The Pomp of Words and Pedant Dissertations

“But you are learn’d; in Volumes, deep you sit;
In Wisdom shallow: pompous Ignorance!”

Edward Young, Night Thoughts (1742-1745)

We have our words pomp, pompous and pomposity from the Latin pompa, and in the days of ancient Rome a pompa was a loud and flamboyant procession that wound through the streets of the city to to publicize some person or event. The Ludi Circensus was one such event, and the pompa circensis with which it was announced was nothing other than a circus parade. Continue reading

Scratch Any Itch You Can Get Away With Scratching

A “health promotion specialist” from the “Division of Student Affairs” has just written to inform me that “Sexual Responsibility Week” will soon be upon us, and that I should clear my calendar to make way for a veritable banquet of “program content and activities.” Now I must make clear that the “sexual responsibility” of which she speaks has nothing to do with what used to be known as “conjugal duty” or “repaying the conjugal debt.” Indeed, if it did, there is no program content or activity that could improve on the regimen of Walter Shandy. As his son, the eponymous hero of the Tristram Shandy (1759), explains: Continue reading

I Am Ozymandias

This site’s traffic meter tells me that a couple of people were yesterday reading Tom’s old post on the sorrows of teaching Shelly’s “Ozymandias” to a class of nose-picking yokels.   It so happens that I have been thinking about those “vast and trunkless legs of stone,” and so recently learned that Shelly wrote his sonnet in a competition with his friend and fellow poet Horace Smith. Because I believe that all Smiths should stick together and do what they can to boost the family brand, I dug up the rival poem and give it to you here. Even the healthy favoritism of family pride cannot bring me to pronounce Smith’s production superior to Shelly’s, but “On a Stupendous Leg of Granite” is not without merit. Continue reading

If it’s All Quite the Same to You

“’If it’s quite all the same to you, I don’t want to be spanked any more.’

‘Come hither, Little One,’ said the Crocodile, ‘for I am the Crocodile,’ and he wept crocodile tears to show it was quite true.”

Rudyard Kipling, “The Elephant’s Child,” (1902)

Pope Francis is reported to have told a group of Italian school children that, “we are all children of God.” By “we” he seems to have meant human beings generally, and by “all,” every Tom, Dick and Harry among them. This notwithstanding that Tom is an infidel, Dick a pagan, and Harry a Jew. Continue reading

Two Lexical Larks

“Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness.”

Romans 13:13

Towards the end of the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe rendered the Greek word κοιταις as “chambering,” and the editors of the Authorized or King James Version followed his example more than two hundred years later.  Bedding would have been the most literal translation, since κοιται is Greek for bed.  When St. Paul needed a word to denote the erotic behavior of homosexual males, for instance, he coined the word we transliterate as Arsenokoitai, which is literally “men-bed,” and we continue to use the world “bed” as a metonym for sexual intercourse (especially immoral sexual intercourse). Continue reading

The View from Stranger Hill

There is a small hill about fifty miles north of here, and like many hills, small and large, it bears no public name.  This anonymity is regrettable, albeit more regrettable for the public than for the hill, and this is because all human companionship begins with the exchange of names.  As a hill is mute by nature, and therefore unable to divulge its real name (assuming it has one), we are obliged to supply the want and give it a nickname. Continue reading

On Church Going

“Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious  
And gravitating with it to this ground  
Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in”

Philip Larkin, “Church Going” (1955)

Friends of religion are sometimes found in surprising places.  Likewise, its enemies.  I am not a topsy-turvy fantast who believes that saints are most often found in saloons and brothels, or that men of the cloth are uniquely wicked and prone to vice, but I have learned that there is no more than a probable relation between rectitude and religion. Continue reading

The Brambles and Roughs of Oblivion

If you have ever observed the collapse of a wooden building, you know that the evil begins with a hole in the roof.  It is here, as we say, that the rot begins.  And from this point of incipient decay, the mischief spreads to the rafters and joists, causing these members to rot, and fail, and by failing to open new and larger holes.  As the trusses disintegrate, support is withdrawn from the overstrained and rotting ridgepole, until this unsupported beam begins to sag, and at last gives way, bringing the remains of the roof down with it.

Old Progressive Church, Kudder Road, Brazos County, Texas 

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