Monday, September 22, 2014


Shaw is one of the most oft-quoted authors in the Western world - do I really need to remind anybody of this? Sometimes, however, he is not quoted because of his sharp language, his witty choice of words, and his brilliant ideas. On some occasions, the lexicographers of this world choose Shaw to illustrate words one does not come across all that often. That is the case, for example, of the highest authority in English dictionaries: the OED

All the words in the Oxford English Dictionary include a selection of quotations from different authoritative sources that illustrate the meaning and use of each entry. I am going to reproduce a few of the Shaw quotations the OED selected, together with the words they illustrate - especifically in those cases in which Shaw is either allegedly the first person to have used that word, or one of the few people to have put it in print. This includes neologisms of all sorts: new word-combinations, foreign loan-words, creative derivations, and the like. I guess this is as good a way as any to demonstrate how creative Shaw was in all the areas of knowledge he touched on. 

3.3 Comb. actress-manageress (cf. actor-manager). 
   1894 G. B. {Shaw} in W. Archer Theatr. ‘World’ 1893 Pref. p. xxix, The time is ripe for the advent of the actress-manageress.   
2.2 An outlook, attitude, or point of view. 
   1907 G. B. {Shaw} Major Barbara Pref. 148 The Shavian Anschauung was already unequivocally declared.    1922 Internat. Jrnl. Psycho-anal. III. 377 In many respects however they‥are merely ‘points of view’ (Anschauungen).
Worship of the ‘Bard of Avon’, i.e. Shakespeare. (Occas. used of other writers.) So bardolater (-ˈɒlətə(r)) [-olater], a worshipper of the Bard, a Shakespearolater; barˈdolatrous a., tending to or characterized by bardolatry. 
   1901 G. B. {Shaw} Plays for Puritans Pref. p. xxxi, So much for Bardolatry!    1903 ― Man & Superman Ep. Ded. 30 Foolish Bardolaters make a virtue of this after their fashion.    1905 ― in Sat. Rev. 11 Feb. 170/2 The word ‘pity’ does not reach even the third row of the stalls, much less the gaping bardolatrous pit.    1911 Times Lit. Suppl. 9 Nov. 440/3 Playing for the sympathy of the ‘bardolaters’.    1914 G. B. Shaw Dark Lady Pref. 112 The familiar plea of the Bardolatrous ignoramus, that Shakespear's coarseness was part of the manners of his time.
(See quot. 1949); also, one who pretends to be of lower origin than he is. Also attrib. 
   1898 G. B. {Shaw} Sixteen Self-Sketches (1949) viii. 44 My father was an Irish Protestant gentleman of the downstart race of younger sons.    1921 ― Pref. to Immaturity in Prefaces (1934) xxiii. 627/1, I was a downstart and the son of a downstart.    1949 ― Sixteen Self-Sketches ii. 7 The Downstart, as I call the boy-gentleman descended through younger sons from the plutocracy, for whom a university education is beyond his father's income, leaving him by family tradition a gentleman without a gentleman's means or education, and so only a penniless snob.
Enthusiasm for flogging. Hence ˌflagelloˈmaniac n. and a., (one who is) enthusiastically in favour of flogging. 
   1895 G. B. {Shaw} in Daily Chron. 24 Feb. 8/5 Flagellomania has been victorious by seven votes to five on the Industrial Schools Committee.    1899 ― in Humanity May 136/2 The male flagellomaniac—who is sometimes, unfortunately, a judge—craves intensely for the flogging of women.    1908 Humanitarian Sept. 66/2 We are constantly assured by the flagellomaniac section of the Press that crime is ‘stamped out’ by the ‘cat’.    1917 G. B. Shaw in New Republic 6 Jan., Any newspaper can get up a flagellomaniac garotting scare. 

These are just a few (some of my favourites) of the 3080 quotations in 2527 entries that the CD-ROM version of the OED I own retrieves. If you can spare a few hours and want to do your own query, this is how you perform this search in v. 4.0

First, you open the main window and click on "dictionary." 

Then, you go to "advanced search," where you have to type "Shaw" in the first box and select "in quotation author."

Once you hit "start search," something like this will pop up, where you can scroll down the list of words whose definitions are illustrated by a Shaw quotation. 

Clicking on an entry will take you to the definition, where you can search for the relevant part by using the "find in entry" box at the bottom.

If you want to go back to the list of definitions, you just have to click on "results."

To wrap things up, I find it rather ironic that among the 46 dictionaries that Shaw kept at his Ayot St. Lawrence residence, none of them is the Oxford English Dictionary, and only two of them are Oxford dictionaries. Perhaps the sheer size of the print version of the OED was too much for a man who managed to write sixty-odd plays with pen, pencil, a typewriter, and a small rotating hut.

George Bernard Shaw notebook

Thursday, September 18, 2014


My countless followers and readers - "countless" meaning that I don't usually count them - are surely wondering why the blog has been kind of slow as of late. The answer is simple: I'm digitizing stuff. 

I would like to explain how my database came into being by utilizing the materials I'm currently digitizing as an example. In this case, I got a large parcel in the mail that contained an almost complete collection of The Shavian (in its various formats and denominations) ranging from the first-ever 1946 issue to the latest issue (2014). 

