How Pushkin Became a Cat.

Ilya Vinitsky reports for NYU’s Jordan Russian Center (Part I, Part II) on the backstory of a surprisingly popular American cat name:

At the tail end of 1934, when Gorky and Co. were defending the honor of the USSR’s national poet from bourgeois vulgarity, with the result that the eponymous Moscow café was deprived of its name, the famous Hollywood singer and actress Lilian Harvey (1906-1968) ran a notice in Los Angeles newspapers. Her blue- and brown-eyed white Persian cat, who went by the name of “Pushkin,” had gone missing. […]

I don’t know whether this kitten with the multi-colored eyes (who, today, might have been named in honor of David Bowie) was ever found, but my attention was drawn to a curious coincidence, dating to the very same period. Newspapers from the end of 1934 to the beginning of 1935 tell us that a certain school in Arizona staged a puppet show entitled Pushkin, starring a kitten with the very same name — though it is unclear whether it was Lilian Harvey’s runaway — along with two of his relatives. English-language culture offers few themes more banal than “three little kittens,” and yet I remained interested in the question of why a 1930s-era American would name a kitten in honor of Russia’s greatest poet.

Moreover, an American magazine article from 1936 plainly states that “the name Pushkin is ideal for a cat.” The tradition has proven quite powerful — in fact, one of my friends in Philadelphia has a cat named Pushkin. […] In fact, American newspaper clippings from the 1930s allow the historian to pose the question somewhat differently: when and why did these Pushkin-kittens appear?

Let’s start with what we know. In 1922, prolific Philadelphian author and well-known gourmand Christopher Morley (1890–1957) released a children’s book called I Know A Secret. The 1920s and 30s saw several editions of this delightful book released in America and England, accompanied by Jeanette Warmuth’s delightful illustrations. One of Secret’s most popular stories, “The Scheming Cat,” features a naughty white kitten named Pushkin. […] Several sources attest to the popularity of this story, including some from 1934. The puppet show about the naughty Pushkin was most likely an adaptation of this very story. The Hollywood actress and singer, therefore, likely named her white cat Pushkin under the influence of the children’s tale about the mischievous kitten in the bathroom. Incidentally, Morley himself loved the kitten he invented so much that he signed his editorial column in the Saturday Evening Post “the Cat Pushkin.”

In Part II he suggests that Morley, who is not known to have been interested in Russia or Russian literature, may have given his kitten the name “based on the phonetic model for funny children’s nicknames, along with ‘baby-talk’ modes of addressing children: Munch-kin, Pussy-cat, puss-puss-puss-push-push-push, Push-kin.” All I know is that I myself have a cat called Pushkin, and I had no idea of the tradition he unwittingly represents.

Comments

  1. The Russin counterpart may be кот Пушок with over a million Google hits

  2. Wiktionary tells us that -kin is a suffix that forms diminutives, which I don’t think I knew, and gives examples like bodkin, mannikin, pumpkin and napkin, none of which i would have identified as diminutives. But etymologically, they are! Also catkin, a word I didn’t know, which is a botanical term for the sort of flowers along a stem that we are familiar with from pussy willows. How about that?
    Munchkin was invented by L. Frank Baum, clearly as a diminutive.
    Beatrix Potter used -kin for a cat, Simpkin, in The Tailor of Gloucester, and also for a squirrel, in the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.
    So apparently -kin was productive into the 20th c. And pusskin becomes Pushkin pretty readily, doesn’t it?

  3. ktschwarz says:

    I had assumed these cats (particularly Hat’s) were named in honor of the Learned Cat who walks around the oak tree telling fairytales.

    For much more on “catkins”, see this post from 2018.

  4. I’d forgotten that! The catkin discussion starts here.

  5. My cat was named directly after the poet, but I have read him the passage from Ruslan i Lyudmila. He wasn’t impressed.

  6. Dmitry Pruss says:

    He wasn’t impressed

    хатуль уснуль

  7. Even before Beatrix Potter, there was a tradition of giving cats (and maybe other animals) names that end in –kin or –kins. It’s hard to Google for examples, but I remember encountering them sporadically. The only example that springs to mind immediately is much more recent. Diana Rigg’s* character in the BBC drama Mother Love (and presumably the original Domini Taylor novel) refers to her son and his family by cat-related nicknames, calling one of her grandchildren “Vinikins.”

