MELTED DOWN INTO CANONS.

I’ve spent my entire adult life fighting typos—first penciling corrections into books I read, then preemptively eliminating them from books before they get published (which gives me both income and satisfaction)—and it is a source of great displeasure that what were once well-edited periodicals now are increasingly slapdash about such things. I try not to kvetch about it publicly too much because I don’t want to sound like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, and I probably would have gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the two (two!) occurrences of “translatio imperio” for translatio imperii in Peter Frankopan’s review (subscription-only) of Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity, edited by Lucy Grig and Gavin Kelly (which sounds like a very interesting book, but of course it costs $85.00, with “26 used & new from $65.00”). But there was a typo that gave me so much pleasure I had to share it, the last word in this sentence: “Later travellers’ accounts from the sixteenth century also give glimpses of how things had once been – such as the enormous statue of the Emperor Justinian that was being demolished, as Peter Gilles visited the city in the sixteenth century, in order to be melted down into Ottoman canons.” In this case, I’m willing to accept a couple of imperios for the image of Ottoman canons made from a melted-down statue of Justinian (as opposed to a melted-down Code of Justinian).

Comments

  1. This paragraph should be preserved in amber of some kind next to the heading “genteel evisceration”. Well done.

  2. Talking of single vs. double Ns, what would you say to Einstein’s anus mirabilis (1905), which I found in Martin Beeche’s 2010 book The Large Hadron Collider: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe, published by Springer (p. 17)?

  3. *statute of Justinian* , yes?

  4. Canons ON Ottomans presents an interesting picture.
    Or you could say: “What do you think of Abdülmecid II?” “He’s not really part of the Ottoman canon, is he?”

  5. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, “i” and “o” adjoin each other on many keyboards, so it could be a simple typo, but since “imperio” is a genuine form of the noun in question (just the wrong case ending for the specific morphosyntactic context), I’m not sure if “typo” is the right analysis of the type of error. (“Canon” for “cannon” could equally well be a memory glitch or could be an execution-while-typing glitch.)
    And the additional trouble with “imperio” is you need a proofreader who knows some Latin to catch it; it looks perfectly cromulent (in terms of an educated Anglophone’s sense of what does and does not look plausibly like Latin on the page) without specialized knowledge. I mean, the translator might even have previously seen e.g. the phrase “imperium in imperio” which makes this one seem even more plausible if you don’t have a specialized wait-but-I-think-this-ought-to-be-genitive-rather-than-dative reflex.

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    Um, “translator” in the last sentence of prior comment was a “typo” for proofreader/copyeditor/etc.

  7. Double puns in the wild are too rare of a beast to be shot down. They’re better trapped and put on display.

  8. *statute of Justinian* , yes?
    Why, why didn’t I think of that?
    *slaps self*
    And the additional trouble with “imperio” is you need a proofreader who knows some Latin to catch it; it looks perfectly cromulent (in terms of an educated Anglophone’s sense of what does and does not look plausibly like Latin on the page) without specialized knowledge.
    In the first place, it’s not all that specialized—there’s a Wikipedia page on it, for heaven’s sake. And in the second place, this is the TLS, not your local church bulletin; if you don’t expect the TLS staff to know such a thing, your expectations have become even more lowered than mine.

  9. “and it is a source of great displeasure that what were once well-edited periodicals now are increasingly slapdash about such things. ”
    And then there are the homophones that are misused so often they become standard. “Slew” =/= “slough”!

  10. “too rare of a beast”
    I try very hard to be a descriptivist, really, but “[adverb][adverb] of a [noun]” gets to me like fingers down a blackboard – and saying “fingers down a blackboard” instantly puts me in a particular age bracket …
    what I do find interesting though, is that (1) as far as I know, no prescriptivist guru has yet to rail about “[adverb][adverb] of a [noun]” – have they not spotted it yet? – and (2) “[adverb][adverb] of a [noun]” has yet to cross the Atlantic – again AFAIK, but I haven’t personally seen it used in the UK yet.
    Sorry, Y, don’t take it personally, I’ll get off my soapbox now, you carry on using “[adverb][adverb] of a [noun]” as much as you want, and I’ll just grit my teeth.

