Thursday, 24 July 2008

Buchan: contre v. counter ... & one 'n' or two?

Right: the shores of Fife

Those of you who have visited my blog before, will know that I am a John Buchan fan. My husband, David, has been writing on British archaeologists who were working for military intelligence during WW1. He asked me to proof-read his latest chapter, and I queried the term contre-espionage, which he had spelled with one 'n' (i.e. one 'n' in espionage).

Imagine my amusement when we discovered that according to the OED, one of the early references is to be found in John Buchan's novel, Mr. Standfast (1919). Take a look at chapter XIII, The Adventure of the Picardy Château. (p.281 in my Nelson 1948 edition).

The quotation is as follows:
A sensible man would have gone off to the contre-espionage people and told them his story.
The OED advocates the use of contre-espionnage, but apparently it is quite in order to use counter-espionage.

The plot of Mr Standfast concerns the Ottoman Empire in WW1. One of Buchan's contacts was David Hogarth, the former Director of the British School at Athens, who was in charge of the Arab Bureau in Cairo. The term contre-espionage was used by Frederick W. Hasluck, a member of Hogarth's team in Athens.

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