A GRAMMAR LESSON.

I’m still reading Гадкие лебеди (The Ugly Swans; see here), and I’ve gotten to a great set-piece of grammar peevery. The depressed middle-aged protagonist, Victor, is talking to his young daughter Irma, whom he has just pulled off the rainy street and into his car (original below the cut):

“Irma,” he said wearily, “what were you doing there at that crossroad?”
“We were thinking fog,” answered Irma.
“What?”
“Thinking fog,” she repeated.
“About fog,” Victor corrected.
“Why ‘about’?” asked Irma.
“‘Think’ is an intransitive verb,” Victor explained. “It needs an object. Did you study intransitive verbs?”
“It depends,” said Irma. “Thinking fog is one thing, and thinking about fog is completely different… and why anyone would want to think about fog I don’t know.”
Victor pulled out a cigarette and lit up.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “‘Think fog’—people don’t say that, it’s illiterate. Some verbs are intransitive: think, run, walk. They always need a preposition. Walk along the street. Think about… something.”
“You can think nonsense,” said Golem.
“Well, that’s an exception,” said Victor, a little flustered.
“Walk quickly,” said Golem.
“‘Quickly’ isn’t a noun,” said Victor heatedly. “Don’t confuse the child, Golem.”
“Papa, could you please not smoke?” asked Irma.
[A white wall of fog appears as they approach their destination.]
“There’s fog for you,” said Victor. “You can think it. You can also smell, run, and walk.”
Irma wanted to say something, but Golem interrupted her.
“By the way,” he said, “the verb ‘think’ can be transitive in complex sentences as well. For example: ‘I think that…’ and so on.”
“That’s completely different,” objected Victor. He was fed up. He wanted very much to have a smoke and a drink.


The Russian original:

Ирма, — сказал он утомленно. — Что вы там делали на этом перекрестке?
— Мы думали туман, — ответила Ирма.
— Что?
— Думали туман, — повторила Ирма.
— Про туман, — поправил Виктор. — Или о тумане.
— Зачем это — про туман? — сказала Ирма.
— Думать — непереходный глагол, — объяснил Виктор. — Он требует предлогов. Вы проходили непереходные глаголы?
— Это когда как, — сказала Ирма. — Думать туман — это одно, а думать про туман — это совсем другое… и кому это нужно — думать про туман, неизвестно.
Виктор вытащил сигарету и закурил.
— Погоди, — сказал он. — Думать туман — так не говорят, это неграмотно. Есть такие глаголы — непереходные: думать, бегать, ходить. Они всегда требуют предлога. Ходить по улице. Думать про… что-нибудь там…
— Думать глупости… — сказал Голем.
— Ну, это исключение, — сказал Виктор, несколько потерявшись.
— Быстро ходить, — сказал Голем.
— Быстро — это не существительное, — запальчиво сказал Виктор. — Не путайте ребенка, Голем.
— Папа, ты не можешь не курить? — осведомилась Ирма.
Кажется, Голем издал какой-то звук, а может быть это мотор чихнул на подъеме. Виктор смял сигарету и растоптал ее каблуком. Они поднимались к санаторию, а сбоку, из степи, навстречу надвигалась плотная белесая стена.
— Вот тебе туман, — сказал Виктор. — Можешь его думать. А также нюхать, бегать и ходить.
Ирма хотела что-то сказать, но Голем перебил ее.
— Между прочим, — сказал он, — глагол “думать” выступает, как переходный также и в сложно-подчиненных предложениях. Например: я думаю, что… и так далее.
— Это совсем другое дело, — возразил Виктор. Ему надоело. Ему очень хотелось курить и выпить.

Vaguely related: my wife and I are most of the way through The Ionian Mission in our bedtime reading of the Patrick O’Brian novels, and here Jack Aubrey is describing how his old shipmate Tom Pullings, victim of a glut of lieutenants in the navy, failed to get a place with Rowlands of the Hebe: “They got along well enough, but afterwards Rowlands told me he did not choose to have anyone on his quarterdeck who did not say balcóny, and unfortunately poor Tom had said bálcony.” The OED confirms that “Till c1825 the pronunc. was regularly bælˈkəʊnɪ; but ˈbælkənɪ (once in Swift), ‘which,’ said Samuel Rogers, ‘makes me sick,’ is now [1885] established.”

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    Right! That’s it then! From now on I’m saying bælˈkəʊnɪ!

  2. Trond Engen says:

    What a load of ‘bælənɪ.

  3. How to account for the stressing of “-con-” in “balcony” in the past ? Has there even been such a thing in England as a stress tendency for words of similar appearance, such as harmony, peony, antiphony ?

  4. Was it bal-CONN-y or bal-CONE-y? Did the stress change because people leaned the word from reading it, rather than from hearing it?

  5. Bathrobe says:

    kəʊnɪ = CONE-y

  6. I was wondering if the word had something to do with rabbits dancing, but no.
    It came from Italian balcone. Maybe the stress was preserved from the Italian word.

  7. Thanks, Robe.
    But why did it change, do you think?

  8. Maybe the stress was preserved from the Italian word.
    Undoubtedly.
    But why did it change, do you think?
    No way to say for sure, but probably the innate tendency of Germanic languages toward initial stress. (Compare the old-fashioned pronunciations CAL-is for Calais, “lions” for Lyons, etc.)

  9. Here in Maine, the town of Calais is still pronounced “CAL-is.”

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Many English words of three syllables used to have stress on the second one and now have it on the first. The old stress pattern has been preserved in some regions. I remember hearing a linguistics talk in which this was mentioned, one example being grandmother. A short time later I heard a radio interview with a woman from the West Indies talking about her life, and sure enough she said grandMOther not GRANDmother.
    About balcony etc, one way to tell for older stages of English is the stress pattern in verse, in cases where the current stress in some words seems to go counter to the verse pattern.

  11. Thanks, marie-lucie, that’s exactly the kind of thing I was wondering about.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    There is also a Calais “CAL-is” in Vermont.
    It seems strange to me that both places are inland, while the original Calais in France is on the sea (at the narrowest point between France and England).

  13. …Wipers for Ypres. I’m pretty sure most Englishpersons say CALay and LEEon, but not MARsay for Marseille(s) for some reason.

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, New York is a port while Old York is inland. Ditto Boston, Mass v its namesake Boston in, um, is it Lincolnshire? I don’t think there’s any particular pattern in the use of old world toponyms in the new world suggesting that a close geographical fit is necessary. Old Calais had stayed under English rule for some time after the general withdrawal of the English from the continent and I believe was also (and perhaps relatedly?) a Huguenot stronghold/refuge during the Wars of Religion et seq. It may have thus been a more attractive French-origin toponym than most for the Anglo-Protestant culture of New England. (See also New Rochelle, N.Y., just up the road from where I live, although that was founded/named by actual Huguenots.)

  15. I think any such innate tendency has been completely swamped now, and English has default penultimate stress with a vast number of unpredictable lexical exceptions. I even have evidence: my daughter, who is now 24 and still knows a lot more words than she knows how pronounce, tends to get stress wrong when she tries such a word — and the wrong stresses are usually penultimate.
    Two ongoing stress-shifts in the U.K. are from CONtroversy to conTROversy and from HARassment to haRASSment, both away from initial stress. (Both of these are popularly attributed to American influence: the second is definitely American, but the first is not.)

  16. Oh yes: consider the now universal pronunciation JuLY for traditional JUly (cf. German Juli and the underlying Latin name Iulius, anglicized Julius). As recently as 1824, Byron was rhyming it with newly, truly.
    (This is a nice rhetorical slap for people who bitch about stress shifts.)

  17. @JC: English has default penultimate stress with a vast number of unpredictable lexical exceptions
    What do you mean by “default”, given that there are “a vast number of exceptions” ? You might just as well say: “has default non-penultimate stress with a vast number of unpredictable lexical exceptions.”

