Every so often when reading an otherwise serious scholarly work, one comes across a little spark of the writer’s personality. Sometimes it seems to be a touch of exasperation at a difficulty in the subject under discussion. In Oliver Padel’s Cornish Place-Name Elements (English Place-Name Society, 1985) on page 96 he deals with the place-name element evor. His comment on this is:
some kind of plant
Maybe I’m getting too fanciful, but it conjures up a picture of the author, after a lot of head scratching, muttering an imprecation and scribbling the definition down.
When I was an undergraduate, I shared a flat with some former school-friends, one of whom was studying medicine. He once showed me a little passage in his pharmacology text book. Now I reckon the subject is not one usually thought of as a barrel of laughs, but the author of this book couldn’t help slipping in the odd wry comment. The one I can remember concerned a drug, a sedative I think, that the author quite gratuitously pointed out could be used to dope race-horses, but that has a surprising effect on cats. Instead of slowing them down, it makes them hyperactive. The writer finished off the paragraph with the observation:
Of course, one does not usually race cats.
Photo: Echinopsis mamillosa. Credit: Stan Shebs. Used under this licence.