Bikavér.

I’m reading the Strugatskys’ За миллиард лет до конца света [Definitely Maybe]; I’m enjoying it greatly, and one of the things I’m enjoying is being exposed to unexpected items of linguistic interest. It starts with our hero, Malyanov, sitting around his messy apartment trying to put off feeding his cat Kalyam; the doorbell rings and a guy delivers a package, which turns out to be an expensive collection of wine and food sent by his absent wife. Then a woman shows up with a letter of introduction from his wife, and they open a bottle of riesling and start talking, more and more animatedly. When the riesling runs out they open a bottle of “каберне” [kaberne], presumably cabernet sauvignon; when a neighbor shows up at the door, Malyanov (by now thoroughly drunk) invites him in and opens бутылку „Бычьей крови“ — a bottle of “Bull’s blood.” This rang a faint bell, but I had to look it up to learn that Эгерская бычья кровь is the wine known to English-speakers by its Hungarian name, Egri Bikavér, “Bull’s Blood of Eger.” Hung. bika ‘bull’ looks like it must be related to Russian бык [byk] ‘bull,’ but apparently not — the Hungarian word is from a Chuvash-type Turkic language and ultimately from Proto-Turkic *buka, while бык is from Proto-Slavic *bykъ, “likely of onomatopoeic origin.”

Furthermore, when the neighbor (a friend) shows up, Malyanov thinks “Огромный мужик, как гора. Седовласый Шат.” [A huge guy, like a mountain. Gray-haired Shat.] “Седовласый Шат” is a quote from the Lermontov poem Спор [The argument], in which Mount Kazbek and “Mount Shat” disagree about whether the East is a source of danger, and Lermontov says in a footnote that the latter is another name for Mount Elbrus. Since it’s in the Caucasus, that mountain has a variety of names; the English Wikipedia article has only Karachay-Balkar Минги тау, Miñi taw or Mın̨i taw [mɪˈŋːi taw]; Kabardian Ӏуащхьэмахуэ, ’Wāśhamāxwa or Ꜧuas̨hemaxue [ʔʷaːɕħamaːxʷa]; Adyghe Ӏуащхьэмафэ, ’Wāśhamāfa or Ꜧuas̨hemafe [ʔʷaːɕħamaːfa]; and Hakuchi Къӏуащхьэмафэ, Qʼuas̨hemafe [qʷʼaːɕħamaːfa], but the Russian one adds Turkic Джин-Падишах [Dzhin-Padishah ‘Ruler of Djinns], Abkhaz Орфи-туб [Orfi-tub ‘Mountain of the Blessed], Georgian იალბუზი [Ialbuzi ‘Mane of Snow’]… and Shat, possibly from Karachay-Balkar chat ‘gully.’ Just a sample of the onomastic complexity of the Caucasus!

Comments

  1. As I recall, “Bull’s blood” was a Bulgarian rather than Hungarian wine (perhaps Меча кръвь in Bulgarian?), perhaps of a sweeter variety (not sure about that bit, but Russians used to have a taste for sweeter wines, and a quick google check turns up a characteristic of Червено полу-сухо вино, a semi-dry one).

    Ahh. correction, the Bulgarian one I looked up is Bear’s Blood 🙂 does my memory fail me? The Hungarian wine store, the Balaton, was a block away from the place where I worked on my Master’s Thesis, and I can still recite a lot of Hungarian wines sold in the old USSR because of it, and I still believe that Bull’s blood wasn’t from there…

  2. Dmitry Pruss says:

    And Mount Shat ought to be Turkic for “tent”; that’s how Elbrus looks from afar. Related to Russian шатер.

  3. Er, lastly – Mount Kazbek and “Mount Shat” disagree about whether the East is a source of danger – true, the two peaks discuss the somnolence of the Ancient East, but more so, the coming conquest from the North, the predicted dominance of Russia in the Caucasus. The “subjugated” Mt. Kazbek wasn’t actually summited yet; not for another two decades. But the Daryal Pass at its base already saw mass movement of people across the Main Divide of the Caucasus.

    All these “arguments between mountain peaks” in Russia’s poetry of the 1830s-1840s are inspired by one of the songs in Claude Fauriel’s “Chants Populaires de La Grece Moderne” (published in French in 1824 and soon popularized in Russia with its cult of Greek Liberation). In one of the songs there, Mt. Olympus blames some lesser peak for its being trampled by the Turks, with much military glory thrown around in the stanzas. Several years before Lermontov, Lukian Yakubovich published “Ural and Caucasus”, likewise an argument about greatness between mountains.

  4. Interesting, thanks!

  5. There was a Eastern European “Bull’s Blood” wine in Britain somewhere around the mid-1970’s. It (and the trendier, or at least cheaper, Yugoslav Riesling by the litre bottle) were a marginal improvement over (British-blended) ‘Hirondelle’, but all so revoltingly syrupy it put me off wine altogether for a long time.

    This was before I acquired friends who traveled in France for their holidays, and could name actual Regions and grape varieties.

  6. AntC – yes, that was the Hungarian Bull’s Blood, one of a range of cheap-and-cheerful wines available in a Britain just discovering the joys of the grape, including Liebfraumilch, Mateus Rosé, and my personal favourite, Soave from Italy at £1.50 for a litre and a half. … no party complete without it.

  7. PlasticPaddy says:

    https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebfrauenmilch
    It is still produced but apparently mostly for export. Black Tower seems to be going strong and to have left its rival, Blue Nun, behind.

  8. Back in my early days in NYC, when I was barely making enough to live on and knew nothing of good wine, I used to get two-dollar bottles of some Bulgarian wine. It was pretty bad, but it did the trick.

  9. Finländare says:

    the Hungarian word is from a Chuvash-type Turkic language and ultimately from Proto-Turkic *buka, while бык is from Proto-Slavic *bykъ, “likely of onomatopoeic origin.”

    Is it really that hard for Indo-Europeanists to admit that, yes, borrowing goes both ways?

  10. Back in my early days in NYC, when I was barely making enough to live on and knew nothing of good wine, I used to get two-dollar bottles of some Bulgarian wine. It was pretty bad, but it did the trick.

    Science has pretty comprehensively debunked wine tasting having any kind of objective basis in reality. The fact that leading experts cannot distinguish the two buck chuck from the grand cru in a blind taste test (indeed, they cannot even tell red wine apart from white with some food coloring) is a humiliation for them professionally, and a great vindication to those of us who choose wines solely on what country it’s from and how colorful is the label.

  11. I am in Bulgaria now on business, and the wine situation is really pretty good. Much improved since the Communist days.

  12. Science has pretty comprehensively debunked wine tasting having any kind of objective basis in reality.

    This is nonsense and exactly the kind of thing that encourages people to reject science.

  13. when I visited Bulgaria, home produced wines were cheaper than bottled water.

    And I discovered that Bulgarians don’t get drunk on wine no matter how much they consume.

  14. In other words, “don’t confuse me with the facts” an archetypical junk science like “wine tasting” is a fraud because it is presented as having some kind of objective (if not outright scientific) basis in reality. It’s perfectly obvious and unobjectionable that factors like country of origin, price, labelling/branding etc influence the way we taste a particular wine; I myself am partial to Spanish and Chilean wines, and I tend to buy bottles in the $30 range as a minor splurge/reassurance of my socioeconomic status; obviously when I buy a $30 bottle of Erazzuriz cabernet it’s gonna hit the spot. (Equally obvious that I would like it much less if it was presented as an Austrian $12 bottle).
    But wine connoisseurs (“experts”) insist that taste is determined solely by the wine itself, not these other factors; and moreover that the differences are objective and grounded in fact (despite there being no way to quantify results nor any agreed-upon standards to evaluate them by).

