Archives for April 2008


The eudæmonist discusses a book that was important to me when I was painfully learning to think for myself (something not easy to do in the coils of the educational system), Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur:

Reading Pound’s Guide to Kulcher, I was perplexed; partially because it is an odd book, aimed at those who don’t mind attending the university of the brain of Ezra Pound (which is a strange place, of many prejudices). Mostly, though, I just wasn’t (and ain’t) sure what to make of it, how to reconcile those parts I can (reservedly) agree with and those which strike me as outcroppings of the fashion of the times or mere idiosyncrasies. It jumps here and there, following a logic which I don’t quite see (and am too lazy to look for), and digresses on subjects with a force not quite necessary to the task of guide – as though Virgil cracked wise at every opportunity, and made opportunities to do so where none were before.
When I can agree with him, though, I find that generally agree pretty whole-heartedly….

Interesting commentary follows. Those whom Ez inspires, he inspires well.


A correspondent writes: “I have come across a reference to a location in Hong Kong called ‘Temple of Jade Vacuity’ on Cheung Chau island. Googling doesn’t explain it,… though one reference refers to ghosts, and I wondered if that was the ‘Vacuity’ element, and there are other references to Vacuity in Daoist religion (philosophy?).” A little rummaging around Google Books turned up the information that one of the Taoist gods is “Celestial Venerable of Jade Vacuity” (Yü-hsü ming-huang t’ien-tsun/Yuxu minghuang tiancun). I’m guessing the hsü (xu) ‘vacuity’ is Mathews’ character 2821 hsü “False; untrue; unreal. Hollow; empty. Vacant; insubstantial; figurative; abstract.” There are a bunch of other hits for “Jade Vacuity,” and it’s clearly a Taoist thing, but damned if I know what. As I told my correspondent, “I’ll post about it—surely one of the Varied Readers will know.” So: what’s with the odd collocation Jade Vacuity?


Long-time readers will be aware of my hopeless love for Old Irish, that maddening tongue that squashes verbs into unrecognizable shapes and forces you to remember the rules of lenition and nasalization in order to interpret initial consonants. I haven’t actually done anything with it for decades, but every once in a while I pull down my beat-up and much-annotated copy of Thurneysen and flip reminiscently through the dozen pages of strong and suppletive verbs (té(i)t ‘goes,’ imperative eirg, future ·rega, preterite luid, passive ethe, present perfective do-s·cuat [where the c is nasalized and thus pronounced g], deuterotonic form of the previous ·dichet…) Anyway, it turns out the internet, among its many other treasures, holds an Early Irish Glossaries Database (“A project by Paul Russell, Pádraic Moran, University of Cambridge”):

An important resource for our understanding of the literary and cultural environment of medieval Ireland is a series of three inter-related early Irish glossaries, known as Sanas Cormaic ‘Cormac’s Glossary’, O’Mulconry’s Glossary, and Dúil Dromma Cetta ‘the Collection of Druim Cett’. They each consist of alphabetically listed (first letter only) headwords followed by an entry which can range from a single word explanation, often an explanation of the headword, to a whole narrative running to several pages.
The Early Irish Glossaries Database (EIGD) is a powerful and flexible tool for searching and analysing the headwords in these glossaries. The database currently contains headwords for each manuscript version of these glossaries, and allows you to list headwords, search for occurrences of words, and generate concordance-tables of different versions.

Thanks for the link, Patricia!


Conrad, who (like Finnegan himself) has risen from the dead, has favored us with a tour-de-farce post that begins with The Plain People of Ireland—I mean to say, Ben Watson—pontificating on how the Wake is not at all the mysterious text bourgeois scholars pretend it is so that they can explicate it with their drafts and their allusions and their hypotheses, not at all, it’s as plain as the nose on your face, if only you have an honest proletarian consciousness! When you “read the Wake to the average person,… not necessarily intellectual, academic types, but just ordinary people with life experience, they get it immediately.” So Conrad takes him at his word and goes out to read the Wake to the average person, with hilarious results (“Unuchorn! Ungulant! Uvuloid! Uskybeak! I barked at a passing Rastafarian, who gave me such a terrifying look that I decided to stick to gentler passages from then on”).
From there he moves to the trope that “the academics have it all wrong, and that we have only to open our eyes to see the truth,” exemplifying it with M. J. Harper’s The History of Britain Revealed, which he bought and read after being enticed by my post about it. He quotes my conclusion “But equivalent nonsense about language is reviewed respectfully, and it makes me despair,” and reassures me as follows: “The fact is, Mr. Hat, nonsense about every subject under the sun has been reviewed respectfully. There’s really no need to despair!” And quite right he is, too. I urge anyone interested in populist blowhards and/or crackpot theories to refresh themselves with Conrad’s sly and unflappable prose.


