In Sara, Mencken, Christ, And Beethoven…

This Harriet post by Kenneth Goldsmith provides one of the most remarkable book-related stories I’ve ever read; the main text is by Keith Waldrop, and begins:

On Wednesday, May 23rd, 1973, Robert Ashley and I went to see John Barton Wolgamot. We met and talked to him in the lobby of the Little Carnegie Cinema, of which he was the manager. I hold on to this date, because so many moments I would like to pin down are imprecise or uncertain.

For instance, I do not know when Wolgamot was born. At the time we met, I got the impression he was in his sixties. Tall and thin, in a black suit with a velvet collar. He was an old-fashioned spiffy dresser, a bit too aristocratic to look right on fifty-seventh street — except, perhaps, down at the end of the block, in Carnegie Hall.

Sometime in the summer of 1957, I had stumbled onto his book, In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women. I am given to scratching around in second-hand book stores. My brothers had recently started a used car lot in Danville, Illinois, and a crony of theirs ran a second-hand book store. Naturally, I scratched around in it.

As I went along the shelves, Wolgamot’s book — odd-shaped, wider than tall — caught my eye. The publisher’s name, like the author’s, was John Barton Wolgamot. At a glance, I could make nothing of it. I put it back.

I went away. But it stuck in my mind, the book with the odd shape, and I went back and (actually on my third visit) I bought the book. It was, after all, only fifty cents.

I won’t spoil the story for you by summarizing any more of it, but I would have had a strong suspicion it was all made up except that I found it via this Ask MetaFilter question from somebody who had actually seen the book and was trying to find out what it was. Also, the full text (along with prefaces by Waldrop and Ashley) is here (pdf). As for the odd-looking name Wolgamot, it’s a variant of Wohlgemuth.


  1. As the kids say nowadays, you blew my mind. Thanks.

    Incidentally: the book exists in a few university libraries, and is indeed very rare (says WorldCat). Wolgemot was born in Danville, Illinois in 1902, and died in New York in 1989.

    Tolstoy’s first name is spelled “Lyof”, which was discussed here not long ago.

  2. Wow. Names and rhythms, and ancestral stuff to boot. Couldn’t resist looking up the surname – it turned out to be surprisingly widespread. Son of Edgar Kobel Wolgamot and Florence Augusta Barton. Going back, in the 1860 Census the name was spelled Wolganat. The “original John” was about 50 years old went West from Hagerstown MD around 1840.

  3. Tolstoy’s first name is spelled “Lyof”, which was discussed here not long ago.

    Yes, I noticed that too, but I can’t seem to find the discussion.

  4. Remarkable is putting it mildly! I’d like to hear the audiobook version. (There’s a link, but it’s not loading for me.)

  5. No comment on the big fat typo in the Harriet post? (The larger the font, the more invisible the typo.)

  6. BTW Robert Ashley’s story is also here:

  7. No comment on the big fat typo in the Harriet post?

    Eh, typos in blog posts are not that interesting to me.

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    Great story. But do the kids today really say “blew my mind”? I somehow think that if I tried that on my kids I would seem old and out of it, and induce them to roll their eyes.

  9. That was a ’60s expression, wrapped in ’90s irony.

  10. A stab at making the case that the book was a hoax is here. A couple of commenters to the post claim to have read the book or to have hard evidence that it exists, but offer no evidence of the evidence. As Y points out, according to WorldCat the book is held in a few university libraries (as is its near-identical prequel, In Sara Haardt were men and women), but a good hoax could have set that up.

    Interesting that Wohlgemuth was the maiden name of the mother of Keith Waldrop’s wife Rosmarie, his partner as printer-publisher.

  11. The recorded history of Wolgemot’s ancestry argues against a hoax. It’s hard to imagine a hoaxer making faux-old editions and sending them out to libraries, especially back when you had to wait a decade for each NUC supplement to come out to try to find out what libraries held a book you were interested in.

    If someone wants to visit them, Beinecke has both of the Wolgemot books. Sara Haardt has the subject listing “Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946–Adaptions, parodies, etc.” (the Beinecke has a very complete Stein collection) and is inscribed by the author to Bradford Fuller Swan (a Providence historian and art critic). The Ohio SU copy is part of a collection of Mencken materials donated by Richard Schrader (a professor at Boston College). NYPL has a copy of Sara Haardt, too.

  12. I’m trying to be agnostic but, having greatly enjoyed the Waldrop story that LH linked to, I’d doubly enjoy finding out that it’s a hoax. Because it would be such a great one. However, if a library donation like the Mencken copy can be verified, the hoax scenario would look rather unwell.

