to suss (Was Re: dwarves etc.)

Gregory {Greg} Downing gd2 at NYU.EDU
Thu Mar 8 14:37:40 UTC 2001

At 10:07 AM 3/8/2001 -0000, editor at wrote:
>> Let that old Mr. Fuddy-Duddy, Jesse's foil on last night's 60
>> Minutes II show, put that in his craw and smoke it.
>It was simultaneously amusing and saddening to hear that the old
>fuddy-duddy was Brian Sewell. Mr Sewell occasionally appears on
>British television, where his accent sounds as extraordinary as
>it must do to Americans. For many of us, it evokes echoes of
>class conflict: whenever I hear it I want to rush out and man a
>barricade somewhere. It's a great pity that his appearance must
>have reinforced American prejudices about the English.

Actually, now that I've dipped into Sewell's columns, as thoughtfully
referenced yesterday afternoon by GSCole, I should probably add the
following to my previous "central-casting aristo" comment.

The columns that I looked at strongly suggest that it is actually Sewell's
job to do the (by now, well-worn) "kooky out-of-control curmudgeon" schtick,
which mandates outrageously exuberant attacks on anything considered new or
trendy. So he really had no choice but to make the kinds of comments he did
about the OED documenting new words and words employed (so far) only in
informal contexts. That it is schtick is suggested by the engaged
familiarity he exhibits with the cultural phenomena he expends so much
effort ridiculing. The UK, perhaps especially the metropolis, has changed so
rapidly in the last twenty years that there is considerable demand for the
vicarious venting people can engage in when they read vivid disparagement of
phenomena associated with cultural change. Sewell is simply filling a need,
playing tigers while validating a significant cultural attitude.

Here's a snippet of what seems much more likely to be schtick than actual
traditionalism, culled more or less at random. Is the following from a true
fuddy-duddy? A genuine fuddy-duddy would avoid knowing about, getting in any
way involved with, or putting fingers to keyboard about almost all of the

"Now those of us who know Miss Robinson, not as the Robespierre of
television, but as a tousled early riser walking dogs in Kensington Gardens,
are convinced that she is a confection of sugar and spice; the writer of the
card, however, addresses her as Mistress Torquemada with "As a submissive
male slave I need a strict dominant mistress to correct and train me to her
own requirements. I promise to worship and obey you and I accept your right
to use me as you wish. I will be grateful for any discipline you seek to
impose on me and I will regard myself as your property with my sole purpose
in life being to serve you faithfully."

As a pedant I quarrel with use of will for shall, but most of the syntax is
unexceptionable, the spelling perfect, and if the capital letters waver a
little, we must attribute that to the trembling excitement of the moment.

To share this intriguing vignette I phoned a friend, Hermione, a shrewd and
amused observer of this wicked world, but "Lawks 'a Mercy" was all she said
and toddled up the road to see it for herself. She asked the audience - for
sure as eggs is eggs she gathered one. "Oh, that's nothing," said the
passing daughter of an art dealer, worldlier still, "Labia Leveson-Gower in
Launceston Place has four policemen - they do her shopping, clean her house
from top to bottom, and all she has to do is whip them."

{end of quoted material}

Greg Downing, at greg.downing at or gd2 at

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