writing:

Pakistan is in the Middle East;
India is in Southeast Asia; or
the Mahatma’s name is spelled G-h-a-n-d-i.

I’m not done yet: on the subject of names, if you are giving an oral presentation on an eminent writer or scholar from Elsewhere, you are responsible for finding out how to pronounce his or her name beforehand. S-a-i-d is pronounced with two syllables; it emphatically does not rhyme with ‘head’. Why is it that you can do Dostoevsky without hesitation, but—like the British—balk at Bandopadhyay? Stay after class and repeat “Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak” as many times as it takes to get it right.

By the way, I’m so old that in my day they still sent the boys to the Headmaster to be caned. Just sayin’.

Mr. Quelch and Billy Bunter

All right; I’m done now.

With apologies to William Butler Yeats: Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

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197. O, Oh, and the Wonderful O

In 1960s, 1980s, Books, Childhood, Education, Inter/Transnational, reading, Stories, Words & phrases on April 17, 2013 at 11:57 pm
Illustration by Ronald Searle (1962 Puffin Books edition)

Illustration by Ronald Searle (1962 Puffin Books edition)

Years ago, while I was just starting my graduate studies, I attended a talk by the eminent scholar Christopher Ricks. I freely confess that I was able to take away very little from the lecture, but for one thing: the difference between O and Oh. He illustrated this difference with instances of each of their use in Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra.

According to the Grammarist, O is used as a poetic form of address (poetic apostrophe) and always precedes the name of the person being invoked (or the pronoun referring to that person). “O Beloved Guru,” one’s ideal student might say, “O Wise and Wonderful One, vouchsafe to us thy blessing as we go forth into the wide world.”

“Oh” is used much more commonly today. It is an “interjection used to express a range of emotions, including pain, sorrow, hesitation, and recognition. . .usually set off from its surrounding sentence by commas.” Take, for example, the opening lines from Browning’s Home Thoughts from Abroad:

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there. . .

Or—to descend from the sublime to the ridiculous—Sybil’s “Oh, I know” in Fawlty Towers.

But what O and Oh have in common is O itself, without which neither of them could even be uttered. James Thurber’s 1958 story, The Wonderful O, imagines, brilliantly, what it would be like to have to live without that most fulsome of vowels. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t yet come across this little gem, but suffice it to say that the benighted Island of Ooroo was reduced to a shadow of its former self, lovers could no longer spoon under the moon, and the unfortunate Otto Ott was reduced to a stutter. O was worth fighting for, and when it was recovered, the islanders learned to value their most precious treasure, previously taken for granted.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents


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