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Baleful Expressions
by Alec McEwen

BAILING OUT. Charlotte Gray, writing in Saturday Night, reported that "Ottawa's preoccupation with deficit reduction means no more bale-outs for farmers in trouble." Although it is unlikely the writer was suggesting that needy farmers should be assisted by pitching them bundles of hay, her use of a British form was an unfortunate importation of an unfamiliar spelling. To bail out has two main literal meanings: to empty water out of a boat, with a pail or similar vessel, and to procure conditional liberation from prison or arrest. Whereas British usage appears to prefer bale for the first, but not the second, of the two senses, the OED regards it as an erroneous spelling, because of the word's derivation from bail, or bucket, which in turn derives from the French baille. The second edition of Fowler's Modem English Usage accepts the OED's stricture but attempts rather weakly to justify the popular preference on the grounds of "an instinct for differentiation. " Regrettably, the figurative use of bale out in England is also applied to escape from crises, such as the parachute descent from a damaged airplane, yet even the OED gives examples, going back to the year 1930, where both bail out and bale out have been used as equivalent expressions for that purpose. What is more surprising, however, is that some sources, such as Gage Canadian Dictionary and Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, associate this same figurative use with the act of bailing out water. One might reasonably suppose that emergency relief from distress, whether caused by physical or other constraint, is sufficiently similar to a release from prison or police confinement that the spelling bail out ought to apply equally to both types of predicament. Since bail out, in the even more modem sense of rescuing a person or corporation with financial problems, is the kind of assistance that Saturday Night had in mind with regard to farmers, its use of bale-out was more than a British affectation; it was plainly at variance with ordinary Canadian spelling.

HEWERS OF WOOD. Although North Americans commonly use the verb fall to describe the action of cutting down a tree, the corresponding word in England is fell. Similarly, the English refer to a tree cutter as a feller, as in "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke," that curiously intricate painting by the Victorian patricide Richard Dadd. Faller, a word regarded by the OED as obsolete or dialectal in England, yet acknowledged by that authority to be current in some other countries, represents a normal Canadian logging term, as in the potentially spooneristic Fallers' and Buckers 'Manual, published by the Workers 'Compensation Board of British Columbia.

TILL DEATH PARTS US. An interesting difference between Canadian and British usage occurs during the exchange of vows in the Anglican marriage ceremony. The Church of England's Book of Common Prayer contains the words it till death us do part," a style that was followed by the Anglican Church of Canada until 1959, when the wording of its new prayer book was changed to "till death do us part." It is not altogether clear why this reversal of two small words took place in Canada but not in Britain. Perhaps the altered form is easier to say, but the real reason may be that it was believed by the Church to be more in keeping with modem wordorder. But even the Church of England liturgy perpetuates a historical inaccuracy, for "death us do part" originated during a revision of the prayer book in 1662. Before that time, the wording was "till death us depart," in which depart meant to separate or divide. According to John Blunt, a 19th-century English theologian, the corrupted version resulted from the ill-informed but "pressing request of the Puritans."

LET's CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF. The occasion of Princess Anne's second marriage prompted a number of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic to remark that this was the first wedding of a divorced royal person in England since Henry VIII. Legally speaking, the Tudor king was not a divorce; his first and fourth "marriages" (to Catherine of Aragon and to Anne of Cleves) were annulled by the Church, one on the grounds that it contravened the biblical injunction against a man's marrying his brother's widow, and the other because of an alleged failure to consummate the union. Henry's marital status with respect to each of the two women was not formally ended; it was officially declared never to have existed.


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