LAUDATOR PERSTAT.

I was recently looking at an old post and ran across a link to Laudator Temporis Acti, and when I clicked it I was very pleased to see that Michael Gilleland is still at the same old stand, posting on Greek scholarship, portraits of readers, word histories, and all manner of other things likely to appeal to LH readers. And he’ll frequently quote a piquant sentence from his current reading, such as this from Oliver Rackham’s The History of the Countryside: “Furze is an important and widely-used fuel; it produces a quick hot blaze suitable for heating ovens, getting up a fire in the morning, or burning heretics.” In fact, one of his first posts presented this quote from Jasper Griffin’s Homer on Life and Death: “Heroes do not, in general, turn into anteaters, or make themselves buttocks out of mashed potatoes…” He calls it “one of the strangest sentences ever to appear in a scholarly work,” and I can’t disagree.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    In the history of “generative syntax” (initiated by Chomsky) there was a time when linguists of that persuasion went out of their way to concoct weird sentences in order to prove a point, but nothing beats the spontaneous output of some people, whether oral or written.

  2. The complete sentence seems to be:
    > Heroes do not, in general, turn into anteaters, or make themselves buttocks out of mashed potatoes, or impregnate three generations of their own female descendants; nor are they half-animals.
    where, in context, “heroes” means “heroes of Greek mythology, specifically as opposed to other mythologies.”
    The turning into anteaters I can imagine; the impregnating three generations of their own female descendants I recognize as Enki from Sumerian mythology (and possibly his counterparts in later Mesopotamian mythologies); and the half-animals is just too many mythologies to name. But making themselves buttocks out of mashed potatoes? What the heck? Does anyone recognize that? I tried Googling, but found nothing relevant.

  3. The full sentence is “”Heroes do not, in general, turn into anteaters, or make themselves buttocks out of mashed potatoes, or impregnate three generations of their own female descendants; nor are they half-animals.” The context is the contrast between Greek heroic legendry and the mythologies of other peoples. Northrop Frye explains less graphically that heroes of legend are superior to other people in degree as well as their environment, whereas heroes of mythology are superior in kind.
    I did a bit of Quellenforschung. The first story, about turning into an anteater, may refer to a Bushman tale about the First People, who could take on any form. A spinster cursed a young man to be a lynx forever, and he cursed her to be an anteater. The second story turned up only in modern references to eating mashed potatoes to increase one’s steatopygia. The third is among other things a Coyote story about repopulating the world after a Noachic flood, and the fourth is likely to be Egyptian.
    (I didn’t see Ran’s message above until I previewed mine.)

  4. Aha! For once I am able to explain the obscure reference, which I recognized as soon as I read the quote. It is surely to the Bororo myth of Geriguiaguiatugo, which I read as a child in The Kingfisher Book of Myths and Legends. A little googling brings up this version, from Myth: its meaning and functions in ancient and other cultures by Geoffrey Stephen Kirk:

    Long ago a young man called Geriguiaguiatugo followed his mother into the forest, where she was going to collect special leaves for the initiation of young men into puberty. He raped her, and his father, discovering by a trick that his son was the culprit, sent him on a deadly mission to fetch various kinds of ceremonial rattle from the lake of souls. The young man’s grandmother advises him to enlist the help of a humming-bird, which obtains for him the object of his quest. Other missions aided by other kinds of bird are also successful, so that eventually his father takes him on a parrot-hunting expedition and strands him halfway up a cliff, hanging on only by a magic stick given him by his grandmother. Father goes away, but son manages to climb the cliff. On the isolated plateau above he kills lizards and hangs some of them round his belt as a store of food; but they go rotten, and their smell makes the young man faint, then attracts vultures who devour his posterior as well as the maggoty lizards. The sated vultures turn friendly and convey him to the foot of the cliff. Remembering a tale of his grandmother’s, he fashions a new posterior out of a kind of mashed potato. He returns to his village, which he finds abandoned; but eventually discovers his family, after taking the form (according to the main version) of a lizard. He appears to his grandmother in his own shape; during the night a terrible storm extinguishes all the fires except hers; the other women, including the father’s new wife, come for embers the next day. Father pretends that nothing has happened between him and his son, but the son turns into a stag and casts him with his antlers into a lake, where the father is devoured by cannibal piranha fish. His lungs rise to the surface and become the origin of a special kind of floating leaf. The young man then kills his mother and his father’s second wife.

