Archive for September, 2015

Fio-Rhee-na

September 25, 2015

One of the very first posts I published on this blog, in 2007, was one I titled Glib self-promoters. It was my reaction to hearing the news that Michelle Rhee had just been named Chancellor of the District of Columbia Schools and to having hear her glibly promote herself on NPR.

Four years later I wrote an I-told-you-so post which I titled Rhee-visited.

And now we have among us a glib self-promoter who is Michelle Rhee writ large. She managed to glibly promote herself into the chief executive position of a large technology corporation, a position from which she was fired after a performance that was disastrous for everyone except herself (financially speaking). But while her self-promotion had managed to sway the company’s board of directors into appointing her (it seems that corporate boards, supposedly composed of hard-headed business people, are no less impressionable than school boards and the like), it did not do so with the people of the State of California when she tried to become their Senator.

Undeterred, she now seems to believe that her salesmanlike charms can get her the Presidency of the United States.

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Doyle’s accent

September 21, 2015

One of the most entertaining features of the Canadian television series Murdoch Mysteries, about a police detective working in Toronto in the years around 1900, is the appearance of some of the more colorful historical personalities of the period, including Thomas Edison, Emma Goldman, Winston Churchill, Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle, in particular, makes several visits to Toronto and becomes friends with Murdoch. He is played by an actor named Geraint Wyn Davies who is (what else?) Welsh-born but who has divided his acting career — much of it Shakespearean — between Canada and England. What struck me was that Davies portrayed the Edinburgh-born as speaking with the standard accent (called RP) of the educated English. I wondered about that.

I found out that Doyle went to school, from age 9 to 16, at a Jesuit institution in Lancashire, England, and so it stood to reason that, if only out of conformity, he might have adopted an English accent. (In my own case, when I first came to Los Angeles at the age of 15½, I spoke English with something very much like RP, but it didn’t take me very long to sound like a Californian.) While he went back to Edinburgh for university, he soon thereafter moved to southern England and stayed there for the rest of his life.This information allayed my concerns about Doyle’s accent.

I have just watched the ITV series Arthur and George, starring Martin Clunes (of Doc Martin fame) as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here Clunes, a lifelong Londoner who spoke pure RP as Doc Martin, plays Doyle with a soft Scottish accent (for which he received coaching). There has been a lot of lively discussion in Britain about this aspect of his performance, including some criticism, but several Scots have commented on the seeming Edinburgh authenticity of his speech. But is it authentic Doyle?

There is, in fact a clear answer to this last question: a filmed interview with Doyle (who is the only one on camera) is available on YouTube. There is very little that is Scottish in Doyle’s speech; the “long o” (as in ‘Holmes’), “long a” (as in ‘name’) and “long i” (as in ‘time’) are decidedly southern English, though ‘chance’ and ‘look’ sound more northern (Lancashire?). His prevocalic r, however, has a distinctly tapped or flapped quality (one not usually heard in Edinburgh any longer). Whether this is a Scotticism or a vestige of older RP, it’s hard to know.

It’s surprising that neither Davies nor Clunes took the trouble to listen to the recording and adopt its speech features; it’s something British actors are supposedly good at.

Yankin’ Rankin justified

September 21, 2015

Half a decade ago I wrote a post in which I complained about the Americanizing of vocabulary in the US editions of British detective novels, and specifically in those of Ian Rankin. The most appalling example I cited was in The Naming of the Dead, writing that “[a]pparently… not only was every instance of mobile phone replaced by cell phone, but the word mobile itself, commonly used in Britain as an abbreviation for mobile phone, became simply cell,” so that “…[w]hen the text reads ‘he left his cell’ it is not at all clear if the reference is to getting out of the lockup or not taking the mobile phone.”

I was also happy to note that no such “yankin'” was done in the following novel, Exit Music, which at the time seemed to be the last of the Rebus novel. Fortunately for us fans, Rankin has continued writing about John Rebus.

I recently read an early Rankin novel, a non-Rebus one titled Bleeding Hearts which was published in 1994 under the pseudonym Jack Harvey. It was not the original edition but an equally British reissue printed in 2000.

An American edition of the novel was published by Little, Brown in 2006. I have not seen it yet, and I don’t know if it was “yanked.” But consider this: a large part of the action takes place in the United States, and many of the characters are Americans. Rankin seems to have paid a lot of attention to the geography of the places where things happen, which is described in overwhelming detail. But he has an American, speaking to other Americans, say things like “tin-opener,” “tinned chilli,” “rucksack,” “balaclava” and “the NSC [National Security Council] are…” (He may have mixed up NSC with NSA.) Here’s where some judicious yankin’ Rankin might be justified.

Addendum: I have now seen the American edition, and in fact “tinned chilli” became “cans of chili” and “rucksack” is now “backpack.” But not only when spoken by Americans, but by Brits as well. So it’s back to the same old yankin’.