Monday, November 03, 2008

Urbane? Moi?!

My 'new best friend' in blogland (the delightful Tony of Other Men's Flowers) was kind enough to give me a very warm review the other week.

I mention this not, I hope, out of vanity or a pathetic impulse towards self-publicity, but simply to comment on or query his choice of words. While I would not disagree with the general tenor of his remarks (or seek to discourage him, or anyone else, from offering such encomia), I was doubtful about the appropriateness of some of the terms he chose to use.

For example, he described me as a "polymath". That's overstating things more than somewhat! I am a trivia-sponge, but that's hardly the same thing. I suspect that we Classicists always tend to seem dauntingly erudite to the hoipolloi because it's such a multidisciplinary subject; and almost nobody knows any Latin (much less Greek!) these days; and we do show off a bit by dropping words like 'hoipolloi' into our discourse at regular intervals. But that's really all pretty trivial and monomathic.

He went on to describe this foolish little blog of mine as "witty and urbane". The 'witty' part I'm more comfortable with, though I fear it is mostly an aspiration rather than an achievement. 'Urbane', though - that's not somehow a word I've ever associated with myself.

Then again, Tony's excellent blog is such a torturous web of irony and subterfuge that he may just have been gently taking the piss out of me. I don't think so, but....

The youth of today, I suspect, would regard 'urban' as a term of higher praise (I gather it's even become fashionable as a name these days - and not just for Popes any more!), but that hardly fits me either.

My modest social background is really far more 'suburban'. If only Suburbane were a word! That would be more le mot juste for me, I feel. I must try to popularise its usage.

And while on the subject of recommendations, I find that JES - one of Moonrat's minions and an occasional commenter on here over the past few months - has very generously, though perhaps erroneously, added my link to the sidebar of his Running After My Hat blog under the 'Writers To Be Read' category. Since JES is himself a published author, I am particularly touched by this accolade.

To balance things up a little, we had some drive-by snidery over on the Barstool last week: an anonymous commenter suggested my opinions were "obvious" and "relentlessly middle-brow". Really?? Now, I welcome a bit of verbal fisticuffs once in a while, and I like to think that I can take a punch or two, even the odd low blow, but.... well, has this chap got confused about which blog he was commenting on? There are many criticisms you might make of me and my writing - self-indulgent, bi-polar, indiscreet, and often in rather poor taste - but middle-brow I just don't see.

I suppose it's a term that only has meaning in a relative sense, a slice of intellectual snobbery: anyone who aspires to the cultural high ground and believes their taste to be superior to yours will denigrate your interests as "middle-brow".

Naturally, I resent the aspersion, since I believe my tastes to be pretty refined, even if my sense of humour is often rather coarse.

Regular readers and casual passers-by, do feel free to pitch in. I throw this thread open to your views on Froogville and the Barstool. Praise and criticism are equally welcome, so long as the remarks are cogently written.


Anonymous said...

As an American perhaps I'm too easily impressed but I think your writing seems very literate.

There's just too much of it! I try to read it all but most times I just can't keep up.

I wonder if this is really a solo effort? Are you in fact a team of bloggers operating in round-the-clock shifts?

You're very sharp on the oddness of life in China, and very funny on most everything. Keep it up.

I'm sorry I never got to meet you. Maybe one day.

Anonymous said...

Well, my praise was sincere but Gary's was over the top: no-one who was very literate would refer to the hoi polloi. I am sure you have a really literate friend who will tell you why.
But I'll give you another compliment to compensate for this unkind attack: you are very prolific, just like Samuel Johnson, Balzac and Simenon, though in other ways you differ from all three of them.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Was that cogent enough for you?

Anonymous said...

P.S.S. And I think you mean tortuous.

Anonymous said...

What a riot. You do know how to draw us out of the woodwork, don't you?

I'll add to the suburbane evidence pile: your link in RAMH's blogroll is in a category called "Writers to Be Read." No one ever asks me to explain that -- imagining, presumably, that it's just an artsy-fartsy way of saying, more simply, "Writers."

