Nixes Nicettes, Nice Nicors.

The always enticing wood s lot sent me to Apollinaire’s “Automne malade” (here‘s a pretty good translation by John Hayes — I didn’t like the one at the s lot), and I was struck not only by Apollinaire’s lush sonic landscape but by a line with two words that I didn’t understand and weren’t in any of my French-English dictionaries: “Sur les nixes nicettes aux cheveux verts et naines.” Fortunately, the Trésor de la langue française informatisé came to my rescue; it turns out that nixe is a water spirit, a neck, nicor, or nixie, and nicet (fem. nicette) is a diminutive form of nice, an archaic or dialectal adjective meaning ‘foolish, simple, ignorant,’ to quote the OED s.v. nice, which is borrowed from the French word — as the OED says, “The semantic development of this word from ‘foolish, silly’ to ‘pleasing’ is unparalleled in Latin or in the Romance languages.” Classical Latin nescius, the source of the French word, is transparent in formation: the negative particle ne- plus scīre ‘to know’ (compare the uncommon English adjective nescient ‘ignorant,’ borrowed directly from Latin). Of the water sprite, the OED (s.v. nicker, updated September 2003) says:

Cognate with Middle Dutch necker, nicker (Dutch nikker demon (now obsolete in this sense and employed as a term of racial abuse)), Middle Low German necker, Old High German nichus, nihhus, nikhus (masculine) crocodile, water sprite (Middle High German nickes, nikhus (masculine) water sprite, crocodile, German Nix water sprite, merman (> nix n.2)), nicchessa (feminine) nymph (Middle High German nikese, nikse (in surnames), -nixe (in compound wazzernixe siren), German Nixe (> nixie n.1)), Old Icelandic nykr (Icelandic nykur), Swedish näck, Norwegian (Bokmål) nøkk, Norwegian (Nynorsk) nykk, Danish nøkke), perhaps ultimately < the same Indo-European base as Sanskrit nij-, ancient Greek νίζειν, Early Irish nigid (Irish nigh) all in sense ‘to wash’.

Incidentally, all the translations I’ve seen treat naines as an independent noun and render it “dwarves,” but I agree with Timothy Mathews in Reading Apollinaire: Theories of Poetic Language (p. 45), who treats it as an adjective modifying nixes: “The unusual position of the adjective at the end of the line — the fact that it is significantly separated from the the noun it qualifies — further strains the relation of adjective to noun. ‘Naines’ is spatially close to ‘cheveux’, but because of the discrepancy in gender, there is no adjectival chain established between ‘naines’ and ‘verts’, and the reader is brought up against a qualifier in an unfamilial context, or comes across a word without remembering where it belongs.” (Apollinaire quoted previously on LH.)

Comments

  1. “Naines’ is spatially close to ‘cheveux’, but because of the discrepancy in gender, there is no adjectival chain established between ‘naines’ and ‘verts’, and the reader is brought up against a qualifier in an unfamilial context, or comes across a word without remembering where it belongs.”

    It looks to me as though “naines” modifies “nixes”, to give “Foolish nixies with green hair and dwarf.”

  2. Nixie tubes:

    The name Nixie was derived by [manufacturer] Burroughs from “NIX I”, an abbreviation of “Numeric Indicator eXperimental No. 1″, although this may have been a backronym designed to evoke a mythical creature.

  3. It looks to me as though “naines” modifies “nixes”, to give “Foolish nixies with green hair and dwarf.”

    Yes, that’s exactly what he’s saying (and I’m agreeing with).

  4. Sir JCass says:

    Apollinaire may have picked up on “les nixes” from Heinrich Heine, who wrote a ballad called Die Nixen. A lot of the poems in Alcools are influenced by Apollinaire’s stay in the Rhineland and there’s a Franco-German feel to much of the collection. The section entitled “Rhénanes” contains a piece called “La Loreley”, based on another water spirit from Heine.

    Heine dedicates several paragraphs to the nixies in his often wonderfully tongue-cheek essay Elementargeister. Here’s my rough translation of some of it:

    “Nixies bear a close resemblance to elves. Both are enticing, alluring and love the dance. The elves dance on moorland, on green meadows, in woodland glades and especially under oak trees. The nixies dance near ponds and rivers; they are also to be seen dancing on the water the evening before someone drowns. They come to the places where humans dance too and dance much as we do. Female nixies can be recognised by the hems of their white dresses, which are always wet. Also by the fine weave of their veils and the genteel elegance of their mysterious beings. The male nixie [der Nix rather than die Nixe] can be recognised by his green teeth, which are almost like fishbones. You also feel an inner shudder when you touch his extraordinarily soft, ice-cold hand. He usually wears a green hat. Woe to the girl who dances with him without realising it. He will draw her down to his watery realm.”

    Notice that the colour-coding is different from Apollinaire. In Heine, male nixies are green, females white.

    (Heine says that only the fish really know anything about the nixies’ underwater realm, but they’re keeping shtum).