    Also you don’t have to believe me, you can read about the studies for yourself,. At this point there are so many I’m amazed any sommelier is willing to do a blind taste test knowing what the outcome will be.

  15. But wine connoisseurs (“experts”) insist that taste is determined solely by the wine itself, not these other factors

    Nobody but an idiot insists that; clearly taste is determined by all sorts of things. The kind of people who wave these studies (which, yes, I have seen, they’re hard to avoid) and holler “See? It’s all fake! Two-Buck Chuck is just as good as Petrus!” are as annoying as militant atheists who claim that contradictions in the Bible (or whichever religious text they prefer to refute) and/or Very Bad Things done by religious people prove that religion is wrong and bad.

  16. Both types are examples of Militant Scientism (“If you can’t measure it with a double-blind experiment, it doesn’t exist and you’re a fool if you disagree”) and, as I say, give science itself a bad name.

  17. PlasticPaddy says:

    Re wine tasting, what is being debunked needs to be defined. I think there are several components
    1. Style, e.g. dryness, fruitiness, body, maturity
    2. Quality within the same style, I. e., entry level, average, fine
    3. Specific olfactory/tasting notes, e.g., “raspberry”, “black pepper” etc.
    All of these are subjective and depend to at least some extent on the individual palate. I would say that most people could with practice make repeatable and consistent judgments re point 1 (for me this is like assigning an observed shade of red to the shades in a child’s watercolour palette). Re point 2 we are moving into specialist territory but I think the people who can do this (not me, I fear) also make consistent and repeatable judgments. Re 3, this is very dependent on individual olfactory setup and is, as it were, ripe for debunking ☺

  18. when I visited Bulgaria, home produced wines were cheaper than bottled water.

    And I discovered that Bulgarians don’t get drunk on wine no matter how much they consume.

    In the Balkans we get drunk on one thing and one thing only: rakija/rakia/palinka. I call it the Balkan Schnapsbund. The world leading region in turning whatever fruit happens to be on hand into hard liquor.

    At least in the former Yugoslavia wine drinking was predominantly concetrated in Dalmatia, but more as a handy refreshment than a thing to get drunk on. As kids we would be served wine diluted with water (called bevanda). I don’ t know about Bulgaria, but in the Balkans it’s definitely Romania who I think of as having the biggest and richest wine culture.

  19. PlasticPaddy says:

    @nemanja
    What about slivovitz?

  20. Speaking of Hungarian, is Bolyos–as in Edmund Mikael Bolyos, the late Marie Fredriksson’s husband—a Hungarian surname? It doesn’t look particularly Swedish.

  21. “bolyó” is a dialectal variant of Hungarian word “bogyó” (berry)

    Surname from the same word.

  22. At least in the former Yugoslavia wine drinking was predominantly concentrated in Dalmatia, but more as a handy refreshment than a thing to get drunk on.
    Bikaver and generally the red wine culture of Hungary is explained as a contribution from the Racz, the Orthodox Serb refugees from the Turkish-controlled area. There were also Catholic / Croatian refugees living alongside, but apparently not involved in red wine. Before that, all wine in Hunngary was white.

  23. I visited Budapest once and thoroughly enjoyed a glass of Takler Bikaver Reserve 2006..

    Notes on the grapes involved, from Anthony J. Hawkins –
    KADARKA:
    Native grape grown in Hungary. Used to make “Egri Bikaver”, that countries best-known dry red wine blend. Currently the wine is a round, medium-bodied effort that ages fairly well, although the main ingredient is now the grape known as Blaufränkisch, thought to be a Gamay clone. Traditionally the wine was stronger and darker due to high Kardarka content, more deserving of its name “bikaver”, which translates as “bulls blood”. The grape is also currently widely grown in Bulgaria where it is known as the Gamza variety.

  24. Both types are examples of Militant Scientism (“If you can’t measure it with a double-blind experiment, it doesn’t exist and you’re a fool if you disagree”) and, as I say, give science itself a bad name.

    The point is that wine expertise, alone among the various food and drink obsessions, in fact alone in the entire genre of criticism, presents itself as objective and grounded in scientific fact. You’ll recall that almost to a person the people conducting the studies were wine lovers themselves; the point isn’t so much that there is no difference between two buck chuck and Chateau Lafitte as it is to recognize that many of those differences are external to the drink itself. The “debunking” was of the ridiculous pomposity of self-declared experts seeking to present their personal opinions as the objective truth, especially when their expertise was revealed to be nothing but hot air at the slightest pushback.

    It’s like debunking a psychic or a faith healer -no one in their right mind would believe that was done in order to discredit the spiritual dimension of existence; if anything, the psychic by their tawdry and exploitative approach was the one sullying the entire thing. When wine experts name 10 or more distinct flavors in a particular wine, including “flavors” such as pencil shavings, it’s hardly scientism to want to understand HOW they do this, and why the ratings fluctuate so widely between different experts. When Robert Parker rates wines on a scale out of a 100 based on things like aroma and bouquet, it gives the impression of objectivity in the measurement of those qualities; given how subjective and fluctuating nature of our senses, it doesn’t take a scientist to view the whole enterprise with some skepticism.

    There’s a valuable contrast to craft beer culture, which has developed an entirely different approach – one based in inclusion, pluralism, and centering the subjectivity of the experience, and a very admirable tendency to describe the basic or predominant flavour of a particular draft in a clear and straightforward way, typically by reference to the style of beer it belongs to: e.g. this one is a West Coast IPA so it’s bitter even by IPA standards. It’s not that there aren’t other flavours present – it’s simply understood that this is better left to the customer to discover by himself. This makes the experience of discovery inviting and accessible rather than confusing and convoluted; moreover it allows you to discover the nuances yourself, instead of futilely searching for the flavor of pencil shavings you’ve been assured is there.

  25. it’s worth noting that Frédéric Brochet, whose much-cited study Chemical Object Representation in the Field of Consciousness used the white wine colored red to confuse tasters, is now.. a winemaker. See ampelidae dot com..

  26. There are plenty of optical illusions as well – some may take it as a sign that nothing which is seen by eyes shall be trusted (including all the content of this blog, obviously).

  27. PlasticPaddy says:

    @finländare
    There is also PG *bukkaz and Proto-Celtic *bukko , which look like a Wanderwort borrowed to one or both. Or one of these could be from PIE *bhug and borrowed to the other. So you need to show how *Buka > *bhug > PS *byk’ or say it was loaned to all these Proto languages.

  28. John Cowan says:

    Cotton grading is my favorite example, because it’s reproducible but not explainable: inter-coder reliability is high even though graders can’t tell you why this sample is grade such-and-such and that one isn’t. They intuit what grade a particular sample is based on its appearance and feel, and they learn by apprenticeship to other graders.

  29. Wine drinking is an experiential thing. If high-end customers demand scientific explanation to why this bottle of wine is better than the other one, just give them the damned explanation. If knowing p-values and confidence intervals makes you happy, wine experts should produce them. The really advanced wines need Bayesian posterior distributions.

  30. The “debunking” was of the ridiculous pomposity of self-declared experts seeking to present their personal opinions as the objective truth, especially when their expertise was revealed to be nothing but hot air at the slightest pushback.

    Which is fine; the problem is with equally pompous self-declared experts seeking to present it as debunking any sort of knowledge of wine, or any actual quality in wine.

    There’s a valuable contrast to craft beer culture, which has developed an entirely different approach – one based in inclusion, pluralism, and centering the subjectivity of the experience

    Oh, come on. You’re contrasting the worst of wine culture with the best of beer culture as if it meant anything. I assure you there are equally pompous self-declared experts in the beer world; if you haven’t met them, count your blessings.

