Then there was the truce-term map. Folklorists and dialecticians have been long been interested in truce terms - at least since Iona and Peter Opie produced their accounts of playground usage half a century ago. Barley, fainites, pax, scribs, kings, skinch, and the rest, were shown to be very specific – to towns or even to neighbourhoods. A ‘scribs’ town might be found floating in a sea of rural barley. And these terms were old! “Barley” goes back at least to Gawain and the Green Knight, for example (I. 296), and prior to that (I assume) to the knightly request for a “parley”. Ever since those lectures, truce terms have had been highly evocative for me – secret histories of Britain, passed down by those least in a position to understand them in a series of intergenerational Chinese whispers.
So, I was surprised yesterday, playing tag in garden with my daughter, when (being a little out of breath) I asked what she and her friends said when they wanted to suspend a game. She looked at me blankly for a minute – then, understanding, answered: “We say ‘Pause’, of course.”
It makes sense, I admit. Even so, it’s sad to see a delicate posy of rare linguistic orchids crushed under the monocultural heel of the Nintendo Gamecube.