  18. @John Cowan: English may have a tendency to penultimate stress, but I doubt your daughter would use penultimate stress for (say) “telecarpet”, “humoricity”, “campiture”, or “agrapped”. (Unless “tele-”, “-icity”, “-iture”, and “a-” are the “lexical exceptions” here?)

  19. What do you mean by “default”, given that there are “a vast number of exceptions” ? You might just as well say: “has default non-penultimate stress with a vast number of unpredictable lexical exceptions.”
    Not really. There are a lot of words in the language; if 95% of them have penultimate stress, there might still be hundreds of exceptions — and eventually the default might influence that vast number of exceptions. So, if you think about, your substitute sentence isn’t really viable.

  20. I imagine someone studying a language would define its default stress by analyzing not numbers alone but also, as in the case of John’s daughter, the tendencies of native speakers.

  21. and eventually the default might influence that vast number of exceptions.
    Or the other way around, if we’re being asked to go the “might could” route. Consider the meaning of exceptio probat regulam. Exceptions stress-test the rule, i.e. call into question whether it’s worth calling the rule a rule. The usual rendering “Exceptions prove the rule” makes absolutely no sense.
    if 95% of them have penultimate stress, there might still be hundreds of exceptions
    This is hairy-fairy follicle-splitting. A rule with hundreds of exceptions, or even dozens, has no practical use, and therefore does not deserve to be called a rule.

  22. A rule with hundreds of exceptions, or even dozens, has no practical use, and therefore does not deserve to be called a rule.
    Um … that is not always so, Stu. It depends on the rule and its intended uses, as you well know.

  23. Trond Engen says:

    The default pattern is what you conform to as a native speaker when meeting a new word. The lexical exceptions are the words that don’t conform to the pattern. The exceptions might well outnumber the words obeying the rule. If that’s the case I’m not quite sure how a rule is established (i.e. percieved by speakers), but I’ll venture to guess that it’s a combination of the pattern being dominant (or at least overrepresented) among unfamiliar words and sociolinguistically motivated erring to the safe side.

  24. Goddamit, Noetica, of course you’re right. I mean that a) a “rule” of pronunciation with many exceptions is not much help b) when you are confronted with individual word whose pronunciation you do not know. Another c) “rule” of a statistical nature may be of use d) when you want to describe aggregates, not make decisions in individual cases.

  25. The English WiPe has a rather good explanation of the “Medieval Latin legal principle” exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis:

    This legal principle is classically referred to as “inclusio unius est exclusio alterius” (Inclusion of one is to exclude the others). The idea is that if the promulgator of law finds reason to enumerate one exception, then it is only reasonable to infer no others were intended.

    This is not “proof” in the sense of “demonstration”, but in the sense of “reasonable inference” in a legal context.

    … Fowler objects to the misuse of this proverb because it implies the following two beliefs:
            Exceptions can always be neglected.
            A truth is all the truer if it is sometimes false.
    It was in objection to this misuse that Arthur Conan Doyle had his famous detective Sherlock Holmes utter the statement “I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.”

  26. With reference to what Trond says about “erring to the safe side”, I realize that I am thinking primarily about “default” in the strong, technical IT sense. A “default” here – a configuration value for a piece of software – is a value which is specified by the software itself when the user has specified none. In this context, a “default with exceptions” would be of no practical use, and in fact would be meaningless.

  27. and eventually the default might influence that vast number of exceptions.
    Or the other way around, if we’re being asked to go the “might could” route.
    Yes, eventually; languages do change until they become unrecognizable. But John was describing the current state of the language.
    Exceptions stress-test the rule
    Of course. This is common knowledge. That’s probably why John phrased the sentence the way he did, to head off lists of exceptions.
    As for why those lists wouldn’t break the rule, see my other comment and Trond Engen’s.
    The usual rendering “Exceptions prove the rule” makes absolutely no sense.
    Agreed. I was bitching about that in an LH thread just the other day, I think. Might have been an email.

  28. Although only obliquely related to the issue of ‘exceptions’, I suggest you should read Matt’s post on The case of the Japanese verb. The paper he reviews there demonstrates (to state the case rather simply) that what looks like a very clear rule is not accepted by native speaker behaviour. It seems to me that the paper has some far-reaching implications for linguistic studies. The notion of most economical theoretical explanation etc. is brought down rather convincingly by the facts of language in action.

  29. “not accepted by native speaker behaviour”, ugh! Perhaps that should be “not reflected in native speaker behaviour”.

  30. Does anyone know where, historically, the penultimate stress came from? Welsh has penultimate stress.

  31. re Ugly Swans title – I was wondering if the pun on Andersen’s Ugly Duckling is immediately recognised in English?
    I loved ‘kogda kak’ translated as ‘it depends’. There is a calque in Russian “это зависит” which would have riled Viktor as much as ‘thinking fog’.

  32. on intransitive verbs: the phrase ‘to grow your business’ gives me a start every time I see or hear it but it looks like it’s accepted usage now, or not?

  33. Sashura: the phrase ‘to grow your business’ gives me a start every time I see or hear it but it looks like it’s accepted usage now, or not?
    I myself find it tiresomely infelicitous, as yet another example of business-management-speak for the man in the street. I wouldn’t acknowledge its existence by allowing it to give me a start.
    I hear contemporary English only in dribs and drabs, so I couldn’t say to what extent the phrase is accepted usage. I have heard it off and on for years now, so it seems the popular mind can retain it with no short-term toxic effect.
    If the expression were “to grow a business” on the analogy of growing crops, there would be no cause for griping. The infelicity consists in “grow” being used to mean “increase the size of”, instead of “cultivate”. This shabby-capitalist usage stems from the belief that bigger is better.
    Reminder to the deans of descriptivism: this is my take on “to grow your business”. Everyone else will speak as they please, as they always do, no matter what.

  34. Just as I do.

  35. Sashura: as a result of flying into a huff, I forgot to address a certain aspect of your question. “Grow” is used intransitively, but also transitively: “Mrs. Malaprop grows pineapples on her West Indian plantation”.

  36. yes, I’ve no résistance to ‘businesses grow like mushrooms’, but I can’t help resisting ‘grow business like mushrooms’.
    ah, right, just looked up the OED which marks ‘grow’ as intransitive. I’m included in ‘many people’ – Many people stumble over this extended sense and label it ‘jargon.’

  37. Ironically enough, one can “walk the streets”.

  38. It’s not just business: recent US presidents and such now talk about growing the economy (meaning making it bigger). Many people have found this jarring. I agree with Stu that part of what is jarring for me in this usage is that when we say a farmer grows (potatoes, or cotton, or apples, or crops) we don’t mean that he makes them bigger.
    Random other thoughts:
    If growing a business was like growing a beard, or like growing your bangs out, it would mean refraining from periodically stopping it from getting any bigger.
    If growing a business was like growing a tail, it would mean creating a new business.

  39. re Ugly Swans title – I was wondering if the pun on Andersen’s Ugly Duckling is immediately recognised in English?
    No, in fact it hadn’t occurred to me until you mentioned it, so I’m glad you did. (But then, as I mentioned elsewhere, I wasn’t brought up on traditional fairy tales.)
    I loved ‘kogda kak’ translated as ‘it depends’.
    Thanks!

  40. Ironically enough, one can “walk the streets”.
    That’s neat: one can walk the dog and walk the streets at the same time, in the course of walking the talk.