    Kirk’s source (and I dare say that of the author of my childhood version) is the Mythologiques of Claude Lévi-Strauss.

  5. Yes. All of Griffin’s examples are given earlier in his book and Kirk and Lévi-Strauss are explicitly cited for the Bororo ones.

  6. Geriguiaguiatugo sounds like an extremely unpleasant young man.

  7. Yes, even more unpleasant than the vultures, who at least turned friendly when they were sated.

  8. John Emerson says:

    We shouldn’t impose our own values on the culture heroes of others. I’m sure he had his reasons. We don’t know the whole story.

  9. the obscure reference
    I agree with JE. Several people here, including mine host, seem to think that the idea of “making buttocks out of mashed potatoes” is as obscure as the reference. But you guys have no imagination. When one’s butt gets et, one casts about for material that can be easily shaped into a convincing simulacrum. Mashed potatoes ! They are also handy as a snack when you’re on a long journey, as was Mr. Geriguiaguiatugo.
    Even far from an isolated plateau, some folks repine at their skinnypygia. As John Cowan discovered in the net, potatoes – mashed or in their plump integrity – have ever been recommended as an antidote.

  10. Roger Depledge says:

    No relation of Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer, I suppose?… I’ll get my coat.

  11. When one’s butt gets et, one casts about for material that can be easily shaped into a convincing simulacrum.
    I defer to the voice of experience.

  12. Mash is the heroic equivalent of silicone for heroines.

  13. And botox pays lip service to buttocks.

  14. Just in case anyone is still wondering, Lévi-Strauss was unsure what specific kind of yam this was.

  15. Those of you unfamiliar with “furze” may rest assured that it’s just whin.

  16. Decency has already been breached in this comment thread, but not by me, for a change. So I am emboldened to point out that the familiarity of Fürze is due to the fact that they’re just whind.

  17. In search of less indelicate allusions to furze, I knocked up against a sentence that I remember from All Quiet on The Western Front:

    Auf diese Weise macht die Gruppe… ein paar Schritte, während der Gruppenführer hin und her saust wie ein Furz auf der Gardinenstange.

    In this way the squad manages … a few steps, while the squad leader flits back and forth like a fart on a curtain rail.

    Later I found this expression cited in a book on World War 1 G.I. slang.

  18. At the laudator site there is a blog entitled “The Gadarene Swine”:

    There are passages from Greek and Latin literature in which petitioners beg the gods to transfer an evil from one place to another, or from one person to another. It’s almost as if the amount of evil in the world is constant, and evil cannot be destroyed but can only change location.

    It’s not surprising that a modern person, in thrall to the notion of progress, should wonder at the idea that the amount of evil in the world is constant.
    On the other hand, is there a modern person who wonders at the physicist’s principle of conservation of energy in the universe ? Matter and energy turn into each other, just as good and evil do. The sum total remains constant.
    There were long disputes up into modern times over the question unde malum ?. To the extent I have understood these things (not very far), I would say that constancy was a fall-back idea, the least that people of certain theological persuasions could agree on. If God does not intervene after creating the world, there is no sufficient cause for evil to increase – or good either, for that matter. Ex nihilo nihil fit, despite the pronouncements of the Bishop of Hippo. And if God intervenes after creation, then unde malum ? becomes an even more worrying issue, since if he intervenes to increase evil …

  19. ignoramus says:

    Evil and good are the heads and tails [ not tails and good] of human nature, fattened out by the untempted.
    It is impossible to have one without the other , there is always a buffer zone, it is the only way we progress.

  20. fattened out by the untempted
    Good point. The big moral theorists either had lean lives, and so naturally praised the bones – I’m thinking of Kant. Or, after having eaten their fill in earlier years, they naturally disparaged the flesh – I’m thinking of Augustine.
    there is always a buffer zone [between good and evil]
    We might call it the DMZ – the demoralized zone.

  21. Do the French commonly eat mashed potato? I think not, and certainly not served from those ice-cream ice-cream scoops they use in British schools.
    An ice-cream scoop would be necessary equipment if you were trying to make, let’s say a 1½”=1′-0″ model of buttocks out of mashed potato; but mash would be impractical at full scale. If you sat down it would all squish out in an unpleasant way. More useful and less likely to decay, I suggest a beanbaglike construction hooked on to the inside of the trousers.