  5. You must be right about his getting it from Heine.

  6. Incidentally, I put “nice nicors” in the title as a little joke for my UK readers; I hope they appreciate it.

  7. Stefan Holm says:

    Hat: nixe is a water spirit

    You can bet that Näcken is in Sweden. He, the naked, alluring fiddler in the lake, river, pond or brook, is the source of an endless row of poems, songs, fairy tales, paintings, sculptures, folklore, mysticism etc. You’ve already linked to the Wikipedia about him (neck, nicor, or nixie). I can only contribute with some pictures of him dans le style suédois:

    https://www.google.se/search?q=n%C3%A4cken&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=tjb-U-qKPMHqyQOZu4KwBg&sqi=2&ved=0CCsQsAQ&biw=1106&bih=634

    He is also the origin of the word näck, ‘naked’ in Swedish as a colloquial complement to the original naken. He has given us the name of the water lily, näckros and in particular the red variety (Nymphaea alba f. rosea), unique to Scandinavia, is directly associated to an event involving Näcken (uncaring biologists though call it a ‘mutation’).

    We are enchanted by him, just as the Germans are enchanted by Lorelei or die Rheintöchter, ‘the Rhinemaidens’ or – why not – the Danes by Den lille havfrue, ‘the little mermaid’.

  8. And Americans, though we have none of our own (the consequence of being settled during the Age of Reason, though we do have various figures of urban legend), are part-heirs to them all.

  9. Trond Engen says:

    part-heirs to them all

    Recommended.

  10. john Emerson says:

    I believe that the niceras (seamonsters) in Beowulf are etymologically related.

    In a Michaux poem I no longer can find he speaks of nains constantly being born (naitre) in a memorably odd way.

  11. On a side-note, French ‘naine’ comes from Greek νᾶνος, “dwarf, . . . also a cake made of oil and cheese”, via Latin nānus – words which until recently had few, if any, English cognates known to the general public. Of course, now everyone knows ‘nanotechnology’ and probably other ‘nano-’ words. I’m guessing the cake was smaller than other cakes, but that’s just a guess.

  12. And Náin was the name of several dwarves in the history of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, including the last king of Khazad-dûm (aka the Mines of Moria). I believe the name comes from the Prose Edda and the resemblance to the French word is just a coincidence.

  13. Stefan, I first met the Swedish water-sprite as a schoolboy, in Astrid Lindgren’s Bullerbyn Children, in the adventure of the Näcken hoax at the Old Mill. The Polish translation has Wodnik, a more-or-less equivalent being, although with no reputation as a fiddler.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    I agree that naines in the poem is an adjective agreeing with the feminine plural noun nixes and the diminutive adjective nicettes, but its position after the masculine noun-phrase cheveux verts ‘green hair’ is odd since one expects another masculine adjective after et. Nain/e ‘(male/female) dwarf’ is also a noun. But I don’t know anything about a cake of that name.

    About the etymology of OF “nice” from Latin nescius, I remember reading something years ago that mentioned an Occitan word nesci (current spelling might be different) meaning approximately ‘innocent, naïf, simple-minded’ and the like. Such a person is “too nice” to see evil in other people, hence perhaps the positive evolution of the meaning of the word in English.

  15. John Emerson says:

    “Good” / “bon” is sometimes ironically used to describe naive / foolish but nice people, e.g. “le bon Gerard” (de Nerval).

  16. I notice that ‘ouragan’ is translated in both versions as ‘hurricane’, but that raises a question mark.

    For me, the English word ‘hurricane’ is strongly identified with tropical cyclones in North America (the same kind of storm is known as a typhoon or cyclone elsewhere in the world). Does this apply to the French word, too? Or is the French word a more generalised term that might be equivalent to ‘gale’ or ‘tempest’? What bothers me is the image of a North American hurricane devastating an orchard in a French poem — does the French convey the same image?

  17. marie-lucie says:

    JE, and also in bonhomme and bonne femme which do not refer to ‘good people’ but to very ordinary ones, usually below the “threshold” of the speaker’s opinion of their suitability as social acquaintances.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: Or is the French word a more generalised term that might be equivalent to ‘gale’ or ‘tempest’?

    I think you are right, I don’t think the poet used it in the technical sense of “hurricane”, which would be more properly translated as “cyclone”. But hurricanes are not totally unknown in Europe: in the transition from 1999 t0 2000, the new year and new century were marked by two hurricanes which tore through France, the first one across the Northern part, the second one a few days later following a parallel course somewhat farther South, both causing considerable damage as they gained strength over the land. Among other damages, many trees were destroyed in the park of the palace of Versailles, and some Americans organized a petition to raise money to replace them since that would not have been a priority of the French government coping with more pressing problems.

  19. Tolkien’s Dwarf names come from the “Catalogue of Dwarves” in the first poem of the Elder Edda, a Norse cosmogony called Völuspá ‘prophecy of the seeress’. This translation and the notes are by Henry Adams Bellows (1936). I have italicized the names used in The Hobbit:

    9. Þá gengu regin öll | á rökstóla,
    ginnheilug goð | ok um þat gættusk:
    hverr skyldi dverga | drótt um skepja
    ór brimi blóðgu | ok ór Bláins leggjum.

    9. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
    The holy ones, | and council held,
    To find who should raise | the race of dwarfs
    Out of Brimir’s blood | and the legs of Blain.

