Archives for July 2004


As a follow-up to my LITSEI/GIMNAZIYA post, another example (also from The Russian Language Today) of convergence of originally distinct terms:

The title of the head of city administration, previously predsedatel’ gorodskogo soveta ‘Chairman of the City Council’, has been changed to mer ‘mayor’, a loan word [from French maire] which imparted a European flavour to the title of the city head. However, for some reason this was considered not to be good enough, and in 1995, in many towns, people found themselves electing not a mer but a gubernator ‘Governor’, a title dating back to the nineteenth century. This old name, exorcised in 1917, has now come full circle. In 1995 it caused some confusion among the population at large, because for many Russians casting their vote the word gubernator sounded outlandish and dated, and prompted a humorous reaction. The situation was all the stranger as there was no unified standard terminology: the head of the Moscow administration is called mer, while in St Petersburg the name of the same post is gubernator.


Well, since my last anniversary post, the country list has almost doubled, now standing at around 120 (I may have mistakenly included a territory or two, but then I may have missed a name or two); hello Cambodia, Albania, Libya, and all the other far-flung dens of LH readers! A year ago France was the non-English-speaking country that turned up most frequently in the logs, but it’s been overtaken by the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, and Sweden, with Poland hot on its heels. As always, I thank all those who read and comment on my entries; without the feedback, maintaining the blog would not be nearly as rewarding. In that connection I direct any readers who may have missed it to my entry Contacting Languagehat, and I emphasize you need not leave an e-mail address or any other personal information (aa, come back!). It’s been a tremendous amount of fun (and educational to boot), and I hope to keep it up for a long time to come.


Continuing my fascination with Aussie slang, I present my latest find (courtesy of Mark Liberman at Language Log): furphy.

furphy n. (pl. furphies) 1 a false report or rumour. 2 an absurd story. • adj. (furphier, furphiest) absurdly false, unbelievable: that’s the furphiest bit of news I ever heard.
This Ozword comes from the name of [John] Furphy, a blacksmith and general engineer, who went to Shepparton from Kyneton in 1871 and set up a foundry. John Furphy designed a galvanised iron water-cart on wheels and his firm, J. Furphy & Sons, manufactured them. Each cart had the name FURPHY written large on the body. So successful were these carts that during World War 1 the Department of the Army bought many Furphy carts to supply water to camps in Australia and especially to camps in Palestine, and Egypt.

And how did John Furphy’s name wind up meaning what it does? Go read the essay! (Which, by the way, is from Ozwords, an online periodical I should obviously keep an eye on.)


The Jónas Hallgrímsson: Selected Poetry and Prose website is one of the best of its kind I’ve seen. It has the original side by side with an English translation (which tries to match the formal qualities of the original, and I would have preferred a literal version as well), followed by commentary, sometimes quite copious. The Introduction says:

This Web site is intended to make available, through interactive technology, a wide range of materials that will enable interested persons to familiarize themselves with the work of the Icelandic poet and natural scientist Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) and to have at their fingertips resources contributing to an understanding and appreciation of that work. Jónas is generally acknowledged to be the most important and influential Icelandic poet of modern times. In addition he has a secure place in the annals of Icelandic science and of his country’s cultural and political history.

I want to see sites like this for every major poet in every language!

Here’s a short poem with its commentary (and a link to a recording):

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I was recently given (by pf and a fellow grammar gremlin) a copy of Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Usage, by Theodore M. Bernstein (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1971). I must admit when I saw the word “usage” my Pavlovian response was to shudder, but when I looked more closely I realized that far from promoting absurd shibboleths, the surprising Mr. Bernstein was debunking them, an activity always dear to my heart. A sample entry:

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At first glance, a web page on Kazakh names might seem overspecialized for most people, but it has links to quite a few useful-looking name sites, some specialized (Russian, medieval Russian, medieval Mongol) and others general. (Thanks to frequent commenter zizka for inspiring the search that led to the site.)


Frequent commenter Tatyana has written a brilliant summary of the history of the Russian musical movement known as KSP in Russian, which she calls “the bard scene.” The most familiar name to Americans is probably that of Bulat Okudjava, but there are many more, and the scene comes from various sources, notably the prison camps:

It started in the late 50’s, after survivors from Northern and Siberian camps started to trickle back to populated parts of the country. Very few of them could write like Solzhenitsyn or Varlaam Shalamov, but many more could sing prison songs. The so-called blatnye pesni were written by career criminals, and songs based on the experience of the camps were written by political prisoners, but in form resembled the former (sometimes even using the same melody).
Society’s attitudes towards prisoners changed during the “Thaw” years of the 1960’s. Political “ZK” (inmates), who were previously considered “the enemies of the People,” became human again. Suddenly Pushkin’s line about “mercy to the fallen” was quoted in Pravda; public debates about “physicists vs. lyricists” filled the arenas with audiences. And the first shy voices of social and political dissent started to appear semi-publicly…

She ends with a splendid account of her own visit to a slet, or festival, of the Bard Club of the East Coast; read and enjoy. (Via The Russian Dilettante.)


Via wood s lot, Garth Kemerling’s Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names:

This is a concise guide to technical terms and personal names often encountered in the study of philosophy. What you will find here naturally reflects my own philosophical interests and convictions, but everything is meant to be clear, accurate, and fair, a reliable source of information on Western philosophy for a broad audience… Although the entries are often brief, many include links to electronic texts and to more detailed discussions on this site or in other on-line resources…

A sample entry, for aporia:

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According to a Zachariah Wells column in maisonneuve, Canada is suffering from a lack of poetry translated from foreign tongues into English.

As renowned poet and translator A. F. Moritz put it to me, “If you don’t bring over the most central speech of a people, its poetry, you’ve denied its essential humanness access to the pith of the culture into which you are supposedly welcoming it. You’ve denied the most important contribution it can make to the basic ethos of its new home and the native place of its future children. And you’ve blocked the greatest contribution it can make to the ongoing health and intelligence and development of Canada and of English and French.” Moritz notes that “this nation is a-crawl with literarily talented and ambitious people who have native access to literally hundreds of languages.” Why, then, is this bonanza of talent not translating into more activity?…

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I’ve been slowly working my way through The Russian Language Today, by Larissa Ryazanova-Clarke and Terence Wade—an excellent and detailed discussion of the changes in Russian since 1917—and have gotten to the section on “The restoration of pre-Soviet lexis in the cultural sphere,” which contains this analysis of the histories and current situations of the terms litsei (ultimately from Latin lyceum and Greek lykeion, the name of Aristotle’s school) and gimnaziya (ultimately from Latin gymnasium and Greek gymnasion, a place for exercising):

The renaming of educational establishments has reached mammoth proportions. Here, as in many other spheres of contemporary Russian life, a change in nomenclature symbolises rejection of the past and a new beginning in social life. Schools now often reject the traditional term shkola ‘school’, a word which for some is associated with the Soviet educational system. The words gimnaziya and litsei, from pre-Revolutionary schooling, are perceived as more prestigious and attracting more interest in the educational establishments in question. As critics observe, however, a change of words on a school sign does not necessarily reflect modifications in content or educational method…

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