  22. I never wrote ice cream twice like that. It may have been John Emerson.

  23. You didn’t write ice cream twice. You wrote ice-cream twice.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Do the French commonly eat mashed potato?
    Yes.
    The potatoes are not “mashed” with a potato-masher, but (at least in old-fashioned households) pressed through a food mill, which makes the texture much smoother.

  25. John Emerson says:

    Mashed potatoes are hard to make. If you mash too much, they turn into glue; not enough, and they remain lumpy and crunchy.
    An “ice cream ice cream scoop” is an ice cream scoop used for ice cream. What Crown meant to write was “a mashed potato ice cream scoop.”

  26. marie-lucie says:

    The potato masher is a crude instrument (and the potatoes need to be cooked just right too). Get a food mill (if you can find one – nowadays there are more fancy “food processors” which probably can achieve the same thing, but I have never tried one).

  27. Some of us (well, me) prefer them a bit lumpy, M.L.

  28. Sorry, that’s the second hyphen I’ve missed.

  29. I thought maybe an ice cream ice cream scoop was an ice cream scoop made out of ice cream.

  30. A nice cream ice-cream scoop.

  31. A food processor or other powered blade is gonna cut up the starch granules too fine and you’ll be in glue territory (“library paste” was the term Alton Brown used, as I recall).

  32. I agree with MMcM, I once tried to make mashed potatoes in a food processor and ended up with wallpaper glue. There’s nothing wrong with an old-fashioned potato masher, also, using it is very therapeutic.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    Then I am just as glad that I never bought a food processor.

  34. What’s so hard about a potato masher? We have never had lumpy potatoes, even in these days of vitamin consciousness, when I leave the skins on.
    If someone is serving lumpy potatoes, that might be a signal. Since we Scandihoovians gave up blood feuds, we have had to find non-verbal ways of telling people when we are unhappy. During the depression, my grandfather was once served uncooked potatoes in his mother’s house where he was living with his new bride (my grandmother). That had never happened before, he said. They promptly moved in with the other set of in-laws.

  35. blood feuds, spud foods, …

  36. I think of Immanuel Kant as being a bit tubby, but I see I’m wrong. I found out today that Pope was only 4′-6″ tall (A. Pope, not the pope).

  37. Trond Engen says:

    There’s nothing wrong with an old-fashioned potato masher, also, using it is very therapeutic.
    Depends who you’re using it on. On some specimens manual force is simply not enough for the desired effect.
    [...] I leave the skins on [...] Since we Scandihoovians gave up blood feuds, we have had to find non-verbal ways of telling people when we are unhappy.
    Exactly.

  38. Trond Engen says:

    It’s on those specimens that we use a feud processor.

  39. John Emerson says:

    Or you wait till the skins turn green and then cook and serve.

  40. Trond Engen says:

    I think of Immanuel Kant as being a bit tubby
    Nei, han var kantete. Og så likte han dårlig å bruke hendene.

  41. Trond Engen says:

    Or you wait till the skins turn green and then cook and serve.
    It’s often a tough decision: Skall, skall ikke?

  42. For those who send me money I will translate Trond’s puns.

  43. Trond Engen says:

    Skall, skall ikke?
    I could have quoted Kant here, obviously, but that would be a peel to authority.

  44. AJP, before I pay up I want some assurance that his Norse puns are as good as his English ones. Actually I wonder if we could come to some sort of barter arrangement. But what could I give?
    I do know what “ikke” means, by the way. I learned it from a German, who enjoyed telling the story of how he had learned it. He had purchased a wood-burning stove, manufactured somewhere in Scandinavia, and he was trying to read the instruction manual. He could guess most of the words, but “ikke” was one of the exceptions, and in the end he was glad that rather than just skipping over that one he had asked a Swedish acquaintance for help.

  45. I like to imagine that there are few people who can hold a candle to me, when it comes to puns. But in many of Trond’s contributions, I have the distinct impression of being floodlit.
    I could have quoted Kant here, obviously, but that would be a peel to authority.
    Gasp ! New answers to Kant’s four questions:

    Was kann ich wissen ? That there are good and bad ways to mash potatoes.
    Was soll ich tun ? Use a masher, not a food processor.
    Was darf ich hoffen ? That they gon’t get too gluey.
    Was ist der Mensch ? A couch potato.

  46. Skall, skall ikke ?
    Shall I, shall I nut shell ? Shilly-shally ?

  47. Like all good questions, these are never finally answered.
    Gluey may be just what Geriguiaguiatugo needed. I see him building up his new fundament one epoxy-like layer at a time, until he had something built to last.
    I suppose that in order to reach the right consistency he beat the starch granules by hand as violently as any powered blade ever did. Heroes can do that.

