DER BESTE IN LATEIN.

From the Wise Guys, a song (in German; they’re from Cologne) about the glories of being good at Latin. The lyrics are below the image on the YouTube page; here’s the first version of the chorus:

Er war der Beste in Latein,
der Allerbeste in Latein
Wie er die Verben konjugierte
Substantive deklinierte -
das konnt’ nur er allein …

(Thanks, Nick!)

Comments

  1. Well, not so much the glories of Latin per se ad hoc. It’s about a highschool guy who is very uncool (no chic duds, no sports), and yet all the girls are crazy about him – because he’s so good at Latin.
    The song builds up to a pun on a standard expression: when someone runs into a hitch with something that he otherwise thinks he knows how to do, er ist mit seinem Latein am Ende [he's at the end of his school-larnin]. When the highschool guy passes his Latin exams, “he’s at the end of his Latin” because the girls aren’t interested any more.
    I really like this wholesome-funny male a capella kind of thing, much more than the highly polished retro-sarcastic (1920-1930s) stuff, for example Max Raabe und sein Palastorchester.
    Beware the text version of the Wise Guys lyrics that somebody has put up in youtube, though. The German is wrong and doesn’t make sense, unlike the sung version. That somebody has come up with

    Stand ich dafor aus der Masse,
    Und die die Jungs aus der Klasse
    verstandens einfach nicht
    Denn die Mädchen zug es einfach zu ihn hin,
    Wie die Motten zum Licht.

    What they sing is

    Stand nicht davor [hervor] aus der Masse,
    Und die Jungs aus seiner Klasse
    verstandens einfach nicht
    Denn die Mädels zog es trotzdem zu ihm hin,
    Wie die Motten zum Licht.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    In French, if you are (or were) faced with a complicated situation beyond your capacities to solve you can (or could) say J’y perds mon latin ‘I lose all my Latin on it’, meaning that all my knowledge of Latin has become useless in this situation. (I am not sure if this is still in use).
    There used to be a phrase (which I frequently read but never heard) for a nerd or geek: un fort en thème ‘a [guy who is] good at translating into [Latin or Greek]‘ (something much more difficult than translating from those languages). Guys with this sort of talent were not especially popular with girls. Perhaps the German song arises from wishful thinking?

  3. Thanks, Stu, I was hoping you’d explicate it!

  4. No, it’s merely a frothy rhyming text whipped up from clichés of highschool rivalry (brains vs. brawn), and topped off with a maraschino pun. It seems clear to me that the pun provided the original idea, the song just leads up to it.

  5. un fort en thème ‘a [guy who is] good at translating into [Latin or Greek]‘ (something much more difficult than translating from those languages)
    Huh. Ist there some kind of verb phrase with thème, like “setting a translation exercise” in English ? What is this thème et version that Robert gives ?:

    2. (1690; « composition d’écolier » 1580) Exercice scolaire qui consiste à traduire un texte de sa langue maternelle dans une langue étrangère (=> traduction); ce texte lui-même. Thème et version. Thème latin, anglais. « THÈME. Au collège, prouve l’application, comme la version prouve l’intelligence » (Flaubert). — UN FORT EN THÈME : un très bon élève (Þ as, 1. crack); péj. un élève, une personne de culture essentiellement livresque. « Les polissons l’emportent toujours sur les forts en thème » (Cocteau).

  6. @Grumbly Stu: Version is the reverse: the exercise in which you translate from an ancient or foreign language into your own language.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, both are translation exercises:
    - la version: = translation from the language taught into one’s own;
    - le thème: = translation from one’s own language into the one taught. (This meaning of the word coexists with the one identical with that of English “theme” = more or less ‘topic’).
    To refer to assignments given by the teacher, you could say for instance Il nous a donné une version/un thème horriblement difficile “he assigned us a horribly difficult translation” (I don’t think there are specific English words for the two types of translation).
    Flaubert does not think much of the thème as an exercise testing students’ abilities: it only tests a student’s diligence (l’application)(memorizing verb forms, noun declensions, etc, and formal rules of grammar), while the version tests intelligence, probably including imagination and style, in order to recreate the text in one’s own language. Of course one might disagree with Flaubert.
    Fort en thème refers literally to a student good at translating into Latin or Greek (other languages too, but in earlier periods Latin and Greek were more important), but usually such a student is good at other academic subjects too. To me the connotation is similar to that of nerd or geek, while un crack is more likely to be brilliant in math and science, without necessarily being nerdy.
    The quotation from Cocteau means something like The naughty ones always win over the nerds (in life).

