The Trimūrti (sez Wikipedia) “is a concept in Hinduism ‘in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer or transformer.’” I couldn’t have told you that, but my years of Sanskrit study, though mercifully four decades in the past, left me with enough passive knowledge to guess it meant something like ‘triad’ when I ran across it, in Russian guise, in Veltman’s Salomea (which I’m still reading — it’s very long). He’s been describing the unhappy marriage of Maria “Mary” Nilskaya, whose stupid and officious husband cuts her off from her family and treats her badly, and he says that she is unable to fulfill a wife’s duty to love her spouse: to love truly, they say, you have to love with mind, heart, and senses. “Но это тримурти любви, говорят, мечта” [But this trimurti of love, they say, is a dream]. The National Corpus of the Russian Language shows no other instance of a writer using the word metaphorically in this way; all other citations are about Indian religion. It’s quite striking to me that Veltman would presume an awareness of the word on the part of at least a substantial element of his readership, which is a reminder of the fact that the Bhagavad Gita was translated into Russian as early as 1788 (by Nikolay Novikov, working from Charles Wilkins‘ English version — it wasn’t translated from the original until 1956).

Computer Finds Lost Shakespeare Play.

Or so they say. I confess that while I accept in theory the idea of computer analysis of word use to determine, or at least provide evidence for, authorship, it makes me uneasy. At any rate, here‘s what Helen Anders writes in The Daily Beast:

Nearly 300 years ago, an editor named Lewis Theobald published a drama called Double Falsehood that he called an adaptation of a lost Shakespeare play. Nobody believed him, primarily because any Shakespeare original was, indeed, lost.

Now, two University of Texas researchers say they have proof that the Bard really did write the play, in collaboration with playwright John Fletcher—not because of the composition of iambic pentameter soliloquies but largely because of how the writers used little words like a, the, of, by, for, thee, and ye. What’s more, the validation in a newly published article in the journal Psychological Science comes not from literary scholars but from social psychologists using a computer program.

Essentially, works by Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Theobald were fed into a computer and examined for each writer’s signature use of what researchers Ryan Boyd and James Pennebaker call “function” words—little words such as articles, prepositions, pronouns, and simple verbs such as will and be—as well as social words such as brother, sister, and mother. The computer determined what the researchers call “psychological fingerprints” for each writer, and then looked for them in Double Falsehood.

I had read about the lost Cardenio, but didn’t realize it was supposed to have been reused for Double Falsehood (as part of a collaboration). At any rate, with regard to the reasons the play no longer exists, “Pennebaker says Shakespeare might have been complicit in its suppression because he wasn’t very proud of it, saying that scholars at the UCLA conference largely felt it was a ‘shitty play.’” So I guess I won’t worry my head too much over it. (Thanks, Paul!)

Guide Words.

Guide words are those words in boldface at the tops of dictionary pages telling you what the first and last words on the page are. Sometimes they’re striking and/or hilarious. Here are two that have struck me:

1) From p. 89 of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, right-hand guide word (i.e., last word on the page):

avadavat /’avədəvat/ (also amadavat) n. a red or green South Asian waxbill sometimes kept as a cage bird. [Genus Amandava: two species.]
ORIGIN C17: named after the city of Ahmadabad in India.

The word itself is amazing, with the same sort of oomph as abracadabra, but the etymology lifts it into the stratosphere. (Best OED citation: 1871 C. Darwin Descent of Man II. xiii. 49 The Bengali baboos make the pretty little males of the amadavat..fight together.)

2) From p. 553 of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, same location:

grutten past part of GREET

“Grutten”? Seriously? Further investigation reveals this is not the usual greet but the Scottish verb meaning ‘weep, lament,’ for which the past tense is grat and the participle grutten. (Best DSL citation: 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 123: Dar’st thou of a’ thy Betters slighting speak, That have na grutten sae meikle learning Greek.)

No, Totally.