  41. empty: I agree with Stu that part of what is jarring for me in this usage is that …
    Are you by any chance reading The Concept of Mind, which I have mentioned here several times recently ? That cautious locution is typical of Ryle: “part of the reason/explanation for … seems to be this:”

  42. Well, Stu, I can think of other explanations, too, you know. But it was sloppy to say “I agree with Stu that part of what is jarring for me” because you were not asserting anything about me.
    No, I’m afraid I don’t read works of philosophy.
    Yes, one can pace the floor or walk the streets or travel a road or hike the Appalachian Trail or fly the friendly skies with United. Or go the distance. Or go away.
    And with the sad wanderer of Schubert’s Winterreise, we can sing “Eine Strasse muss ich gehen, die noch keiner ging zurück”.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Ugly Swans immediately reminded me of The Ugly Duckling.
    grow a business
    I don’t like this either, but it is not an isolated example. It seems to me that there has been (probably for a long time) a growing trend in English towards using intransitive verbs with direct objects. English morphology (word-formation) is very flexible, and it is rare that something in the form of a word definitely marks it as belonging to one class or another (noun, verb, etc). More specifically, in most cases you don’t need to modify a verb in any way in order to extend its range of usage. Look at the recent coinage grow-op, for instance, in which grow seems to be working as a noun.
    I noticed the frequent transitivization of intransitive verbs when I first came to the US as a student, decades ago: to travel Europe, for instance, and many others which I had never encountered in my English studies. This phrase does not mean the same as to travel in Europe, any more than to walk the streets means to walk in the streets. The transitive usage implies frequent or habitual action on a specific object, usually for a specific purpose. You could walk in other places (a park, a forest), but it seems to me to walk the forest could be said of a forest ranger, not an occasional hiker.
    It is true that to grow (crops) does not involve direct action on the crops so much as setting up and maintaining the most desirable conditions for those crops to grow: here the transitive usage adds a causative meaning. But this is not true of all transitivizations, as in the walk examples above. English morphology allows native speakers great flexibility, but makes it hard for non-natives to learn the often unpredictable subtleties that result.

  44. Trond Engen says:

    On default versus exceptional: Based on recent works on the distribution of tone in Scandinavian, there seems to be an emerging consensus that the second tone, rather than the first, is default for bisyllabic words.

  45. Reminder to the deans of descriptivism: this is my take on “to grow your business”. Everyone else will speak as they please, as they always do, no matter what.
    I don’t know if I qualify as a dean, even if I do shout about the subject a lot, but for the record, as I’ve often said, there’s nothing inconsistent between descriptivism and having opinions about language; and this case, I’m with you — I’m not fond of that phrase.

  46. Look at the recent coinage grow-op, for instance, in which grow seems to be working as a noun.
    Is this a co-op for people who grow eats for each other ?

  47. marie-lucie: English morphology allows native speakers great flexibility, but makes it hard for non-natives to learn the often unpredictable subtleties that result.
    Tell that to the French ! In this case it’s not the conveniences of morphology, though – I suspect – so much as making slangy abbreviations of words and continually inventing topical insider references to other words and things, just as happens in the USA and England too.
    I once made the tentative suggestion here that such phenomena – that “make it hard for non-natives to learn the subtleties” – are much more common in “dynamic”, industrialized countries. This really is tentative, since I command only German and English, with a smattering of other languages, all spoken in “dynamic” countries. What I do not mean are the subtleties of traditional literary culture, but rather neologistic ones.

  48. John Emerson says:

    Antelope, cantaloupe, Penelope.
    “Default” means “this is your best guess”. If it’s 95%-5%, the 95% is the default. I wouldn’t call it a “rule”, but it’s a very useful piece of information. This is the normal meaning of “default assumption”: what you assume in the absence of any specific information.
    When a computer defaults something in it is guessing what you want, and ideally it guesses right most of the time. Except MS of course.

  49. Except MS of course.
    I agree Hundert pro.

  50. John Emerson says:

    What is the default pronunciation for -ough? When I saw “sough” I guessed “ow” as in “bough”, probably also thinking of it as related to “sigh”. But “suff” seems more common, not that the word is common.
    The answer is, if there’ is anything that doesn’t have a default pronunciation it’s probably “ough”, though actually the lone vowels hardly have default pronunciations either.

  51. How do you suppose people in Bunyan’s day pronounced Slough of Despond, and how is it pronounced nowadays ? Clue: I haven’t a. I’ve always said “ow” as in “bough”, and nobody has taken me up on it – but then nobody doesn’t like to correct others.

  52. Unfortunately I can’t check my OED. I just today picked up my OED V4 on CD from the mailbox. I had to order an upgrade from V3 b*cause it doesn’t run under Windows 7. But could I install V4 ? I could not.
    Here is my angry letter to the Customer Service Executive I have been dealing with – a very nice person, I should add, but enough is enough. There had been much to-ing and fro-ing of emails, and I had to send them my V2 CDs to prove I was a valid owner. You can’t order from the website unless you have a credit card, which I refuse to use over their internet. You can’t even pay OUP in advance, because they give no bank details on the site. So they sent me a pro forma invoice with the bank details, and … and … I am really pissed off :

    Dear …,
    I picked up the V4 OED on CD this morning, and was immediately subjected to the annoyance of not being able to install it. The install program does not recognize my V3 data disc. You will find a screenshot attached, showing the “invalid disc” message box.
    Please advise me as soon as possible what esoteric, additional procedures I must carry out in order to use the product I have just paid for. As a senior IT developer and consultant, I must tell you bluntly that this kind of product would be unmarketable if it were not the OED and thus without competitor.
    In my considerable experience with CD versions of dictionaries and encyclopedias, I have found that most of their publishers demonstrate an astonishing incompetence in all technical aspects of the product, from the install procedure through usability, configurability, graphic layout and even sensitivity to resizing (screen resolution). This is true of OUP, Bibliographisches Institut (Duden) and Merriam-Webster, for instance – but not of Dictionnaires Le Robert.
    It is clearly not lexicographers, but their business masters who are to blame. Please pass this bitter customer complaint as far up the OUP sales hierarchy as possible, to the position just below the person whose job it is to dismiss complaints.
    Regards,

  53. Hat: The asterisk was because of: Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: V3 bx where x = “e”.

  54. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: What I do not mean are the subtleties of traditional literary culture, but rather neologistic ones.
    That is exactly what I did not mean either.

  55. OK, “The entry “v3.be” was removed from the blacklist.” Probably won’t come up again, but we aim to please.

  56. I was hoping someone would comment on my idea about neologisms being more frequent in “dynamic” industrialized societies. The idea is vague, crude and almost “true” by tautology: where novelties of a political, economic, artistic kind do not pour into the marketplace of things and ideas, there is no motive to create neologisms to deal with them.
    Can one observe so-called “traditional” societies” creating their own neologisms for internal reasons, as part of their cultures – say in making jokes, telling tales or just to add a little spice to life ? What might be the uses of deliberate neologism where received opinion is that there is nothing new under the sun ? Could it be that Pirahã speakers sometimes make up words and sentences in order to have a little fun with linguists ?

  57. the English town Slough is pronounced SLAH-oo.
    Marie-Lucie: but does English morphology explain the ease of changing transitivity? True, every noun can be verbed and every verb can be nouned but the Strugatsky dialogue in English shows that there is a natural resistance in the language to such shifts?

  58. I pronounce Slough exactly like cow. Except for the C, obviously.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: does English morphology explain the ease of changing transitivity? … the Strugatsky dialogue in English shows that there is a natural resistance in the language to such shifts?
    I don’t mean that in regular use any verb changes transitivity, but that there is no morphological obstacle to such change, making it easy if a speaker so chooses to use a given verb. In many other languages, you would have to add a prefix or suffix (sometimes both) not only to create verbs from nouns (or the opposite) but to indicate the transitivity or intransitivity of a verb. Example: define cook: The cook is cooking. The cook is cooking a chicken. While the chicken is cooking, the cook cooks potatoes and other vegetables. Here a single word can work as a noun, a transitive verb, and an intransitive verb with two meanings (or two intransitive verbs, depending on how you choose to categorize them). Not every noun or verb is so flexible (or so fickle!), but many have increased their flexibility.
    Older English used morphological ways to mark the change of category: adjective wide, transitive/causative verb to widen; noun friend, transitive/causative verb to befriend, but these ways of forming new words are now less common than in past centuries: compare the recent to friend, coined by Facebook. On the other hand, to embiggen rather than just the possible biggen as an alternative to enlarge, seems to be a humorous neologism (dated 1884) with its redundant double marking of the transitivity of the new verb by using both a prefix (as in to enlarge) and a suffix.

