Walter Nash

Walter Nash a senior lecturer in English at the University of Nottingham, is the author of English Usage: A Guide to First Principles and of The Language of Humour.

Somewhere

Walter Nash, 14 May 1992

As a boy I had no inclination to follow the yellow brick road, arm in arm with the Tin Man and the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion; warlocks and Munchkins were nothing to me, swaddled in the scented darkness of the dear old Palace Picture House, I had sterner fancies, buccaneer visions. I suppose I found The Wizard of Oz sentimental – milk pudding for lasses, no provender for a chap bent on being first up the ladder with Errol Flynn, cutlass in teeth: and yet now, in my days of penultimate dreaminess, I am moved by the recollection of Garland’s luminous eye, and that curiously sweet-metallic voice singing ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ – yearning upward an octave on the first two syllables, ‘somewhere’. I recognise the sad passion for Somewhere – the dreamer’s everlasting yonder, the romantic’s thitherland, that possible realm where we shall surely find our true home, if only the heart will hold out.’

Impossibilities

Walter Nash, 25 April 1991

I marvel at how modern authors, almost to a man – or more often, to a woman – can wheedle a reader into a story, working their pitch so elegantly that by the turn of the page you are ready for any tomfoolery, even for the absurd saga of that staunch American couple, Virgil and Laraine, who have a daughter called Sam who is described as ‘feisty’, and a son called Hap who keeps on grinning his slow, rueful grin and quoting thoughtful bits out of the philosophy books he steals from the library. Beware of this boy: he is a psychopath, and on page 243 will pursue his mother with murderous intent through the steam laundry, until Mrs Lobkowitz, their garrulous, gritty, warm-hearted Jewish neighbour, fells him with a coolly-placed rabbit punch.’

Truly Terrifying Things

Walter Nash, 10 January 1991

Yoshi, my visiting Japanese scholar, carried with him a little book of Everyday English Speech, out of which he was able to construct social uses ranging from the mildly unconventional to the downright alarming. ‘ARRO NASH!’, he would bellow as I entered Monday’s seminar, and on Friday afternoons, ‘Have a GOOD one, ya HEAH?’ – coyly, concupiscently, as though dismissing me, his pale grey crumbling mentor, to a furtive weekend of unspeakable amatory and alcoholic excess. We never quite got the hang of each other, code-wise. I think he may have been disappointed at my failure to respond in kind with ‘Hey, ma MAN!’ or ‘You betchar-ASS!’, professional courtesies not often heard by the banks of the Trent. For my part, I had some difficulty in understanding his general observations on life and literature, although I was very sorry when he went home. It diminished the hilarity of the shires.’

Noam’s Ark

Walter Nash, 25 October 1990

Die Zwitscher-Maschine is the title of a picture by Paul Klee, and a most beguiling picture it is: beaky, joky, reticular line-drawing on washes of demurest blue and rose, a sort of grave man’s Rowland Emmett. It makes a pleasant cover illustration for Neil Smith’s collection of propaedeutic papers on linguistics, providing a title for the book and a humorous gloss on the text, the first in a series of playful images and allusions deftly exploited by Professor Smith as he attempts to introduce his readers – defined as ‘outsiders’ and ‘beginning insiders’ – to the intricate delights and perplexities of his subject. Like most emblems, however, this cover motif is susceptible to diverse interpretations. For what, after all, is ‘The Twitter Machine’? Is it the human mind, which, to borrow a phrase from Louis MacNeice, ‘clicks like scissors’, snipping out instructions for the creation of language? Does it refer to what most of us mean by ‘language’, the working components, audible or visible, of speech and writing? Or might it be a merry metaphor for the operations of linguistic science?’

A Messiah in the Family

Walter Nash, 8 February 1990

Of the extraordinary life and activities of Shabbetai Tzevi, or Sabbatai Zebi (1626-76), sage, scholar, mystic, apostate and self-proclaimed Messiah, an important figure in the history of Judaism, I must confess to knowing nothing until Bernice Rubens captured my interest in the remarkable existence and rum doings of one Sabbatai Zvi, holy roller, profligate, manic-depressive, loving son, passionate friend, a light never quite to lighten the gentiles, but certainly a light of a fitful and most garish kind. Ms Rubens obviously knows the difference between historical identity and fictional personage, and would not expect her readers – give or take the odd reviewer – to get up into the high bookstacks for a short unguided seminar on Shabbetaianism before settling down on the sofa to enjoy Kingdom come. History has concerns that fiction need not share. Nevertheless, writers of historical fiction are constrained by the very facts that inspire them: if your story tells the life of a real person, real life has written half of your plot for you.

Shop Talk

John Lennard, 27 January 1994

The reviewers’ quotes which, fifteen years I ago, Macmillan chose for the reprint of Kenneth Hudson’s The Jargon of the Professions were a moral lot. Auberon Waugh, writing for what...

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Good enough for Jesus

Charlotte Brewer, 25 January 1990

The second edition of The State of the Language, published ten years on from the first, contains 53 essays and nine poems, each by a different author. The dust-jackets of both editions are almost...

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Composition

Barbara Strang, 4 June 1981

The vogue for publishing series is baffling, since the ability to sustain quality, and interest for a given readership, is rare. Both, fortunately, are to be found in the Longman English Language...

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