[Ads-l] "sheeny" in the TLS, and other odds and ends

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Dec 10 01:21:12 UTC 2015

The lead review in the October 16, 2015 issue of TLS is of a collection of
letter written by Isaiah Berlin.  It opens with a passage from a letter by
Berlin to Kay Graham, then the publisher of the Washington Post, described
as "a cascade of fulsome Proustian grovelling", turning down an invitation
to her 70th birthday party.
The review continues "The ardour underlying Berlin's logorrhoea, his zest
for the human spectacle, the infinite pleasure and innocence of
observation, the elation of faces and events swirling in his mind, the
self-knowing irony underlying his sheeny effusion, were all characteristic."

Further down the column, the review says "His easy assimilation of
different tempers and rhythms has been depicted as the cultural camoflage
of a Jewish outsider, trimming his opinions like a Riga-born Vicar of Bray,
mimicking Establishment goyim. . . ."
The October 30th issue carried several letters objecting to this word.
I'm trying to take "sheeny" here as meaning "having sheen", but it's hard
going.  Is "sheeny" as an abusive term for Jew limited to America?  Is it
used in England, but unknown among the better sort?  Surely the reviewer
and his editor had encountered it before somewhere.  Can they have not
known that it is offensive?

The November 13th issue carried a review of a new installment of a
biography of Margaret Thatcher.  On p. 4, cols. 1 & 2, it mentions a
scandal (of sorts) in which the Deputy Chairman of her party was found to
be picking up young men.  "Her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, in the
argot and spirit of the time, is quoted as saying that "he always seemed as
quaint as a coot to me"."
I suppose that this is the limey equivalent of "queerer than a three dollar
bill", but I don't see "quaint" in Green's dictionary.

The same issue  (p. 16, col. 2) prints an extract from a 1983 review of a
book by Thatcher's daughter on her involvement with her mother's
re-election campaign.  Thereview compares it to a gushy schoolgirl's report
on "What I Did In My Summer Vacation".  "Nosiness is all that keeps a
teacher reading: the unguarded child might let a variety of cats out of
family bags, revealing Dad as an alcoholic, Mum as a nag, or little brother
as a swank."
Green's Dictionary has "swank" as a verb meaning to work hard, but not as a
noun.  Somehow, it seems that here "swank" should mean something more
scandalous -- or is that my dirty mind working?

Cricket news from the December 1 NY Times' sports pages:
In particular, counties seem to be setting up their pitches to favor
garden-variety bowlers who bowl fast, but not too fast. These bowlers are
known as medium pacers, or derisively as dibbly-dobbly bowlers.
“The pitches are a real problem,” Andy Flower, a former England cricket
coach, told CricInfo
“Spin bowlers don’t develop because the medium pacers bowl their overs and
batsmen are not exposed to quality spin.
“But when you get to international cricket, the pitches are completely
different, and the qualities that proved successful in county cricket will
be of little use. Dibbly-dobbly bowlers are not going to win you test
"Coin Toss Retains Its Place in History, if Not in Cricket. "  NY Times,
December 1, section B, p. 9
This expression is not in Green's Dictionary of Slang.

Testing your patience with my tendency to wander, the obituary of General
Sir Robert Ford in the same paper gives us a truly wonderful name.
He married Jean Claudia Pendlebury, who died in 2002. They had a son who
survives him, as does his second wife, the former Caroline Margaret
Peerless Leather.    NY Times, December 1, section B, p. 15
Surely her parents must have been guilty of trade-mark infringement?

George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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