Curbstones.

Jonathan Morse has a meditation on a Brooklyn Daily Eagle story from November 13, 1919: “Bodies of 111 U.S. Soldier and Sailor Dead Brought Home. Gallant Michigan Boys Gave Lives in Northern Russia — Impressive Ceremonies at Pier.” There are thoughts about “the failed campaign of the American Expeditionary Force, North Russia, between 1918 and 1919 […] where the 111 men of rainy Hoboken met their deaths” and some striking photographs (a war monument in the form of a polar bear!), but the LH material is represented by the end of the Eagle excerpt: “[…] between ranks of spectators standing with hats off along the curbstones.” We have hats and we have that term “curbstones”: “As of 1919, curbs actually were made of stone,” Jonathan points out. Nowadays we just say “the curb.”

Comments

  1. Or “the kerb”.

  2. A lot of curbs here in Washington, DC, are still made of granite. It lasts longer than concrete, but it’s a lot slipperier in the rain. We still don’t say “curbstones”.

  3. Michigan war writer Ernest Hemingway hadn’t yet begun publishing his deconstructions of words like “gallant.”

    Just curious, was this just Hemingway’s fault, or were there other factors at work, too?

    My impression is that the Vietnam war destroyed much of the mystique of treating the war dead as “heroes”. “Gallant soldiers” were reduced to “bodybags” from an unpopular war.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    Granite is still standard over here, probably because it’s much more durable than all but the most expensive kinds of concrete.

    My impression is that the Vietnam war destroyed much of the mystique of treating the war dead as “heroes”.

    Reversed under Bush the Lesser, when hero came to mean “dead American”. But gallant is no longer heard outside Westminster.

  5. For Bathrobe:

    A notable Hemingway passage comes from chapter 27 of A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929. The narrator, an American driving a Red Cross ambulance for the Italian army before the United States has entered World War I (like Hemingway), has just returned to the Austrian front after recovering from a war wound, and he learns then that during his absence the military situation has worsened. On of his Italian friends protests, “What has been done this summer cannot have been done in vain.” Then:

    “I did not say anything. I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. [. . .] I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.”

    That passage had a major effect on the development of English prose style. Compare Woodrow Wilson’s 1917 war message to Congress, with its orotund echoes of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther (“God helping her [America], she can do no other”), and you’ll hear.

  6. WW I destroyed the mystique of treating war dead as heroes for a generation. and Hemingway was just one voice in the chorus of that Lost Generation. “Isn’t it pretty to think so” is surely it’s tersest expression though.

    Alas the glory of war is a more resilient idea than Morse allows for.

    But where does Morse get the idea of calling Hemingway a Michigan war writer? He grew up in Oak Park, IL, allegedly calling it a city of broad lawns and narrow minds. If he’s associated with any place it would have to be Paris or Key West.

    And who are the dead of “rainy Hoboken.” It’s bizarre to call them that for the port where their corpses landed.

    More substantively, by 1919 the horror of the war and its uselessness were keenly felt. Sassoon’s Does It Matter was published in Counterattack and Other Poems in 1918, and the most celebrated event of the decade was surely the Christmas Truce, a wonderful mockery of the idea that the men who were killing each other had any real grudge against each other or purpose. Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est was written earlier, published a few months after the disembarkation of these dead. The aftermath of the war was already known to be pandemic, riot, repression and the revolution these men died vainly trying to reverse. Wilson, perhaps the only leader who clung to an idealistic view of the war, lay partially paralyzed and bedridden.

    But no newspaper anywhere ever celebrated the return of actual bodies of the dead with a rigorously focused paean to the pointlessness of their deaths. A hat tip to gallantry and a description on the solemnities and the rain are obligatory tropes there.

    If Morse has trouble comprehending a single word of praise of the gallantry of war dead, it has more to do with him than the times.

    Talk about hot air. I wonder if he’s paid by the word.

    But curbstones, yes.

  7. He’s right here in the thread, you know.

  8. Note what I say in the right margin about avoiding personal attacks.

  9. John Cowan says:

    NYC uses steel-reinforced concrete with steel edges, because our curbs take a lot of beating from people trying to park a ten-ton car in a five-ton parking space.

  10. Yes, Hemingway was born in the upscale Chicago suburb of Oak Park, famous now for its Frank Lloyd Wright houses, plural. But during his childhood and youth his family spent its summers in Michigan’s forested Upper Peninsula, and many of his semi-autobiographical Nick Adams stories are set there — including “Big Two-Hearted River,” that remarkable study of what’s now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Ryan, you can locate its Great War context in Hemingway’s In Our Time. And about “no newspaper anywhere ever,” you might want to look up the war journalism of Stephen Crane. I assume you mean “no English-language newspaper,” but if you want to stand by your universal generalization I’ll also refer you to contemporary coverage of the Paris Commune.