    Wolgemot himself certainly may have existed, and been a movie theatre manager etc etc. But he doesn’t have to have been part of a hoax, except for knowingly or otherwise lending his name to it. The main allegedly substantiated link between him and the books is Waldrop’s and Robert Ashley’s meeting with Wolgemot in 1973 – as recounted by Waldrop. All the other linkages – the Mencken copy, the mysterious woman who was Wolgemot’s “only confidante” – also come from Waldrop’s account. Other than that there are only a couple of evanescent claims in comment threads.

    Waldrop’s account is not only crucial to everything but also has some convenient lacunae. (Plus there’s his mother-in-law’s maiden name!)

    If it is a hoax, it could be a slow-burn one: Waldrop says he first encountered In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven in 1957: he and Ashley met Wolgemot in 1973: and Waldrop started giving public accounts of the story in the late 1990s. Plenty of time to offer “vanity press” copies to libraries in the hope that some would add them to collections.

    I may have missed something blindingly obvious, and it’s getting late for conspiracy theories…

  13. Inspired by Jubilate Agno?

  14. But do the kids today really say “blew my mind”?

    No, they say “Mind. Blown.”

    A stab at making the case that the book was a hoax is here.

    A very poor stab; the blogger doesn’t even bother to do the minimal research needed to find out that Wolgamot is a real name and the man himself existed. While I’m very aware of the existence of hoaxes and always willing to take the possibility into account, the weight of evidence in this case seems to me heavily against it unless you’re the sort of person (like the linked blogger, and many Kids These Days) whose attitude is “everything is fake unless proved otherwise beyond a shadow of a doubt.” I’d be curious to know what he thinks about the moon landing.

  15. >>Tolstoy’s first name is spelled “Lyof”, which was discussed here not long ago.

    >Yes, I noticed that too, but I can’t seem to find the discussion.

  16. Thanks! Here‘s Julia’s comment, which provides the answer.

  17. My twelve-year-old daughter says, “That blew my mind,” which is not something that I either I or her mother are likely to say. So I think the expression has passed out of the realm of slang, per se, into the realm of standard metaphors. On the other hand, “Mind blown” (or, more likely “Mind officially blown”) is getting to sound a bit dated. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at it, but now it sounds affected.

    Regarding hoaxes: There was a movement (I don’t know how coordinated) in the late 1980s to add catalog entries (this being the era in which most American libraries had already put their catalogs on computer, although the card versions still existed) for the fictional original version of The Princess Bride. The fake entry in the electronic catalog for the municipal in Salem, Oregon led to make years of argument between me and my brother about whether S. Morgenstern’s version of the book every really existed.

  18. Our own David M. says “Mind blown” all the time.

  19. That may be where I got the idea it was current among da yout. I will try to assimilate the knowledge that it has become dated.

  20. (I still think of David Marjanović as young!)

  21. He’s only twenty-mumble and getting younger all the time!

  22. David Marjanović says:

    I’m older than Katy Perry…

  23. LH: the weight of evidence in this case seems to me heavily against it unless you’re the sort of person […] whose attitude is “everything is fake unless proved otherwise beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

    I’m not that sort of person (but I would say that, wouldn’t I?). I do, however, love a good hoax, which is why I’m clinging to the possibility. Yes, that blogger over-egged his case in dismissing Wolgamot’s existence altogether. But he scored a few hits, which AFAIK haven’t yet been countered. There’s no compulsion on anyone with insider knowledge to bother countering them, of course: a few scattered blogposts and comments aren’t a court of law. At this point convincing evidence seems to be elusive.

    I should add (because I wasn’t totally comfortable with the implication) that I’m not suggesting Keith Waldrop and presumably one or two others are lying. Lying is what politicians do. There’s a not-yet-demolished case that Waldrop has invented a fascinating backstory as part of an elaborate joke. If it’s clear that he’s invented nothing, I’ll be happy to accept that, although my happiness will be tinged with disappointment.

  24. Well, yes, she’s not twenty-mumble, she’s thirty-one.

  25. Re “mind blown”: my information from The Youth Of Today is that the offensive version is “Mind.Blown.” And that the whole periods-between-every-word thing has passed its use-by date and is now only employed by marketers on Facebook.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    Yes, that blogger over-egged his case in dismissing Wolgamot’s existence altogether.

    Obligatory mention of the Bielefeld Conspiracy.

  27. Yes, that blogger over-egged his case in dismissing Wolgamot’s existence altogether.

    We can also find other players in this story – Richard R. Smith publishing house, first in NYC in the 1930s and 1940s, later in NH (Rindge or Peterborough NH; it still exists by another name and has email addresses and phones) ; October House publishers, long defunct indeed; and even Joyce Brenner in the Los Angeles 1993 address book. It’s not like it totally deprives you from a good hoax prescience … there are many amazing coincidences in this tale, and surely some of them could have been made up.

  28. Obligatory mention of the Bielefeld Conspiracy.

    Wonderful! And don’t miss the “Other versions” at the end; the world is full of places whose existence has been rendered dubious.

