Archives for February 2007


Geist describes itself as “A Canadian Phrasebook-in-Progress” that “explores the regional variations in Canadian speech.” Its list has entries for Toronto, Vancouver, Cape Breton, and Dundurn, Saskatchewan (“Just 20 minutes outside the City of Saskatoon”), but people write in with additions from all over Canada. I don’t know if I believe all the entries (a cafe au lait is said to be called a “latte au mug” in Vancouver), but it’s fun to browse, and you can see more entries in the Letters to the Editor section. Furthermore, the Thinkubator Lexican aims to “create an online community based on the ongoing Geist Cross-Canada Phrasebook project. We will use state-of-the-art web-based technologies to create an interactive and user-friendly website that facilitates easy access to the existing archives and fosters a creative space to add, comment on, edit, and enjoy the Phrasebook.”
Thanks for the tip, Grant!


Henry Farrell has set up an academic blog portal: “With the exception of a few pages…, it is freely modifiable, so that users can themselves add blogs and other forms of content that may be useful to academic bloggers and academics academics more generally.” (I’m pleased to see someone has added LH to the Linguistics and Philosophy page.) Henry says in his Crooked Timber post about it:

I’d like the list to be even more comprehensive than it is. The only way to do this is to get the word out, so I’m politely asking people who like the general idea of this resource to consider linking to it, in a post, in their blogroll, or (ideally) in both. The more people know about the wiki, the more people are likely to enter in details of academic blogs that they write themselves, or read. What I’d like to do in a few months is use the information in the wiki as the initial basis for a rough census of the academic blogosphere; who is blogging in what disciplines, at what stage of their careers and so on. I think this would make for pretty interesting reading, and the more comprehensive the wiki is as a map of the academic blogosphere, the more accurate the census will be.

So if you read such blogs (or maintain one yourself), you know what to do. Me, I’m adding it to the blogroll so I don’t forget to check it regularly. I Am Not An Academic, but I like hanging out with them.


This is one of the more perplexing translation problems I’ve run across lately. As I mentioned in this LH thread, I’ve long been interested in Stratis Tsirkas‘ trilogy Akyvernites polities (Ακυβέρνητες Πολιτείες), but having had only the second and third volumes and not being particularly fluent in Greek, I never got around to it. But I recently discovered that there was a one-volume translation (by Kay Cicellis), Drifting Cities, available for just a few dollars, I immediately ordered it, and now that it’s arrived I’ve begun reading it. It’s set in Cairo, Alexandria, and Jerusalem in 1942-44, exactly the setting of Olivia Manning’s superb Levant Trilogy (which I highly recommend, but do read the Balkan Trilogy first), which gives it an added interest for me. So far I’m enjoying it greatly; I like the technique of telling the story from the viewpoints of different characters and the close attention paid to geographical setting.
But now to the title. You notice that I quoted Jimmy Ho’s citation of it (from the earlier thread) as Akyvernites polities, a simple transliteration; what’s that in English? Good question. The phrase is difficult if not impossible to translate usefully in this context. Politia (πολιτεία) is the origin of English polity and is similarly multifaceted: it can mean ‘form of government,’ ‘state, nation, country,’ ‘conduct, behavior, adventures,’ or ‘town.’ The last is not as common a sense, but since the novel focuses on three cities and the title is taken from Seferis’s poem “Ο Στράτης Θαλασσινός στη Νεκρή Θάλασσα” [Stratis Thalassinos on the Dead Sea], which begins “Ιερουσαλήμ, ακυβέρνητη πολιτεία” [Jerusalem, akiverniti politia], it can safely be translated city here. Now, what about the first word? Basically, it means either ‘without government’ or ‘ungovernable’: it consists of the privative prefix α- [a-] plus the root of κυβέρνηση [kivernisi] ‘government.’ But! The word κυβέρνηση is based on κυβερνήτης [kivernitis] ‘leader, ruler, governor’ (the root of cybernetics), which in Ancient Greek originally meant ‘steersman,’ and it has not lost that basic sense, so that ακυβέρνητος can also mean ‘not being steered, rudderless, adrift.’ This is, of course, most common in conjunction with words like πλοίο [plio] ‘boat, ship,’ but Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, the much-praised (overpraised, in my view) translators of Cavafy and Seferis, have chosen to render the Seferis line “Jerusalem, drifting city,” whence the title Drifting Cities used for the translation of the trilogy. I can sort of see the reasoning—drifting is much more “poetic” than ungoverned or ungovernable, and the poem deals with refugees and migratory birds and ships—but it’s not the obvious reading (cf., for example, this Greek newspaper article, which calls Iraq “μια ακυβέρνητη πολιτεία” ‘an ungoverned/ungovernable polity/nation’), and it seems to me it softens and “poeticizes” Tsirkas’s title in much the way Scott Moncrieff’s Remembrance of Things Past does Proust’s. Tsirkas is very much concerned with politics, and it seems to me “ungovernable cities” would be more to the point. But the choice may well have been approved by Tsirkas himself, since the French version (Cités à la derive, translated by Catherine Lerouvre and Chrysa Prokopaki, Éditions du Seuil, 1971) takes it the same way, and for that matter Seferis may have approved the Keeley/Sherrard rendering. But I take comfort in the fact that Rex Warner, quoted in Ammiel Alcalay’s essay “My Mediterranean,” translated the Seferis as “the ungovernable city.”