  8. Good to see you’ve discovered these chaps.
    You’ll probably enjoy “Denglisch” and “Meine Deutschlehrerin”, as well: (“Doch ich habe mir geschwört: ich werd nicht eher ruhn, als bis wenn ich sie mal endlich meine Liebe gesteh, weil ich durch das, was sie mich lernte, die Welt viel klarer seh. Sie war so gebildert, sie war so unglaublich schlau weil sie wusste wirklich alles von Betonung und Satzbau”).
    And “Die Philosophen”, while not linguistics-related, is too deliciously irreverent not to mention.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8Ilr_YtEjs

  9. Thanks! And speaking of philosophy, here’s a topical link for you football fans: the Germany-Greece match.

  10. Marie-Lucie: “un fort en thème” is an expression I have read and heard (but then, I was inflicted with four years of Latin in High School), and its meaning is to me much more pejorative: unlike a “nerd” or a “geek” (both of which imply someone with excentric interests), “un fort en thème” is an utterly unimaginative person who thrives doing boring and repetitive work because said person has no interests, imagination or drive of their own.
    Jacques Brel has a beautiful song, “Rosa” (it opens with the declension of this most famous of all Latin nouns), which INTER ALIA contains the lines
    C’est le tango des forts en thème,
    Boutonneux jusqu’à l’extrême,
    Et qui recouvrent de laine,
    leur coeur qui est déjà froid.
    C’est le tango des forts en rien,
    qui déclinent de chagrin…
    I heard this song when I was in High School (My father was a big Jacques Brel fan), and believe me, those verses struck a nerve.
    Okay, for you non-galloglottonic (yes, I just made up that word) hatters, here’s a (very!) rough translation:
    Tango of the marching robot, (forts en thèmes)
    with a pimple on every spot,
    and who does put something woollen
    on a heart, already frozen
    Tango of the truly clueless
    forever declining sadness…

  11. Hegel as captain? No wonder they lost.

  12. No doubt Flaubert was right, in the sense that no teacher judges student-written Latin or Greek for style, though rightly they ought to.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: perhaps you were overly influenced by Brel. The TLFI under thème defines fort en thème as “un très bon élève>”, so the phrase may be laudatory for some people, although to me it is derogatory: yes, the student is doing well academically (at least in some subjects), but he is uninteresting in other contexts. But I know the phrase from written contexts only, not from hearing it in conversation.
    I like your translation/adaptation. But notice the “de” between décline and chagrin: I think the boy in question is sad and “declines” – in both meanings – because of sadness, so he is not totally devoid of human feelings.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: p.s. I see I misunderstood the end of the verse. It is not the sweater-wearing, successful forts en thème who are sad (their hearts are cold already so they don’t feel anything), but the forts en rien, the average or low-achieving students who are ‘good at nothing’. I think that the phrase décliner de chagrin not only plays on the two meanings of décliner, but also recalls être malade de chagrin ‘to be sick with grief’ or mourir de chagrin ‘to be dying of grief’. So the poor students are “declining with grief”, their plight ignored by their cold-hearted classmates.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    JC: No doubt Flaubert was right, in the sense that no teacher judges student-written Latin or Greek for style, though rightly they ought to.
    You are right, but I think there is something else in Flaubert’s attitude.
    Many literary people (not necessarily professional writers), who are able to call upon the resources of their own language at will, and enjoy doing so, dislike studying other languages, especially if they have no practical use for them (such as communicating with speakers in another country). Other languages not only have strange vocabulary that needs to be memorized but they also have odd rules, strange ways of modifying and using words, etc, which interfere with the writer’s desire for creative expression. A few years of memorizing declensions, etc and trying to translate often uninteresting sentences into a dead language does not lead to a real appreciation of the resources of that language and of the esthetic choices of its writers. The thème therefore seems to be a dry, uninteresting exercise enjoyable only by those forts en thème who allegedly like nothing better than memorizing declensions and conjugations. On the other hand, the version, to be written in one’s own language, restores freedom to the translator, who is able to make choices about how to translate the text.
    Linguistically inclined students on the other hand are more likely to see the thème as a challenge where the proper forms of the words are less interesting than word choice, word order, etc, while the version is relatively easy and unintesting because it does not seem to require as much effort as long as one is able to recognize the foreign words.