    * The series was broadcast in America on Mystery! shortly after Rigg took over as the host, and I remember she had some very interesting comments about the production.

  8. @languagehat: Oh yes, of course! The OED entry for grimalkin is actually interesting, because the earliest attestation of the word (as “Graymalkin”) is not necessarily quite in the modern sense. It is from the first scene of Macbeth, where one of the witches is addressing a demon (probably a familiar)—which is unseen, but not directly suggested to be catlike in any way. In the next line, another witch similarly mentions “Paddock,” which does not sound diabolical to me at all.

  9. John Cowan says:

    I’ve always took it for granted that Graymalkin in Macbeth is a perfectly real cat, and Paddock is a perfectly real toad. In any case, they are offscreen: the first witch is telling Graymalkin she’s on her way, the second witch says Paddock is calling her, and the third simply says “Anon!” which in effect means “Coming!”, though we are not told what is calling her.

  10. Rob Solheim says:

    I’ve always assumed the -kin suffix to be from the same root as German -chen, which is still productive as a diminutive, though never actually got round to checking.

  11. Owlmirror says:

    Shopkins.

    [Sigh, grumble, yelling at clouds about consumerism & meta-consumerism, blah blah blah. Bah.]

  12. Stu Clayton says:

    meta-consumerism

    “Meta” always makes me reach for my shiv. But tacked onto consumerism ? I suppose this is what you mean at the link:

    # Moose Toys launched a series of children’s books about Shopkins including Scholastic’s Shopkins: Welcome to Shopville.[11] #

    In fact talking about anything is meta-anything, so I’d better stop now. Especially since I’m talking meta-meta.

  13. AJP Crown says:

    Kropotkin would be a good cat’s name.

    Algy meta-bear.

  14. Stu Clayton says:

    Apparently that was withheld from me as a kid. To have known about it would have made my life simpler.

    Algy Met a Bear
    Poem

    Algy met a bear,
    A bear met Algy.
    The bear was bulgy,
    The bulge was Algy.

  15. AJP Crown says:

    I’m pretty Algy’s cropped up in the comments before. I like
    Poem
    as an explanation of why it’s there.

  16. Stu Clayton says:

    I suppose people like to be reassured about what something is before they’ll read it.

    Sparky is not so gullible. He inspects every single morsel I offer him before eating it, even when it’s the tenth one in close succession. They could have “food” stamped all over them, he remains cautious.

  17. AJP Crown says:

    Topsy used to take the dried dog food out of the bowl and arrange it into different categories.

  18. I would guess that most people who call their cat Chairman Meow or their canary Gregory Peck are making a pun rather than an analogy.

  19. Kropotkin would be a good cat’s name.

    Dammit, why didn’t I think of that? Oh well, if I’d named him Kropotkin he’d doubtless be even more obstreperous.

  20. Just over an hour passes, and two people ask the same question on different posts (see Flawed Approximation.):

    Rob Solheim says:
    February 9, 2020 at 2:06 am
    I’ve always assumed the -kin suffix to be from the same root as German -chen, which is still productive as a diminutive, though never actually got round to checking.

    Ryan says:
    February 9, 2020 at 12:42 am
    >and German katzchen
    Is diminutive -kin cognate with German-chen?

  21. “he’d doubtless be even more obstreperous”

    But nonviolent.

  22. Good point. I won’t bother renaming him now, though; he’s set in his ways.

  23. There’s more than one way to ‘kin a cat. And a cat may look at a ‘kin, or like a ‘kin.

    /obvious

  24. ktschwarz says:

    Re e-k’s link: Oh, yes, I’ve always thought this story was crying out for illustration! The illustrations also reveal an ambiguity in the image of the “chain on the oak” and the “cat walking on the chain”: I’d pictured the chain wrapped horizontally around the trunk, and the cat treading on top of it, like a tightrope. But the illustrations show the chain as a leash, running from the cat’s neck to the tree branch. Of course this explains why the psychologist thinks it’s a “grub hanging on a branch” — I’d assumed the drawing was just so bad that he made that up out of random blobs.

    Google tells me that some artists and translators have read it my way, as a tightrope (like this), and others as a leash: the cat is “bound to the tree by a golden chain” or “at the chain’s end”.

    So, Russian-speakers, can you tell me if it’s ambiguous in the original? Is this a literary controversy? It makes a big difference in how the image feels to me.

