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Let slip the dogs of Waugh

Even that prickly person Evelyn Waugh, never shy about parading his opinions, was quite aware that the things people complain about in language and usage are generally idiosyncratic preferences. From a 1955 letter to Nancy Mitford:

“I wish in your Upper-class Usage you had touched on a point that has long intrigued me. Almost everyone I know has some personal antipathy which they condemn as middle class quite irrationally. My mother-in-law believes it middle-class to decant claret. Lord Beauchamp thought it m.c. not to decant champagne (into jugs). Your ‘note-paper’ is another example. I always say ‘luncheon’ but you will find ‘lunch’ used in every generation for the last 80 years [by?] unimpeachable sources. There are very illiterate people like Perry Brownlow who regard all correct grammar as a middle-class affectation. Ronnie Knox blanches if one says ‘docile’ with a long o. I correct my children if they say ‘bike’ for bicycle.’ I think everyone has certain fixed ideas that have no relation to observed usage [italics added]. The curious thing is that, as you say, an upper class voice is always unmistakable though it may have every deviation of accent and vocabulary. Compare for instance the late Lords Westmoreland, Salisbury, Curzon. A phonetician would find no point of resemblance in their speech.”

This is taken from Mark Amory’s 1980 edition of the letters.

A lagniappe for you, the opening of a letter to Nancy Mitford in 1946, to which the book fell open when I took it from the shelf:

“My little trip to London passed in a sort of mist. Did I ever come to visit you again after my first sober afternoon. If so, I presume I owe you flowers. I left a trail of stunted & frightfully expensive hyacinths behind me. On the last evening I dimly remember a dinner party of cosmopolitan ladies where I think I must have been conspicuous. Were you there? I awoke with blood on my hands but found to my intense relief that it was my own. I sometimes think I am getting too old for this kind of thing.”



Posted by John McIntyre at 1:40 PM | | Comments (10)


There is much Evelyn Waugh, but none in pease.

As long as it's pease with hon-or. Put out more flags.

Knowing your stand on puns in a headline, I was briefly surprised to see the title on this blog entry. But I suppose such a restriction can be bent on occasion if the play on words is such as can be appreciated by the literati.

Marc Leavitt,

Respectfully, did you intend to write the word "pease" in your last one-liner post, rather than the seemingly more apt word, "peace"?

Indeed, "pease" is a legitimate word---- according to my trusty Webster's NewWorld Dictionary, an arcane Brit. term for "a pea".

So "pease" in the context of your little pun would seem strange at best, and nonsensical at worse, no?

Not trying to be a finicky smart aleck here, just wondering if I'm missing something, 'tis all?

'Waugh and Peace'----Leo Tolstoy would be tossing in his grave, no

@ Prof. McI., any relation between your "dogs of Waugh", and Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles?

Heard a loose rumor that country legend Johnny Cash was toying w/ the idea of using the name Evelyn, rather than Sue, in his classic ballad of father-son antipathy, "A Boy Named Sue". The Man-In-Black figured Sue was easier to rhyme, I reckon. (But don't quote me on that. HA!)


It's a pun on "War and Peace."

I recall a couple in college who went to a Halloween party together. His tag said "War." Hers said "Piece." Owww ...


"War and Peace", indeed.

As an exasperated Ricky Ricardo might have to said to his ditzy, yet totally lovable Lucy, "Geez Honey, 'dat splains evrathin' ".

Wasn't it the legendary American humorist Will Rogers who was quoted as saying, "I never met a pun I didn't like." ?

Oops! That was ".......a MAN I didn't like." Never mind.

@Dahlink, I would venture to say that the relationship between that "War" and "Piece" couple, didn't last much beyond Halloween. Humor is one thing, misogyny quite another. Hmm............ maybe all bets are off on Halloween?


Misogyny Alex? SHE was the one with the piece.

They actually got married--but it didn't last.

Laura Lee,

Are you saying, Ms. "Piece" was packin' 'heat'?

In other words---a pistol-packin'-momma?

After all, as the old adage goes, all is fair in love and war. HA!


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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