CONFABULATE.

I just tried the Merriam-Webster Vocabulary Quiz (via Anatoly) and found it diverting enough, but one thing vexed me. They told me I was wrong when I chose “lie” rather than “chat” for confabulate, and I was taken aback, because while “lie” is pretty imprecise for what I think of as the meaning of the word (‘create material to fill in gaps in one’s memory’), I have never, to my knowledge, seen or heard anyone use it to mean ‘chat.’ I realize that is the etymological and original meaning (Henry More, “this body and the Stars confabulating together”), but I would have thought it was not part of current usage. I turn therefore to the Varied Reader. Do you talk about confabulating with your friends?

Comments

  1. I (very) occasionally hear “confab” as either a noun or a verb meaning “chat,” but never the full word. It feels very corporate buzzwordy, the kind of the thing that might be uttered in the same sentence as “let’s touch base.”

  2. The first thing that came to mind for me is “confab”, like Aaron noted. It maybe my sector (media), but it seems to be a popular word now when otherwise you might have said conference or seminar …

  3. I’ve heard “confabulate” for “chat”, but more often “confab”, and I suspect when the long version is used it’s with a knowing nod to the accepted abbreviation. “Confab” strikes me as a rather quaint word currently being re-adopted by certain trendier young things.

  4. Indeed, m-w.com says:
    1: to talk informally : chat
    2: to hold a discussion : confer
    3: to fill in gaps in memory by fabrication
    I believe they order senses by decreasing frequency. NID3, the direct ancestor of m-w.com, does not even list the third sense, first recorded by the OED in 1924. RHD2, AHD4, and OED2 give only senses 1 and 3 in that order; the latest OED2 quotation for sense 1 is 1873, which makes it current as of fascicle publication time.
    As for current currency, the first use of sense 1 in a Google search is ghit #49; all the preceding pages (and this page is #11!) are either sense 3 or lexicographical in nature.

  5. J. W. Brewer says:

    Maybe it depends on whether the friends with whom one chats are fabulists? (Note the tension between the still-pejorative vibe of “fabulist” and the very positive vibe of “fabulous,” whose Beatlemania-era clipped form “fab” was semi-revived more recently by the tv show familiarly known as AbFab.)
    I love the specificity of John Cowan’s phrase “current currency”!

  6. The Help on m-w.com says:
    The order of senses within an entry is historical: the sense known to have been first used in English is entered first. This is not to be taken to mean, however, that each sense of a multisense word developed from the immediately preceding sense. It is altogether possible that sense 1 of a word has given rise to sense 2 and sense 2 to sense 3, but frequently sense 2 and sense 3 may have arisen independently of one another from sense 1.

  7. I don’t remember ever saying the word, and I only know it as a fancy-pants way of saying “chat,” which I have no particular use for. Your definition would be much more useful, but I don’t recollect ever seeing it anywhere. Unless I’ve seen it and mistaken it. Is there a domain it’s more common in?

  8. Never heard it. Could it be a solely US usage?

  9. I guess I’m wholly mistaken, but I always took “confabulate” to be a rough synonym for bullshitting, of the elaborate type that the bullshitters may eventually come to believe themselves. Whenever I heard of two people confabulating, I imagined them engaging in a bit of tall talk together. I never connected the dots with “confab,” which I can’t believe the OED lists from as early as 1701.

  10. Jeffry House says:

    In the Canadian legal world, “confabulate” is what witnesses do to make sense out of a whirl of inconsistent sense impressions, when they are required to make some sense of a stressful experience, while giving evidence. They create a “just-so” story, which puts uncertainty to rest, probably at the expense of truth.
    I suppose the original “con-fabulare” does mean speak together, or chat, but I have never heard it used that way.

  11. “Never heard it. Could it be a solely US usage?”
    Seconded. I’ve never heard it here in NZ, and my first reaction was to think of Blackadder’s “contrafibularities” from the wonderful Samuel Johnson episode, “Ink and Incapability”

  12. I too would have picked “lie”, but I think that in my mind its sense has become mingled with that of “fabricate”.

  13. I only know it in BrE as “conflab” with an “L” to mean an informal discussion and only used facetiously.

  14. PS: I’ve seen the word exclusively in writings about the human mind, when discussing the brain’s ability to construct a narrative making sense of its various sensory inputs.
    This is similar to Jeffrey House’s usage.

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    The ngram viewer says that the noun confabulation is much more common than the verb confabulate. Perhaps because of its rarity, the latter feels to me like an awkward/unnecessary recent backformation even though that is apparently not historically the case.

  16. I always thought it meant lie – but I was reading Ella Minnow Pea (a young adult book with a more impressive vocabulary than many adult books) and the diminutive coinage “confabette” was used to mean “a small chat.”

  17. rootlesscosmo says:

    Some psychiatrists use “confabulate” as a non-transitive synonym for to “invent.”

  18. A quick search on BAILII (database of British, Irish and European case law) gives 24 recent results for either ‘confabulate’ or ‘confabulation’ : http://bit.ly/tXbX9p . A Court of Session (Scots) decision gives a definition in parentheses: “the tendency to fill gaps in one’s memory by producing imagined material”. One English and Welsh Court of Appeal decision has this: “confabulation; that is to say, filling in gaps in her memory and making things up. Confabulation tends to be associated with Korsakoff’s psychosis…”; another has “his confabulation of evidence (by which I mean not fabrication but the unconsidered filling of gaps) …”
    A useful word, I think, particularly to us court lawyers.

  19. Much as I’d like to indulge a meanly confabulatory spirit and say Nah, nuh, nah, nuh, nah, nuh — Hat’s a sore loser! my sense of the word is exactly the same as our host’s (and Joe R’s, about bullshitting); also, yes, those MW vocab quiz definitions are unfortunately imprecise.

  20. I would have answered “chat” based on the noun confab, the only form of the word I encounter with any regularity.
    A quick check of S Johnson’s dictionary and Noah Webster’s show that the only sense of the word familiar to the early lexicographers was “chat or converse.” This newer psychological sense of confabulate appears to be of much more recent vintage, but I don’t have access to an OED at the moment to check citations.

  21. My first encounter with the corresponding Swedish verb, konfabulera, was in conjunction with the (Wernicke-)Korsakoff syndrome mentioned by Jonathan Mitchell. I took it as telling lies, but from the explanations given here, that seems to be too harsh a judgement.

  22. I had such a strong opinion until I started reading the comments!
    My initial reaction was that I would have selected “lie” over “chat” as well, but I’d quite forgotten the abbreviated “confab” which definitely suggests chatting.
    I agree with the first commenter, though, that it has a definite corporate buzzwordiness to it, and would add that it’s very dated. I don’t think I’ve heard it in a decade or two.

  23. Mark Etherton says:

    I personally (BrE, 50s) only know confabulate as ‘chat’, but the OED says:
    1. intr. To talk familiarly together, converse, chat.
    1604 R. Cawdrey Table Alphabet., Confabulate, to talke together.
    1656 H. More Enthusiasmus Triumphatus (1712) 32 This body and the Stars confabulating together, the Mind is informed of things to come.
    1732 Hist. Litteraria III. 72 Moses and Elias were at the Transfiguration, and did confabulate with Jesus.
    1785 W. Cowper Pairing Time 2, I shall not ask Jean Jacques Rousseau If birds confabulate or no.
    1859 R. F. Burton Central Afr. in Jrnl. Royal Geogr. Soc. 29 419 The women‥often awake to confabulate even at midnight.
    1873 R. Browning Red Cotton Night-cap Country iv. 248 They did not cluster on the tree-tops‥caw and confabulate For nothing.
    2. intr. Psychiatry. To fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory.
    1924 A. A. Brill tr. E. Bleuler Textbk. Psychiatry ii. 107 Many paretics‥spontaneously confabulate in a very profuse manner.
    1941 Brit. Jrnl. Psychol. Jan. 232 [The patient's] memory was grossly impaired and she confabulated freely.
    1963 J. Hoenig & M. W. Hamilton tr. K. T. Jaspers Gen. Psychopathol. iv. xii. 592 The conspicuous ease and facility with which these patients confabulate in place of their real memories.

  24. I (very) occasionally hear “confab” as either a noun or a verb meaning “chat,” but never the full word.
    Yes, exactly. I’m familiar with “confab,” but I don’t associate it at all with “the full word,” which in fact (though historically it’s the source of the shorter form) is in synchronic terms an entirely separate lexical item and should not be equated with it.
    I believe they order senses by decreasing frequency.
    No, as Treesong says, it’s historical order; that’s the main thing I’ve always held against M-W (otherwise an excellent dictionary), since most people, understandably, hold the same belief you do. That is, after all, the only order that makes sense. But they choose otherwise for reasons best known to themselves.

  25. mollymooly says:

    I don’t use “recap” and “recapitulate” interchangeably.

  26. I too would have picked “lie”, but I think that in my mind its sense has become mingled with that of “fabricate”.
    This reminded me of nice passage from Anatoly Liberman’s Word Origins and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone:

    Sleazy (cheap) dresses, and sleazy (poor) excuses were known as far back as the seventeenth century … [he here explains in more words than anyone in this saloon needs that the adjective is a backformation.] However, the most interesting thing about “sleazy” is that its current senses “disreputable” and “sordid filth” do not antedate the twentieth century; the [OED] could find no citations for them before 1941. The adjective “sleazy” must have acquired its present-day meaning to conform to its sound and shape. A word cannot exist in slums, surrounded by slatterns and sluts, and preserve its purity amid all that slime.

    The passage is meant to demonstrate sound symbolism (how some sounds naturally evoke some concepts in all languages, like “I” for thinness, smallness; e.g. “little” vs. “large,” “pimple” vs. “pustule”); he discusses the sound symbolic consonant groups “gl” and “sl,” offering lists of words in which you can see “the idea of smoothness giv[ing] way to slipperiness” — so I’m not sure how apposite it actually is to this thread, i.e., whether or not “fab” is a lingua-universal sound evocative of “lie.” Still, it’s a nice passage, and seems somehow relevant to dw’s confusion — how common it probably is, how it might even lead to semantic drift.

  27. I’m very interested in this idea of sound symbolism. Although I’m skeptical about very many being universal, they’re definitely quite productive in English. Are there any other books you could direct me to about the same sort of thing?

  28. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, if Moses and Elias confabulated with Jesus, I hereby withdraw my prior objections, although that’s certainly not the verb the KJV uses (it’s rather boringly “talked” or “talking” in all three synoptic accounts of the Transfiguration).

  29. J.W. Brewer says:

    If you want a posher-sounding word than “talk,” there’s “Where Moses and Elias meet / The Lord holds converse high and sweet” (John Mason Neale’s English version of a medieval Latin hymn from the Sarum breviary, which is apparently so stuck in the back of my brain that I was mildly surprised the KJV didn’t use “converse”). Maybe “confabulate” doesn’t scan well for use in hymnody?

  30. Joe R.:
    I’m sure others here can guide you better than I can; I’m not a linguist like Marie Lucie or David M., or even a freakish polymath like Hat or the Johns (Cowan and Emerson). But I can tell you that David Crystal has a brief section on sound symbolism in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, on pages 176-177. Unfortunately it’s not online and it’s too long to type out verbatim, but I can pass along the three most salient points: 1) that it’s a genuine linguistic phenomenon (significant coming from Crystal, keeper of the linguistic status quo), 2) that in the hierarchy of the evolution of language, it’s a factor near the bottom, and 3) it’s less prevalent in English than other languages, like Japanese:

    The most popular forms are reduplications — patterns of consonants and vowels that occur twice in immediate succession. These are used far more [in Japanese] than in English, which prefers simple forms to reduplications: compare such uncommon forms as pitter-patter and ding-dong alongside the common bang, splash, and pop. In Japanese, reduplicated forms occur normally in everyday conversation. Their range can be illustrated from the following examples (after H. Kakehi, et al., 1981).
    giseigo:

    gachagacha = rattle
    chirinchirin = tinkle
    kasakasa = rustle

    gitaigo:

    tobotobo = plod
    furafura = roam
    kirakira = twinkle
    betabeta = stick to
    dabu dabu = baggy loose
    [I added the equals signs for clarity, because I was having trouble matching the formatting of the book; the English, for example, shouldn't be italicized, and I told it not to be italicized, damn it, but with all the block-quoting, I guess it, the computer -- never me -- got confused.]

    FWIW, your interest renewed mine, and I just dropped five bucks on the Kindle version of The Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants, a seemingly respectable, layman-accessible work of linguistics (obviously on sound symbolism), by Margaret Magnus. I’ll let you know if it’s any good.

  31. Thank you!

  32. I am used to confabulate meaning “fill in gaps in memory by fabrication”. But then, my wife is a psychiatrist and I’m pretty sure that I learned this sense from her. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the word in another sense, although I’m aware of the word confab.
    Maybe if I were married to a surgeon I would think that visualize meant “to get a good look at”.

