Words: Style

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SHAKESPEARE has Pandarus in Troilus and Cressida say to the lusty pair: "Since I have taken such pains to bring you together, let all pitiful goers-between be called to the world's end after my name." By "goers-between" Shakespeare meant specifically those who persuade people to get into bed together. He would have been surprised to hear the name used of Alan Clark, not in connection with sex, but because he has defended football hooligans. According to the Football Supporters' Association, Mr Clark's remarks about them on the radio was "pandering" to our lads on the beaches; and Mr Clark's opinions have nothing to do with the sort of help the original Pandarus gave to Cressida and her man.

Boccaccio and Chaucer had both done the story earlier, and the word pander, variously spelt, was already in use when Shakespeare made his prophecy about it, so he was placing his bet with the winner already past the post. But it was always about pimping, even though Chaucer's version is mainly to do with romantic love. Panderess was aname for a madam, or bawd. Today the verb "to pander" can be used of anyone who indulges other peoples' prejudices or inclinations, of whatever sort. We have pretty well forgotten the tale that inspired our two best poets.

We should not be too unhappy about this. It is idle to say that such- and-such a word is being used "wrongly" because at one time it meant something different Those who take this line should be reminded that the modern sense of pander was used by Dr Johnson in one of his essays ("... a place where there are no pandars to folly and extravagance"). Johnson, as a lexicographer, knew all about changes in meaning. He had never even heard of our word maverick, also applied to Mr Clark last week, which now means a person of independent views, but originally meant an unbranded calf, in memory of a careless Texan rancher called Maverick. If he had, would Johnson have defined it as "an unbranded calf"? Of course not.

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