Herta Müller and Romanian.

I mentioned Herta Müller briefly in this post mainly to chide her for suggesting that the Romanian word rândunica ‘swallow’ meant “sitting-in-a-row”; that was excessively peevish of me, and I’m glad to have the opportunity (thanks, Dan!) to link to a very interesting review by Costica Bradatan of her book Cristina and her Double: Selected Essays. I was, naturally, particularly interested in the section on cursing:

Of particular interest to Müller is the endless capacity of this language to generate curses. She delights in studying the wide assortment of Romanian curses, the mechanisms whereby they are produced, and the political attitudes they embody. As in most languages, sexual imagery plays an important part. In Romanian, she notices, “When people are angry they say get fucked in the ear, the nose, the head.” When someone “interfered in matters that didn’t concern them the Rumanians said: ‘Sorrow fucks you.’” What fascinates Müller above all is the inoffensive, good-natured side of the whole process. Romanian cursing could be a form of conviviality:

At a company meeting a woman said in a rage; ‘What the devil, my prick, do you want?’ After the woman had calmed down she apologized for the word ‘devil.’ The people in the room laughed. Then the woman asked, offended: ‘Why, my cunt, are you laughing?’

Müller is enthralled; she cannot get enough of this linguistic feast. The way Romanian curses can accommodate opposing elements, mix vulgarity and beauty, and navigate between offense and good-naturedness, earns her unconditional admiration: “I have always envied this language for its vitality,” she says. Indeed, Romanian cursing turned out to be addictive. When she left the country, Müller managed to smuggle it out among the few belongings she was allowed to take with her: “Even now when I curse I speak Rumanian, because German has not curses so picturesque. The words are all there in German, but they aren’t up to the job.” Similarly, long after he moved to France and adopted the country’s language, Cioran would still resort to Romanian for curses. French was of no help to him in that regard, even though by then he had become a very good writer in that language.

I was also struck by “Romanians didn’t rebel, but they called cockroaches ‘Russians’ and developed an industry of political jokes in which the Soviet Union figured prominently”; Russians call cockroaches прусак ‘Prussian.’ Anyway, the whole thing is worth a read.

It reminded me in some ways of this recent talk on “patriophobia” by one of my favorite essayists, Gasan Guseinov; if you know Russian, I recommend it.

Comments

  1. Preussen was the traditional word for cockroaches (specificially Blattella germanica, familiar to all New Yorkers) in non-Prussian parts of Germany, presumably because of the way they march in military array. But in Prussia after 1870, the word was Französen!

  2. Ian Press says:

    Might more be said about ‘Französen’? I know ‘Franzose’ and ‘Französin’, but not ‘Französen’.

    And I quite agree about ‘rândunică’, over which I shamefully held myself back.

  3. Russians sometimes call red roaches, the Blattella germanica, “Прусаки”, but apparently so does everyone else, including the English – “German Roaches”, and even Germans – “Deutsche Schaben” or even “Preussen” (presumably in Bavaria).

  4. Might more be said about ‘Französen’? I know ‘Franzose’ and ‘Französin’, but not ‘Französen’.

    Apart from the fact that Französen is not a German word, much might be said about it. The plural of Franzose is Franzosen, the plural of Französin [female Franzose] is Französinnen.

  5. zythophile says:

    “including the English …” … I am not aware that “German Roach” is ever used in British English, and I’d go so far as to say we never use “roach” as the name of the insect either, only “cockroach” in full: a very quick look at the BNC suggests the word “roach” is only ever used of the freshwater fish Rutilus rutilus, which is a regular target for river anglers.

  6. Stefan Holm says:

    Sweden used to be the odd man out. Traditionally we have never used words or expressions in the field of human propagation as swearwords or amplifiers. They were almost always and solely about God, the Devil and the places where they are supposed to reside (well, matters around feces also fit in). The popular terms in the sexual field were either whispered into the ears of young innocent boys by elder naughty ones or used in public by the radical-liberal-vanguard cultural elite (where it of course was an “expression of art”). Nobody has come up with any good explanation for this discrepancy on our side.

    With immigration things however have changed drastically. In social media and schoolyards it has become standard among the young to insult each other or enforce their opinions with help from the intimate area of life – to the horror of an elder generation. And, among particularly feminists, voices have been raised to (a little like Vladimir Vladimirovich and the Duma) legislate against publically calling girls and women by names from this domain. So, be happy to welcome the Swedes to the world.