  31. onomatopoeic origin

    {thinking} maybe we can call them cross-species loanwords.

    Crow and Twitter in English, words for black color in Mongolian, Turkic and Japanese, etc.

    They are all borrowed from languages of our winged neighbors.

  32. @PlastiPaddy

    Slivovitz is just a type of rakija, in our language šljivovica from šljiva (plums). Other popular types are loza (grapes), Viljamovka (Williams pears), kajsijevača (apricots), dunjevača (quinces), travarica (herbs), and orehovača (walnuts). In case you’re wondering how you can ferment a walnut, it’s because they use the green walnut, i.e. the entire fruit of which we eat only the seed. Typically most regions use whatever the most plentiful local fruit happens to be – so for us in Bosnia it was the plum, in Dalmatia the grape etc. Apricots are used in some richer regions like Vojvodina. Some places get fancy with adding herbs and other flavorful things like anise but at least in Bosnia that was thought of as at best unnecessary and at worst a desecration.

    Traditionally each household would make their own rakija each year – the plums ferment for a few months in a giant barrel, until deemed “ready” by the brewmaster (ie my grandpa). Like most people, we rented the equipment for the day – the stove, the still, and the condenser; the still goes on top of the stove, and then dough made from wheat bran is used to “hermetically” seal them together. The fruit is then slowly fed into the heated still, and stirred occasionally; as it is boiling away the vapor produced gradually ambles over to the enormous condenser filled with cool water, and slowly drips out as the finished product. The first outflow is the best (i.e. highest ABV), most of the rest is “normal”, and the very end part is weak and usually distilled for a second time at the end. Typically the entire neighborhood is on hand for all this, gradually becoming sloshed as the day wears on.

    Joking aside, rakija is a sacramental drink in the Balkans, consumed at weddings, funerals, to welcome a guest, or to raise any kind of toast. Moreover, it’s widely believed to have numerous medicinal uses, the walnut one in particular. Alternative medicine in the Balkans is less about acupuncture and chiropractic and more about figuring out which specific type of rakija heals what ailment. You might wonder if rakija’s ceremonial use is problematic for the many Muslims living all over the Balkans; the answer is no. At least in Bosnia, even devout Muslims will drink rakija on these occasions unless it’s Ramadan (the prevailing ijtihad being that the Quranic prohibition is directed at wine rather than spirits more generally).

    And apparently it’s been this way for a long time – a Trappist friar who founded a monastery near Banja Luka in 1873 was appalled to observe slivovitz consumed not only by all three faiths and all social classes within them, but also by their religious leaders (may God forgive them ). He could not bear this state of affairs, so he devised a plan to teach the locals how to make prunes to preserve the fruit well into the winter, buying out the entire region’s plum harvest in the process. As a result, no rakija was made in the fall , and everything seemed to be going according to the Prior’s plan. Until one day in January when a bunch of very drunk locals showed up at his door to tearfully express their gratitude; in prior years, they explained, the slivovitz would be made in the fall and completely drunk by Christmas; but now, thanks to the prunes (which made a better drink compared to the raw plums, they did not forget to add), they could run the still in January and the drink would last the entire winter.

  33. January First-of-May says:

    Crow and Twitter in English

    The word pigeon, as well, is originally borrowed from their language, though the borrowing had been made nearly unrecognizable by language change (and also somewhat obscured by the pigeon sociolect that it was borrowed from no longer being the most prominent one).

    Of course, onomatopoeic origin does not necessarily have to involve animals; one of the current leading theories of the etymology of tinker is the literal “the one who goes tink“.

  34. Wonderful!

  35. Oh, come on. You’re contrasting the worst of wine culture with the best of beer culture as if it meant anything. I assure you there are equally pompous self-declared experts in the beer world; if you haven’t met them, count your blessings.

    A propos, I kind of got into a slight tiff with the German SVP of my company a few months ago on the subject of beer – namely, his belief that German beer was the undisputed best in the World and that the purity law was crucial to staying there. He wasn’t an expert, though, he was just a guy whose opinions were bad and wrong to the point of being hilarious. Needless to say he was equally unconvinced by my view that North America had left Europe in the dust thanks to the microbrew revolution.

    Beer people can be bad for sure, but there’s no equivalent to the wine people claiming that Napa Valley alone contains 5000 terroirs and 700 microclimates.

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    It was a sad day for my finances when I discovered that ceteris paribus, wine actually does (on average) taste better the more you pay for it. I was quite happy before that; but there is now no way of returning to my prelapsarian state of wine innocence.

  37. Same here, except that I can no longer afford the nice wines I bought in the ’90s — their prices have gone up while my income has gone down — so that I drink cheap wines again, but now with awareness of their inferior nature. On the plus side, cheap wines have gotten a lot better in the last few decades.

  38. I mean, there was a time when Côte-Rôtie was my everyday tipple!

  39. How expensive are we talking?

    I don’t mind splurging, but for me there’s always a countervailing tug of not wanting to splurge on something that marks me off as a person with money but no taste. Grey Goose Vodka eg.

  40. In the 1990s I was willing to splurge up to, say, $30, which would get me a nice French wine (sometimes even a decent Burgundy, which is my absolute favorite) or a bottle of Lagavulin (my favorite scotch). Now I try not to go above $15 or so for wine even on special occasions, and both the nice French wine and the Lag are many times their previous prices.

  41. I only discovered that there was an absolute, unbridgeable distance between top-rate wines and ordinary plonk when I had a chance to try Montrachet. It wasn’t just a matter of atmosphere.

    On the other hand, atmosphere is undoubtedly important. I remember comments by Japanese travellers who noted the difference between the wonderful experience of consuming Australian wine in Australia and the unremarkable experience of drinking Australian wine on the flight back…

  42. I used up my last bottle of Montrachet courting my wife. I regret nothing.

  43. Your last bottle?

  44. John Cowan says:

    I remember comments by Japanese travellers who noted the difference between the wonderful experience of consuming Australian wine in Australia and the unremarkable experience of drinking Australian wine on the flight back….

    From what I understand (which isn’t much), this is generally attributed to a tacit conspiracy by Australian winemakers to export the crap and keep the best for domestic sales (unlike most other winemaking countries). I admit I had no idea that “export” extended to what was on the plane, though.

  45. Your last bottle?

    Yes, I had assembled a nice little collection of Burgundy which I slowly drank my way through during the late ’90s, and I had only one bottle of Montrachet left when the time came. Now all I have left are my memories (and my wife).

  46. On the other hand, atmosphere is undoubtedly important. I remember comments by Japanese travellers who noted the difference between the wonderful experience of consuming Australian wine in Australia and the unremarkable experience of drinking Australian wine on the flight back…

    The senses of taste and smell function very differently at high altitude, low air pressure, and low humidity. The usual poster child for this is tomato juice (which tastes pleasantly umami in the air and grossly mossy as on Earth). But also come on……they’re sitting in cramped seats and drinking out of disposable cups ,….ambrosia would probably be unremarkable too

    Yes, I had assembled a nice little collection of Burgundy which I slowly drank my way through during the late ’90s, and I had only one bottle of Montrachet left when the time came. Now all I have left are my memories (and my wife).

    I’m not even that young but i was totally neglecting that it wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t just buy more of whatever you wanted whenever you wanted. Was it even available for purchase outside of France at the time?

