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Bewitched, bothered and beleaguered

January 20, 2018

I was reading the sports section of the Guardian today when I had to stop and shake my head in disbelief at the following sentence, perpetrated by Barney Ronay: ‘It is tempting at this point to describe the Dijon goal as “beleaguered”. But this would assume, incorrectly, it was ever actually leaguered in the first place.’

Oh, come on, Ronay. I mean, just come on.

Beleageured means besieged. So what Ronay is trying to say is that one could describe the Dijon goal as ‘besieged’, but this would assume, incorrectly, it was ever actually sieged in the first place.


Well, I pretend incomprehension, but I can see what Ronay was trying to do. He actually meant that the Dijon goal was besieged (by Paris St Germain) at a particular point in the game but that it had never not been besieged. And he assumed that be- was a negative prefix, like de- or -un – in which case leaguered would mean unbeleaguered.

He was wrong about that because be- is not a negative prefix. So the wordplay falls on its face. But observe how laborious is the task of decoding and explaining Ronay’s convoluted attempt at wit He’s just making life difficult for his readers. Ronay is one of those journalists (Matthew Norman and Hugo Rifkind also spring to mind) who like to advertise how clever they are in everything they write. But this is wearisome to read. Please, keep it simple, chaps. Try to focus the reader’s attention on the subject you are writing about, rather than your own brilliance.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    So you weren’t gusted and remained lirious?

  2. Er, that’s right. I think.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    There are quite a few unpaired words; gormless, intrepid, nonchalant, feckless, innocent, etc. Does anyone know why their equivalent versions have disappeared?

  4. I don’t know the reason, but there is a term for them They are called lonely negatives.

  5. Simon Carter permalink

    That sounds like the title of an Alan Bennett monologue.

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