Charles Dickens – By Benjamin Judge
I recently tried to read The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt and really struggled to get into it. I was surprised because I really love Byatt. I read the Quartet last year and thought it brilliant and I have been an admirer of her short stories for a very long time. The writing in The Children’s Book is of her usual, unnerving high standard. So why wasn’t I enjoying it? It took me about 100 pages to realise why.
It was the children. I think I hate words about children, or rather I hate words that are for adults that are about children.
The penny dropped at page 107 of The Children’s Book. A list of books started forming in my head. A list of books that I didn’t enjoy as much as I was supposed to do. Room, which I really liked but didn’t love; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I couldn’t warm too; The Life of Pi, which I made me so angry we may return to it on a later date; William Blake, and his meh meh meh, I Capture The Castle, which I want to love but don’t; Edward St Aubyn’s precocious little bastards; and Dickens, Dickens, Dickens, Dickens.
Oscar Wilde famously said “One must have a heart of stone not to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” I wouldn’t know because I rarely manage to get that far into Dickens. I started Bleak House, and was enjoying the parade of cranky old oddities, but there were these children, and they were just standing there, being children.
Now, I don’t hate children. Not many people do. But most of us hate children who sit behind us at the cinema and kick the back of our seat for two hours while rustling the noisiest bag of sweets in the world and telling their parent exactly what is happening around them. “Look mommy, I am eating a red sweet.” “Look mommy, I am eating a yellow sweet.” “Look mommy, this chair bounces when I kick it.” “Look mommy, the man in front is changing seats.”
I want you to be honest with yourself. That child. Picture him. Picture him thumping away at the back of your seat in arrhythmic patterns. A-thdump-dump-dump. A-thdump. A-thdump. Picture the spoilt little git after two hours of him realigning your spine, sitting on the seat behind you, surrounded by sweet wrappers, his clammy paws ruining the arm rests, a look of pure evil in his baby-blue eyes.
Now picture him, asking for more.
Picture him in a tattery jacket, using his best sugared tones to say “Please Sir, can I have some more?”
And that, admittedly quite unscientifically (except for the poll, which is well sciency) is why I hate Charles Dickens
My Least Favourite Word – By Clare Kirwan
I hate the word ‘robust’.
I hate the way it sounds overtly healthy and permanent. It brims with no-nonsense self-assurance. Nothing could ever be just a little bit robust.
I hate the way it sounds like a big-bossomed matron who knows what’s best for you, and also like a robot who doesn’t really care what’s best for you. ‘Robust’ is the robot nurse of offialdom. Robust would never pat you on the head and say: ‘There, there.’ It would slap you across the face to make a man of you (or woman – if you have a robust equal opps policy).
If I ever knew anyone nice who used it I might change my mind, but it was the favourite word of my ex-boss at the council – the one who wouldn’t let me have a career break unless it was for rest of my natural life.
She made us put it in every strategy we ever drafted. We were going to ‘take robust steps’ and ‘put into place robust measures’. Her reports always promised ‘robust co-ordination and dissemination of information’ when, frankly, we couldn’t co-ordinate and disseminate information in a brewery.
It’s one of those words that sneaks into incomprehensible official reports as part of the secret code for: ‘I understand that in a changing political and social environment the only way I can be seen to be in touch with current thinking is to keep my terminology up to date.’ Like ‘cohesive’ and ‘proactive’
Nobody in the real world says: “I’m going to make a robust sandwich” or “I’m off for a robust wa….”
Never mind, like all jargon words it become unfashionable as soon as everyone else starts using it. Even such a stout, hardy little word isn’t able to stand in the way of continuing obfuscation. It isn’t that robust after all.
Sentence Of The Week
This weeks sentence of the week is both stupid and indescribably marvellous. Its existence is stupid but its use of words is almost magical in its silliness. It is from The Guardian, and was on page 28 on Tuesday. Instead of the usual quote from the main article we got a brief glimpse into the mind of an editorial process. In big letters, between comedy-sized quotation marks was:
Pullquote over five
lines in here
type over text
Next week in We Hate Words
Joanne Sheppard has a bone to pick with Jane Austen, and Guy Garrud tells us exactly what he has against pants. You will find that and more here here herey herey next Sunday.