  60. enliven

  61. “Default” means “this is your best guess”. If it’s 95%-5%, the 95% is the default. I wouldn’t call it a “rule”, but it’s a very useful piece of information. This is the normal meaning of “default assumption”: what you assume in the absence of any specific information.
    Quite so, except that there is no particular numerical proportion. The default plural ending in German, as I have been spouting for some time, is -s, even though it forms the plural of only about 7% of all nouns, because it is the one applied if neither memory nor analogy supplies another. It gets added to unusual-sounding neologisms (Plaupfs), names that are homophonous with irregular nouns (die Thomas Manns, not *die Thomas Männer), irregular-sounding eponyms (Batmans, Fausts), product names (Kadetts), foreignisms (Cafes), truncations (Sozis, Nazis), quotations (drei “Mann”s ‘three instances of “Mann”‘). “What is more”, saith Pinker, “German-speaking children frequently overregularize the suffix in errors such as Manns, analogous to English-speaking children’s mans.”
    Pinker goes on to say in “Words and Rules” (the ancestor of his book of the same name):

    These results, combined with a glance at the history of the two languages, provide an interesting insight into why regular words form the majority of types in many languages (though not German). In proto-Germanic, the ancestor of English and German, a majority of verbs were strong, the forerunners of today’s irregular verbs. There was also a precursor of the weak -ed/-t suffix: the “dental suffix,” perhaps a reduced form of the verb do, which applied to borrowings from other languages and to derived forms, just as it does today. As it happens, the major growth areas in English verb vocabulary over the subsequent centuries was in just these areas. English borrowed rampantly from French (because of the Norman invasion in 1066) and from Latin (because of the influences of the Church and Renaissance scholars); I have estimated that about 60% of English verb roots came from these two languages. English is also notorious for the degree to which nouns can be freely converted to verbs; approximately 20% of our verbs are denominal.

    Intriguingly, both kinds of these kinds of verbs, once introduced into the language, had to be regular on grammatical grounds, because they are rootless and headless. So the standard connectionist account of the correlation between type frequency and regularity may have it backwards. It is not the case that a majority of English verbs are regular, and that causes English-speakers to use the regular suffix as the default. Instead, English-speakers and their linguistic ancestors have used the regular suffix as the default for millennia, and that is why the majority of today’s English verbs became regular. German, which did not experience a centuries-long domination by a French-speakering elite, and which does not convert nouns to verbs as freely, retained a frequency distribution closer to the ancestral language. Despite these differences in frequency across time and space, the psychology of the speakers remains the same.

  62. the psychology of the speakers remains the same
    That’s an interesting summing up.

  63. I was just about to ask what that means. Perhaps: “on being questioned, they all claim to feel that they are only doing what comes naturally”.

  64. In many other languages, you would have to add a prefix or suffix
    ah! exactly what I was thinking.

  65. JE: “Default” means “this is your best guess”. … This is the normal meaning of “default assumption”: what you assume in the absence of any specific information
    JC: Quite so, except that there is no particular numerical proportion. The default plural ending in German, as I have been spouting for some time, is -s, even though it forms the plural of only about 7% of all nouns, because it is the one applied if neither memory nor analogy supplies another.
    In talking about “rules” for speaking correctly, there’s a big problem with taking “default” to mean, in all cases, “this is your best guess”. A fluent German speaker rarely needs to guess at any plurals, whereas a beginner might be tempted to guess at all plurals.
    To tell someone learning German “the default plural ending is -s” is going to seriously mislead him, because it applies to only “7% of all nouns”. To tell a fluent German speaker that “the default plural ending is -s” is not going to enlighten him, for the very same reason: there are only “7% of all nouns” whose plurals are formed that way, and he already knows how to form them. He does this not by guessing or defaulting, but by doing it the way it is done for proper names, foreign words and abbreviations – as you described.
    What “many” children may do when learning German is, absent a convincing argument to the contrary, not something that recommends itself intuitively as a pattern for teaching or explaining German to an adult.

  66. In calling -s the default form, I don’t believe that anyone is making a recommendation about how to learn German, or even how to “explain” German.
    I learned German pretty well in school, and I have had a number of occasions to practice it since, but I am sometimes unsure of the plural form of some noun that I have not often encountered. If it’s not in one of the categories John discussed — if it’s an old echt German word — I would never guess -s. But I believe I understand what John means, and what Steven Pinker means, in calling -s the default form.

  67. I too believe I understand what they mean. That’s exactly why I criticized it, in detail, as untenable.
    As a German speaker, fully cognizant of the different kinds of plural that German rejoices in, I don’t see that any notion of “default for plurals” is useful or accurate for any purpose, whether descriptive, explanatory or pedagogic. Even worse: why has the “-s” plural-formation category been singled out as a “default” one, in light of the fact that it comprises an extremely small number of instances ??
    English can sensibly be said to have a “default” plural category, namely the one using “-s”. My claim is that German has no such “default”. I think the two gentlemen in question are perhaps working on the assumption that any language must be like their native one, presumably English, with respect to having “defaults” of certain kinds. But German is a counterexample to such an assumption regarding plurals.

  68. Let’s make the bold assumption that German grammars written (presumably) by German speakers are a more reliable guide to what’s what than outside commentary is. Take a look at the German Wipe on plurals. Do you see there anything about “defaults” ? You do not. Instead, you see a list of several “basic rules”, “additional rules” and “exceptions”, and the statement: “The basic rule [in each case] is valid for 70% of the noun types it covers”.
    The rule to which John and Pinker refer is third on the list of basic rules, so is not a “default” in any sense, but a category with specified content:

    Eigennamen, Abkürzungen, viele Fremdwörter, Substantivierungen, Onomatopoetika bilden den Plural mit -s: „CDs“, „Shirts“.

    If you try to add “-s” to form the plural of any German word, you will be wrong 93% of the time.

  69. I’ll just add that there is something else, not adding “-s”, that German speakers more often do when they realize, in the middle of a sentence, that they need the plural of a word and don’t know it. They back up, and rephrase the sentence to avoid using the plural.
    That’s where I learned to do exactly the same thing. Sometimes you just forget stuff, or never effectively knew. In German that is occasionally the case with plurals, in English that is often the case with orthography.

  70. The plural of Datum = “date” is Daten. This is extremely unfortunate in an IT environment, because the word for “data” is also Daten, but both words are needed and must be distinguished somehow to avoid confusion. An ugly attempt to deal with this is to say Datümer, but the speaker is always so embarassed by this word that you hardly ever hear it (more than once).
    One of my favorite tricks in new projects, to impress the natives, is to suggest the use of Datumswerte as the plural of Datum = “date”. This always goes down well, and is taken up by the others.

  71. I think that “default” is the wrong word. The -s plural form is what I believe the linguists call “productive”.
    Again, nobody is saying that this is the best thing to guess when you don’t happen to know the correct plural form for the given noun.

  72. Although John may have seemed to say that with his “it is the one applied if neither memory nor analogy supplies another”.

  73. When I say “the wrong word” I mean a red herring.

  74. I’m rather fond of herring salad, which is red because of the beets in it. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of red herring.

  75. I like both beets and herring. In fact, I ate some of each today, but not together. I had some pickled herring for breakfast after a strenuous bicycle ride, and later my wife made beet soup.

