- Julian Walker
- I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.
Tuesday, 11 June 2013
'A boy from the town, trenching on Smith's monopoly, was selling papers with the afternoon's news.'
This is in H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds. This use of the verb ‘to trench’ in the sense of ‘to encroach on’ is very enjoyable. Which way does the trench go? Does it move over no man’s land on a broad front or is it a sap, moving directly forwards? The OED offers a single quotation, and that from 1631 – ‘Who did it? I? I trench the liberty o’ the subjects?’ from Staple of Newes by Ben Jonson. Sharp eyes will note that the earlier use did not require ‘on’, and that it is designated 'obs', for obsolete.
Any chance that, as a part of the centenary commemorative events next year, ‘to trench’ could be reinvigorated? Will the Labour Party trench the electorate’s faith in the Coalition? Does the knowledge that I have to paint the back door trench the prospect of a sunny weekend? Will a London football club trench Manchester’s apparent monopoly of the Premiership title? Can I trench the ground ivy’s domination of the topsoil at my allotment – and, by digging a trench, could I do that simultaneously metaphorically and physically?