Archives for March 2015


Another gem from Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle, providing a nice example of Latin peevery:

There was nothing lukewarm or even particularly “liberal”—in a cozy modern sense—about Pelagius. He remained a layperson and shied away from the use of the originally Greek word “monk” (the “m-word,” which Jerome had brandished with gusto on every occasion so as to shock and thrill his readers):

I want you to be called a Christian, not a monk, and to possess the virtue of your own personal claim to praise rather than a foreign name which is bestowed to no purpose by us Latins.

(Don’t tell him the word “Christian” is also from Greek!)


It’s time for another poll on the theme “how do you say this not-often-said word?” (Cf. re and the surprising pace [“Looking over the thread again, I am freshly astonished at how few people (only one or two, apparently) pronounce it the way I do, which I had foolishly thought was common if not universal”].) The rebec, as the Wikipedia article says, is a bowed stringed instrument of the Renaissance era, and the name is pronounced /ˈriːbɛk/ or /ˈrɛbɛk/). Those two pronunciations, REE-bek and REBB-ek, are given in that order in Merriam-Webster; the AHD and Concise Oxford give only the former; and the OED (updated June 2009) divides it geographically: Brit. /ˈriːbɛk/, /ˈrɛbɛk/, U.S. /ˈrɛbək/, /ˈriˌbɛk/. Note that the OED thinks REBB-ek is more common in the U.S., which seems to contradict M-W; I have no idea whose research is better, but what I do know is that I always said REE-bek (usually in my mind, because one doesn’t often have occasion to talk about rebecs), and I was quite taken aback just now to hear someone discussing Renaissance instruments say REBB-ek with an air of authority. So, for those of you who are familiar with the word, how do you say it? I’m particularly interested in people who have contact with the early-music community, since I suspect this is one of those terms for which specialists have their own usage, but I welcome any and all thoughts on the subject.

Place Names in Jamaica.

The National Library of Jamaica has various interesting stuff on its website, notably including Place Names in Jamaica; I would treat the etymologies with a grain of salt, but they’re fun to read:

“Danks” in Clarendon, was the name given to a property Sir Henry Morgan deeded to his German wife, who said, “danke”, meaning “thanks”.

“Save Rent” in Westmoreland, is not a pot for cheap living; the name is a corruption of that of a French colonist, M. Saverent, as “Shotover” in Portland, is a corruption of the French Chateau Vert.

ACCOMPONG (Maroon settlement) is in St. Elizabeth. This name is said to be derived from the Ashanti word, Nyamekopon, which means “the lone one, the warrior”. This name was also given to one of the brothers of Captain Cudjoe, the second Maroon leader. ACCOMPONG was established in 1739, and the compound is in the charge of a colonel, the army rank being honourable. The colonel appoints a major, several captains, and a council. This council functions like an open meeting. (see MAROOON TOWN).

Thanks, Bathrobe!


Another great link from Paul Ogden:


Electronic Journal for Ancient and Oriental Studies

Le nom BABELAO signifie « Bulletin de l’ABELAO », plus précisément « Bulletin de l’Académie Belge pour l’Etude des Langues Anciennes et Orientales ». L’ABELAO est une association sans but lucratif qui veut promouvoir l’enseignement et la recherche dans le domaine des cultures et des langues anciennes et orientales, notamment par l’organisation de sessions de cours d’été sur le site de l’Université de Louvain, à Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgique).

Son bulletin, le BABELAO, est conçu comme une revue à vocation scientifique. La revue couvre le domaine de l’Orientalisme sous ses différentes facettes : philologie, paléographie, histoire du monde ancien et oriental, histoire des langues et des littératures comparées, édition des textes, etc.

There are three issues online so far, with all the articles freely downloadable as pdfs; most are in French, but each issue has from one to three in English. From BABELAO 1 (2012), for instance, I enjoyed J.K. Elliott, “Recent Trends in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament: A New Millenium, a New Beginning?“; Elliott has a lively and acerbic style apparent in these brief excerpts:

But before we accentuate the positive, we need to speak of the Editio critica maior and of the Latin New Testament, some of whose problems, though now less dire, nonetheless still continue to blight our new century.

Websites accompany this new kindling of interest among younger scholars who have encouraged this electronic medium for intercourse on textual criticism, irritatingly matey though such a form of scholarly contact may be to some of the more “mature members” of the Academy. Nonetheless, a site such as [Actually — LH] which, despite its off-putting and bizarre name, is in effect a valuable source of information about current activity in New Testament textual criticism, attracting as it does a regular number of generally predictable contributors who seem to keep their collective ears to the ground.

The days should now well be past when an apparatus such as Nestle or UBS (singularly prone to overblown listings of Fathers) can pull the wool over our eyes by adding the mere name of a Father to support a given variant. IGNTP Luke quoted patristic witnesses only with the context of the quotation and the latest printed edition shown where the father’s work could be consulted.

A couple of interesting-looking articles related to Georgia: BABELAO 2 (2013), p. 159-171, Elene Gogiashvili, “About Georgian Fairytales,” and BABELAO 3 (2014), p. 125-144, Emmanuel Van Elverdinghe, “La linguistique marriste et son onomastique: Le cas de la Géorgie.” Lots of interesting stuff here; thanks, Paul!