  11. Sorry, zythophile, but where is the second adverb?

  12. J.W. Brewer says:

    I suppose I start with no baseline expectations one way or another for the level of proofreading quality in the TLS. It’s not even that I once had high expectations but have lowered them. I suppose if I stopped to think about it I have a vague sense that ceteris paribus a higher percentage of low-paid publishing industry drudges in the UK these days may have studied Latin in school than is currently the case in the US, but I don’t even know if that’s empirically accurate. I do not subscribe to any cultural-cringe notion that Brits are unusually careful or unusually good at quality control. (That my father used to drive sports cars manufactured in the U.K. during the 1960’s may have predisposed me toward the opposite prejudice with respect to the national attitude toward quality control.)
    I respectfully disagree with the proposition that existence of a wikipedia article on X tends to establish that knowledge of X is “not all that specialized.” Indeed, part of the charm of wikipedia is the tendency of random browsing to prove the opposite.

  13. Rodger C says:

    I suspect that translatio imperio was motivated by the widespread vague notion that in inflected languages, endings are supposed to match. I’ve also seen virgo intacto. And then there’s “Sante Fe.”

  14. I’m guessing that the sultan in question then would have to be Suleiman Kanuni.

  15. Sorry, zythophile. I suppose “too rare a beast” would be better written English. In spoken English (not my native language btw), I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone not using “of” in this context.

  16. I think the bigger point on ‘translatio imperii’ is not the Wikipedia page as such, but that it’s a standard specialist term which ought to be familiar to someone, say, reviewing a book on Roman politics.
    As a native English speaker, ‘too rare of a beast’ strikes me as perfectly grammatical. I’m also hard put to see how ‘rare’ could be analyzed as an adverb rather than an adjective.

  17. if you don’t expect the TLS staff to know such a thing, your expectations have become even more lowered than mine.
    Isn’t the TLS owned by Rupert Murdoch, along with all the other Times’ publications like the Times Education Supplement? I wouldn’t touch a Murdoch publication with a ten-foot Pole – nor with any other eastern European, for that matter. Nor a fine-toothed comb.
    I agree with JW that Wikipedia has articles about tons of obscure topics and items (not that it’s a problem – the more the better). I was thinking the same thing only this morning, and my guess is that it’s sometimes No Accident (for example it obviously doesn’t hurt a commercial art gallery if the dead artist they represent has a Wikipedia entry).

  18. Charles Perry says:

    You should take solecisms “cum grano salo,” as The Uncle says in “At Swim Two Birds.”

  19. Speaking of vaguely metal-related confusions, I was tickled silly by what I assume is a confusion of homophones in Hundert’s Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century (2004, University of California Press, p. 6): “The presence of Jews in the western parts of the country in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is attested by hordes of silver coins with Hebrew inscriptions that date from those years.”

  20. There’s a novel about a (fictional) conquest of the Papal States by Spain in 1635, called Cannon Law. It includes the trial of Galileo as well.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    In French, both canon (as in le droit canon ‘Canon law’) and cannon (as in the heavy firearm) are le canon, which can make for a lot of ambiguity. But English canon (a religious dignity) is le chanoine.
    Under ‘disambiguation’, Wikipedia gives one of the meanings of ‘canon’ as ‘a Christian priest’, but there are many differences between a canon and a priest or monk, and similarly for their women counterparts (who are obviously not priests in the Catholic Church). From the Wikipedia chapters on canon/chanoine and canoness/chanoinesse I learned many interesting details, some of them quite surprising: how many people know that the President of the French Republic (as the successor of the King of France) is ipso facto a chanoine of a number of Italian churches, entitled to claim a ceremonial seat there (not just to sit as a member of the congregation or the public)? Sarkozy could theoretically have claimed the privilege, even though his marital status was (and probably still is) not condoned by the Church).

