Rodent’s proposal for a scholarly paper had been accepted. 
For 4 months he’d been preparing his paper entitled “All’s Boman!” (“All’s Good!”) about cant language in London in 1724, which only 3 other people in the world would fully understand.  All 3 of them would be attending the lexicography conference at Oxford, carefully noting his research and discoveries about the language that criminals used to communicate with each other. 
I figured my role was as Adjunct Rodent—or, more precisely, Rodent Control, because he’s often unaware of other people, his mind preoccupied with research.  No one is more ruthless at research than dear Rodent.  No one.  He would cut his granny off his list of credible sources if he couldn’t corroborate her stories.
Before we left for Oxford, I began carefully calibrating my every word in order to advance dear Rodent’s aims, saying such things as “Perhaps the 4 pages explaining the difference between ‘hicked’ and ‘kicked’ could be shortened to a paragraph” and “It might be entertaining to include newspaper reports of Jack Sheppard’s arrest and hanging.”
As always, Rodent was way ahead of me, but he sweetly responded to every Rodent Control suggestion.
The week before the presentation, he had cut the paper down from 40 to 25 pages, but needed to lop off 5 more pages to meet the 20-minute time limit.
He sat at his desk with a kitchen timer and read his paper aloud, his sonorous voice describing 18th century cutpurses, pickpockets, whores and housebreakers.  After several read-throughs, he had chopped off the final 5 pages, and we were ready to go to Oxford.
Once in our Oxford hotel room, he again timed his speech.  A perfect 20 minutes.  We were completely satisfied with it. 
Because Rodent’s presentation was the last one of the conference, we got plenty of prior exposure to how the panels operated.  While the paper presenters analysed Ukrainian phonemes, definitions of slang, and OED historical citations, I sat and doodled, silently praying for an all-college electrical failure.
Thankfully, things picked up during Q/A sessions as attenders flamboyantly showed off their knowledge, often interrupting and arguing with the presenters. 
Finally, it was Friday.  We arrived in Room 7.  Two other panelists had also come early, as had the moderator, an expert at OED who collects examples of the earliest uses of words. 
In a few minutes, 50 attenders filled up the room.  They proved a lively group, throwing plenty of questions at pre-Rodent presenters. 
Then dear Rodent stood up and distributed 3 handouts.  He took his place behind the podium, placed his watch in front of him, and began reading his paper.
The last row was loudly mumbling as they reached for the handouts, but to keep to his allotted time Rodent neither stopped nor slowed his reading.  I turned around and gave the back row A Look as Rodent’s first paragraphs sailed by unheard.  At last things quieted.  In fact, the audience seemed unusually attentive, turning to their handouts at the appropriate times, their eyes on dear Rodent’s handsome face as they listened to his Scottish lilt. 
After 10 minutes, the moderator held up a big green poster to Rodent that said:  “YOU HAVE NO TIME LEFT.”  Rodent didn’t see it.  He then held up a bright red poster that said “STOP NOW”.  Rodent didn’t see it.  So he handed it to a woman seated directly in front of Rodent.  She leaned forward, and with both hands shoved it onto the podium.  He glanced at it, looked down at his papers, spoke two sentences, and stopped. 
The moderator stood, thanked Rodent, and asked if there were any questions.  Total silence in the room.  I prayed.  He repeated:  “Does anyone have a question?”  I waited for one of the 3 people in the world who knew what Rodent had been talking about to ask a question.  No hands went up, no one spoke. 
Desperate to spare Rodent embarrassment, I raised my hand and asked a simple question which he happily answered.  Then someone asked a brief question which Rodent gratefully answered, and the moderator pronounced the session over.
When most of the attenders had gone, the moderator began furiously typing on his laptop.  Rodent wandered over to see what he was doing, and they chatted a bit.  He came back, and I said, “So what was he doing?”
“Oh,” said Rodent, “he was checking up on the OED mistakes I had pointed out in my paper.”
That evening we went to the conference’s final celebratory dinner at St Anne’s College.  A fellow panel member waved at Rodent and sat next to him at the table, and they talked animatedly throughout most of the dinner.
Later, I asked who the man was. 

“He writes the Language column for the New York Times”, Rodent said.  “He’s buddies with the moderator, and said he had stopped his presentation early, too.”
Happy Rodent.  Happy me.  ALL’S BOMAN!

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

JUDY PRINCE, a retired college teacher and union activist, now lives half the year in Norfolk, Virginia, and the other half in Darlington, UK.  She has published articles in the L.A. Times and the Virginian-Pilot, and was a Chicago Dramatists Short Plays Competition finalist.   She is now at work on a play about Shakespeare the woman, and recently launched Frisky Moll Press with the poetry pamphlets of Robin Hamilton (Anacreon translations) and Patrick McManus (On The Dig).   Her own poetry pamphlets have been published by Phantom Rooster Press (2006 and 2009). Prince's work is included in the first James Kirkup Memorial Poetry Competition Anthology (Red Squirrel Press, UK, 2010). Her Poems2 is reviewed in SPHINX 12, HappenStance Press .

121 responses to “Rodent at Oxford”

  1. Good for him! I’m glad all’s boman!

    I wish I could’ve seen your “Look” when those people were being rude enough to mutter through the beginning of his speech. You should’ve given the moderator a look when he cut Rodent’s speech short.

    • Judy Prince says:

      HA! Thanks, David. Indeed, all’s boman!

      You’re right, I shoulda given that Look to the moderator.

      I wanted to give that back row a Glaswegian kiss. If you know wot I mean….. 😉

      • I certainly do! Rude wee bastards.

