28 July 2015

Talking Oxford (1)

Cambridge men and women, vulgo "Tabs", are, in my experience, without exception (well, 'spiritually', as Rex Mottram would say), Old Etonians with aunties and uncles high up in the KGB, who speak with a leisurely, languorous and protracted drawl which rarely seems to approach a conclusion. It expresses their contemptuous sense of superiority to the rest of the world ... "You dear little people, you have nothing better to do with your poor little lives than to listen to me". It has been suggested that Oxonians feel no need to prove any such thesis and and that we more characteristically speak faster and then pause for breath in mid-sentence so that, when we do get to the end of the sentence, we can immediately leap into the next sentence without giving any opportunity to a polite interlocutor to ... er ... er ... interlocute (stet haec sententia pro exemplo). I think this is right; but there is more to "talking Oxford" than just that one particular (very serviceable) device. What has drawn me back to philology is an entertaining little spat which erupted last month at this year's Encaenia, in the Creweian Oration, delivered, nowadays, in English. ("Insignissime domine Cancellarie, licetne Anglice loqui?" ... the Chancellor teases the moment and then, with a dismissive shrug, snarls "Licet" ... that is how we get round it.)

At this point you need to know that, since about 2004, the role of Vice-Chancellor in this University has radically changed. Previously, the VC was himself an Oxford product, commissioned, so to speak, from the Lower Deck. But since then we have had two of them who have belonged to the new international elite of super-administrators, Staff College products who have never drunk from the Isis, who can (and do) cheerfully flit from running Yale to running Oxford; from running Oxford to running NYU. Let us not go into the question of any financial aspects there may be to these arrangements (neat example of a Ciceronian praeteritio, yes?). The first of these two gentlemen tried to haul Oxford into the twentieth century; he met fierce resistance. The second, who is about to leave, is not having a second term in office and is departing some months early. But what this sociological change means is that a modern Vice-Chancellor does not now speak, or even understand, Oxford's own ideolect (forgive the dittography). He ... or she ... has, quite simply, not been suckled at the correct breasts. Ergo, a deep gap in communication ... C S Lewis's phrase a phatic hiatus will have sprung to your minds. Exactly. Gottit.

More later.


Little Black Sambo said...

All very well said. Can you explain how Oxford was persuaded to cease appointing the Vice-Chancellor by rote from the colleges? Has this change increased the power of the administrators over the dons and given the Government more scope for meddling in university affairs?

Doodler said...

I say, old boy, hang about a bit! What you chaps from the Latin Quarter of Cowley forget is that some of us 'Tabs', as you rather disrespectfully call us, like to think carefully about what we say, don't you see, just in case we may actually commit ourselves to saying something that might be construed in any way as giving the impression that we have something meaningful to contribute to the matter under discussion.

Sue Sims said...

As always, a sapient comment. (But it's 'idiolect' rather than 'ideolect'.)

Stephen said...

Heavens! That you should have stooped to endure a Yale man I can only attribute to either a) a charitable impluse among Oxonians to work amongst the deficient or b) the archeologists have won the day installed neanderthals to rule over homo sapiens as a politically correct experiment in genetic diversity.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

we can immediately leap into the next sentence without giving any opportunity to a polite interlocutor to ... er ... er ..interlocute

When ABS read this, he heard the voice of William F Buckley

Stephen Barber said...

As a Cambridge man but not an Old Etonian I remember those who were strutting around the place and bawling to one another as if they could completely ignore the rest of us. Of course they were quite right, only I didn't know it then.

Fr. Hugh said...

O Oracle!
Am wondering about the vocative "Cancellarie:" is this some mediaevalism or am I missing something? Please enlighten me. Perhaps my grammar is rusty.
Fr Hugh

Doodler said...

To Fr Hugh (with Fr Hunwicke's permission)
It is my understanding that "Cancellarie" IS the voctive singular of "Cancellarius" (Probably Late Latin = "Chancellor"/"Doorkeeper")
Until its closure Lincoln Theological College was "Scholae Cancellarii" under the titular leadership of the Chancellor of the Cathedral.