A Multilingual Magnate.

Two-thirds of the way through Salomea, Veltman has introduced an entirely new character (though I have my suspicions that he may turn out to be our old friend Dmitritsky in yet another disguise [Update: he is indeed!]), who has a couple of traits of LH interest. He is introduced as follows (search in the full text under “Казалось, что это был воплощенный космополит” for the Russian):

He seemed the very embodiment of a cosmopolite, a European of indeterminate language, a vagabond who had traveled the world to pass the time and had arrived, as a special tidbit, pour la bonne bouche, in Russia. With his servant, a German, he spoke German like a Frenchman; with his French cicerone he spoke French like an Englishman; with the waiter he spoke Russian like a Czech; in addition he sprinkled his speech with exclamations in Latin, Italian, and even Turkish, and he sang and cursed in all earthly languages.

When the waiter asks “Who is your master, anyway?” the valet (камердинер) says he is the Hungarian magnate Volobuzh (“Это магнат унгарски Волобуж, слышишь?”). “Magnate” here has the specific sense given in the Oxford Russian dictionary as “(hist.) member of Upper House of Diet in Poland or Hungary.” As for his name, it appears to be the Sorbian equivalent of Allmosen, a German town in Brandenburg; I have found it given as Wolobuź and Wołobuz as well as plain Wolobuz.

At the theater he meets a rich Russian named Baranovsky, who invites him to his house; he decides he’d better be culturally prepared for the visit, so he drops by a bookstore and asks for some contemporary books (search on “Каких угодно?”):

“Which ones would you like?”

“It doesn’t matter which; I don’t like to think about whether what I’m reading is good or bad — that depends on my disposition… I think the best works at present are novels; they include life, and true learning, and philosophy, and politics, and industry, and everything.”

“Would you like to choose from the catalogue?”

“But my dear fellow, I came to you so as not to have to waste time in choosing… You are French?”


“Excellent; give me whatever you want — it will all be good; my business is to pay you money, the more the better.”

The Frenchman smiled and gathered several novels.

“Would you like these?”

“I certainly would.”

“Here’s a new work, very entertaining.”

“A novel? Give it to me! Aren’t those too few? I don’t read, you know, I devour.”

Having gathered twenty or so novels, Volobuzh went home and spent the whole day reading. But he read without cutting the pages, not from the beginning, not from cover to cover, but opening at random first one novel, then another, as they tell fortunes at Christmastime: what comes out will come true. He said it was foolish to read straight through; from the edge or the middle is all the same — the main thing a sensible man needs who wants to talk and discuss when he pays visits are pocket bits of information, like pocket money. When you’ve gotten from books or magazines several gleaming, newly minted bits of information, you can pay a visit, go to a dinner or a ball — wherever you like.

Plus ça change…


A correspondent wrote to ask about a word she remembered her late mother using. Her mother was born in 1921 and grew up in a part of Montreal that had a lot of immigrants; her family was Irish-Canadian but her best friend was Italian and her neighbors were Polish, Ukrainian, and Chinese:

Anyway, Mom learned bits and pieces of other languages, but the one she knew most bits of was Ukrainian. She and her brother and sister knew enough of it at the time to use it casually at home to keep things secret from their parents. And a word she said she used was “manigroola”. It was an insult, but I think not an obscene one. It kind of meant someone who was a bit of an oaf, with overtones of “just off the boat” or “greenhorn”.

I have to admit, I didn’t think I’d be able to help with this one; “manigroola” sounded like exactly the sort of half-remembered, mangled bit of verbal detritus that could come from anywhere and was maybe one of those family words nobody else uses. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be straight from Ukrainian: a Ukrainian-Canadian writer named Yakiv Maidanyk (1891–1984) wrote a comic play called «Маніґрула» (Manigrula, 1926). The problem is that I have no idea what this expressive-sounding word means; almost all the Google hits are for the play, and the few exceptions (“А цес манігрула каи, а хтож другий піде як не вуйко Штифан”; “Манігрула дурний! — наперебій загомоніли. — Нам ціну збиває!”; “Оцей, во, во, „манігрула”, буде щось говорити?”) don’t help pin it down. So: anybody out there know anything more? My correspondent and I thank you in advance!

The Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia.

Alex François (A linguist in Melanesia/Un linguiste en Mélanésie) has collaborated on Atlas Linguistique de Polynésie Française/Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter & Papeete: Université de la Polynésie Française, 2015) and put it online for all to freely access or download:

Maeva ‘outou !

Welcome to the homepage of the Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia. The result of ten years of collaboration between two linguists of French CNRS – Jean-Michel Charpentier(†) and Alexandre François – this volume of 2562 pages documents the diversity of languages and dialects of French Polynesia. […]

Inaugurated officially on 26 February 2015, this atlas is published jointly by Université de la Polynésie française (UPF) and by academic publisher De Gruyter. Both the authors and the publishers have wished for this work to be distributed freely, in Open access, so as to be accessible to everyone. Feel free to download it and circulate it!