    [Here apparently begins the interpolated catalogue of the dwarfs, running through stanza 16; possibly, however, the interpolated section does not begin before stanza 11. Snorri quotes practically the entire section, the names appearing in a some what changed order.

    Brimir and Blain: nothing is known of these two giants, and it has been suggested that both are names for Ymir (cf. stanza 3). Brimir, however, appears in stanza 37 in connection with the home of the dwarfs. Some editors treat the words as common rather than proper nouns, Brimir meaning "the bloody moisture" and Blain being of uncertain significance.]

    10. Þar var Móðsognir | mæztr of orðinn
    dverga allra, | en Durinn annarr;
    þeir mannlíkun | mörg of gerðu
    dvergar í jörðu, | sem Durinn sagði.

    10. Here was Motsognir | the mightiest made
    Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin next;
    Many a likeness | of men they made,
    The dwarfs in the earth, | as Durin said.

    [Very few of the dwarfs named in this and the following stanzas are mentioned elsewhere. It is not clear why Durin should have been singled out as authority for the list. The occasional repetitions suggest that not all the stanzas of the catalogue came from the same source. Most of the names presumably had some definite significance, as Northri, Suthri, Austri, and Vestri ("North," "South", "East," and "West"), Althjof ("Mighty Thief'), Mjothvitnir ("Mead-Wolf"), Gandalf ("Magic Elf'), Vindalf ("Wind Elf'), Rathwith ("Swift in Counsel"), Eikinskjaldi ("Oak Shield"), etc., but in many cases the interpretations are sheer guesswork.]

    11. Nýi, Niði, | Norðri, Suðri,
    Austri, Vestri, | Alþjófr, Dvalinn,
    Nár ok Náinn | Nípingr, Dáinn
    Bívurr, Bávurr, | Bömburr, Nóri,
    Ánn ok Ánarr, | Óinn, Mjöðvitnir.

    11. Nyi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri,
    Austri and Vestri, | Althjof, Dvalin,
    Nar and Nain, | Niping, Dain,
    Bifur, Bofur, | Bombur, Nori,
    An and Onar, | Ai, Mjothvitnir.

    12. Veggr ok Gandalfr, | Vindalfr, Þorinn,
    Þrár ok Þráinn, | Þekkr, Litr ok Vitr,
    Nýr ok Nýráðr, | nú hefi ek dverga,
    Reginn ok Ráðsviðr, | rétt of talða.

    12. Vigg and Gandalf,| Vindalf, Thrain,
    Thekk and Thorin, | Thror, Vit and Lit,
    Nyr and Nyrath — | now have I told —
    Regin and Rathsvith — | the list aright.

    [The order of the lines in this and the succeeding four stanzas varies greatly in the manuscripts and editions, and the names likewise appear in many forms.

    Regin: probably not identical with Regin the son of Hreithmar, who plays an important part in the Reginsmál and Fafnismál, but cf. note on Reginsmál, introductory prose.]

    13. Fíli, Kíli, | Fundinn, Náli,
    Hefti, Víli, | Hannar, Svíurr,
    Billingr, Brúni, | Bíldr ok Buri,
    Frár, Hornbori, | Frægr ok Lóni,
    Aurvangr, Jari, | Eikinskjaldi.

    13. Fili, Kili, | Fundin, Nali,
    Heptifili, | Hannar, Sviur,
    Frar, Hornbori, | Fræg and Loni,
    Aurvang, Jari, | Eikinskjaldi.

    14. Mál er dverga | í Dvalins liði
    ljóna kindum | til Lofars telja,
    þeir er sóttu | frá salar steini
    Aurvanga sjöt | til Jöruvalla.

    14. The race of the dwarfs | in Dvalin’s throng
    Down to Lofar | the list must I tell;
    The rocks they left, | and through wet lands
    They sought a home | in the fields of sand.

    [Dvalin: in Havamál 144, Dvalin seems to have given magic runes to the dwarfs, probably accounting for their skill in craftsmanship, while in Fafnismál 13, he is mentioned as the father of some of the lesser Norns. The story that some of the dwarfs left the rocks and mountains to find a new home on the sands is mentioned, but unexplained, in Snorri's Edda; of Lofar we know only that he was descended from these wanderers.]

    15. Þar var Draupnir ok | Dolgþrasir,
    Hár, Haugspori, | Hlévangr, Glóinn,
    Dóri, Óri, | Dúfr, Andvari
    Skirfir, Virfir, | Skáfiðr, Ái.

    15. There were Draupnir | and Dolgthrasir,
    Hor, Haugspori, | Hlevang, Gloin,
    Dori, Ori, | Duf, Andvari,
    Skirfir, Virfir, | Skafith, Ai.

    16. Alfr ok Yngvi, | Eikinskjaldi,
    Fjalarr ok Frosti, | Finnr ok Ginnarr;
    þat mun æ uppi | meðan öld lifir,
    langniðja tal | Lofars hafat.

    16. Alf and Yngvi, | Eikinskjaldi,
    Fjalar and Frosti, | Fith and Ginnar;
    So for all time | shall the tale be known,
    The list of all | the forbears of Lofar.