Kathryn Schulz has a nice New Yorker piece, “What part of ‘No, totally’ don’t you understand?,” that focuses on the odd affirmative use of “no” seen in this snippet of conversation:

MARON: They can look at any painting and go, “Eh.” They can look at a Rothko and go, “Hey, three colors.” And then you want to hit them.
DUNHAM: No, totally.

She finds some similar examples (“No, definitely.” “No, exactly.” “No, yes.”) and writes:

At first blush, “no” does not appear to be the kind of word whose meaning you can monkey with. For one thing, there is its length. At just two letters and one syllable, it lacks the pliable properties of longer words. You can’t stuff stuff inside it. (You can say “unfreakingbelievable,” but you cannot say “nfreakingo.”) You can’t mangle it, à la “misunderestimate” or (the finest example I’ve heard lately) “haphazardous.” On the contrary, it is so simple and self-contained that it is a holophrasm, a word that can serve as a complete sentence.

She discusses its odd part-of-speech status and explains the four-form system English used to have (which I learned about from John Cowan), using some excellent examples:

Shoot, there aren’t any open pubs in Canterbury at this hour.
Yes, there are.

Is Chaucer drunk?
Yea, and passed out on the table.

Is the Tabard open?
Nay, it closed at midnight.

Isn’t Chaucer meeting us here?
No, he went home to bed.

When it comes to explaining the affirmative-no phenomenon, however, things get murky. She quotes unnamed “linguists I spoke with” as claiming that “this use of ‘no’ might be a response to an implicit or explicit negative in the preceding statement,” but this strikes me as so clearly wrong I’m surprised any linguist would suggest it. And “the theory I like best”—that “No, totally” is really a contraction of “I know, totally”—is just silly. But the whole thing is enjoyable and worth reading, and there’s more discussion at the Log.

Edith Aldridge’s Publications.

I can’t improve on Matt Treyvaud’s No-sword post, so I’ll just quote it:

Your East Asian (and Austronesian!) treasure trove of the day: Dr Edith Aldridge’s “Publications” page. Her two papers on Chinese historical syntax are a great 80-page overview of the topic and a fine complement to Pulleyblank’s invaluable but more lexeme-centric Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. Her papers on word order in hentai kanbun also make worthwhile reading if you care about that topic (and I do!). And she’s put it all online for free, because she’s on the side of good.

Three cheers for Edith Aldridge and all others who put their work online for free, because they’re on the side of good!

As lagniappe, speaking of free online resources: the complete contents of the 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, originally published between 1901-1906. (Thanks, Paul!)


Thanks to recommendations from John Cowan and Brett in this thread, I’ve started Brian W. Aldiss’s Cryptozoic! (which turns out to have been waiting on my shelves to be read for almost fifty years, a new record); it occurred to me to wonder whether the title was a real word—I thought I’d seen it, but couldn’t remember what it meant—so I checked the OED, and it turns out there are two such words, Cryptozoic adj.1 and n (Geol.) “Designating the eon before the beginning of the Cambrian period (about 542 million years ago), equivalent to the Precambrian period; of or relating to this eon, which is characterized by a lack of obvious fossils (as contrasted with the Phanerozoic eon)” and cryptozoic adj.2 (Ecol.) “Designating animals that live in concealed habitats where they remain hidden from view, as in crevices or caves; of or relating to such animals.” That seemed annoying at first, but then I realized there would be few contexts in which the homonymy would cause confusion.

Incidentally, I learn from Wikipedia that the original U.K. title of the book was An Age. I guess that didn’t sound zippy enough for the U.S. market.

A Visit to Troubadour/Grey Matter Books.

