By Aubrey Paton for the Sunday Times:
Aubrey Paton talked to Mark Forsyth in a strange language which turns out to actually mean something.
With his casual elegance and melodious voice, Mark Forsyth has an anachronistic charm totally at odds with the 21st century: one can imagine him pitching bread rolls across the bar of the Drones’ Club or exchanging effortless witticisms with Oscar Wilde over champagne at the Ritz.
However, one can’t imagine him as a harried wage slave. When he visited South Africa recently for the launch of his second book, The Horologicon, I asked him to walk me through a typical day in his life.
“My mornings usually start with uhtceare [lying awake before dawn and worrying]. I might get back to sleep again before being woken by an expergefactor [anything that wakes you up, for example an alarm clock] which in Joburg was the hadedas.
“I lie for a while in a zwodder [drowsy, stupid state of mind] before heading to the bathroom to shower, brush my teeth and go to siege [use the lavatory].”
Forsyth is not much of an aristologist (one devoted to the pursuit of the perfect breakfast) so, fortified by a cup of the brown stuff (coffee) he begins the day by making an entry in The Inky Fool – a blog devoted to words, the more weird and wonderful the better – before setting off to work.
“I hurple [scurry along the streets with head down and shoulders hunched against the cold] to the reading room of the British Library, where I enjoy shocking the librarians by asking for books like A Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology. It does actually contain maps.”
After a few hours’ work, it’s time for a voyage to the land of the Nicotinians (a smoke break) and to pop across the road to a pub for an elevener – which is much the same as elevenses but with an alcoholic element.
For lunch he just grabs a quick sandwich from a slap and bang shop (where food must be paid for in cash) and maybe a cup of cha, but then it’s back to work.
“I try to write a set number of words a day but usually the time ticks away and I haven’t got anything done. If I want to keep to my writing schedule I have to practise shturmovshchina [Russian for a sudden burst of activity just before deadline].”
When the library closes, Forsyth likes to pass the twilight hour enjoying a little flanerie: this is a near-untranslatable French concept meaning to saunter around doing nothing, or relax alone over a cigarette and a drink at a pavement café, observing the world hurrying by.
But even the most languid young gentleman needs to shop, so after a pleasant flaner, it’s time to dash into the supermarket where, like the rest of us, he is overcome by the dreaded Gruen transfer.
This is the strange mental effect that takes hold of even the hardiest customers when they enter shopping malls and are faced with the romantic and exotic array of artifacts like gondolas, islands, exploding offers and shelf misers, to say nothing of light thieves.
But then it’s time for supper – or dinner if it’s the main meal of the day – and the all-important question of alcoholic sustenance.
“I sidle supperward – man is a uniformly coenaculous [supper-loving] creature – and once the dinner bell has sounded and we are marshalled to our places at the table, the first thing I ask is ‘who skinks?’ [Who is meant to be pouring the drinks?]
“After eating I pick a few ale-knights [drinking companions], choose a drunkery [a bar] and begin to fuddle [drink]. Actually, as a result of over-enthusiastic fuddling I sometimes end the evening in a state of humicubation [flat on the face] accompanied by spartling [waving one's limbs around vainly].”
When he reaches home and totters bedwards, Forsyth has no need to surrepent (creep stealthily) because he does not possess a domestic dragon (spouse) who might take umbrage at his sozzled state and deliver a curtain lecture (a scolding while in bed).
And so ends another day in the unusual life of Mark Forsyth, Inky Fool, etymologist and author.
He was educated at St Mary’s College of Winchester and at Oxford University, where he studied English. He blames his fascination with words on the fact that he was given a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary as a Christening present.
His literary icon is Jerome K. Jerome and he is anxious to obtain a copy of the humorist’s play The Passing of the Third Floor Back.
He is a nod-crafty (nods with air of great wisdom) ultracrepidarianist (one who gives opinions on subjects he knows nothing about).
He has sprezzatura (the appearance of perfect nonchalance, disguising the fact that he is making an effort) down to a fine art. He is a tobacconalian – but assures me he smokes only a few a day and is trying to give up. He is also famelicose (always hungry).
He read Rawbone Malong’s Ah Big Yaws? A Guard to Sow Theffrican Innglissh before coming to South Africa, the better to understand our accents.
The dirtiest word in The Horologicon appears in the perambulation: it is feague, and if you want to know what it means, buy the book.
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