PRINT October 1990


Changing of the Garde

DICTIONARIES RECORD WHAT words meant, rather than what they mean. Today’s dictionary was put together yesterday. English is about as various as the people who speak it, and when someone once told me that as a writer I had the language in my hands, perhaps he should have added, “and in your mouth.” It is our language. So how people say what they mean is of great interest, especially when what they mean differs from the dictionaries explanation of what they say.

Take the term “avant-garde.” Many people who use it have an inkling of its distant military origins, and of its application to art in the 19th century, but thereafter its uses and meanings spread right across the map. Except in casual conversation, I stopped using the term a number of years ago because of its imprecision. It seemed so loose-fitting that it could be draped over almost any form of Modern or contemporary art. For me, “

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