  7. Russians sometimes call red roaches, the Blattella germanica, “Прусаки”, but apparently so does everyone else, including the English – “German Roaches”, and even Germans – “Deutsche Schaben” or even “Preussen” (presumably in Bavaria).

    And in Czech cockroachs are called švab, literally ‘Schwabian.’ When entomology meets etymology!

  8. Franzosen is what I meant.

  9. When people are angry they say get fucked in the ear, the nose, the head.

    Müller is from the Banat and from this I would conclude that some Romanian curses there have been calqued on Hungarian examples. The Hungarian language is rather notorious among surrounding countries for having the insult faszt a füledbe ‘a dick in your ear!’ and that’s certainly something I’ve never heard from Romanians in Central Transylvania.

  10. I love this kind of detailed analysis! We need a scholarly work on the dialects of cursing and their mutual influences (and no, I’m not going to write it).

  11. Franzosen is what I meant.

    JC was just in a heavy-metal frame of mind when he added the umlaut.

  12. Ian Press says:

    Thanks. I hope no one thought I was being ironic – I didn’t know of a word ‘Französen’, but am utterly open to learning new stuff. Years of studying have brought me to a wonderful level of ignorance.

  13. That would be the ümlaut, or the umläut, or even the üm̈l̈äüẗ. (That last letter is used, we are told, to transliterate Arabic ta’a marbuta, the mark left over from an old feminine /t/ ending now pronounced as /h/ or /a/ except in the construct state; and in the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet for a plain interdental stop.)

  14. J. W. Brewer says:

    “It’s like a pair of eyes. You’re looking at the umlaut, and it’s looking at you.” — David St. Hubbins

  15. Rodger C says:

    @J. W. Brewer: Cf. St. Umlaut in The Book of Imaginary Saints, which for some reason won’t google. She practiced such severe austerities that she became invisible except for her eyes. Patron of those with constricted vowels.

  16. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Zythophile:

    Indeed. We have cockroaches only.

    The US roach is a bowdlerisation (same process that led to the American propensity for throwing rocks where you or I would throw stones.)

  17. I don’t know why there is an umlaut in Französin. To this day, when I am speaking and see the word Franzosin come up on the internal teleprompter, I have to think fast and put the umlaut back in.

    As for umlaut in German plurals – sometimes, sometimes not. But never in proper names or names of citizens of a country. And not in words that end in -e such as Hose, Hypolepse and Fährte: there you just relax and add an -n.

  18. J. W. Brewer says:

    What’s BrEng for “roach clip”?

  19. The Hungarian language is rather notorious among surrounding countries for having the insult faszt a füledbe ‘a dick in your ear!’

    Nicely alliterative, too. On a similar note, Hebrew has the rhyming zain ba-ain “a dick in the eye!”

  20. @David Eddyshaw: I have no idea what you are suggesting about bowdlerization affecting “rocks” versus “stones.”

    @Stu Clayton: Most ways in which forming German plurals might or might not add an umlaut. However, it seems to be that plurals adding -er pretty much universally add an umlaut if one is possible.

  21. bulbul says:

    And in Czech cockroachs are called švab, literally ‘Schwabian.’
    But the slang word is likewise “rus” and the official name for blattella germanica is rus domácí. Imaging the jokes back in August 1968.

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Brett:

    “Stones” = “testicles” in early modern English.
    You can find examples in the Authorised Version/King James Bible.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    The concept of throwing stones in (as it were) the Biblical sense is … disturbing.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Stu: I don’t know why there is an umlaut in Französin

    Most likely because of the -in suffix with its high front vowel, causing the o to get fronted to ö by anticipation. The same type of change is responsible for the ö in französisch ‘French’ (adjective). Umlauting typically originates from the older presence of a front vowel suffix in i, as in (among other things) many plural noun forms which used to have such a suffix in earlier forms of the language but no longer. With Französin (and perhaps französisch) the i is present.

    Umlauting in German has a counterpart in older English plural forms, as in geese, the plural of goose and similarly in feet/foot, teeth/tooth. English long ago stopped using the vowel quality indicated in German by ö, which changed to e in Old English (before both oo and ee changed to their current pronunciations in the Great English Vowel Shift).

  25. marie-lucie says:

    stone/rock

    I wonder if there might be a distinction between stone often implying some form of modification by human hands (eg “dressed stone”?) and rock always referring to the natural state.