  25. @John Cowan: It’s entirely possible that Graymalkin is a real cat, but there is no direct indication of that. It depends on whether the name would have been known to Shakespeare’s audiences to be standard for a cat. This is like those debates about how many words Shakespeare actually invented; just because the first known usage is in one of his plays does not mean a term was not already extant.

    @AJP Crown: On the (no longer extant) forums at Chronicle oh Higher Education Web site, when the same or related topics came up in multiple threads, so that a discussion in one thread was relevant in another, it was traditional for the first poster who noticed and drew attention to the connection to insert “[interthreaduality]” into their post, which I though was a useful and amusing tradition.

  26. January First-of-May says:

    I’d pictured the chain wrapped horizontally around the trunk, and the cat treading on top of it, like a tightrope. But the illustrations show the chain as a leash, running from the cat’s neck to the tree branch.

    The Russian wording seems to suggest something a lot more like the former – the cat is walking on the chain. Though I think it doesn’t explicitly say that the chain is wrapped all the way around.

    I think I, personally, have been imagining the chain wrapped horizontally(ish) around the trunk… and the cat walking on the ground, tied to it by a leash (which might or might not have been part of the chain). In other words, something a lot like this picture.
    I don’t think this version is particularly well supported by the wording, but I still find it more convenient to imagine than the tightrope-cat you’re describing.

    For what it’s worth, a check of Google Images results for the first line in Russian finds a lot of tightrope-cats, some chain-walking cats where the chain is on the ground, and a bunch of pictures where the cat is sitting under the tree and doesn’t appear to be touching the chain at all.
    The image I linked is only the second result that appears to show something clearly leash-like (out of roughly a hundred relevant results that I’ve checked), and the other leash picture was similar.

     
    EDIT: …OK, found a Russian discussion on pretty much the exact same topic. Apparently it’s not just your confusion…

  27. Only the cat knows, and he’s not telling.

  28. Wiktionary informs us that -kin is indeed cognate with German -chen.
    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-kin

  29. J.W. Brewer says:

    At least a century-plus ago, I believe that -kin was reasonably productive in English for forming nicknames or “pet names” for humans, not (just) literal pets. See, e.g., the following from a novel published in 1923: “George was saying to me the other day, ‘Sally-kin’ (his pet name for me), “if I didn’t have your woman’s intuition to guide me in this mundane sphere, where would I be?’”

    There’s also a book published 1876, apparently well-known in its day, titled “Johnnykin and the Goblins,” in which the title character is likewise a human boy rather than a feline. Indeed, the construction remained somewhat productive in some circles as late as the late 1980’s, when I was occasionally addressed (never in front of third parties, as best as I can recall) as “Johnnykin” (or perhaps “Johnnykins”?) by my then-girlfriend. NB that since Johnny/Sally/etc are already diminutives, this is sort of a second-order diminutive. I think Russian does that with nicknames with some frequency, but I don’t know if there’s a specific name for the phenomenon.

  30. Russian is capable of producing nested-diminutive words, but it is usually a bit fanciful. As for the names, familiar names are not diminutive. If you know a certain Ivan well you can call him Vanya, but there is nothing diminutive about it, just like there is nothing diminutive about Tom, Dick, and Harry.

    ADDENDUM: In the missive that Norfolk receives in Richard III
    “Jockey of Norfolk, be not so bold.
    For Dickon thy master is bought and sold.”
    is Dickon diminutive?

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, “diminutives” in sort of a syntactic sense, which may or may not be tracked in the semantics. Perhaps I should have said “hypocorism” to sound more technical and/or high-falutin’? Obviously in many languages “diminutive” suffixes can be used to connote familiarity and in Russian even respect (as in e.g. “batushka”).

  32. That’s what I meant (ah, hypocoristic, me too could have sounded soo educated). Familiar names are ordinary words, syntactically, they lack diminutive suffixes. Masha has the same structure as kasha.

  33. PlasticPaddy says:

    @do
    You made me imagine kashenka but I think it does not exist😊

  34. Bunnykins is another on the same model.

    A friend of mine named her pet rabbit Attila the Bun.

  35. The two major German etymological dictionaries (Kluge/Seebold and Pfeifer) do not mention English -kin in their articles on -chen, only the related forms in Low German (Old Saxon) and Dutch. Usually these dictionaries cite all corresponding morphemes in other Germanic languages. According to the OED article on -kin, the earliest attestations of the suffix in English seem to be Dutch loans.