        • Judy Prince says:

          hee hee. Then you might enjoy Tom Leonard’s poem:

          The Voyeur

          what’s your favourite word dearie
          is it wee
          I hope it’s wee
          wee’s such a nice wee word
          like a wee hairy dog
          with two wee eyes
          such a nice wee word to play with dearie
          you can say it quickly
          with a wee smile
          and a wee glance to the side
          or you can say it slowly dearie
          with your mouth a wee bit open
          and a wee sigh dearie
          a wee sigh
          put your wee head on my shoulder dearie
          oh my
          a great wee word
          and Scottish
          it makes you proud


          I love Tom Leonard!

  2. Where did this go? Why did it disappear from the front page?

    • Judy Prince says:

      David, Google told me they’d changed my googlemail address from its “googlemail” ending to “gmail”—-and that it would make no difference in sending/receiving emails. But I quickly found out that it messed up everything. I had to jettison the old address and sub the new one on all online lists including TNB. But I forgot to sub with gravatar.com, so when I posted the Rodent at Oxford story, I had no gravatar image at all. Took me a couple days to get it right, with Brad’s patient help.

      Reminds me to take this opp to thank admin for the new “Search” box atop the mainpage—-way helpful!

      • Wow, that sucks. I’ve held onto my trusty Gmail account/ending for years. I think I’d panic if I had to change anything.

        I’m always at a loss with Gravatar. It seems so simple but in invariably gets the best of me.

        • Judy Prince says:

          David, Google and Gravatar (note their alliterative beginnings….ominous, that) have the same “Help” approach learned at the teats of Olde IBM. It goes something like this in their FAQs: “HI! We bring you new wotsits bcuz…well…bcuz we can, and they’re free until we yank them away which is also free. Now listen up, you raggedy-arse mental deficients: wr g’na chng yr kgb 4 5 wks n yll haf2 go 2 grp sites 2 gt xplnshns bcz frnkly we knw we f’ed up bt wr NOT g’na fixit.”

          Gravatar has such an explanation for why it takes so long to get an image you’ve carefully, dutifully given over to them. Total Gspeak! The real deal is that it takes at least a couple days for them to hand their bundles of new images over for processing.

          OK, I confess, David. I’m prolly lying about G&G, but I just had to vent. I’ve already been attacked by Mac’s planned obsolescence and product deficiencies for which there’s no recourse to get the product that they had adverted so winningly. I’m now on a Sony Vaio and so far happy.

        • Yes, that gets me. I just couldn’t find anything anywhere that said quite simply: “It takes an unreasonable amount of time to upload or change an image.” If I’d known that I would have employed my saintly patience and stuck it out. But no, they pretend to be a reasonable organisation and just let me upload over and over, so that I’m constantly stuck in a Gravatar void.

        • Judy Prince says:

          ” . . so that I’m constantly stuck in a Gravatar void.” Good call, David.

          It’s the Gspeak that gets me, too. The truth’s a user-friendly device, so you wonder why Gravatar doesn’t, in this important instance, use it. After all, Gravatar’s free—-it’s not like you’ve thrown your paycheck at them for an image and you’re likely to sue them if it’s not immediately available.

  3. Now it’s all starting to make sense, Judy…no wonder your description was so funny. Ah, to be with a linguistics buff. Almost as good as being hitched to a Chaucerian.

    • Rodent says:

      I’m reliably informed (by the Rodent’s son, appropriately known as Android) that the Rodent’s ex-wife, with regard to the author of this piece, remarked in tones of utter bafflement, “I really don’t know what she sees in him.”

      So I suppose there’s no accounting for taste, especially as the Rodent knows more about The Tretis of the Twa Merrit Wemen and the Wedo than he does about the Wife of Bath’s Tale.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Yeah, you nailed it, Sean. Rodent’s my dictionary of choice.

      I think his first wife was from Bath………..

  4. Joe Daly says:

    Judy, this hicked ass, Judy.

    Poor Rodent, having his lecture cut short! That happened to me a couple years ago, and it can really throw one for a loop. I was exactly at the halfway point of a twenty minute presentation, when the dude in the front row held up the “Two Minutes Left” card. I think I did more harm than good by trying to cram the second half into two minutes. Sounds like Rodent had the better response- throw in a couple closing remarks and open for questions.

    All in all, sounds like a success though. Glad to hear all’s boman.

    • Rodent says:

      I wish it had been as elegant as that, Joe — basically, I skidded to a stop in the course of two sentences. If I’d had even a moment to think, I could have segued into the final half-page conclusion … As it was, I missed the Green 2-Minute Card because I thought I was well ahead of the game, with five minutes of the twenty still to go, when I got Red-Carded — “Stop at Once!”

      Actually, I *did have five minutes to go, and was just about to get to the really juicy bits (“Heard the one about the OED definition of ‘kicked’? That’s a laugh and a half.”) when I was stopped.

      Hm, come to think of it … I wonder …

    • Judy Prince says:

      ” . . . this hicked ass”——HOO HA! That researchy legal mind run amok, and thank goodness for it, Joe.

      Let’s bring those Lakeview summer days back——–


  5. Richard Cox says:

    Am I missing the math? How did Rodent have no time left when only ten minutes had transpired? I realize he was being stopped early but half of the allotted time seems awfully harsh.

    By the by, I was forced to Google half of what was discussed here. I don’t feel very intelligent right now. Ha.

    • Rodent says:

      It was Joe who got chopped after ten minutes, Richard — they let me have fifteen of the alleged twenty before I got the chop. Maybe Joe was being more radically transgressive than I was.

      As to google, use it all the time meeself.

      • Judy Prince says:

        My bad, Richard. I was hyperbolising about the time limit, and you caught me out.

        Re your needing to google half what was discussed here—–you’re the genius who wrote those wonderful novels, The God Particle and Rift, so you don’t need to google anything. Google needs to google YOU.