Arnold Zwicky has a good Language Log post on the word inimicable (significantly rarer than its synonym inimical, but attested since 1805) and the odd fact that the language mavens didn’t start bashing it until quite recently, the first basher apparently being Bryan Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage (1998). On the issue of its place in the language, Zwicky points out that “there is a very close parallel to inimical/inimicable, namely unseasonal/unseasonable, and here both variants are standard.” But once Garner decided the word “should be extinct,” Robert Hartwell Fiske jumped on the bandwagon in his Dictionary of Disagreeable English: A Curmudgeon’s Compendium of Excruciatingly Correct Grammar (2004), calling it “a nonword.” I think Zwicky’s conclusion is indisputable:

Once a proscription — even a silly one, like Dryden’s Rule, banning stranded prepositions — is in the marketplace, it tends to persist. But where do the proscriptions come from? Here, there’s an enormous amount of randomness: somebody in the usage community happens to notice something that offends him (it’s almost always a man) in some way — often because he views it as colloquial or innovative or regional or used by the wrong sort of people, occasionally because that’s not the way you do things in Latin — and writes or teaches about it. We then end up with a collection of personal quirks and accidents of history, a big grab-bag of assorted stuff. Speaker-oriented hopefully gets excoriated, while speaker-oriented frankly and so on get a free pass. Sentence-initial linking however is judged to be poor style, while sentence-initial linking consequently and so on escape the red pencil. I could go on like this for quite some time.
It looks like inimicable got by uncensured until recently simply because no one was particularly offended by it. Not any more.


As reported by the indefatigable aldiboronti at (the latter now with a shiny new domain!), the complete Middle English Dictionary from the University of Michigan is now free online:

The print MED, completed in 2001, has been described as “the greatest achievement in medieval scholarship in America.” Its 15,000 pages offer a comprehensive analysis of lexicon and usage for the period 1100-1500, based on the analysis of a collection of over three million citation slips, the largest collection of this kind available. This electronic version of the MED preserves all the details of the print MED, but goes far beyond this, by converting its contents into an enormous database, searchable in ways impossible within any print dictionary.