  76. Again, nobody is saying that this is the best thing to guess when you don’t happen to know the correct plural form for the given noun. … Although John may have seemed to say that … red herring …
    Well then, what exactly do you think is being said or suggested here, however misleadingly ? Even if there is no clear answer to that, then possibly you can at least specify its cash value or utility ? I hope we are not dealing with a case of art for art’s sake.

  77. On the other hand, maybe we should just stop at the herrings.

  78. There’s a silly sign in front of a jewelry store on the Neumarkt here, with a German equivalent of advertising his and herrings for impending marriages.

  79. John Emerson says:

    In talking about “rules” for speaking correctly, there’s a big problem with taking “default” to mean, in all cases, “this is your best guess”. A fluent German speaker rarely needs to guess at any plurals, whereas a beginner might be tempted to guess at all plurals.
    Native speakers don’t use default rules because they have the other information that is required if you want to know the right answer. For people who need a default plural, “s” is it. One advantage is that if you use it, even if you’re wrong, you’ll probably be understood, like a foreigner who says “I has mouses in my house” or something barbarous like that.
    German noun declensions are the most horrible thin g in the world, but native-speaker German language teachers will assure you that it’s all quite logical once you knwo the system, all 12 rules, all 20 rules for when to apply the rules, an 500 exceptions. The reason they say that is that they are all Nazis.
    I once planned a declension-optional German textbook, because I am anti-Nazi. If the verb doesn’t tell you, just assume that everything is singular.

  80. John Emerson says:

    once you know the system, all 12 rules, all 20 rules for when to apply the rules, and all 500 exceptions.
    Just looked too ugly.

  81. When we studied Bunyan in our Survey of English Lit., the instructer pronounced the word sloo, as in the hydrological sense. For the shedding of skin sense, I have heard only sluff.

  82. marie-lucie says:

    iakon, Living in Canada, these are the pronunciations that I recognize. Your two examples must be among the differences between American and Canadian pronunciations of English. I have never actually heard anyone talk about the Slough of Despond, but I assumed slough was “sloo”, as in the body of water. I was surprised and puzzled by other commenters saying they pronounced slough with this meaning as rhyming with bough. As for the shedding of skin, I too rhyme slough with enough.
    Grumbly: grow-op \
    I guess this term has not made it into German yet. It is short for grow-operation, a setup for clandestine indoor growing of a certain well-known but generally forbidden plant (I am trying to avoid having my post blocked by automatic censorship).

  83. possibly you can at least specify its cash value or utility ?
    No.
    For people who need a default plural, “s” is it.
    Who needs a default plural? You’d be better off guessing about the plural of a given noun based on whatever your own hunch is. The odds are probably better than if you go with -s. I’m with Stu on that. John Cowan wrote:
    it is the one applied if neither memory nor analogy supplies another
    Usually a native speaker, or even a student of the language who has been paying attention, will have at least some clue from memory or analogy.

  84. My reference to “memory or analogy” had to do with L1 acquisition, rather than adult L1 use or adult L2 learning. Children have to memorize irregular forms as part of acquiring their language. They start by remembering all forms regular and irregular, and then acquire the regular rules and over-apply them: thus early ran is displaced by runned. Then the irregular forms are acquired for good and all with the return of ran, leaving the rules to continue operating where irregular forms do not exist or are too rare to be properly acquired. For example, English smote and oxen are starting to be displaced by smited and oxes, because children don’t hear the rare irregular forms of these rare words often enough for them to stick.
    I don’t seem to be explaining this very well. I urge those who are still interested to read Pinker, who is very accessible on the subject.

  85. There is an important aspect of the German “-s” plural formation category that has not yet been addressed. That is the fact that (as it seems to me) a large percentage of words in that category, Fremdwörter = “foreign words” = “loan words”, have been borrowed from English, Spanish and French. Far from being a “German default”, the use of “-s” often merely reflects its function in the lending language. Precisely because of the lack of a “default plural” in German, the use of “-s” recommends itself for generalization because it is already a established loan convention in words from English, Spanish and French.
    There is some unease about loan words from Italian, where plurals are not formed with “-s”. Take Pizza, for example. Some wiseguy at customs tried to stick a plural form Pizzen on the word when it was imported. You may read Pizzen in an article in the Pedantic Monthly, but would make yourself ridiculous if you said it. The common plural is Pizzas. Duden gives both forms. Curiously enough, Pizze’rien does not sound all that pedantic, but still most people say Pizzerias (Even though David Marjanovic hasn’t been here recently, I should say that I don’t know if this is the case in Austrian German).
    You have Risiko/Risiken, but Obligo has no plural in common use. It occurs primarily in fixed expressions like im Obligo stehen, Obligobuch, ohne Obligo. Duden says Obligos is the plural, but who knows if that is actually often said in bookkeeping circles. The concept behind Obligo is not needed in everyday life, and when it is one speaks of Verbindlichkeit(en) and ohne Gewähr.
    Latin words ending in “-um” often have a plural in “-en”: Aquarium/Aquarien. This convention may have been applied to ‘Algebra, whose plural is Alg’ebren (stress moves to second syllable). The Greek daktylos becomes ‘Daktylus, with plural Dak’tylen (stress moves to second syllable).
    When I think about these things and set them out in an English language context, I could well agree with John that it is all a Nazi conspiracy. So obviously I shouldn’t think about it, nor should anybody. Instead, you should just do it. It’s no worse than English orthography, which also has to be plain memorized but is not entirely random.
    English speakers are accustomed to super-simplicity in English plurals, but to expect this in German plurals is to expect simplicity in the wrong place. I think this is the basic reason for this counterfactual insistence that German has a “default plural”. It makes about as much sense as to expect that everybody in the world speaks English, or even wants to learn it.
    There is simplicity and regularity in German – otherwise it wouldn’t be spoken by more than 80 million people – but it must be searched for, found and learned in other aspects of the language.

  86. Different languages have different kinds of simplicity. Different cultures have different ceremonies of innocence.

  87. Grumbly,
    I tend to hear and see “Pizzerias” more often in Vienna. But fate also generally puts me together with people speaking, or trying to speak, Schriftdeutsch so I can’t enlighten on you on how Josef Hader (or Marjanovic) forms the plural. In Vienna imports from the Big Brother up north seem to be eroding the local standard generally. My kids, for example, have learned “Kartoffel” and “Tomate” at school instead of the proper “Erdapfel” and “Paradeiser”.

