The Henry V concert was over, and I met up with Montgomery Starling-Byrd on the sidewalk outside Roy Thomson Hall.
“How was it?” I said.
“Crisp,” he said.
“As in Crispin or Crispinian?” These two were the martyred twin brothers honoured on St. Crispin’s Day, October 25, which is when Henry V won the battle of Agincourt. You may be interested to know that the brothers lived in Soissons, France, less than 300 km away from Agincourt (take the highway A26), but 1130 years before the battle.
“Yes,” he said. “Aside from the martyrdom bit.”
“No martyrdom for Crispus today,” I said. “I’m not wearing a tux.” I’ll explain that one: Crispin and Crispinian are derived from Latin crispus, which means “curly”; Crispus Attucks, a man of half-African and half-Wampanoag ancestry, is generally thought of as the first person killed in the American Revolution, at the Boston Massacre. And, yes, I was wearing white tie and tails, not black tie and tuxedo.
“Indeed, proper tails are a constant.” I suspect he was making a joke on Emperor Constantine I, who had a son named Crispus. Whom he had killed.
“Just as well,” I said, “my tux is going to hell in a handbasket.” That was a pun on Helena, the mother of Constantine, and also on Helena Bonham-Carter, cousin of Crispin Bonham-Carter, who is also an actor.
“Well, let us turn back to the future for a moment,” Montgomery said. I was surprised that he had seen Back to the Future, which starred Crispin Glover as McFly. “I ought to have gone once more into the breach in the concert hall; my intermission libations are catching up on me. Is there a pay toilet around here?”
“No pay toilets in Toronto,” I said. “We prefer to hold our manhoods cheap – or free, actually.” This was a reference to a line in King Henry’s speech before the battle. “We could go across King Street to Quotes – I’ll have a pint, and you’ll have a –”
“Yes,” Montgomery said, cutting me off, “that sounds good. A snack perhaps. All I’ve had is a packet of crisps. I wonder whether they have crêpes.” Yes, crêpe is cognate with crisp too. We started walking.
“More likely just French fries,” I said. “Calamari and Guinness are what I usually get. They might have curly fries, though.”
“Indeed, the original crisps,” Montgomery said. What he meant, of course, was that, as I’ve mentioned, crisp comes from Latin crispus – yes, “curly” – and came to mean “rippled, wrinkled” in the 1300s and “brittle” only in the 1500s. Lexicographers are unsure how it came to have the “brittle” meaning but speculate that the sound of the word had some influence. “But of course,” Montgomery added, “French fries are really chips, looking like wood chips. Whereas you colonials use chips to refer to crisps.”
“I do admit,” I said, “potato chips sound more like crisps. You can hear it when you eat them: ‘crisp, crisp, crisp.'” We walked on for a few seconds, pondering onomatopoeia. “So,” I said, returning to the original topic, “Crisp – I mean, Christopher Plummer was suitably plummy for you?”
“He has a voice one can curl up with,” Montgomery said. “And the orchestra and the two choirs could make one’s hair curl. And it was all, as I said, crisp and clear.”
“Marvellous,” I said. “I’m looking forward to doing it again on Saturday. But now,” I said, veering to the steps down to Quotes, “let it be in our flowing cups freshly rememb’red.”