The Princess and I had a day off together last Friday. We went to the Metropolis exhibtion in Trinity which she found moderately entertaining and we went for tea and a bun which she probably enjoyed more. In the tea and bun shop, there was a beardy student reading “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. I drew my own slightly snarky conclusions about this. As he was going out the door he said to me, “excuse me, I hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t help overhearing you and your daughter’s conversation (few people can help it, we are loud, alas) and what I heard of her was delightful”. I felt chastened and also slightly alarmed about the implications for the pretention levels of our conversation (this was, I would say, relatively high as the Princess had decided to demonstrate her linguistic prowess and even I, the greatest show-off alive in captivity, felt that this was somewhat overdone and kept hissing at her to keep it down – “Mais maman je veux parler en Francais, why do I have to speak English to you, ba cheart duinn Gaeilge a labhairt”)
Archives for April 2009
Talk in the Office
I used to work with the daughter of a British army officer who drew my attention to the way language from the military makes its way into general business language. Ever sent anything up the line? You see what I mean.
This is obviously bleeding into other areas (pun intended). I noticed a colleague of mine using medical language at a meeting recently. Speaking about a problem in the organisation she said “It is not common but where it presents, it presents acutely”. Can I clarify that we are not talking about the symptoms of a patient in hospital? She was so pleased with this odd expression that she used it several times. She also emphasised that a solution will need to “resolve matters across the piece”. “Across the piece” is very popular in this office and the next time I hear it, I will not be responsible for my actions.
My loving husband points out that “surgical strike” is an expression which combines war and medicine and that, if I am able to work it into my next intervention at a meeting, my successful future is assured.
And your particular office jargon peeve, what might that be? Feel free to share.
Me (to the boys): This is your sister’s school and you two will be starting there in a while.
Daniel: Will we wear a uniform?
Me: Yes, you will.
Daniel: Like our sister’s uniform?
Me: Yes indeed.
Michael: Hurrah, I will wear a skirt!
When we got home, I changed into jeans, runners and a fleece, and trotted out to cut the grass. “You look cool”, said my daughter. I fear that prolonged exposure to Irish fashions has not improved anyone’s dress sense. And we were already coming from a low base. Sigh.
Finally, I have got all my hair cut off. A nice Lithuanian lady gave Daniel and me the same style. It cost us 28 euros in total. Pleasingly economical. I am quite happy but the complete absence of comment other than from my children and that, frankly negative, is a little disturbing. Kissing Michael goodnight he said, “I don’t want you to kiss me, you look like a boy, you’re not like my Mummy”. When I went to collect them from Montessori school, the teacher took one look at me and said, “Ah, that is why the boys came into school and told me that their Mummy is a boy, now.” Sigh.
The Princess came down to watch the news last night. “Oh no, not more about the money we all owe, they’ve said it already, we know it.” How true.
Meanwhile, Daniel announced to me that “Parnell Square is where we march”. It is indeed. This will be a useful piece of information for you, should you wish to avoid traffic restrictions when in Dublin.
The English are class obsessed. I went to hear an “inspirational” Englishman speak about his experiences. He announced to the audience that he was “working class” that his grandfather had been a barman and that it was through the transformational power of education that he was able to enter the venue as a speaker rather than “a servant”.
While Ireland may not be a classless society, it’s a lot closer to that than England is. I think I can confidently say that no Irish person considers that it is embarassing to have relatives engaged in pretty much any job (ok, nobody wants a cat burglar in the family, but you know what I mean). It doesn’t matter what your grandfather did for a living. It doesn’t matter what anyone’s grandfather did for a living.
I thought his use of the word “servant” was interesting too. I wouldn’t consider the waiters or those doing the cloakrooms to be servants. I wouldn’t regard it as their destiny to stay in the same position for ever either. Servants has the whiff of indentured and servility about it. I don’t like it. Maybe it’s just the difference between the colonising and the colonised. All that said, education can be transformative; for everyone.
For reasons I will not bore you with, I have discovered what is on the leaving certificate English syllabus (yes, yes, it’s all true, we’re familiarising the children with some of the easier poets to make them a shoo in for high grades in 12 years time). Roger McGough who was unknown to me is on the list, I looked him up. You may like his work. A sample is reproduced below. Whether it is suitable for cranky adolescents is a moot point.
O Lord, let me be a burden on my children
For long they’ve been a burden upon me.
May they fetch and carry, clean and scrub
And do so cheerfully.
Let them take it in turns at putting me up
Nice sunny rooms at the top of the stairs
With a walk-in bath and lift installed
At great expense…..Theirs.
Insurance against the body-blows of time
Isn’t that what having children’s all about?
To bring them up knowing that they owe you
And can’t contract out?
What is money for but to spend on their schooling?
Designer clothes, mindless hobbies, usual stuff.
Then as soon as they’re earning, off they go
Well, enough’s enough.
It’s been a blessing watching them develop
The parental pride we felt as each one grew.
But Lord, let me be a burden on my children
And on my children’s children too.