Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Deltiology - Postcard Regard

A blank postcard
Nothing says "I was too tight to buy you a gift and too lazy to write you a proper letter" like a postcard
(image by Caspian Levers)


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[from Greek deltion, diminutive of deltos writing tablet + -OLOGY.]

The hobby of collecting postcards.

deltiologist noun a person who collects postcards M20

The closest I ever came to being a deltiologist was as a child on holiday in Majorca, when I used to try and casually sneak a glimpse at the postcards on display there. Because ... y'know ... Spanish postcards are different to British ones. Very different. In that there are boobs on them. Lots of boobs. Boobs coming out of your ears. And that's about as interesting as deltiology gets.

Are you a deltiologist?


Just ... why?

Monday, 15 September 2014

What Does 'Delphic' Mean?

The Priestess of Delphi
John Crozier (1850-1934)


Adjective. Late 16th century.
[from Delphi (see below).]

Of or relating to Delphi, a town of Phocis in ancient Greece,
especially as the site of a sanctuary and oracle of Apollo;

Resembling or characteristic of the oracle of Delphi;
(of an utterance etc.) obscure, ambiguous, enigmatic.

If you were ever a little uncertain about something in ancient Greece, whether it be when to plant your crops, if it was a good idea to ask out that girl from work, or who you should next assassinate, then the place to go was the oracle of Delphi on the picturesque slopes of Mount Parnassus. There you could avail yourself of the very best divinatory advice, dispensed with cheerful ambiguity by the resident prophetess.

And, yes, as those with the gift like to be, the predictions given at Delphi were notoriously obscure. Perhaps the most famous example is that of Croesus, king of Lydia, who enquired as to whether he should attack the Persians. The oracle replied: "If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed," which is rather like a football pundit saying "Well it could go either way, couldn't it." However, oddly emboldened by the oracle's words, Croesus and his army charged ahead with their attack, only to learn that it was the Lydian empire that the oracle was saying would be destroyed, and not the Persians. Oops!

However, there is a better example. After all, Croesus must have been a bit of a numpty not to realise that that prediction didn't tell him anything, other than that someone was going to lose. The oracle's response to the people of Athens when faced with an attack by Xerxes I, however, was truly perplexing: "Trust in your wooden walls." This was interpreted in one of three ways: that the Athenians should erect literal wooden defences; that 'wooden walls' was a metaphor for ships and so the Persians should be fought at sea; and finally, while still thinking that 'wooden walls' referred to ships, some interpreted it as saying that everyone should just pack up their stuff and leg it (by ship) before the Persians arrive. Interestingly, the Athenians variously did all three, and when the pesky Persians were (temporarily) beaten, they all thought that the prophetess at Delphi had been extraordinarily and divinely insightful.

In modern English, the adjective Delphic has come to mean a person or a statement that is obscure, enigmatic and ambiguous, often deliberately so. Thus, whatever the outcome, it can be said that the prediction was correct (or at the very least not wrong), and Delphic language is thus a favourite of politicians, mystics and practitioners or alternative medicine.

Have you experienced any Delphic advice?

Do please leave your most enigmatic comments in the box below.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Delope - When Duellists Miss

A man firing two pistols to the side
To delope like this would really be unnecessarily dangerous to any onlookers
(photo by Paul Townsend)


Verb intrans. Mid-19th century.
[Origin unknown.]

Of a duellist: deliberately firing into the air.

If you ever find yourself being forced to take part in a duel, perhaps because of your intemperate use of words like bounder and blackguard down the pub, remember that you have the option to delope your shot. Deloping involves deliberately missing, and a duellist might do this for a number of reasons.

For one, you might genuinely not want to kill your opponent. Also, if you're a bit of a stuffed shirt, you might think your opponent is so beneath your station that bothering to kill him would be beneath you too. You might also be a rubbish shot, and know that a battle of marksmanship against Sir Arthur Bonham "Crackshot" Peddlington is a very bad idea indeed. And finally, perhaps your opponent is from a very large, highly vengeful family, and even if you do win, at best you'll be receiving dozens more challenges to duel, but more likely you'll wake up one morning, dead, with a knife in your ear.

Needless to say, deloping is an incredibly risky strategy, and is liable to enrage rather than mollify your opponent. For one thing, you didn't follow the rules of the duel (although generally illegal, they did have rules, and deloping was often specifically proscribed). If he thinks you didn't consider him worthy of killing, he's going to shoot you, and even if you pretend you meant to shoot him (perhaps by aiming for a near-miss), he'll probably just think you really did miss and are now claiming that you deloped because you're a big whingy, highly shootable crybaby. Ergo, you're still going to get shot.

Personally, I'm not in favour of deloping unless under exceptional circumstances, such as if your challenger is a one-eyed, one-legged hopping simpleton with no forefingers, whose wife you ran off with, thus ruining his one chance of happiness. Other than that, if someone challenges you to a duel, they are (literally) asking to be shot. By all means, try and get out of it beforehand by the most craven and cowardly means necessary, but once those pistols are cocked and your backs are turned, it's every over-sensitive man for himself.

Two men duelling with pistols in the snow
Eugene Onegin & Vladimir Lensky's Duel
Ilya Repin (1844-1930)
Pistols at dawn: would you delope?

Under what circumstances would deloping be acceptable?

Do please shoot your mouth off in the comment box below.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Delectus personae - Personnel Choice

A cartoon of an interview
"If your application is successful, what qualities will you bring to Ed's poker group?"
(drawing by The Daily English Show)


Noun phrase. Mid-18th century.
[Latin, literally 'choice of a person'.]

LAW (now Historical). The right of each partner in a firm, party to a contract, etc.,
to choose or be satisfied with any person subsequently admitted to partnership.

Just once in my life, I want to slam my fists on the table and cry: "I invoke the right of delectus personae!"

Seriously, how cool would that be?

Very cool.