  11. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Not having much to say I won’t say anything beyond agreeing with Bathrobe about “kerb”. Same pronunciation, however.

  12. In my idiolect the curb or kerb is made from a long row of curb or kerbstones, preferably granite ones. Norway has even more granite than it has spruce, oil and natural gas, so no reason for conc. ones here, thank god. One rather nice thing they do – I can’t remember where, maybe it’s in San Francisco? – is emboss the street name in the top side of all the concrete corner curbstones so even your dog knows where he or she’s going.

    I wonder if Frank Wright knew Hemingway. Two more unpleasant characters it would be hard to imagine in one suburb though I suppose Frank was a bit older. Lots of Chicagoans go as children to “the You-Pee” for vacations and then come to New York to argue pointlessly with my Detroit-born wife about whether it’s Mackinaw or Mackinac. (Correct answer: it’s both, depending on where.)

  13. Curb-stone without merging into one word is found in a lot of stone-cutting / urban design / legal documents including in Michigan
    https://www.google.com/books/edition/Journal_of_the_Common_Council_of_the_Cit/oddOAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22curb+stone%22&pg=PA480&printsec=frontcover
    and in common literature too way into 1700s. They apparently talked of curbing a horse in a sense similar to today’s curbing a dog, and the curb-stones took much damage from cart-wheels just as they do from the parked cars today.

    Anyhow it reminded me of St. Petersburg’s famous porebrik / panel

  14. “Billie,” called Martin in a low voice. “Where’s Jimmie Nolan?”
    “He’s dead,” said Grierson.
    A triangle of gold light shone on the side of the tent. Somewhere in the valley an engine’s bell was ringing, and it sounded of peace and home as if it hung on a cow’s neck.
    “An’ where’s Ike Watkins.”
    “Well, he ain’t dead, but he got shot through the lungs. They say he ain’t got much show.”
    Through the clouded odours of sickness and medicine rang the dauntless voice of the man in the corner.

    – Stephen Crane, literally burnishing a golden hue around the memory of the dead and their dauntless survivors. Cuba, Blackwood’s Magazine, 1898.

    I think the idea of describing a writer as a scion of the place where his parents had a summer cottage is wonderfully innovative. My wife, alas, refuses to think of herself as the Belle of the Appalachians, but I’ll have to ask my friend Paul, who I’ve normally considered, like Hemingway, an Oak Parker, whether he thinks of himself as a Door County man. “Summer people” is how actual Door County residents distance themselves from the migrants. Or Fucking Illinois Bastards, depending on context.

    On the orotund echoes of Lincoln, perhaps it’s an unlucky turn of phrase, seeming to enlist Lincoln in the citation of orotundity when the intention was only to characterize the pompous echoes. But all I have to say is “272 words.”

  15. I use curbstone (spelled that way) regularly, although not with great frequency. There are two things that would incline me to refer to “curbstone” rather than “curb.” The first (as already mentioned by others) is the composition. If the elevated edging of the road is made from natural stone (usually granite, in practice, although I have occasionally seen other kinds of rock), rather than cement or concrete, then “curbstone” is more likely. Also, I am much more likely to call the edge barrier “curbstone” if the ground on the other side drops back to the level of roadway (such as appears to be the case in the image here).

  16. Ryan, ironically: “I think the idea of describing a writer as a scion of the place where his parents had a summer cottage is wonderfully innovative.”

    The state of Illinois, unironically on its license plates: “Land of Lincoln.”

    Lincoln was actually a scion of Kentucky, in the same way that Gertrude Stein was a scion of Pittsburgh and Robert Frost was a scion of San Francisco. But (1) you know what Illinois means, and (2) “scion” is Ryan’s word, not mine. The phrase about Hemingway in my blogpost is “Michigan war writer.” “Big Two-Hearted River” is a war story set in Michigan, where Hemingway lived during a formative period of his life. .

    Stephen Crane quote for Stephen Crane quote: at

    https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030180/1898-08-15/ed-1/

    you can read Crane’s interestingly ambiguous dispatch “A Soldier’s Burial that Made a Native Holiday,” New York Journal, 15 August 1898, page 2. For an overview of the subject, Joseph Katz’s “Stephen Crane’s Concept of Death” is online at

    https://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1242&context=kentucky-review

  17. I use curbstone (spelled that way) regularly

    I assume you use it mostly in writing, then, because when spoken the spelling is irrelevant.

