Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ashley Sterne and Teeth

Here is a short excerpt of an Ashley Sterne article that I found in the Western Dental Bulletin, Volume 9 (1929):


Ashley Sterne, whose wit and humour have beguiled many an idle moment for numbers of our readers, is in his happiest mood in a recent issue of London Opinion.  We would like to quote the article in extenso, but space forbids; we extract one or two tit-bits:

“Since the days of Ovid right away through the centuries haven’t the great love-poets always emphasized the attraction of the female eye to the exclusion of all else?  Well, apparently they’re all of them wrong, for at a recent meeting of the British Dental Association a lady dentist informed a newspaper representative that ‘sparkling teeth have captured more hearts than sparkling eyes.’

“Now, if this is true (and it’s rude to contradict a lady), I can see that, for accuracy’s sake, a good deal of poetry and modern fiction will shortly have to be re-written.  We shall have to make Ben Johnson say, ‘Drink to me only with thine eye-tooth,’ and Sir William Gilbert, “Take a row of sparkling fangs,’ if we do not wish posterity to gain the impression that our finest lover-lyrics are, so to speak, ‘all my eye.’

“Similarly, such passages in novels as, ‘Harold’s heart thrilled as he gazed into the liquid depths of Hilda’s clear hazel eyes,’ will have to be amended to read, ‘Harold’s heart thrilled as he gazed into the cavities of Hilda’s pure white bicuspids,’ while the title of a certain great classic romance will, in future editions, most assuredly have to be altered to ‘A Pair of White Molars, and the well-known colloquialism about ‘the glad eye’ changed to ‘the glad incisor.’

“All the same, I am sorry to have my own belief in the lure of the eye turned to eye-wash, as it were, for several reasons.  In the first place, should I ever feel inspired in the future to plunge into amateur verse, I shall find it rather a difficult job for ‘teeth’ is a very much harder word to find rhymes for than ‘eyes.’  Supposing I felt the urge to write something along the lines of that delightful little song of Macdowell’s –

‘Thy beaming eyes
Are Paradise’ –

well, you see the horrible difficulty which at once arises in preserving the metaphor.  There is no word rhyming with ‘teeth’ which in the least suggests Paradise, or its synonym, Eden, and the nearest approach I can get to the idea is –

‘Thy gleaming plate
Is Eden-tate’ –

which, however, is far from having any paradisaic significance, because I find on looking up ‘edentate’ in the dictionary that it means ‘lacking front teeth.’


Here is a brief but insightful biographical note about Ashley Sterne from The Strand Magazine, Volume 75 (1928):

"Take, first of all, the humorous writer, Ashley Sterne. I think he must be the world's champion mixer. He could adorn a ducal dinner table one night and hobnob with the toughs of Charley Brown's public-house down Limehouse way the next." 

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