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Friday, March 14, 2008


Philip Larkin and the residuary beneficiaries of literary Anglicanism, T.S. Eliot’s decline from ‘pitch’ to ‘tone’, ‘Sean O’Shem’… what would be next on Geoffrey Hill’s kill list, I wondered, as his Collected Critical Writings came flopping through the letter box. Tofu, was the answer. Tofu.

The onslaught comes at the end of a chapter on the OED. Hill laments the slighting of one of Hopkins’ coinages, ‘unchancelling’, when bloody old tofu can show up on a Chinese takeaway menu and muscle its way in, in a suitably crumbly and nutritious way:

Tofu, picked up by the 1933 Supplement, with citations going back to 1880, received further samplings (1981, Guardian: ‘In the United States… tofu has become an “in” food’). Is the name of an easily analysable substance that has appeared on a million menus more than a word, peculiarly resistant to analysis, which has lodged itself in a few thousands of minds?

{Quotation ends}

If only the gentleman pictured above could have spelled his name To Fu instead of Tu Fu. Jacques Chirac is an expert on the work of Tu Fu, did you know? Not many people know that.

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