  26. There’s an AmE/BrE distinction in size: rock in the latter implies that it is large, whereas in AmE you can “pick up a rock and throw it” even without being Superman.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    rock

    When I first came to North America (US) I was surprised by the road sign that says: Watch for rock on the road. I imagined a large rock in the middle of the road! It took me a while to realize they meant ‘small pieces of rock”.

  28. Rodger C says:

    There seem also to be people for whom “stone” means “precious stone.” Once as a boy I was flummoxed by the sentence in a book, “Do you know that a stone is nothing but a piece of rock?” I don’t recall ever seeing a clear example of this usage since then, though.

  29. In contemporary American English, both “rocks” and “stones” are unsurprising slang for testicles. They seem to me to have different characters and are frequently used figuratively. “Stones” suggests more positive features stereotypically associated with masculinity, like bravery or fortitude. (“He’s got the stones to handle it.”) “Rocks” suggests something baser or more plainly sexural. (“She sure gets his rocks off.”) Neither one is anywhere close to as frequently used as “nuts” or “balls.”

    In non-testicular meanings, both “rock” and “stone” can be either mass or count nouns. For the count nouns, they do carry different suggestions of size. I would probably be unlikely to call a mere pebble a “rock” (although it would not feel wrong to do so); moreover, I don’t think I could call a large boulder a “stone.” For fist-sized pieces, either one works fine though.

    For the mass noun, “rock” could apply to any natural (or relatively natural-looking) collection of material. It could be a single large outcropping or a pile of talus. However, it would be difficult to use “stone” to refer to a mass of small natural pieces. For worked pieces, the strong preference against calling obviously worked material “rock” seems to win out though. I could go to the quarry to collect some “cut stone,” and I would expect to find it in smallish chunks.

  30. GeorgeW says:

    I had never thought about it, but I feel like my (AmE) distinction between ‘rock’ and ‘stone’ may be more smooth (stone) vs rough (rock) than size. However, ‘pebble’ would always be small (except in smart watches) and ‘boulder,’ large.

  31. For worked pieces, the strong preference against calling obviously worked material “rock” seems to win out though

    “Look at the rock on that dame’s finger!”

  32. How does John Cleese’s “Very small rocks” at 2:30 fit with this UK/US “stone”/”rock” distinction?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrzMhU_4m-g

  33. @Paul Ogden: Yeah, I’ve encountered that usage once or twice, and to me it just sounds wrong. I assume that people using it have a weaker prohibition against “rock” for worked material, but even without an outright prohibition, calling the gem in an engagement ring a “rock” is going to sound rude and/or dismissive. I think it emphasizes the physicality of the jewel, as opposed to its personal and emotional importance.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    PO: “Look at the rock on that dame’s finger!”

    A diamond may be significantly worked, but even if the individual facets are smooth, the overall impression (both visual and to the touch) is not. Gemstones which are not crystals (or not displayed as such) but simply smoothed and polished would not be called “rocks”.

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Keith Ivey:

    “Very small rocks”

    It means it’s funnier in the original British than it seems for an American.

  36. Included among British rocks are the Rock of Gibraltar, which is a freaking mountain, and Plymouth Rock, which despite its location in the New World was named when Americans were still English linguistically.’

    Not unnaturally, rocking stones are not called rocking rocks, no matter how large they are. And of course, there are plenty of very large stones in Britain, from Stonehenge to the Rollright Stones.

  37. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, are only of average size.

  38. GeorgeW says:

    Stone Mountain in Atlanta is pretty big, even bigger than Blowing Rock in North Carolina.

  39. I saw an interview with Reinhold Aman, of Maledicta fame, where he claimed Hungarian was the top language for over the top filthy language. I have to say, my few encounters with English-speaking Hungarians confirm this.

  40. I’m quite proud that Aman once graced my site with a comment, though rueful that it was an angry response to a carelessly phrased aside.

  41. In my recollection, most of Aman’s Usenet posts were angry responses full of insults. Maybe he feels he has expectations to live up to.

    Is Stone Mountain bigger than the Big Rock Candy Mountain?

  42. Stefan Holm says:

    The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, are only of average size.