  29. The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints volumes have all been digitized by HathiTrust. Both Wolgamot books appear there, including the Yale copies (and five other libraries), so they’ve been around since before 1956. That strains the hoax theory further.

  30. I personally would say it blows it out of the water, but I’m clearly a tool of Big Wolgamot.

  31. That strains the hoax theory further.

    Dammit. Yes, that looks pretty conclusive.

    I’ve harped on about the fact that Keith Waldrop’s mother-in-law was a Wohlgemuth (source), but that must be just an extraordinary (really extraordinary!) coincidence.

  32. …and Sara appears in The Publisher’s Weekly (Bowker) from 1944. Wolgamot is recorded as living at 2720 Broadway (@W 104th) that year.

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    You are all tacitly assuming that the young Waldrop (12 years old in 1944) lacked the inclination or wherewithal to be a precocious prodigy in the art of hoaxing.

  34. Clearly that’s something to be followed up, but right now I’m trying to decide whether Americans claiming that Canada is a hoax and Canadians claiming that Winnipeg is a hoax cancel each other out and prove definitively that Winnipeg, and only Winnipeg, exists.

  35. Until about the age of 13 I have seriously doubted that America existed in reality and wasn’t something people on TV, radio, and in newspapers just concocted as part of some devilish plan.

  36. There is a book, The Wolgemot Interstice, published in 1961. It seems to come from an earlier fit of interest in him. From the little I can gather from the scraps on Google Books, it seems to be a collection of essays about our friend and poetry inspired by him. That book is pretty easily findable compared to Wolgemot’s own books.

    Edit: It’s all here.

    Edit, bis: It’s got very little to do with Wolgamot directly.

  37. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Obligatory mention of the Bielefeld Conspiracy

    I have been to Bielefeld and can certify that it exists. It’s big enough to have a metro.

    I can also certify that Winnipeg exists.

    I haven’t been to Teruel, but considering all the horrors that occurred there during the Civil War it would be tragic if it didn’t really exist.

  38. I have been to Bielefeld and can certify that it exists.

    Makes mental note: Athel is one of THEM.

  39. I really like the idea that it is a hoax, but that is just too good to be true. There are so many obscure books that people might become obsessed with.

    As a popular example, Tom Phillips has now made it nearly impossible to find an original copy of William Hurrell Mallock’s “A Human Document” for a reasonable amount of money, and soon they will all be unreadable.

    As a less than popular example, for many years I have been collecting all copies that I could find of Barbara Middendorf’s “Thin Mask” (a book of poems from the 1930s). In the last few years, I haven’t seen a single copy priced lower than $500 or $1000 on eBay.

    I think that is the future of obscure books. Try to sell them all at $1000, and then see what kind of offers you get later on.

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    Surely the question is whether Athel is one of THEM in the sense of being an actual member of the conspiracy acting in bad faith or whether he is instead some sort of naïve dupe or useful idiot who was once taken by agents of THEM to a fake Potemkin village he was told was “Bielefeld” and believed it. Because presumably THEY would do that sort of thing from time to time.

    For larger-scale variants, I have heard theories that the entire existence of both so-called “North Dakota” and so-called “Finland” are hoaxes.

  41. As a popular example, Tom Phillips has now made it nearly impossible to find an original copy of William Hurrell Mallock’s “A Human Document” for a reasonable amount of money, and soon they will all be unreadable.

    Ha! I had never thought of that, but of course it would happen. (I am the proud owner of an early edition of the Phillips version.)

  42. As a popular example, Tom Phillips has now made it nearly impossible to find an original copy of William Hurrell Mallock’s “A Human Document” for a reasonable amount of money, and soon they will all be unreadable.

    Fortunately, books are not codices, and anyone who wants to read (as opposed to own) A Human Document need merely go here. Or if you do want the codex, you can get a facsimile from Amazon for US$23.99.

    But I don’t recommend it. It is, to paraphrase Hat on Carrère on Limonov, “some crazy Englishman’s riffs on what he imagines Marie Bashkirtseff’s life might be like in an alternate universe, or whatever.”

  43. “But I don’t recommend it.”

    Of course. But the point of the discussion is (sort of) whether or not an obscure book could have actually been a fake obscure book.

    I think yes. It would be simple to fake A book, especially in the time frame of this one. But, I think it would be unnecessary, as there are certainly many tens of thousands of books that are not even known to have been published at all.

  44. “Fortunately, books are not codices, and anyone who wants to read (as opposed to own) A Human Document need merely go…”

    But that is the point as well. Rare historical books are artifacts. If nobody makes a copy before they are all destroyed… they never existed at all.

    Owning an unaltered “A Human Document” a hundred years from now will be worth much more than having a digital scan of the same book.

    Owning a perfect replica of Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus might be cool. Owning the real thing will make you very rich.

