LITERALS.

In the longest LH thread ever, AJP asked about the meaning of “literals” in “However, there are a number of literals in here, which is a shame. What has become of editing within publishing houses?” I explained that it was an old-fashioned (though evidently not obsolete) word for, as the OED puts it, “A misprint of a letter.” (See this Log thread for more.) I also provided a couple of citations, the first of which was “1622 R. HAWKINS Voy. S. Sea [170] Errata sic corrige… The litteralls are commended to favour.” Whereupon marie-lucie said “even after seeing the definition I am not sure what this means: The litteralls are commended to favour.” I responded “I don’t understand it either, and it’s not in any of the editions of Hawkins’s Voyage into the South Sea accessible through Google Books (the 1622 edition isn’t available, presumably because it was reprinted in 1968, but without this text!).” Then it occurred to me that 1) not that many people were reading the thread any longer, and 2) there was no point adding to its length with this particular derail. So I’m giving it its own post. Any ideas about what “The litteralls are commended to favour” might mean? And while we’re on the subject, are you familiar with this sense of literal?
Update. I should have known better than to allow myself the indulgence of eating dinner before posting this; Noetica has already solved the mystery in the other thread:

The expression to commend to favour is not well covered in OED, though we get the usual meaning well enough. It means “to recommend for favourable acceptance or consideration”.
Now consider a certain sense of favour, in OED:

3. Kind indulgence. a. Leave, permission, pardon. Chiefly in phrases, by, with (your, etc.) favour; by the favour of. Also, under favour: with all submission, subject to correction. Obs. or arch.
1580 Baret Alv. F255 Sauing your displeasure.. or, with your fauour. [...] 1613 Shakes. Hen. VIII, i. i. 168 Pray giue me fauour Sir. [...] 1699 Bentley Phal. 135 Under favour, I say it’s an Anapæst. [...] 1823 Scott Quentin D. xv, Under favour, my Lord.. the youth must find another guide.

That seems to explain our problematic sentence. It means “the literals are submitted to your indulgence and pardon”.

(I have cut some of the citations to leave the most pertinent ones.) Ah well. I’m still curious about how many people are familiar with the meaning.

Comments

  1. I would translate that into modern idiom as “Despite our best efforts, there are still some broken or mis-set characters in the text. We’re not going to list them all here. We trust you will overlook them.”
    Or words to that effect.

  2. You were posting your update while I was posting my comment. I think I got the gist of it, though.

  3. Well, Hat, I had to scratch my head when I read that sentence. But once I saw Noetica’s explanation, it almost seemed like I’d known the meaning all along! Lost somewhere back in my (lost) youth. So does this count as being familiar with the meaning?

  4. Language Log from a few years ago.

  5. The Guardian takes more potshots at the Telegraph, this time over the OED, today.

  6. It’s rather like craving someone’s indulgence, isn’t it?

  7. It’s rather like craving someone’s indulgence, isn’t it?
    Not the same as indulging someone’s craving, I suppose.

  8. Rubbish, Stu. Mandelstam must reach one thousand!

  9. OK, I admit I got distracted by creature comforts for a mo’. To break records one must struggle onwards.

  10. That’s right. You must think of it as the race to the South Pole, where LHat is Amundsen and the log people are Scott.

  11. I identify more with A. Gordon Pym.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    I hate to throw cold water on the “race to the South Pole”, but I agree with Grumbly’s first comment about A Draft of Mandelstam. Sure, it would be nice in theory to reach 1000 comments, but in practice the attempt defeats the purpose of the comments, especially since some of those comments have been very lengthy. I have been intending to reply to a few comments which would require more than a few lines, but I can’t spend all day rereading the thread to find the older comments I want to reply to, and I haven’t even been able to give the newer comments the attention they deserve. That’s why I have not written anything on that thread for some time.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    I see that Mandelstam is at 606 already. How about stopping at 666 ?

  14. Damn, in my attempt to remove a deluge of spam I appear to have inadvertently deleted a comment of Grumbly’s. I take it he was suggesting the Long Thread was getting a bit unwieldy, and I confess I have been feeling the same way (I almost started a new thread for the Noetica-jamessal throwdown, but it seemed to have gotten itself firmly ensconced there). I agree that 666 is a better goal than 1,000. Hail Satin!