  18. The curb runs right down the street, but tripping over curbstones is a becoming a daily hazard.

  19. Apart from the spelling difference, the verb sense “lead [an animal] to the curb/kerb [to defecate]” is unknown in BrE, which makes “curb your dog” signs that much more puzzling.

  20. I speak AmE, and I never understood those signs!

  21. David Marjanović says:

    curb your dog

    In Vienna you’re supposed to take a little plastic bag

  22. I wouldn’t say Hemingway ever lived in Michigan. Vacationing in a place, even for an entire season, doesn’t constitute living there for me.

  23. @Jonathan Morse: For American politicians, their official state of residence is a matter of public record, and it is obviously relevant to what offices they are permitted to hold. For that reason alone, it makes sense to identify politicians by their adult states of residence, not their states of birth. Lincoln was a state legislator, congressman, Senate candidate, and president from Illinois, so that is the state that gets the primary claim to him. Similarly, I have visited Andrew Jackson’s (probable) birthplace* here in South Carolina, but it is universally agreed that the most important South Carolinian in American history was John C. Calhoun, since Jackson resided in (and represented) Tennessee as an adult. Indeed, it would have been impossible for Jackson and Calhoun to have been president and vice president, had they both been from South Carolina.

    * There is an interesting exhibit at Jackson’s birthplace, which covers how the Revolutionary War was a defining early influence on him. It impressed on him the importance of a strong central government. Calhoun, fifteen years younger, had a different experience growing up in the post-revolutionary South, and that led, in part, to his very different political thinking.

  24. For that reason alone, it makes sense to identify politicians by their adult states of residence, not their states of birth.

    Only in political contexts. Who gives a damn about anyone’s “official state of residence”?

  25. @languagehat: I don’t think so. After all, Illinois, not Kentucky (where he was born) or Indiana (where he spent most of his youth), is the “Land of Lincoln.” This goes for other political figures as well. As I noted, Andrew Jackson was born in South Carolina, and there is a historic site at his brithplace, but the state lays no claim to him. Jackson’s political enemy, Henry Clay, is the most Kentuckian Kentuckian in American history, even though he was born in Virginia. Etc.

  26. January First-of-May says:

    Indeed, it would have been impossible for Jackson and Calhoun to have been president and vice president, had they both been from South Carolina.

    Not necessarily, though it would indeed have been a problem; the exact prohibition, as I understand it, is that electors from a state are not allowed to vote for a ticket of two people from that particular state.
    Obviously, in practice, a ticket of two people from the same state would almost surely win that state, so this would deny their state’s electoral votes to at least one of the two (probably the VP if the situation ever came up).

    [In actual practice, some loophole would almost certainly be found in advance to put one of the two candidates, again probably the VP, legally into a different state; this happened to Dick Cheney in 2000.]

    Of course, when the rule was created, pre-assembled President/VP tickets were not expected (and the two votes might not yet even have been distinguished into President/VP at all), which does make it somewhat more sensible; IIRC, the intention was to prevent the inconvenient scenario of electors mostly voting for their favorite candidates from their state.

  27. When we think about an artist’s place of residence, would it be helpful to do the thinking not geographically but thematically?

    Consider: the poet Robinson Jeffers (born in Pittsburgh) and the photographer Edward Weston (born in Highland Park, Illinois) are both associated in fundamental ways with Carmel, California. The two men were friends there, and Weston’s portraits of Jeffers have a Carmel setting. That setting is Jeffers’s Carmel: a place of rocks, hawks, and Jack London naturalism disguised as Aeschylean tragedy. But Weston’s Carmel, which existed at the same time as Jeffers’s, at the same map coordinates, isn’t the same Carmel. For Weston, Carmel was not tragic but high-comic: an inexhaustible matrix giving birth to form after form. Jeffers heard Carmel crying, “Don’t you understand? We’re all doomed! Doomed, I say!” but to Weston Carmel whispered enticingly, “Why don’t you take a look at your vegetables?”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepper_No._30

    And of course neither Jeffers’s Carmel nor Weston’s is Clint Eastwood’s. So maybe the way to think of Carmel in those contexts is not as a town but as a town function, by analogy with Foucault’s “author function.”

    Or, to get Languagehattish: the author function called Willa Cather is primarily associated with two American geographic zones: the Plains and the Southwest. In fact, the woman named Cather did most of her writing in an apartment in New York. But early in her career she spent five years teaching in a Pittsburgh high school, and Pittsburgh figures vividly in the short story she got from the experience, “Paul’s Case.” But Hat and Dmitry and everybody: as you’ll see, the ending of the story isn’t Pittsburghish or even American. It’s plagiarized from Anna Karenina.