  33. You’re most welcome, Joe! I enjoyed it — finding The Encyclopedia on my bookshelf, reacquainting myself with the material, buying the new book… the Hattery is a wonderful place indeed!

  34. the (Wernicke-)Korsakoff syndrome mentioned by Jonathan Mitchell
    I just remembered a 2009 post here about (among a zillion other things, as usual) alcoholism, Wernicke-Korsakoff, beri-beri and Berlin Alexanderplatz. Döblin’s dialog and narrative techniques have been characterized as “confabulation”.
    He was a professor of neuropsychiatry who wrote his dissertation on “Memory dysfunction in Korsakoff’s psychosis” (Gedächtnisstörungen). From the editorial essay in my reprint:

    Döblin’s work with the mentally ill was important to him. Describing a realization that came during his internship, he wrote: “Around that time I noticed that there are only two categories of person that I can bear to be with: namely children and the deranged. And if someone asks me about my nationality, I will say: I belong neither to the Germans nor the Jews, but to the nation of children and the deranged.”

  35. I’ve seen the word exclusively in writings about the human mind, when discussing the brain’s ability to construct a narrative making sense of its various sensory inputs.
    Korsakoff’s syndrome [or psychosis, or what you will]
    Ah yes, all very prominent in anglophone philosophy of the last three decades. The neuroscientific or psychiatric notion of confabulation has been taken up as a matter of great interest. I have done research exploring implications and extensions of the confabulation in Anton’s syndrome. The terminology varies; that Wikipedia article uses the less common “Anton–Babinski syndrome”. See the description by the neurologist Macdonald Critchley, which I put into the article. I also put in the idea that the syndrome is the opposite of blindsight – an obvious and dazzlingly useful insight studiously avoided by the mainstream “authorities” on both topics. Blindsight has spawned an even larger philosoflurry than Anton’s. The two are joined within the general theme of qualia and philosophical zombies, about which there has been an enormous outpouring of sophomoric nonsense that sustains many canny operators in an academic industry we could all do without and that with the slightest nudge I could have Stu deploring along with me.
    A clinical neurologist (who had dialogue with the venerable Critchley) assured me that Anton’s is not uncommon, and that the confabulation is quite remarkable.
    There are those who say that consciousness is essentially or originally or etymologically (or all three, and there’s a worthy meta-rub) social: a “knowing together”. Compare the person as social construction, and think about consciousness as the cement of personhood, analogous to causation’s supposed role as the “cement of the universe” (à la Hume). Then we can drag confabulation into the fold in its other, “social” meaning: an embroidering with shared yarns, and darn as needed, ja? Invisible menting. A just-so-ing circle. The spin of art. Mysterium nematonarrationis. Tat and chat.
    More could be said. Some of it might be; some of it could be made up as we go along.

  36. Okay, Noetica, but can you give Joe (and me) a little guidance on sound symbolism? You are, after all, a renowned Hatter polymath.

  37. My list was meant to be punchy, not comprehensive, else the omission would have been laughable, of course.

  38. James, did you not pick up the implicit tinkling of the sound thimble, as my skein unwound just now?
    More later. This morning I came back from two weeks in Bali, where I refreshed my smattering of Indonesian and lingered among diverse Europeans at Ubud. Shleepy from the shlep.

  39. Once I came home from work to find my four-year-old had assembled all her toy bears into a crowd in the living room. She said it was a Bear Confab. Don’t ask me where she got the word.

  40. Oh, I picked up the tinkling and, to mix metaphors, bit like a dumb fish. I wanted more! Joe wants more! Like, a full Noetic essay, or at least Noetic references.
    Or maybe I’m tired like you, and though I thought I caught a glimmer of the skein, I decided to play it safe — and ask straight — because I knew wouldn’t be able to keep up any other way. It’s been a rough day/week/month: dusting off references, partaking in pure Hattic sharing — that’s a nice, warm, sleep-deprived, insomniac escape. Your wordplay, much as I love it, demands a little more brainpower.
    Hey, it’s good to see you. Sleep if you can; we can wait.

  41. an embroidering with shared yarns, and darn as needed, ja?
    Jawohl ! But with this kind of talk you’re going to set the punters here squawking (which tends to confirm the thesis, actually …). Radical (but not “arbitrary” !) constructivism has long been on the cards, but not that many people have learned the game. I bet Hat has already spat on the floor.
    nematonarrationis
    Bedtime tales recorded and replayed by Nemasis for herself.

  42. David Boyk says:

    In India, “confab” is standard journalese for “conference” or “summit meeting,” the same way that the Supreme Court is always referred to as “the apex court” and miscreants are always absconding.

  43. That fabulous fusty-cum-buzzy journalese of Indian newspapers ! Media masala.

  44. David Boyk: although that choice of exotic words seems merely amusing to this American at least, perhaps it has a certain sociopolitical function (which it can have without being “deliberate”). Are Indian newspapers hard to understand except for those with a university degree ? Does the just-makes-do-with-English man on the street know what “apex”, “miscreant” and “abscond” mean ?

  45. It just struck me that possibly many Americans don’t know all those words, but guess their meaning from the context.

  46. Miscreants are always absconding
    Yes, except in inclement weather.

  47. Neurologists coined the meaning of “confabulate” you’re referring to around the turn of the 20th century.

  48. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    This is probably more variety than even a Varied Reader should provide, but I might mention that I definitely talk about confabulating with my friends in Italian. In that language, confabulating carries an overtone of conspiracy (or mock conspiracy) that chatting lacks.
    I’m pretty sure I confabulate in English too, as I cannot resist influences from my native tongue.

  49. Noetica, I note that some of those confabrications for the fabulation of fibrous fabrics are called bees, probably because of the hive mentality that is involved. (Insert “entomology” pun here.) I want to mention wool-gathering, too, and the sometimes patchwork quality of memory. Quilty memories, held together by seems.

  50. To those wondering whether Confab=chat/confer is a purely US usage, I encountered it commonly in Britain 50 years ago, but I haven’t heard it since about 1980, so I guess it’s obsolete here.

  51. Y: I encountered it commonly in Britain 50 years ago
    Under what circumstances? Down the pub, in the playground? I was nine-ish 50 years ago, but I don’t remember hearing or using it.

  52. That salted butter has made you tetchy.

  53. @jamessal & Joe R … I hear about sound symbolism every so often (most recently from Asya Pereltsvaig who mentioned it in a blog conversation but w/o delving into details and sources). Margaret Magnus has a website where even the URL itself mentions magic a couple times, and overall it makes a first impression of being a piece of quakery.
    http://www.trismegistos.com/MagicalLetterPage/
    Have you, or anybody else, checked her book (The Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants) and/or the website more closely? Is there much useful stuff (rather than merely mystifying or amuzing)?

  54. Noetica: I trust that you are one of those who hold (with me and others) that philosophical zombies are meretricious nonsense. Otherwise, it’s going to be the Sheep Meadow at dawn for us! (Grumbly might prefer the Ramble at midnight.)
    I can’t agree, though, that blindsight is the opposite of Anton’s. People with Anton’s think (and sincerely claim) that they can see, but they objectively cannot. In blindsight, people think they cannot see, but in forced-choice visual discrimination tasks they are able to do somewhat better than chance. That is not the same as seeing. A true anti-Anton’s would be exhibited by someone sincerely claiming to be blind who nevertheless could navigate a room or the street visually, read ordinary books, discriminate colors, etc. As far as I know there is no such syndrome.

  55. I’m not tetchy, I’m fairly tall. And anyway I’m only eating the unsalted.

  56. Hat, a spoiler warning, please!!!
    I kid, kid. I would have also blown the question and when I take the test now, I’ll think fondly of your assistance.

  57. I think of confabulation as covering invention of motivations as well as memories. As in this quote from Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis:
    This finding, that people will readily fabricate reasons to explain their own behavior, is called “confabulation.” Confabulation is so frequent in work with split-brain patients and other people suffering brain damage that Gazzaniga refers to the language centers on the left side of the brain as the interpreter module, whose job is to give a running commentary on whatever the self is doing, even though the interpreter module has no access to the real causes or motives of the self’s behavior. For example, if the word “walk” is flashed to the right hemisphere, the patient might stand up and walk away. When asked why he is getting up, he might say, “I’m going to get a Coke.” The interpreter module is good at making up explanations, but not at knowing that it has done so.

  58. even though the interpreter module has no access to the real causes or motives of the self’s behavior.
    Who or what has such access, then ? Even the neuroscientists are interpreter modules.

  59. the interpreter module, whose job is to give a running commentary on whatever the self is doing
    Is the interpreter module not part of “the self” ? Was it implanted by aliens ?
    JC, we have never disagreed strongly except on the topics of naiveté and m*r*l*t*. Of course philosophical zombies are mere tricious nonsense.

  60. JC: A true anti-Anton’s would be exhibited by someone sincerely claiming to be blind who nevertheless could navigate a room or the street visually, read ordinary books, discriminate colors, etc. As far as I know there is no such syndrome.
    Where does sincerity come in ? That’s an inobservable that muddies the issue of knowability.

  61. Margaret Magnus has a website where even the URL itself mentions magic a couple times, and overall it makes a first impression of being a piece of quakery.
    I stole like five minutes today to read the opening pages of her book, and they did not read like quackery. She seems aware of the scholarly consensus, and an able linguist (and writer) herself; she reminded me immediately of Lera Boroditsky, a worthy advocate for a theory now at the margins. It’s always good to keep in mind that the consensus does change, in all fields. Then again, this is only a first impression, and after a few chapters I might very well change my mind — and come to think of magic as central not just to her marketing, but to her thinking.

  62. I am almost as uncertain about “meretricious” as I am about “confabulation”.

  63. Sleep if you can
    Thank you James, I have slept deliciously. For my sins I had my quotidian work to do even in Bali (“Et Balī ego”; huh! “I’ve been to Bali too”, as the T-shirt has it), and could not get out as much as I wanted to. For that and other reasons it was not purely a holiday. Still, a wonderful change of ambience. Now I still have a serious deadline to meet, and will defer talk of cymbalism. I have more to say quickly on the other topic here, this time.
    Neurologists coined the meaning of “confabulate” you’re referring to around the turn of the 20th century.
    Yes. OED’s first citation is from 1924, but there must be earlier uses across the European languages:

    A. A. Brill tr. E. Bleuler Textbk. Psychiatry ii. 106 Memory hallucinations which endow a phantasy with reality … must be taken in the strict sense as confabulations.

    It’s a fine confection. The senses are joined in fābulārī, which is to do with fable and also just speech. Connected also with fate (fātum, “what is spoken”), fairy (fāta), and away you go. Speech or narrative as necessarily inventive. Off with the fairies. To make it up out of “whole cloth”. OED:

    b. fig. or in fig. context, esp. in phr. cut (etc.) out of (the) whole cloth , used in various senses; now esp. (U.S. colloq. or slang) of a statement wholly fabricated or false.

    On the whole the material for this is endless, it seams. Clotho. Jeune Parque.
    not that many people have learned the game
    Anosognosia is a condition of successful confabulation. Those who see the lack of clad continuity are necessarily offensive, not especially clever or soterial. They’re very naughty boys. If these are insights, they are as disabling as they are are enabling. But if we choose our disabilities, I gratefully choose exactly these ones.
    bees
    Quilty memories, held together by seems.
    Yes. All unknowing, just now I sutured with “seams” as you did, Ø. But then, we fabricate originality as much as anything else. Such is our grist (OED, “grist, n.3″: “The size or thickness of yarn or rope”). It’s oil greased for our mill. Beehiviourism. Mein Herz das ist ein Bienenhaus. (My head hurts but I’m full of beens? Hier wohnen Bohnen. Pythagoras had the right angle.)
    that philosophical zombies are meretricious nonsense
    We are in complete accord. Lay down that axiom, Eugene.
    I can’t agree, though, that blindsight is the opposite of Anton’s.
    Nor could I agree that they are exactly symmetric opposites. Of course not. For one thing, blindsight arises after ablation of (parts of) V1, the primary visual cortex. So naturally there is seriously impaired vision. (The brain, we have learned, does more than cool the blood.) Neuroscience would be in a lot of trouble otherwise. But the opposition is neat enough, and invaluably evocative. The extent of the “unconscious” discriminations available in blindsight is uncertain and probably variable. They appear to include colour to an extent.
    I think of confabulation as covering invention of motivations as well as memories.
    Most assuredly. Gazzaniga’s work points us to something of huge importance in all our life. Split brains? Of course. Are there any that are not? And we are forever confabulating motives, as a Cartesian or a Freudian introspection away from the hubbub reveals.
    whatever the self is doing
    O! O, … no. Work calls me away.

