August 01, 2002
The Mind of the English Major

E.M. Forster by Dora Carrington

"Only connect," E.M. Forster famously wrote in Howard's End in 1910. Today, I was pitifully excited to be able to work this quote into something I was writing.

It's one of those phrases that has popped up in my head over the years, waiting to be adopted in some way or other. Indeed, some phrases have been in residence so long that they've become, in one way or another, mental furniture. They're always there, waiting formless and yet solid in the dark, waiting for me to trip over them.

This is one of the perils of being a former English major and an editor. For editors, as we endlessly churn out leads, headlines, and subheads, our best weapon is the clever turn of phrase. We know to avoid cliches. But at the same time, when a well-known phrase can be turned on its head, or changed by a word or a letter, and it has some appropriate resonance, that's a happy coincidence indeed.

What else is in the mental furniture attic? I'll probably never get a chance to use most of these, but you never know.

For instance, "Ou sont les neiges d'antan?" ("Where are the snows of yesterday?") crops up every now and then. I first became acquainted with this one through The Glass Menagerie, but it's actually a line from a medieval French song. Try saying this at a party when they run out of olives, and you'll soon see what I mean. You may even get the rest of the snacks to yourself. (Speaking of snacks, the strangest usage of this occurs in "Howl for Mayor McCheese.")

I have a theory that many English majors are romantic by nature. That's why we spent years toting around Norton Anthologies of Literature when everybody else was in business school. So, although I did not particularly care for this book, it should be no surprise that the final lines to The Great Gatsby ("So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past") are there, too.

And finally, I have been waiting for years to find a way to work "media assassin" into an appropriate context in the trade press. The moniker has been appropriated by just about everyone. However, we all know it rightfully refers to Harry Allen ("...I gotta ask him.") Here's a recent article quoting Harry on why black artists have been strangely silent during the recent public arguments about the economic nature of the music business.

Where was I? Oh, yes, E.M. Forster. Here's a new take: "E.M. Forster in An Age of Electronic Communication." Happy reading!

Posted at August 01, 2002 09:30 PM

I totally understand. I to have numerous quotations and phrases stuck in my hard drive that I dream about working into my everyday writing life. Goofy stuff such as:

"I can think, I can wait, I can fast."
"O yes, I can compose poetry. Will you give me a kiss for a poem?"


"a screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but ther is nothing to compare it to now."


"I live in a shack near iDEATH."

I don't believe it has anything to do with being an English major or being romantic. I am neither - I have a Batchelors of Science in Building Construction - and consider myself to be somewhat of a transindentalist (even if I cant spell it). But the thought of being truly literate and including some of the weird stuff that gets stuck in my head in everyday applications is appealing.

Don't Believe the Hype

Posted by: Bob Dobalina on August 9, 2002 02:40 AM

Thanks for the comment, Mr. Dobalina. Or is that "Mr. Bob Dobalina"? :)

Posted by: Anne on August 12, 2002 10:03 PM

Just out of curiousity...if I may ask; why is there a song with your name on it....what are the alligations against you Mr.Dobalina ?

Posted by: chase on April 24, 2003 11:47 AM
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