College year being over I can think again about other aspects of reality. Such as the mess it’s in. I made it to a meeting about economics and change, and we were discussing why in Ireland we seem to be just letting this shit happen to us. The conclusion was that it is not just inexplicable passivity on the public’s part, all sorts of pressures are placed on people to make them keep their heads down. Some of them subtle, some brutal.
Somebody used the memorable phrase “The criminalisation of dissent”, and I had to draw this.
Stop, Press: For some protesty goodness, why not try these two short plays at the Town Hall Theatre? They’ll be followed by (optional) discussions with real historians and economists about the parlous state of the parlous State.
When you see Kenneth Branagh in a top hat, playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel but reciting Shakespeare, on a fake-grass hill, in a sports arena, and when you find that vision somehow deeply moving, you know one thing for sure. You’ve not been getting a lot of sleep recently. Sorry about my absence for a couple of days there.
No, the Olympic opening ceremony was pretty good. Weird, but good. I liked how it commemorated bygone glories of the UK’s history. Like industry, and the NHS.
While the games are essentially a celebration of all that is truly unimportant, they have their moments. Technologies kept under wraps in laboratories are brought out to surprise us; lighter bicycle wheels or more frictionless swim suits, sexier leotards and less-detectable steroids. And now it seems, futuristic new grammar.
There’s nothing like sports commentary for brutalising language. Traditionally they’ve concentrated on cliché and tangled syntax but now, in the interest of conveying more useless information more quickly than ever before, they present a whole new armoury of verbs.
Now you can “podium”. Which means to do something that gets you on the podium; that is, come first, second or third. They had to make a verb for that. And you know what’s interesting? There already is a verb for that! It’s “to place”.
But not content with merely inventing a verb for an action that there’s already a verb for, sports commentators have brought us a verb for something that there is already a verb for, that is already a verb. This is “to medal”. This does not mean to interfere, no. If someone says “And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you medalling kids”, it means they came fourth. To medal means… Well, the same thing as to podium.
But it gets worse. RTÉ commentator Con Murphy uttered this presumed sentence: “To expect them to medal is a big ask” – verbing a noun and pulling off the far more technically challenging trick of nouning a verb all in a single sentence. He’s our best prospect in the 100 metre language mangling event. Or as they say, we hope him to medal at langmangle.
In passing, let’s have a kick at this notion the world is about to end because the Mayans are running out of calendar. Could doomsaying get any sillier? As someone said, if the Mayans were so good at foreseeing catastrophe how come they missed out on 1492?
We’ve gotten the idea that the Mayan calendar runs through a system of cycles that completes this year. This seems strange to us, with our one that can happily keep going forever. (Doubly strange, as it’s supposed to be our culture that believes in a coming End Of The World.) But there’s no reason that more numbers couldn’t be added to their system. It’s a lot like saying that because we never use years longer than four digits, we clearly think the world is going to end in 9999.
But hey, maybe we do. Now. You read it here first – only 7,987 years to go folks. Better start saying your prayers, and studying the arcane mysteries of the Romano-Christian calendar with its cryptically uneven months and mysterious week of seven sacred days. Who knows what other secrets it conceals.