Thursday, 29 November 2012

Your servant, sir

A recent discussion of the expression 'My pleasure' in the UsingEnglish forums led me to this thought:
There are two elements in the convention:
(It was a pleasure for me to do it) + (There's no need for thanks.)
English omits the second element; Spanish - No hay de qué - omits the first.
But in either case there's a sense of service - it was doing the service that was a pleasure. This had previously been enshrined in the expression 'at your service'. In Portuguese, the hyperbole used to be even greater (perhaps with a sense of irony? - at least, it could be ironic): às ordens do Senhor. (I heard this in just-pre-revolutionary Coimbra. I have read, in texts from more servile times, às ordens da vossa* Senhoría which is perhaps a little excessive for modern tastes!)

In Portugal, people claim to be obrigado/a (do the Portuguese Thought Police insist on obrigada/o, I wonder? I bet As Três Marias** would have preferred that.)

My father, a Lancashire man (if that's relevant - the expression may be common among people born around the turn of the 20thC, not just in Lancashire) used to say 'Much obliged' to mean 'thank you.' The idea of a sense of obligation (in the 'feeling beholden' sense - 'I am forever in your debt' - not the 'this is my duty' sense) seems to be a common one.

In Italy, it's ... no I'll start a bit earlier. In the Roman Empire, slaves were often captives from Slavonic races; it was such a common link that a slave was an esclavus (a bit like the generic name for a domestic slave in certain households in Hampstead today being 'the filipina'). The -cl-, as often in the development of language, was palatalized to become[ʧ] (spelt, in Italian, '-ci-') and the -v- became (or was in the first place - il sont fous ces romains ) [w], which, followed by the dying word-end, (or 'unstressed word-final vowel', to give it its philological disguise) made the -a- into a falling diphthong. The result is left as an exercise for the reader.




* The subtleties of the T/V distinction need not detain us here, though they may have planted the seed of  another blog. (That link points to a page that Wikipedia - with either understatement or a hollow laugh - says 'has multiple issues'. It is not for the faint-hearted.)

**By Raquel de Queiroz - any relation of Eça, I wonder? (whose Cartas de Inglaterra I've been meaning to translate - marvellous man, a sort of nineteenth-century Alistair Cooke. But one book at a time).

Update: 2013.10.02.16:30
Header updated:

 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**,  and  4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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