  6. dwoz says:


    Linguistics bends time.

    …and time is all in your mind.

    So, an ambiguous bendee.

    My guess is that page 14 is where the naughty bits were.

    • Judy Prince says:

      dwoz, we’re gonna let you hold up the green and red time posters at the next conference. Get out the Sharpies, you clever devil!

      in warped time,

      Moll Frrrrrisky

      • dwoz says:

        Being a bassist, I’m an impeccable timekeeper!

        But I would make a lousy timekeeper, because I have a tautological philosophy about speakers…the time is up when they run out of interesting words.


        • Judy Prince says:

          dwoz, oh yes. A bass is THE driving force and beat of a jazz trio and such. Not drums, not piano, not saxophone, but a bass. It reaches into and establishes everyone’s heartbeat.

          I had the marvelous good fortune to hear, on Chicago’s southside, Fritz Jones (aka Ahmad Jamal) and was too ignorant to appreciate his dynamics and techniques, not to mention his support “musicianers” (as old friend Cadillac Baby called them). Also heard Duke Ellington on one of his last tours in Chicago on the near northside, visiting his dressingroom at the break and getting his autograph on the program.

          By now, doubtless, you’ve held up the red time card…….;-)

        • dwoz says:

          …”A bass is THE driving force and beat of a jazz trio and such. Not drums, not piano, not saxophone, but a bass.”…

          you’re my new cyber-girlfriend. Sorry Irene, Gloria and Gina…!!!!!

          It’s absolutely true. The bass may not necessarily lead, but it’s the pivot for EVERYTHING else.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I’m overcome with cyber-girlfriendness, dwoz!

          For years, I guess, I’ve thought of basses as the soul of music. Like a true prayer, the bass lays down the pattern of hearers’ breathing and heartbeat, and it grounds the hearers. Also like prayer, perhaps, it is seldom “recognised” for what it does, for its essentiality, for its quiet power.

          Basso ostinato, as I recall from music classes years ago. Obstinate bass. Yup. Persevering, underlining, basic profound bass. A team player, usually, as important as a quarterback.

        • dwoz says:

          ostinato…repeating, anchoring;

          obstinate…unyielding. obstruction against flow.

          apparently a common root.

          But I prefer the notion of it being “stalwart” rather than “stubborn.”

          As to the team player…I actually had a conversation with a melody player once. He was pissed off that I wasn’t playing simple whole note roots, “footballs” as they’re called because of what they look like on the music staff. I was somewhat annoyed with this. I am a bassist, after all, not a damn waiter. “Just go step wherever you want” I told him. “…and let me worry about putting some solid earth under your foot.”

          (yes, I actually said that. No, he didn’t get it.)

        • Judy Prince says:

          dwoz, I rather like “anchoring”, if one must choose one meaning.

          And I really like this: “…and let me worry about putting some solid earth under your foot.”

          That’s the feeling I have about it all.

  7. Irene Zion says:

    Congratulations to Rodent!
    I’m very proud of him.
    Good for you for being there for support.
    Sorry that I’m so late,
    I’ve been running with the anarchists and the Mounties and now we have guests and then we leave to visit a friend.
    I will NEVER catch up here!

    • Judy Prince says:

      You’re always my main girl of TNB, Irene, your heart and soul in the right places, even if I wonder about your running with anarchists and Mounties.

      I’m proud of dear Rodent, too, and love seeing him do his researchy things.

      And I will NEVER catch up, either!!!

      So many wonderful writers here, so little time!!

      We’ll all look forward to your stories about anarchist Mounties, my dear friend!

  8. Greg Olear says:

    I’m no lexicographer, but I know how to make presentations sing. My suggestion, Rodent, for next time: less on the hicked/kicked dialectic, more about whores.

    • Judy Prince says:

      GregO, wot are you doing awake at half 3 in the morning?! Oh, oops, it might be 5 hours earlier or 8 where you are. It doesn’t get dark until 10 pm here; totally great!

      Of course, you’re astutely correct: whores is where it’s at. That whole “hick” and “kick” thing pales in seconds unless of course you’re a kick hick.

      Some of the other paper-givers at the conference used Power Point which at first I thought more clearly explained their points. Then I noticed m’sel’ tryna concentrate at the same time on what they were saying and what the Power Point thingie was pointing to. At that point I lost some of the points. But, then, some of those points were fathoms deeper than my non-scholarly mind could swim to.

      Wot’s new with you?

      • Greg Olear says:

        It’s just about 11, but I am wondering why I’m still awake. I was exhausted today, and I have a bad cold. But things are starting to look up in these here parts.

        Power Point is like bringing an escort to a dinner party (speaking of whores)…everyone pays more attention to the escort than what you might be saying.

        • Judy Prince says:

          OK, Greg, that was my first guffaw in hours (re the escort at a dinner party).

          Speaking of whores, I spent much of the day in a funk and wondered why. Turns out, it’s bcuz I feel caught in the whoreness of the world, esp after commenting to David about the purposeful muddiness of xplanations by Google and Gravatar and Mac about their wares. And then I noted in the NYT an article about the suit against Dell which showed Dell employees knowing about the defects in their products but avoiding telling any customers about their knowing. Why I apparently never overwhelmingly felt a dayful of Major Funk before about the whoreness of the world is a grand comment on the enduring strength of my Pragmatic Pollyanna side.

  9. “I sat and doodled, silently praying for an all-college electrical failure.”

    That about sums up how I would have felt too. We could have traded doodles.

    What’s up with the moderator’s not keeping with the twenty-minute time limit? “How wood!” as the annoying Jar Jar would say.

