Log in

No account? Create an account

Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Purging a Pun
"Unter den Linden? How sublime!"

For years I've nursed that multilingual pun, looking for an opportunity to slip it naturally into conversation. "I wonder what Longinus would have made of the Brandenburg Gate?" I might say, a propos of nothing - only to see the other people in the bus queue shuffle warily away. Would anyone feed me a line that would allow me to unsheathe my devastating witticism? Would they heck. It became an albatross round my neck. An albatross called Moby Dick.

Today, in a fit of abandon, I put it up as my Facebook status - but it didn't get so much as a single Like. After that I was forced to face the fact that a) not many people would get the joke, and b) even those that did probably wouldn't find it funny.

Perhaps, in fact, it isn't very funny. There - I've said it.

I admit defeat. Take it. Do with it as you will. Publish it as your own, and make millions - I care not.

God, I feel so much better for that.

"The huntsmen are up in America"
Here's another niggling phrase - this time not mine but Sir Thomas Browne's. Towards the end of The Garden of Cyrus Browne decides it's time to go to bed, and writes: "The huntsmen are up in America, and they are already past their first sleep in Persia."

Marvellous stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. In fact, "The huntsmen are up in America" is a phrase I like so much that I sometimes catch myself saying it round about midnight. It's less infantile than "Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire," after all. But more often than not I bite the words back - because, as a moment's thought will reveal, Browne (being sleepy) got the Earth's direction of spin wrong. By the time the huntsmen were actually up in America he would have been tucking into his elevenses and the Persians would have been taking afternoon sherbet.

I've considered adapting the phrase to reflect geographical reality. There are several suitable candidates that would preserve the dactylic charm of the original. "The huntsmen are up in Mongolia," for example. However, it's just not the same.

The only other expedient I can see is to move to a part of the world where Browne's phrase would actually make sense. If I lived in Honolulu, for example, saying "The huntsmen are up in America" at midnight would work perfectly, at least for the huntsmen of the east coast (whom Browne no doubt had in mind), while in Iran it would be the small hours of the morning - not ideal, but adequate. [ETA Actually the small hours of the afternoon, of course. Not so good.]

In fact, the more I think about it the more inevitable it seems that some future graduate student will use this phrase as the basis of an article arguing that Sir Thomas Browne was actually a native of Hawaii. I, for one, wish that person well.