  64. @ jamessal – I like Lera’s “languages we speak affect our perceptions of the world” line, at least in conforms to the gut feeling that people aren’t total replicas of one another :)
    The “universal symbolism of the sounds” is something exactly the opposite, akin to the fossils of a universal proto-language, it’s harder to buy. But Margaret Magnus thinks that most of symbolism remains language-specific, and most of the rest is straight onomatopoeic. Still there may be room for a few universal links (recently, I wrote a blog review of the Kiki-Bouba effect which transcends language boundaries but is linked to normal development of brain circuitry. It looks like a sound symbolism kind of an effect, and as early as 350 BC, Plato described pretty much the same effect in Cratylus Dialogue, where Socrates insists that the sounds going into words have intrinsic universal geometric meaning, and that “i”‘s are smaller and sharper, while “a”‘s are larger and “o”‘s more round. But is it really about language, or, as I hypothesize, about vestibular apparatus and hearing?)

  65. Crown: Tetchy does not mean ‘titchy’ but ‘touchy’.
    Treesong: I think you should have referred to “what the body is doing”.
    Grumbly: I say “sincerely” only to exclude people who see perfectly and have no neurological syndrome, but are lying — not for moral reasons, but because it confuses the issue. You can pretend to have any agnosia whatever, although you cannot pretend not to read Russian if you really know how, at least if I set you up properly.
    Empty: Meretricious and a happy new year to you!

  66. as early as 350 BC, Plato described pretty much the same effect in Cratylus Dialogue
    Magnus uses part of it as one of her epigraphs:

    Socrates: Imagine that we have no voice and no tongue, but want to communicate with one another. Wouldn’t we like the deaf and the dumb make signs with the hands and the head and the rest of the body?
    Hermogenes: There would be no choice, Socrates.
    Socrates: We would imitate the nature of the thing: lifting the hands to heaven would mean lightness and upwardness. Heaviness and downwardness would be expressed by letting them drop toward the ground…
    Hermogenes: I don’t see that we could do anything else.
    Socrates: And when we want to express ourselves with the voice or tongue or mouth, the expression is simply their imitation of what we want to express?
    Hermogenes: I think, it must be so.
    Socrates: No, my friend, I am inclined to think that we haven’t reached the truth yet.
    Hermogenes: Why not?
    Socrates: Because if we have, we’ll have to admit that people who imitate sheep or roosters or other animals are naming what they imitate.
    Hermogenes: Quite so… But I wish you could tell me then, Socrates, what sort of an imitation is a name?
    Socrates: In the first place, I’d say that it’s not a musical imitation, although that is also vocal, nor is it an imitation of what music imitates. In my opinion this would not be naming. Let me express it this way. All objects have sound and figure, and many have a color… But the art of naming doesn’t seem to be concerned with imitations of this kind. The arts which have to do with them are called music and drawing. Again, isn’t there an essence of each thing just as there’ss a color and a sound? And isn’t there an essence of color and sound as well as of anything else that can be said to have an essence?
    Hermogenes: I think so.
    Socrates: Well if anyone could express the essence of each thing in letters and syllables, wouldn’t he express the nature of each thing?
    Hermogenes: Quite so…
    Socrates: Imitation of this essence is made by syllables and letters. Shouldn’t we, therefore, first separate the letters, and when we’d done that, but not before, proceed to consider the rhythms? Shouldn’t we begin in the same way with letters — first separating the vowels, and then the consonants and mutes, also the semivowels? And when we’d perfected the classification of things, we’d give them names, and see whether, as in the case of letters, there are any classes which they can all be referred to, and then we’d see their natures, and see, too, whether they have in them classes as there are in the letters. And when we’d well considered all this, we’d know how to apply them to what they resemble, whether one letter is to denote a single thing, or whether there is a mixture of several of them… And from that we’d form syllables, and from syllables make nouns and verbs, and at last from the combination of nouns and verbs arrive at language, large and fair and whole.
    Plato
    The Craetylus [sic] Dialogue
    Magnus, Margaret (1999-06-17). Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants (Kindle Locations 49-78). Truman State University Press. Kindle Edition.

  67. I like Lera’s “languages we speak affect our perceptions of the world” line, at least in conforms to the gut feeling that people aren’t total replicas of one another :)
    The “universal symbolism of the sounds” is something exactly the opposite, akin to the fossils of a universal proto-language, it’s harder to buy.
    Not that you were saying or implying otherwise, but just to be clear, I obviously wasn’t saying that the theories Lera Boroditsky and Margaret Magnus are advocating are in any way similar, just that both authors seem like credible, talented linguists pushing for a more prominent role for theories whose statuses have fallen considerably since their heydays.
    Separately, I’m not sure those theories are necessarily in conflict. Concepts might inhere in certain consonant clusters themselves while another aspect of a language, e.g., syntax or vocabulary, could affect its speakers’ perceptions of the world, no? Do tell me if I’m missing something, MOCKBA; you clearly know more than I do about this subject — and linguistics in general — and I have yet to read further in Gods of the Word.

  68. My favorite of Magnus’s epigraphs, BTW, is from… well, I doubt anyone needs an attribution:

    “Of course you know your ABC,” said the Red Queen.
    “To be sure I do,” said Alice.
    “So do I,” the White Queen whispered. “We’ll often say it over together, dear. And I’ll tell you a secret — I can read words of one letter! Isn’t that grand? However, don’t be discouraged. You’ll come to it in time.”

  69. Margaret Magnus thinks that most of symbolism remains language-specific
    Are you sure this is an accurate account of her thinking? I ask because she says early on that she finds the term “symbolism” misleading, writing after her exegesis of the the Cratylus Dialogue pasted above:

    One encounters similar thoughts in the Upanishads as well as in Sufi, Cabalistic, Gnostic and Viking writings. However, these ideas have hardly found their way into formal linguistics at all. Despite the fact that a number of the master linguists of old — Jakobson, Jespersen, Bloomfield, Sapir, Firth — have written beautifully insightful articles on the relationship between sound and meaning, it has never reached the mainstream, and as far as I know, only Keith McCune and Amanuma have gone through all the major sound facts in any language. This very marginal field is called sound symbolism (though I prefer to call it phonosemantics, because I find the word ‘symbolism’ confusing).
    Magnus, Margaret (1999-06-17). Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants (Kindle Locations 103-107). Truman State University Press. Kindle Edition.


    The part I’m reading right now is her attempt to reconcile her theory with the conventional linguistic syllabus, which presents obvious, incontrovertible facts allegedly demonstrating the arbitrariness of the sign; it begins:

    How then do we reconcile Socrates’ ‘sound’ facts with all the other competing facts of language, such as the existence of dialects and different words in different languages denoting the same thing? The answer to this has been dawning on me but slowly and is still dawning, but one major part of the answer seems to be that we have been sloppy about what the ‘meaning of a word’ really is. The two competing phenomena apparently involve different aspects of ‘meaning’ whose interaction largely determines the evolution of a language.
    We have reasoned as follows: ‘Father’ means the same as ‘père’ which means the same as ‘ot’ets’. Their pronunciations have nothing in common, so the relationship between sound and meaning is arbitrary. End of story.” We have reasoned here falsely on two counts. In the first place, English ‘father’ does not mean the same as French ‘père’. They do overlap on one very prominent point, but in laying all emphasis on this we have obscured other important aspects of the meanings of these words. Furthermore, it is illogical to conclude that just because we have not found a correlation between two phenomena, that none exists. Existence is much easier to demonstrate than non-existence.
    Magnus, Margaret (1999-06-17). Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants (Kindle Locations 167-177). Truman State University Press. Kindle Edition.

    I’ve read a bit further, but not far enough to summarize her semantic philosophy (even if it weren’t 2:30 AM); I will say it’s intriguing — although, before I continue defending/championing Magnus, I’ll also digest a lot more of her text. I wouldn’t want to waste everyone’s time.

  70. Cowan, it means what I want it to mean.

  71. We have reasoned here falsely on two counts. In the first place, English ‘father’ does not mean the same as French ‘père’. They do overlap on one very prominent point, but in laying all emphasis on this we have obscured other important aspects of the meanings of these words. Furthermore, it is illogical to conclude that just because we have not found a correlation between two phenomena, that none exists. Existence is much easier to demonstrate than non-existence.
    This is making me twitch; it reminds me of someone defending the existence of ghosts. But I haven’t even laid eyes on the book, so I’ll defer to your judgment of its good sense.

  72. Under what circumstances? Down the pub, in the playground?
    Among family and friends, e.g: “Let’s have a confab about this”, when different opinions or requirements needed to be reconciled. I wasn’t often down the pub 50 years ago, as I’m only a year older than you.

  73. Furthermore, it is illogical to conclude that just because we have not found a correlation between two phenomena, that none exists. Existence is much easier to demonstrate than non-existence.
    Hat, I’ve got that twitch too. On the basis of her claim that “existence is much easier to demonstrate than non-existence”, the lady appears to think she has forwarded her claim for the existence of “sound symbolism”, or whatever.
    On the contrary: so far she has not demonstrated the existence of “sound symbolism” – no matter what might be harder to demonstrate.
    The quoted passage demonstrates the existence of female logic. But that’s no surprise: it’s easier to demonstrate that female logic exists than that it doesn’t.

  74. This is making me twitch; it reminds me of someone defending the existence of ghosts.
    Yeah, I probably should have left off just before “furthermore” — didn’t love those well-worn sentences myself. But I’ll let you know as I go along (unless I get sidetracked by In the Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought in America, another Kindle-friendly shiny object that caught my eye around Xmas, and also fits with my current course of study: the Civil War and racial history in America thenceforth). And thanks for sharing your suspicion; it’s helpful, though I remain hopeful.

  75. On the basis of her claim that “existence is much easier to demonstrate than non-existence”, the lady appears to think she has forwarded her claim for the existence of “sound symbolism”, or whatever.
    On the contrary: so far she has not demonstrated the existence of “sound symbolism” – no matter what might be harder to demonstrate.
    I don’t think anyone, even a girl like Margaret Magnus, would disagree, Stu.

  76. Jim: then what’s the point of her trotting out that old black swan stuff at all ?

  77. I don’t think anyone, even a girl like Margaret Magnus, would disagree, Stu.
    Except of course the degree to which the “lady’ thinks she has forwarded her claim. I thought I made it pretty clear that those were merely the opening paragraphs to a more substantive philosophical chapter. So if we were to stoop to Stu like levels of generalizations about gender, we could say, no… we won’t stoop.

  78. what’s the point of her trotting out that old black swan stuff at all ?
    Because, though shopworn, the point is a true, and speaks to the difficulty of the argument she’s about to present. I don’t think they were necessary sentences, I already said I didn’t like them, but they’re just a few sentences. C’mon.

  79. Can’t you wait like everyone else till somebody — anybody — has read her book before you jump to conclusions about her, not to mention her entire sex?

  80. So if we were to stoop to Stu like levels of generalizations about gender, we could say, no… we won’t stoop.
    Where did I “generalize about gender” ? I mentioned female logic, but could have also mentioned male logic. How are you going to prove that such things don’t exist ? According to Magnus that’s pretty hard.
    In any case you may have missed something here – namely the possibility that I am using woozy logic for effect. I called it “female logic”, but that’s just a stock phrase. You responded with male logic in defence of females. Is that logical ?
    How easily you fall into moralizing ! Could it be that I am JOKING ?? Wouldn’t be the first time, right ? I just love trapping right-thinkers in pots of honied bullshit.

  81. I trust, BTW, you haven’t taken umbrage because of my tone. You can’t sport the proud colors of a sexist, even cutely or cleverly, and expect everyone to nod along. You’re speaking to someone who’s wife has had crippling chronic pain for four years, pain that leaves her hunched and sobbing daily, and we’ve been lucky in that time to find two doctors who treat her with respect and compassion, as opposed to all the others who imply that she’s an hysteric because their fancy toys don’t show results they can easily comprehend.
    Now that doesn’t mean I can’t have a friend (and I do consider you friend) who’s a bit of a sexist; I have a couple friends who, to my thinking, are racist — not everyone has to think like me. But I won’t laugh at racist jokes or hide it when sexism stands up my hackles — setting aside the whole business of preposterous, ungenerous conclusions based a mere few sentences from a book I’m obviously excited to engage.

  82. I should mention that this is an epistemological issue. Since since we cannot peer into the heads of others, nor out of our own, might as well have fun !

  83. Jim, perhaps you could think about the role you yourself play in “understanding” what someone says. It takes two to communicate, as well as to tango. If you want to associate Magnus and Robin, that’s your contribution to the discussion, not mine. My remarks were directed at what “Magnus” wrote, not at the Magnus person, whom I don’t know.
    I deplore the tendency to moralize and get personally acerbic that you are now displaying, along with Certain Other People on repeated occasions. The only good thing about that is that every time it is displayed, it validates my claim that “moralizing is polemogenic”. That appears to be a self-validating claim.