  36. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ulr
    Maidekin is already in middle English. Are you saying someone calqued a Dutch word which is now meisje in Standard Dutch (I admit there is probably a Frisian variant in ke)?

  37. David Marjanović says:

    seem to be Dutch loans

    That’s also in the Wiktionary article, which promptly goes on to show why: there’s no other way to explain the k, which indeed isn’t there in other Middle English and apparently the Old English forms, and isn’t expected to persist right next to a front vowel.

  38. January First-of-May, thanks! It’s a mystery for the ages.

  39. Stu Clayton says:

    Daily Telegraph sez:

    # Uh-oooooooh. This article is no longer available. #

    But this link takes me there.

  40. @Bloix: isn’t “little man” one of the meanings of man(n)ikin?

    Also note “little Peterkin” from Southey’s After Blenheim. As Blenheim is Blindheim in Bavaria, so Peterkin is probably Peterchen Anglicized. It sounds like a natural diminutive though, doesn’t it?

  41. When I was a kid, our neighbours had a cat called Pushkin – I suspect there are quite a few of them around.

    Peterkin as an informal diminutive of Peter also appears in Belloc, “The Death of Wandering Peter”: St Peter declares that the narrator will get into heaven, despite a slightly chequered past:

    “‘And though I did not know him well
    And though his soul were clogged with sin,
    I hold the keys of Heaven and Hell.
    Be welcome, noble Peterkin.’

    “Then shall I spread my native wings
    And tread secure the heavenly floor,
    And tell the blessed doubtful things
    Of Val d’Aran and Perigord.”

    (Also, bizarrely, I have come across three people who called their cats after the Scottish national heroes William Wallace and Robert Bruce: my grandmother, the parents of a university friend, and a character in a Sara Paretsky novel.)

  42. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm 9 Feb
    Thanks for explaining why experts are explaining -kin as a borrowing. I am still curious. Some sources say those borrowings occurred later (e.g. 15 century) than the earliest examples (from late 13 century, usually names, like mal(e)kin but also manikin, maidekin). The other thing is why does English have so many borrowed diminutive suffixes which are extended to native words?

  43. David Marjanović says:

    Some sources say those borrowings occurred later (e.g. 15 century) than the earliest examples (from late 13 century, usually names, like mal(e)kin but also manikin, maidekin).

    Then those sources are probably off. Manikin without umlaut definitely looks Dutch (manneken), compare G Männchen.

    The other thing is why does English have so many borrowed diminutive suffixes

    Two or three: -kin, -let/et(te). For comparison, German has two diminutive suffixes as well, they just both happen to be native (-chen, -(e)lein).

  44. “Things that sound like diminutives but aren’t” would be a good addition to ISIHAC’s “Uxbridge English Dictionary” rounds.

    “Toilette. A small amount of work.”
    “Nankin. A tiny Chinese grandmother.”

  45. January First-of-May says:

    Uxbridge English Dictionary

    The Russian equivalent (compiled by Boris Norman; the most complete list that I was able to find starts here) is known as Энтимологический словарь (“Entymological Dictionary”).

  46. That’s great!

  47. The full English version seems to be here http://www.bennewsam.co.uk/Uxbridge/Dictionary.html

  48. Kate Bunting says:

    Pet-names for men ending in -kin were apparently common in the Middle Ages and are the origin of many surnames such as Tomkins, Jenkins, Wilkinson and the like. (See Withycombe’s ‘Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names’). People are often puzzled as to why Jack should be a nickname for John, but it is believed to be derived from the medieval ‘Jankin’ (the name of one of the Wife of Bath’s husbands). There was also the French Renaissance composer Clement Janequin.. Not forgetting Perkin Warbeck.

    I’ve always thought of Pushkin as quite a clever name for a cat.

  49. Beatrix Potter’s “Simpkins” is itself a diminutive of “Simon,” although by her time it was also long established as a word for “simpleton.” The diminutive name itself appears in The Canterbury Tales, although the character the Reeve gives it to is no fool. However, according to the OED it was used (although still as a proper name at this point) by Thomas More to indicate an unintelligent character in 1529. The earliest common noun citation is from 1699.

    Apparently also, simkin is a word for champagne (having started as a mispronunciation) in Hindi and Indian English.

  50. “Toilette. A small amount of work.”