    • Judy Prince says:

      “We could have traded doodles.” Good one, Nick.

      Really and truly, what could be more boring than a conference of lexicographers (read: my dictionary’s bigger than yours)? [Rodent isn’t a lexicographer]

      The slang panel was fun, though; e.g., slang written on canvas bunk bottoms by USA servicemen heading to Vietnam, and the slang of US and UK CB radio users.

      I wonder how many other attenders were doodling? 😉

  10. Gareth Evans says:

    He’s obviously mellowing … back in my day someone would have had to HIT him with the bright red poster to get him to stop.

    And then it was only an even chance.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Rodent says: “Bastard!”

      I, Judy, say, HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Great one!”

      I also say, “How in the world did you chase this Rodent at Oxford post down?!”

      • Judy Prince says:

        Gareth, where in the world are you now? In China? PRC? Rodent forgot, natch. But he’s willing to talk to *anyone* endlessly about morts and blowens. heh.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Hey, Gareth, get a gravatar (globally recognised avatar), and keep me amused with your comments here on *anything* on TNB. Here’s the link:


          Why do I get the feeling that Uche Ogbuji’s current TNB post on Nigeria’s 50th anniversary (see main page) would interest you?

        • Gareth says:

          Yes, I’m in China. Beijing.

          I’m happy to be *anyone*

          I noticed the story about Nigeria … It’s on my list of things to read. I really like what I have seen of this site.

          Apart from travelling widely, most of my African time has been spent in Kenya (which is where I now regard as home), and Tanzania. But everyone in Africa has to be interested in Nigeria … it is a failure on such a magnificent scale.

          As I type, I am waiting for the Gravatar link to open … although, like so much about the modern world, I have my doubts and anxieties about putting my photograph out into the public domain. On the other hand, I find the little faces people create for themselves evan more disturbing.

          See, now it’s almost completed opening, and I’m not even sure that I have a suitable picture on this computer. I’m at work … my students are doing a test, and think I am preparing their end-of-term exam …

        • Rodent says:

          I have to say, I wouldn’t buy a used car from your Gravitar, Gareth. Nice to know that you subscribe to the “photographs steal our souls” school of Rational Paranioa.

          (As a Glasgwegian, for me paranoia comes with the territory.)


        • Judy Prince says:

          “Yes, I’m in China. Beijing.” Fantastic, Gareth, though I don’t envy you your now choices of toilet facilities. The topic has engendered a bit of a sad/humourous blip between me and David Wills on TNB, our only Scot, I think, besides Rodent. David very recently moved from Seoul to Beijing and seems to be enjoying it wonderfully. You can see his baaaad (meaning good) TNB posts either by typing his name into the subject box (top right, main page) or by going to the bottom of every “page”, clicking on D for David, scrolling to and clicking on his entire name, and getting a menu of his posts.

          I’m immensely pleased to know that one of Rodent’s former students knows him so well and is willing (p’raps even eager) to give us the skinny on Rodent’s teachery. heh.

          Of course, your students would learn more by reading these posts and comments than by taking tests while you post your comments. William Golding cheekily managed to write _Lord of the Flies_ in his classroom while his students performed various perfunctory tasks that did not engage Golding. JRR Tolkien wrote _The Hobbit_ in the margins of finals papers he was marking, says Rodent.

          I think your Gravatar makes you look quite distinguished—-or, more precisely, half extinguished.

  11. Gareth says:

    Well, a toilet is a toilet … and there’s a reason we can hold our breath. The real secret is to maintain good bladder and bowel control so that one never has to use the public toilets while trolling through through the hutongs. And if one has to, one simply accepts that a quiet “oh dear” allows one to rise above most unpleasant things that life has to offer.

    Of course, much of my life is spent in search of the perfect cup of tea, and these, in my experience tend to come with acceptable toilet facilities, although I would not bet on this as a certainty with any kind of money that can be folded. I had a large stack of notes for a book on “The tea-rooms of East Anglia”, which I put into storage when I first zoomed off to Kenya at a few weeks notice. I’m not now sure where that box is stored. I suspect it’s in a shed in Porlock.

    I wonder, should my boss ever read these posts, could I ever be able to even begin to suggest in my defence that I see myself as being, even oh so remotely, in the same class as Golding and Tolkein? Or even the same universe.

    As to the rodent: some of my most vivid academic memories (at least, as vivid as the excessive consumption of alchohol at the time, and more recent intellectual decay in the service of education, will allow) are of his lectures and seminars. Does he, I wonder, remember as clearly as I do the moment when he finally admitted to the stuttering little group of undergraduates huddled in the smoke-filled cave that was his study, that ‘no’ he had not read the book under discussion either, and we’d all be better off in a bar somewhere. Or did I make that up?

    As to my Gravatar (I’m sorry, but that is an unforgivably ugly word): no, I wouldn’t buy a used car from that face either, and I would think twice before turning my back. The only picture I had of myself onmy computer at work, it is a self-portrait taken about half-way through my time in Riyadh … a slow nervous breakdown with sand. My driver once informed me that all the male servants had decided, during one of their long chats during the long nights of Ramadan, that I was the person they would all least like to engage in a fight. I think that I spent every moment in The Kingdom scowling, but I remain unsure as to how I should feel about that assessment.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Gareth, you say: “As to my Gravatar (I’m sorry, but that is an unforgivably ugly word) . . .”

      Yes, it is ugly. It doesn’t have the zest of, for example, Twitter, Google, tweet, Flickr and blog.

      In fact, it is as ugly as “Facebook.”

      I suggest that we come up with a suitably breezy substitute for the word Gravatar.

      My candidates: rep, picko, shot, blip, viz, sym and leed.

      Your candidates?

