Deaf To Fowler

Dear Sir,

When I picked up the Dec 2003 / Jan 2004 issue of LR from the wharf- the packet-steamer from London had just docked – I heaved a sigh of despair. Amanda Craig misused ‘eke out’ on page 67: ‘Jack Smollett . . . ekes out a living as a teacher.’ As Fowler chides, ‘You can eke out your income or . . . a scanty subsistence with odd jobs or by fishing, but you cannot eke out a living or a miserable existence.’

And in the paperback reviews you printed the phrase ‘set out to hoist Modernist bombast on its own petard’. Your author’s is a common misreading of its source, Hamlet’s wonderfully cruel phrase, “Tis sport to see the engineer hoist with his own petard’.

An engineer in Shakespeare’s time made engines of war. A petard is not a pole or a lifting device, it’s a bomb or mine. (The word is from the French ‘p├ętard’, from Old French, ‘peter’, to break wind.) Hoist means raised or flung up. You can’t say that someone is hoist ‘on’ a petard for the same reason that you can’t say they get blown up ‘on’ a bomb.

Honestly, if the top literary wicket-keepers in London can’t catch a few obvious blunders, where’s literature headed? Down the toilet with the bloody post-modernists, that’s where! Yours faithfully,

 

Disappointed, Sydney


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