  22. Isn’t the TLS owned by Rupert Murdoch, along with all the other Times’ publications like the Times Education Supplement?
    Argh, you’re right, of course. Consider my expectations lowered.

  23. dearieme says:

    “too rare a beast” is the canonical use in Brenglish.

  24. Dearieme: And in my English too.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    dearieme, that’s what I learned too.
    “Of” occurs in “too much of (a good thing, etc)”, but “much” is not an adjective like “rare”, it is a word expressing quantity, as in “a lot of …”, etc.

  26. I suspect that translatio imperio was motivated by the widespread vague notion that in inflected languages, endings are supposed to match.
    Yes, I was going to say, I’m pretty sure it’s just because “translatio imperio” rhymes. (Also, I feel that it’d make an excellent name for a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel.)

  27. I think the pattern is question is specifically too [adjective] of a [noun]. It’s very familiar to me (I’m northeast US, born 1954), but feels informal.
    Hat, when I read your “it is a source of great displeasure” I double-checked to make sure you had written “displeasure”, because after all there is sometimes a certain pleasure to be had in being annoyed. And then lo and behold further along in the paragraph I came to “there was a typo that gave me so much pleasure”.

  28. Y ("Call me ESL.") says:

    “too good a thing”: 750,000 Google hits.
    “too good of a thing”: 32,000,000 Google hits.
    But if you restrict the search to UK, Canadian or Australian sites, the “of” usage is almost unheard of. In Google Books most examples of “too good of a thing” are post-1990. So this isn’t evil, just recent US English.
    Finally, a quote: ‘In a 1997 poll, 68 percent of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel disapproved of the sentence “That’s too long of a movie to sit through,” (though they did say that “of a” could be excused if the movie was “Ishtar”).’

  29. Didn’t “too [X] of a [Y]” originally arise by analogy with the superficially similar “too much/little/etc. of a [Y]” pattern that marielucie points out? My understanding is that “too [adjective] a [Y]” was syntactically unusual and rare enough to fade into fancy-pantsery and then irrelevance (like the subjunctive), leaving a gap which the more common and unremarkable structure “too [much/little/etc.] of a [Y]” was happy to fill.

  30. I take it back. Besides “too X of a Y” there is “that X of a Y”, as in “not that big of a deal”.

  31. Jim:
    The OED says “slew” is an inlet or backwater, and “slough” is a patch of mud, or a ditch or drain. It notes US use of “slough” for an inlet, which is a common placename element in these parts (e.g., Mudhen Slough, pron. sloo). I have to turn to the AHD for “slew” or “slue”, meaning a large amount, which comes from Irish “slua” or Scots Gaelic “sluagh” (crowd). AHD also has both “slue” or “slew” meaning to turn. It also says the patch of mud or inlet sense may be pronounced either slou or sloo, with British references to The Pilgrim’s Progress chiefly using slou. Complicating matters are “slough” (sluf), a discarded skin like that of a snake, and Slough (slou), a place in England, spelled the same but pronounced differently. It’s no wonder people get confused.
    “Sluagh” also gives us the English “slogan”, from “sluagh-ghairm”, a battle-cry.

  32. Slough (slou), a place in England, spelled the same but pronounced differently.
    Slough is pronounced like plough – “plow” to Americans – although someone who grew up there told me the local pronunciation was “Sləyow” (two syllables), to rhyme with meow.

  33. Nelson,
    . I’m also hard put to see how ‘rare’ could be analyzed as an adverb rather than an adjective.
    Precisely. For those playing the home game, try out “too good (ADJ) of a player” vs. “too well (ADV) of a player”.
    Y,
    The BNC corpus doesn’t show a single instance of this structure. The ukWac corpus won’t let me search for “too .* of a”, but it has 26 f “too big of a” (barely 0.01 instances in million) and 6 for “too good of instances of a”, i.e. really rare indeed.