  45. (Cue some postmodernist saying “What is ‘real,’ anyway?”)

  46. Well, whatever. I take a different view of the wealth to be gained from books. “I often wonder what the vintners buy / One half so precious as the stuff they sell.” Besides, at that rate Phillips is actually doing a favor to people who already own original copies of A Human Testament (though to parvenus not so much) by pushing up the price. See Tyndale on Bible-burning.

  47. Nothing is real. And nothing to get hung about. Strawberry fields forever.

  48. I agree that “A Human Testament” was never going to be a big seller on its own.

    But, in the context of the hoaxiness of “In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women”, it lends some insight.

    There are many books that were very well executed but will be, or have already been, lost forever.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    I first came to the US as a student; by boat. After seven or eight days at sea the first sign that we were approaching land was an enormous floating object bearing in giant letters the word NANTUCKET. Nantucket! Just as in Moby Dick! I had read the book but I guess I had never imagined that Nantucket had any more reality than Ishmael or Queegueg.

  50. J.W. Brewer says:

    I didn’t recognize the name Tom Philips or the title A Human Document, but via free association I thought of something I remembered that was similar enough to be perhaps worth mentioning and … googling reveals that what I was thinking of was Philips’ alteration of A Human Document.

  51. J.W. Brewer says:

    (As a proper child of the ’70’s I only know of the Philips work because of its use on the back cover of a prog-rock album …)

  52. I had read the book but I guess I had never imagined that Nantucket had any more reality than Ishmael or Queegueg

    This kind of surprise could happen even with nonfiction books 🙂 Back in the old country, our avalanche safety book has been a translation of “Monty” Atwater’s, largely drawing on his experience at Alta Ski Area. A few months after moving to Salt Lake City, I discovered that Alta existed – for real – right next to town. I read the book oh so many times but just never imagined that there could be any snow or skiing in Utah. I even visited it before in winter, but there was no snow in the valley, and the low clouds made the high peaks above disappear from sight in a totally Bielefeldian twist 🙂 (Atwater is pictured here with Alta’s iconic Mount Superior behind him)

  53. David Marjanović says:

    I haven’t been to Teruel […] it would be tragic if it didn’t really exist.

    I’ve been there for a conference. And yes, absence of this would be tragic.

  54. Encounters with places I’ve read about:

    On a trip to England, I rented a car at Heathrow and decided to drive to Cornwall. However, being jet-lagged, I got disoriented and somewhere took a wrong turn. I noticed a sign for West Wycombe. “I’ve read about West Wycombe”, I said to myself. “That’s where the Hellfire Caves are.” So I gave up my plan to go to Cornwall and did a tour of the Hellfire Caves.

    Driving through County Cork, I saw a sign for Tralibane. “I’ve read about Tralibane”, I said. “We’ve got to go there.” But initially I couldn’t remember what it was I’d read. After a few minutes I realized–that’s where Chief O’Neill (the famous collector of Irish music) was born. But then it started pouring rain so hard that I couldn’t see the road, so I pulled off into a car park in the middle of nowhere. No buildings or anything, just a car park and a statue–of Chief O’Neill.

    O’Neill’s book Irish Folk Music: A Fascinating Hobby sells for around $200 the last time I checked. But I bought a scanned and printed copy for about $20 online. It’s full of scanning errors though.

    I’ve been to North Dakota, and South Dakota too (even the Corn Palace and Wall Drug Store). And last summer I visited Winnipeg for the first time. I remembered Randy Bachman’s comment “Everyone in Winnipeg plays guitar because there’s nothing else to do in the winter.” It did seem to me that there was a higher density of guitar stores there than you would see in other cities of a comparable size.

  55. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Imaginary Books

    You may be interested in an article a (late) friend of mine wrote in Nature about the rediscovery of the Book of Sand after 2030, which “Jorge Luis Borges purposely lost (among maps and periodicals) in the cavernous depths of the National Library in Buenos Aires”.

    I don’t think it’s behind a paywall, but I may be wrong.

  56. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I have been to Bielefeld and can certify that it exists.

    Makes mental note: Athel is one of THEM.

    Oh dear. I’ve been found out.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t think it’s behind a paywall

    Indeed not.

  58. Research? Research? Of course I didn’t bother doing any research; I wished to prove that it was a hoax based purely on the internal incredibility of the story as put forward by Ashley et al.


  59. To be honest, I regret learning that it’s a real work; it makes the world more interesting but Ashley’s piece less, to me. And the world already doesn’t lack for interest.