      • Gareth says:


        • Judy Prince says:

          You say “Picture”? Gareth, teaching has worn you down, p’raps unalterably.

          quikspeaky yrs,


        • Gareth says:

          It’s a picture.

          “Picture” is a good word to describe a picture.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Gareth, I was tweaking you. I love the word “Picture” as a substitute for “Gravatar”—-but where will such a practical application of words lead us? Will we be launching a trend to simplicity, clarity and commonsense? Will we be turning our backs on cute, quik and quirky?

          I suggest that you engage your students in the discussion.

          BTW, I also like your Picture.

        • Gareth says:

          Simplicity, clarity, and commonsense are good.

          I’ve never launced a trend before … do I have to wear a badge? I hate wearing badges.

          Cutest, quikness (although I have no idea what that might be), and quirkyness all have their place in the vastness of things … indeed, I myself have often been described as ‘quirky’, and, on occasion, even as ‘cute’ (along with several other words that start with the sound ‘Kh’)

          My students? MY students? Um … no.

          Thank you for liking the picture. I actually think it catches my innerness. Is it vain that the three pictures of myself I like most were all self-portraits? I have a version of this one in b&w somewhere … very brooding.

        • Gareth says:

          I found the errant ‘h’.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Gareth, thank you for naming our trend: errant h.

          Of course you don’t have to wear a badge!

          You will wear a badger.

          I’m practising for wearing a badger by wearing a lovely deer skin (sans deer, natch) for a few hours each day. If I continue to make honey-sweetened vanilla ice cream, I’ll have to kill another deer. oh dear!

          Next, I’ll google to find out how large badgers are (do you have an appropriate “errant h” word substitute for “google”?).

          BTW, we can’t have you brooding. It’s too hen-like. Besides, I rather think that your expression is of intense *something*, kind of like the look that Tom Leonard gives when he’s not laughing.

          BTW again, we just got word from our solicitor that we will receive the keys to the Temple on 15 November. YIPPEEEEE!!!!

        • Gareth says:

          Badgers are SO much bigger than one would think.

          I hit one with a car once, and the car came second. I was driving on a quietish road near Whitchurch, in the middle of the night, and the bastard jumped in front of us. We lost the front bumper and number plate and a bit of the exhaust; the badger just strolled away. OK, it was only a Hillman Imp, but even so.

          An alternative for Google? Is smugbastardswhothinkthatwikipediaisthebestsourceofknowledgeonanything too difficult to say?

          Wow. Nobody has ever put me in the same sentence as Tom Leonard before. But then again, I bet he doesn’t compared with me that often.

        • Judy Prince says:

          A badger is not an animal to mess with, it seems, then, Gareth.

          I’ve not seen one, but just wiki-imaged them and didn’t like what I saw, especially their fang front teeth and the photo of one hunting beside a wolf. YAWK!

          I had them confused with raccoons, one which I met as it took the cover off my garbage bin and reached into the bin. It had the characteristic black-masked face and seemed to be nearly as tall as I am. They were common in Chicago.

          Possums are a nother weird-looking lot.

          Your errant h alternative to “Google” is perfect. I will finish pronouncing it after lunch.

          Indeed, Tom Leonard is inimitable in nearly every respect and prolly compares himself with no one, and reasonably so. However, something in your expression does match his.

          Thanks for your kind words about our moving into the Temple! Rodent’s now phoning the removal firm.

        • Rodent says:

          Re the picture issue, you pair seem to be straying into the territory of semiotics here, and what I want to know is whether the underlying conceptual structure is based on C.S.Pierce or The Sainted Ferdinand.

          The Image (sic) deployed on Facebook and commonly termed a Gravitar (from the Latin “gravitus, -um”, a grave where useless information is buried, cf. Titivullus) is strictly the Signifier.

          Right, having said that, I’m now about to ring The Movers of the Temple and after that maybe try and work out whether I can undertand Greimas’ Square, sometimes known as The Semantic Rectangle, and whether or not it’s just a typical post-structuralist fancying up of something that could be expressed much more simply if you see it as crossing de Saussure with set theory.

          Hm, maybe *that’s the key to one of the more lunatic linguistic obsessions, the possibility of a universal language based on logic. This makes no sense if we think in terms of classical Aristotelian logic, but if we switch to Boolean Logic …

          Ah, better not go there.



        • Gareth says:

          See, this is what is was like all those years ago, when you took my nodding for understanding … your casual erudition just highlights my own intellectual mediocrity.

          Having said that, the teacher across the corridor (another Gareth, actually), who is much more intelligent that me said “what?” when I slipped Greimas’ Square into the conversation as we headed for morning assembly. That made me feel a little better.

          As for anything I may have said about gravitars … I just make stuff up.

          Isn’t The Movers of the Temple a novel by G.A. Henty?

        • Judy Prince says:

          Dear Rodent, GRAVATAR (copyright) is a combo of the first letters of “Globally Recognised” and the word “avatar.” Any relationship to the Latin word “gravitus” (meaning “a grave where useless information is buried”) is not intended. Is this a Rodent leg-pulling moment? I hope so, as it’s high wit, indeed.

          And, Gareth, you realise you’ve awakened Rodent’s Inner Lecturer. Now I must sigh and roll my eyes for minutes at a time whilst listening to explanations of the etymological distinctions between cant words in the 16th to 18th century, the apparent non-use of adverbs in cant language, and the differences between cant, argot, jargon, pigeon and creole.

          I simply listen for a couple minutes, nodding attentively as you used to do, Gareth—-then I say “TMI!” and Rodent’s Inner Lecturer goes back to sleep while Rodent squeezes oranges for our breakfast juice.

          He is a brilliant and thoroughly lovable Rodent, though!