The interface is, as aldi says, clunky, but really, who cares? What a treasure! The press release says:

[Read more…]


No, not job openings (sorry, recent PhDs!) but opening paragraphs. A post at Crooked Timber admiringly quotes the first paragraph of Avner Offer’s The Challenge of Affluence:

Affluence breeds impatience and impatience undermines well-being. This is the core of my argument. For detail and evidence, go directly to the chapters; for implications, to the conclusion, which also has chapter summaries.

and asks “Other great academic first paragraphs?” At the moment there are 72 responses, of which I’m afraid I’m afraid eight are from me—I found it an irresistible opportunity to rummage through my shelves looking for treasure. (My all-time favorite is probably the start of Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era: “Toward the evening of a gone world, the light of its last summer pouring into a Chelsea street found and suffused the red waistcoat of Henry James, lord of decorum, en promenade, exposing his Boston niece to the tone of things.”) Feel free to leave your own candidates either here or there. A word of warning, though; as I said in the MetaFilter thread where I discovered it, “the whole point of this exercise is to find great openings to academic works. Orwell is a wonderful writer, but hardly an academic. I have the same problem in the Crooked Timber thread: people are quoting Nietzsche and The Communist Manifesto and George MacDonald Fraser (fer chrissake). If you don’t have to blow the dust off the volume before quoting it, it doesn’t count!”


On the LibraryThing page for Charles Duff I noticed that alongside Russian for Beginners, the book from which I taught myself Russian, were listed German for Beginners, Spanish for Beginners, French for Beginners, and Italian for Beginners (not to mention A Handbook On Hanging: Being A Short Introduction To The Fine Art Of Execution). How did this guy manage to write textbooks for all those languages? Who was Charles Duff? Well, there’s not a whole lot on the internet, but the NYRB (which republished the hanging book) says “Charles Duff (1894-1966) served as an officer in the British Merchant Navy during World War I and then in the intelligence division of the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service. After retiring, he taught linguistics and languages in London and Singapore while writing travel guides, histories, satires, and a series of text books.” And this Spanish book catalog (pdf) suggested that Carlos Prieto, author of Spanish Front (1936), was a “posible seudónimo de Charles Duff,” which led me to this page of Prieto books, where a copy of Spanish Front is described as “Inscribed To David from Carlos Prieto (Anglican Charles Duff) 8/7/37″—I assume “Anglican” is a misunderstanding of anglicè ‘in English,’ which would tend to support the pseudonym theory. And the first page (all you can read without a JSTOR subscription) of the Oct. 1948 review by Robert J. Clements in The Modern Language Journal of Duff’s 1947 book How to Learn a Language adds more information: Duff “for many years trained language teachers at the University of London” and “was active for eighteen years in the Foreign Office and is author of a series of seven basic and minimal foreign language grammars sponsored by the Orthological Institute.” (The Orthological Institute was a creation of C. K. Ogden, the Basic English guy; I’m glad to see they sponsored more useful things as well.) Duff sounds like an interesting fellow (he seems to have appreciated Finnegans Wake when it was still Work in Progress); too bad there isn’t more available on him.


A Telegraph story by the wonderfully named Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent, discusses efforts to record the dialect of Cromarty in Scotland:

A rare dialect that is only spoken by two elderly brothers is to be recorded for posterity before it disappears.
Bobby Hogg, 87, and his brother Gordon, 80, are believed to be the last fluent speakers of the “Cromarty fisher dialect”…
It evolved when local fishermen in the town of Cromarty, on the Black Isle north of Inverness, picked up words from English soldiers based in the area in the 17th and 18th centuries…
A spokesman for Am Baile, a Highland internet archive, said it was important to capture a recording of the last two speakers.
Robin McColl Miller [sic: should be Millar] of Aberdeen University’s English department said the Cromarty fisher dialect was the most threatened in Scotland, and one of five different dialects once found in the same small area.

The story has a selection of dialect phrases (Thee’re no talkin’ licht ‘You are quite right’; Ut aboot a wee suppie for me ‘Can I have a drink too?’) and a link to an audio sample.
Thanks for the link, Paul!