    Shippey says that in Tolkien’s imagination this list might have represented a much-reduced version of a long-forgotten story about a group of Dwarves, an Elf (as Men would have thought him) who went with them and got mixed into the catalogue (‘staff-elf’ is a more plausible interpretation of Gandalfr than ‘magic-elf’, although either would do for Tolkien), and a Hobbit who, as they tend to do, got left out of the list. Eikinskjaldi is more like a byname than a name, and indeed in Tolkien it is Thorin’s byname, reflecting a story (invented by Tolkien) that Thorin’s shield was broken in battle, and he picked up and used an oak limb to defend himself. The name of Balin, the first dwarf to show up at Bilbo’s house, is the only one that does not appear here, though it is a name from Arthurian legend; however, Balin’s father Fundin (mentioned in The Lord of the Rings) is present.

  20. Sir JCass says:

    Incidentally, I put “nice nicors” in the title as a little joke for my UK readers; I hope they appreciate it.

    This one did, thanks.

    Anyone know the origin of the name Naina, an evil sorceress in Pushkin’s Ruslan and Liudmila?

  21. Finnish nainen ‘woman’, I think.

  22. Sir JCass says:

    Thanks, Piotr.

  23. Sir JCass says:

    “Good” / “bon” is sometimes ironically used to describe naive / foolish but nice people

    By an odd coincidence, I’ve just come across the German equivalent in Heine’s Elementargeister:

    “Die seltsamsten Sagen in Betreff der Elementargeister findet man bei dem alten guten Johannes Prätorius, dessen ‘Anthropodemus plutonicus, oder neue Weltbeschreibung von allerley wunderbaren Menschen’ im Jahr 1666 zu Magdeburg erschienen ist. Schon die Jahrzahl ist merkwürdig; es ist das Jahr dem der jüngste Tag prophezeit worden. Der Inhalt des Buches ist ein Wust von Unsinn, aufgegabeltem Aberglauben, maulhängkolischen und affenteuerlichen Historien und gelehrten Citaten, Kraut und Rüben.”

    “The strangest legends regarding elemental spirits are to be found in good old Johannes Prätorius, whose ‘Anthropodemus Plutonicus, or A New World Description of All Sorts of Wonderful Beings’ appeared in Magdeburg in 1666. The very date is noteworthy; it was the year for which the Day of Judgment had been prophesied. The contents of the book are a jumble of nonsense, dug-up superstitions, jaw-dropping and bizarre stories and learned quotations, a chaotic mishmash.”

    I’m sure there are Hatters with a better knowledge of German who could provide a more accurate translation. I didn’t make much attempt to deal with Heine’s wordplay.

    “maulhängkolisch” I presume is a pun on “melancholisch” (melancholy) using “Maul” (gob) and “hängen” (to hang), so something like jaw-dropping or gob-smacking

    “affenteuerlich” is a pun on “abenteuerlich” (adventurous, bizarre) using “Affe” (ape, monkey, idiot)

    “Kraut und Rüben” (cabbage and turnips) I believe is an idiom for “a complete mess”

  24. –Anyone know the origin of the name Naina, an evil sorceress in Pushkin’s Ruslan and Liudmila?

    Most likely
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanna_(Norse_deity)

  25. Interesting about the Heine-quote — this comes from a quick search:

    The word ‘maulhängkolisch’ is also mentioned around the same time by Karl Julius Weber (1767-1832) in his ‘Democritos’ (ed. 1838, vol. III: ‘Subjectiver Unterschied des Lächerlichen in Ansehung der Temperamente’, p. 31). He explains it as a jocular folk-phrase [Volkswitz] for the hanging lower lip of sad people (“die herunterhängende Unterlippe, daher der Volkswitz auch, statt melancholisch, maulhängcholisch zu sagen pflegt”). How popular that actually was is hard to tell, but his explanation fits what I as a German speaker would have associated with the word.

    Also, “affenteuerlich” is (semi-)famous from the title of Johann Fischarts translation of Rabelais, “Affentheurliche, naupengeheurliche Geschichtklitterung…” (1575) (see the ed. 1590 here))
    Given the themes of Rabelais and the punning style of Fischart, I wouldn’t be surprised to find maulhängcholisch in there as well.

    If I had the time, I’d be interested in finding out whether Johannes Praetorius drew much on Fischart/Rabelais, not unlikely, considering his subject matter.

  26. Stefan Holm says:

    Piotr, Astrid Lindgren came from Småland in the south Swedish highlands. Like 80-90 percent of Sweden it’s forested. In addition we have around 10.000 lakes, next to Canada more than any other country in the world. This landscape has formed Swedish folklore, which besides Näcken is crowded by trolls, elves, brownies, gnomes, goblins, giants, fairies and similar obscure, often subterranean, creatures out there in the dark, mysterious woods.

    The Æsir cult seems to have been important mainly to people in the more densely populated plain areas as crucial for a good harvest. As late as in the 19th c. indignant priests reported about wooden figures of Thor being carried by otherwise church visiting villagers in procession around the lands to bless the crop.

  27. SFReader: Pushkin based the character of Naina on “Ossian”‘s (Macpherson’s) Moina (in the poem “Carthon”), and the inspiration is obviously reflected in the phonetics of the name. But given the Finnish background of the Fin and Naina love story, I think he must also have been aware of Finnish nainen and/or Estonian and Karelian naine ‘woman’.

