Widows & widowers – and a Guardian typo

Anna Pavlovna as widow by J.B. van der Hulst / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the last exchange of letters (unpublished) between my late father and The Guardian:

To the Guardian Letters Editor from Sir Brian Barder

I submit the following letter for publication.

I’m intrigued by your description of Brendan Cox as the late MP Jo Cox’s “widow” (caption, National, p15, 23 June). Has “widower” been banned from the Guardian’s pages as offensively gender-specific, and “widow” promoted to gender-neutral status, like “actor”? Or is it a typo?

Brian Barder
London
24 June 2017

***

Dear Brian,
Thank you for your letter which was passed on to us by the Letters desk. In this case widow was a typo. There is no entry in the Guardian and Observer’s style guide for widow/widower; widowers are male and widows are female.
Best regards,
J.A.
Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
***
Dear J.A.
Of course. My enquiry had its tongue deep in its cheek. Someone in your letters department has a sense of humour in need of a refill. I just thought that some Graundia readers might enjoy my letter if it were to be chosen for publication.
Anyway, thanks for taking the trouble to reply. 
Best,
Brian
Posted in loving memory of my father, who passed down to me his pedantic and slightly obsessive love of language and usage.
***

How to pronounce “Magdalene” in Britain, and why

Mary Magdalene, Caravaggio, 1594-1596 / Wikipedia Commons

When I’m back in Blighty, I stay at my family home in Magdalene Road. Try asking a taxi driver to take you to “Maudlin” Road (as the name Magdalene is historically pronounced in the UK), and you’ll probably be met with a blank stare — even by those London cabbies who’ve aced The Knowledge. You are actually more likely to hear that increasingly dated pronunciation when you visit Cambridge, whose Magdalene College sounds more like Maud than Magda. However, the plot thickens, because its sister college in Oxford — which is spelled nearly the same way but without the final “e” — sounds like the surname of the Biblical Mary Magdalene after which it was named. Which pronunciation — if either — is correct: “maudlin”-sounding Cambridge “Magdalene” or the three-syllable Oxford “Magdalen”? Continue reading

Kycke against the pricke

Harvey Weinstein / Wikimedia

There’s a scandal involving the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and an ensuing discussion about predatory behavior by men in power. Glosso thought it would be interesting to look into “kick against the pricks,” a sadly appropriate expression that’s been cropping up on social media channels in recent days. Is this is a modern turn of phrase? Do people understand what it really means? And when did the word prick first take on its slangy connotations? Glosso investigates … Continue reading

X v Y: The language of sex: come one, come all (come v cum)

KamaSutra

*  *  Warning: contains strong language *  * Language advisory: viewer discretion is advised * *

Reaching the climax of Glosso’s September series, “X v Y”, we’re looking at the difference between come and cum. This is one of Glossophilia’s most popular posts in its six-year history: enjoy. Continue reading

The sands of time

Posted in memory of my dad, Brian Barder, who died last month.

***

A PSALM OF LIFE

WHAT THE HEART OF THE YOUNG MAN
SAID TO THE PSALMIST

TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real ! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o’erhead !

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

“Mandalay” by Rudyard Kipling

Myanmar, Bagan

Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary, yesterday started reciting lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Mandalay” while inside a Myanmar temple during an official visit to the former British colony. He was on a live mic (and on camera) at the time, being filmed for a Channel Four documentary; the British ambassador, Andrew Patrick, who was chaperoning Johnson on the visit to Yangon’s sacred Shwedagon Pagoda, was quick to remind him that citing from the colonial-era poem was inappropriate. Here’s the poem in full: Continue reading