  88. Okay, some juicy examples for me to play with!
    To begin with, -s is certainly a borrowed ending: it did not exist in 18th-century German, and there are some 19th-century rants against it as un-German. Marie-Lucie (I think) has rightly said that morphology gets borrowed into a language only when a large number of words bearing that morphology have been borrowed already. Anglophones did not begin to add re- to native verbs (redo, rewrite, etc.) until they had taken on a raft of French and Latin verbs with re-, and dutchophones still don’t despite having lots of those same borrowed verbs.
    So it’s quite right to point to English and French (Spanish, not so much) and also Low German as sources of the German -s ending. But once an ending has become part of the German language, it gets applied in ways that would never be seen in the source language (e.g. Handy ‘cell phone, mobile’, pl. Handys). By the same token, English -s, though a native ending — the plural of Old English stán ‘stone’ was always stánas, hence stone, stones by inheritance — achieved its present massive dominance due to a huge bolus of French nouns in -s. This was enough to eventually drag almost all other native nouns (there are about 35 exceptions) along with them, so that scip, pl. scipu, became ship, ships. Sometimes, but rarely, analogy pulls the other way: dwarves and scarves are innovated irregular plurals, not survivals.
    Now imagine the point at which English- and German-speakers first need to make sentences about more than one pizza. In English, there was very little chance of the native form pizze being borrowed (English typically borrows only Latin and Greek plurals, and has mostly shed the soli, soprani, and banditti of earlier usage), and pizzas it is, end of. In German the situation was inevitably more complicated.
    Now nobody sits down and consciously decides which ending to apply, certainly not in conversation — and doubtless Pizza was first used in speech rather than in writing. Whoever first said or wrote Pizzen was unconsciously applying analogy: the noun Pizza appeared sufficiently analogous to other nouns with -en plural to take the same plural. (Just why the German -e plural ending was rejected I don’t know: possibly gender, or the fact that German -e is pronounced schwa whereas Italian -e is not.)
    In any case, the analogy was not sufficiently compelling to the hindbrains of most speakers, and since there is no other competing analogy, the German people as a whole fell back on their Notpluralendung (a term introduced by a German philologist, if it matters) and made it Pizzas, just like their English cousins. This too is not a conscious decision, merely a reflection of how the plural-making machine in the back of their heads works. (This is a bit of a just-so story, because I don’t know enough to exclude the possibility that Pizza is a borrowing from English, in which case Pizzas might be directly borrowed also.)
    Now if we contrast Risiko and Obligo it becomes evident that when these words were introduced, Risiko was important enough, and there was sufficient pull from analogy, that a native plural ending was applied. But not so with Obligo: it is rare, and its plural is even rarer, like smote as the preterit of smite. So since there was no reason to apply any other ending, -s is the only available choice, and when a plural form must be used, Obligos wins by default (and it is this sense of the word default that I have been applying throughout).
    Note that regular endings are those applied by rule, rather than by inheritance (a better term than memory in this context, and I should have been using it all along) or analogy, and the rule doesn’t have to be a trivial one as it is in English. Returning to Dutch, we find that regular nouns ending in a single vowel, in unstressed -ee and -ie, or in any of -el, -em, -en, -er, -erd, -aar, -aard, -um, -eur, -foon, -ier, -oor take -s, and all other regular nouns (the vast majority) take -en. (Irregular nouns end in things like -eren and -a, or lengthen the vowel of the last syllable before applying -en, like blad ‘sheet of paper’, pl. bladen, not *bladden, or take -s rather than the predicted -en, because they are foreign words borrowed with plurals intact.)
    But the Dutch rule is the kind that people’s morphology machines can apply mechanically, like the rule about a versus an in English, or how the English -s ending is pronounced. German-speakers do not and cannot have a rule saying “If a word is of foreign origin, apply -s“, because they do not know (except consciously, and only if instructed) which words are of foreign origin. Rather, the rule must be “If a noun is novel or novel-sounding (so that analogy does not apply, like Pinker’s test word Plaupf), and we have not acquired an ending for it either as children or subsequently, use -s.” This of course does not translate to a conscious suggestion “If you are learning German as an adult, and don’t know the proper ending, use -s“: that would be absurd.

  89. Vienna imports from the Big Brother up north seem to be eroding the local standard generally.
    That’s a damn shame. In general I like local varieties, and in particular I prefer Viennese to Hochdeutsch.

  90. JC: German-speakers do not and cannot have a rule saying “If a word is of foreign origin, apply -s”, because they do not know (except consciously, and only if instructed) which words are of foreign origin. Rather, the rule must be “If a noun is novel or novel-sounding (so that analogy does not apply, like Pinker’s test word Plaupf), and we have not acquired an ending for it either as children or subsequently, use -s.”
    Now you’re talking’, and we are in agreement – almost. I find it demurralizing that you still wedge the word “default” in, after being so brav about avoiding it up to that point:

    So since there was no reason to apply any other ending, -s is the only available choice, and when a plural form must be used, Obligos wins by default (and it is this sense of the word default that I have been applying throughout).

    The German professor’s Notpluralending says it better: “-s” is an “emergency plural ending”, i.e. one to use in a pinch, when you are at your wit’s end. Life boats are not default boats. Advice from a business consultancy along the lines of “When in doubt: default” would probably be actionable.
    This of course does not translate to a conscious suggestion “If you are learning German as an adult, and don’t know the proper ending, use -s”: that would be absurd.
    Perhaps you would agree, though, that the statement is apt to be understood in just that way. There oughta be a formulation that does not give beginners the wrong idea. They are usually all too eager to fasten onto “rules of thumb” and shortcuts, and end up speaking barbarous L, where L is a language.

  91. marie-lucie says:

    Marie-Lucie (I think) has rightly said that morphology gets borrowed into a language only when a large number of words bearing that morphology have been borrowed already.
    I don’t remember this, but it sounds like something I may have said. Consider the case of -nik in Sputnik, the name of the first space satellite. The common Russian suffix -nik which forms words for various types of persons was adopted shortly afterwards to form Beatnik and (I think later) peacenik (both words for types of persons considered socially marginal), but that was pretty much IT as far as the use of -nik in everyday English was concerned. No actual Russian words including this suffix were borrowed into everyday English, and the suffix did not become a part of productive English morphology which would be used without attracting comment in the formation of a number of new words. As a contrast, JC correctly mentions the French/Latin/etc re- ‘again’ (re- has a second meaning ‘thoroughly’ in those languages, which was not adopted in English: Sp frijoles refritos does not actually mean ‘re-fried beans’ but ‘thoroughly fried beans’). Another instance of a fully assimilated morphological borrowing is -able, a French suffix borrowed along with the words it occurred in, which has been extended to existing English words of any origin, as in eat-able (next to the Latin borrowing edible). Eatable and drinkable might be thought to be literal translations of French words, but unmentionable(s) and personable are English-language creations without reference to French models.

  92. Trond Engen says:

    The Latin agent suffix -arius all but replaced the native -andi in Germanic. It must have come with a large number of words for occupations and trades, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a list.

  93. marie-lucie says:

    the native -andi in Germanic
    That must be the origin of the -and in the French words marchand ‘merchant’ and tisserand ‘weaver’, while most occupational words end in -(i)er or -eur, from Latin -arius and -(t)or respectively. These are the masculine forms: corresponding feminines are -ande, -(i)ère and usually -euse.

  94. Wow, that was just way too long; I should have posted it on my own blog. Still, if it helped, all to the good.
    Grumbly:
    Life boats are not default boats.
    True. But if your ship defaults on its Obligo to stay afloat, it’s into the lifeboats.
    Anyway, thank you for calling me brav, though whether you meant ‘good’ (as in braver Hund), ‘honest’, ‘well-behaved’, or ‘tough’ is a question.
    m-l:
    beatnik and peacenik
    Also nudni(c)k ‘bore’, from Yiddish.
    marchant
    Etymonline says (s.v. merchant) “c. 1200, from Anglo-Fr. marchaunt (O.Fr. marcheant, Mod.Fr. marchand), from V.L. *mercatantem (nom. *mercatans) ‘buyer’, present participle of *mercatare, frequentative of L. mercari ‘trade’.

  95. Bravo, JC. It was time for a fuller explanation.

  96. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Russian-English -nik:
    I deliberately excluded nudnik since it does not seem to be an English coinage like beatnik and peacenik but a Yiddish one. Apparently the Beat generation generated a few other nik words, but none of them lasted.
    Germanic-French -and ??:
    The TLFI agrees with Etymonline (which probably copied it) about the Latin origin of marchand, giving a few other attested intermediate forms, but if the final -and is not an alternate spelling there may have been cross-pollination between Latinate -ant and Germanic -and.
    About other nouns with -and (also found in what appears to be a complex suffix -andier/-andière), the TLFI considers -and as coming from the Latin gerund (in -andus,-anda, etc), and possibly (and very speculatively) from a Gaulish -ant, -anta in which -nt- changed to nd- before the language went extinct. I don’t find all these derivations convincing, without having enough expertise to refute them (at least at this point).

