Hendiadys In Mudchute

And further, let it be known, known and digested, known and digested and regurgitated, regurgitated in the form of words, that it be known better, that in the last century Mudchute was the home of a monomaniac. Actually, to call Caspian Sea Spanglebag a monomaniac is not strictly true, for he had not one but two abiding obsessions.

The first, which is of little interest to us, was his conviction that the tyrant of the Soviet Union was called Josef Starling, while the heroine of Thomas Harris’ The Silence Of The Lambs was named Clarice Stalin. Being bonkers, Spanglebag was unmoved by the facts that the moustachioed and heavily pockmarked dictator chose the pseudonym “Man of Steel” in preference to his real name of Djugashvili, and that the troubled FBI rookie is a fictional character.

But it was the Mudchute man’s belief that hendiadys is a disease afflicting poultry, rather than a figure of speech, which consumed most of his energies. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Spanglebag declared war on the makers of dictionaries, lexicons, grammars and encyclopaedias. Most of the major publishers of reference books have somewhere in their archives a fat file containing letters with that Mudchute postmark, all written by pencil in tiny, tiny handwriting, their tone varying from mild complaint to violent menace. One example will suffice.

I purchased the latest edition of your wordbook, writes Spanglebag on 23rd June 1989, and was surprised to see you define hendiadys as “a figure of speech in which two words connected by a conjunction are used to express a single notion that would normally be expressed by an adjective and a substantive; the use of two conjoined nouns instead of a noun and modifier”. You then go on to list instances from the Bible, such as “a mouth and wisdom” in Luke 21:15, and “the hope and resurrection of the dead” in Acts 23:6. I do not take kindly to spending money on such drivel, and have torn your worthless book to shreds, and I would have scattered those shreds to the winds from atop a hill, were there any high hills in Mudchute, which there are not, so instead I steeped the shreds in buckets of water until they were but pulp, yes! pulp. Please correct your gruesome error in future editions, or I will ensure you become the laughing stocks of the reference book world, and you will weep with shame.

Note that Spanglebag sees no reason to advance his own belief that hendiadys has something to do with sick poultry. To him, it would have been to point out the obvious, like saying that water is wet, that the Pope is Catholic, or that Hooting Yard is by far the loveliest thing on the wuh-wuh-wuh, and not just by far, but far and away, away with the fairies, tiny delicate shimmering beings with wings, which, if they exist, exist only in Cottingley, where they are made of paper, and held in place in the garden by means of pins.

How pertinent is the fact that this odd little man, Spanglebag, lived his whole life in Mudchute, only rarely roaming farther afield? I think it is crucial. It made him what he was, even before the construction of the Docklands Light Railway. It is as if he embodied the spirit of the place, Mudchute’s mud and Mudchute’s chute, the caked, black, stinking mud and the gleaming metal chute down which it slides and slithers and tumbles, into god knows what foul pit of hideousness and eeuurrgghh.

[This is a mildly tweaked version of a piece which originally appeared in August 2005. Can it really be so long ago? Yes, it can. It is.]

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