This Language Log post (by Mark Liberman) contains a bit of information in the Update that made me sit up and take notice. David Eddyshaw is quoted as writing: “The actual words for ‘white man’ [in West Africa] are interesting… In Hausa, it’s Batuure, apparently via a long chain of subtle shifts of meaning from Turan ‘not-Iran’.” (I’ve changed his quotes to itals for clarity.) Years ago, when I was delving into African history and culture, I picked up a book called Munyakare: African Civilization Before the Batuuree, by Richard W. Hull. For a long time I wondered what that “Batuuree” was; eventually I learned it was Hausa (singular Batūrē, high pitch on the -tū-; plural Tūrāwā, high pitch on the -wā), but I still wondered about the etymology. Now, assuming Eddyshaw is correct (anybody know anything about this etymology?), I know, and it’s quite astonishing.
Turan is an ancient Iranian term that has had various overlapping and occasionally contradictory senses (inhabitants of Central Asia, Turks, enemies of the Iranians, etc.); C. E. Bosworth says, in his section of the Encyclopædia Iranica article on Central Asia, “In early Islamic times Persians tended to identify all the lands to the northeast of Khorasan and lying beyond the Oxus with the region of Turan… The denizens of Turan were held to include the Turks…, and behind them the Chinese… Turan thus became both an ethnic and a geographical term, but always containing ambiguities and contradictions, arising from the fact that all through Islamic times the lands immediately beyond the Oxus and along its lower reaches were the homes not of Turks but of Iranian peoples, such as the Sogdians and Khwarezmians.” I don’t know how it got to West Africa and Hausa—there can’t have been many Persian speakers in the area—but it’s an impressive peregrination.
(This post should bring a smile to John Emerson, great aficionado of farflung cultural connections that he is.)


I was reading a horrifying and depressing discussion (in Russian) of what a great many women have to put up with in the way of male attitudes and behavior when I hit a comment that started off: “Вышла у меня как-то стори. Подходит ко мне на Зиланте один смутно знакомый мэн…” ‘Once [this] story happened to me. A guy I vaguely knew came up to me in Zilant…’ (Note the borrowings from English: стори [stori—why feminine gender, I wonder?] and мэн [men].) I thought at first “Zilant” must be Zeeland, but as I read on I realized the setting had to be somewhere in Russia (and it turns out Zeeland is Зеландия [Zelandiya] in Russian anyway). So I went to Yandex and after a little searching discovered that Zilant is a dragon from Tatar legend (the Tatar word is yılan ‘snake’) and has been since 1730 the symbol of Kazan. Clearly, it is in slang use as a way of referring to the city of Kazan, which made perfect sense in context since from a comment earlier in the thread I had learned that Kazan is a major center of male thuggishness. [Update: As commenter Dmitry points out, it actually refers to a role-playing convention in Kazan.]
What struck me forcibly was that if I had encountered this usage before the internet, I would have had no way of finding out what it meant. It’s not in any of my dictionaries; a form closer to the Tatar original, зиланъ [zilan], was in Dahl, but I would have had no reason to connect the two. (I wonder when zilan changed to zilant, and why?) Anyway, it gave me yet another occasion to be profoundly grateful to the sea of information made accessible to us by the internet.
Addendum. And after writing that I hit a phrase (in the same comment) that defeated me. Anybody know what is meant by неферский прикид? I know прикид [prikid] is slang for ‘clothes,’ but although the adjective is used a lot online (modifying ‘forum,’ ‘style,’ ‘exclamation,’ etc.) I can’t find a definition. Заранее спасибо!

[Read more…]


A fascinating 1965 Robert Trumbull interview with Yukio Mishima (for some reason it’s odd to see him described as “a humorous and youthful man of 40”):

Mr. Mishima always writes in Japanese and never changes a translation. “The translator asks me thousands of questions,” he said, “but I don’t mind small mistakes.” He was amused, not angry, when the translator of an earlier novel rendered the word “yatsuhashi” as “eighth bridge,” which is a perfectly correct alternate reading of the characters that the author intended to mean a kind of cake sold in Kyoto. “The translator really had to struggle with that sentence to have it make sense with a bridge in it,” he said, chuckling.
“It is most important that the translator have a gift of expression in English and Japanese shouldn’t try it,” Mr. Mishima continued. “They read like an English-speaker writing in Japanese. Donald Keene [one of Mr. Mishima’s several translators] is the only American I know of who writes well in Japanese.” He also thinks that John Nathan, a young American and a student of Japanese literature at Tokyo University, did a superb job of writing English in his translation of “The Sailor.” …
“I use a Japanese dictionary to check the accuracy of my characters. They can be incredibly complex.” He dashed off the character for Mount Hiei, a favorite resort near Kyoto, which took 16 separate strokes of the pen. Some have as many as 33 strokes, all conveying nuances of the whole “picture” of the word. “No dictionary contains all the Kanji there are. The first and second proofs often come back with a mark called a geta, because it looks like the imprint of a geta, the Japanese wooden clog, in place of a character that the printer has had to order specially made. He always has it for the third proof,” he said.