  84. No, Stu, you threw a half-assed, half-thought-out, ridiculous deduction from two sentences into a conversation everyone else was having sincerely, added a sexist joke, and then accused me of moralizing when I objected to your oft displayed sexism. My hatred of sexism comes not from some liberal, “right-thinking” textbooks, but my life, so roll around in your own honeytraps. As for associating Robin with Magnus, that’s just bullshit.
    Where did I “generalize about gender” ? I mentioned female logic, but could have also mentioned male logic.
    But you didn’t mention male logic; you mentioned female logic, as you so often have. “Where did I generalize… I mentioned female logic, but…” For fuck’s sake, listen to yourself.

  85. Well, Grumbly, when one of Us Persons complains of your misdeeds, you retort “But they were only words!”, as if words were not deeds. Of a piece with this is the supposed separation between persons and what they say, “Magnus” and Magnus (as also “Grumbly” and Grumbly): which I (I will not speak for James here) deny. And words being deeds, it does not matter that they were in jest; “boys throw stones at frogs in jest, but the frogs die in earnest.”

  86. “A conversation everyone else was having sincerely, half-assed, hatred, sexism, misdeeds, dead frogs … ” What a display ! I myself am not so quick to condemn people – ideas yes, people no. And I can handle the difference between blogs and frogs with more moderation.

  87. Back to the topic of phonosemantics, which since I first encountered it decades ago I have considered to be on a level with astrology … can anyone here provide arguments of their own – not based on quoting “authority” – to give plausibility to the idea that sounds can have inherent meaning, or whatever the idea is ?

  88. Talking about sound symbolism does seem to be a good example of confabulation, which is fine as far as that goes. The question I have is, what use could this fable be put to ? After all, astrology helps us in chosing the right soul-mates.
    Perhaps a better understanding of what sounds mean would make Chinese opera less nerve-wracking.

  89. Back to the topic of phonosemantics, which since I first encountered it decades ago I have considered to be on a level with astrology … can anyone here provide arguments of their own – not based on quoting “authority” – to give plausibility to the idea that sounds can have inherent meaning, or whatever the idea is ?
    Don’t worry, we’ll get back to it, after I’ve done some more reading. I’m happy to forget the past dozen comments or so.
    But as for authority and astrology, well, for the former, although it’s popular to refer to it derisively, as though we should master every academic field and think for ourselves, in fact that’s not possible, and that’s precisely why the community of letters needs some arguments from authority, like the one I’m going to make right now: as shown above, both David Crystal and Anatoly Liberman have attested to the validity of sound symbolism in linguistics, so if you can find an astronomer of the same esteem and prestige in their fied who will do the same for astrology, then your intuition about linguistic theories will perhaps be verified; but right now, with the evidence presented in this thread, your position is the dubious one. Yes, some of that evidence comes from arguments from authority, but those authorities’ books are available to the public, so you can read a bit yourself and contribute.

  90. Yes, some of that evidence comes from arguments from authority, but those authorities’ books are available to the public, so you can read a bit yourself and contribute.
    That’s just what I’m not going to do. I am interested primarily in what people have to say for themselves, not what they as bondsmen can cite from the works of their discursive lords.
    That explains why I don’t quote from Sloterdijk, Luhmann et al anymore, but instead set out my views and arguments without identifying the sources. I have found that helpful in thinking things through, at least to my own provisional satisfaction.
    Authority in theoretical matters exists only when it is acknowledged, so the question arises whether there might be more useful kinds of acknowledgement than are provided by appeal and deference.

  91. “Bearing their modesty before them like a monstrance”

  92. Trond Engen says:

    I think some of the problem here is that the term sound symbolism smacks of esoterism. What’s being described is more like folk-semantics — words acquiring shades of meaning by unconscious identification with similar-sounding words. And what’s not folk-semantics is facial feedback.

  93. Sheesh. Glad I weighed in only on modest theses – our supposed motivations being sheer invention, and our lives being much the same as if we had undergone full callosotomy.

  94. Interesting idea, Trond. “Folk-semantics” might explain, in part, why the idea that sounds have inherent meaning seems plausible to some people. That, plus a few smooth-talking poetry critics. Even the stars need spokesmen.
    They say that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. But that’s not really enough – you also need mice, solvent customers and a sales team.

  95. Wow, so much happened in this thread while I was busy playing Puss in Boots at a kids matinee and then celebrating its success with customary vodka shots backstage :) ‘Tis the season!
    I think some of the problem here is that the term sound symbolism smacks of esoterism. What’s being described is more like folk-semantics — words acquiring shades of meaning by unconscious identification with similar-sounding words. And what’s not folk-semantics is facial feedback.
    Facial feedback what Asya Pereltsvaig invoked too when we briefly discussed the language-independent “meaning” of sounds. Although I prefer to be cautious with loaded terms such as “meaning” or “symbolism” when what we experimentally observe may be more narrowly described as a sensory crosstalk between hearing and other senses (as I described in a footnote on Kiki, Bouba, and V. Ramachandran’s theory of low-threshold synesthesia on rio Wang).
    When we say “phonosemantic” or “symbolic”, we cut dangerously close to Plato’s view of teleological, “intelligently designed” language, which had it sounds chosen just right to convey the right meaning. This picture of a “best forever” language is bogus, but I could imagine that slight differences in cross-sensory sound perception may have, over the eons of language evolution, gradually affected the utilization of sounds in a way which evokes “sound symbolism”.
    what use could this fable be put to ? After all, astrology helps us in chosing the right soul-mates
    and “sound symbolism” gurus help us in designing the right brand names, but with a veneer of authority tracing all the way back to Wolfgang Köhler’s 1920s experiments. Although in the blog I suggest a better practical use for this concept ;)
    This is making me twitch; it reminds me of someone defending the existence of ghosts
    True; but OTOH that’s the inherent problem of the field of synesthesia. Does your number 7 has a color of Cyan? How do you prove it never has this link? (My number 7 has a sound of L). You may not be able to experience a synesthetic link (or you experience may not be acute enough to be picked without a specialized experiment), but others may experience it quite acutely. The Bouba-Kiki sound-shape linkup works in 98% of the people, which is as strong as ever shown for synesthetic phenomena. But even weaker links might over time affect the sound utilization on languages. Margaret Magnus seems to think that if you go away from precise meaning of the words to some underlying meta-meaning (such as geometric shape in Köhler-Ramachandran), then perhaps you’d find some additional, as of yet unidentified links.
    Margaret Magnus thinks that most of symbolism remains language-specific
    Oh, I based it her summary page (under the subheading “Three Types of Sound Meaning”)

  96. Someone I know built a much better mousetrap, a quite well-known architectural historian. The mouse heads for a small piece of cheese (or equivalent) that’s sitting in a paper cone lodged in the neck of an empty mayonnaise jar. With the additional weight of the mouse the paper & mouse drop into the jar, and you can then carry it outside and release the mouse somewhere nice and grassy (my friend uses a London square). Nobody has beat a path to his door even though his mousetrap is very effective.

  97. I think some of the problem here is that the term sound symbolism smacks of esoterism. What’s being described is more like folk-semantics — words acquiring shades of meaning by unconscious identification with similar-sounding words.
    Yes, I think that’s definitely part of it — the words acquiring shades of meaning by unconscious identification… plus onomatopoeia (an interesting combination itself) — though when you consider that most language change comes about through unconscious mistakes of some sort, whether phonetic (e.g., metathesis, apocope) or semantic (e.g., what we’re talking about), it seems a perfectly respectable area study. I’m not sure what other claims Magnus is making for it, or whether they in fact “cut dangerously close to Plato’s view of teleological, ‘intelligently designed’ language,” but I will report back once I’ve read further.

  98. When we say “phonosemantic” or “symbolic”, we cut dangerously close to Plato’s view of teleological, “intelligently designed” language, which had it sounds chosen just right to convey the right meaning.
    What if we subtracted the design and teleology? Are you certain a theory is necessarily bogus if it claims that certain sounds — for whatever reason — accurately describe certain phenomena?

  99. I ask, MOCKBA (or Hat, or anyone else with a background in linguistics), because Magnus seems to know what she’s talking about, seems to understand the evidence for the arbitrary nature of signs, and, though not blown away, I like her writing, I like her. She’s trying to make a marginal field less so, but doesn’t present herself as some courageous freethinker or hide behind false modesty, and her examples are resonating. I feel like I’d be better a reader, and LH reporter, if I understood (as best as possible) your skepticism. I could better spot the tricks of a possible quack.

  100. Insomnia’s a bitch, but it allows me to read and comment a little more.
    I could imagine that slight differences in cross-sensory sound perception may have, over the eons of language evolution, gradually affected the utilization of sounds in a way which evokes “sound symbolism”.
    This sounds about the level on which David Crystal is comfortable placing sound symbolism; it’s been a while since I read Liberman’s
    Etymology, and though I think he was comfortable with its serving a slightly larger role in semantic drift, his views are in the mainstream, placing sound symbolism somewhere at the margins. That’s where Trond Engen, unless I’m misreading his comment, seems to want the theory, too.
    Magnus, I can now say, having read a little more of her book, and some of the website to which MOCKBA kindly linked, definitely wants more — she wants phonosemantics somewhere near the center of her field. Tomorrow I should I have a decent amount of time to read her book while selling ice cream at a stand (it’s already made, thanks to our new workforce, so for once I won’t being doing two jobs, running in and out of the kitchen, and can do the one job — hawking — half-assed, because it is after all my business); but for now, before I loaf at work with my Kindle, I’m curious about the level of skepticism in these parts. Does her ambition for the theory itself, or any of the arguments offered at the website, induce any of you to already roll your eyes? If so, why?

  101. I am aware, BTW, that Roy Blount Jr. recently wrote a book that got rave reviews, one of which idiotically claimed that, paraphrasing, “Like Mencken before him Blount has beaten the linguists at their own game.” In this book, Alphabet Juice, Blount advanced a “theory” that some words are “Sonicky,” meaning they’re just right, Platonic, or I suppose sound symbolic. I rolled my eyes when I read about that book; I’m fully aware that lots of lay people talk out of their asses when it comes to language and that this drives linguists up the wall. So if that’s part of the skepticism — sound symbolism is, after all, a cool, intuitive idea that I can imagine lots of people wish were true — I don’t need that part explained. Blount and his reviewers, however, didn’t to my knowledge (I actually just dismissed his book without reading, but I think I can surmise from the reviews) actually address the well-known, powerful arguments for the arbitrariness of the linguistic signs — he was way out of his depth. Magnus doesn’t seem to be, at least. She’s had some training and knows what she’s up against.

  102. Someone I know built a much better mousetrap, ….
    Me too. The famous Elliott trap comes in several sizes, for mice proper right up to your standard-issue mongoose.The inventor’s son is a close associate of my son. Computer demons, the pair of them.
    Speaking of mongooses, in Bali I visited a place where they are fed coffee beans, which are subsequently collected and ground for human consumption. Do we know about this? I had heard of it, and was interested but not enthralled by the taste. (Can’t give links; posting from my iPad.)

  103. Magnus, I can now say, having read a little more of her book, and some of the website to which MOCKBA kindly linked, definitely wants more — she wants phonosemantics somewhere near the center of her field.
    Well, that’s the reason for the skepticism. It’s one thing to say phonosemantics should be given more attention than it has been getting; I would listen respectfully to any such claim. To want to place it anywhere near the center of linguistics suggests to me the kind of tunnel vision that is hard to avoid when one studies a single phenomenon for too long (hence all the books claiming that salt or cod or nutmeg is the Key that Unlocks All of History). But not having read the book, I can’t address her specific claims.

  104. It feels undeserved to the point of being embarrassing to have my screen name mentioned in the same breath as languagehat. I’ve got no background to speak of, just a lifelong fascination with linguistics and anthropology. As a school kid, I was an avid reader of my beloved granny’s shelves and shelves of back issues of Вопросы Этнографии, and dreamed of a scholarly carrier … but it was pretty damn tough to pursue any carrier in humanities in the old USSR (the expected price in the currency of political loyalty was particularly unbearable for as anarchic a mindset as mine). The emergence of molecular anthropology helped me reshape my plans, to disguise them as Natural Sciences… :)and here I am, still studying DNA and the genes rather than language and the customs.
    Probably more than “folk etymology” or “folk semantics”, the “folk genetics” can give us a great cautionary lesson about risks of uncritically following the ancient wisdoms and the modern gut feeling. The classics of the antiquity had a few things right about heredity (like Torah’s take on blood clotting) and more things stupendously wrong, and there was never a shortage of quack practicians. We’re just barely out of the era of miscegenation laws and eugenics boards. Still today, ob/gyns continue to insist that a women can’t inherit breast cancer genes from her father; frankenfoodphobia is a universal article of faith; and canine societies firmly insist that acquired traits are inherited.
    Psychology and linguistics routinely use conjecture instead of data, or when they do go after data, it’s typically compounded and short of statistical power. But interesting theories get tainted by flawed and overstated proof. That’s what worries me about Magnus.
    Otherwise, she definitely says some right words about the “meaning of meaning” which may get us beyond the folk semantics.

