IN THE COMMENCEMENT WAS THE WORD


I see that my old school in Melbourne now has a “commencement”. One can only imagine what the English master of my time (or teacher as he would these days be called), the Olympian A. A. Phillips, coiner of the phrase “cultural cringe”, would have had to say about this unnecessary and fatuous copying of an American educational usage. And he might have been very terse about the abandonment of the principle that for good style in English, where two words exist for the same thing, the shorter one is usually to be preferred, which is generally the one from pre-Norman English rather than French and Latin. 

If the school must have a commencement why not call it a beginning? T. S. Eliot didn't write, "In my commencement is my end". Oscar Hammerstein II might have had Maria sing, "Let's start at the very commencement / A very good place to start", but as a good stylist he didn't. And surely it was not only for alliteration that Cole Porter chose not to write, "When they commence the beguine".

10 June 2013

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