I, LOWBORN CUR.

Once again, a publication that hides most of its material behind a paywall has kindly left accessible to one and all an article I want to share: in this case, Colin Burrow’s LRB review of Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature, by Alastair Fowler. Here’s the start:

James Bond was a well-known ornithologist. His Birds of the West Indies is an unusually rich source of names. According to Bond, the Sooty Tern is also known as the Egg Bird; Booby; Bubí; Hurricane Bird; Gaviota Oscura; Gaviota Monja; Oiseau Fou; Touaou. But when the keen birdwatcher Ian Fleming needed a name that sounded as ordinary as possible, he had to look no further than the title page of Bond’s great work. Why does the name of an actual ornithologist sound so right as the name of a fictional spy? Why couldn’t Fleming have used another pair of common monosyllables – John Clark, say? Bond is a solid, blue-chip, faith-giving kind of a name. Who wouldn’t prefer a government Bond under their mattress (we’re talking AAA British) to a petty clerk? Is your word your clerk? I don’t think so. Bond. It’s in the name.

And here’s a bit on Jane Austen:

Jane Austen favoured names which give almost nothing away about status or nature (Fanny Price, Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse), but she could in some circumstances use names which suggest meaning: the wild Marianne Dashwood is an early example of a flighty heroine lost in a moral forest, and Mr Knightley, well, he’s not going to be a cad, is he? The fact that Austen called the knightly Knightley ‘Knightley’ suggests the way the choice of a name can follow from the particular nature of a specific work, and may also feed back into a larger literary design. The point of the one-off over-explicit name is that Knightley’s knightliness is utterly obvious to the reader every time his name is mentioned, but it passes Emma by. That was a strong enough reason for Austen to break one of her unwritten rules about naming.

How can you resist a reviewer who finds a way to work “knightly Knightley ‘Knightley’” into a review? The book sounds like an enjoyable (if dense) read itself, with the proviso that Fowler is one of those innumerate people easily led astray by coincidences, a folly which Burrow spends the last half of the review exploding—the particular species of folly in this case being an over-ready acceptance of the idea of hidden anagrams (compare Saussure’s similar succumbing to wacky ideas): “Fowler [...] cites with approbation an article by Roy Winnick (‘now I cry ink’) which he says ‘startled the scholarly world’ by revealing anagrams which spell out the name WRIOTHESLEY buried throughout Shakespeare’s Sonnets.” I should add that my title is borrowed from Burrow: “I part company with Fowler when he gets on to anagrams and hidden names, perhaps because the best anagram of my own name is ‘I, lowborn cur’.”

Comments

  1. Humph.
    Is “Marianne Dashwood” supposed to somehow suggest flightiness or a lost-in-the-forest quality in a way that”Elinor Dashwood” does not?

  2. “Knightly Knightley ‘Knightley’” is almost as good as that classic bit of deadpan echolalia from the very boringly named John Wilson:
    Then, instead of expensive mouthwash, he had breathed on Hogg-Enderby, bafflingly (for no banquet would serve, because of the known redolence of onions, onions) onions.
    ‘Onions,’ said Hogg.

  3. I love ‘em both, but isn’t that an unusual use of echolalia? Setting aside the obviously inapposite technical senses, the lay meaning is called “depreciatory” by the OED while the only definition in Webster’s Collegiate doesn’t fit at all. And yet, I like “deadpan echolalia.” Has anyone else seen it used, or used it themselves, with a similar positive — or at least neutral — connotation?

  4. . . . a similar connotation, that is, and, of course — come to think of it (since I mentioned Webster’s Collegiate’s only entry not fitting at all) — a similar denotation?

  5. the name WRIOTHESLEY, “Call-Me Risley”
    Ok, Language. It’s high time you read Wolf Hall. We want to know what you think.
    There’s a brand of stationary in Britain called Basildon Bond which always sounded to me like it must be named after 007′s uncle. If it’s old enough I wouldn’t be surprised if Ian Fleming had had it in the back of his mind – aha, now I see it is.

  6. Why do we fuss about the different spellings of stationary and stationery when we pronounce both stationry?

  7. To answer my own question: I’ve got it. There’s now a bike made from paper and therefore …..

  8. It’s rather worrying in my case. I went to the trouble of looking it up in a dictionary first and then changed it to the wrong spelling. I should stick to ‘writing paper’.