  16. John Emerson says:

    Translation into Latin was part of the literary training both of Rimbaud and Nietzsche. (Victor Hugo, not sure, but he could read 20 lines of Latin at night, go to sleep, and write a French translation when he woke up.)
    Ressentiment and Schooling

  17. John Emerson says:

    To me the connotation is similar to that of nerd or geek, while un crack is more likely to be brilliant in math and science, without necessarily being nerdy.
    I have read thatin French education math is much more central than in the US, and apparently there also isn’t the resentment of math geeks that there is here.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    JE: Translation into Latin was part of the literary training both of Rimbaud and Nietzsche. (Victor Hugo, not sure, but he could read 20 lines of Latin at night, go to sleep, and write a French translation when he woke up.)
    I would be extremely surprised to find out that Hugo did not do thèmes latins (translations from French into Latin), even though he apparently did not attend a lycée but a small private institution. Latin and Greek, taught largely through doing translations, were standard in the secondary curriculum.
    For Rimbaud, the surprise about the prize-wiining Latin poem is that he wrote it so young. Writing Latin and Greek verse was part of the classical program, presumably the next step after doing thèmes. (Thank goodness, this part was no longer in existence when I was in those grades).
    When I started to study Latin, it turned out that my parents (who never did) had an old, very thick Latin dictionary which I think had been given to my mother’s father as a youngster. There was something odd about it: next to word to word equivalents there were many phrases, and on the other hand many words one would have thought quite common were not included. Some years later (after we had acquired a more conventional dictionary) I realized that the old dictionary was intended to help students write Latin verse, hence all the cliché phrases (as if an English-French dictionary listed for instance under “moon” : la lune, l’astre des nuits, la pâle Séléné, etc).

  19. I am in France this week, and surrounded by mathematicians. I will ask some of the Europeans about prejudice against math types in school.

  20. Etienne says:

    Marie-Lucie: Brel being Belgian by birth, I wonder whether Belgian and Canadian French both preserved an older, more pejorative meaning of “fort en thème”. In another of his songs (“Au suivant”) I was quite surprised by his use of the verb “se déniaiser”, which I had hitherto thought was a purely Canadian verb.
    As for Brel’s verses above: my reading is that he is referring to the same group of students, whose hearts are cold (because they don’t care about others) but who are sad about their own fate. But since I have known plenty of selfish self-pitying egomaniacs in high school (and other environments) I can’t claim to be objective here, and I suppose your interpretation may be true.
    The ambiguity may be deliberate, of course: Brel was a master of language and his songs can be understood and interpreted differently on so many levels.

  21. A bit of doggerel my mother learned at school:
    Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
    if French won’t kill us, Latin must.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: les forts en …
    I looked up the lyrics, and watched the video in which Brel performs in an old-fashioned classroom. Among the characters in C’est le tango des … he lists a number of people, not just students. He says he was a poor student, accumulating “zeros”, while some others (the forts en thème) were lucky enough to remember things that would remain useless, like Latin.
    Although I did not catch on right away when you first quoted the stanza, I am sure that forts en thème and forts en rien are opposites, and Brel’s body language when he sings about the two kinds of students is revealing: with the words forts en thème he is standing straight and wraps his arms around himself, while with forts en rien he sits down and bends lower and lower in an attitude of defeat as his open hands appear to be giving up invisible things (perhaps dreams or self-esteem). He says the forts en rien will end up becoming pharmacists, thus surpassing the petty aspirations of their fathers – but (by implication) never equalling the better students who will consider this not an achievement but the epitome of a boring job and narrow-minded outlook (see Homais in Madame Bovary).
    ROSA: Some of you who studied Latin may be interested to hear the declension of ROSA (repeated as a chorus by young voices) pronounced as if the words were French, with stress on the final syllable. This is exactly how I was taught to say the forms. Any French person taught Latin that way would find it very hard to appreciate the subtleties of Latin versification. I remember reading a little about them, without understanding much, and in my nine years of Latin none of my teachers ever discussed them, let alone demonstrated the effect. I can only imagine how different (and how alive) Latin would sound in the mouth of an Italian teacher.