  47. PlasticPaddy says:

    @nemanja
    Thank you for such a good answer. I was curious that a Turkish or Arabic name rakija was used. But you are right; clearly slivovitz must be made from plums. In the area near lake constance they say Obstler; this is made from cherries, pears, apples or plums (zwetschgen) ; whatever they have can be used.

  48. I’m not even that young but i was totally neglecting that it wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t just buy more of whatever you wanted whenever you wanted. Was it even available for purchase outside of France at the time?

    No, no, you’re getting hold of it from the wrong end — you could definitely buy more of whatever you wanted whenever you wanted, if you had the money… which I didn’t!

  49. @PlasticPaddy

    Oh you’re welcome, it was nice to reminisce but in truth I find it revolting to even smell let alone to drink, though social custom obliges me to do so on a fairly regular basis. It’s like a crummy version of vodka.

    Rakija/rakia is apparently the word used by the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, all derived from Turkish raki, which is apparently itself from Arabic arak, though tbh arak looks more like what I’d call a liqueur. It seems surprising that it was brought from elsewhere but in fairness a still was advanced technology at the time. Anyway, contrary to what you might expect from a Caliphate the Ottoman Empire was pretty chill about the consumption of alcohol until well into the 17th century.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    The way I heard it, everyone can tell a 100-$ wine from a 10-$ wine; about 10 people in the world can tell a 1000-$ wine from a 100-$ wine; and above that you’re just paying for the label.

    I associate pencil shavings with a very distinctive smell, which I don’t have trouble imagining in the smell of wine. Most of taste is smell, and we have about 400 functional odor receptor genes left, but we don’t all have the same set.

    It is not a coincidence that rakı poured into water looks like milk.

    Is it really that hard for Indo-Europeanists to admit that, yes, borrowing goes both ways?

    The article on *buka does say: “Comparisons with Proto-Mongolic *bugu (“stag”) (Mongolian буга (buga)) or Proto-Slavic *bykъ have been made.” And other Turkic loanwords have long been identified in Proto-Slavic and are not controversial. The trouble is that PSl *y comes from earlier *ū, and PTr had an *ū, but not in *buka.

  51. nemanja, thanks a lot for sharing the rakija story.

    I’ve noticed quite a few similarities with other liquors and distilling processes.

    Portable stills:
    https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2014/12/france-s-traveling-distillers-a-dying-breed

    Feni (a cashew-apple-based brandy? eae-de-vie? which has come up elsewhere at languagehat):
    https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/food-news/the-interesting-story-behind-goas-feni/photostory/67788429.cms?picid=67788445

    Soju/shōchū (grain- or root-based liquors):
    https://vinepair.com/articles/soju-shochu-sake-difference/

    The first outflow is the best (i.e. highest ABV), most of the rest is “normal”, and the very end part is weak and usually distilled for a second time at the end.

    AFAIK, in cognac and whisky distilling, these are called foreshots/heads, midcut, and feints/tails, and only the midcut can be used as is. The other two are usually either redistilled or used for other purposes.

  52. “bolyó” is a dialectal variant of Hungarian word “bogyó” (berry)

    Thanks a lot, but what is said here?

    BOLYOS, (boly-os) mn. tt. bolyos-t vagy ~at, tb. ~ak. Bolyféle rakásokkal, csoportokkal bővelkedő. Bolyos, hangyabolyos mező. V. ö. BOLY.
    https://www.arcanum.hu/en/online-kiadvanyok/Lexikonok-a-magyar-nyelv-szotara-czuczorfogarasi-55BEC/b-57DFC/bolyos-592A3/

    And boly is ‘anthill’:
    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/boly#Hungarian

    My Hungarian is pretty much nonexistent, I can only guess that rakás means ‘heap, pile’ and csoport ‘group’, and the whole means something along the lines of ‘abundant in heaps/mound and groups of … bolyféle escapes me.

  53. @juha

    https://fis.ba/artikal/kazan-za-pecenje-rakije-100l/

    This is the type of still I remember from my youth. It’s not actually portable in the literal sense – it has to be taken apart and rinsed out at the end of the day. This was the one moment where us children were absolutely forbidden from being anywhere in its vicinity – the fruit mash (“kom”) is incredibly dangerous when hot and has to be handled very carefully (before being fed to the pigs the next day).

    Speaking of root based spirits, this was not unknown in the Balkans but was usually only done when frost or something other calamity devastated the plum harvest. The tuber of choice was the turnip; one thing I read described the resulting rakija as “smelling of earth”, so it’s not very surprising that it was only used as a last resort.

    I’m very partial to bourbon, and I like a good vodka as well. But in all my lfie I’ve never had rakija outside of various ceremonies or social functions (perhaps that’s why?) . But the communatarian ethos of its production is something that i defintiely fondly look back on.

  54. “Slivovitz is just a type of rakija, in our language šljivovica from šljiva (plums). Other popular types are loza (grapes), Viljamovka (Williams pears), kajsijevača (apricots), dunjevača (quinces), travarica (herbs), and orehovača (walnuts).”

    Great description. If I can also add “kruškovača” (pears), “trešnjevača” (cherries), “višnjevača” (sour cherries) and “travarica” (herbs ie. flavoured with herbs not made from herbs. šljivovica is the most famous because plums have a higher sugar content than most other fruits, giving you a more potent liquor. Making your own rakija is almost a birthright – every family does it. Slaughtering a pig is another autumn thing, though this might be a wider central European thing (German Schlachtmonat).

    Re wine: Almost always drunk mixed, either with water (bevanda) or with sparkling mineral water (gemišt). When I was growing up, there was always a carafe of wine on the table – though not for us kids , except occasionally.
    I’ve often wondered if mixing wine is an ancient Mediterranean tradition. Romans and Greeks mixed their wine with water, and were appalled that those barbarians in Gaul drank their wine straight.

  55. There is also chacha, which can also be made not just from grape pomace, but from other fruits and berries—mulberries, apricots, quince—as well:

    https://georgiastartshere.com/10-traditional-chacha-you-need-to-try/

  56. January First-of-May says:

    The way I heard it, everyone can tell a 100-$ wine from a 10-$ wine; about 10 people in the world can tell a 1000-$ wine from a 100-$ wine; and above that you’re just paying for the label.

    I think it might actually be (nearly) an order of magnitude below that – (almost) everyone can tell a $2 wine from a $20 wine, but very few people can tell a $20 wine from a $200 wine.

    By the time we get to $2000, we might be out of “paying for the label” territory (that’s more like $500) and into “silly gimmick” territory (e.g. ludicrously old wines, or deliberately limited edition wines); IIRC, it had been reported that the most expensive wines tend to taste terrible (as in possibly worse than the $2 wines), because they went too far on the gimmicks.

    (…At least it’s not quite the same kind of thing as seen with many other foods, where “the most expensive” is usually about adding random extra truffles, caviar, or – I wish I was making it up – gold leaf, with little regard to how it actually impacts the taste.)

  57. ludicrously old wines

    I never know what to think about those occasional tastings of wine from 1771 (Margaux: “On the palate distinctly sweet, medium full-bodied, with positive flavour and remarkably good acidity”) or 1806 (Lafite: “Palish warm amber with orange highlights; lovely sweet, rich, stably bouquet with touch of varnish” — I quote Michael Broadbent); I am willing to accept that someone who spends their life tasting wines professionally develops the ability to discount elements that would overwhelm an inexperienced taster and sniff out some sort of essence of the wine, but I’m also pretty sure there’s a fair amount of self-delusion involved. At least he says of the 1784 Lafite “alas, not drinkable!”

  58. Does cyrillic still banish my comments into moderation or is it something else?

  59. I haven’t found any of your comments in moderation (I even checked the spam folder); when did this happen?

  60. Yes, it does. My posting last night on Irish in Cyrillic had only two Cyrillic words, and it “vanished into air, into thin air”.

