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English is a shameless whore

By Harriet Staff

Sitting at the New Yorker’s Book Bench this week is a paean to English, in all its sloppy glory: “English is an extraordinary bastard of a language,” the post begins. Citing the history of warfare and nation-building that leaves us contending with this bastard on a daily basis (as if the mailman weren’t enough), the blogger praises the flexibility of our collective tongue.

The best part of the post is a long passage on poetry by writer and actor Stephen Fry. It comes from his book The Ode Less Traveled (har!), and reads in part:

English is a language suited to poetry like no other. The crunch and snap of Anglo-Saxon, the lyric romanticism of Latin and Greek, the comic, ironic fusion yielded when both are yoked together, the swing and jazz of slang … the choice of words and verbal styles available to the English poet is dazzling.

And it concludes, dare we say, triumphantly:

The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane: each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.

To learn more about this bastard (or whore, as the case may be), click here.


Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, July 14th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.