Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dear John, wright and wrong, the aggression of "about"

1. C.K. Stead, in an interesting LRB article [gated] about T.S. Eliot and Katherine Mansfield, quotes this letter from TSE to Mansfield's then-widower John Middleton Murry:
My dear John,
You know it is impossible for me to come to your wedding, as I am in a bank and cannot get away at such an hour. I am sure that you have done the best thing for yourself in marrying again, but you know that it has always been impossible for me to understand any of your actions.
Ever yours
T.S.E.
2. A series of puns on W/right in a Google reader thread led me to look up the etymologies of right and wrong to find out why there's a w in wrong. The "original" meanings were straight/crooked; "right" is from the rect- root and "wrong" seems to have begun life as part of the conjugation of "wring" in the wrung-out-of-shape sense. [The first Mid. E. uses of "wrong" are in place names like "Wrangebroc" and "Wrongedichhundred" (a hundred is an administrative unit).] There seems to be no principle behind the w in wring/wrong; the Old Norse and High German forms are w-less. On the other hand the w in wright is there for a reason,"wright" having come from forms that had the form "worked" via the interchange of front vowels and r that is so common in Middle E. (cf. "bryd" for "bird" etc.)

Interestingly "wrong" once meant "oblong" -- a rectangle being, one supposes, a wrecked tangle.

3. David Orr encounters the law and literature movement in the form of an anthology on the Poetry of Law; re the preposition, he says:
And it’s comforting, isn’t it, to suppose that pursuits like law and poetry aren’t really “about” each other in the almost aggressive way that instruction manuals are about food processors, but rather are as delicately interrelated as sea and shore, or bees and roses.

4. Gaddafi's flamboyantly Elizabethan approach to spelling (Language Log; see also Johnson) and Elizabethanly flamboyant approach to dress (Vanity Fair). Discuss: is he the Christopher Marlowe of our age?

2 comments:

Jenny Davidson said...

The Chiltern Hundreds! (A term I must have learned by reading Trollope's Palliser novels?)

Sarang said...

For some reason I was "reading" the Domesday book last Christmas, and it had hundreds of hundreds. I was vaguely aware of "taking the Chiltern hundreds" as a euphemism for leaving Parliament (why? no idea. Possibly the Chesterton essay) but hadn't made the connection at all; thanks!