    Update: No, it didn’t! In general, a little bit of non-Latin is tolerated.

  61. Dammit.

  62. “I haven’t found any of your comments in moderation (I even checked the spam folder); when did this happen?”

    Maybe 6 hours ago

  63. I used to think all the stuff about “robustness” or “wellroundedness” was silly, but by now the biggest quibble I have with wine culture is actually the abuse of pre-established flavor adjectives in novel and nontransparent senses. “Cherry-like”, “currant-like” or “raspberry-like” wine never actually tastes of (let alone actually contains) cherries or currants or raspberries, which honestly strikes me as outright false advertizing. If, behind these lies, there exists any consistent sense of “oinological cherry-like-ness” at all is kind of a secondary problem.

  64. RE: Cheap Bulgarian wine.

    Bulgarian wine exports during communism shifted to really cheap stuff. Since then, it has made a recovery in quality. In particular, I know that Мечо Вино (related or ideantical to the subject of this post) was exported to other COMECON countries. I had the misfortune to try in once. It did not taste like wine at all. And the focus on rakia seems to be a northwestern Balkan (Seriban, Croatian) thing; at least here, its place in ritual is taken by red wine.

    EDIT: talking about wine exports, not locally consumed wines.

    EDIT2: communal distilleries, we have similar traditions, but the sacred drink is wine, not rakia. Grape rakia, at least, is usually made from the leftovers of wine production. When it comes to other fruit, yes. With the exception of rakia made from Muscat grapes.

  65. the biggest quibble I have with wine culture is actually the abuse of pre-established flavor adjectives in novel and nontransparent senses.

    Yes, that bugs me too.

  66. Just came across this in Hannah Goldfield’s New Yorker review of the Riddler, a new champagne bar and restaurant in the West Village:

    But, if part of the goal is to make champagne more accessible, the staff could do with some training in how to talk about it. One night, a server helpfully told me that a blanc de blancs was tart, like a green apple; he was absolutely right, and I loved it. But then he described a brut rosé as “focussed.” Focussed on what? Was it studying for a test? On another night, a different server leaned heavily on the term “precision-driven,” and, as I sipped the taste he’d poured me, he said, “So, did I nail the notes? A little bit of precision?” Perhaps a sommelier would understand what this was supposed to mean; I still have no idea.

    There are no tasting notes on the wine list. I guess you already know—or don’t care—what a forty-five-hundred-dollar bottle of 2000 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay tastes like if you have forty-five hundred dollars to spend on a bottle of 2000 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay. The rest of us are welcome to sample by-the-glass offerings until we land on something we like, but, personally, I’d appreciate the opportunity to actually learn something about champagne, beyond the claim that one of the female winemakers is “a total doll” or that one of the male winemakers plows his fields with horse-drawn wagons.

    Preach!

  67. A lot of ‘Bulgarian’ wine exports in the 1980s was actually South African. Sanctions busting was a nice little earner for the communists.

  68. The things you learn!

  69. David Marjanović says:

    “Cherry-like”, “currant-like” or “raspberry-like” wine never actually tastes of (let alone actually contains) cherries or currants or raspberries, which honestly strikes me as outright false advertizing.

    You ain’t seen nuthin yet.

    So, I was in Poland. I don’t drink; alcohol stinks, in higher concentrations it burns, I see no point in getting drunk, so I have no reason to drink any.

    “Ah, but you have to try malinówka! It doesn’t taste of alcohol, it’s sweet!” “I didn’t like alcohol, and then I tried malinówka!”

    OK, OK, I tried.

    I don’t know how that’s physically possible, but this raspberry distillate neither smells nor tastes like alcohol. However, it isn’t sweet either. Not even a little bit.

    “That’s sweet alcohol. When alcohol tastes like that, it’s called ‘sweet’.”

    I still see no reason to drink it.

  70. Wine tasting is certainly where it is the worst, but there are many other domains of gustation in which it is conventional to describe flavors with terms that are, at best, impressionistic. Do grape-flavored lollipops and sodas actually taste like grapes?

  71. Language hat: I initially wanted to comment on the Bulgarian translation of the title of, and content of the novel, and then I got immersed into the discussion about wine.

    The Bulgarian title is “Часът на бика”. “бик” is “bull”. My time for editing this comment is almost over, and I will follow later.

  72. See, that’s why you should not comment when you’ve barely woken up: I was thinking of Ivan Efremov’s novel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bull%27s_Hour

  73. Ah yes, “sweet” meaning “fruity” and not “sugary”, that’s another mainstay of weird alcohol terminology.

    The trouble is that PSl *y comes from earlier *ū

    Though it’s trouble only if we’re assuming the word got in Slavic pre-vowel shift. As seen from the Hungarian though, there must have been a Bulghar variety around that also shifted this word to *y for some reason. (Even loaning from early Hungarian itself could be contemplated I suppose, but perhaps early attestations would force assuming this to be from pre-895 Hungarian in Etelköz or Levédia, which sounds less probable than the premise of Hungarian → Slavic loans later on.)

  74. @JPystynen Ah yes, “sweet” meaning “fruity” and not “sugary”, that’s another mainstay of weird alcohol terminology.

    yet another weirdness – my niece tells me that alcohol in a biochemistry lab is described as ‘dry’ when it contains no water..

    back in the 90s when we had money and no children, I bought Bordeaux futures, 1998 Margaux Pavillon Rouge, for less than $30 per bottle. First son was born in 1998, on his 18th birthday we drank the last bottle. When I checked prices that was a $300 bottle..
    Now the 2018 futures for that wine are $195. My income has not gone up by 600% so I guess I’ll never drink that wine again..

    as languagehat says, the only consolation is, cheap wines are better than they used to be.
    South African wines bought in S. Africa are the best value I know of, can still get a terrific wine for under $20.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    “sweet” meaning “fruity” and not “sugary”

    It hardly tasted fruity either. I can’t remember exactly, and the taste wasn’t intense in any way, but it was more something I’d associate with something brown than with a red fruit.

    alcohol in a biochemistry lab is described as ‘dry’ when it contains no water..

    That makes perfect sense. 🙂 Indeed, alcohol is used to dry DNA!

  76. @juha: Hungarian suffix -féle = -like, sort of

  77. For Russian speakers, posting a relevant link to the scene where Ostap Bender sells his moonshine recipes for making alcohol out of anything, including a barstool, to desparate Americans. Also mentions “Pervatch”, the first, best quality run out of the still.

    http://fandea.ru/676-kak-ostap-bender-prodal-recept-samogona-amerikancam.html

  78. Thanks for that — it’s been years since I read «Золотой теленок». Reminds me of Venichka’s recipes…

  79. @GDoorenbos

    Thanks a lot!

  80. Apropos the social role and/or higher calling of SciFi, I came across this review
    https://newrepublic.com/article/155978/science-fictions-wonderful-mistakes
    which seems to make a point that the genre has no higher calling and is just there to amuse and entertain.

    Maybe the Eastern block Sci-Fi was genuinely different, then? Trying to find an outlet for the ideas and questions about the contemporary age which couldn’t be pushed through censorship w/o a guise?

  81. seems to make a point that the genre has no higher calling and is just there to amuse and entertain.