  48. Or you wait till the skins turn green and then cook and serve.
    How horrifying! Does no one here grow their own vegetables? If you did, you would know the green part of a potato comes from the sun hitting a potato where it is sticking out of the ground. The green part is supposed to be poison.
    Those who are 100% Norse sometimes to prefer food that is completely bland. When I try to leave the potato skins on at Christmas, my mother, who knows quite well the value of the vitamins just below the skin, always says they must be peeled since the leftovers will be used for lefse. Which is more important, vitamins or lefse? How can I argue with that?

  49. Nobody came to this thread over the weekend except myself and ignoramus. Now that Sunday has passed, everyone is back. Were the Americans among us out brandishing their plywood crutches in stubborn, blind rage, hoping to Kill the Bill ?

  50. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma, if you peel potatoes before cooking them, you have to remove a thin sliver of vitamin-rich potato, but if you cut them up and boil or steam them with the skins on, the skin detaches easily, leaving the intact potato (including the vitamin-rich part), which you can then mash or use for potato salad. The skin itself is not the nutritious part, and finding bits of it in the mashed potatoes ruins the texture. On the other hand, leaving the skin on is a good idea for fried or sautéed potatoes, as it just sticks to the flesh.

  51. John Emerson says:

    How horrifying!
    Feuds ain’t pretty, lady. Green potatoes is just the beginning. It’s the home-canned food that really gets them.

  52. How is the lid attached in home canning?

  53. How is the lid attached
    By vacuum. The cans are heated under pressure with the lids secured by rings, then as they cool, you can hear them seal. You can check the seal by looking at the top to see if it’s depressed, or more accurately tapping on the top with a fingernail to hear the sound. Once they are sealed, they keep for years.

  54. I’ll try the potato thing tonight, but it seems to me the skins don’t come off all that easily. The skin-on style is an Wisconsin thing from the early 70′s, when there were a dozen or more people to cook for over a wood stove.

  55. Trond Engen says:

    How is the lid attached in home canning?
    Canningly.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    Skall, skall ikke? Can, can not? Poteter? Peut-être.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    the skins don’t come off all that easily
    You still have to peel the potatoes, but you don’t have to cut into them like when they are raw, so you are not removing the nutritionally most valuable portion.

  58. Nijma,
    Aren’t the vitamins going to do just as much good in the lefse as they would in the mashed potatoes?

  59. Gluey may be just what Geriguiaguiatugo needed.
    In replacing his gluteus, I mean.

  60. “Heroes do not, in general, turn into anteaters, or make themselves buttocks out of mashed potatoes…”
    I question his “in general”, I think it’s slightly sarcastic. But what I was going to say was that chocolate or pink blancmange would make superior buttocks. Mashed potato has just a hint of cellulite.

  61. Trond Engen says:

    But what I was going to say was that chocolate or pink blancmange would make superior buttocks. Mashed potato has just a hint of cellulite.
    So has blanc-mange. Your other suggestion is good. A pain chocolat is far preferable to the regular type.

  62. Trond, the time has come for you to explain why the Norwegian word for tadpole is… rumpetroll. It makes me think of trolls with fat bottoms, and I don’t like to think of trolls with fat bottoms.

  63. Trond Engen says:

    They’re trolls with huge tails. Rumpe used to mean “tail”. It still can, but not for all. This is an area with layers upon layers of eufemisms that are difficult to disentangle, but I’ll try.
    Rumpe “tail” is probably derived from rump “round heap” -> “((western) eufemism for) buttock” parallel to rove “tail” from rauv “arse”. Rumpe may also have been borrowed from Danish (and as such less vulgar) directly in the meaning “buttock” and extended to “tail” by reverse parallel to svans “tail”, another eufemism for “buttocks”. Either way, it replaced the older rass (itself a probably eufemistically metathesized cognate to ‘arse’) and rauv “arse” rompe became unmarked for something eufemisible it had to be replaced in the more innocent sense “tail”. The solution was hale from written Danish. (You know it’s not native in Eastern Norwegian by the lack of “tjukk l”.)

  64. Trond Engen says:

    I lost a paragraph break – because I tried to draw an error, I think.
    [...] and rauv “arse” from “hole, rift”.
    As these things go, when rumpe became unmarked [...]