  9. AJP: the baker is the man who bakes, the thatcher is the man who thatches and the stationer is the man who stocks stationery. There: you’ll never get it wrong again.

  10. Thanks. You went to a better school than I did.

  11. From the article: Thomas Gradgrind emphasizes his first name because he is the very opposite of Thomas the Apostle — he has no doubts whatever.

  12. What’s this “we” jazz, Dearieme? Your North American cousins pronounce both of them with four syllables: station-airy.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Four syllables, perhaps, but “station-airy”? As in “Hairy Harry sells stationairy” (with all three words rhyming)?.
    Does anyone know why those paper things are called “stationery”? What kind of “station” does the word come from?

  14. Dunno. How about a “station” on a letter delivery service? Where the man changes horses, perhaps, and collects and delivers the mails.

  15. @marie-lucie: You buy stationery, or did, from a stationer. Why he’s called that in turn, I don’t know.

  16. Maybe I should have said “auto-echolalia”.
    On stationer the OED has one of those nice long etymological notes:
    classical Latin statiōnārius (see stationary adj.), in its post-classical Latin use denoting a bookseller.
    Compare Anglo-Norman statiner (1394 in an apparently isolated attestation). Compare Spanish estacionario (13th cent., now hist.). Compare stationar n.
    Examples of the vernacular word from the 14th and early 15th centuries are typically in Latin documents, and could alternatively show the Anglo-Norman word (compare e.g. quot. 1311 at sense 1a). However, the word is apparently very rare in contextual use in Anglo-Norman, and hence these examples have been taken here as probably showing the English word. Compare also the following earlier occurrence as a surname: Alanus le Staciner (1293–4).
    The probable direct adoption of the Latin word is accounted for by its early use in the context of the universities, where the stationarius was licensed and controlled by the academic authorities, whom he was sworn to obey.

    And likewise for stationary:
    classical Latin statiōnārius (adjective) belonging to a detachment (of soldiers on police or guard duties), (noun) soldier serving in such a detachment (attested in both uses in inscriptions and in legal texts), in post-classical Latin also (adjective) used for the services called ‘stations’ (5th cent.), (of a planet) having a fixed station (a636 in Isidore), abiding (11th cent.), (of a canon) bound to residence (12th cent.), (noun) canon in permanent residence, shopkeeping merchant (12th cent.), bookseller (frequently from 13th cent. in British sources), mendicant friar (1577 in the passage translated in quot. 1581 at stationar n. 1)

  17. Bookstalls were called stations because books and papers were too heavy to carry about in a peddler’s pack: so says Etymonline, and it otherwise agrees with the OED. So stationary and stationery are etymological doublets.
    I don’t have the hairy-Harry (Mary-marry-merry) merger in general, but stationary/ery I do pronounce that way, rather than with the expected /ɛri/. So I wish all a Merry rather than a Mary or a Marry Christmas.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks for the citations, TR. “Stationarii” in medieval university libraries: perhaps these people not only looked after the books but also provided paper, pens, ink etc for those needing to copy texts or take notes.
    Another example of the meaning of “station” is in the Stations of the Cross. Inside (at least Catholic) churches there are series of pictures (plaques, bas-reliefs, etc) representing episodes of the Crucifixion, placed at regular intervals along the side walls. The faithful are supposed to walk slowly from one of these to another, pausing each time for a meditation or prayer.
    JC, I did not think that you had the hairy-Harry merger, that’s why I was surprised at your pronunciation of stationary/ery.

  19. For some reason I pronounce stationary with a long a and completely elide the e in stationery – that is, the n and r are distinct consonants without a vowel between them. Is this a Chicago accent or just something I picked up somewhere?

  20. Is this a Chicago accent or just something I picked up somewhere?
    I’m guessing the latter, but I’ll be interested to hear if there are other Yanks who pronounce stationery in what I think of as a purely British way (“STAY-shən-ri”).

  21. Hmm. I’m thinking the readers going to get some hints about social rank from names like Darcy and de Burgh.
    Mind you, I’ve always liked Baddeley as the butler’s name in Mansfield Park
    (Well times anyway, Better Half just checked out Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austin this afternoon)

  22. No matter how far you push the envelope, it’s still stationery.

  23. Heh.

  24. I’m not sure how one *could* drop the accented syllable from stay-shun-AIR-y. It would require more than the usual vowel mergers and splits and the occasional loss of an unstressed vowel; does accentuation vary so much among English dialects?