  60. Personally, I find the world as it is more interesting than our fantasies about it.

  61. That’s wonderful and not a little snide, but also, at least insofar as I can discern a purpose other than implying that I’m foolish to your having made that remark at all, irrelevant to what I said, since I already acknowledged that knowing that Wolgamot really did do what’s said of him makes the world more interesting to me than I previously knew it to be, and I think it’s perfectly coherent to find Ashley’s piece less interesting when the text was adapted from something that, in its own right, is extremely interesting and weird, rather than having been invented out of whole cloth by Ashley, the Waldrops, et al., complete with a backstory that, strictly speaking, needn’t have been invented for the piece.

    I really am puzzled by your purport there. Are you saying that it wouldn’t have been interesting if the Waldrops had made the whole thing up? That it’s so interesting that they couldn’t have made it up? Are you saying that whatever is the case is ipso facto more interesting than anything that could be imagined to be the case? That the the sentiment “ah, too bad such-and-such isn’t real; how interesting that would have been” entirely foreign to your experience?

  62. Both Winnipeg and North Dakota are purported to be hoaxes? Is there some anti-Red River truther movement out there?

    Anyway, Winnipeg isn’t a hoax. It’s a bad dream, full of mosquitoes. Many, many mosquitoes.

  63. I highly recommend Guy Maddin’s movie My Winnipeg. It left me feeling that Winnipeg may indeed be a fantasy.

  64. Trond Engen says:

    The other versions list (as per 2016-10-02) includes “Norway: Kyrksæterøra”. I’ve never heard that conspiracy theory, and it’s not mentioned in the linked English Wikipedia entry or in either of the Norwegian ones. And even if it were, it wouldn’t be as interesting. Kyrksæterøra is a tiny place that just happens to be away from the main routes, and I suspect that if it weren’t because it’s the kind of name you recall having heard, most Norwegians wouldn’t even know it exists.

    What you need is a decent-sized town by national standarrds, of the type that pops up in the news with irregular intervals but which you for some reason never have occasion to visit. A town just enough off the main traffic that nobody ever stops there but not enough to be interesting or a center of gravity of its own. I guess both Winnipeg and Khabarovsk hit that mark. I’d propose Stoke-on-Trent in the UK and Dijon in France. It could be a state in an internal US version. Maybe Indiana. In Norway, I’d suggest my own. Or the similar one just down the river.

  65. That’s wonderful and not a little snide

    Sorry, wasn’t intending to be snide or put you down; your remark just prompted a train of thought that led to me coming out with a belief I’ve come to over the years. Nothing personal, and I enjoyed your comments.

  66. If Dijon does not exist, where on Earth does the mustard come from?

  67. My Winnipeg really is absolutely wonderful.

  68. Trond Engen says:

    If Dijon does not exist, where on Earth does the mustard come from?

    Some years ago a Norwegian food journalist wrote a feature article about going to Dijon and being left with that very question (if not the premise). He may have been to Potemkin Dijon.

  69. “Makes mental note: Athel is one of THEM.”

    Oh dear. I’ve been found out.
    I knew that all the time. Part of the Bielefeld conspiracy is the purported existence of a district called Bethel . Athel – Bethel: you see the connection. It’s also clearly linked to the scrabble conspiracy – we now just need to look out for Cethel, Dethel, etc., and everything will become clear, you just wait.

  70. Cethel White is said to have died in Baton Rouge in 2011, and as for Dethel, it is a “Protestant house of repose” in a place with the significant name of Tassin-la-Demi-Lune outside Lyon. There are too many Ethels to count.

    But as for the mustard, I am now prepared to state with confidence that it comes from the Tyrol. As usual, all the clues are in the open literature for those prepared to take a unflinching look. As early as 1862, Alice Pleasance Liddell already revealed that mustard is a mineral, and “the Duchess” confirms this by saying “Of course it is, there’s a large mustard-mine near here, and the moral of that is, ‘The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours'”. This motto is the attitude of all aristocrats and natural-resource monopolists semper et ubique, and thus confirms the authenticity of the remarks.

    But who is this anonymous “Duchess”? We must turn from the text to the illustrations. As is well known, Tenniel based his picture of the Duchess on a 1513 portrait by the Flemish painter Quentin Matsys of Margarete Maultasch (“satchel-jaw”), the last non-Habsburg Countess of Tyrol until her death in 1363. So the mustard-mine is on her hereditary lands somewhere, but it cannot be an open-pit mine because it does not show up on Google Earth even as a blocked-off region. We are therefore dealing with shaft mines from which the mustard is removed in secret, probably by freight train, though whether they are in Italy or Austria I cannot at present say.

    David M?

  71. Trond Engen says:

    Careful. People have killed eachother over that secret since Ötzi the Iceman. Why won’t anyone tell which herbs he had in his purse?

  72. Who listens to Hattics, and if they listen, who believes? THEY think we went extinct 4000 years ago. No, I’m safe enough.

