Carey Harrison -- Free in Vocabula

Robert Hartwell Fiske Vocabula at AOL.COM
Sat Apr 16 17:21:59 UTC 2005

I am an English professor. These days I'm not sure if this is a boast, a 
confession, or a plea for sympathy. I teach English composition to American 
undergraduates; I say "American" because, although I have taught in the Ivy League, 
in the University of California "system," and that of the University of Texas, 
at Austin, and am a tenured professor at the City University of New York, I 
seem to be feeling my British origins more keenly with every year's fresh 
buffeting of our common language. 
My concern with "our common language," that's to say, my sense of its forked 
path, goes back to childhood: my father was the late Sir Rex Harrison. Those 
of you who are reading this and attended a live performance of My Fair Lady — 
which will probably make you at least as old as I am, since I stood backstage 
at the age of eleven, watching the show — may recall the line that got the 
biggest laugh of the evening. It was not a line of George Bernard Shaw's, despite 
the presence in Alan Jay Lerner's book of many gems lifted straight from 
Pygmalion. The line that brought the house down was Lerner's own shrewdly vulgar 
coinage, a sardonic Henry Higgins aside apropos the English language: "In 
America they haven't spoken it in years." Even as an eleven-year-old, I found the 
audience's roar of delight a little excessive; odd, too, that it should be the 
biggest laugh of the night — was the laughter masochistic, or simply a rebuke 
to fatuous British smugness and snobbery? Deferential or defiant? Or something 
of both?

Robert Hartwell Fiske
Editor and Publisher
The Vocabula Review
The Vocabula Review
10 Grant Place
Lexington, MA 02420
Two Vocabula Books: 
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English 
"However curmudgeonly, Mr. Fiske betrays a bluff humanitarian spirit. ... His 
own flogging of Merriam-Webster's is one of the many pleasures of this 
lovely, sour, virtuous book." — Wall Street Journal  
Vocabula Bound: Outbursts, Insights, Explanations, and Oddities
Twenty-five of the best essays and twenty-six of the best poems published in 
The Vocabula Review over the last few years

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