    Be it so, but here are some thoughts about the name of the “greatest rock’n roll band on earth’. They are said to have picked it up from the song of Muddy Waters ‘Rolling stone’. Where in turn did that came from (as a name of a wandering, unemployed worker)? Oh, I thought, it must be from the Swedish immigrant Joe Hill (Joel Hägglund), who was executed on november 19 1915 in Salt Lake City.

    The night before his execution he wrote a poem (cited in the aforementioned Wikipedia article) including the lines My kin don’t need to fuss and moan / Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.

    To my mind came the Swedish proverb sten som rullar blir aldrig mossig (stone that rolls gets never mossy). Wow, could we trace the name of the band back to old Sweden? Well, a check into the Online Etymological Dictionary made me resign: The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse is recorded in 1546.

    I concluded the thing to be a common Germanic stuff. But then I was haunted by a specter: Why is that so? Are we a tribe of never satisfied rolling stones? The migration period? The Vikings? The Crusades? Brittish colonialism? The repeated campaigns towards Russia (Karl XII, Frederic the Great, Napoleon, Hitler)? The conquest of the American continent? Contemporary US imperialism (in the name of Human Rights)? Why can’t we ever be satisfied? At least I hope it’s not for sympathy of the devil

  43. David Marjanović says:

    bowdlerisation (same process that led to the American propensity for throwing rocks where you or I would throw stones.)

    *lightbulb moment*

    (“She sure gets his rocks off.”)

    …I knew this expression, but had never connected it to…

  44. I don’t in fact think that AmE rock ‘stone’ is a bowdlerization, given that both words are used for testicles. The OED’s first quotation in this sense is from the town records of Derby, Connecticut in 1677: “[The town] reserves the Stons of the rock and the rocks for the Use of the Town.” So rock is clearly being used in both senses in a single sentence here, and there is obviously no avoidance of stone (as there is not in current AmE either). The next quotation, the first one in the OED2, is “I lay’d a Rock in the North-east corner of the Foundation of the Meetinghouse. It was a stone I got out of the Common.”, again with no avoidance of stone.

    The OED3 also gives the sense ‘stone used in the game of curling’ and said it was originally Scottish but now (i.e. 2010) chiefly Canadian. I’m guessing this may be related.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse is recorded in 1546.

    In French there is a proverb Pierre qui roule n’amasse pas mousse ‘(A) rolling stone gathers no moss’. The lack of articles before the nouns pierre and mousse shows that this proverb is quite old, probably older than the English quotation.. The modern equivalent would be “Une pierre qui roule n’accumule pas de mousse”, but only the older form is used, in referring to a man who does not stay long in one place and does not save money.

    This proverb is mentioned in the TLFI under pierre, amasser and mousse (1) but there is no indication of a date.

  46. Publilius Syrius (i.e. ‘the Syrian’) was a -1st C writer of maxims who recorded it as Saxum volutum non obducitur musco. So it’s more than two millennia old, and may actually have come from the ancient Near East.

  47. The interesting thing about, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” is that it is not really clear whether gathering moss is supposed to be a good thing or not. I recall reading somewhere that the traditionally Scottish interpretation was that moss was bad, so it was good to keep moving; however, the traditional English interpretation was that the moss was cozy and good. (I recall that Tolkien put the English version in Gandalf’s mouth, when the wizard was comparing himself to Bombadil.)

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks JC. In that case, the saying probably entered European languages during the “rediscovery” of Latin and Greek literature around the time of the Renaissance.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Brett, I think that whether moss on a stone is considered good or bad is irrelevant to the proverb, which like most proverbs is to be understood metaphorically. Literally speaking, a stone left undisturbed in a humid environment provides a place for moss to grow, and as years pass the moss covering gets thicker. This provides a metaphor for a man who settles on a piece of land on which he grows cereals and other food plants, improving the land and the harvests with each passing year and thereby getting richer, while a restless man drifting from place to place remains poor.

  50. @marie-lucie: But my point was that it is not a clear metaphor and is interpreted differently in different times and places (and by different people). What you describe is (more or less) what I noted above as the English interpretation. However, until I was a teenager, I thought that the mossless stone was supposed to be the lucky one—and indeed that is apparently how the expression is traditionally interpreted in Scotland. In that case, the metaphor is interpreted to be that the rolling stone is not getting weighed down with slimy gunk. By keeping active (moving, doing different things) one does not settle into the “swampy” territory of stagnation.

