One of the delights of the TV dramatisation of ‘Cranford’ is the language.  I jotted down a couple of phrases that really tickled me.  Much excitement was generated by the arrival in the local shop of Valentine cards and by the fact that they were made by machine.  Miss Pole wondered what kind of sentiment could be conveyed by ‘a card made by apparatus’.  Later in the touching scene when Mr Holbrook declares himself to Miss Matty, he says that ‘Haste was never our hallmark.  We should be unshaped if we moved at speed.’  I love the gentle irony of these relatively simple but original phrases.  I wonder how Gaskell’s writing sounded to the reader of her time.  Part of the charm is the formality of the conversational exchanges and of course Cranford was a place where, if time did not stand still, most of its inhabitants wished it would.  So perhaps even to the contemporary ear, the style of expression was old-fashioned.  I’m not enough of a lingustic historian to know. 

I am though for practical purposes, an advocate of plain English.  The plain English campaign website is worth a look for its advice and its hilarious Golden Bull awards for the worst gobbledegook of the year.  It’s important for democracy that government documents are unambiguous and jargon-free.  It makes life easier for everyone if official forms can be easily understood.   The website features an A – Z  ‘translating ‘ complicated words into simpler ones.  I don’t agree with them all but it’s handy for spotting the sort of business letter cliches that put the brain to sleep.

Sometimes sophisticated language – ‘big words’ – are needed for complex ideas or to communicate nuance.  And sometimes it’s just fun to use them.   What’s even cleverer, is to say something quite new with ‘ordinary’ words.  I find that A.L.Kennedy does that brilliantly.  A very different sort of reading pleasure from Elizabeth Gaskell.  I want them both on my desert island.

3 Responses to “”


  1. 1 abf December 6, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Did you consider the neat juxtaposition of “card” and “Hallmark”? or are you Princess of Serendip?

  2. 3 abf December 6, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    So I might comment: serendip… pity!


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