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cherubims (sic)

March 19, 2019

In her Foreword to The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers writes: ‘My grateful thanks are due to Mr W.J.Redhead, who kindly designed for me the noble Parish Church of Fenchurch St Paul and set it about with cherubims’.

With what? I am surprised to see the erudite Dorothy Sayers, who graduated with a First in Modern Languages from Somerville College, Oxford, a poet, novelist, critic and translator of Dante, making such a vulgar error. Cherubim is a plural. The singular is cherub. In Hebrew, the plural of masculine nouns takes -im. Compare seraphim, kibbutzim, goyim. Writing cherubims is as redundant as writing angelses.

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  1. I reread the novel recently, and there’s a passage in which ‘cherubim’ and ‘cherubims’ are used interchangeably. I kept expecting the error to point to the murderer somehow, but it seems an oversight on Sayers’ part. Surprising, as you say.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    Quite agree. But maybe she just didn’t want to appear clever or fussy in front of her readers. I have the same problem when I am in a cafe with a friend and we both decide to have a cappuccino. I speak enough Italian to know that I should ask for ‘two cappuccini’, but that always sounds like I am showing off, particularly if the waiter is Italian. On the other hand, ‘two cappucinos’ makes it sound like I am either a little Englander, or I am deliberately not respecting the language. I always end up fudging the issue (‘we would both like a cappuccino’) but then leave the cafe feeling that somehow I could have done better.

    • That is a charitable interpretation, Mark.

    • Ross Foley permalink

      Well, Mark, why not try cappuccinis? Seriously, that’s the way it seems to be going with “Paninis” which I’ve seen on two cafe menu boards recently. I think that “We would both like a cappuccino” is a rather elegant way round the problem and not a fudge at all.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    Apparantly cherubims was the preferred usage in the King James Bible so maybe as the daughter of an Anglican priest she favoured the old fashioned form.

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