  105. David Marjanović says:

    I’m not a linguist like Marie Lucie or David M.

    …erm. M-L is a real professional linguist who has done that stuff for a living for quite some time now, publishing in peer-reviewed journals and all. I’m an armchair linguist – a soon-to-be postdoc in paleobiology who has read stuff on (mostly) the Internet.

    Socrates: Imitation of this essence is made by syllables and letters. Shouldn’t we, therefore, first separate the letters, and when we’d done that, but not before, proceed to consider the rhythms? Shouldn’t we begin in the same way with letters — first separating the vowels, and then the consonants and mutes, also the semivowels?

    Something must be mistranslated here. Ancient Attic Greek lacked semivowels completely.

    This is making me twitch; it reminds me of someone defending the existence of ghosts.

    Perhaps more importantly, it overlooks the fact that even outright onomatopoietic words can lose their symbolism by undergoing regular sound change. A few days, um, nights ago, I was reading the Google Books preview of Don Ringe’s From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. It says the PIE ancestor of wind and the verb it’s a present participle from* started with *h2w-. No matter what exactly *h2 was (almost certainly one of [x χ ħ], last resort [h]), that looks pretty obvious to me. Yet, most of the modern forms of that word have [v] which doesn’t sound like blowing wind at all.
    * That verb survives as German wehen.

    I am using woozy logic for effect. I called it “female logic”, but that’s just a stock phrase.

    Yeah, a sexist one.

    Could it be that I am JOKING ??

    Don’t know about you, but I prefer jokes that are actually funny.

  106. Magnus may be a mystic, but sounds must effect the meanings of some words. Vowel changes, at least, must account for some semantic shifts. Long e and i have the lightest feeling, o’s and ou’s have a heavy, slow feeling, and a is, although bit hard to pin down, somewhere in the middle. Flip, flap, and flop have meaning beyond onomatopoeia, as do flit, fleet-footed, and flutter, or tip, top/topple, and tap or snip and snap, but their sounds seem to reflect their meaning.
    Consonants also have a undeniable feel.
    “S” is slippery, sliding, slimy, splattering, hissing, fussing, slithering, sometimes rasping.
    “T” is staccato, tapping, chattering, nattering, yattering, rat-a-tatting.
    “M” is mumbling, murmuring, lumbering, muted, muck, mud, mire, muffled.
    “P” is wet: splash, pash, plop, plod, plouter, platch, piddle and puddle, pond, placid, peaceful,
    “B” is violent: bash, bang, boom, blood, bitch, blind, brambles, bite, break, beat, bicker.
    I would like to know if this is more than a hunch, an actual phenomenon in English etymology, or just silly poeticism. I start to be skeptical of Magnus (but also really want to believe her) when she connects the “n” in nose, neb, nubbin, knob, snort, snot, sniffle, snuff, scent, and stench. Or says of “fl” “As for /fl/, the /f/ is like a fountain, a source from which things come out, but whose ultimate destination is unpredictable. The /l/ is like water. When the /l/ precedes the vowel, it causes flowing: float, flush, flood. It’s also flat. When the /l/ follows the vowel, the /f/ forms a mold or pattern that the /l/ tries to fill, follow or live up to (fail). With initial fl- the resulting motion is determined by the consonants after the vowel.”

  107. Magnus, I can now say, having read a little more of her book, and some of the website to which MOCKBA kindly linked, definitely wants more — she wants phonosemantics somewhere near the center of her field.
    Well, that’s the reason for the skepticism. It’s one thing to say phonosemantics should be given more attention than it has been getting; I would listen respectfully to any such claim.
    It’s possible I got sloppy with the metaphor — should have said, “Somewhere nearer the center of her field,” which after all isn’t too far from, “phonosemantics should be given more attention than it has been getting.” However, she is making bold claims, e.g., that connotation is as important to understanding language as denotation, that mainstream linguistics overestimates the latter at the expense of the former and ultimately true understanding. One of her footnotes puts it like this:

    I see the distinction between reference and inherent meaning to be very fundamental. Inherent meaning interestingly lives closer to the realm of connotation, and reference closer to denotation. The distinction bears certain resemblances to the Greek fusei vs. thesei, the essential vs. non-essential attributes of Aristotle, the analytic vs. synthetic expressions of Kant, and on and on and on. Spinoza, Hegel, Schopenhauer, the Gnostics, Wittgenstein, Plato, quantum electrodynamics,… are a few I know of who have drawn what seem to me similar distinctions. It’s probably safe to say that there isn’t a philosopher who hasn’t tried to get at this in some way. I find it often more helpful to consider what all these diverse concepts have in common than to dwell on their differences. In distinguishing between inherent and referential semantics, I don’t really want to add to the sea of similar distinctions already drawn. ‘Inherent’ vs. ‘referential’ are the terms within which I find it easiest to think about this. Other phonosemanticists have used other terms for a similar distinction. Every authentic thinker will find their own words to get at it. The whole point of the book is that there can be no frozen, well-defined form, no denotation free of connotation, no reference free of essence. Language is most effectively used fluidly, which implies not drawing lines around words, but rather working with them as living beings and allowing them to evolve for you as your understanding develops. And as QED so happily demonstrates, science does not require stodginess of us to be precise.
    Those who are familar with the issue of ‘double articulation’ in linguistics may notice that I think things are pieced together a little differently than has traditionally been assumed. I do not think there are two types of signs. Rather I think all signs have reference and inherent meaning. I follow late Wittgenstein in equating reference with function/usage, function/usage, but I do not limit semantics to reference. The ‘signifiant’ of de Saussure is the realm of inherent meaning. It is the material of which the word is composed and it does limit our choice of signifié. Contrary to what de Saussure himself concluded, I do not think this undermines his fundamental ideas. Structuralism, whose most recent incarnation is, I think, connectionism, gets along exceedingly well with phonosemantics. Rhodes and Lawler (1981), for example, point toward an obvious way to reconcile them. The structuralist forces in a language are no more running the show than those of phonosemantics. Both are symptoms of a deeper intelligence which orchestrates. We have, I think, too quickly rejected the complete generality of phonosemantics, because we couldn’t countenance the thought that language was fashioned as stunningly as it in fact is. It would take a miracle to hold phonosemantics, structuralism and regular phonological change together coherently, and we don’t believe in miracles… but they do happen anyway.
    Magnus, Margaret (1999-06-17). Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants (Kindle Locations 2106-2127). Truman State University Press. Kindle Edition.

    MOCKBA: Psychology and linguistics routinely use conjecture instead of data, or when they do go after data, it’s typically compounded and short of statistical power. But interesting theories get tainted by flawed and overstated proof. That’s what worries me about Magnus.
    HAT: This is making me twitch; it reminds me of someone defending the existence of ghosts.
    David M.: Perhaps more importantly, it overlooks the fact that even outright onomatopoietic words can lose their symbolism by undergoing regular sound change. A few days, um, nights ago, I was reading the Google Books preview of Don Ringe’s From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. It says the PIE ancestor of wind and the verb it’s a present participle from* started with *h2w-. No matter what exactly *h2 was (almost certainly one of [x χ ħ], last resort [h]), that looks pretty obvious to me. Yet, most of the modern forms of that word have [v] which doesn’t sound like blowing wind at all.
    Magnus claims to be working on a dictionary of phonosemantics. This short book I’ve been quoting from is more a philosophical tract she herself describes as “loose,” a tract to introduce her thinking and its possible implications on linguistics. It’s peppered with clever anecdotes — “The other day, while playing a flicking game with my daughter, I was wadding up bits of paper. She said to me at one point, ‘Smish it down real tight.’ Now what sort of a word is ‘smish’? She invented it on the fly. It was not derived from some Indo-Germanic root by some regular vowel alteration the way all good words are supposed to come down to us. No. She created by analogy with words like ‘squish’ and ‘smash’. She wanted the smallness implicit in the /i/ sound without the wetness implicit in the /w/ of ‘squish’. So she invented ‘smish’. And in the process, she is both doing deference to the meaning of individual consonants and vowels (/i/ and /w/ at the very least), and she is also reinforcing these meanings by using them in a new context.” [well, that was actually from her website, but I only realized that after I'd half-written the paragraph in my head, and it included that story] — and it (her book) has persuasive lists of words with the same cluster of consonants which all have something semantic in common. Like Joe R. just said, I kinda wanna believe her. But the proof, if it ever comes, will have to be in that dictionary.

  108. I coulda sworn I’ve heard “smish together” before, used pretty much as she says. But the OED lists it as 19th century criminal slang for shirt.

  109. Yeah, references to Spinoza, Hegel, Schopenhauer, the Gnostics, Wittgenstein, Plato, and quantum electrodynamics aren’t making me any happier with her. I’m starting to get a whiff of those ’70s classics of pop physics like The Dancing Wu Li Masters. But I’m still talking completely out of my ass, not having laid eyes on the book and going by a few quoted bits, so don’t mind me, I’ll just sit here and twitch.

  110. David Marjanović says:

    Quantum woo? *twitch*

    “B” is violent: bash, bang, boom, blood, bitch, blind, brambles, bite, break, beat, bicker.

    Interesting. However, etymologically, at least two of these don’t belong.
    Blood once was a euphemism related to blossom and bloom; German still shows this – Blut “blood”, Blüte “bloom/blossom”. For a semantic connection between blood and flowers, see Aztec religion.
    Blind – originally the verb, not the adjective – is one of the bl- words for shiny stuff. Both black and blank belong here, and it’s too late at night for me to provide 10 more from English and German. :-)

    She said to me at one point, ‘Smish it down real tight.’ Now what sort of a word is ‘smish’? She invented it on the fly.

    Just to be clear – this happens undeniably. The question is just how often it happens and how often such words get established in a language. English crash and crack – the verbs, I mean – and German krachen are clear examples that pretty much can’t have common ancestors.

  111. David Marjanović says:

    Blut “blood”, Blüte “bloom/blossom”

    …Actually, the persistence of Blüte in German but not in English may explain why bleed shows umlaut but Standard German bluten doesn’t: to avoid confusion (once the euphemistic origin had been forgotten). In my dialect, it does have umlaut, and Blüte probably doesn’t exist…

  112. Interesting. The OED says “Common Teutonic: Old English blód = Old Frisian, Old Saxon blôd (Low German blôd , Dutch bloed ), Old High German blôt , bluot (modern German blut ), Old Norse blóð (Swedish, Danish blod ), Gothic blôþ

  113. Part of my comment seems to have disappeared through a wormhole.
    “Old Teutonic *blôd(om , answering to an Aryan type *bhlātóm , not found with a suitable sense outside Teutonic, there being no general Aryan name for ‘blood’; doubtfully referred to verbal root blō- ‘blow, bloom’, which suits the form, but is less certain as to the sense. ”
    Do we have any idea how such a change might have come about?

  114. Yeah, references to Spinoza, Hegel, Schopenhauer, the Gnostics, Wittgenstein, Plato, and quantum electrodynamics aren’t making me any happier with her.
    Interested as I am in your twitching — I know one doctor who would order blood work immediately, bloodwork which *would* indicate Lymes, or at least the possibility of it (we’ve dealt with a lot doctors) — I’m confident your hands would steady, at least somewhat, at least over the references, if you were reading the text itself as opposed to the endnotes (excepting a surfeit of epigraphs, she mostly speaks for herself); and even the references you bust her for here… I dunno, it was a list of thinkers, or at least influential authors, she’s read over the course of her life who’ve detected a dichotomy she’s now trying to tackle, and even her tone wasn’t overly smooth, i.e., pretentious: it was, perhaps, over-excited, but she cops to that tone here and there throughout the text… so yeah, I suppose I like her. And you’re a big meany!

  115. I am, in fact, a big meany. Just ask my younger brothers!

  116. John Emerson says:

    I just tuned in.
    The point of the dialogue “Cratylus” is usually taken to be that Socrates denies that sounds have intrinsic meanings, which is what Cratylus was arguing. You can accumulate associations and similarities to make it seem that they do, but it doesn’t hold up under examination.
    I believe that Socrates was also arguing against the historicist kind of reading that will find the meanings of philosophical concepts in etymology, something common in exegesis in many literary and religious cultures. Socrates wanted ideas to be pure and timeless and universal, and not dragging along the historical and other associations of the words used to label them.
    I don’t think that particular sounds have meanings or associations across languages, but within one language there seems to often be the phonetic generation of words with similar meanings. Slip-slide-slop-slither-slime, niche-nook-nock-nick-notch, skate-skid-scoot-scud-skitter-scatter. Poets use these similarities, and Wm Stafford and GM Hopkins have written about it. And something like this is actually a taught formal principle in Arabic.