  15. I thought of that too, marie-lucie ! But stopping at 665 might be even cuter, more take-it-to-the-brink.

  16. Yeah, I suggested a parliamentary continuation (“A Draft of Mandelstam: Second Reading”), a technical one (“A Beta of Mandelstam”), or one sounding like the sequel of a Hollywood blockbuster: “Osipovich: Son of Mandelstam !”.

  17. Hat, what is the cabalist cross-sum of the Hebrew form of “Mandelstam” ?

  18. “Not the same as indulging someone’s craving, I suppose.” Is that in some way related to “Hail, Satin”?

  19. Hat, what is the cabalist cross-sum of the Hebrew form of “Mandelstam” ?
    Don’t ask me, I’m just the ringmaster. Any Kabbalists here?

  20. מנדלשטם comes out to 473 in gematria. By a cosmic coincidence, 473 is not prime. You heard it here first.

  21. As long as you are opening up a successor to that other thread I will ask you a question here that I did not over there for fear of making the thread too long… When you say
    I know there’s more repetition in my English than in the original, but Mandelstam used repetition freely, and it seemed better than semantic padding to make the rhythm work.
    it sounds almost like you are apologizing for the repetition, as if there were something wrong or lazy about translating that way. Whereas in the translation I’m doing I’m finding repetition incredibly useful in making the English syntax flow. Should I be looking at that as a weak link in my armour, as something to be overcome? It is mostly repetition of prepositions and of adjectives when they are widely separated from their object.

  22. I can’t spend all day rereading the thread to find the older comments I want to reply to, and I haven’t even been able to give the newer comments the attention they deserve.
    Much as I enjoy that thread I feel the same.
    Marie-Lucie, for long texts (on web-pages or when copy-editing) I always use the Command+F search function. If you remember a key word or the name of the commenter you skip to what you want to find quickly.

  23. (I don’t know if it’s relevant, but m-l uses a mac.)

  24. Sashura:
    Don’t abandon us there! There’s so much more to say. I promise I will address things that you have raised, once I have dispatched young Jamessal and can find time again for grand poetics.
    It is easy but artificial to make a long thread just for the helluvit. Let’s make it a proper Mandelfaden, instead of skimming the surface as we have been doing …

  25. m-l uses a mac
    I know, that’s why I wrote ‘Command+F’. Windows are under Control, Macs are in Command.

  26. sure, Noetica.
    I’m particularly interested to see if anyone has anything to say on Mikhail Bezrodny’s commentary I mentioned in between yours and Jamessal’s slugs.

  27. Cranking back to literals, I’m not sure that “old fashioned” is fair: in the jargon of the UK printing industry it is still the everyday term for typing errors in setting. Although I would (from over here) regard “typo” as new fashioned.

  28. it sounds almost like you are apologizing for the repetition, as if there were something wrong or lazy about translating that way.
    It wasn’t intended to be an apology, just an explanation. I think it works very well.
    I’m not sure that “old fashioned” is fair: in the jargon of the UK printing industry it is still the everyday term for typing errors in setting.
    Exactly what I wanted to know; thanks!

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura, thank you. I use Command+F to search my Word texts, but I didn’t know it would work here.

  30. Oh, it works! So much quicker. Thanks, Sashura!

  31. If you use Firefox, and start typing in the “search” box that comes up when you press command-f, the search box will be a handy pink colour should your combination of letters not exist in the text.

  32. thanks for the thanks; when I realised how many people don’t know about the power of Command+F I even blogged about it here, on my blog, which is most popular in California (correct comma here, I hope?). It works with any folder or file or web-page, Firefox or Safari.

  33. Sashura, I think it is primarily Germans who need a good dose of self-doubt as regards placing commas in English texts. My advice to them is: “when in doubt, don’t”. This is because the guiding principle in German is: “when in doubt, do”.
    Otherwise you get something like this, as on the signs of every exit door on every train in Germany: “Do not open, before the train stops”.

  34. ya, ya,
    ‘Do not, open before the train stops’

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks again, Sashura, I will take a closer look at your blog.

  36. I can confirm as an American staffer at The Economist that “literals” is not universal but is common among my UK colleagues to refer to typos and other minor fails in copy. It struck me the first few times I heard it but I never looked it up; its meaning was clear (literally) from the first time I saw it.

  37. when I realised how many people don’t know about the power of Command+F …
    I like to spend ten minutes watching and diagnosing, then five minutes showing users of Word a tailored suite of tricks that will, if adopted, eventually save them untold misery and days of needless work.
    It’s like scratching an itch. But I don’t do Macs.