  73. I must second Hector: having been to Winnipeg three times, I can assure Hatters that it exists (as does the Red River, incidentally). And, as he pointed out, it is indeed a place with an abundance of mosquitoes. Except in winter, that is, when the air is deliciously mosquito-free, insect-free, indeed life-free. Even by Canadian standards, the cold is rather extreme, which is why “Winterpeg” is one of the better-known nicknames of the city. This cold weather is shared with most of the Canadian Prairies, incidentally: it is no coincidence that it was in the Prairies that I learned, on a fine winter’s day, that -40 Fahrenheit and -40 Celsius are the same temperature.

    I distinctly remember an exchange student I met in Manitoba, who, after complaining bitterly of the winter, asked me if Manitoba had first been settled as a penal colony: this student refused to believe that Europeans could have willingly settled in such an extreme climate. What made this observation rather interesting was the fact that the exchange student in question came from…Siberia.

    Now, the above is a true story, which just might explain why MY WINNIPEG exhibits such radical surrealism: this degree of surrealism may be required if one wishes to beat the reality of the city.

  74. David Marjanović says:

    David M?

    Tyrol is a holy land with many sacred secrets.

    Careful. People have killed eachother over that secret since Ötzi the Iceman.

    Quite so.

  75. holy land with many sacred secrets

    I thought that was Bavaria. I associate the Tyrol with poetry and common sense, as Lytton Strachey said about Cambridge (the university).

  76. David Marjanović says:

    Common sense? Seriously?

    And why poetry? The place where, when you get three people together, they can sing in three voices is Carinthia (next door).

  77. Yes, those seem like odd, almost random associations. I associate the Tyrol with hats.

  78. I associate the Tyrol with hats
    You’re not alone .

  79. Granted, common sense may seem slightly crazed when opposed by just-the-facts-on-the-ground-please idealists masquerading as realists, but the whole reason for clowns is to show square society its absurdity.

  80. Trond Engen says:

    And why poetry? The place where, when you get three people together, they can sing in three voices is Carinthia (next door).

    I have, of all things, a Carinthian colleague in my office. He is that kind of person. Professional-level musician.

    (From that part of Carinthia where everybody’s grandparents were Slovenian. He once told me that his native dialect has innovated a dual verbal inflection. I assume that’s a substrate feature.)

  81. Trond Engen says:

    A dualis, I mean. Not a verbal inflection. But maybe it’s ambiguous.

  82. David Marjanović says:

    His native dialect of German?!? If so, that’s a fascinating substrate feature that should be published right about now in… uh, whatever high-impact-factor journal you linguists have. :-]

  83. Trond: I most enthusiastically second David’s request. I have some interest in language contact and have never heard of a German variety, indeed of any Germanic variety, anywhere in Europe which has acquired a dual through language contact.

  84. Yes, his German dialect, I don’t think he has any Slovenian. But it’s not a morphological dual. If I understood it correctly, it’s a requirement to add “both”. That’s why I say it’s ambiguous. (He mentioned it in passing, in Norwegian translation, some months ago, and I meant to ask again at a better occasion, but I somehow forgot until right now.)

  85. And it didn’t strike me as a substrate effect until I wrote my previous comment. If it had, I certainly would have been at it immediately.

  86. David Marjanović says:

    it’s a requirement to add “both”

    That would be interesting enough!

    (Speaking of “both”… Carinthia is also where the word “both” survives at all. My dialect, and Viennese, and quite possibly all of Central Bavarian, has lost it and resorts to “all two”, like French, most of the time; the rest of the time, “both” is borrowed from Standard German, with a vowel that is unetymological for any Bavarian dialects.)

    (…Edit: almost like French. French has tous les deux with an article in it.)

  87. “But as for the mustard, I am now prepared to state with confidence that it comes from the Tyrol.”

    At least if I put dijon onto my croissant, then I will be eating something half-French.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    David: “French has ‘tous les deux’ with an article in it.”

    Both “tous deux” and “tous les deux” exist. The difference seems to be one of register, the article-less phrase being more literary. In addition, there are also “nous deux” (both of us), “vous deux” (you two, both of you), and “eux deux/elles deux” (both of them masc/fem). But these are not duals, since you can use other numbers, as in “nous trois, nous quatre”, “vous trois”, etc.

  89. -40 Fahrenheit and -40 Celsius are the same temperature

    Indeed. As a child I learned from Jack London that spittle freezes whe it hits the ground at -50 F, whereas at lower temperatures it freezes in mid-air. I also learned from the same author the wonderful sentence, “It was very warm, almost ten above.”

  90. Trond Engen says:

    My Carinthian colleague has been busy, and so have I, but I asked him at lunch today. He agrees that it’s from Slovenian, or more precisely from the heavily germanized Vindisch dialect that may still be spoken by a few elderly people. Interestingly, the dual form is singular with addition of both, i.e.

    There is a/one squirrel in the tree both = “There are two squirrels in the tree”.

    I asked him how it was said in German. That was a little too much today, but he said “beide”.