  23. empty: I am in France this week, and surrounded by mathematicians. I will ask some of the Europeans about prejudice against math types in school.
    Please report back on this, I am interested in hearing what they say.
    Several years ago, I turned on the tv to arte at 4 or five in the morning. The program running was one of a series of high-level math courses recorded in the classroom at some polytechnique in Nancy, I think. The students were not nerdy at all. They were extremely well-spoken and well turned out – even the lecturer was wearing a bowtie.
    What bowled me over was the subject and its presentation. As far as I can remember now, a technique was being demonstrated for solving second-order differential equations as if it amounted to finding the roots of mere polynomials. It all made great, momentary sense to me.
    I concluded, on this shred of evidence, that France must be a cool place to learn mathematics.

  24. Actually, I think the venue was not a classroom, but a Louie-whatever chateau-like pièce noble.
    Ok ok, I just now tracked it down in the net. It is a joint broadcasting program involving Université Nancy 2 and Université Paris 6. Here is the same lecturer Jacques Vauthier, as far as I remember. Boy, does this guy talk fast ! This is not the specific program I saw, but at 32:20 you see how the quadratic polynomial comes in. The program I saw didn’t have as many details, it was easier to imagine that I understood what was going on without understanding it.

  25. In stark contrast to this were the German television courses such as the Telekolleg on physics and math from the 80s and 90s. These were presented at a snail’s pace with concentration-destroying repetition of trivialities. It’s as if the producers were targeting Turkish housewives just home from a long day’s work.
    As I have experienced since the 70s, Germans are HORRIBLY INCOMPETENT at explaining and popularizing technical matters. School textbooks are pedantic screeds as DISASTERS. Whenever I wanted to learn something about math or physics, I went for the American textbooks and never went wrong.
    This German inability to explain things simply and lucidly is gradually vanishing, but only gradually.

  26. I meant Turkish cleaning ladies, not housewives. I might just as well have taken any other kind of occupation that involves hard physical work. The point is that these people are usually not interested in theoretical stuff, and don’t have the background. And yet the Telekolleg producers seemed hell-bent on forcing theoretical stuff on just such people, by trivializing it and repeating things over and over and over.

  27. The students were not nerdy at all. They were extremely well-spoken and well turned out – even the lecturer was wearing a bowtie.
    We must have different definitions of “nerd.” As far as I’m concerned, wearing a bowtie is as nerdy as it gets.

  28. I can only imagine how different (and how alive) Latin would sound in the mouth of an Italian teacher.
    It generally sounds very much like Italian. A lot of Italians I’ve known seem very resistant to the idea that classical Latin was actually pronounced differently than Tuscan.

  29. This German inability to explain things simply and lucidly
    … is, I think, connected with the unwillingness to admit that you can’t explain the entire subject in the first sentence, and that you can’t do without oversimplifications early on.

  30. the unwillingness to admit that you can’t explain the entire subject in the first sentence
    Yes, there’s that. But it has to be asked, how do some people come to expect of themselves that they should be capable of explaining everything in the first sentence – or, more generally, at one go ?
    One of Thomas Bernhard’s novels, Beton, is about this. It has a surprising, hair-raising ending, namely …

  31. That unwillingness is a reflection of the Wille zum System that Nietzsche castigated. It explains why the notion of Rechtschaffenheit (honesty, probity) turns up so unexpectedly, with devasting force, at the end of his remark (that I quote too often, I fear):

    Ich mißtraue allen Systematikern, und gehe ihnen aus dem Weg. Der Wille zum System ist ein Mangel an Rechtschaffenheit.

