Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kicking it old school

So Kate's baby, rumored to be a girl, is due any day now.  This raises an interesting possibility.

The other day, while trying to confirm an obscure fact online, I ran across a fascinating trove of information.  To call it highly valuable would be an understatement: In the social-climbing equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest, it was an alpine harness, six caribiners, and an ice axe, all rolled into one. 

I speak, of course, of the Glossary of Eton Expressions.

Ha ha!  Fools!  I couldn't believe that Eton College, the world's preeminent boys' school founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, would haphazardly sling this stuff onto the Internet in the naïve assumption that the world, like Eton, was full of classy people.

Didn't they realize that, armed with this knowledge, any enterprising young man could Talented-Mr.-Ripley his way into the British upper crust with less memorization than it would take to win a spelling bee?  And that this man might be my son?  Making my daughter-in-law . . . the princess?

Here I must insert the necessary disclaimer that my grown-up son may not want to marry Will and Kate's daughter, and that his life is his to live as he pleases.  Still, it is a notable fact that he would only be eight years older than this no-doubt-lovely girl, and a plane ticket to London is not too expensive if you bid on it during off-season, in the middle of the night. 

So!  With that in mind, here are the terms I will be drilling my boy on at 4 a.m., Obama-mom style:

Abracadabra - Eton's basic academic timetable, determining who does what when.

And we're off to an adorable start! 

Beak - A master, i.e., teacher, whether male or female. 

Bill - If a boy misbehaves, he may be placed 'On the Bill,' which means that the Head Master or Lower Master will see him and rebuke or punish him appropriately. 

Oh no!  Not the Bill!

Debate - The sub-prefects in an oppidan house.

Okay.  Whatever.

Lord's - The annual cricket match against Harrow School, which has been held at Lord's cricket ground for well over a hundred years.

Sample dialogue between my son and Some Eton Dude, c. 2030:

"I had an absolutely ripping time at Lord's that year!  Did you?"

"Missed it, I'm afraid.  I was having a lie-in at Godolphin House."

"Wasn't the Deputy Headmaster named Walsh?"

"Yes.  Good fellow."

"Too true. . . . Say, have you met my sister?"

Non-dies - A day in which there is no regular work whatsoever

Otherwise known as "Saturday at my mom's house." 

Porny School - A primary school in Eton Street.

Yes? What were you thinking?

Slack bobs - Boys who neither row nor play cricket. 

Hey, this is starting to sound a little classist! 

Let us now turn to the obvious question of how my son is going to finesse his Sacramento-area accent.  Easy, that's how:

"So you're a direct descendant of Sir James Chichester, 12th Baronet of Raleigh, eh?  What happened to your accent?"

"I lost it in a polo accident, and it's an extremely painful subject, so I'll thank you not to mention it again." 

The truth is, even though life in an elite British boarding school looks fun in a Hogwarts-sort-of-way, I like to think my son is as happy as any of those boys.  Even in a Minecraft t-shirt instead of an Old School tie, he is learning a lot, running through green fields, and enjoying playground games of tetherball and Foursquare.  His typical school lunch, he claims, consists of "carrots and True Moo," and after school somebody makes him a pizza bagel.  He's got it made.

Plus, if he ever takes a liking to little Elizabeth Katherine Spencer, her Royal Highness of Cambridge, he already knows what to say, words by which any country boy can win the heart of a princess-in-training:

"As you wish."

(Image: Portrait of a Young Scholar (1531), attributed to Jan van Scorel (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons)

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