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Webinar: To The Damd Eternal Fire Brands of Hell Belonging to Odiham and its Vicinity: The Phraseology of Late 18th and Early 19th Century Threatening Letters

Professor Ivor Timmis, Leeds Beckett University


Tuesday, 5th April, 14.00, on MS Teams (Click here to join the webinar)



Abstract: This talk is based on a small corpus of anonymous threatening letters written around 1770-1820.  The question I ask is, ‘How were the authors, mostly poor and ill-educated, able to cope with the challenge of writing letters which were both intelligible and gruesomely threatening.  The answer lies, I argue, in the authors’ strategy of borrowing phrases and blood-curdling rhetoric from other sources, chiefly the bible.  This strategy added a certain fluency to the letters while allowing colourful references to death and destruction.  I conclude by referring to other cases where the poor and desperate are resourceful in finding strategies to express their feelings and needs.

Bio: Ivor Timmis is Professor of English Language Teaching at Leeds Beckett University, UK. He has a long-standing interest in corpus research, which was the subject of his first book for Routledge, Corpus Linguistics for ELT in 2015. More recently, he has become interested in aspects of historical linguistics, an interest which culminated in Historical Perspectives on Spoken Language Research for Routledge in 2017. This book arose from two historical spoken corpora he developed himself: the Bolton/Worktown Corpus of 1930s of informal spoken English and the Mayhew Corpus of 1850s London vernacular. It was this line of research that led him to the letters which are the focus of this talk, and his book The Discourse of Desperation: Letters by Paupers, Prisoners and Rogues (2020).