Archives for October 2003


My excellent correspondent Michael V. (gratias ago!) has directed me to the red-light room at the back of Zdravko Batzarov’s Orbis Latinus site, namely Forbidden Latin Language. If you’re planning to read the seamier Latin authors, or if you’ve simply always had a yen to know how to say ‘to force someone to perform receptive male oral sex’ in the language of Cicero, pay it a visit. Just pull your collar up and your hat down, and tell Gaius I sent you. (But don’t trust it implicitly; the word “vomerm” should read vomer, and there may be other errors.)


Thomas More’s daughter Margaret More Roper, trained in the classics, not only wrote in Greek and Latin but translated from those languages; you can read about her instant emendation of a difficult passage from St. Cyprian in this entry at the marvelous Eudæmonist—where you will also read about Margaret’s daughter Mary:

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A tip from Des led me to a promising site devoted to the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. Unfortunately, it promises more than it delivers; only five of the projected 22 lessons are online, but those include an excellent one on Phonology, Orthography, Accent, and Syllable Structure. So if you’ve ever wondered how those exotic-looking words are pronounced (Xochitl, anyone?), here’s your chance to find out. (There is also this site, with the modest title “Inadequate Nahuatl Lessons”; it describes the classical language in a distinctly less rigorous way, but on the other hand it covers more ground, so makes a useful supplement. It’s accompanied by an “Inadequate Nahuatl Reference Grammar,” which presumably goes into more detail.) There’s a short glossary here, and a map showing where the language is now spoken here.


According to a NY Times story by Norimitsu Onishi, the age-old patterns of hierarchy in Japanese society and language are beginning to weaken:

Many Japanese companies, traditionally divided rigidly by age and seniority, have dropped the use of titles to create a more open — and, they hope, competitive — culture.
The long economic slump has forced companies to abandon seniority in favor of performance, upsetting the traditional order. This has led to confusion in the use of titles as well as honorific language, experts say.
The shift also mirrors profound changes in Japanese society, experts say. Equality-minded parents no longer emphasize honorific language to their children, and most schools no longer expect children to use honorific language to their teachers. As a result, young Japanese have a poor command of honorific language and do not feel compelled to use it.

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The NITLE Blog Census has a page listing the languages used (or apparently used: “our algorithm decides what language a blog is in by looking at the text content, and not at any language attributes in the markup”) in the 1,449,515 weblogs they’ve indexed. English, unsurprisingly, is far in the lead, but below that things get interesting; in particular, I find it hard to believe Russian is so far down the list. (Via the Sidelights column of Electrolite.)


An Idler’s Glossary: an annotated lexicon of words for the theory and practice of non-working. As usual with such things, distrust the etymologies (“Laggard is how the Norwegians say it”—no it’s not) but enjoy the brio.

apathetic: Because of his supine position and air of detachment, the idler is too often accused—by “serious,” “committed,” and “active” persons—of being apathetic. As used to mean “without feeling or emotion,” it would better be applied to those unfortunate souls who, precisely because they haven’t dropped out of society, have been (to quote Philip K. Dick) “androidized.” If, however, it’s supposed to mean “lacking interest or concern,” we should note that the idler is deeply concerned with, and interested in, following his own subjective pathos, through self-potentiation.

(Via wood s lot.)


In a recent NYRB review by P.N. Furbank of the Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne occurs the following sentence: “Her edition forms a physically very pretty book, with a charming and inventive use of civilité type.” Of course I immediately wanted to know what the typeface looked like and, if possible, why it was so named. The latter is explained here:

Civilité, designed by the prolific typographer Herman Zapf, is based on the typeface Granjon, of 1928, which in turn was a revival of the types of Robert Granjon, who flourished in Paris, Rome and Antwerp in the late-sixteenth century. Robert Granjon is renowned for his caractères de civilité, letterforms based on a graceful French handwriting and intended as a French version of the Italian italic hand.

You can see a nice sample here (I trust everyone recognizes the Latin text). And if you’re really interested, there’s a book: Civilité types, by Harry Carter and H. D. L. Vervliet (The Oxford Bibliographical Society, Oxford Univ. Press, 1966).


A paper (pdf; cached version here) by Roger Billerey analyzes some of the difficulties involved in trying to render Wodehouse’s stylistic idiosyncrasies into French. Skip the first couple of pages if, like me (and like Gail Armstrong, from whom I got the link) you are more interested in discussions that (in Gail’s words) “offer concrete and meaty examples of the thrill and distress of it all” than in maunderings about theory.


What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining? An interesting set of dialect terms; needless to say, I welcome contributions from other languages (this is not the sort of thing it’s easy to find in a dictionary). In Russian, for instance, it’s gribnoi dozhd’—’mushroom rain.’ Via Drum & Bass & Eggs & Flour .
Addendum. T. Carter of Lifechanges … Delayed provides a link to the LINGUISTList post on this subject from five years ago; it has a great many expressions, most with the original language (though not, alas, the Georgian). Many thanks, T.!


As of Friday, digitized versions of the British Library’s first editions of Chaucer are online, as described in this BBC News story:

Internet users will be able from Friday to view the first editions of The Canterbury Tales online rather than having to visit the British Library where the original versions are kept…
It is hoped the digitisation of the volume on the 603rd anniversary of its author’s death will make it easier for scholars and the public to access it.
A team from Keio University in Tokyo, the project’s sponsor, have photographed the work into 1,300 high-definition images which have been put on the web.
Kristian Jensen, head of Western European Printed Collections at the British Library, said: “This project follows the library’s successful digitisation of its two copies of the Gutenberg Bible, a site which received one million hits in its first six months.
“This is the beauty of digitisation, to take something of great intellectual value which is rare and fragile, and make it available to anyone and everyone.”