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The Scrivener: Treasure In The Dell

"A slice of rasher bacon? What on Earth do they mean? Rasher as a noun means a thinly cut slice of ham or bacon. For that reason, they could just as well advertise 'a rasher of slice bacon'. Both forms are meaningless,'' writes wordsman Brian Barratt.

'Are you a jeweller?'

That took me by surprise. The new manager of the deli section at a local supermarket asked the question out of the blue.

'No, I'm a writer.' That was an easier answer than a ramble about being a retired bookseller, editor, publisher and author of books. 'Why do you ask?'

'Well, you look just like the jeweller at Fountain Gate.'

Fountain Gate is shopping centre some distance from where I live.

'You could be his twin.'

And so the conversation unfolded. Evidently the lady's jeweller also has an English accent, and she likes English accents. She herself was born in Worthing, on the south coast of England, and her parents came to Australia as 'ten pound Poms'. I did, too, but I don't like that popular word Pom. For me, it has derogatory connections.

You might recall that Worthing features in Oscar Wilde's brilliant play 'The Importance of being Ernest':

Jack. The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.

Lady Bracknell. Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?

Jack. [Gravely.] In a hand-bag.

Lady Bracknell. A hand-bag?

But I didn't manage to get that into the chat with the lady at the deli counter. Nor did I tell her that she had undercharged me for something recently. I bought half a dozen slices of short cut rindless bacon and she rang it up at 17 cents. Being a well brought up lad, I deemed it appropriate to point this out to the young lady at the checkout. She, in turn, went to the deli counter and had the price corrected. My conscience was clear.

Then one of her assistants undercharged me for something a week later. Something like 57 cents instead of about $4. Well, my upbringing flew out of the window that time, and I did not tell anyone. To hell with my conscience.

I enjoyed those slices of bacon, by the way. Hardly any fat, and satisfyingly thick. Well flavoured, too. But they bring to mind an advertisement I've seen several times on TV. A well-known chain of fast food and hamburger bars, sorry, restaurants, announces that one of its hamburgers has in it 'a slice of rasher bacon'.

A slice of rasher bacon? What on Earth do they mean? Rasher as a noun means a thinly cut slice of ham or bacon. For that reason, they could just as well advertise 'a rasher of slice bacon'. Both forms are meaningless. The only meaning of 'rasher bacon', where rasher is obviously an adjective, is that the bacon is more rash, which means that it is 'more imprudently incurring risk'.

Playing around with those words has just reminded me that perhaps I am a jeweller, after all. Along with dictionaries, thesauruses are guides for our choice and use of words. The word 'thesaurus' is from a Greek word which means treasure, treasure house, treasury. I like that. I deal with treasures every day: the wonderfully varied jewels of the English language.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2012

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To read more of Brian's colums, significant contributions to the Great Treasure House of worthwhile words, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his Web site
www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

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