Know your Lenny from your Benny

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THE other day I overheard this rather painful conversation.

'Do you like Sicily?'

'Oh yes, absolutely. Discovering Sicily for me was a complete eye-opener. The colours and the light are so marvellous.'

'Yes, they are, aren't they? Even after all these years. Have you actually been yet?'

'Oh, yes, we went last summer and had a wonderful time. The children thought it was wonderful, too.'

'But . . . but it only opened this week] You couldn't have gone last year]'

'Nonsense. Sicily has been open for centuries. What on earth are you talking about?'

The bemused pair went on with their tortured chat for another five minutes before they realised one of them was talking about Sicily, the place, and the other was talking about Sisley, the subject of a notable new exhibition. The two have not talked since.

An elementary mistake, you may say, and one oh so easy to make. Not so] Not if you are a subscriber to Art Talk Update, the magazine issued from this office once a month and designed to let you get through your cultural life without making an ass of yourself. One day, who knows? It may even become a pleasure.

Art Talk Update comes free with a basic handbook of art talk, containing such vital sections as Know Your Nicknames and Know Your Surnames. The first ensures that when people talk in your presence of Danny and Lenny, as if they know them personally, you will know they mean Barenboim and Bernstein. The second explores the dozens of writers and performers who have the same surname - all the Hamiltons called Ian, for example, and the Dickinsons who all seem to have first names beginning with P, not to mention all the Benny Greens in jazz.

There is also a constantly updated list of words you must no longer use in an art conversation. ('Subtext' is way out, 'paradigm' is on the way out and 'parameter' is so out it's almost in again. 'In' and 'out' are out, of course. Nor should you say 'where it's at'. Did you hear Natalie Wheen on Radio 3 on Monday asking John Williams where, as a musician, he was now 'at'? Poor man was so embarrassed he hardly answered. Still, at least she didn't ask him where his head was at.)

We also bring you up to date on the extraordinary crossover growth between art and cooking. There are many newly fashionable words in trendy cooking that are easily mistaken for pre- existing words in the arts. 'Gammon' could be confused with 'gamelan', for example. Coulis means a red kind of sauce dribbled over your food at the last moment, coulisse means 'the wings' in French theatres. Palumbo is not as edible as it sounds, and so on.

Think you would never fall into these culinary traps? Then take a look at this conversation about the jazz pianist Chick Corea, also overheard very recently, and tell me if you can see what's happening.

'I saw some really cheap imported Chick Corea in Soho this morning.'

'No kidding] Did you get it?'

'Certainly did. One of my favourites.'

'Me, too.'

'I think it's best just braised in milk, then finished under the grill with crumbled goat's cheese on top. What do you think?'


If you took Art Talk Update regularly, you would spot the misunderstanding immediately. Chick Corea's name is pronounced as an Englishman would say the Italian word for chicory, 'cicoria'.

All this knowledge and more will be at your fingertips when you subscribe to Art Talk Update. And, for those moments when you still feel out of your depth, we give you a selection of life belts to hang on to. All-purpose art remarks such as:

'The Bible may be the best- selling book in the world, but can you think of any literary prize today that it would actually have a chance of winning?'

'Apparently, the Rupert Bear books are hailed in France as the most avant-garde experimental works ever. At least, they are the only ones that told the narrative simultaneously in FOUR different media - verse, prose, drawing and newspaper headlines.'

'I think easy pronunciation is the path to fame. If anyone had the faintest idea how to say Niels W Gade's name, he'd be world famous by now.'

Subscribe now, and never again think that Carreras is the name of a tobacco company.