How to Épater les bourgeois, of course
In a column in today’s Guardian, Jemima Lewis, consultant editor (what’s a ‘consultant editor’?) of The Week, rightly bemoans the awfulness of the lyrics of a song which is apparently top of the charts at the moment, ‘You’re Beautiful’, by one James Blunt, former public schoolboy and Guards officer. Meditating on the theme of ghastly pop lyrics and the offence they give to sensitive ears, Ms Lewis writes:
[A] friend – a stickler for grammar – cannot listen to the Madonna song Music because of the line: "Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel". It should, of course, be bourgeois in the singular.
It’s bad enough that Ms Lewis evidently imagines that ‘bourgeoisie’ is (or are?) a plural noun: the offence is fatally compounded by that knowing ‘of course’. When, decades ago, I worked for the late and much lamented Lord Caradon, formerly Hugh Foot, one of the few acknowledged orators at the UN in his day and a master of faintly biblical English, he used to forbid the use of ‘of course’ in speeches or letters that we drafted for him: if the phrase was meant to imply that the accompanying statement was obvious, the atatement was probably unnecessary; and if it was intended to lend a spurious cogency to a statement of dubious validity, it was better to improve the accuracy and cogency of the statement. Anyway, the score is Madonna 1, Jemima Lewis and her friend 0 – of course.
Is not the annoyance inherent in the close conjunction of a word describing a group and a word describing a single person?
…and I meant to add:
There is a place for ‘of course’, when you want to say `It’s rather important but it may have slipped your mind so perhaps I’d better mention it’. On the other hand, I particularly dislike the Tatler and Bystander usage: ‘Lady X.Y., who is, of course, the youngest niece of the Marquess of Z.’
To stray off-topic I am very wary of using the term ‘of course’ when describing family relationships.
‘Maternity is a matter of fact, paternity is a matter of opinion’, to which can be added ‘until the DNA test decides’!
It can be used , “of course”, to ward off any charge of an intention to rub someone’s nose in his own ignorance. You are not in TW’s instance a true Tatler man, merely a pesaant in a dentist’s waiting room.
To which the only possible answer is: Yes, of course.
Patrick’s last sentence prompts me to mention that a study of blood groups in an American obstetrical ward in the 1940’s showed that some 10% of new-borns had inherited their blood groups neither from the biological mothers (of whose identity there was no doubt) nor from the putative fathers. Apparently this study was never published, but the findings became well-known in medical circles and were in general corroborated by related studies, the indications of adultery ranging from 5% upwards (cited by Jared Diamond in ‘The Third Chimpanzee’).
Sorry, we’ve strayed some way from the original theme, of course…
I shall, as a matter of course, be blogging on the theme of paternal discrepancy. I am still reading the latest review of current literature published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.The idea of paternity testing is enough to have my father turning in his grave…
Bet those balmy summer evenings just fly by chez Patrick!
I would have thought that in this context ‘the rebel’ was a way of describing rebels as a group, and therefore closely akin to ‘the bourgeoisie’. It doesn’t annoy me, anyway.
The pertinent is always more interesting than the accurate.