  32. “I meant Turkish cleaning ladies, not housewives.”
    doesn’t seem like an improvement in the thought, since you came to repeat the thought must be it’s important for you
    but why wouldn’t  or couldn’t turkish cleaning ladies or whoever hard working physically workers learn something even if at the snail’s pace, shouldn’t it be open and available to anybody any such resources, should they wish to learn whatever
    maybe they just shouldn’t learn anything, as even such great minds like nabokov said, just pick up your garden sweeping tools and do cleaning that suits your fate and mental inclinations something iirc
    really it’s nice of course that one has intellectual pursuits and habits requiring more that, rigorous training and matching to that more like refined sources, but that elevation at someone else’s expense i find always as if like offputting in anything
    especially if it’s done without any direct need, just out of idle picking on someone to impress others, cz it doesn’t add any as they say “value” to anything, just some kind of i don’t know
    maybe it is thought to be like “hip” or cool to display one’s elitism and naughtiness, perhaps
    our proverb says ix murun dulguun, erdemtei hun daruu – the greater the river it’s steady, the more learned a person is modest

  33. oho i thought it’s blocked but it went through twice unexpectedly

  34. “I meant Turkish cleaning ladies, not housewives.”
    Stu, are you trying to be provocative when you specify nationality and sex like that?

  35. I did ask some of the Europeans mathematicians here whether students in school look down on those who are successful in mathematics. My small sample said no.

  36. Even in a setting like the one that I find myself this week (whether the listeners are experts), the question arises (partly because we are not all experts in precisely the same kind of mathematics) as to whether a speaker is going to be able to communicate his main points without losing the audience in a mass of detail. But I would not say that the Germans do worse that the rest of us, on average.
    One of the talks that I am particularly looking forward to tomorrow is by a particularly clear-thinking and clear-communicating German.

  37. not twice as expected, i just pressed the button twice and sometimes it doesn’t go through or gets posted twice

  38. but why wouldn’t or couldn’t turkish cleaning ladies or whoever hard working physically workers learn something even if at the snail’s pace, shouldn’t it be open and available to anybody any such resources, should they wish to learn whatever
    I entirely agree, and I like your proverb.

  39. thanks! sorry i didn’t mean to be too abrasive, maybe as a a fellow blog commenter GS should feel to me closer than nothing suspecting turkish ladies of course to defend them before him
    i sometimes argue with my sisters about things abstract, then i just give up, what is more important for me to make them upset or defend maybe a right thing to defend which wouldn’t change in any way out there from my or their opinion
    well, i hope he takes it in that, a good humor

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: The program running was one of a series of high-level math courses recorded in the classroom at some polytechnique in Nancy, I think. The students were not nerdy at all. They were extremely well-spoken and well turned out – even the lecturer was wearing a bowtie.
    Perhaps they were putting on a show because they were going to be on TV? The scientific (engineering) schools (only one in France is called Polytechnique) are very competitive and only top students get in (through difficult entrance exams). Those students applying (by sitting for the exams) all excel in math and science, so those subjects are not what differentiates the sheep from the goats: the exams also include questions and essays in the humanities, and performance in those subjects ends up determining who gets in or not.
    When my father was a student in another one of those high-level schools (this one was for future teachers and teacher trainers), the student body was more or less evenly divided between the littéraires and the scientifiques, who attended completely different classes but ate in the same dining room (all the students lived in the school, with free room and board). My father was among the scientifiques (he became a math teacher). He said you could recognize at a glance which side of the divide a student was in: the littéraires were always impeccably dressed in suits and ties and cultivated fastidious table manners, while the scientifiques wore stained and torn lab coats over sloppy old clothes, wolfed down their food and slurped noisily, their elbows resting on the table. In the school seen by Grumbly on TV, the students would not have needed to differentiate themselves so obviously since they were all studying sciences and probably engineering.

