10 August 2019

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.

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 members of 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?). What this sociological change means is that a modern Vice-Chancellor does not now speak, or even understand, Oxford's own idiolect (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.

1 comment:

william arthurs said...

Academic dress contains powerful symbolism. From 2004 the Vice Chancellor no longer had to have been a member of the University and therefore would not necessarily own an MA gown/hood to wear on formal occasions as had been done by all previous Vice Chancellors. Simplest old-style solution: give him or her an honorary MA if needed. BUT NO, the VC needed a new "chief executive" gown with the coats of arms of the colleges down the sleeves, as if to signify that he was chief executive of all these dormitory blocks as well as of the University faculties and admin departments.

Note that legally the colleges are independent educational trusts, which the University serves in its capacity as (what the Charity Commission calls) an umbrella organisation.

Grrr !