Not having any visible means of support means not having to have an alarm clock. I wake up on my own. Until the past four months, from 18 to 46, I lived with people: 11 years with Rennie, 11 years with Molly, three years with Susanne, and three years with Christiane – all wild and wonderful and sad. In a raw little wooden bed, with two drawers that slide across the carpet, one with shirts and vests in, one with socks and underpants. On a thin three-layer futon with red sheets and pillowcases. The woman in the shop asked me what I was going to do with it, and when I said ‘sleep on it’ she was surprised. I asked why she sold them then? She said everyone bought two to sleep on, or one six-layer one. I must say the slats of the bed do poke through the mattress a bit. I drape the purple curtains Phil gave me on the six-inch nails and, in my pyjamas, make a pot of tea and have a pee in the sink at the end of the bed. I choose from my two pairs of trousers and three pairs of shoes. I don’t have any breakfast. When I am ready I go downstairs and through the gap in the wall I made, the Caledonian Gap, into my studio. It took me many years to be able to call the room I worked in a studio: the word seemed so pretentious for what was designed as the first-floor front bedroom. I do my post – about four letters a day – and phone calls, one every day to my confidant Martin Fuller, and start work. At lunchtime I have a bowl of All-Bran. All day I have cups of decaffeinated coffee. At twenty to seven I go swimming.
[*] 121 pp., £3.95, 26 June, 0 7453 0127 4.
Vol. 8 No. 18 · 23 October 1986
SIR: Patrick Hughes is right (LRB, 24 July): ‘metaphasis’ is not in the OED. In fact, as far as I can see, it is not in any dictionary. But couldn’t it be that there is a distinction to be made between ‘metaphasis’ and ‘metathesis’? The OED defines the latter as ‘the interchange of position between sounds or letters in a word’ (my italics). An example would be Old English bridd becoming modern bird. This leaves ‘metaphasis’ free to describe what Spooner did: transpose sounds between different words, like his classic ‘our queer Dean’. True, Tony Augarde doesn’t make the distinction in The Oxford Guide to Word Games, and uses the two terms indifferently. But they can serve a useful differentiating role.
Patrick Hughes writes: There is a word in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, on the same page 1315 as ‘metathesis’, called ‘metaplasm’, as used by Quintilian. This describes the bridd-bird business. Let’s keep ‘metathesis’ for what it has been used for for three thousand years.
Vol. 8 No. 20 · 20 November 1986
SIR: The last issue of my favourite publication (LRB, 24 July) brought two editorial oversights. It is not too serious when Patrick Hughes in his charming diary tells us that ‘my record was 52 lengths in the half-hour – that is, 1300 metres … It is my ambition to be able to do a kilometre in half an hour, but I didn’t learn to swim until I was 33, so I am not very fast.’ After all, if he would swim a little slower, he would achieve his ambition. But when Paul Foot translates ‘a feeling for the clandestine’ as Fingerspizengefuehl [sic], he misrepresents a good word. Fingerspitzengefuehl stands for sensibility, sympathetic understanding, empathy and has overtones of tact and delicacy – hardly how Paul Foot would want to describe the activities of the President’s ‘boys’. Are these just incidental difficulties with Continental concepts, or should I also be wary of taking the LRB as my example of good English?
Kirsten Fischer Lindahl
Vol. 8 No. 21 · 4 December 1986
SIR: As a late-comer to the dispute, I find myself quite baffled by the letter and the rejoinder to it in the LRB of 23 October. Why does Mr Room want us to use the vox nihili ‘metaphasis’ when we have at our disposal the well-known term ‘Spoonerism’? Why, on the other hand, does Mr Hughes urge us ‘to keep “metathesis” for what it has been used for for three [sic] thousand years’, while at the same time recommending that we supplant it by ‘metaplasm’? Ancient Greek grammarians (and I had always thought English grammarians) employ ‘metathesis’ exactly as Mr Room recommends that we should use it: to describe phenomena like Old English bridd > Modern English bird, or, to take another example, Scots brunt. ‘Metaplasm’ is such a loose term that it might be applied to these phenomena, although Quintilian was certainly not using it specifically in that way. Its most widespread technical use is to describe the creation of forms in the declension of nouns and the conjugation of verbs where there exists no paradigmatic nominative case or present tense.
Department of Greek and Latin, University of Manchester