or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Loud Noises

The English language is a perpetual source of astonishment to me; I keep finding things in it that I didn't know were there, and it's one of the great pleasures of my life.

This evening I was listening to the newest Cecilia Bartoli CD, "Opera Proibita"--literally "forbidden works", because they were banned in Italy by the Vatican. (I'm not really the world's biggest fan of the mezzo-soprano voice: I prefer the electricity of the coloratura soprano, but there are a few mezzos I love, including Judith Forst. Bartoli? Also pretty good.) The first piece on the disc is called "All'arme si accesi guerrieri", which is nominally a call to peace but is plainly a call to war, reminiscent in both style and irony of Arne's "The Soldier Tir'd of War's Alarms". And that was when I was astonished, because I had never noticed or thought of it before, but clearly, the phrase "all'arme", "to arms", must be the source of "alarm". And it is! An alarm is originally and literally a call to citizens or soldiers to pick up their weapons and defend against interlopers. Now it means any kind of warning, and its meaning has been a little diluted.

I know it's no big deal; if I'd looked up "alarm" in the dictionary, I would have found out the meaning and been interested at its provenance, but no more than that. What I love is when the light turns on in your head and you understand something--you see it in a way you wouldn't ordinarily have. It's one of the most wonderful feelings in the world.


This is nothing to do with the particularities of the English language, but the authoress of one of my favourite blogs, I Blame The Patriarchy, has just revealed that she has breast cancer and is writing about it in her usual snippy, marvellous, no-bullshit manner. You should maybe pop on over there and read some of her stuff, and if you like what you read, give her a little moral support in her comments. (She doesn't know me from Charlemagne; I just like her, that's all.)


Post a Comment

<< Home