Good Lord. Plenty of problems run throughout whatever I do with words, but I hope no one ever discovers artsy-fartsiness.

In a Wordpress-based blog like mine, as you create new "link categories," you can add a description for each. Some design themes use this description to create a little hovering-mouse label over a given category. The theme I ultimately chose doesn't, but here's the description of the Writers to Be Read category:

"I sometimes come across writers yet unpublished -- or with only a book or so out -- whose work I look forward to reading. Why? Because their comments on blogs are excellent, because their OWN blogs are excellent, and/or something of what I know of their work (upcoming or already out there) strikes a chord in me."

Now that I've stopped by here often enough, it seems unlikely that I'll ever have a book of yours to read. It does no good for me to say (or think), Damn. There SHOULD be, sometime. You do mention writing over there in your About Me paragraph, but it's buried amongst numerous other pursuits that, taken together, might be (yes) kindly be said to paint you as polymathic. The reference to the novel imprisoning you -- apparently from a distance -- gives one a smidgen of hope but, well, it is a smidgen, after all.

All that said, you still belong in that category. My published-writer status unfortunately comes with no strings to pull on your behalf. But anyone with discernment who stops by here -- or the Barstool -- more than once or twice surely sees you as a writer to be read, even if only in the small doses afforded by a weblog.

P.S. to Tony: I think you mean P.P.S. :)

Anonymous said...

P.P.S.S. to Jes:
Yes, I did.
"Well spotted!" said he, the patronising old git.

Froog said...

Now, now, boys, don't fight.

Yes, Tony, I noticed my own typo (so easily done with those two - same root, after all), but I thought I'd leave you to pick up on it.

JES, you are too kind - although I suspect oblique mockery in that "small doses" remark at the end. I am far too prolific for anyone's good, my own least of all.

Gary, you are too kind also. And thank you for yet again stepping up to the plate in the band names challenge. You own that thread now.

I am sorry not to have met you. I had thought I had an inkling who you were, but it now appears I was mistaken. Will you not be returning to the Jing?

Froog said...


I think I've done the hoipolloi (or hoi polloi) thing on here before, though I can't now for the life of me remember where.

Just about nobody knows that the 'hoi' is a definite article in Greek, and so it does not function as one in English. In fact (though I do not have an OED with me to back me up) I am pretty sure I have seen the phrase written as a single compound noun in English as far back as the mid-1800s - and that feels like the right approach to me. I can't ever recall seeing or hearing it used without the English definite article in front of it, and - to my ear, at least - it would seem very awkward (and pretentious!) to attempt to do so.

We can often readily assimilate the grammar of living foreign languages into English when we borrow phrases from them, but when delving so far back into history that approach ceases to work. I would argue that in English 'hoi polloi' doesn't mean 'the masses', it just means 'masses'.

Anonymous said...


Froog said...

Cogent. Terse.

And doubtless supported by voluminous academic references which you just didn't have time to transcribe.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's right: I must spend time polishing a comment on the US election result to upload tonight.
Also, OED Online is offline for the moment so I couldn't check.
But I shall try to come up with something a little more intellectually rigourous in a day or so.

Anonymous said...

OK, my note on the election is drafted and the OED is back on line so here goes.

I would not have dreamt of picking you up on the hoi polloi but you actually said that using such expressions is showing off so you were asking for it.

Fowler (1998) says "..those who know that the phrase means the many sometimes avoid writing the hoi polloi and Fowler (1926) thought that the best solution was to eschew the phrase altogether. But the use with the is widespread and persistent."

And the Guardian stylebook 2004 (to which I made a contribution, boast, boast) says "the hoi polloi" is acceptable.

The OED says " English use normally preceded by the definite article even though hoi means ‘the’."

So I think I have to give you best and say that I was wrong to criticise your usage. I will go further and recall that someone who once made a similar pedantic complaint about excessive or premature Anglicisation was nicely put down (by Fowler?) with: "Your remark displays a slight knowledge of Latin and a profound ignorance of English".

I still think my last comment had a certain ring to it.

I can make amends to you by offering to look up for you in the Online OED anything you ever need to know, since I doubt if public libraries in Beijing give you free access as libraries in my home town do.

