Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Meander, third post

I gave some examples of telegraphese in a recent post. It's an interesting literary genre but not one that's easy to search out on the internet.[1] There's a small sub-category of this genre which consists of martial, bilingual puns. The earliest and best known is just a single word. Here's how Punch described it.
Foreign Affairs: It is a common idea that the most laconic military despatch ever issued was that sent by Caesar to the Horse-Guards at Rome, containing the three memorable words "Veni, vidi, vici," and, perhaps, until our own day, no like instance of brevity has been found. The despatch of Sir Charles Napier, after the capture of Scinde, to Lord Ellenborough both for brevity and truth, is, however, far beyond it. The despatch consisted of one emphatic word — "Peccavi," "I have Scinde," (sinned).[2]
-- PUNCH, Vol 6, 1844
That witticism appeared in 1844 about a conquest that took place in 1843. In 1857 Punch was the first to tell the world of a second military dispatch as bilingual pun.
"Peccavi! I've Scinde," said Lord Ellen so proud — Dalhousie, more modest, said "Vori I've Oude!"[3]
-- The history of "Punch" by Marion Harry Spielmann, Vol 1 (Cassell and company, limited, 1895)
Almost two decades later, the third example shows up, again in Punch.
That Clever Czar! We have all heard of Julius Caesar's" Veni, vidi, vici" and Sir Charles Napier's "Peccavi" despatch. The last achievement in the line of epistolary brevity is the Czar's despatch, in answer to the proposal of General Ivanhoff, commanding on the Central Asian frontier, to annex more territory. It was a blank, with the direction phonetically spelt — "General I've Enough."
-- PUNCH, Vol 68, 1875
In the same year our final example appeared. Here, the story is related by the commanding officer at the time.
A clever man in imitation of Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici" had described Sir Charles Napier's conquest of Scind in the one word "Peccavi." It was superior in wit to the Roman's alliterative description of his success, as Napier was commonly supposed to have sinned much in his attack upon the Ameers and by his annexation of their province. A witty friend of mine, Major the Hon. James Dormer, who was A.D.C. to Sir Colin Campbell, wrote as if from his general to describe his capture of Lucknow, "Nunc fortunatus sum" ("I am in luck-now."). If not as elegant as Caesar's three words, nor as witty as Napier's supposed despatch, it passed muster in our camp, and amused many at a time when even a small joke was thankfully received.[4]
-- The story of a soldier's life by Viscount Garnet Wolseley, Volume 1 (A. Constable & Co., Ltd., 1903)
It's probably clear that none of these examples of telegraphese were genuine — not, that is, in the sense that they were sent by telegraph from the field to a military headquarters in order to convey important information to a military headquarters. They're all witticisms and most were probably inspired by the first. In his Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, William Walsh adds to the fun:

{Handy-book of literary curiosities by William Shephard Walsh (London, Gibbings, 1894)}

Here are images of the other text passages I've quoted:


Some sources:

The story of a soldier's life by Viscount Garnet Wolseley, Volume 1 (A. Constable & Co., Ltd., 1903)

More puniana, or, thoughts wise and other-why's; a new collection of the best riddles, conundrums, jokes, sells, etc., etc. by Hugh Rowley (Chatto & Windus, 1875)

Rambles in books by Charles Francis Blackburn (S. Low, Marston & Company, 1893)

David Cameron's ancestor and the greatest Latin joke ever by Harry Mount in the Telegraph (UK)

Rambles in books edited by Charles Francis Blackburn (S. Low, Marston & Company, 1893)

Handy-book of literary curiosities by William Shephard Author (London, Gibbings, 1894)



[1] Here's what little I've found so far. [2] Sir Charles Napier was Charles James Napier was Britain's Commander-in-Chief in India; Lord Ellenborough was Baron Ellenborough, India's Governor-General of India. Scinde was the province of Sindh, then in India, now in Pakistan.

[3] Note that the 'peccavi' quip is attributed to Lord Ellenborough in this version; Dalhousie was James Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie, a successor to Napier as C-in-C; Vori means "I devour"; Oude was the British name for a principality — Awadh — in north-east India.

[4] Sir Colin Campbell was Colin Campbell, 1st Baron Clyde C-in-C of India, who commanded an army that relieved the city of Luknow during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

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