    If you’re used to interpreting the expression one way, it may never occur to you that there is an equally reasonable alternative. I suspect that the version I grew up with is the minority usage globally, and I was shocked when I realized that I must have misinterpreted many people’s uses of the expression. That included, for example, the name of the band, which is much edgier if the canonical English interpretation is used.

  51. Brett: Certainly the “moss = good” interpretation is the older one. WP says that it may not be authentic to Publilius, however. As to which is used more often today, who knows?

    Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie” turns the saying around:

    Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
    And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone
    But that’s not how it used to be
    When the jester sang for the king and queen
    In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
    And a voice that came from you and me

  52. However, until I was a teenager, I thought that the mossless stone was supposed to be the lucky one—and indeed that is apparently how the expression is traditionally interpreted in Scotland.

    That’s how I always interpreted it. I wonder how we come up with these understandings?

    Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie” turns the saying around

    I wouldn’t say it turns it around so much as plays with it: “The Rolling Stones have gotten rich.”

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Brett: The “canonical English interpretation” is also the French one, which I have known for ever. I had never heard of the Scottish one until now. Perhaps the poor soil in most of Scotland, encouraging people to emigrate rather than trying to make a living from barren ground, caused the saying to be interpreted differently.

    Moss is not “slimy gunk” at all! Although there are hundreds or thousands of mosses, he typical moss of temperate climates is velvety or furry, and it does not grow in swamps but on some forest floors as well as on trees, old stone walls, old tiled roofs, old untended lawns, etc. It needs humidity in the air, not standing water. In the rainforest of the North Pacific coast the trunks of old trees are covered with a type of furry moss 10 cm or more thick.

  54. Moss is not “slimy gunk” at all! Although there are hundreds or thousands of mosses, he typical moss of temperate climates is velvety or furry, and it does not grow in swamps but on some forest floors as well as on trees, old stone walls, old tiled roofs, old untended lawns, etc. It needs humidity in the air, not standing water. In the rainforest of the North Pacific coast the trunks of old trees are covered with a type of furry moss 10 cm or more thick.

    I’m forever describing that North Pacific coast to people who’ve never seen it as a special kind of jungle. It’s magic — green magic!

    The back part of my yard in Toronto was particularly shady and moss invaded the lawn. At first I hated it, but then realized I could encourage its growth; soon that corner of the yard sported a most wonderful evergreen carpet.

    Wiki says there are some 12,000 species of moss.

  55. Stone-faced & stone-cold begin to sound rather peculiarly, I must say.
    With respect to saxum volutum BTW, Russian has a double-negative kind of a folk saying:
    Под лежачий камень вода не течет, “Water doesn’t flow under a stone which lays still”, ~~ “Don’t be passive, do things, or you’ll never see any changes to the better”. If that’s any guidance, then it must be good for the proverbial stones not to get mossy.

  56. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Scottish interpretation prevailed in America: not only are we descended from emigrants (for the most part), and ScE is notoriously an influence on AmE, but Americans are also a very migratory people.

    I suppose moss becomes slimy gunk when it is crushed by a stone rolling by.

    Were the Stones already rich by 1969, ten years after “the day the music died”?

    McLean on what the song means: “It means I never have to work again.”

  57. J.W. Brewer says:

    I’m not sure if the name of the band is (or would have been thought in 1962) “edgy,” but it seems clear that the name was taken from the use of the NP “rolling stone” in the lyrics of Muddy Waters records, with the connection between that cool-because-exotic-and-foreign usage and the not-nearly-so-cool-because-local proverb not necessarily having been reflected upon at any length. Plus insofar as the band was briefly billed early on as “Brian Jones and His Rollin’ Stones” the rhyme may have been as important as anything else. One could I suppose argue whether the Muddy Waters usage is more “English” or “Scottish.” The usage in “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (lyrics by Whitfield/Strong), which might or might not reflect a more general AAVE usage tradition, is pretty pejorative/English, but of course the title character may have had a different perspective on the pluses/minuses of not gathering moss than the widow and children he left, um, mossless in the wake of his death. Brian Jones himself (and all accounts of the band’s naming give him credit for picking it) was very much a rolling stone in that sense: charismatic and sometimes charming, intermittently brilliant and innovative, unreliable, irresponsible, and self-destructive. The coroner’s verdict of “death by misadventure” could have had a footnote that no signs of moss were found at the scene.