    No, it’s not saying that, it’s saying that the ideas that sf will teach you science and predict the future are nonsense (which they are); sf, like any form of literature, is a way of talking about how we live and how we might live otherwise, but the “otherwise” range is (or can be, if the author isn’t lazy) much greater in sf. Yes, Eastern bloc sf had to deal with authoritarianism and censorship, but western sf had to deal with consumer culture and the various absurdities of western life — the details aren’t as important as the fact of seeing from a different perspective. Eastern sf had its silly, badly written products (see my description of Туманность Андромеды) as well as its great high points (the Strugatskys), just as the western version did. They’re variants of the same phenomenon.

  82. description of Туманность Андромеды

    wasn’t Efremov’s main point to circumvent a different censorship restriction, the one about erotica? By shrewdly weaving in the ideological talking points of the day, such as the one about supremacy of the Soviet system over Maoism, to win approvals?

  83. His thesis seems to be that 60s sci fi was remarkably diverse in terms of style and subject matter despite getting everything wrong. He namechecks a number of authors in support of this view – predictably but cringingly they’re all white men – and the novels he describes sound like sub-pulp level trash. I can’t see why anyone would read garbage like Roger Zelazny or Poul Anderson in 2019 other than nostalgia.

    Communist (“Eastern”) sci fi was generally more like a highbrow (ok, middlebrow) literary category than a cheap pulpy entertainment. But at its best, it produced Stanislaw Lem – a formidable candidate for the greatest sci fi writer of all time – and it’s probably fair to say Lem was freer to pursue his densely intellectual and literary novels under communism.

  84. David Eddyshaw says:

    @nemanja:

    I think you’ll find that Samuel Delany is not, in fact, what North Americans call a “white man.” Nor are his novels sub-pulp trash.

  85. the novels he describes sound like sub-pulp level trash. I can’t see why anyone would read garbage like Roger Zelazny or Poul Anderson in 2019 other than nostalgia.

    I take it you haven’t actually read them; they’re not “sub-pulp trash” at all, even if they don’t fulfill today’s demands for unimpeachable representations of everyone. And what David Eddyshaw said.

  86. I’ve definitely read Zelazny and Anderson. I haven’t read Delaney – I don’t doubt his Yoda-syntax character is a literary marvel. But seriously, “the coming of age of a young economic adventurer named Ghyl Tarvoke”? “a band of medieval British holy crusaders gets diverted from France by an invasion of alien tyrants”? “a future war between Mankind and armies of “mechanical killers,” to which Saint Thomas More is summoned from the past”?

    These are plot summaries of the novels in the anthology being reviewed, but they read more like vicious parodies of bad sci-fi.

    Oh and thanks for the correction on Delaney – I was referring to the namechecks of authors who aren’t part of the anthology (since those authors, including a white lady – diversity win!- were bound to be mentioned). Asimov, Amis, Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury, Gibson, Wolfe, O’Brien, Disch, Sladek, Herbert, Smith, Kornbluth, Gernsback. L Ron Hubbard! Clean sweep! And in an article touting the diversity of the writing produced by this bunch!

    But I do like how my pointing out this out is read as an insolent demand for unimpeachable representation.

  87. I have no problem with pointing out lack of diversity; I try to do it myself. I do have a problem with smearing perfectly decent sf as “garbage.”

  88. John Cowan says:

    To begin with, sf is sometimes predictive, and not by accident. Heinlein’s 1941 story “Solution Unsatisfactory” misses the Bomb (in favor of going straight to fallout) but here’s the money quote:

    “It’s like this: Once the secret is out—and it will be out if we ever use the stuff!—the whole world will be comparable to a room full of men, each armed with a loaded .45. They can’t get out of the room and each one is dependent on the good will of every other one to stay alive. All offense and no defense. See what I mean?”

    I don’t doubt his Yoda-syntax character is a literary marvel

    Not a character, but a Sprachbund: an region where all its languages, even though they are spoken outside the area as well, have locally become SOV. Which is perfectly reasonable; about half the world’s languages are SOV, after all. Yoda-speak is OSV (or OVSA, in sentences with auxiliary verbs), which is extremely rare. And yes, Delany pulls it off unerringly.

    “a band of medieval British holy crusaders gets diverted from France by an invasion of alien tyrants”

    Pulp? Sure. Now consider these:

    “Young man leaves home, meets a monster and tears him apart with his bare hands, cuts the monster’s mother’s head off. Later he becomes king and is killed by a dragon.” Pulp fantasy. (Tolkien has a passage somewhere where he criticizes the habit of reducing fiction to its plot motifs.)

    “Two young people fall in love, but both their parents disapprove and the children wind up dead.” Pulp romance.

    “God created the world and it was good, mostly. A man was born, lived for 33 years, and died. Then the world came to an end.”

    In any case, The High Crusade is a subversion of typical conquest narratives: not only do the primitive savages beat off the colonists (who are genocidal to boot), they also return to the would-be conquistadors’ homeland and take it over, converting them to the primitives’ way of life. Very postmodern. Card told a similar tale in 1996, much more self-consciously of course: both authors are products of their time.

    But in any case, here’s my take on the review. The writer not only loves these books but thinks highly of them as well. The tone of the review, especially the first half, is nasty snark, because nasty snark is the way to get published nowadays. But once you get past that to the details, it’s actually praise, not scorn.

    As for the evils of the past, there’s no doubt that Andre Nortons, C. L. Moores, and U. K. Le Guins didn’t grow on trees, and if they did, they were trees buried in the middle of a large, dark forest. But what is history but a chronicle of the sins and follies of humankind? It’s natural to condemn our ancestors for them, but without them we would not be us.

  89. David Marjanović says:

    Actually Comment-Topic-Verb Yodaspeak is.

    “a band of medieval British holy crusaders gets diverted from France by an invasion of alien tyrants”?

    Sounds fun! I’ll read it.

    “a future war between Mankind and armies of “mechanical killers,” to which Saint Thomas More is summoned from the past”?

    Hasta la vista, baby.

  90. David Eddyshaw says:

    I haven’t read Delaney

    Yes, I see that.
    I am pretty certain you can’t have read any Gene Wolfe, either.

  91. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re ritualism (and skipping over tsuris about sci-fi authors I mostly haven’t read since my teens), the most recent time one of my kids was baptized I brought a bottle of high-end slivovitz (the Jelinek “Gold,” with 10 years of barrel age) in to church to pour out for anyone who wished to celebrate in that fashion. (As well as a bottle of Old Overholt for those interested in trading in Balkan customs for American ones rather than vice versa.)

  92. Your condescending certainty has lead you astray – I HAVE read Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun – decades ago now, and I remember enjoying it but it didn’t leave a lasting impression. The Baru Cormorant series feels like a similar type of story being told by a more talented and imaginative writer.

    Just to be clear I love pulpy novels – it’s just that early American sci fi is shitty pulp and I prefer eg the ER Burroughs Barsoom novels. There’s nothing more tedious than pulp that thinks it’s serious literature.

  93. Stu Clayton says:

    The distinction between shitty pulp and superior pulp reminds me of one somewhere attributed to Tolstoy. Asked what the difference is between state violence and revolutionary violence, he said it’s the difference between cat shit and dog shit.

    Anyone familiar with these two animal species will recognize that Tolstoi is expressing a clear preference. Dog shit has character, whereas cat shit is revolting without mitigation.

  94. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    Nemanja, do yourself a favour, get a copy of The Fifth Head of Cerberus!

  95. There’s nothing more tedious than pulp that thinks it’s serious literature.

    A dubious proposition in any case, but irrelevant to early American sf, which had no pretensions whatever to being serious literature.

  96. PlasticPaddy says:

    One could equally find “serious literature that thinks it is pulp” tedious, say Ruiz-Zafon “the shadow of the wind”, where I would say the Gothic elements were a bit overripe. Compare Neil Gaiman “American Gods” or “Neverwhere”.

