This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Nuts and Bolts: philippic.

'Mrs Ferrars looked exceedingly angry, and drawing herself up more stiffly than ever, pronounced in retort this bitter philippic, "Miss Morton is Lord Morton's daughter." '

I first read Sense and Sensibility more than thirty five years ago, and I've been wondering what a philippic is ever since.

Bitter philippic is such a lovely expression. You can taste the spite of it.

But who was Philip, and why was he so cross?

Well, Philip was Philip of Macedon, who was the father of Alexander the Great. Philip was rather a nasty piece of work, and certainly not the sort of guy to go around bestowing his name to figures of speech.

No, the originator of the philippic was a Greek called  Demosthenes.

Demosthenes' philippics were speeches warning everyone that Philip of Macedon:

Filip II Macedonia.jpg

 was an untrustworthy rotter.

Later, the Roman Cicero used the same format to warn people about Mark Anthony.

History tells us that giving philippics is not at all a healthy thing. Cicero was killed for his, and Demosthenes, although left alone by Philip, committed suicide before Philip's irritated army could get hold of him.

There we are. At last I know what a philippic is: but, to my complete horror, I've discovered that Mrs Ferrers' piece of spite wasn't actually a philippic at all.

Ah well. Jane Austen uses philippic more conventionally in Emma, when she's talking about houses where you can't get a nice bowl of gruel, thin but not too thin. That's good enough for me.

Thing To Do Today But Only If You Live In A Place Where Free Speech Is Completely Safe: let fly with a philippic.

Actually, even so, perhaps it might be safest to stick with describing a historical figure.

Like Philip of Macedon, perhaps.

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