        • Gareth says:

          You do realise, Judy, that I am going to have to spend the rest of the evening trying to guess what TMI might possibly mean.

          Has it got anything to do with “measuring the Temple” (*wink*)?

        • Rodent says:

          “Any relationship to the Latin word “gravitus” (meaning “a grave where useless information is buried”) is not intended. Is this a Rodent leg-pulling moment?”

          Ha! You missed the reference to Titivullus, which is the *really clever bit, and entirely apposite as you’d discover if you Wiki’ed him. [If T. isn’t there, he ought to be, with a cross-reference to Michael Ayrton.]

          Nice to see I can still con Gareth with faux profundity after lo these all too many years.

          Really you’re too trusting by half, the both of you. [NOTE]


          Note: An early use of the phrase “too [something] by half,” in the form “I’d rather by half,” is put into the mouth of Jack Sheppard in The Hundreds of Drury poem which was published the morning Sheppard was topped. Now *there’s a really admirable character for you, your man Sheppard.

          Ah, in case Gareth hasn’t come across it, I’ll paste in here Jonathan Swift’s take on poor tragic untimely topped Jack …



          Clever Tom Clinch going to be hanged.
          Written in the Year 1726.

          As clever Tom Clinch, while the Rabble was bawling,
          Rode stately through Holbourn, to die in his Calling;
          He stopt at the George for a Bottle of Sack,
          And promis’d to pay for it when he’d come back.
          His Waistcoat and Stockings, and Breeches were white,
          His Cap had a new Cherry Ribbon to ty’t.
          The Maids to the Doors and the Balconies ran,
          And said, lack-a-day! he’s a proper young Man.
          But, as from the Windows the Ladies he spy’d,
          Like a Beau in the Box, he bow’d low on each Side;
          And when his last Speech the loud Hawkers did cry,
          He swore from his Cart, it was all a damn’d Lye.
          The Hangman for Pardon fell down on his Knee;
          Tom gave him a Kick in the Guts for his Fee.
          Then said, I must speak to the People a little,
          But I’ll see you all damn’d before I will whittle.
          My honest Friend Wild, may he long hold his Place,
          He lengthen’d my Life with a whole Year of Grace.
          Take Courage, dear Comrades, and be not afraid,
          Nor slip this Occasion to follow your Trade.
          My Conscience is clear, and my Spirits are calm,
          And thus I go off without Pray’r-Book or Psalm.
          Then follow the Practice of clever Tom Clinch,
          Who hung like a Hero, and never would flinch.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I love this Jonathon Swift ballad/poem/paean to Jack Sheppard, dear Rodent.

          You say that “whittle” is the only cant word he used in the poem, and that it means (USA slang) to “squeal” or “rat” (oops, pardon, Rodent!) on somebody. I recall Sheppard having refused to whittle on his comrades-in-trade, and that he was a notable exception in that regard.

          I especially liked the story of the newly-imprisoned guy who whittled to a “helpful” volunteer.

          Remember that?

        • Gareth says:

          I did not need to wki or google Titivullus, thank you kindly … but yes, I really should have picked up what it meant. In my defence … no, I don’t really have one.

          As for still being able to con me … I am older but no wiser, and certainly there has been no improvement in my mediocre intellect (and there are days when I can actually hear the death rattle of my brain cells).

          I had not come across the Swift … thanks for that.

  12. Judy Prince says:

    ” . . . a quiet “oh dear” allows one to rise above most unpleasant things that life has to offer.” Rising above stanky toilets, Gareth, provokes, rather, more like a glaswegian, “F–k that, jimmy!”

    Rodent’s moving about the house now with mutterings like, “Hmmmm…..maybe a mistake telling Gareth about the Oxford post on TNB…..don’t remember that particular incident he describes…..hmmmm…..”

    To me, though, you describe quite perfectly what he had told me about his teachery meetings with students. HAHAHAHAHA!

    Rodent and me rushing off to measure The Temple. He’ll get back with you. And I add: after he finishes grading your paper. 😉

  13. Gareth says:

    Oh, and that’s great news about The Temple.

  14. Gareth says:

    Wow! One really does get that is “bijou fruitette is googled.

    Try googling “Polari” instead (apparantly I can’t post web addresses)

    “Bijou” = small
    “Fruitette” = a small fruit (obviously!)

    I am intermittently (you might also like to google “veleity”) trying to introduce into common usage around the world the couple of dozen Polari words I know.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Gareth, “bijou fruitette” is a great pet name!

      I’ll let dear Rodent, the Polari wonk-maven enlighten us. He says:

      “Yeah, yeah, round the horn and that, but what about circus Polari? It’s the only version which shows traces of original thieves’ cant.”

      From me: TNB’ll allow no more than 2 links per comment.

      • Rodent says:

        After thinking a bit, I said, “Julian and Sandy, those were the names.”

        Her response to *that was distinctly unsympathetic, so I said, “Hey, if you won’t listen to me, ask Gareth what that’s about.”

        I was listening to Just A Minute once, about the time I was working on my PhD on Donne, and Kenneth Williams went, very unusually, the whole nine yards. That wasn’t the oddest — oddest was he talked without etc. for the entire 60 seconds on Renaissance Neoplatonism. Far as I could make out, through my dropped jaw, he didn’t put a foot wrong, and was coming up with stuff *I* didn’t know.

        Man was a genius, but, and misconstrued in the Carry On Films.

        Does the cliche, “Tragic Waste”, spring to mind?


        • Gareth says:

          Rodent, have you read Williams’ diaries?

          Yes, a tragic waste. I still love the early Carry Ons, but, since I found out about the conditions under which Williams et al performed, watching them has become a rather guilty pleasure.