    Also palette: a casual acquaintance, a not especially close friend

  51. Palliasse: stupid but friendly strawman.

  52. I had in mind that the cat in one of the canonical Russian novels was named Myshka or Myshkin or something like that. I look it up and find myshka means mouse. Maybe I’ve misremembered, and there’s a word that’s more like mouser. Does this ring a bell with any of the Russian experts here?

    I liked the name. I had taken it to be onomatopoeic, not from the sound of a cat, but from the sound one makes, or at least our family made, in calling a cat.

    That’s been my context for the discussion of Pushkin as a cat name.

  53. I suspect you’re confusing Prince Myshkin from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot with some literary cat, perhaps Begemot (Behemoth) from The Master and Margarita.

  54. If I am not mistaken we discussed Prince Myshkin a while ago.

    Here:


    SFReader says:
    August 18, 2018 at 11:57 am
    I wonder what real surname Dostoyevsky had in mind inventing prince Myshkin.

    Most likely guess would be princes Myshetsky, an ordinary and quite boring real princely family which gave Russia many governors, generals and bureaucrats.

    If he was going for the sound analogy, instead of literal root, then I guess it’s Naryshkins. They didn’t really had princely title, but they did extremely well otherwise – Peter the Great’s mother was Naryshkina, for example.

    Going a little deeper into history, there used to be a boyar family named Koshkins back in 15th century. That’s really cool analogy, because Myshkin derives from Russian word for mouse and Koshkin is derived from Russian word for cat.

    Unfortunately, Koshkins became Romanovs in 16th century (yes, those Romanovs), so they couldn’t be heroes of Dostoyevsky novel….

    …unless Fyodor Mikhailovich based his prince Myshkin on the Tsar or his cousins which strikes me as unlikely.
    —-

  55. Stu Clayton says:

    Paillasse: collie in a bucket.

  56. January First-of-May says:

    I had in mind that the cat in one of the canonical Russian novels was named Myshka or Myshkin or something like that.

    One of the common traditional Russian cat names is Mashka (historically a double-nickname for Mary), so I suppose you might have been thinking of that one (though I can’t recall having seen it in any particular novel).

  57. In Tolkien’s allegorical tale “Leaf by Niggle”, there are three minor characters named Tomkins ‘son of Tom-DIM’, Atkins ‘son of Adam-DIM’, and Perkins ‘son of Peter-DIM’. It is not surprising, then, that while Tompkins despised Niggle and Perkins was utterly indifferent to him, Atkins is rather sympathetic, as we are all children of Adam. Tommy Atkins has also been also the placeholder name for a soldier in a sample document since at least 1743, so it is more down-market than the other two.

  58. How is Rumpelstiltskin parsed?

    Last night, innocent of any knowledge of this thread, my daughters brought me a plush toy of a cartoon cat that’s a recent craze in our house. “Pusheen is Irish for cat, Daddy!”

    Turns out they were right. “Kitten.”

    It’s only seeing pusheen=puisin that I recognized what many of you may have had in mind with pushkin, a similarity to pussy(cat) that was lost on me till then.

  59. (Apparently I’d lost track of the fact Hat mentioned it in the original post. Whoops.)

  60. That’s OK, it hadn’t occurred to me until I read Vinitsky’s piece, and I’ve had the cat since 2006!

  61. David Marjanović says:

    Peterchens Mondfahrt has an English Wikipedia article.

    How is Rumpelstiltskin parsed?

    Well. Rumpelstilzchen ends in the diminutive suffix; rumpeln is a verb that describes certain sounds – “to rumble”; and the -stilz- part looks like it should be related to Stelze, “stilt”, but that doesn’t make any sense.

  62. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm
    From DWDS:
    Deminutivum von Rumpelstilz ‘lärmender, rumpelnder, spukender Kobold’, älter Rumpele stilt (2. Hälfte 16. Jh.); vgl. (heute veraltet) Stülz, Stülzer (15. Jh.), Stilzer (16. Jh.) ‘Hinkender’, das wohl zu der unter Stelze (s. d.) angeführten Wortgruppe gehört.
    I agree this is a bit “handwaving” but the stilt->crutch->deformed/limping person is better than anything I can think of (unless there was some dialect where gestalt > stilt).

  63. David Marjanović says:

    stilt->crutch->deformed/limping person

    Perfect, thanks.

    gestalt > stilt

    I can’t imagine that.

