A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

literature
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CONTEXTUALLY YOURS NO 64 (article first published : 2005-02-13)

The last essay in this series concerned the “cynosure”, the Pole Star, or the constellation (Ursa Minor) that contains it, and hence anything that strongly attracts attention. I also mentioned the curious fact that the term is derived from the Greek words for a dog’s tail, “kynos oura”, when the constellation involved is the Little Bear, with not a dog in sight.

The problem remains, alas, unresolved, but a little further digging did reveal the Greek word for a bear, “arktos”. The adjective “arktikos” – relating to the bear - gives us, of course, the Arctic Circle, Arctic Ocean and so on, because of their location beneath the stars of the Little Bear.

Those old Greek dogs had a further contribution to make to language. They became associated with a group of philosophers known as the Cynics. Why they were so called is not quite clear. It may be because the probable founder of the school, one Antisthenes, taught in a gymnasium called the Cynosarges. He was himself a pupil of Socrates, but the evident charm of Socrates doesn’t seem to have rubbed off on him, because the Cynics may have been so called on account of their surliness.

Their best-known adherent was the celebrated Diogenes, who, according to the Oxford Companion to English Literature, “after a dissolute youth, practised at Athens the greatest austerity, finally taking up his residence, it is said, in a large earthenware jar.” The Cynics despised wealth, art, learning and intellectual pursuits, as well as the luxuries and comforts of life; the modern cynic merely refuses to recognise all human virtue and selflessness, which is not the same thing at all, but the surliness persists.

On a completely different subject, an interesting new slang word has surfaced in England: “chav”. At least, it was new to me and anyone I asked about it here in South Africa, but when I looked for it on the Internet I found it had about 103,000 entries, so I am clearly a little behind the times. An impressive website called World Wide Words gives a comprehensive insight into its meaning: a chav is a member of a “delinquent underclass … set apart by ignorance, fecklessness, mindless violence and bad taste.” Oddly enough, the term has also surfaced in the United States, where it is evidently employed as a compliment, prompting an irritated English journalist to complain that it was bad enough that Americans mutilate the English language, but “can’t they at least leave our insults alone?”

The author of the World Wide Words website, Michael Quinion, also gives an interesting explanation of the word’s probable derivation. One newspaper thought it derived from the town of Chatham in Kent, “where the word is best known and probably originated.” But it seems that the Chatham area, among its other distinctions, has a sizeable and long-standing gypsy population, and Mr Quinion believes that “chav” derives from the Romany (Gypsy) word for a child – “chavi”. As this has been used as a form of address for an adult since the latter part of the nineteenth century, it seems highly likely that this source is the correct one.

Finally, I am indebted to the Weekly Telegraph for an enchanting coincidence of names. It appears that “Al Gore, former U.S. vice-president, and David Blood, ex-head of asset management at Goldman Sachs, have got together to form a new investment company.”

Sadly, they have decided to call it Generation; the temptation to call it Blood & Gore must have been almost irresistible.

Contextually Yours, Ulysses Online.




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart