Errors and Omissions: Sometimes, language has a way of taking care of itself

How soon before we see a star chef “curating” the menu at his restaurant?

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This isn’t an error, just an observation.

It’s fun to watch a word changing its form and meaning, like a snake wriggling to shed its skin. A pop concert review published on Monday included this: “She’s chosen him to headline Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall, which she’s curating this year.” (She, by the way, is Yoko Ono; he is Iggy Pop.)

So to curate can now mean to select the performers to take part in a festival of popular music. We start with the Latin verb curare, which means to take care of. So a curator is someone who takes care of something: in English, the person in charge of a museum collection. Half a century ago, that was all there was to it, but things have moved on. First “curator” produced a back-formed verb: “curate”. (Those of a pedantic disposition should try not to get too flustered about that; “execute” is a similar back-formation from “executor”, and we seem to have got used to it.)

Next, it became possible to “curate” not only a permanent collection but also a temporary exhibition; curating meant selecting the items and arranging how they were to be shown. Now curation-as-selection is applied not only to objects in an exhibition, but also to musical performances at a festival.

What next? How soon before we see a star chef “curating” the menu at his restaurant?

Marc my words

In last Saturday’s arts section, an article dealt with the chequered history of films about Cleopatra. The Egyptian queen’s most celebrated lover was throughout referred to as Marc Antony.

This looks like misfired erudition, as if the writer thought “Marc” looked authentically Roman. I fear not. His name in its original Latin is Marcus Antonius, which is usually rendered in English as Mark Antony. “Marc” is familiar to me only as the French version of the name. Do the French call him Marc Antoine? I have no idea.

There is apparently an American salsa singer called Marc Anthony (thank you, Google and Wikipedia), but I don’t think we need to worry about him.

Cliché of the week

A leading article, published last Saturday, contained this: “A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but absolute ignorance is no answer.”

Well, one dangerous thing is a little knowledge of the works of Alexander Pope, who actually wrote, in An Essay on Criticism:

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;

“Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

That is not the only line of poetry that is nearly always misquoted. Another is “All that glitters is not gold”. Shakespeare actually wrote, in The Merchant of Venice: “All that glisters is not gold.” In both cases there is some excuse. “Glister” and “glitter” mean the same thing, and “glisters” has an archaic ring. And “knowledge” is more widely applicable than “learning”. A little knowledge of first aid, for instance could be a dangerous thing, but you couldn’t call it “learning”.

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