Last October I wrote about the merger of Troubadour Books with Grey Matter Books; today my wonderful wife drove me thither so I could enjoy the end of their spring sale (and reward myself for finishing the copyediting of a book on athletics in Ancient Greek history and poetry), and here is what I came back with:

Dictionary of Russian Literature Since 1917 by Wolfgang Kasack (1988)
Novel Epics: Gogol, Dostoevsky, and National Narrative by Frederick Griffiths and Stanley Rabinowitz (1990)
The History of Polish Literature, 2nd ed. by Czeslaw Milosz (1983)
Decentralization and Self-Government in Russia, 1830-1870 by Frederick S. Starr (1972)
Readings in Russian poetics: Formalist and structuralist views ed. by Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska (1978)
The Positive Hero in Russian Literature by Rufus W. Mathewson (1975)
The Literature of Roguery in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Russia by Marcia A. Morris (2000)
Through the Russian Prism by Joseph Frank (1989)
Fifty Years of Russian Prose: From Pasternak to Solzhenitsyn (2 vols) ed. by Krystyna Pomorska (1971)

Oh, and I got Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, because I’m more than halfway through Wolf Hall and I know I’m going to want to plunge right into the sequel.

American Colonial English.

A reader writes: “I am writing a story which takes place in colonial America. Do you know of any resources for someone interested in the dialect and grammar of American Colonial English?” My answer: “I don’t, but it’s an interesting question, and I’ll post it.” So, anybody know?

Porthmeor and MAGA.

Mark Woods is featuring Ben Nicholson’s painting Porthmeor Beach at wood s lot, and I wondered how to pronounce Porthmeor. I couldn’t find anything in a brief Google search, and was about to give up when I clicked on this page (the ‘Cornwall and Cornish’ category at John Maidment’s Blog, which seems to have a good deal of language-related material), which has both an aerial view of St. Ives that mentions “Porthmeor (‘great cove’)” and a link to the Standard Written Form Cornish dictionary online, published by the Cornish Language Partnership (MAGA). I used the search feature to look up porth “port/gate/harbour/haven, porch” in the Cornish section; since “meor” gave no results, I looked up great in the English section and found meur “great/grand/large/substantial,” pronounced [mø:r] in Middle Cornish and [me:r] in Late Cornish. So I not only learned that Porthmeor is (presumably) porth-MARE in an anglicized version, I found another fine online lexicographical resource to add to the sidebar.

France Gives In to the Hashtag.

William Alexander in the NY Times has fun with “the stunning announcement that France is giving up the fight to keep English words out of the French language”:

This sudden reversal of four centuries of French linguistic policy was issued by the minister of culture, Fleur Pellerin, who declared that France’s resistance to the incursion of English words was harming — rather than preserving — the language. “French is not in danger, and my responsibility as minister is not to erect ineffective barriers against languages but to give all our citizens the means to make it live on,” Ms. Pellerin told an audience assembled for the opening of French Language and Francophonie Week in March, acknowledging in one sentence both the futility and misguidedness of the battle. [...]

Most of the debate today centers on dealing with English technology terms such as “hashtag” and “cloud computing.” But in fact the backlash against English encroachment into French started in the pre-computer age, when officials became alarmed over the country’s infatuation with “le jogging” and eating “les cheeseburgers” on “le week-end.” [...]

Yet despite these many laws and commissions (at least 20 that govern the French language) there’s still that vexing “hashtag” (or as the Ministry of Culture would have you call it — at least up until a couple of weeks ago — mot-dièse) problem. The ministry relies on specialized terminology commissions for finding French replacements for new words of foreign influence, and in theory the task is straightforward: take a foreign term such as “Wi-Fi” and come up with a French equivalent other than “le Wi-Fi.” Unfortunately, the tendency of the French to be verbose works greatly to their disadvantage, especially in the Twitter age. The recommended replacement for “Wi-Fi” (which the French so adorably pronounce “wee-fee”) was the mouthful “accès sans fil à l’Internet,” literally “access without wire to the Internet.” Which is why you see signs for “Wi-Fi” all over France.

I suspect that the French don’t realize that “Wi-Fi” doesn’t even make sense in English.[...]

Thanks, Paul!