  91. Trond Engen says:

    ^Windisch, of course. I suppose…

  92. (cue “vindow viper” joke)

  93. Trond Engen says:

    (I gather from the Web that the term ‘Windisch’ for Carinthian Slovene is seen as pejorative these days, so I’ll make clear that there’s nothing pejorative in the way my colleague uses it. It’s just what it’s called where he’s from. But he may of course have been less careful with the term when speaking to someone like me, without the historical baggage, and far away and in a foreign language, in which case the fault is mine for using it publicly.)

  94. David Marjanović says:

    The historical and political baggage of the word is complex, I don’t pretend to understand it. However, it doesn’t designate any particular dialect.

    Singular + “both” is really remarkable, as is “both” at the very end of the sentence. Should be published.

  95. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, I think it’s remarkable, so much so that the other day I thought I might have misunderstood or misremembered how it’s based on the singular.

    I would be surprised if nothing has been written about it in Austrian dialectology. I get the feeling that it’s quite common knowledge in the region, at least among those with an interest in linguistic matters. But if it isn’t, I think it would be great if an Actual Linguist would pick it up and run with it.

  96. David Marjanović says:

    I would be surprised if nothing has been written about it in Austrian dialectology.

    I don’t know; but don’t overestimate Austrian dialectology.

  97. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re “Windisch” and accompanying baggage, the English cognates/near-cognates have a very archaic and obscure feel to them, but I was impressed to google up the following: “The fifth branch, which is commonly called Slavonic, I prefer to designate by the name of Windic.” (Friedrich Max Müller, explaining in an 1861 lecture the subdivisions of Indo-European as he understood them . . . )

  98. Trond, David: this use of final “both” with an otherwise singular noun is so remarkable that, unless this feature is VERY restricted in geographical distribution, I find it hard to believe that dialectologists could have failed to notice it.

    Now, I am neither a Germanic nor a Slavic specialist. Fools rush in where angels fear to trend: I thus believe nobody will doubt my claim that I am a fool. HOWEVER…

    …whenever I encounter something in a given language/dialect which is unusual/unexpected I try to link said feature with whatever other unusual/unexpected feature(s) the language/dialect has. So for the past few days I have been, in my copious free time, reading up on Bavarian dialectology, paying careful attention to features of Bavarian that are typologically un-German if not un-Germanic.

    Well, one such feature just might explain the genesis of this remarkable structure.

    Unlike most Germanic varieties, most Bavarian varieties make use of a plural indefinite article, which historically is simply a pluralized form of the singular indefinite article: thus (examples from the German Wikipedia article,, where Standard German has “Eine Frau/Frauen”, Bavarian has “a Frau / oa Frau(a)n”. This is very similar to the (optional) indefinite plural articles “unos, unas” in Spanish, and indeed one scholar has argued that the Bavarian plural indefinite articles arose because of a Romance substratum.

    Leaving aside the origins/diachrony of the Bavarian indefinite plural article, I wonder whether the singular indefinite noun + “both” structure Trond describes might not owe its existence to grammatical re-analysis. What if originally the structure, in Carinthia, was a plain ole’ vanilla PLURAL indefinite noun + “both”? Bavarian has a fair number of nouns with zero plurals, and the plural indefinite article, being unstressed, would be liable to be misperceived as a singular. Could this have caused a re-analysis of the structure, i.e. have driven speakers to believe that final “both” must accompany a (morphologically) singular indefinite noun?

    This re-analysis, incidentally, may owe something to a Slovenian substratum: to Slovenian-Bavarian bilinguals shifting to Bavarian it may have seemed unremarkable to treat a (semantically) dual noun as being unlike other (semantically) non-dual, non-singular nouns.

    My apologies if I seem a little long-winded…err, should that be long-windisched? 🙂

  99. Makes sense to me!

  100. David Marjanović says:

    Possible. Personally, though, I haven’t encountered genuine plural indefinite articles – only “some/any” is the plural of “a/one” for my grandmother and scattered people elsewhere.

    On top of zero plurals, however, there are plurals marked by length of the final consonant*; and, having reinterpreted the sound system in Slovene terms, Carinthian lacks consonant length, which means more zero plurals.

    * Start from Standard German plurals in -e. Shorten word-final long consonants, then drop -e so you end up with new word-final long consonants.

  101. Trond Engen says:

    I probably should get him to write it down, for singular, dual and plural, for all grammatical genders and in different sentence positions.

  102. Please do.

  103. David Marjanović says:

    only “some/any”

    Also “a few”, though without emphasis on “few”.

  104. Trond?

  105. I meant to mention the original conspiracy theory about Canada, one that would probably please Etienne:

    Talking of those who denied the truth of Christianity, he said, “It is always easy to be on the negative side. If a man were now to deny that there is salt on the table, you could not reduce him to an absurdity.