  65. Trond Engen says:

    An error and an arrow are two arro…, are too narrow.

  66. John Emerson says:

    Karl Rauv? I did not know that.

  67. No doubt Engen means strait as a narrow.

  68. I find that the English word tadpole reflects a view that the creature is all head. In fact, a quick search turns up several instances in several languages of calling the frog’s larva after its big head. Whence this Norse fixation on the tail?

  69. That’s great Trond. Thank you very much, very interesting.
    (You know it’s not native in Eastern Norwegian by the lack of “tjukk l”.)
    But, from English Wikipedia:
    The retroflex flap, [ɽ], known to Norwegians as tjukk l (“thick l”), is not an independent phoneme, but an allophone of /l/. Traditionally it has not been used in Standard Østnorsk, and still many (especially the higher classes in Oslo) consider it vulgar and don’t use it, but in several words it must now be considered standard. Many younger speakers (especially in Bergen and Oslo) don’t use the voiceless palatal fricative, merging it with the voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/.
    What’s going on?

  70. Karl Rauv
    So if the rove part is “arse” or in AmE “asshole”, what is the karl part?

  71. Trond Engen says:

    The definition of Standard Østnorsk would seem to be “Norwegian as spoken by aspiring staff in Oslo’s high end shops”. In Eastern Norwegian the retroflexes, and especially the l, constitute a danified/local isogloss. This is breaking down now, and the flow is going both ways.
    The merger of the kj-sound (voiceless palatal fricative) and the sj-/skj-sound (voiceless postalveolar fricative) has been going on for a while. It’s of course a perfectly natural thing to happen – yet another instance of satemization. And I’d add Stavanger to the list. In Bergen, though, they’re rather merging in the palatal than in the post-alveolar. Or at least seemed to be when I lived there more than twenty years ago. The palatal in Bergen sounds more fronted than the Eastern, and maybe that’s why.

  72. if you peel potatoes before cooking them, you have to remove a thin sliver of vitamin-rich potato, but if you cut them up and boil or steam them with the skins on, the skin detaches easily, leaving the intact potato (including the vitamin-rich part), which you can then mash or use for potato salad
    This worked very nicely! I didn’t even have to remove the eyes beforehand, which I was always taught could harbor nasty things like potato bugs. It seems there is a tradeoff though as you have to cool the potatoes with water in order to handle them, then transfer them into a bowl as they are peeled before transferring them back into the pan for mashing. Mine lost their sharp edges and got a little mushy in the meantime, but all in all, it’s less labor intensive. I had always cut the potatoes small so they would cook more quickly, so the pieces of peel were also quite small. I’m still trying to decide if the flavor is the same.
    Aren’t the vitamins going to do just as much good in the lefse as they would in the mashed potatoes?
    The best lefse is made with completely white leftover mashed potatoes made from peeled potatoes; you use it as a base for a dough that gets kneaded and rolled out with a special rolling pin.

  73. Trond Engen says:

    Rove is tail. Karl is man. Karl Rove could be an English compound from Norwegian elements. Rauv is /ræ:v/ or /ræv:/ in Eastern Norwegian, røv in Danish and Swedish. It’s the general body part, not the orifice or the personality named after it. That would be rævhøl.

  74. Yeah, I think I’m soon going to be the only one left in eastern Norway who hasn’t merged kj- and sj-. I didn’t know it was the work of Satan, though.

  75. Amazing, Karl Rove’s full name is Karl Christian Rove, a Danish middle name if I ever heard one. Wiki says his stepfather, Louis Claude Rove Jr., was of Norwegian ancestry.

  76. “Rove has four siblings, Eric, Reba, Olaf, and Alma.”
    These don’t sound like ordinary Denver, Colorado-style names.
    “His biological father left the family when Rove and his older brother were children.”
    Olaf must be the older brother from the first (biological) father, but Olaf strikes me as a rather Norwegian, or maybe Swedish name. And Karl sounds German. Eric and Alma sound like good Norwegian names. There’s a “Reba” TV show, but I don’t know what nationality she’s supposed to be.

  77. Oh, Nijma, I misread it. I thought your mother wanted the leftover peels.

  78. John Emerson says:

    TV Reba is a hillbilly who’s become middle class. I’ve found her very pleasant the few times I’ve seen her.

  79. bruessel says:

    Reba was played by the country singer Reba McEntire, who’s from Oklahoma: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reba_McEntire

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