  28. Sir JCass says:

    If I had the time, I’d be interested in finding out whether Johannes Praetorius drew much on Fischart/Rabelais, not unlikely, considering his subject matter.

    Heine had certainly read Rabelais and he may well have taken those words from the German translation.

    Both Heine and Rabelais treat supernatural beings humorously. Praetorius seems much more of a true believer, hence Heine’s mockery of him. There’s an entire book dedicated to him, Ways of Knowing in Early Modern Germany: Johannes Praetorius as a Witness to His Time by Gerhild Scholz Williams (available in a partial preview on Google Books). It contains one reference to Rabelais’ “satirical gigantology” there. However, it seems Praetorius took the existence of giants seriously, reporting that Swedish soldiers had excavated the body of one in Krems, Austria in 1645 and presented one of his teeth to the Holy Roman Emperor.

  29. Sir JCass says:

    The “Maulhängkolisch” pun is originally from Fischart, according to this Dutch website, only not from his translation of Rabelais but from his Aller Praktik Grossmutter (1572).

  30. More on Heine’s line in rhetorical attacks in this old LH post.

  31. European hurricanes are not, technically speaking, hurricanes/typhoons/tropical storms, though they do have cyclonic winds of hurricane strength.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    JC, Winds of hurricane strength were indeed blowing. I was in France at the time and did not read the English-speaking press about it, so I don’t know what English word was used for the French ouragan.

  33. “And Americans, though we have none of our own (the consequence of being settled during the Age of Reason, though we do have various figures of urban legend), are part-heirs to them all.”

    Oh John….John… America was *not* settled during the Age of Reason, it was settled towards the end of the Pleistocene, and yes Americans do have our own water spirits – just not us Anglo-Americans perhaps.

    http://www.native-languages.org/water-babies.htm
    http://www.native-languages.org/true-tiger.htm
    http://www.native-languages.org/morelegends/little-thunders.htm

    M-L,
    “JE, and also in bonhomme and bonne femme which do not refer to ‘good people’ but to very ordinary ones, usually below the “threshold” of the speaker’s opinion of their suitability as social acquaintances.”

    This is analogous to the condescending tone of “my good man” in English.

  34. When I say “American culture”, which is what I’m talking about here, I don’t mean “Algonquian culture” or even “Navajo culture” or “Inuit culture”. But you knew that.

  35. John Emerson says:

    My feeling from reading is that the titles “Goodman” or “Goodwife” mark the absolute bottom level of human decency, people of no great merit but without fatal blemishes — not felons, witches, demoniacs, savages, slaves, etc. The generic male or female without distinguishing traits.

    “Nixies” in the USPS are misaddressed piece of mail. A friend of mine specializes in nixies and he loves it. But that part of the USPS mission (fixing undeliverable addresses) is being gradually eliminated.

  36. “When I say “American culture”, which is what I’m talking about here, I don’t mean “Algonquian culture” or even “Navajo culture” or “Inuit culture”. But you knew that.”

    John, speaking of “American culture” there is a TV show dedicated to just this kind of thing in Appalachia and in various parts of the South. Maybe none of them happen to be associated with water, but you will agree that the Mothman, the Chupacabra and the Sasquatch don’t have much to do with the Age of Reason. And you will probably agree that the Sasquatch pretty much erases the distinction between “American culture” and the native cultures you mention because people allover, NA or not, believe in it – so no, I didn’t “know” that because it’s bogus.

    As for your contention that the country was settled during the Age of Reason, that isn’t true even of the English settlers, who set up their colonies during the bloodiest and most unreasonable period of the Reformation. The Salem Witch Trails were not an expression of the Age of Reason. And even the Scotch-Irish, who did come over after it had started, obviously were untouched by an intellectual movement they had no contact with.

    So that’s not the answer. The question is why out of all the superstitious crap these people brought with them, they left these water spirits home.

  37. Yeah, I think the earliest anyone suggests the Age of Reason (which I take to be more or less synonymous with the Enlightenment) began was the late 17th century, when the American colonies were already well established.

  38. The name of Balin, the first dwarf to show up at Bilbo’s house, is the only one that does not appear here, though it is a name from Arthurian legend.

    Balin is also the name of a somewhat obscure Catholic saint from the British Isles:

    “Born to the 7th century English nobility. Brother of Saint Gerald. Worked with Saint Colman of Lindisfarne, and travelled with him to Iona, Scotland. With his brothers, he later settled to live as a monk at Tecksaxon (“The House of the Saxons”) near Tuam, Ireland. ”

    From the online Patron Saints Index: http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-balin/

    By the way his feast day is coming up. September 3rd or 7th, depending on the calendar.

  39. “the use of the French term ouragan is similarly discouraged as hurricane is in English, as it is typically reserved for tropical storms only.”

    This must have been after Apollinaire.

  40. Re: Goodman

    “Sain er” (Good man) was a term for Robin Hood like noble horse thieves in 19th century Mongolia.

    They stole horses from the rich and gave money to the poor.