  28. @January First-of-May: You are right; I was misremembering the rules. However, I do disagree with what happened with Dick Cheney’s state of residence in 2000 being called a loophole. Cheney’s home state was always really Wyoming. However, just as he spent most of his time in the D. C. area when he was representing Wyoming in the House of Representatives (in a seat currently held by his daughter) or serving as Secretary of Defense, he spent most of his time in Houston when he was CEO of Halliburton. After leaving that job, it was perfectly reasonable for him to change his legal residence back to Wyoming. Now don’t get me wrong; I loathe Dick Cheney. However, I do not think there was anything even vaguely skullduggerous about how Texas’s electoral votes were allocated in 2000.

  29. John Cowan says:

    obviously relevant to what offices they are permitted to hold

    To an American. It’s perfectly possible, for example, to be the MP for Piddleton (an especially rotten borough) without ever having set foot in Piddleton or met a Piddletonian, even today.

    Lincoln … Jackson … Calhoun

    Franklin is yet another example: who thinks of him as being a Bostonian?

    There are at least three nouns and three verbs curb < F courbe; it is a doublet of curve (directly from Latin). The oldest meaning (1477 per OED1) of the oldest noun, which exists only in English, is ‘chin-strap for a horse to hold the bit in the mouth’, which of course is curved. This noun leads directly to the second verb ‘outfit with a curb > restrain, keep in check > control’. This is the one relevant to the original meaning of curb your dog.

    Indeed, although curb does usually mean ‘clean up after’ now, I have never seen dog-walking New Yorkers arrange for their dogs squat on the curb: it’s either the gutter or the inner edge of the sidewalk (or anywhere the dog wants, in accordance with the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior). And then for the plastic bag, per the “pooper-scooper” law. Unfortunately this has made doggy bag ambiguous; it used to only mean ‘bag to take home leftovers at a restaurant, allegedly for the customer’s dog’.

    The first verb curb from 1430 meant ‘curve’ and has been replaced by it. The second noun is obsolete too and has various senses taken over directly from French (a curve, a swelling, a mold), though it now means only ‘curve’ in ModF, plus the cant sense ‘hook for stealing things through a window’. The third noun is the one also spelled kerb; it originally applied only to curved borders, such as the ring of stones at the edge of a well that restrain people and cattle from falling into it. Streets had curbs on their curves long before they were applied on the straightaways as well. The third verb is just the ordinary deverbal ‘furnish with a curb’.

    NYC signs sometimes say “Please leash, gutter, and clean up after your dog’, thus omitting the now-ambiguous verb curb altogether. Despite the first word, this has been the law since 1978 and is estimated to be obeyed about 60% of the time, almost entirely due to social pressure from other New Yorkers rather than legal action.

  30. @John Cowan: I did specifically say, “For American politicians…,” since many other polities lack the same kind of residency requirements. Presumably in Britain, where the size of a Parliamentary constituency is so much smaller than a typical American Congressional district, it makes a bit more sense to allow nonresidents to be selected to run for seats where they do not reside.

    Moreover, even in America, the residency requirements for holding office are not necessarily what one would expect. Since the requirements for election to Congress from a given state are set the Constitution, they cannot be changed by a mere act of Congress—although the way in which Representatives in Congress are subject to legislative regulation. In the early days of the United States of America, most states elected their Representatives at large, the way senators are presently elected—with the entire state population voting for all the seats. Congressional districts did not become the norm until the twentieth century (direct at-large election of Senators was established by the Seventeenth Ammendment, ratified 1913, making at-large Representatives somewhat redundant), and were not mandated until 1967. However, a member of Congress is still only required to live in the state they represent, not the district, since residence in the state is the relevant qualification set in the Constitution.

    When this piece of garbage (the only Congressional Representative that I ever knew personally) was narrowly elected as my congressman in 1994, he did not live in Oregon’s fifth district; I thought his opponent should have made an issue of that, but it did not happen. In the end though, Bunn only served one term, as he was hurt with his evangelical base by getting divorced. In fact, it was after Bunn’s divorce that people began to joke that the seat was cursed with destroying marriages—and indeed everyone who has ever represented Oregon’s fifth district has gotten divorced while in office.

  31. “Please leash, gutter, and clean up after your dog’, thus omitting the now-ambiguous verb curb altogether.

    Substituting instead the even more mystifying verb ‘gutter’…

    I was under the impression that ‘curb your dog’ used the word in the same sense as ‘curb your enthusiasm’ — specifically, that you should curb your dog’s enthusiasm for pooping in all the wrong places.

