Terrible news today for grown-up Harry Potter fans -- J K Rowling’s first book about “the real world” has been panned by the New York Times. Their reviewer says the English village life she has created “is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that “The Casual Vacancy” is not only disappointing — it’s dull.” Actually, it sounds much worse than dull -- read the review.
How the author who kept both children and adults spellbound with tales of wizardry for over a decade could come up with such a damp squib must be one of the world’s great conundrums. Or should that be, conundra?
Before you go rushing off to Google to find an authority on the question, may I recommend a learned and, indeed, exhaustive discussion of this very point on the Guardian’s website? The British paper has a department called “Notes & Queries” where, as the editor admits, “readers waste their time answering questions that only fools and geniuses would dream of.”
I have to admit that I wasted 15 minutes of my own time this week reading answers to the question, What is the correct plural of conundrum? -- and a hilarious little interlude it was, too. Answers traverse Latin and Greek declensions, hippopotamuses (hippopotami?), octopuses (octopi?) forums (fora?), agendas, stadiums, Magi… and -- my personal favourite -- the plural of mum: ma. Why not, if the plural of conundrum is conundra, although few agree that it is, and I must confess that I am none the wiser on that score. My sentiments tend to coincide with this contributor:
I have sat here engrossed for half an hour after an engaging debate at work today where some suggestions included 'conundri', 'conundrae', 'conundinomie', 'conundrinopigomipingus' - all of which I dismissed as being utterly uneducated guesses. I do not believe in the concept of overbearing pedants. Pedantry is a rare and beautiful thing these days and the mere sniff of it brings joy to my heart. So my hearty congrats to all of you who felt moved enough by this topic to contribute. By the way, the plural is conundrums. But I think conundra sounds posher.
I do love British wit -- and I’d recommend J K Rowling to put a bit more of it in her next book.
Speaking of disputed words, Zac Alstin argues in a new article -- though not in a spirit of pedantry -- that we need to be more factual and less interpretative (and emotive) in the way we talk about same-sex issues.
But it’s images, such as the mischievous Innocence of Muslims film and certain French cartoons masquerading a free speech, that concern Nigerian writer Nwachukwu Egbunike. From Canada, Margaret Somerville writes about a political struggle over the definition of when a child becomes a human being. And Tamara Rajakariar interviews Australian author and motivational speak Jonathan Doyle about his new book, How to Get the Man of Your Dreams. Evidently it’s possible.
Michael Cook is away for a few days so there’ll be no newsletter on Tuesday.