Prior Analytics

In terms of ugly, pretentious phrases used by members of the Guardian-reading community, the “signature” phrase is undoubtedly “in terms of”. But there’s another phrase habitually deployerized by Guardianistas that is perhaps even worse in terms of its core Guardianisticity. To get to it, let’s first engage issues around the title of this post: “Prior Analytics”. I took it from the title of a book on logic by Aristotle, Prior Analytics, known in Latin as Analytica Priora.

Are you surprised to learn that Prior Analytics has a companion called Posterior Analytics, or Analytica Posteriora? No, of course you aren’t. “Prior” and “posterior” are high-falutin’ words that go together: when the first appears, the second naturally follows. And you might think that this obvious pairing would alert Guardianistas to the ugliness and pretension of another of their signature phrases, “prior to”:

• Foreign press warn over dangers of new UK media laws prior to Leveson report — headline in The Observer, 24xi2012
• “Prior to its emergence the trend was not to talk truth to power but to slur the powerless.” — The Great Gary Younge in The Observer, 6xi2011
• “Prior to a prang outside Tesco which, for insurance purposes, wasn’t actually my fault”… — The Great Zoë Williams in The Guardian, 8ii2005

Why do I think “prior to” may be even worse than “in terms of”? There are times when “in terms of” isn’t particularly bad English. I don’t like to admit it, but there are even times when it’s the best phrase to use. But “prior to”? It’s almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”. I say “almost always” because you can make an exception for a technical usage like “Existence is logically prior to essence.” But that’s a rare exception, so I repeat: “prior to” is almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”.

And guess what? You’ll find this in the Guardian and Observer style guide under “P”:

prior to, previous to

   the word you want is “before” (see Guardian and Observer style guide: P)

Guardianistas should be able to realize that for themselves, because “prior to” naturally suggests “posterior to”. However, even Guardianistas don’t habitually say “posterior to” instead of “after”. Even a Guardianista’s ugliness-and-pretension-o-meter is tripped by “posterior to”. But only in the flesh, as it were. Guardianistas are apparently incapable of two-step logic: first, noticing that “prior to” rather than “before” naturally suggests “posterior to” rather than “after”; second, deciding that because “posterior to” is ugly and pretentious, they shouldn’t use “prior to” either.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

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Hal Bent for Leather

It isn’t the best possible phrase to be governed by “in terms of” in the pages of
The Guardian
, but the combination below may be the archetypal item of Guardianese:

And what about the leather? Was that also a signal? [Rob Halford:] “It wasn’t conscious. But how ironic that I chose that look – Glenn, the biker from the Village People. That wasn’t my attachment, in terms of the gay community, but I understood the power of that look.” — How Judas Priest invented heavy metal, The Guardian, 10×2010.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates


Poovy Postscript

The title of this post was originally “Highway to Hal”, which is feeble. I don’t know why I didn’t think a bit longer and come up with the present title, which has a double entendre (your actual French, ducky).

Oh My Guardian #7

As I pointed out in Ex-Term-In-Ate!, my excoriating interrogation of “in terms of”, this ugly and pretentious phrase is especially “popular among politicians, who need ways to sound impressive and say little”. But I’ve rarely seen even a politician blether like this:

Cox’s predecessor, Mike Wood, the town’s Labour MP from 1997 to 2015, has said he felt it prudent not to rise to Lockwood’s provocation while in office. But, breaking his silence, [he] told the Observer: “Lockwood has never been anything other than a major issue in terms of trying to unstick what a lot of people were trying to do in terms of community relations.” — Tommy Robinson and the editor: how a newspaper ‘sows division’ where Jo Cox died, The Observer, 2ix2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Oh My Guardian #6 — the previous entry in this award-winning series
All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

Oh My Guardianisticity!

He’s been mixing with the wrong people:

“Our supporters and our country has had a long time suffering in terms of football. […] Our country has been through some difficult moments recently in terms of unity but sport has the power to unite — and football in particular has the power to do that.” — England manager Gareth Southgate, BBC Sport, 10vii2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Oh My Guardian #6 — the latest in the award-winning series
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates
Ex-term-in-ate! — interrogating arguably the keyliest and coreliest Guardianista phrase
All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”

Oh My Guardian #6

[…] the whole vintage package – which started as essentially a rediscovery of simple skills, tying generations together and serving as a visual cake-based bulwark against modern turbulence – has been used to sugar-coat a free-market nationalism that isn’t sweet at all. — Zoë Williams, Let’s ditch the nostalgia that’s invaded our TV and seeped into our politics, The Guardian, 30iv2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Oh My Guardian #5
Zo with the Flow
Reds under the Thread (more on mixed metaphory)

A Counter-Cultural Conundrum

If three keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community say “in terms of” 105 times in an hour, how many times will one keyly committed core component of the counter-cultural community say “prior to” in terms of 23 minutes?


Elsewhere Other-Accessible:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Titus Graun: Heresy, Homotextuality, Hive-Mind
All O.o.t.Ü.-F. posts engaging issues around I.T.O.

Oh My Guardian #5

‘We’re stepping out of a binary’ – celebrating the art of marginalized LGBT Muslims

[…] The show features artwork themed around issues of Islamophobia, racism and homophobia to “highlight the struggles common among contemporary Muslim queer, trans and gender non-conforming communities,” said co-curator and activist Yas Ahmed. — ‘We’re stepping out of a binary’, The Guardian, 22/i/2018.