Froog said...

Thank you for the research, Tony, and a very generous retraction of your accusation of illiteracy against me.

I didn't necessarily take your "Bollocks" as a criticism or disagreement, just a sort of dada-ist eruption.

Or, as Sir Humphrey put it, "Who is Round, and to what does he object?"

Anonymous said...

Yes, mostly very middle-brow. And very, very middle-class.

Great moments and awful quarter-hours.

Anonymous said...

Froog: Who or what is this anonymous guy talking about?

Froog said...

Wagner, I think.

He can't mean me, surely?

And how are you, "George"? Have you been lurking for a while, or have you only just found us?

Froog said...

And indeed, who are you, "George"?

I was just engaging in some friendly smalltalk back there, before embarking on the serious business of interrogation about your origins.

Anonymous said...

Like the mysterious George, I too was puzzled by the comment from Anonymous, since it did not appear to refer to anything in the post to which it was appended. I now see that it related to an exchange of remarks in The BarProp: it is unkind of you to run two blogs simultaneously in this way; it shows that you have no feeling for elderly people who are easily confused and find it difficult to follow one blog, let alone two.

Anonymous's comments, by the way, suggest that he is a pretentious, ill-educated fathead, like many of his ilk, and I am surprised that you allow such simple-minded drivel to appear on any of your blogs.

You will no doubt have realised that the only purpose of this comment was to enable me to use ilk in its original Scottish sense.

Froog said...

Ah, how we love ilk.

You have some cheek, Mr B, criticising me for parallel bloggery, you of the multiple blog personalities!

I notice that you have managed to disable 'Anonymous' commenting on Other Men's Flowers. However did you manage that? I can't see any such option on my 'Comment Settings' menu. Did you have to do some crafty tweaking of your template code? I fear that would be beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Amusing that a casual comment on your urbanity should have elicited twenty comments, though most of them are yours or mine.

No, my multiple blogs are not parallel, except in the sense of parallel lines which never meet. They are totally separate, and even the most senile reader could never confuse the one written by a Boston Brahmin with the one by a polyglot icon-collector.

I haven't managed to disable anonymous commenting: all I did was to put a discouraging note on the comment form. I use comment moderation so I can reject those I might still get except for any that are amusing, informative or consist entirely of extravagant praise.

By the way, I have become a contributor to Book Book. Or, rather, I have joined the list: now I have to think of a book to review and read or re-read it. It is not at all certain whether I can achieve this before the end of the year.

Anonymous said...

Self-indulgent, bi-polar, indiscreet, and often in rather poor taste.

Froog said...

"Prodnose", are you the former "Anonymous"?

I welcome criticism, really I do. But I would hope that critics can at least find their own words and opinions to wield against me, rather than just copying my own. And it would be good to hear some explanation for your verdict.

Evidence, man, evidence!

Swordsman said...

Oi give it foive...

Froog said...

Thank you, Swordsman. I forget - was it out of 5, or 10?

I fear this thread is being used so far only for obscure witticisms rather than considered analysis of my oeuvre.

Oh well, I suppose I shouldn't complain; it might have invited character assassinations.

Swordsman said...

Oh, it was out of five. And given the nature of your friends and/or readership, obscure witticisms were inevitable. For what it is worth, I feel the blog reflects you well, and that is all one can ask for from a blog.

Elizabeth said...

Admiration-inducing and entertaining.

Froog said...

Gosh, the Queen of England reads my blog?! I am humbled, Ma'am.

Elizabeth said...

Arise Sir Froog.

Froog said...

Yours to command, Ma'am.

But, if by some chance you're not the Queen of England, I'm intrigued to know who you are. Could you drop me an e-mail? Or give me a little clue?

Elizabeth said...

I can't find your email address so am having to send this via your comments box. No (sadly for you?) I'm nobody, just an elderly fan of your blog to which I was directed by OMF of which I'm also an ardent reader. Friends call me Liz but my computer insists otherwise.
I apologise for raising your hopes.

Froog said...