Via Matt at No-sword, where you can see an actual geta symbol; his Néojaponisme article “Kawabata, Mishima & the Nobel Prize” is also well worth your attention.


(Warning: This entry will be of interest only to that tiny minority of readers who both use the Chicago Manual of Style and enjoy pointless bibliographical research. But having done the research, I’m damned if I’m going to refrain from sharing it.)

So I was trying to find an example of a paragraph-styled bibliography in the Chicago Manual when I had one of those irrelevant thoughts that so often interrupt my work: “I wonder if, using the magic of the internet, I could find out what books these sample pages are from?” By “sample pages” I mean the section of examples of various styles that follow Chapter 16 (“Bibliographies”) and occupy pages 625-40. In such a soul as mine the thought was herald to the deed; to things that pleaded for delay I gave but little heed. I started googling, and lo!

625: The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, by Adrian Johns (University of Chicago Press, 1998)
626: Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology, by John H. Zammito (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
627: Leading a Human Life: Wittgenstein, Intentionality, and Romanticism, by Richard Thomas Eldridge (University of Chicago Press, 1997)
628: Comic Faith: The Great Tradition from Austen to Joyce, by Robert M. Polhemus (University of Chicago Press, 1980) [But the page in the Google Books edition is headed SELECT (not SELECTED) BIBLIOGRAPHY, and differently laid out.]
629: Tadpoles: The Biology of Anuran Larvae, by Roy W. McDiarmid and Ronald Altig (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
630: Social Security and Retirement Around the World, ed. Jonathan Gruber and David A. Wise (University of Chicago Press, 1999) [Again, the page is differently laid out.]
631: Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, by James A. Brundage (University of Chicago Press, 1987)
632: Condorcet: From Natural Philosophy to Social Mathematics, by K. M. Baker (University of Chicago Press, 1975) [I have not pinned this down definitively, but all circumstantial evidence points to it: the author (who helpfully cites his own work in the first footnote) is K. M. Baker, the works and letters of Condorcet are “frequently cited,” and it’s a UChic book.]
633: The Federal Civil Service System and the Problem of Bureaucracy: The Economics and Politics of Institutional change, by Ronald N. Johnson and Gary D. Libecap (University of Chicago Press, 1994)
634: Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, tr. Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (University of Chicago Press, 2000) [It’s definitely a translation of Tocqueville, and since this one isn’t on Google Books and I doubt UChic would have two competing versions, I think it must be this.]
635: Thomas Watson’s Latin Amyntas (1585) edited by Walter F. Staton, J. [With:] Abraham Fraunce’s translation The Lamentations of Amyntas (1587), edited by Franklin M. Dicky (University of Chicago Press, 1967)
636: Abandoned Women and Poetic Tradition, by Catherine R. Stimpson, Lawrence Lipking (University of Chicago Press, 1988)
637: The Scientific Revolution, by Steven Shapin (University of Chicago Press, 1998)
638: An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, by Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc J. D. Wacquant (University of Chicago Press, 1992)
639: The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-factor, by Bruce R. Smith (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
640: Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, by Paul F. Berliner (University of Chicago Press, 1994)

I’m quite pleased by this useless accomplishment, but my pleasure is marred by my failure to identify the example on page 634 (Fig. 16:10). The text is not googleable and there’s just too little information; it’s a translated work about Massachusetts political structures (counties and townships are the particular focus of the page), and it has the striking sentence “The county therefore has, to tell the truth, no political existence,” but that’s not enough to even form hypotheses. If anyone happens to know the book, you can complete this listing and make a goldbricking editor happy. [Thanks to Ben Zimmer in the comments, the book has been identified!]


Avva‘s reference to a joke about MGIMO (the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations) led me to the Wikipedia article on “Runglish,” which has not only the joke:

“Excuse me, which watch?”
“Near six.”
“Such much?”
“To whom how…”
“MGIMO finished?”

…but a detailed explanation following it of each line (for the last: “Спрашиваешь! ‘But of course!’ This one-word finisher literally means “[You] ask!” i.e., “You don’t even have to ask”. Also, he could say “Он еще спрашивает!”, i.e. “He still asks!”). The “Such much” part will be familiar to aficionados of Casablanca.


The Black Country is “a loosely-defined area of the English West Midlands”; its name is apparently a reference to the color of the coal-filled local soil. Aside from coal and pollution, it is “known for its distinctive dialect,” which is the subject of a BBC story:

People that live in the Black Country are very proud of the way they speak. They have their own dialect and vocabulary as opposed to just being a different accent.
One of the most famous features is the ‘yam yam’ sound when saying certain phrases. ‘You are’ is pronounced yo’am and ‘are you’ is pronounced ‘am ya’.
Vowels are also often changed. When people greet each other they use the phrase ‘Yow awight’ meaning ‘you alright’.

It’s a superficial little piece, but it links to a fairly extensive dialect dictionary (there’s another one here).