Elsewhere other-accessible:

Oh My Guardian #1
Oh My Guardian #2
Oh My Guardian #3
Oh My Guardian #4
Reds under the Thread

Nice Noise

Pre-previously on Overlord-in-terms-of-the-Über-Feral, I looked at how Tolkien used the word “noise” and concluded that he didn’t use it well:

He heard behind his head a creaking and scraping sound. […] There was a shriek and the light vanished. In the dark there was a snarling noise. – “Fog on the Barrowdowns”, Book One, VIII

Now I want to look at a much better writer: Ian Fleming. At first glance, he might seem to be using “noise” badly too in this bit of Live and Let Die (1954):

At about the time he [a treasure-seeking fisherman] should have reached the island the whole village of Shark Bay was awakened by the most horrible drumming noise. It seemed to come from inside the island. It was recognized as the beating of Voodoo drums. It started softly and rose slowly to a thunderous crescendo. Then it died down again and stopped. It lasted about five minutes. – ch. 16, “The Jamaica Version”

Should “drumming noise” not simply have been “drumming”? Well, no: Fleming got it right. The phrase “X noise” or “noise of X” should be used either when a noise resembles X but isn’t X or when there’s some doubt about whether it is X. In the extract above, Fleming’s choice of words captures what must have gone on in the minds of the observers, or rather the auditors: “What is that horrible noise from the island? It sounds like drums. Wait, it is drums. But how on earth could etc.” This is confirmed by what Fleming writes next: “It seemed to come… It was recognized as…”

And once the noise has been recognized, it can be described without qualification. This bit comes later in the chapter:

Strangways described his horror when, an hour after they had left to swim across the three hundred yards of water, the terrible drumming had started up somewhere inside the cliffs of the island.

In the previous chapter, there’s a use of “noise” that I’m not so sure about:

After a quarter of an hour’s meticulous work there was a slight cracking noise and the pane came away attached to the putty knob in his hand. – ch. 15, “Midnight Among the Worms”

Would “slight cracking” have been better? It’s not as clear-cut as “drumming noise”, but I think Fleming got it right again. “Cracking” is ambiguous, because it could have meant that the glass cracked physically but not audibly. Fleming was writing considerately, leaving his readers in no doubt about what he meant.

Now try this from Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags (1942), as Basil Seal watches one of his girlfriends panicked by an air-raid:

But Poppet was gone, helter-skelter, downstairs, making little moaning noises as she went.

Waugh was an even better writer than Fleming, but did he misuse “noises” there? I don’t think so. These alternatives don’t conjure the scene as effectively:

• But Poppet was gone, helter-skelter, downstairs, emitting little moans as she went.
• But Poppet was gone, helter-skelter, downstairs, uttering little moans as she went.

The noises Poppet was making weren’t real moans and the trailing phrase “making little moaning noises” mimics what Basil would have heard as Poppet fled downstairs.

I conclude that, unlike Tolkien, Fleming and Waugh were making nice noise:

nice, adj. and adv. … Particular, strict, or careful with regard to a specific point or thing. Obs. Fastidious in matters of literary taste or style. Obs.Oxford English Dictionary

Oh My Guardian #4

• The past 16 years have involved a lot of questioning and reflecting, both in terms of what it means to be “good”, but also on the various racist myths about Muslims. — Let’s be clear: Muslims are neither good nor bad. We’re just human, Farah in terms of Elahi, The Guardian, 14/xii/2017.


Elsewhere other-available:

Oh My Guardian #1
Oh My Guardian #2
Oh My Guardian #3
Reds under the Thread

Noise Annoys

“Noise” may have an interesting etymology. Some think it comes from “nausea”, which itself comes from Greek naus, meaning “ship”. Neither the putative etymology of “noise” nor the undisputed etymology of “nausea” would have been news to J.R.R. Tolkien. He was, after all, a professional scholar of literature and languages.

But that’s why The Lord of the Rings is often a puzzling book. Why did someone so interested in words and languages write so clumsily? As I’ve said before: I wish someone would translate Lord of the Rings into English. But perhaps if Tolkien had been a better writer I wouldn’t have read Lord of the Rings so often. And perhaps if he’d been a better writer there would have been no Lord of the Rings at all. Even so, it’s hard to excuse writing like this:

He heard behind his head a creaking and scraping sound. […] There was a shriek and the light vanished. In the dark there was a snarling noise. – “Fog on the Barrowdowns”, Book One, VIII

Why did he use “sound” and “noise”? They’re redundant, because creak, scrape and snarl already describe sounds or noises. You could argue that the additional words are there to balance the sentences, but if they hadn’t been there I don’t think anyone would have missed them:

He heard behind his head a creaking and scraping. … There was a shriek and the light vanished. In the dark there was a snarling.

Later in the book Tolkien gets it right:

At that moment there came a roaring and a rushing: a noise of loud waters rolling many stones. – “Flight to the Ford”, Book One, XII

Then he gets it wrong again:

Turning quickly they saw ripples, black-edged with shadow in the waning light: great rings were widening outwards from a point far out in the lake. There was a bubbling noise, and then silence. – “A Journey in the Dark”, Book Two, IV

This would have been better:

There was a bubbling, and then silence.

It’s crisper, clearer and doesn’t strike an ugly twentieth-century note in an archaic setting. And it should have been what J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in the first place. I don’t know why he didn’t and I don’t know why his editors or those who read early drafts of Lord of the Rings didn’t point out his error. That’s why I’d like to visit the Library of Babel and find a copy of Lord of the Rings written by Clark Ashton Smith.