Welcome, Elizabeth. I'm not forward enough to call you Liz just yet. It's a pleasure to welcome one of Tony's followers here. I can only hope that I don't shock, offend, or disappoint too often.

I am very wary of exposing my e-mail address on the Internet, but if you search this blog for a post about Nanjing you may find a link cunningly embedded.

Do you not have a blog or website of your own?

I hope you will continue to read, and be entertained. Welcome again.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You guard your anonymity very closely. Are you by any chance the Elizabeth to whom I was married for 23 years and from whom I was divorced 25 years ago?

(Froog: Sorry to take up space in your review section with a matter of concern only to me, but I am intrigued by your new commenter.)

Elizabeth said...

Tony: Sorry, not, but I'm another Elizabeth who commented on your superb blog a while ago. Anonymity caused by not having a site of my own.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth: That's all right then. Sorry to suggest that you might have had a shameful past.
But look, we can't keep on meeting like this: why don't we let Froog delete our exchange here and then you drop into OMF again one of these day for a chat?
By all means keep your anonymity if you like; my initial enquiries lead me to believe that you are a retired steel worker living in Pittsburgh, but I promise not to probe further.

Froog said...

Well, I'm glad that's all sorted out.

This is not just a chat room, you know?

Narcissus just wants to see his own reflection in the pool - undisturbed by other ripples.

Anonymous said...

It's always an entertaining read, Master Froog, but I wonder if you aren't overdoing it just a touch. I worry that the volume of your output may be evidence of a lack of balance or fulfillment in other areas of your life.

When I knew you, you would be holding forth to your friends like this all the time, with a constant stream of barbed witticisms, anecdotes, quotations, arguments, provocative opinions and strange flights of fancy. I fear that perhaps your social circle has rather narrowed these days or is a little less intellectually stimulating.

Elizabeth said...

Snopes' remarks are not a review. Don't be thrown; Froogville is interesting and fun.

Froog said...

My dear Elizabeth,
I'm glad to see you're still observing this thread.

It is an opportune time to importune you to contribute to my latest mad venture. I had thought that over Christmas I might like to give myself a break from writing new stuff every day, and so I have been asking my 'regulars' (Tony, and.... er... one or two others) if they would commend one post from the last year as worthy of reprinting in a year-end review.

You may not have read that much, but please do let me know if there is anything so far that stands out as a 'favourite'.

Froog said...

And Snopes, you old dog, where have you been? I was getting concerned about you.

Please read my last comment to Elizabeth. I would be delighted to receive a 'pick of the year' recommendation from you.

A comment here will be fine, if you don't have my e-mail address. But I think you do, don't you?

Elizabeth said...

It's very difficult to pick a favourite when I'm such a newcomer to your blog, but I like those which tell us about life in China. Have a Happy Christmas.

Froog said...

Well, there are quite a lot that fall into that category, Elizabeth, my dear.

Go on - click on the 'China Observations' tag and stick a pin in!!

Elizabeth said...

Having read through all your China 2008 blogs, I nominate "Chinese people love me 13" Sat Jan 2008 Happy Christmas!

Froog said...

Thank you so much, Elizabeth.

I'm sure you haven't really read through the whole year. Reading through half of January is quite enough of a chore! I'm sorry to have imposed upon you.

Happy holidays!

Froog said...

Fellow China-blogger Kim kindly left this comment over on the Barstool a few days ago. I take the liberty of transferring it over here.

"Sorry to be so blunt, but your blog is great...a real inspiration. Good to have found you and look forward to reading all your stuff once I've finished an important trip to Ningbo this Saturday."

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Froog of Froogville viz. Bill Froog viz. Dark Star nom de guerre:

Please let it be known in these reaches of cyberland you call home that "you make my insomniac nights a bit more enjoyable."

DISCLAIMER: we are on different continents, thus, though one's mind can wend itself into the juicy innuendo of that quoted statement, it is, alas, pretty much just what it says: I can't sleep, therefore I read Froog. Although in an alternative reality of Sci-Fi thrills, anything's possible, hmm?

Froog said...

Why, thank you so much, CW.