  64. Wiki in English equates stilt with post, suggesting that it’s a sort of sprite that makes rattling noises around the house. Is that plausible? I don’t see much evidence that a stilt can’t be a standard house post distinct from something to raise a house in a wet area. And it mentions rumpelgeist, like poltergeist. Is that a common word?

    Little rattle post could make sense. But little rattle crutch seems better.

  65. “Simpkins” is a word for “simpleton.”

    Hmmm. I’ll have to start using it for my SIM card.

  66. It depends on whether the name would have been known to Shakespeare’s audiences to be standard for a cat.

    Macbeth was first performed in 1606, and the OED has a 1630 quotation “I list not write the bable praise Of Apes, or Owles, or Popinjaies Or of the Cat Grimalkin.” So I think we can take it that they did.

    Only the cat knows, and he’s not telling.

    “But the CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.”

    is Dickon diminutive?

    Indeed. The 12-year-old hero of The Secret Garden (1911) is named Dickon. Jockey is also a diminutive: the 1st Duke of Norfolk was named John.

    there’s no other way to explain the k

    It may have been reinforced by the -kin ‘-like’ < cynn also mentioned by Wikt, though the editors are restrained from saying so. Note that this is still marginally productive: I don’t have a proper first citation for otherkin / Otherkin ‘someone who believes they are not human, or were non-Terran in a previous life’, but it is obviously modern and obviously contains this -kin.

    There was an English diminutive suffix -chen /-tʃən/, as in bulchin ‘bull-calf’, but it didn’t make it out of Middle English.

    rumpeln is a verb that describes certain sounds – “to rumble”

    So the name should have been etymologically nativized into English as Rumblestiltskin, then?

  67. And it mentions rumpelgeist, like poltergeist. Is that a common word?
    It’s not a word that I had encountered before, but googling shows it exists. There seems to be a fantasy novel with that title (English language) which predominates the Google hits, but Google also has quotations of the word in German texts from Luther and from the 17th century, as well as for contemporary usage from online discussions.

  68. One online source has stilte meaning stick in Flemish.

    I’m leaning towards “Little Shake Spear.”

  69. Trond Engen says:

    The Norwegian translation of Rumpelstilzchen is named Rumleskaft, with skaft “shaft, handle”. It doesn’t make much sense either, but does support the idea of “stick” or “post”.

    For anyone living in an old wooden house, the connection between “wooden post” and “strange noises” is immediate. “What’s that noise?” “Oh it’s only a rumblestilt”.

    On a less immediate level, Stilzchen could be a variation on Zwerg. In Norwegian traditional building terminology, a dverg is a short post or a stud used e.g. to support the tie beams or rafters on to a horizontal roof beam, or as part of a timber truss. In German, a Zwerggallerie is the upper gallery of a church immediately below the roof (this has been calqued all over Germanic). The four corners of the world, held by columns in classic mythology, were held by dwarfs in Old Norse mythology. There’s an obscure Latin term tuercus meaning “stud supporting the roof in a mine”. In Iron age Scandinavia, gullgubber were laid down as offerings in postholes of (especially) sacred buildings. Also regular farmhouses could have offerings in the (esp. corner) postholes. We see the contours of a cosmology where the roof and the heavens above were supported by posts governed by sturdy but threacherous spirits. Take care of the dwarfs, and the roof won’t come down on you in the night, or the mine won’t close and hide the treasures forever.

  70. David Marjanović says:

    but it is obviously modern and obviously contains this -kin.

    I think it’s made from the noun kin, which survives less marginally.

    So the name should have been etymologically nativized into English as Rumblestiltskin, then?

    Apparently – except for the second s.

    Incidentally, that makes two words that look like the High German consonant shift turned -mb- into -mp-, the other being Wampe “fat belly”. But that one has a doublet with the otherwise expected form Wamme, and I’m not sure what their geographic distribution is.

  71. David Marjanović says:

    There’s an obscure Latin term tuercus meaning “stud supporting the roof in a mine”.

    I’m sure that’s medieval Latin and straight from MHG, from the time when miners and mining engineers from Upper Saxony were swarming all over central Europe.

    Because tw was so rare, MHG twerch has produced a doublet: quer “transverse”, Zwerchfell “diaphragm between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity”. Zwerg developed the latter way, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it might be connected!

    BTW, Galerie with a single L, like in the original French.