The parcel had been kindly sent by Evelyn Ellis, who took the trouble to put every issue into individual envelopes and include a complete index of what was included. Once open, the complete collection looked like this: 

So, as I usally do in what's left of my lunch break and other lapses of downtime, I lock myself in the photocopying room, where the new scanner of the English Philology Department at the Universidad de Extremadura awaits. 

If you look closely at the above picture, you'll see a black memory drive sticking out on the side of the machine. That's where everything I digitize goes, so that I can later edit the documents with the aid of this OCR software

Given that the Shavians are bound documents, I have to scan them one page at a time, with the additional handicap that they do not fit the standard A4 paper size. Therefore, I have to make use of state-of-the-art technology (a ruler!) and type in the width and length of the issue in question (expressed in millimeters). 

Although you can save any given measurements for later use, you may be surprised to know that not all Shavians are alike (pun intended!) For example, whereas most of them are 280x215 mm; number 7, however, is 250x185mm - to mention but one of the several cases in which I had to input a different scanning size. Once you know the area of the spread pages of a given issue, you just have to type in the numbers - always bearing in mind the orientation; i.e. what the x and y axis are. 

After all this, the process becomes quite straightforward: you just have to scan each page in succession, trying to silence the symptoms of the carpal tunnel syndrome you're slowly developing

Still, there are a few things that slow down the whole routine. For example, many of the issues are missing the staples that bind them, which means that you have to be extra careful not to let the page slant out of the scanning area. 

On occasion, the staples leave ugly rust marks in the middle of the page. Luckily, they do not usually impede the digitation and can be later erased or ignored when the document is edited. 

There are even some issues with holes cut out in them. In these cases, I've had to put a blank piece of paper behind the page, so that I would not scan what's on the following page through the hole. In the next three images, for example, someone had cut out Bernard Shaw's signature from the reproduction of a manuscript dedicatory. The hole, of course, spoiled the running text on the next page and the resulting scanned page, as you can see. 

Despite all these difficulties, there were some unexpected findings that really spiced up this project. Several issues had different kinds of addenda (donation slips, book advertisements, minutes and reports of the UK Shaw Society) that may become invaluable material if someone ever writes a not-so-short history of the Shaw Societies of this world. A few of these are reproduced in a presentation below. 

Well, I hope you liked what I had to share about one of my current projects. At least now you know why I'm not picking up the phone lately.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Derek McGovern has recently sent an email that was forwarded to me asking for the source of an elusive quotation, one "of those quotations that pops up everywhere, and yet no one ever provides the source:"

"Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it."

Indeed, many dictionaries of quotations include this statement in the Shaw section, but everybody seems to have forgotten to provide a source.

George Bernard Shaw at desk with book
My database does not contain the exact words in this quotation, so for the time being I'll have to put it in the "Apocryphal" folder. However, there are a few passages that may have originated the paraphrase we've been looking for.

To begin with, as other ISS members have suggested, the preface to Androcles and the Lion contains a section entitled "Why not Give Christianity a Trial?" that sums up the spirit Shaw's alleged words:

"This man" [Jesus] has not been a failure yet; for nobody has ever been sane enough to try his way.

A similar notion was reported in The Shaw Society Bulletin 48, in an article summarizing "an address given to the Society by Dan Laurence on November 21st, 1952." In it, we can read that 

"It was suggested that Shaw had considered Christianity im­practicable, but Mr. Laurence disagreed. Christianity, Shaw had clearly stated, was impracticable only in the sense that it had never been tried."

Perhaps Laurence was thinking of the preface to Misalliance ("A Treatise on Parents and Children"), where Shaw literally states that Christianity has never been "put into practice:"

"It is true that the Bible inculcates half a dozen religions: some of them barbarous; some cynical and pessimistic; some amoristic and romantic; some sceptical and challenging; some kindly, simple, and intuitional; some sophistical and intellectual; none suited to the character and conditions of western civilization unless it be the Christianity which was finally suppressed by the Crucifixion, and has never been put into practice by any State before or since."

George Bernard Shaw by William Strang 1907

This does not necessarily mean that Shaw thought that really trying Christianity for the first time would be something good. In the preface to Getting Married, Shaw puts it in classic Shavian style: 

"There is no more dangerous mistake than the mistake of supposing that we cannot have too much of a good thing. The truth is, an immoderately good man is very much more dangerous than an immoderately bad man: that is why Savonarola was burnt and John of Leyden torn to pieces with red-hot pincers whilst multitudes of unredeemed rascals were being let off with clipped ears, burnt palms, a flogging, or a few years in the galleys. That is why Christianity never got any grip of the world until it virtually reduced its claims on the ordinary citizen's attention to a couple of hours every seventh day, and let him alone on week-days. If the fanatics who are preoccupied day in and day out with their salvation were healthy, virtuous, and wise, the Laodiceanism of the ordinary man might be regarded as a deplorable shortcoming; but, as a matter of fact, no more frightful misfortune could threaten us than a general spread of fanaticism."

Therefore, it is clear that the idea was put forward by Shaw on several occasions, and it was processed by the Shavians of this world - perhaps to the extent of choosing a deliberately "Shavian" wording, however inaccurate. All in all, however, I think I prefer Shaw's choice of words when, during one of his lectures, a clergyman in the audience rose and asked him: "Are you a Christian?" He responded: "Yes, but I often feel very lonely." (As quoted in Vivian Elliot's Dear Mr Shaw: Selections from Bernard Shaw's Postbag, pp. 269-70).