What this blog is for and about

I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

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19 April 2012

Forthcoming event: lecture on the English language and its connection with Romance, Justice, Markets and Sport – plus a whisky tasting

Next Friday evening, 27 April, I am giving a talk at Stephen Lapeyrouse’s excellent club, English Language Evenings in Moscow, which meets from time to time at the Chekhov Centre near Pushkin Square. My subject will be the English language and how, if you really want to grasp its underlying form—or lack of it—you need to understand the principles of sport. These evolved, I will argue, from the romantic notions of medieval chivalry which, when forced to go practical in the age of exploration and empire, created the modern concepts of the corporative (not corporate) market and its necessary correlative, the rule of law. Each contains an element of self-restriction in the interests of a larger social structure.
     My point will be that English is less valuable as a form of self-expression than as a technique of rule-based interaction, like games or the law. In a globalised, trading world, structured interaction is a key competence. To get the most out of English, you need to understand, not so much how it works, as how it is used. This is what I call English language "etiquette".
    Obviously it would be unrealistic in one evening to try to cover the whole history of Western civilisation as it has evolved from jousting knights to a legal system that is designed to make the world safe for hedge funds. So I am going to concentrate on the key issue of voluntary co-operation which at the heart of all civilisation and is shown to its best advantage in sport. Two tennis players, for example, co-operate by accepting a single set of rules in order to be able to enjoy their game.
     But I am going to go even further than games and talk about the essence of sport as I see it in the apparently individualistic activity of motor racing. I am going to narrow it down even further and illustrate my theme by telling the story of what many people think of as the most famous motor race of all time: the 1955 Mille Miglia.
     This was a thousand mile (1,600 kilometre) race in Grand Prix-level sports cars of the time, from the north of Italy down to Rome and back on ordinary, single-track roads, many of them in poor condition. The winners (pictured below) covered a distance nearly equivalent to that from Moscow to the German frontier between, as the navigator put it, “an early breakfast and a late tea”. It took place on 1 May, the day the Warsaw Pact Treaty was signed and was of incomparably greater significance because the aim of the winners, two Britons in a Mercedes-Benz, was nothing more elaborate that “to complete the whole course and beat all the Ferraris.” They did both and, in the process, shattered every race record and made sporting history.
     Unlike the Warsaw Pact, the Mille Miglia still goes on, though today it is run on a non-competitive “rally” basis. In 2005, for the fiftieth anniversary, the wining driver in 1955, Stirling (now Sir Stirling) Moss, drove the car he raced then, which is preserved in race-ready condition in the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart where it has pride of place.
     For further details of the event, location and time, see: www.elemoscow.net

They averaged 100 mph (160 kph) on roads like this. I infer from the colour of the car behind that it is a Ferrari.
Mercedes-Benz has never since achieved such eminence in motor sport.

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