  41. … not to mention goodfellas.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    test

  43. Is it only water spirits that didn’t survive the voyage to America? Robert Kirk notes in The Secret Commonwealth (I quote the end of a very long sentence): “… so that every Countrey and Kingdom having their topical Spirits, or Powers assisting and governing them, the SCOTTISH SEER banished to America, being a Stranger there, as well to the invisible as to the visible Inhabitants, and wanting a Familiarity of his former Correspondents, he could not have the Favour and Warnings, by the severall Visions and Predictions which were wont to be granted him by these Acquaintances and Favourites in his own Countrey.”

    And water spirits in particular seem to be a special case. If you want to find remains of former languages, look at the river names. Water has a special mental connection to the history of a land. Hence water spirits especially don’t transfer.

  44. even the Scotch-Irish, who did come over after it had started, obviously were untouched by an intellectual movement they had no contact with.

    And remain untouched by it to this day, some might argue.

  45. Not untouched, but certainly unpenetrated. Remember we’re talking about people for whom the main incarnations of Rational Thinking have been resource-extraction industries.

  46. @ Sir JCass
    However, it seems Praetorius took the existence of giants seriously

    There is of course a lot of literature in Early Modern Studies about this kind of issue. In short: the seemingly indiscriminate conflation of what we now regard as real and as fictitious. The general idea is more or less that throughout the 14th-17th centuries, travel books and new discoveries held so many surprises, that anything was believed possible.

    I am rather wary of being naive ourselves when we attribute a general kind of naiveté to people of an earlier period. What I will say, as a rather general opinion resulting from my own studies of the Early Modern era, and thus to be taken with a grain of salt, is that both the tradition of textual authority (the bible, no less, as far as giants are concerned) and perhaps a sense of the systematic execution of natural possibilities in a God-created world played into these views, at least when it comes to writers.

  47. I am rather wary of being naive ourselves when we attribute a general kind of naiveté to people of an earlier period.

    Yes, this is something I always try to keep in mind. It’s fatally easy to assume, without thinking about it, that our ancestors were far more simple-minded than we are.

  48. Stephen Jay Gould once wrote an article on how mollusc shells before a certain time are often represented as left-handed spirals, a type that is very very rare (with the exception of certain species that are normally left-handed) in nature. How could they be so blind? He finally comes to the conclusion that they simply didn’t care about correctly representing chirality: it was an irrelevant feature from their perspective, less important than ease of drawing and clarity.

  49. Sir JCass says:

    I don’t know how worthy Praetorius was of Heine’s mockery. Heine was frequently unfair.

    Praetorius has some interest from a linguistic point of view. He was a member of the Elbschwanenorden, a society dedicated to promoting the German language and protecting it from foreign influences.

  50. He was a member of the Elbschwanenorden, a society dedicated to promoting the German language and protecting it from foreign influences.

    The Elbschwanenorden! That all by itself drives me to mockery; it brings to mind Kenneth Koch’s immortal “Fresh Air“:

    …The chairman stood up on the platform, oh he was physically ugly!
    He was small-limbed and -boned and thought he was quite seductive,
    But he was bald with certain hideous black hairs,
    And his voice had the sound of water leaving a vaseline bathtub,
    And he said, “The subject for this evening’s discussion is poetry
    On the subject of love between swans.” And everyone threw candy hearts
    At the disgusting man, and they stuck to his bib and tucker…

  51. Der Elbschwanenorden wurde als Auszeichnung von der Hamburger Regionalgruppe des Vereins Deutsche Sprache wiederbelebt.[1] Bisherige Preisträger:

    2005: Hamburger Wasserwerke

    Why did the Hamburg Waterworks win a German language prize?

  52. Der Elbschwanenorden war eine Sprachgesellschaft der Barockzeit, die zwischen 1656 und 1660 gegründet wurde, 1667 einging und der insgesamt 46 Mitglieder angehörten…Die Sprachgesellschaften im Allgemeinen und somit auch der Elbschwanenorden hatten das Ziel, die deutsche Sprache zu pflegen und vor fremden Einflüssen zu schützen.

    Surely that’s awfully early to have been worrying about this sort of thing. 1656: that’s only 40-odd years after Shakespeare’s death.

  53. Stefan Holm says:

    Geehrte Deutsche Kameraden dieses Blogs: what is an ‘Elbschwan’ (river swan)? In Swden we know about the knölsvan, Höckerschwan, ‘Mute swan’ and the sångsvan, Singschwan ‘Whooper swan’ Is it a lack of lakes that makes you specify this variety? A google search gave just one hit: a dissertation by Alexander Weber: Günter Grass’s Use of Baroque Literature. It says:

    Apollo is described as ‘schwanenhalsig’ (swan necked) because in mythology he is related to the swan, the emblem of the poets (hence the names ‘Boberschwan’ Opitz, the ‘Elbschwan’ Rist). Moreover, the word ‘Schwanenhalsig’ indicates that art and literature are very vulnerable.

    Otherwise the word swan is thought to be connected to Latin sono, sounds, rings.

  54. Sir JCass says:

    Ah, Hat’s heart hardened towards Praetorius once he suspected him of prescriptivism!

    Surely that’s awfully early to have been worrying about this sort of thing.

