Words

Endeavour
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The Independent Online
One can sympathise with E Morse, the fictional detective inspector, for having kept his first name secret. If my first name had been Endeavour, which Morse's now turns out to be, I would have made sure that my schoolmates knew me as Eric. Even Ernest or Edwin would have been bad enough for anyone with an ambition to order constables about and drive a flashy old Jag. But Endeavour! Ridiculous.

You have to admit, though, that this is illogical. Women never minded having names like Patience, Joy and Faith. Why should men? Why should it be thought natural for a girl, but not for a boy, to be called Honor? Is honour an exclusively feminine virtue? This is mere chauvinism; what's more, history condemns it. I don't suppose St Nicholas or St Timothy were teased because their names in their native language were respectively Victory of the People and Fear of God. Praisegod was an acceptable man's name among the Puritans. (It seems that Inspector Morse comes from a Quaker family, which makes some sense.) Hope, another Puritan favourite, could be given to boys as well as girls.

The real trouble with Endeavour is that it's a poor thing nowadays compared to what it would have been for 17th-century Morses. The word comes from the French devoir and in those days it implied the utmost effort, whether it was a noun or a verb. Since then it has been used far too often as a pompous alternative to try - with the unspoken suggestion that trying is not the same thing as succeeding. Too many stage butlers, asked to find someone, say they will endeavour to ascertain their whereabouts, and we know by the way they say it that they may not be trying too hard. It's a weasel. Morse would indeed have been better without it.

Nicholas Bagnall

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