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    @John Cowan:

    The fact that “rock” is used for “testicle” nowadays wouldn’t necessarily count against bowdlerisation as the reason for the extension of its meaning to cover part of the range formerly expressed by “stone”; the supposed bowdlerisation would only have to date from a period when “stones” meant testicles, and “rocks”, as yet, didn’t.

    I think I’ve muddied the waters a bit by using the word “bowdlerisation” rather sloppily – presumably “stones” for “testicles” was not taboo (it’s in the Bible!) If it were the usual neutral way of referring to testicles, one could readily imagine the term “throwing stones” would get disfavoured.

    Unfortunately I don’t remember where I first came across the stones/rocks bowdlerisation thing. I had an impression it was from Bloomfield, but a bit of googling suggests this is a false memory …

    Apropos of tabooed words, I vaguely recall a paper I read years ago about the way that as in its evolution from earlier Chinese, Mandarin has ended up with fewer and fewer distinct syllables, numbers of perfectly innocuous Chinese words have been replaced because they accidentally became homophonous with obscenities.

  59. Were the Stones already rich by 1969, ten years after “the day the music died”?

    Good question. Certainly they were a few years later, but that may have been around the cusp when they started making big money. I’d be curious to know the answer.

  60. J.W. Brewer says:

    The right answer is probably that they were perceived by the public (including Don McLean and those who would subsequently by his record) as fabulously wealthy by ’69, but were in truth substantially less wealthy due to bad deals they had foolishly signed with their manager (a common hazard of stardom in those days). One obit of Allen Klein has but a single quote from Jagger, viz. “Where’s my fucking money?” (him to Klein after tensions had arisen in the relationship . . .). Keith has, more reflectively, called being screwed over by Klein “the price of an education” and the Stones were subsequently much cannier in their business dealings – once bitten, twice shy, etc.

  61. a period when “stones” meant testicles, and “rocks”, as yet, didn’t.

    Indeed. Stones goes back to 1154 (the OED1 says “obsolete except in vulgar use”), but the OED3 first finds rocks in 1918 (Molly Bloom, in fact, in an expletive use). It also quotes an American Speech article from 1961:

    Expressions using rocks and stones to mean testes are at least as old as the Renaissance, but in the mouths of today’s teen-agers, hot rocks seems to imply only a warm romantic interest by a teen-ager of either sex in one of the opposite gender.

    The first straightforward literal use given in the OED3 is not until 1975.

    I suspect that those infamous bad deals were (and are) not a matter of youthful folly but of Hobson’s choice. First novelists routinely get smaller advances and lesser royalties than those who have been published before.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    Publilius Syrus.

    a special kind of jungle

    Temperate rainforest! It’s officially a thing.

  63. Wiki translates Syrus’s original version as “People who are always moving, with no roots in one place, avoid responsibilities and cares” — hardly very pithy. It adds:

    The saying may not be authentic to Syrus; the Latin form usually given, Saxum volutum non obducitur musco, does not appear in the edited texts of Publilius Syrus. It does, however, appear with similar wording in Erasmus’ Adagia, which was first published around 1500. It is also given as “Musco lapis volutus haud obducitur,” and in some cases as “Musco lapis volutus haud obvolvitur”

    So maybe it was Erasmus who came up with the epigrammatic paraphrase. If so, it’s like Credo quia absurdum, which Tertullian never said (what he wrote was prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est, “It is wholly believable, because it is incongruous”); I haven’t been able to find out who’s responsible for the better-known, catchier wording.

  64. TR: prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est, “It is wholly believable, because it is incongruous”

    <* light-bulb *> Incongruous in the sense of not fitting in, not connecting up with anything already known or believed. So not liable to lead to contradictions. Like an independent statement in mathematics, shown to be independent with respect to a given set of statements (“axioms”). There is a model of that set in which the statement is true, and a different model in which the statement is false.

    OK, OK, just a riff …

    Tertullian, Augustine, Anselm et al wrote a lot, from which many a memorable jingle remains: certum est, quia impossible, Credimus, ut cognoscamus, Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. In each case their arguments are internally consistent, more or less.

    That’s why one has to take them on as a whole, or discard them entirely and move on to something else. Consistency is a tar-baby.

  65. When I read David’s comment just above, I didn’t yet realize that “It’s officially a thing” is, indeed, officially a thing, with almost 100,000 ghits.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    Soon you, too, shall be aware of all Internet traditions.

  67. Unlikelihud.

         —the prankquean

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