    Googling around, it seems that there were lots of these “Sprachgesellschaften” in 17th-century Germany, all with fancy names. The “Fruchtbringenden Gesellschaft” was founded in 1617, under the influence of the Italian Accademia della Crusca. It was followed by the “Aufrichtige Tannengesellschaft” in 1642. Later came the “Teutschgesinnte Genossenschaft” and the “Pegnesischer Blumenorden” (still going, apparently). Their aim was to standardise orthography and protect the German language from foreign influence (primarily Latin and French).

  55. Sir JCass says:

    what is an ‘Elbschwan’ (river swan)?

    Yes, the name of the society means something like “The Swan Order of the [River] Elbe”. Poets were often described as swans and thus associated with rivers. Most famously, Shakespeare was the “sweet swan of Avon”.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    In Canada we have Trumpeter Swans and Whooping Cranes.

  57. Yeah, I think it’s the German equivalent of the English people who were against “ynkhorne termes”.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    Most of the names presumably had some definite significance, as

    Bávurr.

    “Good” / “bon” is sometimes ironically used to describe naive / foolish but nice people, e.g. “le bon Gerard” (de Nerval).

    Ferdinand the Benevolent, in Vienna called der depperte Ferdl “dumb Ferdie”.

    ‘Anthropodemus Plutonicus, or A New World Description of All Sorts of Wonderful Beings’

    Human beings.

    dug-up superstitions

    Picked up somewhere.

    Yes, Kraut und Rüben durcheinander is a hopeless mess.

    In addition we have around 10.000 lakes, next to Canada more than any other country in the world.

    I thought Finland is the Official Land of the One Hundred Thousand Lakes?

    a sense of the systematic execution of natural possibilities in a God-created world

    That really was a thing: the Principle of Plenitude. Apparently it would be illogical for an omnipotent creator to leave any gaps in nature, whatever a gap would be.

    This is why Darwin put so much emphasis on competition: he still thought the whole world was overcrowded both literally and ecologically.

    Why did the Hamburg Waterworks win a German language prize?

    Maybe they replaced an English word on their website with a German one? I’ll just say that the VDS is a bunch of cringe-inducing prescriptivists who have no idea what they’re getting so upset about.

    Their aim was to standardise orthography

    Already? Because standardisation didn’t happen till 1901 de jure and the mid-19th century de facto.

    Anyway, they created lots of neologisms (usually calques), maybe half of which have caught on and have replaced terms derived from Latin or French.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Years ago when I was studying German I read the original of Goethe’s Elective Affinities and was surprised at the high number of French words in the text.

  60. Sir JCass says:

    Human beings

    I hesitated to put that because Praetorius includes nixies, elves, giants et al. as “Menschen”. Gerhild Scholz Williams uses “humanoids”, I think.

    Their aim was to standardise orthography

    Already?

    Apparently so. It doesn’t mean they succeeded.

  61. Sir JCass says:

    See here, for instance:

    Außerdem sollte auch die einheitliche Orthographie (Rechtschreibung) gefördert

    The site also gives a few examples of the Germanised neologisms they created which didn’t catch on:

    Fenster Tagesleuchter
    Fieber Zitterweh
    Nase Löschhorn/Gesichtserker
    Pistole Reispuffer

  62. It seems to me that if you want to learn about the European purview of most subjects the best place to start is usually Germany. Surely these 17C Sprachgesellschaften that aren’t contemporary with anything similar in France or England, and with their hostile-sounding wish to protect German from Latin & French influence (“die sich der Pflege und Förderung der eigenen Sprache widmeten und gegen Überfremdung durch andere Sprachen wand ten), they’re likely connected to the religious politics of the Thirty Years’ War. I mean it started in 1618 and the first society, die Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft, was gegründet in 1617 durch Fürst Ludwig I. von Anhalt-Köthen. It says in Wiktionary that they were nach italienischem Vorbild, besonders in der Barockzeit, but I don’t know how Italy comes into it.

  63. Their aim was to standardise orthography

    Already?

    Apparently so. It doesn’t mean they succeeded.

    By the way, I saw on the Cambridge University German-language site (Aspects of the History of the German Language):

    4. German in the long 19th Century

    The 19th century has long been neglected in German linguistic historiography as a consequence of the widely-held view that standardization had already been accomplished by the end of the 18th century, and that after the grammar of Gottsched and dictionary of Adelung, there was little left to be done. Recently, though, the concept of Sprachgeschichte von unten introduced by Stefan Elspaß has cast a new light on the linguistic and national debates of the 19th century, when industrialization, urbanization and the spread of literacy to all sectors of society created clashes over the role of the German language in the creation of a unified national identity. This module will look primarily at discourse about German, at lexicography from Adelung through Campe, Grimm and Duden, at the earliest discussions on spelling reform, and at purism towards French and, increasingly, English.

  64. Sir JCass says:

    I don’t know how Italy comes into it.

    A number of societies promoting language purism had arisen in 16th-century Italy, most famously the Accademia della Crusca. These provided a model for the German Sprachgesellschaften.