          Judy, please don’t accpet any reference to me as a source of knowledge for anything; but, yes, it was indeed Julian and Sandy.

        • Rodent says:

          Gareth, re KW:

          Thanks for reminding me about the diaries — just ordered them (one of amazon.co.uk’s 1p sellers, so they worked out about £2.76p each including postage) and the ‘formal’ autobiography, _Just Williams_. Got the DVD of An Evening With Kenneth Williams somewhere around which for some reason haven’t got round to playing yet, and apparently there’s a film about him, Fantabulosa. The Julian&Sandy pieces should be on the Net (and my computer) somewhere.

          The life so short …

          (Currently tarting up the ICHLL paper, with some censored bits reintroduced, in response to a shotgun request addressed to everyone who delivered a paper at the conference to lodge it on the Oxford Archive site, and thinking about a post to ADS-l which is informally titled The Rodent’s Revenge and would basically constitute a demolition job on the OED entries on “rumbo”, “rumbo-ken”, and associated terms. Bit like shooting fish in a barrel that, and I better watch out I don’t piss off *everyone in the area.)


        • Judy Prince says:

          Is it possible that dear Rodent could piss off (note USA version of term) *anyone*? Oh, wait, with the possible exception of . . . um . . . right . . . and the people in the . . . yes, I see what you mean, dear Rodent. P’raps we should engage a bodyguard. Academics can be quite formidable in their wrath. I may take out insurance on your body, including the contents of your brain. Carry on, then.

        • Gareth says:

          Rodent, I can’t imagine you pissing anyone off … you must be thinking of someone else.

          As I have never had the occasion to look up either of those words, I will (a given anyway) accept that they are wrong.

          My Williams Diaries and Autobiography are “in a box somewhere” (we currently have possessions stored on three continents) and I feel like reading them again … but bastard Amazon won’t deliver either of them to China … why not? I’m perfectly happy to pay the postage!

          Judy, one could not afford the premium to insure the contents of the man’s head.

          Amazon and backpackers … *departs muttering invective*

        • Judy Prince says:

          Quite, right, Gareth; dear Rodent’s head often bobbles to either side bcuz it’s so weighty.

          Are you the Rodent student who named the L’Bro Department of English and Drama the “Department of Anguish and Trauma”?

        • Rodent says:

          Gareth, want for me to get the KW diaries/autobiography and post them to you in PRCC? There should still be copies left at the 1p offer, so basically it would just be the postal charges. I’d offer to copy the DVD for you, but dunno quite where it is at the moment. Formal Moving Day is a week tomorrow, so things are getting a bit rushed …

          Judy, I think it was Mike Anderson who came up with the Anguish and Trauma wording. Gareth would prolly know.


        • Gareth says:

          Judy: I’m pretty sure that it was indeed Mike Anderson. If he has forgotten , I’m happy to lay claim to it … however, Rodent assures me, it got even more anguished and traumatic when I had left (but then again, so did my life).

          “Bobble-head Rodent” … the toy for every academics parcel-shelf!

          Rodent: thanks for the kind offer, but my UK secretary is dealing with that.

          While we are on the subject of Amazon and their generally bastardry* there were two books last week which they were, very generously, prepared to send to Beijing … and nobody seems entirely sure how they ended up on my mother’s doorstep.

          *I do have an instinctive antipathy towards large corporations

      • Gareth says:

        See, I knew I could rely on him to be able to fill in any gaps 🙂

        I don’t know what was up with my internet last night. I added a comment which hadn’t actually added after about 15 minutes, so I tried again; and then, after another 20 minutes or so, I tried a shorter version, thinking it was a problem with posting links; and then … well, you get the picture.

        I actually call the child “Boytchik” (failing to learn Yiddish was a small part of my failed attempt to reclaim my Jewish roots). A friend used to call me that, and I always liked the sound.

        And yes, I KNOW it is usually tranliterated as “boytshik”

        • Judy Prince says:

          Gareth, I’d heard “boytchik” many years ago, thought it perfect bcuz it sounded like “boy chick”. Only now, with your mentioning it, have I ever seen it spelled.

        • Gareth says:

          The tchik (or tshik, or chik) is obviously the diminutive suffix (from slavic), but ‘Boychick’ is now seen widely, although the meaning that has seems to be more in line with the female ‘bimbo’.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Gareth, I meant that I responded to the “chick” in boytchik as in baby chicken, not as something akin to “bimbo.” Shame if it has come to mean that.

  15. At this point I have to say “Ooh, vada the bona bats!”, while being only about 30% confident that I know what it means.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Gareth might know the Polari you’ve said, Steve, but what Rodent comes up with is, “Get an eyeful of those glam cookies!” (“cookies” is his placemark for whatever “bats” is)

    • Rodent says:

      You can do what you want, Steve, but don’t stand on my blue suede shoes!!!

      My only excuse (and it’s a bit limp) for not getting “batts” first off, and having to look it up, was that my interest in Polari is mostly insofar as bits of it go back to 16thC thieves’ speech, and that pretty much only occurs not in either gay or theatre polari, but in the variant found as circus polari.

      (Thus “bona” in the bit you uttered above doesn’t go back to “bene/bien” in peddler’s french but is a readoption from Italian. Too modern by half for me.)


    • Gareth says:

      I makes me wonder what picture you are looking at.

    • Gareth says:

      Incidentally, Steve, I read your piece on Englandish the other day … had me laughing and spitting with (mild) English-teachery rage in about equal measure (not, I must hasten to add, at YOUR words).

      Having spent the last sixteen years of my life surrounded by people who don’t have English as their first language (Arabs, Chinese,Americans etc) I really related to everything you were saying.

      I also really like your piece on your neighbours … I too have my Enids.