  97. What does brav mean?
    When it means good, what kind of good does it mean?

  98. m-l,
    There is also “no-goodnik”, but that appeared in the 1930s so is another jokey “Yiddishism”.

  99. Marie-Lucie is right about -nik: it so easily slipped into English usage because so many Yiddish speakers were already familiar with it.
    My favourite is chainik (lit.teakettle or teapot) which in Russian idiomatic usage means someone inept at something (and often irritable about it). In Yiddish it’s in Hak mir kayn chaynik, discussed at LH a few years ago.
    Another famous -nik was probably the refusenik.

  100. What does brav mean?
    Well, its meaning overlaps with the meaning of several English adjectives without covering any of them exactly. In the case you linked to (the book Die braven und die schlimmen Beeren), it means ‘good to eat’, which is a subtype of ‘good’. In addition to the meanings ‘honest’, ‘well-behaved’, and ‘tough’ (of persons, not meat) that I mentioned above, it can also mean things like ‘plain’, ‘worthy’, ‘decent’, ‘fine’, ‘obedient’, ‘dutiful’, ‘courageous’, ‘conservative’, or even ‘typical of its kind’ (as in this example: “Aus Deutschland kommen drei blaue Engel, die weltberühmt wurden: den ersten schuf Heinrich Mann 1905 in seinem Roman Professor Unrat, den zweiten spielte Marlene Dietrich in der Verfilmung des Mann-Romans mit dem Titel Der blaue Engel, der dritte ist 30 Jahre alt und der bravste von allen”, where bravste means, in context, ‘most angelic’). It can be a word of deeply sincere praise or of intense condescension. One thing it normally does not mean is ‘brave’.

  101. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: Marie-Lucie is right about -nik: it so easily slipped into English usage because so many Yiddish speakers were already familiar with it.
    Actually my point was rather the reverse: that the English usages remained very few and did not spread among the general English-speaking population.

  102. @JC: In the case you linked to (the book Die braven und die schlimmen Beeren), it means ‘good to eat’, which is a subtype of ‘good’.
    Ahem. brav never means “good to eat”. Here it means “well-behaved”. The title of this book is rather weird, but it’s a children’s book: The Good Little Berries and The Naughty Ones. A child reading it is being encouraged to learn that some kinds of berry are ok to associate with, while he should avoid the company of others.
    It would be hegemonic imperialist hermeneutic meddling even to translate the title as “Berries that are good for you, Berries that are bad for you”. A translation should, when possible, convey straight out, and with appropriate colloquial force, what the original conveys. The title says: The Good Little Berries and The Naughty Ones. That’s what it says in German, and that is what it is intended to say.
    There is no ambiguity in brave Beeren, but there is in “good berries” by itself – that’s why I translated brave Beeren as “good little berries”, leaning forward into the subsequent “naughty ones” to finish off the contrast.
    Here is a customer review that makes this clearer. Note that the reviewer, in referring to the title, slips up in writing die “Guten” instead of die “Braven”, and then writes die “schlimmen” (sic: should be die “Schlimmen”). This is the contrast between “nice” and “(very) naughty”, not between “good-tasting” (gut schmeckend) and “bad-tasting” (schlecht schmeckend):

    A nice little book in which various kinds of berry are presented in rhymes (of course most of them are “nice” kinds like strawberry and blackberry, but “naughty” kinds such as belladonna and nightshade also come into their own). In addition there are the very cute, old-fashioned drawings by Ida Bohatta – highly recommended!

    The reviewer may be a bit uncertain about the differences between belladonna and nightshade – belladonna is a genus in the nightshade family, sez the Wipe. The link above for “nightshade” is to “black nightshade” in the Wipe, but what the reviewer writes is simply Nachtschatten. Having no botanical knowledge myself, what more can I say ?

  103. As Cousin James asked, “Has he hegemony and shall she submit?” (The answers are yes and no respectively.) And of course, it all depends on what is means and what means means. In this case the “good little” berries (and I agree that this is a fine translation) are in fact the yummy ones.

  104. John, a small but perhaps not uninteresting detail: brav in connection with children always means “well-behaved” or “”nice”” (note the doubled scare quotes). The schlimm in the contrasting pair brav/schlimm, however, was a bit surprising to me – but then I am not a sociologist of parental idioms.
    I can’t think what other word besides schlimm could-be/is used to contrast with brav – hardly böse, not at any rate by today’s princesstuous citizen (PC) who spends sleepless nights over judgmental peanuts, or claims to.
    schlimm in this connection is clearly meant to be understood by a child as a term of mild, not-angry disapproval. It does not have the stronger, condemnatory sense it has when used by an adult to refer to adult behavior – except in certain jokey, out-of-date expressions like ein schlimmer Finger.

  105. “Has he hegemony and shall she submit?”
    Discussed at this very site under the rubric Black holes of cancellation in 2003, way before my time.

  106. “Discussed” is a bit over the top, since there was only one comment by “beth”, now domiciled here. She asks an interesting question:

    … one of these days I’m going to have to overcome my Joyce-block and read both Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake. Now, why is it OK with me to have to sort through the annotations to Shakespeare, and not to Joyce? Is it that I think in a modern writer it’s pretentious to write that way on purpose?

  107. Well, I discussed it. And there were very likely other comments, demolished in the Great Comment Massacre of 2002/3 which led to my leaving Blogspot in a huff and betaking myself to Movable Type. (And no, I’m not planning to move to one of the newfangled platforms the kids are using these days. I might lose the beautiful page header taz created for me, and have to learn new techniques. It’s all I can do to keep up with the daily news.)

  108. Yeah, I sort of thought that here brav meant good in the sense of not naughty. And maybe my real puzzlement was about the schlimm, which I don’t believe I have ever encountered in the sense of naughty, except in this book (which we have a copy of, left over from my mother-in-law’s long-ago multilingual childhood).

  109. As I indicated, empty, I can easily take schlimm used this way to be a parental idiom – whether it actually is one, or the book’s author made it up. All depends on the tone of voice in which you imagine a mother saying it. It would be like the word “bad”: “Now, Johnny, you know you shouldn’t fling your spaghetti ai funghi at your sister when she has just come to the table in her new Sunday dress. I’ve told you that before. You’ve been a bad, bad little boy.”

  110. Ø, I think schlimm in the sense of naughty is pretty common among German parents. A very well known modern children’s book is “Pauli, du schlimmer Pauli!” about a rabbit who misbehaves and breaks or knocks down all his siblings’ various projects. “Naughty” seems like the best translation.

  111. Marie-Lucie: I was referring to this point:
    Stu: morphology gets borrowed into a language only when a large number of words bearing that morphology have been borrowed already.
    Marie-Lucie: I don’t remember this, but it sounds like something I may have said.
    I understand that it is not in general usage but, thanks to sputnik, it has a high profile and it feels as though English is comfortable with using it in coining new words.
    In Toy Story, Prospector pronounces it spAHTnik. Is it more common than the original Russian spOOtnik?

  112. The reason “-nik” hasn’t been more productive in American English is probably because it carries essentially a negative connotation, probably connected with it’s Yiddish/Russian origin. The coinages “beatnik” and “peacenik” were both originally disparaging, implying connections with shadowy foreign elements. I could imagine someone on the right wing coming up with “Obamanik” for Obama supporters for example, except that in today’s political environment that would probably seem to polite.

  113. No, Mummy, you never told me that before. Last Sunday it was spaghetti aglio olio.

  114. I find it absolutely fascinating to see how children learn (or don’t) to generalize in light of what is expected of them. The answer “Last Sunday it was spaghetti aglio olio” is a perfectly logical rejoinder. But impeccable logic is not quite all that the mother is demanding.
    I think Piaget did research on this, along with many other aspects of child development. Unfortunately I have never read anything of his, and I know that criticism has been voiced about his work – for instance, that his observations were made primarily with his own children.