  117. I don’t think that particular sounds have meanings or associations across languages
    Well, the Kiki-Bouba effect (linked above) seems to contradict the strong form of that assertion, but I agree that it doesn’t prove very much.

  118. Red a little further in the book; here’s the first bit of red meat:

    Test 1 The most obvious way to test Socrates’ hypothesis is to group words by initial consonant and then try to form a ‘good’ classification for all the words beginning with some consonant. By a ‘good’ classification, I mean one in which 1) very nearly every word fits into some class, 2) the classes are narrowly defined, 3) each class contains a large percentage of the words beginning with that consonant, and 4) each word fits into as many classes as possible. By a narrowly defined class, I mean one with a narrow meaning. For example, the class of mammals is narrower than the class of animals. If Socrates is right, then such a classification should exist, which reflects the pronunciation of the initial phoneme. Furthermore a classification which works well for words beginning with /b/ should work considerably less well for words beginning with any other phoneme.
    This is indeed what you find. Some classifications are very obvious and others work not at all. The good classifications reflect the pronunciation of the initial phoneme. The classification is cleaner and more tight knit if you eliminate concrete nouns – or nouns that refer to objects.6 And as one works an image arises in the mind which unifies all the phonesthemes for the phoneme. So now, fellow data-lovers, let us look at a subset of English /t/ words:
    /t/ is pronounced in the middle of the mouth and also acts on a process in mid-stream. But it doesn’t have the power to slow the process down like /d/ does. /t/ can only direct the process to a goal. The voiced sounds like /b/, /d/ and /g/ tend to be less precise, messier and more heavy handed than their unvoiced counterparts, /p/, /t/ and /k/. One large class of /t/ words — the ‘to’ wordsÊ– have in common directedness toward a goal without specification as to whether the goal is reached. One is merely en route. The primary /t/ prefixes are ‘tele-’ and ‘trans-’, and function words in /t/ are ‘to’ ‘too’, ‘toward’ and ‘till’.
    The directedness in /t/ gives rise to a large class of ‘travelling’ words. These emphasize the path which is travelled and the means by which it is traversed. The verbs have an implicit goal, but no concern about whether the goal is actually reached. These ‘travel’ words generally contain an /r/:
    To – to Travel – tour, tourney, train, travel, trip Vehicle – tandem, tank, tanker, taxi, toboggan, tractor, traffic, trailer, train, tram, tramp, troika, trolley, truck, truckle, trundle, tub, tube
    Tent – tarp, tent, tepee Ticket – tariff, ticket, token, toll
    Travellers – tar, tinker, tribe, troop, troubadour, troupe Trade – tariff, tender, trade, traffic, truck, turn
    By Foot – toddle, tramp, trample, tread, trek, tromp, troop, trot, trounce, trudge Follow – tab/s, tag, tail, tandem, tardy, tarry, tote, tow, trace, track, trail, trawl, trend, troll, tug
    Trace – tail, trace, track, tread Path – track, trail, trellis, trestle, tube
    Ditch – trench, trough, trunk, tube, tuber, tunnel
    Flow – torrent, travel, trickle, tunnel
    There are other verbs of physical motion which imply directedness toward a goal. Chief among these are verbs of tilting and turning. Turning tends to take the form /tw/ or /tVr/, where V stands for any vowel. Verbs of toggling and twitching tend to begin with /tr/ or /tw/, and often end in the syllable -le or -er:
    Tilt (intrans) – tack, teeter, tend, tilt, tip, tipsy, topple, totter, tumble, turn
    Tend – tend, tide, to, trend, turn
    Trip (trans) – tackle, teeter, tilt, tip, toss, top, topple, trip Turn – tack, tackle, tide, tilde, till, tip, toggle, torque, toss, treadle, trill, trim, troll, tumble, turn, tweak, twiddle, twirl, twist
    Toggle – toggle, treadle, tremble, tremor, trill, twiddle, twinkle
    Turning Things – taco, tire, top, tornado, torso, tortilla, tour, tourney, treadle, turban, tweed, twill, twine, twist /t/ is a apprehensive phoneme.
    Apprehension expresses fear regarding something which might happen in the future, not about a current situation:
    Nervous – tense, terror, tic, tight, tinge, tingle, tizzy, toot, tough, tremble, tremor, twiddle, twinge, twitch
    Twitch – tic, tremble, tremor, twiddle, twinge, twitch
    Talisman – taboo, tag, talisman, tallit, tally, tarot, token, totem
    Trouble – tangle, trauma, trouble, turmoil, tumult
    ‘Trying’ implies a goal toward which you are directed, but may or may not reach:
    Try – tackle, take, tamper, target, task, taste, tax, test, toe, toil, tool, tough, toy, travail, trial, try, tug, turn, tussle
    Tempt – taunt, tease, tempt, toy, trick, try Trick – taint, take, tamper, tattle, taunt, tease, tempt, tickle, toy, treason, trick, trip, twist
    Tire – tax, tire, tucker ‘Taming’ involves a process which tends toward the goal of control.
    Unlike ‘controlling’ or ‘handling’, ‘taming’ involves a gradual process in a specific direction, but with no definite final state:
    Tame – tail, tame, taper, temper, tend, tidy, tide, tie, till, tone, treat, trim, truce, turn
    Quiet – tact, tame, tender, timid, trance, tranquil, treacle
    Conditions – template, tenet, term, text
    Teaching’ and ‘training’ also concern directedness toward the goal of competence or understanding, but do not in general imply a completed action:
    Teach/Train – taboo, tale, talent, Talmud, tame, tantra, tarot, tattle, teach, tell, temper, text, Torah, trade, train, trellis, tune, turn
    Unlike the ‘bonding’ in /b/, which implies that force is required, the ‘togetherness’ of /t/ is formed by ‘trust’. All parties remain free. Words of trust begin with /tr/ and tend to end in /s/ and/or /t/:
    Trust – treaty, troth, truce, trust, tryst
    Team – team, teem, totem, tourney, town, trade, tribe, trio, troop, troupe, trust, tub, twain, twin, two
    ‘Tastes’ and ‘timbres’ have a subtlety in common which is typical of /t/, but not the other stop consonants (/b/, /d/, /g/, /p/, /k/). They too suggest a tendency toward something without necessarily whacking it on the head:
    Trait – taste, tenor, timbre, tint, tone, trait, type
    Timbre – taint, taste, tenor, timbre, tinge, tint, touch, tone, trace, trickle, twinge, twinkle
    Taste – taint, tang, tart, taste, test, tongue, trace, treat, try To give you an idea of how general this concept is, 197 words beginning in /t/, or 49% of my monomorphemic /t/ vocabulary has just been mentioned. And the other words beginning with /t/ also imply this tendency toward a goal in a way that perhaps appears a little less direct.
    The above test can be applied not only to words which begin with a certain consonant, but to groups of words with any common characteristic of pronunciation, such as all words which contain a particular vowel, or which begin with /kr/, or which have /l/ in second position. In each case, you find that no matter what common element of pronunciation you test for, the words like to cluster into a few highly interrelated classes.
    You can also apply this test cross-linguistically. You can, for example, find natural semantic classes for words beginning with /t/ in Swahili, Japanese and Irish, and compare them with the English phonesthemes. One finds that although the exact words certainly do not match up, the phonesthemes largely do. Russian /skr/ has very nearly the same phonesthemes as English /skr/ but with a little bit of a twist. They remind one of an aspen and a birch or a butterfly and a moth.
    Magnus, Margaret (1999-06-17). Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants (Kindle Locations 391-488). Truman State University Press. Kindle Edition.

    She provides seven other “tests,” to give a sense of her methodology; I’m only pasting the first because inserting the paragraphing is a pain in the ass (I didn’t bother with other formatting, like bolding and italicizing), and I’m not even sure anyone is still interested. I will include below the first part of her next chapter, where she starts to draw conclusions from her data. I should add that she makes clear that all the data necessary to prove her ideas aren’t in — couldn’t be in — such a slim book, that she’s just trying to introduce people to phonosemantics before, presumably, she finishes her dictionary.

    Why Language Can’t Function without Inherent Meaning
    After quite a bit of communing with words in this way, it becomes pretty obvious that, for example, this tendency toward a goal really is introduced by /t/. And furthermore, that it very fundamentally affects how you use the words that contain /t/. It’s not just a peripheral phenomenon. Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language knows how difficult it is to understand exactly how to use the basic words like ‘get’ and ‘move’ and ‘find’. You have to hang out with the language for quite some time before you really start getting a sense for how it works. And it’s really hard to give any good explanation for how it works. If you want to learn German, and someone tells you ‘geben’ means ‘give’, you quickly discover that it sort of does, but you certainly can’t use ‘geben’ exactly like you use ‘give’.
    Inherent semantics holds the key to understanding an important part of the usage of these words. Let me look at a basic word in a little bit of detail to give you a sense for the types of factors involved, and the extent to which they determine the semantics of the word. Since we have just spoken of directedness in /t/, I’ll choose the word ‘take’.
    The first thing to remember is that since we’re dealing with phonosemantics, we’re looking for a single meaning. That is, what is common to all the senses of ‘take’?
    The basic sense of ‘take’ is different from the stealing verbs like ‘swipe’, ‘purloin’, ‘rob’,… in that when you ‘take’ something, you’re not breaking the law. You’re not actually cheating. It’s also different from words like ‘accept’, ‘receive’, ‘get’, etc. in that the taker has the initiative. The object was not given to him. There is no giver. Furthermore, ‘take’ is different from a verb like ‘pick up’, ‘collect’,… in that the thing ‘taken’ doesn’t really want to go with the person who takes it. If we say, ‘Arthur took the pencil sharpener,’ the implication is that someone else wanted to use it. If we say, ‘Arthur picked up the pencil sharpener,’ there is no such implication.
    The first definition of ‘take’ in the American Heritage Dictionary is ‘to get into one’s possession by force, skill or artifice especially’. Why do you need this ‘force, skill and artifice’? Because the object taken doesn’t want to go with you. It ‘tends’ somewhere else. There’s a conflict implicit in ‘take’, between where the object actually goes and where it wants to go.
    The conflict is between the /t/ and the /k/. The /t/ says, “I wanna go there! I wanna go there!” And the /k/ says, “No way, buddy! Gotcha!” You see a similar dynamic in ‘tack’ and ‘tuck’.
    We have seen how /t/ quite generally tends somewhere. We have not seen the ‘capture’ in /k/. In general, consonants in the back of the mouth like /g/ and /k/ imply ‘toward the self’. At the beginning of words, you find a very large class of such /k/ words: cling, clasp, catch, come, keep, clutch, etc.. At the end of the word you get a similar phonestheme: lock, suck, stick, pick, etc.. In both cases there is a capture. But in the former case, the capture sets the stage for the action of the word, and in the latter case, the capture is the punch line, the result.
    This conflict is implicit not only in this basic sense of ‘take’, but in every other sense as well. However, the conflict between ‘tendency’ and ‘capture’ or ‘connection’ can take any number of forms, and this is what makes the word ‘take’ hard for a foreigner to get. The conflict which underlies these senses is quite abstract. In ‘He took it in stride,’ there is an implication that there is some difficult ordeal, and that the easy way — the tendency — would be to collapse and give in. But he ‘keeps’ himself together. In ‘I’ll take you there,’ there’s an implication that the person either doesn’t want to go, or that s/he doesn’t know the way. In either case, there’s a ‘tendency’ toward a different direction. Compare, ‘I’ll accompany you.’ In ‘I’m going to take scissors to that hair,’ the implication is that whoever it is definitely doesn’t want a haircut. In ‘take cover,’ there’s a conflict between what you were doing and an impending danger which imposes a different course of action. In ‘take off’ as opposed to ‘begin’, ‘start’, there’s an implied physical resistance pulling you backward. Most dictionaries distinguish 30 to 50 senses of ‘take’, so I won’t go through them all, but they’re easy enough to look up.
    Before I close on /t/ and /k/, let me briefly take a look at one more /t//k/ verb: ‘talk’. ‘Talk’ is unlike the many ‘blabbering’ verbs: chatter, prattle, gab, gossip, banter, etc. in that it has content which has value. There is something specific a ‘talker’ wants to ‘talk’ about. This come from the /t/. If I say, ‘I want to talk with you,’ I mean that I have an issue which concerns me, and I hope that a conversation with you will bring about a resolution. ‘I want to speak with you,’ is more likely to imply that you’re in trouble. ‘I want to gab, chatter, shoot the breeze,’ implies that there’s nothing in particular I need to discuss.
    However, unlike ‘prove, explain, show, say,’ and an equally vast array of other verbs, ‘talk’ does not yet know what the result of the conversation will be. You enter into ‘talk’ with an issue seeking closure, but with the exact nature of the outcome left open. That is, once again we find directedness toward a goal but no comment about the actual conclusion. The closure in ‘talk’ therefore has a different status than the closure in /p/ verbs like ‘prove’, ‘preach’ and ‘point out’ in that the speaker does not yet know what the outcome of the process will be. But s/he does seek an outcome. In contrast to its partner ‘tell’, ‘talk’ does seek a resolution. ‘Tell’ has a story line and a direction, but nothing it needs resolved.
    It is, of course, insufficient to look at isolated words in this manner. One has to look at all words methodically to really understand the dynamics. My intention in making this little presentation is to clarify why I think you can’t speak English at all unless you know its phonosemantics, its poetry. If you don’t know about this tendency in /t/ and this capture in /k/, you can’t get at this inner conflict in ‘take’. You don’t know about ‘force, skill and artifice’, why it is necessary, what it is trying to overcome. A thousand dictionary entries will never get to the essence of it. They will never communicate what it is that all those strange usages of ‘take’ have in common — why these idiot Englishmen think they have anything to do with one another. You have to know /t/ and /k/ personally to see that all those senses are just the same guy in different uniforms.
    Magnus, Margaret (1999-06-17). Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants (Kindle Locations 642-699). Truman State University Press. Kindle Edition.