    Come, let us try this a little further. I deny that Canada is taken, and I can support my denial by pretty good arguments. The French are a much more numerous people than we; and it is not likely that they would allow us to take it.

    ‘But the ministry have assured us, in all the formality of the Gazette, that it is taken.’

    — Very true. But the ministry have put us to an enormous expence by the war in America, and it is their interest to persuade us that we have got something for our money —

    ‘But the fact is confirmed by thousands of men who were at the taking of it.’

    — Ay, but these men have still more interest in deceiving us. They don’t want that you should think the French have beat them, but that they have beat the French. Now suppose you should go over and find that it really is taken, that would only satisfy yourself; for when you come home we will not believe you. We will say, you have been bribed.

    — Yet, Sir, notwithstanding all those plausible objections, we have no doubt that Canada is really ours. Such is the weight of common testimony. How much stronger are the evidences of the Christian religion?”

    —Sam: Johnson in Boswell’s Life

  106. General Westmoreland and the entire officialdom of the US Army (apart from those few on the ground at Hue) refused to believe that the North Vietnamese had taken the city, or even that that was a possibility worth worrying about, for quite some time after they were already flying the red flag on the Citadel. If there hadn’t been (incredibly brave) reporters on the ground taking pictures, they might never have admitted it.

  107. Trond Engen says:


    On holiday, almost off the ‘Net. Just skimming through now. Will get back to you when I’ve read the thread.

  108. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, this thread. I didn’t get a chance to ask my colleague again when it was fresh and then I forgot. I’ll try to remember when I’m back in a few weeks.

  109. Enjoy your holiday!

  110. Trond Engen says:

    On weird grammatical contact phenomena: The brand new issue of Norsk Lingvistisk Tidsskrift is dedicated to Saami. Most interesting to me is an article by Jussi Ylikoski on the century-old use of jih as an infinitive marker in South Saami. Jih is cognate with Finnish ja, eventually from PGmc. *jah “and”. South Saami has for a long time been in close contact with Peninsular Scandinavian, where og/och “and” is homonymous with the infinitive marker å/att.

    (On the Carinthian dualis: I’ve still not asked my colleague. I’ve been thinking about it a couple of times, but since summer we’ve hardly both of us been in the same office and both with spare time. I think I’ll have to send him an e-mail.)

  111. Trond: I believe some dialects of North Frisian use their inherited word for “and” as an infinitival marker, as a result of Danish influence; thus, this South Saami phenomenon may be weird but it is not unheard-of.

  112. Just try and prove it.

  113. Heh.

  114. Note the English duality between try to go and try and go.

  115. Trond, send the email awreddy, and then report!

  116. Lars (the original one) says:

    Danish has the same sort of duality between at and og, but since both can be pronounced [ɒ] it’s sometimes hard to tell what people are actually aiming at. Kom og drik can only be two conjoined imperatives, while prøv og drik and prøv at drikke can be that or an imperative with infinitive argument, and in allegro speech the verb forms will coincide. ?Prøv og drikke is syntactically dubious but has been produced in writing by less uptight writers for the last 800 years — Henrik Harpestæng (d 1244): Giuær man purløk mæth uuin oc drikkæ thæn thær skad* ær af hugorm… = ‘Gives one leek with wine and drink [to] the one that hurt is by a viper…’

    That said, I believe there is an alternative pronunciation [ɐ̞] possible for at in connected speech, though it may just be an illusion on my part. Funnily enough, in slow distinct speech I can only produce [ɒ] or full-on [ad̥] (vs. [ɒ] or [ɒʊ̯] for og).
    (*) Note the reduction of this participle, in modern Danish analogized back to skadet, it is relevant to my old remark on participles of strong verbs in -d though this verb is weak.

  117. Trond Engen says:

    Trond, send the email awreddy, and then report!

    Thanks for reminding me. Again. Email sent now.

  118. Trond: Heard from you Carinthian colleague yet?

  119. Trond Engen says:

    No, he didn’t answer me. I don’t want to push it any longer.

  120. marie-lucie says:

    Hold on to this date: today is the 45th anniversary of the momentous event which started this thread:

    On Wednesday, May 23rd, 1973, Robert Ashley and I went to see John Barton Wolgamot. We met and talked to him in the lobby of the Little Carnegie Cinema, of which he was the manager. I hold on to this date, because so many moments I would like to pin down are imprecise or uncertain.. (Keith Waldrop)

  121. It shall henceforth be known as Wolgamot Day.

  122. John Cowan says:

    poetry and common sense

    I think I must have been thinking of Claudia de’ Medici, Countess of Tyrol in the 17C, who was notable for both. Her older contemporary Isabella Clara Eugenia, Regent of the Spanish Netherlands, was also notable for these, but had no connection with the Tyrol. I may have conflated them to some extent.

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