A commenter on an earlier post suggested that the word Moscow (as opposed to Russian Moskva) is due to “the Germans hired by Peter the Great in the 1700’s.” This is not true—Moscow long predates Peter—but it’s plausible enough, and the actual explanation is interesting enough, that I thought it was worth blogging. The OED has a draft entry (Dec. 2002) for Moscow, which makes it in not as a place name but as “Originally: the government (ideology, etc.) of the Soviet Union (now hist.). Now also: the government of Russia,” and the etymology gives a clear explanation of the origin of the different forms:

[< Moscow (Russian Moskva: see etymological note below), the name of the capital city of Russia and of the river on which it stands (also, formerly, the name of the capital city of the Soviet Union (1922-91), and a name for the principality of Muscovy and its capital: see MUSCOVY n. and cf. note at sense 1 below).
Moscow is first mentioned in Russian chronicles in 1147, but the modern Russian form of its name, Moskva, dates from the 14th cent. The Old Russian name for the river, principality, and city is recorded as Moskov´, accusative (1177 in this form; earlier in locative na Moskvě ‘on the Moscow river’ and in other oblique cases with loss of the second o). It is the fully vocalized form of the name that gave rise both to English Moscow (perh. also influenced by the Russian adjective Moskovskij) and to post-classical Latin Moscovia, Muscovia (see MUSCOVIAN n. and a.).
Moscow is recorded as a place name in English sources from the 16th cent….]

For more detail on the business of the “fall of the jers” and the alternation of voweled and vowelless syllables in Russian, see Renee’s post from a few years ago.
Incidentally, I wish the OED would get around to rewriting this sentence from later in the entry: “The centre of revolutionary activity in the Russian revolution of 1917, Moscow became the capital of the Soviet Union and the seat of Communist government in 1922.” There are two errors there: Moscow wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination the “centre of revolutionary activity in the Russian revolution of 1917” (every other city followed behind the capital, St. Petersburg), and the capital was moved in 1918, not 1922. Tsk.


Polyglot Vegetarian has another superb post, this one on the linguistic history of Persian پنیر panir ‘cheese,’ which like many Persian words has spread throughout Western Asia (it will be familiar to many as the “paneer” of Indian restaurants). I wasn’t going to blog it, because I could easily wind up just serving as a PV reprint service, since pretty much everything there is worth telling people about and I assume that anyone who reads LH will have bookmarked it by now anyway. But then I got to the part where he mentions the Etymological Dictionary of the Persian Language being prepared at Yerevan State University and the Этимологический словарь иранских языков [Etymological dictionary of the Iranian languages] that’s so far published two fascicles (up through d) and links to the 1890 Grundriss der neupersischen Etymologie by Paul Horn on Google Books, and I couldn’t resist passing that along. And of course there are the usual side trips into things like Armenian proverbs and the Bhagavata-purana (भागवत पुराण) and the egregious (in every sense) Sir Richard Burton:

Reading The Lake Regions of Central Africa, Burton of course has much to say about the native cuisine. But in particular for this topic, he mentions (p. 52),

The mutunguja (the Puneeria coagulans of Dr. Stocks,) a solanaceous plant, called … by the Baloch panír, or cheese, from the effect of the juice in curdling milk, …

and again (p. 464-5),

Milk is held in high esteem … mtindi (curded milk), the laban of Arabia, and the Indian dahi. … [T]hey consider cheese a miracle, and use against it their stock denunciation, the danger of bewitching cattle. The fresh produce, moreover, has few charms as a poculent among barbarous and milk-drinking races … On the other hand, the curded milk is every where a favorite … [They] do not … make their dahi …, like the Arabs, with kid’s rennet, nor like the Baloch with the solanaceous plant called panir.

Much of this is the usual Victorian racism, though the notion of milk-drinking races survives a bit in the conclusion that a difference between cheese and tofu cultures is genetic lactose intolerance in Asia. The observation here is that there is a plant called panīr used as a vegetable rennet. Vegetable rennet is important to lacto-ovo vegetarians. It can be tricky to discover how the cheese in prepared cheese foods was made and the conservative assumption always has to be that “enzymes” means animal rennet. Commercial vegetarian rennet is made from molds, but there are plant alternatives.

Keep up the tasty work, MMcM!