    Honestly, I just don’t know what to make of all this. It seem persuasive, but I’m a layman, and really I just want the dictionary to come out and attract enough attention to get experts I trust to parse it all for me in a serious review. Of course, I always listen to LH denizens as well.

  119. Jim, have you seriously considered the possibility that what Magnus says is simply unintelligible ? You say it seems persuasive, but does it make any sense ? I could not identify a single testable proposition in the quoted passages, although there is a lot of hand-waving to encourage “data-lovers”.
    The whole shebang seems to be confabulation. It reminds me of Sokal’s hoax.

  120. I agree with Grumbly; it seems to me a classic case of seeing in the data what you wanted to see.
    (“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’” Substitute “analyze” for “use” and Bob’s your uncle.)

  121. Magnus claims that “language can’t function without inherent meaning” – the meaning being provided by phonemes, apparently. But if phonemes had inherent meaning, then what Magnus says should be inherently meaningful. Yet I can’t follow her train of thought even accidentally.
    Perhaps she wants to claim that spoken language is inherently meaningful – leaving open the question of written language. That’s a familiar idea, but a rather risky one on which to base a book. Many people are more confident about their ability to speak than their ditto to write.
    The very idea of “inherent” is ridiculous. It is impossible to make sense if there is no one to listen. Sense-making is a joint venture involving speakers and listeners.
    Sense cannot be passed around like a plate of sliced turkey for hungry hearers, though. The plate becomes empty at some point, but there is always sense left over for the morrow.

  122. The verb meaning “taking” (of something by hand) usually means a lot of things in other languages as well — and the semantic range can be quite like English “take”. (“wörtlich nehmen” is “take literally”, “prendre quelqu’un par surprise” is “take sb by surprise”, “dgra-sha len” is “take revenge” …) So I believe the long musing on t…k is simply mistaken.

  123. Jim, have you seriously considered the possibility that what Magnus says is simply unintelligible ?
    Yes, and your and Steve’s comment make me consider it further. I thought I was pretty clear that I wasn’t taking Magnus’s side, just checking her out, with a quick read, because the idea is appealing. Thanks for weighing in, both of you: I’m disappointed, less hopeful than before, but not surprised.

  124. The verb meaning “taking” (of something by hand) usually means a lot of things in other languages as well — and the semantic range can be quite like English “take”. (“wörtlich nehmen” is “take literally”, “prendre quelqu’un par surprise” is “take sb by surprise”, “dgra-sha len” is “take revenge” …) So I believe the long musing on t…k is simply mistaken.
    Yeah, the shortness of the list of other languages she had applied her “tests” to raised even my credulous eyebrows. I guess some things are fringy for a reason.

  125. The word “fringes” always makes me think of Davy Crockett and ecdysiasts. It must be my upbringing.

  126. David: Yeah, a sexist one … Don’t know about you, but I prefer jokes that are actually funny
    Though pretty belatedly, I want to say something about this comment of yours (which I only just noticed) on what I wrote.
    There are several commenters at this site who lie in eager wait for some something about which they can practice vicarious outrage (“sich fremdempören“, like that 2011 Unwort “sich fremdschämen”). That of course makes it hard for them to see humor, or even maintain a civilized tone. They imagine that outrage is a token of sincerity and right-thinking.
    My joke was about flaky logic, not about women. Look at what I wrote:

    On the basis of her claim that “existence is much easier to demonstrate than non-existence”, the lady appears to think she has forwarded her claim for the existence of “sound symbolism”, or whatever. On the contrary: so far she has not demonstrated the existence of “sound symbolism” – no matter what might be harder to demonstrate.

    My point is that if you have not demonstrated that A exists, then it is irrelevant whether “it is easier to demonstrate that A exists than that it doesn’t”. Magnus seems to be using this last claim to suggest that “you are going to find it hard to demonstrate that I am wrong about the existence of inherent meaning in sounds” – since proving non-existence is harder. That, I wrote, is an example of woozy logic.
    To show how woozy it is, I used an example which many people consider to be something whose non-existence is blindingly clear, so that its existence cannot be demonstrated at all, namely “female logic”:

    The quoted passage demonstrates the existence of female logic. But that’s no surprise: it’s easier to demonstrate that female logic exists than that it doesn’t.

    Any reader who doesn’t have a borrowed chip on his shoulder should have been able to understand this syllogistic sally.

  127. On the basis of her claim that “existence is much easier to demonstrate than non-existence”, the lady appears to think she has forwarded her claim for the existence of “sound symbolism”, or whatever. On the contrary: so far she has not demonstrated the existence of “sound symbolism” – no matter what might be harder to demonstrate.
    No, she’s just saying the other side hasn’t proved it’s non-existence, at least to the degree she thinks it exists (no one doubts its existence completely). To deduce from these sentences that she thinks she has seriously forwarded her theories — especially when I made clear that I was at the beginning of the book and that she was merely summing up the conventional thinking in her field — is ungenerous in the extreme; unnecessary, one might say, because it’s obvious she’s not making the claims you have her making, so when you throw in a sexist stock phrase in your unnecessary analogous reasoning, some of us focus on that stock phrase, wonder where the hell it came from. I’m not eager to rehash this stuff — we’re getting along well again — but c’mon, Stu, you speak of your posts as catwalking, showing off. And since you’ve got smart people reading don’t you think it’s possible, when one of us takes umbrage, that you’ve stumbled and we’re not all moralizing twits. This isn’t the first time you’ve used a sexist “stock phrase” to make a point that didn’t justify it.

  128. don’t you think it’s possible, when one of us takes umbrage, that you’ve stumbled and we’re not all moralizing twits. This isn’t the first time you’ve used a sexist “stock phrase” to make a point that didn’t justify it.
    What do you mean by “stumbled” ? That seems to imply that I have failed at something, namely to conceal “the truth about my views”.
    Such implications are the bread and butter of those who live and thrive in a culture of suspicion. Everything for such people is centered on exposure and censure, and heroic deeds of revelation.
    It sometimes seems as if you are bound and determined to brand me as sexist, racist, etc etc Why is that ? Are you convinced that I have something to hide ? Are you incredibly naive, or just pretending to be, so that your ability to discover my hidden views seems all the more laudible ?
    You interpret certain things I say as hiding shameful views, and refuse to accept my explicit denials of holding such views. How do you decide what needs interpretation and what can be taken at face value ? You would revolutionize philosophy if you had a satisfactory answer to that.
    Of course, if you are convinced that I have something to hide, then you will take what I just wrote as further attempts to conceal by fancy talk. You may have noticed, by the way, that I myself do not try to convict other people of concealing their true views. Perhaps you could think about possible reasons for not doing that, and for why I in particular don’t. Is that some kind of ruse, do you think ?

  129. Don’t mean to disturb you guys, but does anyone know the intended literal meaning of the phrase “a chip on (one’s) shoulder”? Is it a wooden chip, a fish-and chip? Why a chip, why a shoulder?

  130. It is fish-and-chips that are meant. Before the invention of styrofoam, they were used as shoulder pads.
    Well, maybe not. I’ve always imagined that the chip is a wooden chip. Guys looking for trouble will swagger up to you, part of the swaggering being an exaggerated rolling motion of the shoulders.
    It’s easy to knock a small, light wooden chip from a shoulder in motion. It’s just as easy for it to fall of its own accord. This is the point of “having a chip on your shoulder” – when it falls off, you can claim that the other guy did it in provocation, and it’s hard to prove differnt.

  131. What do you mean by “stumbled” ? That seems to imply that I have failed at something, namely to conceal “the truth about my views”.
    No, you go wrong at “namely”; it means you fail to entertain, something you often do playing with unorthodox views (the entertaining, that is, not the failing). Play with fire, you get burned. I’ll still watch the next act.
    It sometimes seems as if you are bound and determined to brand me as sexist, racist, etc etc
    I was happy to leave it alone, but you were the one who couldn’t resist tidying the record re David M., and I didn’t think you did that accurately.

  132. John Emerson says:

    There are several commenters at this site who lie in eager wait for some something about which they can practice vicarious outrage.
    And there’s one commenter who insists on baiting these commenters, and then when he succeeds in getting a rise out of them, rebuking them and defending himself at great length. This seems to be one of his purposes when he commenting here. He puts the other commenters in the position of either ignoring his little digs or else picking a fight, and this also seems to be one of his goals. He seems to have no willingness at all to suppress or moderate certain of his modes of speech for the sake of avoiding these disputes.
    My response to this, which I came to after I ended up on the losing side of an earlier dispute, has been to comment here less and to avoid these topics while I am here. But they come up anyway, and the victim of the “several commenters” seems perfectly OK with that.
    People who know me from elsewhere know how much I suppress my own dark side while I’m here.

  133. I think I just figured out the genus of that incriminatory, don’t-believe-you behavior that is sometimes directed at me and others here (Aristotle: to give the reason is to name the genus). It’s not merely that I am suspected of holding reprehensible views, but of holding them and not knowing that I hold them. Thus it all has to be spelled out to me, my protestations to the contrary be damned.
    That particular kind of paranoia-in-practice is called Ideologieverdacht (suspicion of ideology) in the German philosophical and political tradition. It had its heyday from the end of the 19C up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Marxists and psychoanalysts were and are its most faithful practitioners.
    Gosh, how exciting, it’s like taking a trip in a Time Machine ! Perhaps I should just repeat how Sloterdijk described the function of paranoia: to find out the truth about the truth.

  134. John Emerson says:

    We’re suspecting you of being an asshole who enjoys annoying people and putting them in the wrong, and someone who has occupied a perfectly wonderful multi-purpose website for your own purpose, which is the advocacy a point of view that many others on the site have no interest in knowing more about. In other circumstances I might be interested in discussing some of these things, in a friendly or unfriendly way, but not here.

  135. John, as far as I’m concerned we’re dealing with ideas here, not mutual reassurance. Something that everyone agreed with would hardly be worth saying. So some of my views are bound to excite dissent, as are some of yours. This does not justify personal acrimony.

  136. John Emerson says:

    It’s not for you to say whether acrimony is justified, Stu. This didn’t use to be a debate site, and anti-PC didn’t used to be one of its (very many) topics of interest.
    A considerable number of others here have been annoyed by your insistent introduction of this theme into the discourse here, and one possible response of yours would have been to decide that this isn’t the place for that. I think that everyone appreciates your posts on other topics.

  137. Oh well, if it makes you happier I’ll try to avoid “anti-PC” comments in future – although I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that. Perhaps that I should choose my words so as to exclude any semblance of referring to women ? I don’t know why that should be a particularly touchy topic, but I’ll take your word for it. I have no problem with women, but of course no one believes me.

  138. John Emerson says:

    You’re not as stupid as you’re pretending to be, Stu, and that’s annoying. If my way of expressing the problem displeases and confuses you, then you try to figure out what’s been pissing people off, and then quit doing it. That shouldn’t be so hard. No one but you enjoys these fights.
    You’re not the victim here. Quit pretending that you are.

  139. I’m not displeased or confused by the expression “anti-PC”, John. I just don’t quite know what you mean. I’m trying to be conciliatory here, because I take you to be doing the same.
    The primary things I have said that have upset people have been taken to be nasty references to women and “races”. Thus Jim has accused me of being sexist, racist and a bigot. If this is not what you mean, then what ?

  140. John Emerson says:

    I am not trying to be conciliatory. I am saying that you have repeatedly annoyed people here and should quit. This is not necessarily because they are right and you are wrong, but because these fights take the fun out of the place. Any discussion group has its usually unspoken criteria for how discussions proceed, and you are essentially trying to force a change in the criteria, and you’re getting resistance. This isn’t a one-time thing, and for every time that someone has said something, others have remained silent.
    I seriously doubt that you are baffled as to what the problem is.

