Volume 3, Number 90
10 December 2003

There Will Always Be an England

Dear Friends,

Two subscribers have liked The Quaker Economist enough to ask me if I would advertise in Friends Journal. I replied "No," my joy was only in writing it, and I didn't have the money or the interest to advertise. They offered to be my "angels," and they financed several ads in FJ. Then they thought of spreading the word to England, so they took out some ads in The Friend of London. Immediately the readership began to zoom, many with "uk" on their email addresses. When I asked if they had responded to the ad in The Friend, most said "yes," but some said they had heard about it by word of mouth. A year ago at this time we had 475 subscribers, now we have 675. So I thought back on my first visit to England, 55 years ago. There are two places in this story whose names I can't remember, so I'll just call them Highgate and Lowgate. The exact names don't matter anyway.

I had just arrived in London and wanted to see the city before going to Highgate, where a Quaker-run bed-and-breakfast awaited me. About nine o'clock I went to the Underground and found that the last train had left. Then I looked around me. Where only an hour ago the streets had been bustling, now there was no one. I was all alone in a deserted, darkening downtown London. The buses had stopped running. I had not known that because of wartime shortages the city closed down at nine o'clock. Only a few taxis buzzed about, and after half an hour none had stopped for me. By then, darkness had fully descended on the lonely city.

At long last, a taxi stopped. "I'm on my way home to Lowgate," the driver said. "If you're going my way, I'll take you." I burst into tears, and with my American accent blurted out, "This is the first day I've been in London, and I didn't know that all transportation stopped at nine o'clock. I need to go to Highgate, and I hope it's on your way."

"Your're in luck, guv'nor," he said, "It's right on my way. Hop in."

The next morning at breakfast I told my Quaker hosts of my astounding luck. "It's a good thing Highgate is on the way to Lowgate, or I never would have made it." They looked at each other, then said," Oh, but it's not. Lowgate is way across town, miles away,"

I have never forgotten that London taxi driver, so I am glad to thank British subscribers in his name. BTW: My mother was born on a farm in Orkney, Scotland, so I am half British myself. The rest of this letter is a tribute to our common language, which I wrote 66 years ago, while still in high school.

The Delinquent Positive

Although Noah Webster and George Bernard Shaw were both champions of simplification in the English language, neither of them — nor anyone else I know — has challenged the delinquent positive. Hardly a soul is even aware of the sistencies into which this curse on our tongue leads us, No one has measured the breath lost in finding roundabout substitutes for this missing member of our verbal family.

The delinquent positive is plored by everyone. It is looked on with may and the greatest dain, and is puted everywhere. Few realize the lost expressions of which we should surely be prived. If we deceive when we tell a falsehood, should we not ceive when we tell the truth? If a noise can be distracting, should not silence be tracting? If a person is disgusted by what is ugly, should he not be gusted by what is beautiful? And should not a charming acquaintance be described as delightfully couth?

Most delinquent positives are words that have been lost, at some stage or other, in the derivation of our language. Some have perfectly acceptable ancestors. Take gust, for example, which comes from the Latin, gustare, to taste. In an earlier century, gust meant inclination or liking, and to gust was to taste or to relish (and still is, in Scotland). Our Latin American neighbors often say, con mucho gusto, yet we have discarded this word while others have carded it and treasured it.

A further anomaly of the delinquent positive is that some words have become double negatives in order to express their opposites. Why, for example, do we say indispensable as the opposite of dispensable, when dispensable itself should be the opposite of pensable? No one likes to be described as indiscreet, and the time has therefore come to lete the word creet into our language. Surely all will ny the need for these words.

In all fiance of logic, therefore, let us remain neither turbed nor traught while there is still a chance for our language to teriorate. Let us help it to cay and become crepit; let us molish it and stroy it. With the greatest of ertia, let us tain it till it stands as straight as a sheveled ebriate. Hurrah for the linquent positive!

Sincerely your friend,

Jack Powelson (Class of 1937)

Readers' Comments

What a charming letter. I do be in Blighty (Keswick, Cumbria) — my chum past on your subscription details which he obtained from some Quaker publication.

— Paul Buttle. Keswick, Cumbria, England

Delightful Christmas gift.

— Signe Wilkinson, Chestnut Hill (PA) Friends Meeting.

A moving story about the drive to Highgate. Sometimes one gets a feeling that God is also looking after us.

— Tapan Munroe, a Friend from Moraga (CA).

I was attuned to the usage "gruntled" many years ago, and do use it occasionally.

— Maurice Boyd, Friends Meeting of Washington.

George Bernard Shaw said, of Britain and America, "We are two countries separated by a common language." While staying in London I was warned not to advertise the fact that I am American, however impossible that might be. I was treated with nothing but kindness and I am in debt to one citizen who traveled far out of his way to help me find the Hard Rock Cafe. I am quite gruntled by your article. I find it both hevelled and ruly.

— Beth Stevenson, Stillwater (OK) Friends Meeting.

Thank you for letter 90. It is a lovely story about the taxi driver.

— Liz Bryan, Oundle Meeting, Northamptonshire, England

Having trained in theoretical linguistics and taught it before retirement, I have got (gotten?) more than usual pleasure from your e-mail. Many thanks. I can assure you it will be doing the rounds with some of my friends over here.

— Frank Parkinson, Blackpool, Lancaster MM, England

Just so you know, Jack, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But is there a linquent negative? Does that enter in?

— Howard Baumgartel, Oread Friends Meeting, Lawrence (KS)

Hi Jack, Anything to lighten the spirit is good these days. Thanks.

— Janet Minshall, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasvillle (GA)

It has not been too many years since the word "inflammable" was dropped from official usage due to the necessity of eliminating confusion as to its meaning.

— Joseph Wythe Sandpoint (Idaho) Friends Meeting.

Absolutely delightful!  Thanks — and happy holidays!

— Norval Reece, Newtown (PA) Friends Meeting.

I'm reminded of an incident that occured in the early '70's, I was in London on business and had to stay over a weekend. I wanted to see Stonehenge. While on the bus I asked the driver to put me off at the nearest stop and point me in the right direction and I'd walk. Instead, the driver took me, and his half-load of passengers, directly to "The Monument" and let me off at the gate. My sample of British hospitality. I hope that this finds you gruntled.

— Bob West, Attender at Bulls Head Oswego (NY) Meeting.

Jack, I enjoyed your exercise in word play.

— Dick Wolf, Coral Gables (FL).


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Publisher and Editorial Board

Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

Editorial Board:

  • Chuck Fager, Director, Quaker House, Fayetteville, NC
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting
  • Valerie Ireland, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.
  • Asa Janney, Herndon (VA) Meeting.
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, Principal Editor
  • Norval Reece, Newtown (PA) Friends Meeting.
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • John Spears, Princeton (NJ) Friends Meeting
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

Members of the Editorial Board receive Letters a week in advance for their criticisms, but they do not necessarily endorse the contents of any of them.

Copyright © 2003 by John P. Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

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