  34. Nelson,
    . I’m also hard put to see how ‘rare’ could be analyzed as an adverb rather than an adjective.
    Precisely. For those playing the home game, try out “too good (ADJ) of a player” vs. “too well (ADV) of a player”.
    Y,
    The BNC corpus doesn’t show a single instance of this structure. The ukWac corpus won’t let me search for “too .* of a”, but it has 26 f “too big of a” (barely 0.01 instances in million) and 6 for “too good of instances of a”, i.e. really rare indeed.

  35. “not that big of a deal”
    That sounds even worse.

  36. Ø,
    in contrast to the British English corpora, the Corpus of Contemporary American English contains a few more instances of this structure, with “good” (15) and “high” (10) on top of the list and including adjectives such as “cloudy”, “harsh” and “conservative”.

  37. JW: Thanks for “cromulent”. Not being a Simpsons fan, I hadn’t come across it, and the interesting variety of meanings it has developed (see the Urban Dictionary entry).
    Slough as a patch of mud is a delightful definition (AJP and other UKers will appreciate why), and why am I not suprised that locals there say it like meow?

  38. dearieme says:

    Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
    It isn’t fit for humans now
    Those would indeed rhyme with “meow” if the late Edward Heath were reading the poem.
    P.S. We don’t say “off of” either, except for those of us who learned English off of American movies.
    P.P.S. “slough” as a patch of mud is book-learning for me because, when of an age that patches of mud fascinated me and my pals, we knew them as “glaur”. They tended to occur around “dubs”. Perhaps the Dutch have cognate terms?

  39. dearieme says:

    Come friendly bombs and fall on Slew
    It isn’t fit for humans noo
    That would work too, sort of.

  40. dearieme says:

    P.P.S. “who learned English” – I pronounce that, often as not, as “who learnt English”. Which is commoner where?

  41. I believe “learnt” is pure UK, though I expect to hear from Americans who will say “No, I say it that way too.” What a confusing world this is.

  42. I say both learnt & learned in different circumstances, but I’m not sure what they are. I bet John Cowan knows, though. I think unlike us Americans save ‘learnt’ for colloquial usage & that this was recently discussed here.
    I see in Wikipedia:

    The poem was written two years before the outbreak of World War II, when Britain (including Slough itself) experienced bombing from enemy air raids. However, on the centenary of the poet’s birth, the daughter of the poet apologised for the poem. Candida Lycett-Green said her father “regretted having ever written it”. During her visit, Mrs Lycett-Green presented Mayor of Slough David MacIsaac with a book of her father’s poems. In it was written: “We love Slough”.

  43. I don’t know much about learnt in AmE except that I don’t use it. I do say drempt for dreamed, though, at least some of the time. A general principle is that these irregular forms are more common as adjectives, where there is no pressure to regularize them, than as participles: burnt toast is fine AmE alongside burned toast, but the toast is burnt, not so much.

  44. So are slew and slough actually two different words, or two different spellings of the same word? The only sloughs i’ve ever come across are the marshes in the far upper midwest. Those aren’t inlets, backwaters, or patches of mud, but none of these concepts are very far apart.

  45. Tom Recht says:

    “Too/that ADJ of a N” is perfectly normal here in NorCal. It used to sound wrong to me, but now I’d be surprised to hear anyone leave the of out.

  46. No one’s mentioned the most famous slough of them all, in Pilgrim’s Progress: “This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.”
    One of Bunyan’s possible models for his famous slough has an ever better – less allegorical but more onomatopoeic – name. As Wikipedia notes, “the ‘Slough of Despond’ may have been inspired by Squitch Fen, a wet and marshy area near his cottage in Harrowden, Bedfordshire, which he had to cross on his way to church . . .” Did your shoes go ‘squitch’ when you stepped in Squitch Fen? I imagine they did.