Now, that’s what I call accessible scholarship. (Thanks, Yoram!)

The Land of Columbus.

Boris Dralyuk, a longtime LH favorite (see, e.g., this post), has written a marvelous piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books about vanished or vanishing LA bookstores (“By the time I was coming up in LA, the era of the legendary bookmen was over. Gone was Jake Zeitlin’s Big Red Barn on La Cienega, gone was Pickwick on Hollywood…), Little Russia (“a neighborhood that straddles Los Angeles and West Hollywood…. LA’s Russian émigré community, which snowballed in the years around the collapse of the Soviet Union, is one of the largest in the world, but Little Russia is rapidly aging, fading”), and earlier Russian communities in the area:

First came the religious sectarians (Molokans, Holy Jumpers, and others), who settled in Boyle Heights around the turn of the century. This insular group attracted a lot of attention from newspaper columnists and sociologists, but their numbers quickly dwindled. And then the so-called First Wave of Russian emigration washed up on the Pacific shore. Carey McWilliams gives a breezy but accurate account of its fate:

Around 1917 a group of 500 White Russians, all self-styled aristocrats, settled in Hollywood. Refugees from the Russian Revolution, they came by way of China, across the Pacific to San Francisco, and then to Hollywood. To this group of aristocrats and officers was later added about a thousand non-aristocrats, students, artists, engineers, and professional people. From this colony came the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Officers Club, and the Russian cafés of the early ’twenties: the Double-Headed Eagle, the Russian Bear, the Moscow Inn, and the well-known Boublichki night club on Sunset “strip.” The Filmarte Theater in Hollywood was founded by a member of this refugee group. Lacking internal cohesion, the colony soon disintegrated and is today non-existent.

He describes a wonderful trove from that long-gone community he found at the Trading Post, and a quarterly it produced called “The Land of Columbus”:

I was off to the library at UCLA. Zemlya Columba, as its editors called it, was a thick journal published in 1936 and 1937. The “quarterly” tag was, alas, aspirational. Only two issues saw the light of day, but they told me a great deal…

The whole thing is worth your while, as is everything the eloquent and polymathic Dralyuk writes.

Yemen’s Socotra Language.

An interesting article by Mansur Mirovalev:

Socotri is the most archaic and isolated of several archaic and isolated tongues spoken in Yemen and Oman known as “modern South Arabian languages”. Its vocabulary is immensely rich – for example, there are distinct verbs for “to go” according to the time of the day, or for “to give birth” depending on the animal involved.

Socotri’s roots are close to the oldest written Semitic tongues that died out thousands of years ago – and it has grammatical features that no longer exist in Arabic, Hebrew or Aramaic. The study of Socotri helps understand the deep, prehistoric past – and the subsequent evolution – of all Semitic tongues.

“This is a very archaic linguistic and literary system that in many ways, I think, has preserved what we, the scholars, are used to perceive as the Biblical world or the ancient Arabic world,” Leonid Kogan, professor of Semitic languages at Moscow’s Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, told Al Jazeera.

“All of it is very much alive on today’s Socotra.”

Then how is it that Socotri’s first alphabet was invented five millennia after the cuneiform tablets in Akkadian – the first written Semitic tongue – and it happened some 5,000km north of Socotra, in Russia’s Moscow?

Fascinating stuff, and it ends on an upbeat note:

Socotrans do adopt political, technical, and religious terms from Arabic, but their language stands strong.

“What we are able to see now is a rather harmonious synthesis, and there are good chances that Socotra and Socotris find their appropriate place in a broad Arab and Islamic context without getting rid of most of their – to be sure, highly esteemed and cherished – traditional values,” said Kogan.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Socotri, and I certainly had no idea of the background described here.


Peggy Kalb’s Yale Alumni Magazine piece “Going around in circles” not only has beautiful illustrations of “those little paper wheels that help organize information,” it taught me the word for them, a very nice word I didn’t know: volvelle. OED (entry from 1920):

Etymology: < medieval Latin volvella or volvellum, apparently < volvĕre to turn.

Obs. exc. Hist.

  An old device consisting of one or more movable circles surrounded by other graduated or figured circles, serving to ascertain the rising and setting of the sun and moon, the state of the tides, etc.

14.. MS. Ashmole 191 f. 199, The Rewle of the Voluelle. Now folowiþ here þe voluelle that sum men clepen a lunarie.
c1440 Astron. Cal. (Ashm. 391) Now folowiþ þe thrid table þt is cleepid a voluelle or a lunary.
1501 in C. L. Kingsford Chron. London (1905) 239 A Costlew pagent wt a volvell by the which the xii signes moved aboute the Zodiak..and ouer that voluell Sat, in a stage or pynnacle, Raphaell the Arch angell.
1843 A. Dyce in J. Skelton Poet. Wks. II. 336 A curious description of the volvell, with directions for its use.
1865 Athenæum 18 Feb. 233/2 One volvelle and an accompanying table do the work quickly enough.
1884 Manch. Examiner 16 Sept. 6/2 A curious Kalender, with an astronomical volvelle of which the stylus had been preserved.

I vaguely remember having a verb-table one for… French?… when I was in college forty-odd years ago.