  41. But I would not say that the Germans do worse that the rest of us, on average. One of the talks that I am particularly looking forward to tomorrow is by a particularly clear-thinking and clear-communicating German.
    Yes, among their peers that is not surprising. I was talking about textbooks, and such public education attempts as the Telekolleg. The German education system has been in a turmoil for decades, and the alarming results have been measured – see the “Pisa studies” for example.
    In the 80s I earned a little money on the side by helping trade school students with their math. That was my first encounter with disastrous German textbooks

  42. hm my sisters are my sisters and i feel about the same degree of closeness to turkish ladies, german educators and GS, i guess, so that is fair enough

  43. even the lecturer was wearing a bowtie
    As far as I’m concerned, wearing a bowtie is as nerdy as it gets.
    There are different categories of bow tie wearer, ranging from Dr Who to Louis Farrakhan. The look you’re thinking of is Peewee Herman‘s, whereas Grumbly’s thinking of this, probably.
    There’s a quite good Wikipedia article.

  44. One Russian here at this conference, in spite of the fact that it is a hot week in the south of France, saw fit to don long black trousers and a long-sleeved shirt when he gave the first lecture on Monday morning (no tie, though). I think he had an old-school idea that one must look respectable when one takes the podium.
    By midday he had changed into some more casual and comfortable clothes (in fact a fairly ghastly multicolored outfit). This, plus the fact that I had not caught his name when he was introduced in by the chairman of the morning session, had the unfortunate consequence that I did not recognize him as the same person when he spoke to me at lunchtime. I squinted at his nametag.
    “Oh, yes, I’ve known your name for years. It’s nice to meet you at last. I forgot, what day are you speaking?”
    “I spoke this morning!”

  45. OT: I am glad to read the major news portals reports do not include their usual strange phrase about our people going by one name in the news reports covering our elections, it feels as if like i did my job objecting to that and the LH blog is like seems influential to change things in that, subtle ways 

  46. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: The things you find on Wikipedia! All bow ties are not created equal. In French the bow tie is called noeud papillon ‘butterfly knot’, and the papillon name gives it a flighty, whimsical non-serious connotation.
    One thing the bow tie does is call attention to the face, while the long tie cuts the chest into two symmetrical halves, emphasizing the bulk of a large man such as Churchill and the thinness of a slim man such as Obama. The long, wide tie visible all the way down to the waist (if not partially hidden by a waistcoat) also emphasizes a large belly. On Churchill the bow tie leads the eye up to his face and away from the bulky body. The slighly floppy bow also softens the psychological impact of the powerful face.

  47. I am glad to read the major news portals reports do not include their usual strange phrase about our people going by one name in the news reports covering our elections, it feels as if like i did my job objecting to that and the LH blog is like seems influential to change things in that, subtle ways
    Congratulations to both of us, then!

  48. m-l, how do you pronounce noeud? Nöd? I didn’t know that word.
    I agree with what you say about Churchill.
    If you look at these pictures of Frank Lloyd Wright (a very vain man, who clearly thought a lot about his image), you can see he had over the years about half-a-dozen different ways of displaying his tie, varying from extremely floppy, to the comparatively understated effect you get by tucking the ends under the collar. I think he was just a compulsive designer, always fiddling with everything. I like this one the best: it’s so half-hearted looking, but I bet it’s difficult to keep in place; you’d almost have to use hair spray on it.

  49. how do you pronounce noeud?
    /nö/. The French don’t believe in final consonants.

  50. The Norwegians don’t believe in pronouncing final Ds, either.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    noeud: Actually this should be written nœud (with the letter œ a mixture of o and e) but there are so few words which use it (œil ‘eye’, œsophage ‘(o)esophagus’, œuf ‘egg’ and bœuf ‘ox, beef’ are the only ones that come readily to my mind) that in the rare cases I need it I have to hunt for it all over the keyboard. Oh, it is also in vœu ‘vow, wish’, as well as nœud of course. It is actually on the USEnglish keyboard (option + q) but if I miss ‘option’ and hit the “apple” key the computer thinks I mean QUIT and goes back to the desktop, so I lose the text I was writing (this actually happened when I started this comment). In any case, writing oe instead of œ (a letter which is not even in the French alphabet) does not make any difference to understanding.
    The origin of nœud is Latin nodus, which had a diminutive nodulus, the origin of nodule lit. ‘little knot’, used in both French and English.

