Two notes from the obits

Two language-related notes from the death notices in my edition of the New York Times yesterday (they appeared on two different days in NYC): a word inappropriate in context; wine that speaks.

Not on Holy Saturday! From the obit “Sir David Willcocks, Conductor Who Influenced British Choral Music, Dies at 95” by Margalit Fox:

In its obituary last week, the British newspaper The Telegraph recounted an incident from his time at Salisbury Cathedral:

“On one occasion they were rehearsing on Holy Saturday [the day before Easter Sunday] when the dean interrupted. ‘Mr. Willcocks, did I hear the choir singing “hallelujah”?’

“Willcocks explained that they were preparing for the following day’s services. Back came the reply: ‘Our Lord is still in the tomb; I will not have it! We cannot have “hallelujah” sung in Salisbury Cathedral until the gladsome morn.’

“Thereafter,” the obituary continued, “the choir replaced the offending word with ‘fa-la-la-la.’ ”

Ah, verbal magic. Just uttering a word, even if it’s uttered in a quotation (or in a discussion of its use, in an example, etc.), conveys the content of the word, so that hallelujah (conveying joy) can never be appropriate on Holy Saturday.

The wine that tells a story. From the obit “Noël Verset, Vigneron Who Helped Save a Wine Tradition, Dies at 95” by Eric Asimov:

In the 1990s and especially in the last 15 years, Mr. Verset’s [appellation Cornas] wines came to be prized around the world. They were not perfect in a technical sense, but their beauty shone through in their complexity, authenticity, soulfulness and sense of history. They seemed to tell the story of Cornas in every glass.

Yes, I know, the language is figurative, but even for wine writing, this strikes me as overwrought. You can taste complexity in a wine — but authenticity? soulfulness? a sense of history?

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