  38. literals
    is it also the origin of literati or litteratti?

  39. Literals are more the nemesis of litterati than their origin.

  40. I think it is primarily Germans who need a good dose of self-doubt as regards placing commas in English texts. My advice to them is: “when in doubt, don’t”. This is because the guiding principle in German is: “when in doubt, do”.
    I don’t know. My impression always was that English speakers use way too much commas – honestly, putting commas before “and” and “or”? We Germans just try to get along with that spirit. ;-)

  41. For non-Macophiles it’s Ctrl+F, by the way.

  42. For those who grew up on vi/vim, the slash key also works (in Firefox for whatever platform) as a shortcut for ctrl/⌘-F.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: literal, literati (and literature)
    These words all come from Latin, and their “root” is littera “letter” (which I think Latin took from Etruscan).

  44. Goodness, Sash. I had no idea you had that blog about Pages. How very useful that’s going to be! I have both Pages and Word, and I never know which one is best. Do you like Pages better?

  45. iWork/Pages
    yes, I’ve stopped using Word for work completely a few years ago. If I have to deliver something in .doc, I do the work in Pages and then export into .doc format. The Pages blog has grown out of the publishing project I’d worked on over the past few years, and now that Apple bundles full iWork suite, not just trial version, with the basic installation package I expect the programme will become more popular. Any suggestions are welcome.

  46. littera
    I couldn’t find any uses of “литератти” in Russian, but “литератор” (writer, in the general sense) is widely used as well as литература. Литера though competes with буква (letter, obviously of Slavonic origin) – lítera is used in indexing or coding context, but the generic word for letter is búkva. For misprint/error the native опечатка is generally used, but lapsus calami is also known, with its (probable) contraption ляп (lyap) very widely used.

  47. Hail Satin!
    do you think Gorky’s Satin is a play on Satan?

  48. I hope this is not too far off-topic but I am so puzzled by a couple of things I have read recently that I am wondering if a “literal” is involved. The first is a word I saw yesterday (jonesing) and the second is a phrase I saw today (access of nostalgia). They both absolutely mystified me.
    The word jonesing was in the transcript of a radio program I downloaded about the pharmacology and sociology of caffeine/coffee. The sentence was: “I’ve seen some pretty sad people either jonesing for a coffee or having had a few too many coffees and, you know, jittering like a hummingbird.”.
    The phrase access of nostalgia was in a book I am reading, “The Middle Sea, A History of the Mediterranean” by John Julius Norwich. The relevant passage is: “In 663 there was an unusually distinguished Byzantine immigrant: the Emperor Constans II, determined to shift his capital back again to the west. Rome he found as uncongenial as Constantinople, but hellenistic Sicily proved more to his taste and he reigned for five years in Syracuse until one day a dissatisfied chamberlain, in an access of nostalgia, surprised him in his bath and felled him with the soapdish. I almost thought that access might be some sort of eggcorn for excess, but even then I don’t understand it.
    How could I have lived 61 years in Australia without ever coming across these before now?

  49. slang senses of “jones”:
    heroin –> addiction –> craving
    “access of” meaning a sudden outburst of (e.g. rage or zeal) is something I never hear but occasionally see. The OED calls it a figurative sense, where the corresponding literal sense is concerned with a new appearance of symptoms of an illness.

  50. Thanks, Ø. These were obviously not as obscure as I had imagined. “Access” meaning “sudden onset of a disease”. Well, well. I really must get myself a good dictionary. I have been edumacated.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    “access of” meaning a sudden outburst of (e.g. rage or zeal)
    This unusual phrase is a literal translation of the French expression
    un accès de…, which is very common in everyday speech and does not mean “onset (of illness)” but refers to some sudden and short-lived disturbance of one’s physical or emotional equilibrium, in other words pretty much like English “a fit”: un accès de nostalgie is quite OK, parallel to un accès de fièvre, de colère, de folie (fever, anger, madness), etc.

  52. Wow. I’ll file that, m-l.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    On the other hand, some fits or “attacks” are called une crise, for instance une crise d’épilepsie (epileptic fit), une crise cardiaque (heart attack), but also une crise de nerfs (fit of hysteria), une crise de foie (lit. a “fit of liver”, = indigestion).

  54. More familiar, but I’ll file that too.

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