Other Matters: The Language–Speaking Ill

Hugh Massingberd, the longtime obituaries editor of The Telegraph of London, died on Christmas day at the age of sixty. From 1986 to 1994, Massingberd converted the dullest page in the paper into one so entertaining that his obits were collected in six anthologies. In her obituary of Massingberd in today’s New York Times, Margalit Fox wrote that he spoke “frankly, wittily and often gleefully ill of the dead.” She provided translations of some of his terms.

To dispatch his subjects, Mr. Massingberd used the thinnest of rapiers, but also the sharpest. Cataclysmic understatement and carefully coded euphemism were the stylistic hallmarks of his page. Here, for the benefit of American readers, is an abridged Massingberd-English dictionary:

“Convivial”: Habitually drunk.

“Did not suffer fools gladly”: Monstrously foul-tempered.

“Gave colorful accounts of his exploits”: A liar.

“A man of simple tastes”: A complete vulgarian.

“A powerful negotiator”: A bully.

“Relished the cadences of the English language”: An incorrigible windbag.

“Relished physical contact”: A sadist.

“An uncompromisingly direct ladies’ man”: A flasher.

To read all of the Massingberd obituary, go here.

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