  32. @David L: That’s pretty much what I thought too. Not that, when growing up, I paid a lot of attention to signs about dogs—but I thought, “Curb your dog,” meant, “Control your dog.”

  33. Stu Clayton says:

    Not all dogs are enthusiastic about pooping in the wrong places ! Ours invests much time choosing the right place, using elaborate criteria not immediately intelligible to the human observer.

    The smell at the spot has to be just so, the coordinates must be in line with certain astral constellations. Then he starts turning and turning for a point poop landing – but breaks off when on-the-fly recalculations reveal a flaw. Or when you gently try to pull him a little farther away from the bicycle wheel. A further 30 minutes must then be allowed to pass before another attempt can be made, the need to poop is put on hold.

    Talk about ceremonies of innocence …

  34. I believe congressional districts have been the norm ab ovo. Here is the map from 1880, and districting seems to be universal.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1880_United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections

  35. On further research, I have to admit there were at large congressional elections in some states early on. But districting was always the norm. For instance, in 1806, 116 members were from districts, 24 at large from states, and 2 from states only electing a single member.

    More surprising to me is that for decades, some states didn’t bother to hold their congressional elections till after the term had begun.

  36. Not all dogs are enthusiastic about pooping in the wrong places

    Konjin (金神, “God of metals”) is an itinerant kami (spirit) from Onmyōdō (a traditional Japanese cosmology and system of divination based on the Chinese philosophies of Wu Xing (Five Elements) and Yin and yang). Konjin is associated with compass directions, and said to change position with the year, lunar month, and season.

    Konjin’s momentary location in space at any given time is considered an unlucky direction, because this kami is stated to be particularly violent and said to punish through curses. Based on this, a calendar with astronomical and geomantic direction relations was created, which included interdictions (kataimi). A practice known as katatagae (changing directions) is used to avoid the worst directions on a given day, usually where Konjin, Ten’ichijin, and Taihakujin are currently located.

    Katatagae was favored among Heian-period nobles and it became a part of their daily lives. The construction and renovation of houses, moving one’s residence, public works construction, and traveling was strongly influenced by katatagae.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konjin

  37. John Cowan says:

    David M: Just an ordinary denominal verb, ‘put into the gutter’.

    BTW, I have left two new comments at Lameen’s blog for you.

  38. “Standing with hats off along the curbstones” sounds odd whatever the curb is made of. Why not just say “along the curb”? I think I’d only refer to curbstones if they were not currently forming part of a curb but, say, lying around in the street, or being hurled by rioters. And these people are not, presumably, standing _on_ the curbstones (teetering slightly). They’re standing on the sidewalk.

    It is interesting to note, incidentally, that “curbstones” is not completely out of date: it gets a lot more google hits in recent American media than “michigan writer ernest hemingway”….

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Why not just say “along the curb”?

    But on the other hand, why? In German, “curb” is Bordstein (north) or Randstein (south), both literally “margin stone”, singular, and practically never referring to an individual curbstone – we just don’t talk about those.

    BTW, I have left two new comments at Lameen’s blog for you.

    Thanks! The question about gutter came from David L, though. 🙂

  40. ““curb” is Bordstein (north) or Randstein (south)”

    (north) and (south) initially read as referring to different sides of the street.

  41. Stu Clayton says:

    So did I. Then I thought of the orographic distinction between “right” and “left”. Kropotkin (!) had a great influence on orography, as I read last week.

  42. Yes, he was a real geographer, he didn’t just play one on TV. I encourage everyone to read his autobiography (I gave a copy to my grandson for Christmas); he describes his orographic adventures with justifiable pride.

  43. Yes, we have a good supply of Davids hereabouts.

    (Summarizing my comments at Lughat: sheep, swine, deer have been invariant since OE days because they are neuter a-stem nouns, whereas the regular ModE conjugation comes from masculines; invariance then spread semantically.)

  44. I read this post just as I was going to the bakery, around the conrner, to get some breakfast pastry and yoghurt for the extended family (Sunday morning). The curb was pieces of granite, 100 cm x 10 cm. Small town in Bulgaria that I grew up in.

  45. @ V: In Honolulu, where I live, some of the older neighborhoods still have granite curbstones. Those wouldn’t be a big deal in Hoboken, New Jersey, or small-town Bulgaria, but Honolulu’s native rocks are lava and coral, not granite. The granite for the curbstones had to be imported: a very long trip, because Honolulu is right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

    So why did anybody bother to import it?

    Answer: ballast.

    http://totakeresponsibility.blogspot.com/2012/12/historic-curbs-and-sidewalks.html

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