17 December 2010

Why can't I be satisfied?

Learn something new before breakfast. I don't do it deliberately - perhaps I should go through the various foreign words of the day that come in by email or something - but there's always something new to pick up, and it will be a black day when it stops. Head fake, today: thanks to GB Trudeau, so rich a source of things that are new to me. Where would I be without Doonesbury to keep me grounded? Today, "head fake" - which turns out not to be a counterfeit West Coast psychedelic musician, but the American equivalent of a dummy, as in rugby - or in association football, I guess. Well, if the word "dummy" is available to me I won't be making much use of the American term.

Which brings me, by a route known only to myself, to "pixie dust". There's a lot of it around, and a text message from a new client, referred by a former student of mine, reminds me. It fell with the snow a couple of weeks ago, although that particular sprinking seems to have gone the same way as the snow did - got to go after that prospect again today. But, just like with head fakes, I'm in an uncomfortable zone somewhere on the western side of the Atlantic. Like most copyright lawyers, I have more than a passing acquaintance with Peter Pan - indeed, even had a client who'd written a musical version, and knew the ins and outs of Schedule 6 to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act which was very interesting. And when I was a bairn [I'll throw that in so maybe someone somewhere else in the world will learn something before breakfast too] I used to go to the pantomime in Newcastle - about this time of year - so I had a fair knowledge of Barrie's play. Even so, it only hit me this morning that pixie dust is the Disney equivalent of what Barrie, in a different, more innocent and (in some ways) gentler age, called fairy dust.

Which I think goes to show that, as with so many other aspects of life, the pace at which the meaning of words changes has accelerated. More than that: it's not just the rate at which speed increases, the rate of acceleration itself is accelerating. That exhausts my A-level applied maths, and perhaps explains how I once scored one mark in an exam - though I think my teacher was trying to convey a message, because I recall that I had a couple of other things right too. Come to think of it, he was also the school's careers master and it was his suggestion that I should do maths A level - after he'd given me private tuition (meaning, my parents had paid him for private tuition) to get me through O-level. Nearly 40 years on, the thought suddenly occurs to me: did he hope to create more private tutoring work for himself? Unlikely, as he was a fundamentally good and decent man, unlike many of the weirdos who taught there!

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