  97. John Cowan says:

    Your condescending certainty

    I at least disclaim all condescension[*]; it’s simply that as a low-context American and an inveterate geeksplainer (we come in condescending and non-condescending varieties), I always say more than other people consider necessary.

    [*] ObHat: Originally the name of a specifically upper-class virtue: the ability to join in with commoners on a level of equality when that is appropriate, as when the local lord plays (original, brutal, whole-village-against-village) football and gets the shit kicked out of him by some hulking peasant and then laughs it off. With increasing social equality, it switched to being the name of a character defect. Sam: Johnson was asked to write the eulogy of a woman whose only virtue seemed to be her “condescension to her inferiours [sic]”. He replied that it might be difficult to discover who the lady’s “inferiours” actually were, punning on the still-usual class sense and the modern sense of inferior character.  —Now that’s geeksplaining.

  98. David Eddyshaw says:

    I went to school in Glasgow, and am therefore entitled to be condescending to all those who did not have that advantage. It’s right there in the Act of Union; originally we were only permitted to be condescending to the English, but case law has broadened the application substantially since then, essentially to everybody except Mauritians and (of course) Australians.

    We didn’t have contexts at all in Scotland in those days. We had it hard.

  99. English “condescend” is of course of Latin origin (through Old French, I’ve been told). Russian had a word on a similar model, снисходительно (adverb + transformations to adjective and verb forms). Meaning is the same as “condescend”, but also lenient(ly) and gracious(ly).

  100. Yes, that’s a word I always have trouble with, since it doesn’t match up with a word in any other language I’m acquainted with.

  101. John Cowan says:

    I went to school in Glasgow

    To the High School, no less.

    I don’t remember the name of my father’s secondary school, but I do know that it had the rare distinction of conferring an A.B. on its graduates. Therefore he was Thomas A. Cowan, A.B., B.A., M.A., Ph.D (Phil.), LL.B., S.J.D. and could in principle have been known as Doctor Doctor Cowan. (The Depression was a good time to get plenty of education).

    For myself, “neither doctor nor master nor even bachelor am I, but plain John of New Avalon.”

  102. David Marjanović says:

    Heiße Magister, heiße Doktor gar!

  103. Yes, well, ein heiße Magister/Doktor is very much what I’m not. Also, I’m used to gar having negative polarity, as if ‘(not) at all’, which confused me. But I see it doesn’t necessarily, especially in Austria/Switzerland.

  104. That’s a verb, not an adjective; there’s an implied “ich” before it.

  105. Yes.

  106. I wanted to put in a few comments about science fiction on this thread, but I kept getting interrupted. So this may be a bit lengthy—and technical.

    Science fiction is not about, by and large, attempts to predict the future course of history or of scientific development. The vast majority of science fiction is “soft” to a greater or lesser degree—conflicting with what we know about the way the universe works. Science fiction is about the stylistic trappings, not the plausibility of a narrative. It annoys me when people claim that Star Wars, with easy faster-than-light travel and a powerful “Force” that enables telepathy, telekinesis, and precognitive clairvoyance, is not reall science fiction. Certainly those elements are not realistic, but that does not make the story “fantasy” (at least if that term is being used in contradistinction to “science fiction”); it is still science fiction, because it involves alien planets, spacecraft, and a civilization that seems to run primarily on technological lines.

    There are probably stories that could be told either as fantasy or soft science fiction, depending on the style of the presentation. This may be harder in a visual format such as a film than in writing, since the author of a written work can chose more easily what elements to leave out or gloss over, and which ones to emphasize, setting the tone of a work. Of course, many people think that any fantasy or science fiction works are of lesser merit compared with supposedly more realistic genres of fiction. Lord Dunsany mocked earlier critiques of his myth-making works like The Gods of Pegana in chapter 20 of The King of Elfland’s Daughter. The completely fictional pantheons he developed had been criticized as being uninteresting on account of being unrealistic, so, in the midst of his main narrative, Dunsany seemingly switches over to writing historical fiction, describing how the horn of unicorn slain in the course of the story ended up in the possession of King Francis I of France in 1530. There is also another important objection to the commonplace dismissal of speculative fiction that comes from an entirely different direction. Just because writing describes people interacting with a superficially “realistic” (that is, not in any way fantastical) fictional world does not mean that the setting is really reflective of how the actual world works. I know quite a number of people who find the works of Pat Conroy to be extremely powerful, and Conroy’s novels are filled with interesting people. However, those people’s personalities have typically been shaped by utterly unrealistic circumstances—lifetimes full of so many zany events that I find I cannot take the people or the settings they inhabit as serious explorations of how real humans might react to potentially real sequences of events. A story about (among many other things) being rescued from a gang rape by one’s pet tiger and one’s older brother who goes on to become an ecoterrorist does not really seem more realistic than a story about hunting for a killer armed with a deadly slingshot in a seventy-story castle as its hallways are filling up with flood waters.

    On the other hand, there are still differences between the genres. I know that I have mentioned before that I have discovered that I can write fantasy, or I can write very hard science fiction. I simply know too much about actual science to give narrative descriptions that invoke fake scientific principles—at least iin a way that I find esthetically satisfying.

    In general, it is a mistake, of course, to try to learn science from science fiction. That does not necessarily mean that science fiction authors are poorly informed, although many certainly are. It does not take much reading of A. E. van Vogt’s oeuvre, for instance, to realize that van Vogt knew effectively nothing about science, except what was common to most adults of his generation. Sometimes, his relative ignorance is no problem whatsoever (as in The Voyage of the Space Beagle); however, other times his use of scientific terminology with evidently no clue what he was talking about could be really distracting (for example, in Rogue Ship). Other authors, such as John W. Campbell, at least tried to keep up with scientific developments, and his magazine published popular science articles in addition to fiction. Campbell’s problem was his inability to distinguish science from pseudoscience rubbish, and for a time, he fell under L. Ron Hubbard’s spell. However, Campbell did know enough to come up with one really original idea which—in general outline, if not in the details—turned out to be a real physical phenomenon, which no scientist had ever previously considered.

    I have given a talk—aimed at an audience of physicists—several times that discusses this interesting bit of history. The topic is not straightforward, related to the infinities that arise in relativistic quantum theory. In 1928, Paul Dirac published the correct relativistic quantum description of the electron. (As well as giving the correct relativistic effects, the Dirac Equation also described the electron’s intrinsic spin angular momentum.) One of the features of the theory was that it supported an equal number of particle states with negative energies, in addition to the usual positive-energy states that we see normal electrons occupying. In 1929, Dirac further explained that these negative-energy states must be filled in the vacuum state—if by “vacuum” we mean the lowest-energy state of the theory. The the Pauli Exclusion Principle (that no two electrons can be in the same state) means that electrons cannot lose energy and cascade downward into the negative-energy states, because those states are already filled. However, Hermann Weyl quickly pointed out that the negative-energy electrons could be excited into positive-energy states, leaving behind “holes” in the negative energy; these holes would behave like negatively-charged particles with the same masses as elementary electrons. Wolfgang Pauli gave a fairly negative evaluation of the Dirac theory in his 1932 Handbuch der Physik article, since the theory predicted these “antiparticles” that did not seem to exist. However, by the time Pauli’s article actually saw print, the anti-electron had actually been discovered in cosmic rays by Carl Anderson, giving a beautiful confirmation of the theory. (In contrast, when Anderson and Seth Neddermeyer unexpectedly discovered the muon—which is essentially exactly like an electron, except much heavier—a few years later, I. I. Rabi famously quipped, “Who ordered that?”)