  52. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: floppy ties
    The large, floppy tie became the mark of the artist in the late 19C. One of my great-grandfathers and his brother wanted to be artists and actually travelled to Rome in pursuit of this goal. My father has a picture of them in their twenties, both with longish curly hair and identically dressed in painter’s smocks and wide floppy ties. My great-grandfather became a stained-glass maker and his brother a photographer.

  53. Stained glass and photography were as much in the spirit of the time as the floppy ties, I’d say.

  54. m-l: Your reference to nodus and knot made me wonder if the two are cognates; that is, was the former word gnodus in Old Latin, with the usual correspondences of Germanic /k/ and /t/ to Italic /g/ and /d/? It certainly looks tempting, but the best answer seems to be that nobody knows. Though indeed the cognate status of know and Latin gno- > no-, Greek γνω-, Skt jñā-, OCS zinat-, Lith zināt- is quite certain); we have Latin gno- in inscriptions, plus the derivatives cognoscere, ignotus, etc., but nothing similar for gnodus.

  55. marie-lucie says:

    JC, good question. I have been wondering about this too, and can’t come to a conclusion with my limited knowledge. I think nodus and knot are probably cognates, but the evolution of consonants in a cluster such as kn or gn (or potentially, PIE *ghn) does not always correspond to that of the same consonants found within a word. There are also several cases where Eng kn and gn are found in similar words, or even spelling the same word, and cognates in other Germanic languages can also be inconsistent in this respect. This inconsistency may reflect the fact that it is difficult to maintain a difference between [k] and [g] (or [gh]) before a consonant like [n], and different languages or dialects may have settled on different pronunciations. So, the evidence seems to me to be quite messy, but perhaps real Indo-Europeanists (or at least Germanists) have a more definite answer.

  56. Poking about in the English and French Wikipedias, I find these additional examples of œ in native words, mœurs ‘mores’, cœur ‘heart’, sœur, chœur ‘choir’, vœu ‘vow’, all < Latin words in ō There are many Greek and Latin words that employ it, however: cœlacanthe, cœlentéré, fœtus, œcuménique, œdème, œdicnème, Œdipe, Œniadæ, œnochoé, œnologie, Œnone, œsophage. Most of this group have English counterparts: in some cases like ecumenical, the digraph has been changed to e alone; in other cases, it varies between e, oe, and œ. Often AmE has e where BrE has oe or œ, as in fetus vs. foetus, fœtus. In addition, œ stands for ö in German borrowings, thus lœss for Löß.
    There are a few cases where œ and oe are not variants in French, though I think there are no minimal pairs. Moelle /mwal/ ‘marrow’ < medulla cannot be written with œ, nor with for it is not a hiatus. Because of the scarcity of these, when the ISO Latin-1 character encoding was constructed to represent all the letters of the Western European languages, œ and Œ were omitted for reasons of space, though they are of course part of Unicode. (Similarly, in order to fit in the essential ß, the letter Ÿ was omitted, as it is only needed in the capitalized forms of a few names like Noÿs, and then only when accents are preserved on capital letters.)

  57. ‘One Russian here at this conference, in spite of the fact that it is a hot week in the south of France, saw fit to don long black trousers and a long-sleeved shirt when he gave the first lecture on Monday morning (no tie, though). I think he had an old-school idea that one must look respectable when one takes the podium.’
    I just spent four weeks in the capital a middle-eastern country, walking to class every morning (as I prefer) and a long-sleeved shirt (and a cap) was the only practical way to dress; but then I have transparent islander skin, I burned very very quickly in the few hours I spent just wearing tshirt and cap. (Was consistent about the long trousers, though, as is appropriate.)

Speak Your Mind

*