Tuesday, August 22, 2006

From Stephen Booth's Precious Nonsense (Commonplace Book)

Some phrases seem to me to get special, extra energy from substantively unharnessed, usually unharnessable, relationships among their parts, or between them and their contexts. "Fast Food," a recently coined but now standard phrase, probably benefits as much from the unacknowledged presence in it of a label for abstinence from food -- "fast" -- as it does from alliteration in f. The operative sense of "civil" in "civil war" makes the term straightforward, but it is also a paradox: war and civility are ideas at odds with one another. And I suspect that the English language clings to the term "dry wine" precisely because, whatever else it is, it is oxymoronic.

[On the subject of the title of the Prince song Purple Rain] I never heard any comment on the regal ramifications of "purple," traditionally the royal color, or the sound of "reign" in its homonym, but I think the title got energy from its unheard wit -- much more than it could have had the title somehow pointed up its cleverness. More complex and more interesting is the experience of hearing "Rolling Stones" as the name of the famous rock group. ... The wit and energy in the name is kept leashed by its open allusion to the proverb about not gathering moss. I suggest that, having acknowledged the allusion, minds feel no inclination to think further about the name and, by examining it, deaden the energy "Rolling Stones" gets from the unadvertised wit of using "stones" -- rocks -- with "rolling" in the name of a rock and roll band.

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