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Tuesday 18 August 2015

Thing Not To Do Today: quibble.

"Away, away!" his Mentors cried,
'Thou uncongenial pest!
A quirk's a thing we can't abide,
A quibble we detest!"

So wrote WS Gilbert in his ballad The Two Ogres, and though Gilbert was himself the master of the quibble-based plot-device (see for instance The Pirates of Penzance) he was here speaking a great truth.

Writers may depend upon the quibble rather a lot for their plots, but as for using them in real life, forget it.

I hate to quibble, people say. And the next word they utter?

Yes, it's always but.

What follows could be the quibble intellectual: no, what you've made isn't a bolognese sauce. I think you'll find that a proper bolognese sauce contains celery, or the quibble egotistical: what have you bought me those flowers for? They clash with my eyes!

Then there's the quibble evasive: it depends upon what the meaning of the word is, is.

But whichever sort of quibble it is (even, probably, if it's being used with its archaic meaning of a pun) WS Gilbert calls it right: a quibbler is an uncongenial pest.

Do feel free to tell him or her so, too.

Thing Not To Do Today: quibble. No one's sure where this word came from, but it might be from the Latin word quibus, a word formerly often used in legal documents and thus a symbol of anything pettifogging and obscure.

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