  25. Do you really say stationAIRy? I’m not sure one could.

  26. As far as I know, the stress is always on the first syllable. In the US, there’s a secondary stress on the penult (STA-tion-air-y), in the UK there’s not, so the penult can effectively disappear.

  27. Allow me to lob into this debate confectionery, “candies” (AmE) or “sweets” (BrE), and confectionary, the noun for both a place where confectionery is made and a place where confectionery is sold, and also the adjective apertaining to confectionery, as in “the confectionary arts”. The confectioner sells confectionery in a confectionary, but the baker doesn’t sell bakery in a bakary. Why not?

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Marja, our focus on the pronunciation of the third syllable in stationary or stationery may have given the impression that the vowel in it was stressed, but it never is. The stress in this word is always on the first syllable, as in station. The third vowel can be pronounced in different ways, including no vowel at all, but it is never stressed.

  29. Because the -er suffix derived from Latin -arius can be used with any verb, native or borrowed, but not so the -ary suffix, which has the same origin but only works on Latin stems.

  30. “Marja, our focus on the pronunciation of the third syllable in stationary or stationery may have given the impression that the vowel in it was stressed, but it never is. The stress in this word is always on the first syllable, as in station. The third vowel can be pronounced in different ways, including no vowel at all, but it is never stressed.”
    Well, it sure seems to be stressed when I say it. And I sure think it’s been stressed when I’ve heard it. Unless there’s some other sense of stress? (I can’t read “tone” so it’s possible I’m misreading “stress” and other things of the same sort.)

  31. marie-lucie says:

    OK, I should have been more precise and referred to “primary stress” on the first syllable. As LH wrote earlier: In the US, there’s a secondary stress on the penult (STA-tion-air-y), but in the UK people say STA-tion-ry, omitting the less stressed vowel altogether. The base word is STA-tion and the primary stress stays in the same place if you add suffixes. Same with words such as SEC-ondary vs SEC-ond: the primary stress is on the same syllable in both words.

  32. It sure seems like primary stress can shift if you add suffixes. Thus effort vs. effortful and effortless.
    And the vowels can change if you add suffixes, and I thought the vowels changed because the stress changed. I can’t think of any good examples right now, but I have puzzled over some before. I mean, there’s abolish vs. abolition, where the second vowel changes, but it’s unstressed in both forms.

  33. The primary stress on the “effort” family is always on the first syllable; abolish has stress on the second syllable and abolition on the third (or to put it another way, both are stressed on the penultimate syllable).
    Whether there is secondary stress in simple English words or not is a disputed point. My view is that there is not: we feel a secondary stress on the third syllable of stationary precisely because the vowel is not reduced. A compound like anti-disestablishmentarianism has stresses on an and dis which are weaker than the primary stress on ar (at least in my pronunciation), but they are in the nature of contrastive stress, emphasizing the negative elements of the word so that they aren’t missed.

  34. Um, then can you explain what stress is?
    Because either we’ve got strong dialect differences, or we’re talking about two different things. I assumed stress was the relative emphasis on certain syllables.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Marja: there is a long, well-documented article on linguistic stress on Wikipedia. Look up “stress (linguistics)”.

  36. And it uses almost the same definition I was using. Which leads back to the problem. Either we’re talking about the same thing, and we’re putting the stress in different places, or we’re talking about different things.
    In terms of the emphasis on certain syllables, in effort, it is usually on the first syllable, in effortful and effortless it is usually on the last. I guess that different dialects might have different stress patterns.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    Some conservative dialects may have preserved an older stress pattern (the modern varieties tend to place stress on or close to the initial syllable). I remember learning that in some Caribbean islands there was often a different stress pattern, as in grandmother pronounced grandMOTHER, not GRANDmother as in most other English varieties, and that this stress pattern was not a case of divergence from most other dialects but a preservation of an older pattern. Some time later I heard on the radio an interview with a woman from one of the islands, who was talking about her early life, and sure enough she talked about her grandMOTHER.
    If your own brand of English is very conservative in terms of stress patterns, it might give you an advantage when studying the verse forms of earlier periods. Since English verse forms rely very much on stress, older verse can sometimes give the impression to modern readers that the author is not stressing his lines properly, but that is because the stress patterns were sometimes different in those days.

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