  47. Oops: ever ] even

  48. dearieme says:

    “drempt” : me too.
    “the toast is burnt” is what I (and also my wife) would say. I’ve been in a restaurant lately that described creme brûlée as “burnt cream”. Googling suggests that the use, though unfamiliar to me, is widespread.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/dec/13/cambridge-burnt-cream-recipe
    (I imagine that the “Cambridge” in that link arises because of the oft repeated yarn that creme brûlée entered British life after its introduction to Trinity College by an undergraduate from Aberdeen.)

  49. Trinity college has a £400m stake in Tesco supermarkets. No wonder they’re pushing creme brûlée.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    Crème in crème brûlée means ‘custard’, not ‘cream’. Custard in French is crème anglaise.

  51. Is there a difference between crème anglaise and sauce anglaise? My wife uses the latter version for the same substance (as far as I can tell from Wikipedia). She’s not a native French speaker, but worked/apprenticed at a restaurant near Lyon for a year or so, if the region makes a difference.
    (They also told her that it’s called sauce anglaise because it’s the only sweet sauce the English can make properly. I assume that’s not the real etymology, but it did make me laugh.)

  52. drempt is spelt ‘dreamt’.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Matt, sauce anglaise is new to me, but I don’t spend much time in France and even less in fancy restaurants. I assume that it is not quite the same as crème anglaise (perhaps lighter?), but on the other hand the people of Lyon like to think of themselves as different from those of other French cities.

  54. dearieme says:

    @Dressing gown: Quite, but I think John was representing the pronunciation.

  55. Quite, but I think John was representing the pronunciation
    You may not have noticed that I took the opportunity to insert another spelling that Americans appear to find decidedly weird: ‘spelt’.

  56. There’s Rabbit. He hasn’t Learnt in Books, but he can always Think of a Clever Plan.

  57. dearieme says:

    Nice one, kimono. Perhaps I didn’t notice because I usually say “learnt” myself.

  58. Spelt, to me.

  59. Sorry, I meant “rare” was an adjective (*blushes in shame, stands in corner*)
    Anyway, Y, I’m sure the construction is now common in the US,and that’s fine, but to native British English speakers, ‘too rare of a beast’ and “how high of a jump” et al are as ungrammatical as “protest the verdict” and “write your congressman” are in British English, and I’m not surprised at the construction not appearing in the BrE corpus.But it’s interesting that the usage seems to have arrived without any comments from peevers,

  60. Spelt indeed is strange to us both in spelling and in pronunciation, save when it refers to grain (and then it’s still pretty strange). Regular spelled is the ticket (that is to say, “is eˈtiquette”: how strange is that?)
    The preterite/participle of leap is a real oddity. There are those who write leaped and those who write leapt, and the pronounciation can be either leept (historically expected) or leppt (irregular shortening, as in head, bread, dead). But the one does not correlate with the other: I write leaped almost all the time, but always say it leppt. There are also those who drop the /t/ and make it lep, which oddly enough restores the original Old English and Early Middle English form, when verbs were strong and sheep were nervous.
    Zythophile: Protest the verdict is not ungrammatical as such, but rather a semantic clash due to differing senses of protest. The British criminal, it is said, protests his innocence, whereas the American criminal protests his conviction.

  61. We now have spelling going in two threads simultaneously. One of my favourite names is “Tory Spelling” – actress daughter of the late TV producer Aaron Spelling, though I now see she spells it with an i – because I like its potential as an insult.

  62. … as in: “Featherstonhaugh-Cholmondeley? What kind of a Tory spelling do you call that?”

