Sunday Salon: The Cut Direct and the Puff Oblique

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Internal June, External January




It's snowing again in Nova Scotia.  Having done my dutiful and invigorating round of civically-minded shoveling, I'm burrowing in for a day of reading and course prep.  It's going to be a week of Ibsen and Chekhov and Shaw (leavened by an exploration of the Icarus myth across the ages that I'll link to  a lecture on intertextuality and plagiarism that somehow heavily features the Beyoncé video for "Single Ladies").   My neighbors just rang the doorbell to give me cinnamon rolls as a thank you for shoveling the walkway. Life could definitely be a lot worse.

[There was a moment earlier in the week when the specter of a less than Little Women-worthy society crossed my neighborhood. Leaving the house, I encountered my neighbor on the other side, hanging up her laundry in the freezing air.  I greeted her in jolly tones.  And she gave me the cut direct.   I felt ready to succumb to a fit of the vapors.  This was very un-Nova Scotian.

A friend quickly sent me to this definition of the verb "to cut" from The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), a book I heartily wish to absorb in its entirety into my everyday usage:
To renounce acquaintance with any one is to cut him. There are several species of the cut. Such as the cut direct, the cut indirect, the cut sublime, the cut infernal, &c. The cut direct, is to start across the street, at the approach of the obnoxious person in order to avoid him. The cut indirect, is to look another way, and pass without appearing to observe him. The cut sublime, is to admire the top of King’s College Chapel, or the beauty of the passing clouds, till he is out of sight. The cut infernal, is to analyze the arrangement of your shoe-strings, for the same purpose.
Ok, I replied, to be honest it might have been the cut indirect.  She didn't cut across the alley to avoid me.  But she was hanging up laundry at the time, and that sort of tied her down.  I would have preferred either the cut infernal or the cut sublime.  (I'll have to start practicing those.)  If she was looking at her clothesline when I said "hello" from five feet away, does that make it a cut sublime?  I certainly hope so.

My mother (who birthday it is today - Happy Birthday!) joined the debate: "This reminds me," she said, "of the description of various forms of PR in Sheridan's The Critic, as expounded by the expert, Mr. Puff: 'puffing is of various sorts: the principal are the puff direct, the puff preliminary, the puff collateral, the puff collusive, and the puff oblique, or puff by implication.'  Maybe you could use one of these on your neighbor to improve relations."

My friend S, a scholar of the Renaissance, brought her expertise to bear with some sobering words: "Better than the lie direct -- that would have led irretrievably to a duel, unless you had thought of an 'if'."

Happily, it didn't come to that.  I don't have it in me to get up at dawn again this week.

In fact, I saw my neighbor hanging laundry again two days ago.  She smiled broadly at me: "Hallo."  "Hallo," I replied, much relieved.  It turns out that there is a very fine line between stone-cold and stone-deaf.)

There's been a lot more activity at Sycorax Pine lately, due in part to my new policy of attempting at least "Lightning Reviews" of a few lines for everything I watch and read.  I'm a few behind right now, but feeling good - come by and take a look around to see the changes.

So, if I have time to venture beyond work today, what will I be doing?  Finishing Betina Krahn's The Husband Test (my first of Krahn's, and a fun gambol). Starting Lady Audley's Secret, which promises to be no less scandalous, and possibly considerably more so. Watching the end of Secretary (I've been on a bit of a Maggie Gyllenhaal streak lately, and I'm not enjoying it at all).  Tuning in for the next installment of Downton Abbey, which I'm really lapping up.  As I said in the comments at Read React Review,
There have been some moments that twinged my anachronism radar, but I really appreciate the multi-level (and relatively unsentimental) treatment of how class functioned in complex and codependent ways in a country house setting. The key moment for me was when the new middle-class heir (who until then I had assumed the modern spectator was meant to identify with) sweeps into town and tells his valet that he has a “silly job for a grown man.” Brilliantly rendered by both actors and the director.
Trying to finish up Geraldine Brooks's March, which hasn't (at the halfway point) impressed me to the extent that it did my book club mates.  I am assured that at some point in the next twenty pages, however, it will become unputdownable.  I do want to forge ahead to the point where Marmee's voice enters the narrative.  Oh, and listening to Nina Simone.  I'll leave you with the lady herself on this fine Sunday:


6 Responses so far.

  1. Lightning reviews are pretty much what I always do....but, hey, you do what you can.

    I read a great book this week: http://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2011/01/sunday-salon-unbroken.html

  2. Intriguing post...loved the exploration of "the cut."

    March is a book that I want to read. Last year I read several LMA biographies and reread Little Women, etc.

    Haven't read March yet.

    Here's my salon:

    (click on my name)

  3. I agree - it is the dread of not being able to do enough that keeps us from doing anything at all! Thanks for stopping by, Deb.

  4. The one thing that March has accomplished very effectively for me so far is this: it has instilled a longing for the world of Little Women. You'll have to let me know what you think of it, Laurel-Rain, when you get a chance to read it!

  5. litlove says:

    How useful to know the varieties of cutting! Only for the purposes of identification, though, as I'm one of those people who scramble over themselves to apologise when someone stands on my foot. I've just read and reviewed Lady Audley's Secret - I found it most intriguing.

  6. I know - I'm not sure when I'll actually have an opportunity to practice my varieties of the cut, since I too am painfully polite. But I am glad that I can now capably read OTHER people's shunning of ME.

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