      Of course, I could have made these comments attached to each of the pieces concerned. But I didn’t.


      • Well, gosh, thank you! Trying to remember where that little bit of Polari came from…possibly a ’90s BBC magazine programme called something like Out on Friday. I say “something like” because I can’t remember the correct day, but I remember a rather Crispy thespian chap giving an example. The simplest translation was “Phwoar!”

        • Rodent says:

          “Phwoar!” would be pretty much what it means, Steve, or so I’d guess. Literally, “Look at those lovely shoes.”

          There is a slight addendum in that “vada the bona …” usually occurs in a context in which someones are sitting at a bar eyeing up the arriving talent, and commenting approvingly on the width of their biceps.

          My tuppenceworth.


        • Gareth says:

          Who wears shoes on their biceps?

          My two jiao’s worth

        • So are “shoes” euphemistic biceps? I’d hoped (or assumed) “batts” was “arse”.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I’d have to agree with you, Steve (and of course Gareth wondering about wearing shoes on biceps!): “arse” or other body parts . . . . .

        • I was probably working from the obvious (offensive) West Indian “batty”.

        • Gareth says:

          Sorry, Steve but “bats” are indeed shoes.

          “Batty” is just the Jamaican pronunciation of “botty” for “bottom” cp “Bum Boy”.

          My favourite Polari synonym for arse is “palliass” (as in “spark out on his palliass”) but “corybungus” runs it a close second.

        • Judy Prince says:

          You da man, Gareth! Rodent stated that he had to look up the meaning of “batts” and he acknowledges your superior knowledge and understanding of Polari. P’raps now I can refer to you as Bobble-Head Gareth. 😉

        • Judy Prince says:

          I forgot to ask, Gareth, what is meant by “spark out.”

        • Gareth says:

          You can not imagine what it means for Rodent to say I know something he doesn’t (and, for a change, I am entirely without sarcasm).

          “Spark out” means either just lying down, or asleep.

        • Judy Prince says:

          “You can not imagine what it means for Rodent to say I know something he doesn’t (and, for a change, I am entirely without sarcasm).” Most kind and impressive, Gareth, especially said by one bobble-head about another! 😉

          Seriously, Rodent’s the only human being I’ve known who is quick (and delighted) to credit and congratulate others for what they’ve done or what they know. It was the very first thing that attracted me to him. (OK, I’m a sucker for a compliment……but still……)

        • Gareth says:

          “… gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche”

          Yes, he does have that intellectual generousity that almost the entire human race lacks … but I’m still amazed at the concept of knowing something my intellectual hero doesn’t.

        • Gareth says:

          And, seriously, any hint of bobble-headery you might get from me is just simple flash.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I think not, Gareth, but, then, I do observe that your gravatar’ed head doesn’t bobble. Hmmmm…..

          BTW, I recall some hootful stories Rodent’s told of Mike Anderson who may’ve been your contemporary at L’Bro. Did you know him?

        • Rodent says:

          ” … just simple flash.”

          Ah,(he sighed), would that I could say that anything about flash is simple. I presume, Gareth, that your cunning words which I have quoted above are a covert allusion to the way in which flash is actually another name for the third stage of cant, following peddler’s french and St Giles’s Greek?

          And there you were, pretending to know nothing about this.

          Ha, next you’ll be saying that you’ve never heard of George Borrow’s quoting Harry Sims on Flash in _The Gypsies in Spain_.

          Just goes to show …

          An Anti-Rodent

          (Oh by the way, the Williams diaries and autobiography dropped through the mailbox less than an hour ago. R.)

        • Gareth says:

          Rodent: Ummmm … errrrr … yes.

          (a nicely judged degree of ambiguity in that response, I feel).

          My UK secretary has not been in touch about the KW items … but I think I purchased them a day or so after you. I hope you have the time to enjoy them soon.

          Your mention of Borrow makes me want to re-read “Wild Wales” … Oh my god, am I becoming homesick? Then again, I also want to re-read “Lavengro” and “The Romany Rye” … have not read those for at least 35 years.

        • Rodent says:

          Heh, heh, heh …

          I tried to pull the Henry Simms piece off the web, but only got a glancing reference:
          “Borrow instances as a masterpiece one sentence from a criminal pamphlet dealing with Henry Simms, executed at Tyburn in the middle of the eighteenth century. ‘So I went with them to a music booth where they made me almost drunk with gin, and began talking their flash language, which I did not understand.’ ”
          Problem with this, of course, is that as far as I know, no one has ever managed to find the pamphlet Borrow is alleged to be quoting from.

          Is it at the end of Lavengro or Romany Rye that Lavengro has his fight with the Blazing Tinman? So long for me too that I can’t remember which. Somewhere I came across some stuff that allegedly has details of the “real” Elizabeth Berners (if I have the lady’s name right).


        • Gareth says:

          I think (so far as I can recall) the reference to Simms is in Lavengro … I’m pretty sure I’ve never read The Gypsies in Spain.

          The only other thing I know about Simms is the Newgate Calendar entry.

          The fight with the Blazing Tinman is definitely in Lavengro.

        • Gareth says:

          And, sorry, I can’t help with Elizabeth Berners.

          Although, strangely, I do remember that Elizabeth Stride was murdered by the Ripper in Dutfield’s Yard off Berner Street.

        • Gareth says:

          My computer just went loopy again. You mean Isopel Berners. Dirty doings in a dingle etc.

          I was just thinking, it was in Wild Wales I first came across Dafydd ap Gwilym … I did a couple of my own (loose) translations a few years ago.

  16. Judy Prince says:

    Steve, Rodent says “batts” is definitely shoes in Polari. Fooled all 3 of us.

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