Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Terminological Inactitude

Like most blog writers I enjoy getting feedback from my readers.  In yesterday's book review I said that the lack of notes and proper sources was a 'major quibble'.   A correspondent writes "I find the lack of referenced sources more than a major quibble in my book. On something like that it gets elevated up to near deal breaker."  Fair enough.

Things get a bit sticky for Major Quibble and the Lads

This reminds me of the story from the Korean War*.  A British unit has been surrounded by the enemy and cut off.  After some difficulty, radio contact is made and the American general in command asks the British officer in charge of the unit for a situation report.  "Well, Sir"  he replies "Things are beginning to get a bit sticky here".   British users of the English language would immediately translate the report as "The shit has hit the fan and there's blood running down the walls.  There are 10,000 Chinese coming up the hill towards us and we've run out of beer cans to throw at them.  Please evacuate us as soon as possible."  However, the American general feels reassured by the calm response and tells his subordinate to hold on.

*Please someone tell me the source of this - it's bugging me!  It's normally told in connection of the destruction of the Glosters at the crossings of the Imjin River 

The sand of the desert is sodden red, -- 
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; -- 
The Gatling's jammed* and the colonel dead, 
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke. 
The river of death has brimmed his banks, 
And England's far, and Honour a name, 
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks, 
"Play up! play up! and play the game!" 

*As readers of this blog will know, it was a Gardner.

The Korea story is normally told as a clash of cultures:  "two nations divided by a single language" or the stiff-upper lip, public school and Sandhurst educated Brit verses the no-nonsense cigar-chomping Yank.  Yet to my mind, by using heroic understatement, the British officer has clearly failed in his duty.  His superior has asked a simple question - all he requires is that the realities of the situation are explained to him.  The British officer lets him down and, by doing so, lets down his men.

"Please send either Brigade of Guards or platoon of Gurkhas"
The same can be said for book reviews.  The question is simple - 'What do you think of the book?'  the answer should be unambiguous.  So I apologize for any terminological inactitude.  But I will probably continue to use heroic understatement (mainly as an affectation alongside the strategic deployment of whiskers ).


  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1316777/The-day-650-Glosters-faced-10000-Chinese.html

    OK, I'm going to have to dig out my copy of The Edge of the Sword and see what Farrar-Hockley actually says.

  2. Well that brought a smile to my face, thank you.

  3. Real life example - During a large(ish) NATO exercise in the North Sea in the Autumn of '74, Peter Coward (Captain, HMS Sirius) was in command of a frigate squadron of mixed nationalilty. During one evolution, the Dutchman 'Van Spejk' went off station (VERY unusual for a Dutch ship) and received the signal "Quo Vadis?". Unfortunately, the Dutch skipper wasn't a latin scholar and he continued on his merry way until brought up short by another signal more typical of the modern Admiralty. The Dutch ship's company thought the episode was hilarious and typical of those crazy British . . . .

    1. Ah RN signalling (smartarse version) - now that's worthy of a post of its own!

  4. I came across this example of understatement which I liked....

    British Airways pilot Eric Moody in 1982, after flying through a cloud of volcanic ash over Indonesia:

    "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."

  5. Classic British understatement- which I missed. I like the Korean story btw.



  6. Reminds me of an Aussie/American communication issue during the Vietnam war. Aussie said they would indicate position to chopper with a Torch. The American was freaked out as to them a Torch meant a flaming piece of wood like a tomb exploring movie scene. The translation to Merica speak for Aussie Torch is FLASHLIGHT.

  7. Max Hasting's 'The Korean War' (1987) has the following quote: "When Tom told Corps that his position was 'a bit sticky', they did not grasp that in British Army parlance, that meant 'critical'."

    The chapter notes that "All quotations in this chapter... are based upon author interviews with participants."

    Don't know if that helps.

  8. Love the story! And then we say that we have troubles with the Dutch language! :-D



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...