John Buchan of Thirty-nine Steps fame wrote many more. I was glued to one and had read fifty or so pages about the kidnapping of a wealthy newspaper owner in a university students’ rag when I was suddenly struck, jaw-droppingly so, by a single word. Like most of these words it was a four-letter one.
What had happened to the newspaper magnet Thomas Craw was “rape”.
The novel was published in 1930 and obviously the years have twisted the meaning of rape.
A glance down the pages of the Oxford Concise Dictionary let me know that Buchan was correct. One meaning of rape is “carrying off by force”. (Also any of the six ancient divisions of Sussex.)
Another meaning still in common use which sometimes causes misunderstandings is when a countryman says, “The fields are full of rape.” This is a reference to what we call Brassica napus, also called Colza; rape to its plant pals: food for sheep, also producing oil used for a lubricant and in foodstuffs.
When it’s in flower rape’s a startling yellow that hurts the eyes.
Anyway, Buchan’s rape is gone from everyday use. But you’ll find it in Buchan’s story Castle Gay. Ah, yes, and there we have another word that’s Gone West.
It’s a shame because gay was such a jolly festive word.
Its new meaning has created much difficulty for new readers of old books.
For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway’s novel about the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) has a long tribute to the bravest fighters in the war. They are, Hemingway says, “the gay, always the gay”.
Old Ernie didn’t mean what the innocent young reader would think he did.
Or maybe he did. I have my sources and it is queer to learn that that famous trip young and handsome Hemingway made to Spain the first time to see the running of the bulls in Pamplona that he used in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was paid for by an old gent who went with him. Just the two together. No skirt at all, especially not the English hottie he features in the book.
No old gents ever asked me to Spain. Did they ever ask you? And if they did, what would you think?
Also, we learn that Hemingway and his second wife used to have their hair cut in the same way and wear the same clothes. I don’t think dresses, but shirts and slacks. This features in a novel published after Papa Hemingway’s death, The Garden of Eden.
This has come a long way from “rape” and “gay”. There are other expressions that have lost their original innocent meanings. I refer of course to “making love”.
Originally when a man made love to a women it meant he flirted with her, telling her how lovely she was.
The first time I got a shock from this was watching a Fred and Ginger film on TV. After that wonderful scene where they dance singing “Isn’t it a lovely day to get caught in the rain, you were on your way now you’re glad to remain . . .” Ginger goes back to her hotel.
“Did he make love to you?” her friend asks.
“Yes,” she says.
How amazing, the first time contemporary viewer would say.
Ginger was wearing jodhpurs. How’d she get them off? Also the dozens of late Victorian and Edwardian ladies who wore all those long dresses and yards of underwear. (I’ve always wondered how Anna Karenina went about it. But never mind.)
That’s about it for the lesson for today, kiddies.
Before Uncle Two-Sticks Stan dodders off I must plug my novel, Murder In A Cold Climate, which features snow. But “snow” is another story.