13 June 2017

Gleanings from "The Handmaid's Tale"

When I reviewed Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin nine years (!) ago, I assigned the post to the "recommended books" category.  I can't quite do that for The Handmaid's Tale, so I'll file this post in the English language category, because she does know how to turn a phrase.  Some examples:
"We lived, as usual, by ignoring.  Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it."

"I went to sleep after all, and dreamed I was wearing earrings, and one of them was broken; nothing beyond that, just the brain going through its back files..."

"But there must be something he wants, from me.  To want is to have a weakness.  It's this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me."

"Better never means better for everyone, he says.  It always means worse, for some."
Two new (to me) words:
glister - "to gleam, glisten, or coruscate."  And to show that I misremember my Shakespeare, the correct phrase in The Merchant of Venice is "All that glisters is not gold" - not "glistens."

ancestress - I thought this perhaps a neologism for the context of the story, but it is an accepted term for a female ancestor.
And one etymology:
"It was Lulke who told me about mayday, though.  Mayday, mayday, for pilots whose planes had been hit...  Do you know what it came from? said Luke.  Mayday?... It's Frenchy, he said.  From m'aidez.  Help me."


  1. I always thought it was "all that GLITTERS is not gold." But then I guess the meaning is the same either way...

    1. Of course Tolkien appropriated the phrase from "The Merchant of Venice" when he wrote the well known All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter

      All that is gold does not glitter,
      Not all those who wander are lost;
      The old that is strong does not wither,
      Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

      From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
      A light from the shadows shall spring;
      Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
      The crownless again shall be king.

      Which may be the source of some of the confusion as this poem does use the word glitter.

  2. From the _Red Dwarf_ episode "Marooned":

    RIMMER: Mayday! Mayday! (/To Lister/) I wonder why it's 'Mayday'?

    LISTER /gathers some books from the trunk./

    LISTER: Eh?
    RIMMER: The distress call. Why d'you say 'Mayday'? It's only a Bank Holiday. Why not 'Shrove Tuesday', or 'Ascension Sunday'? (/Mimics/) Ascension Sunday! Ascension Sunday! The fifteenth Wednesday after Pentecost! The fifteenth Wednesday after Pentecost!
    LISTER: It's French, you doink. It's /m'aidez/. Help me. Muh-aid-ay (/Sighs./)


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