  141. Jim has accused me of being … racist and a bigot.
    I never did that. My blood boiled when you tried to lecture me — pointlessly, erroneously, and annoyingly — about the method of my reasoning, in the midst of a debate about race; but again, I never accused you of being a racist and a bigot. As for sexism, you do make a lot of misogynistic comments, but I offered an explanation for them above (in the spirit of conciliation) that would, at least at heart, clear you of the accusation of sexism. I like you, want to continue being your friend, but that won’t be possible if you keep lumping me in with the “right-thinking moralizers.” Honestly, I think there’s some truth to John’s comments.

  142. John, I do appreciate your attempt to name the specific topics, or ways of commenting on them, that annoy you or cause offense. You seem to think that I’m playing coy, but I’m not. From my point of view, all my comments are motivated by the same attempt to say something worthwhile in an amusing manner, even if the humor is sometimes rather bristly.
    You write: “I think that everyone appreciates your posts on other topics”. Do you seriously believe that I would not avoid these topics if you would only name them ? Try me out !
    I don’t see myself as a victim. I simply find it hard to keep my cool when personal acrimony hits the fan. I have repeatedly pointed out that I never get personally nasty, but this doesn’t seem to count for anything. You think nothing of calling me an asshole, for instance. Is this any better than my brand of generalized, intellectual mockery ?

  143. Oh well, if it makes you happier I’ll try to avoid “anti-PC” comments in future
    That would be much appreciated. I don’t think you’re sexist/racist, jamessal doesn’t think so, I doubt anyone thinks so, but that’s not the point: you persist in baiting your imagined über-PC audience, hoping for some fireworks that you can then act superior to, and it’s not much fun for the rest of us. As John says, you’re not as stupid as you pretend to be; you know perfectly well what’s going on. You’re trolling for pushback you can then claim to be “personal nastiness,” which you can smugly deprecate. Can’t you just stick to discussing what’s being discussed, without throwing in little stinkbombs that inevitably derail the discussion? Thanks in advance.

  144. John Emerson says:

    Stu, the first step would be for you to figure out why you annoy people, and the second step would be for you to quit doing those things. Don’t keep knocking the question back to the people who are annoyed. Figuring out the problem is your job.
    It’s mostly in the area of remarks about race and gender. For me being excessively argumentative is part of it too. Sometimes you should just let things drop.

  145. My pleasure retrospectively !

  146. J.W. Brewer says:

    Will John Emerson and jamessal for their part stop saying trollish stuff (esp. in the form of gratuitously introducing political rhetoric with tangential relationship to the topic at hand) if people start complaining instead of just letting it slide?

  147. Jesus Christ, people, please let’s drop this. I undertake to chap fewer asses in future, to the best of my ability. I just enrolled in a crash course at a finishing school over New Year’s.

  148. John Emerson says:

    It wasn’t just me and Jamessal on this thread, David M. was also annoyed, and others have spoken up in the past. And I’m pretty sure others have bit their tongues.
    I’ve been mostly staying away from this place for a month or more and I’m keeping the option open of continuing to mostly stay away. I would like to see these fights ended but as far as I am concerned the ball is in Stu’s court.

  149. JE is right. I will walk softly, carrying a smaller shtick.

  150. I will walk softly, carrying a smaller shtick
    Ninja armed with nunchaku heh heh. Grumbly I do love it when you occasionally grumble. As it happens on the Internet, some associations and comments which are obviously funny and witty to their author, have a potential to be misunderstood by the audience. Some readers may not see a connection, and may not see the joke funny at all. Others may get you point, but wouldn’t resist feigning a righteous indignation. And still others may sense that a net.brawl may ensue at any minute, and just run for cover.
    No one should be surprised when a not-so-perfect joke is misunderstood online. It would be the best for the author not to have to defend it at all cost, and it would be the best for all of us to dispense our righteous indignation in as small doses as possible. Please.
    Now could we return to that fish on the shoulder? :)

  151. it would be the best for all of us to dispense our righteous indignation in as small doses as possible.
    That’s the most convincing argument that has been put forward – saving energy !
    “Giving someone the cold shoulder” means offering him fish-and-chips that have not been kept warm by an unnecessary expenditure of energy.

  152. Will jamessal … [his] part stop saying trollish stuff (esp. in the form of gratuitously introducing political rhetoric with tangential relationship to the topic at hand) if people start complaining instead of just letting it slide?
    I don’t appreciate the characterization. As for Grumbly, I’ve been conciliatory. As for my putative modus operandi on LH, I call bullshit. Not everyone here has a PhD in linguistics, but most are interested in history — I’ve been commenting on this site for years, and it’s only in that past few months, when I started studying the Civil War and racial history in America, that I’ve begun to introduce the topic into threads. Yes, that history has usually been tangentially related, but Hat has no problem with threads taking their own course, people are free to ignore me, I ask to be shown if I’m shoehorning the issue (i.e., if it’s less relavent than I imagine it to be), and I’m always polite, and I’m always ready to admit I’m wrong. I never, or at least very rarely, even mention contemporary politics: Gingrich, Palin, et al. — stuff that really would be inflammatory. Usually I battle prescriptivists, try to keep up with the linguistics (learning what I can), and comment on literature, writing, and other LH bar talk. If our host has a problem with my behavior he can tell me, but I’ve asked him, and he doesn’t. If you had a problem, you could have told me at the time — when I asked — instead of later ascribing to me “trollish behavior.” I’m not sure if you had a chip on your shoulder or if your were playing peacekeeper, but if the latter, you should know Stu and I have known each other for years, have emailed each other often, played chess — our relationship doesn’t need your intervention; if the former, then I don’t know where the hell that came from. I’ve always admired you, and if anything interacted deferentially, because I know you’re better read, and I imagine you’re of good character. That’s why I’m surprised by this inaccurate, unfriendly characterization.

  153. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, I certainly don’t wish to interfere with peace breaking out between Stu and his interlocutors and I probably erred in lumping Jim and John E. together rather than giving a more nuanced account of each or just, you know, biting my tongue. Or not even that (it sounds too grim and burdensome) as opposed to just accepting that people generally are who they are and have the quirks of discourse they have and if they have some proportion of things worth saying one can learn to filter out the rest to the extent beneficial to ones blood pressure. But it was thoughtless of me to not make my underlying point more carefully and emolliently and since I don’t have time right now to rephrase why don’t I just withdraw it completely and instead wish all concerned the blessings of Weihnachten or some analogous occasion.

  154. For the record, Grumbly, I do not give a damn about your opinions, only your verbal behavior. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re joking or not; I want you to stop it in either case. I am very glad indeed to hear that you have agreed to do so, and I’ll say no more about it.

  155. Excellent! Shortbread, whisky, and black bun for everyone!

  156. Thank you for the retraction, J.W.
    If you want to address further my quirks of discourse, my inbox is always open to you. I think I’ve been a good member of the LH community, but I respect your opinion, and I wouldn’t want you to have to do too much filtering on my account. Although I can’t promise to alter my style to suit you alone, of course, I can promise to think seriously about anything you have to say.

  157. I hope it goes without saying people can discuss whatever they feel like discussing here at LH, as long as they do it with a reasonable degree of respect for their fellow habitués. I enjoy jamessal’s historical excursuses just as I enjoy (say) AJP’s architectural ones. LH casts a wide net and catches many fish, some hitherto considered extinct.

  158. Thanks, Hat. Auden said you only read well when you read for a purpose, and the goal of getting my shit straight here on LH makes me a better reader of books I could very well forget soon after I’ve read them. Plus, I so often get interesting counter opinions, or even interesting agreements, that it makes reading as a whole more enjoyable, not to mention that I get to practice writing quickly. Great bar you got here, Hat, although I’m still curious what J.W. feels a need to filter, because whether it’s a critique of my blog manners or a statement of his personal preferences, it’d still be edifying.

  159. Someone once said “put your shoulder to the grindstone and let the chips fall where they may”.

  160. About Hogmanay, WiPe says many things, including
    In the east coast fishing communities and Dundee, first-footers [i.e. the first people to enter a house after the new year] used to carry a decorated herring
    I’d love to know more.

  161. In German, der Hering is not just a fish, but also a tent stake. When the Vikings erected tents in the winter, they stabilized them with ropes wrapped around frozen herrings driven into the hard ground.

  162. Hat: in the past few days, I have noticed that spam from “inv*st l*berty r*serve” appears within minutes of posting. I haven’t given much attention to spam techniques, but the mechanism used by this spammer appears to be clear.
    A piece of software must be monitoring this comment thread. Every time it detects a new comment, it adds one of its own. I can think of several ways to block that particular strategy, but only – as always – at some risk of disturbing the flow of genuine comments.

  163. Don’t call John Emerson “a piece of software”, Grumpy. That’s exactly the kind of thing that got you in trouble in the first place.
    There’s Cherry Heering, but it’s named after a man not a fish. Anyway herring is sild in dansk (and Norwegian).

  164. Dammit. Well, I said only that I would do my best. What I was really nervous about was that someone would take offence at “fish”.
    Do you know that line from the School for Scandal: “seek, and ye shall find” ?

  165. What I was really nervous about was that someone would take offence at “fish”.
    Well, yeah, what do you expect? I’ve got one with contusions all along its dorsal fin from… well, it doesn’t matter what it’s from. What matters is that these generalizations are not only hurtful but IMMORAL!

  166. What I was really nervous about was that someone would take offence at “fish”.
    Well, yeah, what do you expect? I’ve got one with contusions all along its dorsal fin from… well, it doesn’t matter what it’s from. What matters is that these generalizations are not only hurtful but IMMORAL!

  167. Driving frozen, hurtful generalizations into the ground in winter: that was the end of Viking civilization. Actually I prefer cool raw herring. In Munich I always buy a herring-with-onion Brötchen before getting on the train back to Cologne.

  168. Stu, you up for one Xmas game of chess?

  169. Sure ’nuff, Jimbo. You better pull that Santa hat down tight, though – I’m gonna sleigh ya.

  170. You want white or black? I’ve been practicing my French, Sicilian, and Reti — and recently studied a few lines for the Danish, rare as those games are. Ho, ho, ho!

  171. I’ll take black, so you can slip up first.
    I gotta buy some stuff, and will be back in 1/2 hour. Do we sign up at that site ? Send me the link again.

  172. Will do: I’ll send you a link and a challenge; three days a move, so neither of us times out during the crazy holiday the season.
    I’ll take black, so you can slip up first.
    That’s the thinking the Reti anticipates — and destroys. Ho! Ho!

  173. Ah, youth ! You shouldn’t have told me about the Reti – now I have a few minutes to read up on it.

  174. It sounds like you guys have finished haranguing out the old year and are ready to herring in the new.

  175. In Munich I always buy a herring-with-onion Brötchen before getting on the train back to Cologne.
    Don’t you think that’s a little bit weird for the conductor? “Oh, no. It’s the guy who carries a herring brötchen around.”

  176. I would have thought Germans looked particularly askance at people who bring onion breath into a confined space such a train. Do you get dirty looks?

  177. A conductor once asked me if I had a ticket for the Brötchen. The impertinence !
    I never get onion breath – I would smell it if I did. Anyway people on the train are too busy with their iphones and laptops to notice anything like that.

  178. Ah, youth ! You shouldn’t have told me about the Reti – now I have a few minutes to read up on it.
    No secrets in chess, Stu — have you seen that chess openings bible? All the moves, by all the masters, have been available to the public for quite some time. Wiki’s actually a great source; even YouTube has some helpful, nerdy videos: but the game must still be played, and each by a certain point is unique. Like a fucking snowflake.
    For anyone interested besides Stu, who’s surely mastered it by now, the Reti develops a piece that will eventually be developed in most openings anyway (Nf3), while ceding the first move for control of the center to black, to which you can then counter as you please. It’s a great opening for amateurs like me and Stu, because it has so many variations, many of which bring you to positions that would arise from more traditional openings — the positions, if you’ve play right, in which you feel most comfortable, but wouldn’t necessarily have been able to reach by more direct methods. Playing it often forces us amateurs to scan a lot of book lines, as well — something we should all do more, else we probably wouldn’t be the amateurs we are. Reaching a 2000 rating is like getting a freaking PhD — harder in some ways, because you can’t just put in a lot of work: you have to be really smart, or have a lot of a certain kind of intelligence (to be more precise), to begin with. I’m not sure I’ll ever get there.

  179. It sounds like you guys have finished haranguing out the old year and are ready to herring in the new.
    An etymological bombshell – the French say hareng for herring !! They just don’t pronounce it like “harangue”, so as to conceal its origin. But they do slap each other with fresh poisson when ranting – I’ve seen it on TV.

  180. It seems silly to use fresh fish for face-slapping, but I suppose they know what they are doing. Americans use lemon mareng pie.

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