From Grammar to Glamour

C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image:

“‘Grammar talks’, as the couplet says; or, as Isidore defines her, ‘ Grammar is the skill of speech’ (r, i). That is, she teaches us Latin. But we must not imagine that to learn grammar merely corresponded to what we should now call having a ‘classical’ education, or even to becoming a ‘Humanist’ in the Renaissance sense. Latin was still the living Esperanto of the western world and great works were still being written in it. It was the language par excellence, so that the very word Latin – laeden in Anglo-Saxon and leden in Middle English-came to Earth and her Inhabitants mean language. Canace in the Squire’s Tale by means of her magic ring

understood well everything

That any foul may in his ledene seyn. (F 435.)

Italian Latino is used by Petrarch in the same sense. An interpreter is a Latiner, whence the name Latimer. But while Grammar was thus restricted to a single tongue, in another way it sometimes extended far beyond the realm it claims today. It had done so for centuries. Quintilian suggests literatura as the proper translation of Greek grammatike (rr, i), and literatura, though it does not mean ‘literature’, included a good deal more than literacy. It included all that is required for ‘making up’ a’ set book’ : syntax, etymology, prosody, and the explanation of allusions. Isidore makes even history a department of Grammar (1, xli-xliv). He would have described the book I am now writing as a book of Grammar. Scholarship is perhaps our nearest equivalent. In popular usage Grammatica or Grammaria slid into the vague sense of learning in general; and since learning is usually an object both of respect and suspicion to the masses, grammar, in the form grammary comes to mean magic. Thus in the ballad of King Estmere, ‘My mother was a western woman learned in grammarye’. And from grammary, by a familiar soundchange, comes glamour-a word whose associations with grammar and even with magic have now been annihilated by the beauty-specialists.”

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