  72. Trond Engen says:

    Me. tuercus

    It occured to me that after repeating this for years, I had lost track of where I got it from. It’s not in any of my two Latin dictionaries, and I can’t find much on the ‘Net except misspellings of quercus.

  73. The four corners of the world, held by columns in classic mythology, were held by dwarfs in Old Norse mythology. There’s an obscure Latin term tuercus meaning “stud supporting the roof in a mine”. In Iron age Scandinavia, gullgubber were laid down as offerings in postholes of (especially) sacred buildings. Also regular farmhouses could have offerings in the (esp. corner) postholes. We see the contours of a cosmology where the roof and the heavens above were supported by posts governed by sturdy but treacherous spirits. Take care of the dwarfs, and the roof won’t come down on you in the night, or the mine won’t close and hide the treasures forever.

    Beautifully written, Trond – and where do you get the obscure Latin term tuercus? Are you sure it isn’t quercus which, as every gardener kno, is oak? – and it reminds me of the dwarves along the top of the wall at the Villa Valmarana (see the opening of Innocence also beautifully written, by Penelope Fitzgerald – her villa, Ricordanza, being fictional). Italian wiki: A legend says that the daughter of the lord of the villa was affected by dwarfism, and that the keepers and servants of the building were chosen exclusively from dwarves, the girl not knowing of the defect. When a prince entered the villa, the girl despaired at his sight: becoming aware of her condition, the young woman committed suicide by throwing herself from the tower, and the dwarves were petrified by sorrow.

  74. Aha, I missed your second post!

  75. John Cowan says:

    The four corners of the world, held by columns in classic mythology, were held by dwarfs in Old Norse mythology.

    Joyce uses this trope in the EModE section of the “Oxen of the Sun” chapter in Ulysses: “And in the castle was set a board that was of the birchwood of Finlandy and it was upheld by four dwarfmen of that country but they durst not move for enchantment.” I had no idea this was a thing elsewhere as well. It occurred to me to wonder if the notion had spread to Finland, but all I can find is this quotation from Zoolander: “There was a moment last night, when she was sandwiched between the two Finnish dwarves and the Maori tribesmen, where I thought, ‘Wow, I could really spend the rest of my life with this woman’.”

    What the hell, I’ll quote the rest of Joyce’s paragraph, broken up here for readability. It’s only telling us that on the table there are steel knives, glasses, a can of sardines, a kidney pie, and some kind of drink, I don’t know exactly what, with a Rod of Aesculapius (⚕️) logo, but the style’s the thing:

    And on this board were frightful swords and knives that are made in a great cavern by swinking demons out of white flames that they fix in the horns of buffalos and stags that there abound marvellously. And there were vessels that are wrought by magic of Mahound out of seasand and the air by a warlock with his breath that he blares into them like to bubbles. And full fair cheer and rich was on the board that no wight could devise a fuller ne richer.

    And there was a vat of silver that was moved by craft to open in the which lay strange fishes withouten heads though misbelieving men nie that this be possible thing without they see it natheless they are so. And these fishes lie in an oily water brought there from Portugal land because of the fatness that therein is like to the juices of the olive press.

    And also it was marvel to see in that castle how by magic they make a compost [OED: ‘stew of various ingredients’] out of fecund wheat kidneys out of Chaldee that by aid of certain angry spirits that they do into it swells up wondrously like to a vast mountain. And they teach the serpents there to entwine themselves up on long sticks out of the ground and of the scales of these serpents they brew out a brewage like to mead.

    (One modern interpretation makes the “snake” a parasitic worm, Dracunculus medinensis, which is removed from a patient’s leg by pulling one end out of the ulcer it creates and gently winding it on a stick over hours or days until it is extracted. This is basically still the treatment, with the stick replaced by gauze.)

    twerch

    English thwart, verb and noun.

    Because tw was so rare

    Dw- at LH: first half, second half.

  76. Wikipedia says that “Rumpelstiltskin” is a diminutive of “rumpelstilt” or “rumpelstilz,” which was apparently a semi-standard goblin name. In this instance stilt means “supporting pole,” so a rumpelstilt would be a goblin that lives in the walls and floor, rattling the wooding foundation of a building. (English rumpus and its antecedent romp are probably unrelated to rumpel, coming from French.)

    Sometimes, the goblin who spins straw into gold has his name spelled with “-skein” at the end, apparently inspired by the spinning analogy. Some people may remember that the precise spelling of the little fellow’s name was of great significance to players of King’s Quest.

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