    John W. Campbell, after having read about all these scientific discoveries, published a remarkable novelette in the March 1939 Issue of Astounding Science Fiction (under his pseudonym “Don A. Stuart”), entitled “Cloak of Aesir.” (The issue also includes an interesting editorial comparing science fiction predictions of super-powerful microscopes with the real electron microscope. Plus, I learned from these old issues that Listerine was once marketed as a treatment for dandruff.) “Cloak of Aesir” was a sequel to an early (October 1937) novelette called “Out of Night” (when published together in collections, they are sometimes together called “The Story of Aesir“), which was about human rebels using a powerful new technology against aliens who had already conquered the Earth. The ice-cold cloak, capable of absorbing whatever energy was thrown at it, was unexplained in the first story, but in “Cloak of Aesir,” Campbell provided a sketch of an explanation. Because of the existence of infinite numbers of negative-energy electrons all around us in space, all the time, it was possible to reshuffle those infinite states to absorb extra energy.

    It is not actually possible to violate energy conservation this way. However, in the late 1960s, Stephen Adler, John Bell, and my thesis advisor Roman Jackiw discovered that there were other conservation laws that were broken because of the presence of the “Dirac sea” of negative-energy electrons. The argument, in its crudest form, was essentially Campbell’s—that because the negative-energy states are infinite in number, a reshuffling of the electrons occupying the negative-energy states could change the total amount of a quantity that, according to the rules of classical physics, ought to be conserved. (The infinite collection of states is used rather like the infinite number of guest rooms in the paradox of Hilbert’s Hotel.) This is known as an “anomaly.” Adler and Jackiw are still waiting for their Nobel prize for discovering this, although Bell’s death has made it less likely that they will ever win.

    Of course, there was no connection between Campbell’s 1939 work of fiction and the discovery of the chiral anomaly decades later. There must have been thousands of potentially-plausible-sounding suggestions for the forms that new physics might take by pulp authors in the early and middle of the twentieth century (dozens coming just from Campbell, probably), and there was nothing special to recommend the vague idea offered in “Cloak of Aesir.” Still, I think that it is extremely interesting that a science fiction author and editor came up with an idea (which physicists at the time would almost certainly have scoffed at as nonsensical) that, much later, was found to be related to a genuinely new (and unexpected) physical effect.

  107. Stu Clayton says:

    The immediately preceeding two lines have made their way into everyday speech, as a little “saying” indicating sardonic self-pity (just the thing for Trump, if he were not the inveterately whiney dumbass that he is):

    # Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
    Und bin so klug als wie zuvor; #

  108. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mephistopheles (impersonating F, and dispensing wholesome career advice to an undergraduate) later famously sums up the merits of a combined descriptive and interactive approach in his anti-Chomskyan

    Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie
    und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.

  109. David Marjanović says:

    In case you weren’t joking: “a hot master/doctor” would be ein heißer. To get heiße in the masculine singular, you need to resort to the definite article: der heiße.

    Pro-drop like this, where the 1sg ending -e carries all the load, is limited to poetry and what used to be called telegram style.

    Gar ( ~ “even”) has simply become rare outside of gar nicht (“not at all”) or the positive, end-stressed sogar (“even”).

    Trump

    As a narcissist, he’s literally incapable of thinking like this. His perfection is axiomatic.

    Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie
    und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.

    Quite so. Goethe has been mocked for this colorless gold’n green tree, but he was right.

  110. Yup. I’ve often quoted those lines (though mostly to myself).

  111. In case you weren’t joking: “a hot master/doctor” would be ein heißer. To get heiße in the masculine singular, you need to resort to the definite article: der heiße.

    I was joking, of course: I do, when the wind is north-northwest, know a verb from an adjective. I originally wrote der heiße but decided that the semantics required an indefinite article and forgot to patch up the adjective. Thus it is to manipulate another language as a machine rather than organically: all too frequently you forget to flip the ADJECTIVE AGREEMENT switch from STRONG to WEAK, or things even worse.

    Even in my own language, when I am editing a posting and change a subject from singular to plural or vice versa, I grow annoyed that I have to find and change the verb too, and then abashed when I realize how many other adjustments I’d have to make in most other languages. In a Bantu language, for example, if I changed the subject to another noun with a different gender, I’d have to fix up the prefixes on most of the words in the sentence.

    As for gar, that’s precisely how negative-polarity items evolve. A term starts out being used in mostly negative contexts and eventually cannot be used anywhere else, like the English intensifier at all. We can say “I didn’t like the food at all” (i.e. to a zero degree) or “Did you like the food at all?” (i.e. to a non-zero degree however small). But *”I liked the food at all” at some point became completely impossible, a semantic tongue-twister. It has to be something like “I liked the food somewhat / to some extent” (and indeed “I didn’t like it somewhat” is also problematic, though not quite as much). Note that the negation must be syntactic and not semantic: *”I disliked the food at all” is every bit as bad.

    When the anglophone Irish and their American relatives began to use any more in positive contexts (apparently a calque) it struck, and still strikes, other speakers as bizarre: “I won’t do it any more” is fine, “I will do it any more” (i.e. from now on), impossible, though it is now totally natural in those specific varieties. (I wonder if this positive sense affected the American spelling of any more as anymore, showing that it is decoupled from the usual use of any, which replaces some in negative contexts.)

    Eventually Jespersen’s cycle turns, and the negative-polarity item will either eat the negator, as in nicht < ne Wicht or Italian niente < ne(c) entem; or else suppress it altogether, as in Fr. pas and its relatives, or the Late Latin non rem natam ‘nothing, lit. no thing born’ > French rien and Spanish nada (one of those “too good to be true, but it really is true” etymologies).

  112. January First-of-May says:

    one of those “too good to be true, but it really is true” etymologies

    I’m reminded of how Joachimsthaler (literally, “[coin] of St. Joachim’s valley”) became thaler (and thence dollar, etc.) in Western Europe, and jefimok in (17th century) Russia.

  113. Neanderthal currency was no doubt named Neander thaler

  114. PlasticPaddy says:

    @jc
    I will do it, any more: no
    I will do it, so: yes (this is either maise or mar sin)

  115. PlasticPaddy says:

    @jc
    Maybe you were thinking of sentences like “where were you at all?” which make limited sense outside Ireland.

  116. John Cowan says:

    Plastic Paddy: Here’s a citation from Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary: “A servant being instructed how to act, will answer ‘I will do it any more’.” (Northern Ireland, c. 1898) So it may be obsolete on the island, and for all I know it may be a calque of Scottish Gaelic rather than Irish.

    I understand “Where were you at all” fine, but I can’t say it and I don’t know why not. It looks perfectly cromulent, but I just can’t.

  117. nemanja: if you want to know Samuel Delany’s current opinion on the Sapir – Whorf hypothesis you can just ask him about it.

  118. PlasticPaddy says:

    @jc
    Apologies: there is a more recent citation of anymore used positively (Belfast:1981) in Wikipedia. I think there is also an expression “from this out”, which is either a calque of as seo/sin amach or existed first in English and was calqued in Irish.

  119. David Eddyshaw says:

    abashed when I realize how many other adjustments I’d have to make in most other languages.

    Kusaal, as befitting its status as the Ultimate Human Language, has none of that verb agreement nonsense at all, not even with the person of the subject. (The sole apparent exception is an illusion caused by an understandable but incorrect identification of word boundaries after imperatives.)

  120. ? from here on out > as seo amach > from this out

  121. Back to Definitely, maybe. Alexander Scriabin planned to transform the world with his music, but before he could do that sudden sepsis killed him. It was in 1915 and the world has already begun a transformation. In a different manner. Too many Scriabins?

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