  115. I find it absolutely fascinating to see how children learn (or don’t) to generalize in light of what is expected of them. The answer “Last Sunday it was spaghetti aglio olio” is a perfectly logical rejoinder. But impeccable logic is not quite all that the mother is demanding.
    I think Piaget did research on this, along with many other aspects of child development. Unfortunately I have never read anything of his, and I know that criticism has been voiced about his work – for instance, that his observations were made primarily with his own children.

  116. (And no, I’m not planning to move to one of the newfangled platforms the kids are using these days. I might lose the beautiful page header taz created for me, and have to learn new techniques. It’s all I can do to keep up with the daily news.)
    A newfangled one might not crash so often. When it does, and later a comment posted does not appear, one assumes that it must be posted again – and we get duplicate comments.
    As to the page header, just ask the provider of newfangled websites in advance whether you can use the header. If so, no problem. If not, look for a different provider.
    You may have to learn different “techniques”, but what you accomplish by applying those techniques will already be familiar to you. One more thing you need to ask about is what anti-spam tuning possibilities the newfangled stuff offers. You current site has very rudimentary ones.
    Of course your stepson will be doing all this for you, so your little number about being a tired old clueless fogey don’t cut any ice with me. Anybody who reads Russian day and night can handle a silly old website.
    Anyway, goddammit, you are offering a service that people need. You can’t just droop when you feel like it. Look how long Larry King hung in there. You have a choice between keeping up with the times, and hara-kiri.

  117. There are a number of people here, such as John Cowan, Aidan Kehoe, myself and others, who could proffer considered opinions about various technical details. Although I am not a website expert, I can separate the lemons from the lambs.

  118. If no one’s got a copy of the header, it can always be reproduced by simply making a screengrab of the existing one and uploading the screengrab to the new site as a jpeg file. I could easily do that for you. I doubt there would be any significant loss of quality, but you could always make an experiment before you burned your boats.

  119. In Toy Story, Prospector pronounces it spAHTnik. Is it more common than the original Russian spOOtnik?
    By “spAHTnik” I presume you mean “SPUTnik,” with the central vowel of “hug,” since no English-speaker has ever used the vowel of “father” in that context. And yes, it’s about a billion times more common; I don’t think I’ve ever heard an English-speaker say SPOOTnik, but of course anything’s possible.
    Of course your stepson will be doing all this for you
    Yes, well, that’s exactly the problem—he’s absolutely swamped at his current job, and I don’t even ask him for help when my computer crashes, let alone suggest he upgrade the website (which we’ve actually discussed a number of times, and if he ever gets a little more leisure may actually happen, not that I want to get anyone’s hopes up).

  120. Persons Various: I concede that it was grossly misleading for me to translate brav as ‘good to eat’.
    Sashura, Hat: The four online American English dictionaries all agree in giving the pronunciation of sputnik with the FOOT, STRUT, and GOOSE vowels in that order. I was taking up space in my mother’s womb when the bird flew in 1957; my personal pronunciation (like Hat’s) is STRUT, probably because my interest in space preceded my interest in languages. I’ve never heard FOOT myself, but with four separate witnesses, the Truth is Out There.
    AJP: The header is not a problem. The foreground image is here and the background image (set up by a line of the trivial site CSS) is here.

  121. Ooh, look at that. Never mind, then.
    I’ve never heard FOOT myself
    I say it.

  122. The four online American English dictionaries all agree in giving the pronunciation of sputnik with the FOOT, STRUT, and GOOSE vowels in that order.
    I say it.
    Once again, I remind myself not to shoot off my mouth without doing even minimal research. I probably won’t listen.

  123. Unlike the American Four, the Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) use IPA, which makes life easier. Unfortunately, they assume that if you are (apparently) coming from the U.S. you want U.S. pronunciations, and you have to go to the home page and change this setting. Anyway, the U.K. pronunciations given are FOOT and then STRUT in that order, but the U.S. pronunciations are more peculiar: first STRUT and then ” ˈspo͝ot-”, with a double breve above the first “o”. What that may mean I have no idea.
    I note that the ODO-US gives the vowel in the second syllable as FLEECE, which made me go back and look in the others: ODO-UK has KIT like the Big Four, agreeing with the usual pronunciation of ni(c)k in English. I wonder if someone at ODO didn’t mis-transcribe one of the Big Four, which use i (with or without breve) for the KIT vowel and ē for the FLEECE vowel.

  124. Arrgh, no. While ODO-UK does use IPA, ODO-US does not, and that obscure spelling is FOOT. So they prefer STRUT to FOOT, unlike the Big Four, and their “i” means KIT.

  125. By “spAHTnik” I presume you mean “SPUTnik,”
    BUGger, of course it is, thanks!

  126. Once again, I remind myself not to shoot off my mouth without doing even minimal further reading, thanks, John Cowan.

  127. Dartmouth College is not only not at the mouth of the River Dart, there isn’t even a river of that name there. It was named after William Legge, the 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, who had assisted the founder with some money but who opposed the founding of Dartmouth and never gave it a penny. So much for sycoPHANcy.

  128. Sicko fancy.

  129. Such as Donnie Darko, perhaps. I was never quite sure what to think about that film. That’s one reason I sorta liked it.
    Another uncertainty regarded the podgy adolescent pale Gyllenhaal. Of course I could not know what the future would bring. But I digress.

  130. “Podgy” is not accurate. I mean something like “sullen, shapeless and puffy-faced”. Of course it’s just right for the part. I would have fancied playing the Rabbit.

  131. I think “blodgy” is the word I had in mind, but I can’t find a definition of it.

  132. marie-lucie says:

    A combination of “bloated” and “pudgy”?

  133. Just as the storm causes an engine to fall off, Donnie transports it back in time – 28 days earlier – using a wormhole.
    Ahhh. God, I hate this hackneyed wheeze. I say kill the lot of them. Otherwise, it sounds sort of interesting. I haven’t seen it.

  134. Blodgy’s one of the Seven Dwarfs.

  135. Blodge is short for weblodge.

  136. Crown should know the answer to this. I’m pretty sure it’s a Brit word. In the internet I find “blodgy” apparently used to mean smudged or smeared lines, as in an ink drawing.

  137. OED: “No dictionary entries found for ‘blodgy’.” Not in any of my other dictionaries either, slang or regular.
    Google Books turns up a few hits, none of them especially revealing; e.g. “Rather soft, certainly blodgy”; “And they’re only titchy and so blodgy!”; “The dead elms, with blodgy rooks”; “Deftly she removed the blodgy photograph of Francois, and substituted an equally blodgy photograph of me.” I’m not sure it can be said to have a definite meaning.

  138. Trond Engen says:

    Blurry, cloddy and smudgy is my bet.

  139. “blodgy” apparently used to mean smudged or smeared lines, as in an ink drawing.
    Surely that’s just an eccentric spelling of what, if I heard it spoken, I would take to be blotchy. Now that I say blodgy to myself a few times, it does sound familiar. I’m probably imagining it, though.

  140. Unless you’re thinking of . He lives in California, apparently.

  141. Hmm. I managed to screw that up. You can still click on it, though.

  142. I’m not sure it can be said to have a definite meaning.
    That’s interesting – a word that seems to mean something (as evidenced by the internet entries) but nobody can quite say what it means. I wonder whether there are other such words ? I am excluding idiosyncratic, one-off words like those I produce (“demurralizing” ©, meaning causing someone to raise objections).
    I just remembered that there was a comment thread here in the last 6-8 months in which people were playing around with artificially funny, made-up words. But these are not comparable with “blodgy”, since it’s not jokey but just oddly mysterious.

  143. The offspring of Caroline Kennedy’s dog Pushinka (a gift from Khrushchev) and John F. Kennedy’s dog Charlie were referred to by the President as “the pupniks”. As far as I know, nobody else has ever used this word.

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