  63. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just this morning I was reading (on account of it being Ascension Day on the older reckoning) Henry Vaughan’s “Ascension-Hymn” and was struck by the spelling “undresst” for “undressed.” google n-gram shows it as very much a minority variant when it picks up the story in 1800 and one that’s only gotten rarer since then. It was also odd because the text I had at hand didn’t look overall like an attempt to accurately reproduce all of the now-archaic period orthography of the original printed version (c. 1650). Undrest does not for me suggest any different pronunciation than undressed (unlike burnt v. burned or many others under discussion), but I’m wondering if it’s from the time when you couldn’t always assume that there wasn’t an extra syllable in the -ed suffix and in the context of poetry you tended to make the lack-of-extra-syllable explicit. In other words, maybe “undrest” is serving the same function as “undress’d” would. (In context it rhymes with “rest,” FWIW.)

  64. J.W. Brewer says:

    OTOH, George Herbert (a generation older than Vaughan and an influence on him) is happy to rhyme “dressed” (not dress’d or dresst) with “rest,” at least in the easily-available-online versions of the poem I’m thinking of. It’s possible that the two poets differed in orthographic preference back then, or maybe their works have just been subject to different editorial tastes when it comes to silently modernizing orthography in modern editions.

  65. “but on the other hand the people of Lyon like to think of themselves as different from those of other French cities.”
    Is it the one-syllable pronunciation that leads to such an off-hand, generalized dictum or would you care to put some flesh on this Lyon’s bones?

  66. I’m wondering if it’s from the time when you couldn’t always assume that there wasn’t an extra syllable in the -ed suffix and in the context of poetry you tended to make the lack-of-extra-syllable explicit. In other words, maybe “undrest” is serving the same function as “undress’d” would.
    I think that must be the case.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Hozo: Lyon and les Lyonnais
    Lyon has a long and interesting history, it is located at a strategic location, it was much more important than Paris for quite a while, at least since the Roman Empire and probably earlier, and almost became the capital of France. Long before that it was a religious centre for the Gauls and has continued to be a spiritual (not just Christian) centre to this day. It has always been a leader in industry. The cinema was invented there. Etc etc. There are many reasons why the Lyonnais are very proud of being Lyonnais. But you are not considered a real Lyonnais until your family has been living there for a good 4 generations. Those kinds of people are independent minded and are not easily swayed by passing fashions and outside influences.

  68. Sidonius Apollinaris described the Burgundians recently arrived in Lugdunum (Lyon) in 452, when he was around twenty, as “hairy giants” seven feet tall who “gabble in an incomprehensible tongue.” Just to merge this stream with Arpitania.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    Those Burgundians were Germanic tribespeople and still spoke their own language, while most of the population spoke a form of Latin. Marrying into the local population eventually brought the average height much lower.

  70. Yes, yes and yes again…you aren’t addressing a class of wide-eyed grade-schoolers here, n’en deplaise a certaines. Elsewise, I am well versed in that most subtle of French intonations, the recourse to facile mepris when received custom dictates.

  71. Hozo, as usual your remarks bristle with something that both goads me into responding and makes me want to steer very clear. Did you have a question about Lyon, or did you just want to trade oddly-fashioned barbs with someone?

  72. Hozo just dropped in because he was caught short. I’m sure we all feel for his embarrassing necessity and will, like civilized people, turn away and pretend we didn’t see him.

  73. “oddly-fashioned barbs”
    http://www.rushcounty.org/barbedwiremuseum/
    Agreed, a healthy dose, strung strategically across ivy-covered quadrangles, hidden judiciously at faculty parties and draped across post-doc hallways would go far in curing the academic proselytizers of much sempiternal coagutation. Failing that, send them to do some rangoing to sharpen their hackles.

  74. The ever-charming Hozo seems to have brought the spammers with him; having deleted over a hundred supplications in favor of sunglasses, scarves, wow gold, and things I don’t even recognize, I’m going to close this up, which means Hozo gets the last word and therefore wins! Congratulations, Hozo, you can pick up your prize at the door marked EGRESS.

Speak Your Mind

*