Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Words of Lovejoy

I'm reading The Rich and the Profane, my first of Jonathan Gash's novels about Lovejoy, that irrepressible and lascivious rogue. I may have more to say when I'm done. For now, though, I've noticed that Gash makes specialized speech more a part of his work than most crime writers do.

There's the slang of the antiques trade, for one, but beyond that, Gash has his characters speak in what seems like heavily flavored local speech, ta for thanks, for example, or the Plod for police. Lovejoy's burglar colleague calls him a pillock when Lovejoy makes a sound during a break-in. (Lovejoy also gets called a burk more than once, but I know what that is.)

So, U.K. readers, is this all standard English slang? Is it, perhaps, particular to East Anglia, where the first part of the novel is set?

© Peter Rozovsky 2006

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Horst said...

Gash's Lovejoy books are terribly old fashioned now and the dialogue is straight out of Monty Python. But the TV series was wonderful: another proof that bad books make good films and vice versa.

October 04, 2006  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Peter in what year was the book set.
The slang is rather dated and was used by people of my generation in the 1950's and 1960's. It is certainly not specific to East Anglia, as coming from South London I have used "ta", "and "pillock" in the past.
"Plod" is even more outdated, and the "Bill" is the common expression for the police. Among the criminal fraternity I think less complimentary terms are used.

October 04, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Thank you both for your comments. Problem solved: The dialogue's strangeness is apparently due to age rather than setting.

I'll reserve judgment as to whether the book is good or bad. I do see that it was published in 1998, so if the language reflects the way people talked thirty and more years earlier, Gash works hard to create a setting through language. Perhaps Gash, writing in the 1990s, using language of the 1950s and '60s, created a 1930s-style story. I'll keep that in mind as I read.

Uriah, I'll keep my eyes open for when the book is set. I have a vague recollection that a woman is described as wearing a mini-skirt, which would put it in the 1960s. The characters seem to use "Plod" and "Old Bill" interchangeably when referring to the police. I knew "Old Bill" beforehand; I was wondering if the two expressions really were interchangeable, or if each had its own nuances.

You see? I can't just relax and enjoy the book. I have to ask these questions.

In re good books and bad movies, Alfred Hitchcock said he preferred popular literature to great literature as sources for his films because great literature belonged inextricably to its author. He didn't do too bad a job with Joseph Conrad, though.

October 04, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

I'd guessed that The Rich and the Profane might be set in the '60s, but I am apparently wrong. Lovejoy has attitudes about field sports and religion that are more typical of a later time. The clincher is that Gash has a character say: "Get real ... Get a life" -- two decidedly post-1960s expressions.

What a weird linguistic time machine this book is turning out to be.

October 04, 2006  
Anonymous crimeficreader said...

Peter,
"Ta" is still in very much use in Wales, far more said than "thank you". "Pillock" I've heard quite a bit in the last year or so, and oddly, from someone based in East Anglia. "Plod" is almost Victorian these days. "The Bill" is still in use, but I hear it very little - mostly when a UK TV series of the same name is referred to.

October 04, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Many thanks. If this keeps up, I may learn something from this blog. Your comment that Plod is almost Victorian tallies with some of the other comments I've received. The archaism must be deliberate on Gash's part.

Now, who can tell me the origins of the terms Plod and Old Bill?

October 04, 2006  
Anonymous Bryce said...

Plod is imitative slang, from the sound of the heavy footsteps of a policeman on the beat. Old Bill is said to derive from the Old Bailey courts being personified as Bill Bailey – hence the law became the Old Bill or just the Bill.

October 05, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

I find plod a beguiling term for police officer. Thanks for the explanation. I'd guessed that Old Bill might be connected with the Old Bailey. Of course, I've long known what the Old Bailey was without ever knowing the origin of the term.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Stop in again soon.

October 05, 2006  

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