Yesterday I had the sudden thought that we don’t say good-mouth as the equal and opposite of bad-mouth. We may compliment or speak well or highly of people, but we don’t go around good-mouthing them. Maybe we should.

Wikitionary and trace it to a calque from an expression in a Mande language of West Africa, which entered US English via Gullah. Wiktionary also adds “Compare Japanese 悪口 [waruguchi] (“to badmouth”), which is a compound of 悪 [waru] (“bad, wicked”) and 口 [kuchi] (“mouth”)”. I can also think of Latin maledicere/maledico/maledictus (compare English maledict (rare), malediction), so if three such widely separated languages have a word for it, then surely it’s not uncommon. See also Latin benedicere/benedico/ benedictio and English benedict (not used in this sense), benediction

But imagine that one bus driver drives carefully the whole way, while another starts a sign language conversation with a person sitting in the front passenger seat (which really happened some years ago). Which one am I likely to tell you about, or to complain to the bus company about (I didn’t; another passenger asked him to stop it, and he did)? How many large companies have complaints departments instead of compliments departments? Some websites allow the giving of feedback about how we are doing. I’ll guess that at least 90% of the feedback is negative. 

Many years ago I saw a cartoon of one person complaining about everything to another, who is trying to interrupt. The last panel shows that they are at the complaints counter of a department store. See also Douglas Adams’s Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Department, which is “the only part of the company to still turn a profit”. 

Online searches for good-mouth found oral and dental products and treatments. Searches for bad-mouth found those alongside the criticise meaning. 

Coincidentally, while I was drafting this post, Browse TV Tropes showed me Accentuate the Negative, which discusses and gives examples of this. Accentuate the Positive is a song by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen.


Eff it!

Yesterday one of my colleagues said something close enough to ineffable, which led to me paraphrase Douglas Adam’s line: “Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency)

We got talking about this strange word, and soon after he quoted the hymn O worship the King, all glorious above, the last verse of which begins O measureless might! Ineffable love! Today he added Crown him with many crowns, which contains the lines Creator of the rolling spheres, Ineffably sublime.*

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“a privately-owned solar system”

An article I subedited referred to a company having Australia’s largest privately-owned solar system. The context made it clear that the company owned panels and generators and batteries, but I couldn’t help thinking that it owned a sun and planets and moons, even though this is impossible in practice – there’d be nowhere to put it, for a start.

A major search engine thinks that solar system means a sun and planets and moons. To get an image of panels and generators and batteries, you need to search for solar energy/power/electric system.

(Compare Douglas Adams’ character Hotblack Desiato, a member of the biggest, loudest, richest rock band in the history of history itself, who went from being a man who despised the star system to being a man who buys star systems.)

‘In the beginning …’

I have been looking back over some of the discussion posts for my masters degree. Here is one of them, which I posted for my first subject ‘The English Language’. I have revised it slightly, particularly taking out some academic references. Those with religious over-sensibilities and/or without a sense of humour are cautioned against continuing.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
“In the beginning the Universe was created.” (Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, ch 1, para 1)

My focus here is on the language each writer uses to talk about the origin and purpose of the universe, especially Adams – the Bible writer has already been extensively analysed. To a writer (and readers) of sacred history, God is ‘given’ (“common knowledge … culturally shared”) – so can be named and active in the first sentence. To a writer (and readers) of science-fiction comedy, the existence of the universe is ‘given’, and any account of its creation is open to speculation. If Adams had to use the active voice of English grammar here, he would have to say something like “In the beginning, someone or something created the Universe”. But the interest is in the action of creation, and the agent is, for the moment, unstated.

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