  65. The Sprachgesellschaften are a fascinating topic. There is much confusion in their various manifestos what exactly their aim was. All things considered, the point of the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft in its early phase, which goes from c. 1617 to just after the 30-years-war, is really twofold: to translate as much as possible into German (from French, Italian, Latin, Greek etc.) and thus strengthen the language’s literary use. The anti-Latin and French bias is at least partly explained by many unreadable texts at the time which just borrow faintly Germanized words from these languages.
    The other point was to make available in German a great number of newer texts in order to update the general scientific discourse, which was felt to be necessary after the war years.
    The question of purism is a difficult one, especially since it was an important tool for political unification, as we know best from the Académie française…

    Certain people (for the FG was a huge network of men-of-letters, not a real – convening – society) like G. Ph. Harsdörffer had more affinity toward the Italian and French linguistic societies and wanted a genuinely international communication, but diplomacy made much of it impossible (the gist was: the Germans cannot contact the Italians in Italian, because that would mean acknowledging their superiority etc.) A lot of this can be found in the special literature on the subject. (Harsdörffer nonetheless wasn’t a very sympathetic fellow, but is among the most interesting people of the German world of letters at the time. He also founded the Pegnesischer Blumenorden in fact still extant, as Sir JCass mentioned, but mostly in order to wander about dressed up as shepherds and write bucolic poetry with his friends J. Klaj and S. von Birken.)

    On the German academies, I generally recommend, for German-speakers, Markus Hundt: Spracharbeit im 17. Jahrhundert (Berlin 2000).
    The many Italian groups unfortunately are not very well-studied at least in recent times (there are a few publications from the first half of the 20th century, such as Maylender’s Storia delle Accademie d’Italia from the 20s).
    On the French academies before Richelieu’s famous group (who by the way tried to erase all memories of the earlier academies) the authority is still Frances Yates: French Academies of the 16th century (London 1947)

  66. Thanks, it’s great to get such well-informed comments!

  67. it’s great to get such well-informed comments!

    Yes, and with references! It’s only possible at Language Hat. Thank you very much, Sir J and D Syrovy.

  68. Sir JCass says:

    Thank you very much, Sir J and D Syrovy.

    Thanks are more due to D Syrovy. I’m a mere dilettante here.

    It’s true. Languagehat must be one of the few places on the Net you can encounter someone who really knows something about, say, German Sprachgesellschaften.

    I’m also quite interested in Praetorius’ folkloristic stuff now, in spite of Heine’s Voltairean mockery.

    Here’s his chapter on “Nixen. Mörfinnen, Syrenen, Meerwundern, Nymfen and Wasserweibern.” (That’s a messy hyperlink. Hope it works).

  69. marie-lucie says:

    Some years ago (probably late 60′s) I saw a beautiful movie, I think from Hungary, called in English “Something is adrift in the water”. In the story, the life of a peasant couple living near a big river is utterly changed by the sudden intrusion of a very beautiful woman who emerges from the river and is taken in by them. I thought that although the treatment of the events was relatively realistic, the plot must be inspired by old legends about nixes or other female water spirits who seduce men into joining them by drowning: the woman is always completely silent and spends alarmingly long periods underwater, and she seems to have a supernatural influence on both husband and wife. I thought that the film title was odd: it occurs to me now that like many other movie titles, it might be a quote from a traditional folk song or poem which would be instantly recognizable from speakers of the original language.

  70. I think you’re thinking of the 1969 Czech movie Touha zvaná Anada (Adrift); you can watch the whole thing, with subtitles, here.

  71. David Marjanović says:

    I hesitated to put that because Praetorius includes nixies, elves, giants et al. as “Menschen”.

    …Oh. That’s unexpected. I guess he used it for “people” in the Star Trek meaning of that term.

    to translate as much as possible into German (from French, Italian, Latin, Greek etc.)

    That has worked out. Even today, more is translated into German than into any other language.

    I’m curious if they had any concrete ideas about orthography. Wikipedia only mentions that the Aufrichtige Tannengesellschaft (“Upright/honest Fir-Society”) wanted to “fix” the spelling.

    Yes, and with references! It’s only possible at Language Hat.

    You haven’t been to Tet Zoo. :-)

  72. You haven’t been to Tet Zoo

    Do they discuss German Sprachgesellschaften there?

  73. David Marjanović says:

    No, but references in posts and comments are very common.

  74. Yeah, I figured, but come on, you expect references on a science discussion board, and they’re (presumably) all going to be about tetrapods. Here, you never know what obscure area of human knowledge is going to be illuminated.

  75. marie-lucie says:

    I guess humans qualify as tetrapods too?

  76. Most certainly, m-l. And Hat, this is a science (i.e. Wissenschaft) discussion board.

  77. Tom Shippey on philologists vs. philosophers (PDF, p. 25, physical p. 19):

    [P]hilosophers do not think the same way as philologists. I will give you one example. Many years ago I was interviewing candidates for an important university scholarship, and one candidate was said to be the best philosopher of his year at the University of Oxford. He told us that he was studying the concept of “God” in Augustine, and that he was focusing on the difference in Augustine’s writings between “a god” and “the god” and “God”. I thought about this for a minute or two, and then asked, “But Augustine wrote in Latin, which has neither a definite nor an indefinite article. So how can you tell whether he meant ‘the god’ or ‘God’ or ‘a god’ when he wrote deus?”

    The brilliant young philosopher gaped at me. He had not thought of that (I expect he was working from an English translation). He did not get the scholarship, and all the philosophers were very angry with me, but what could I say? I am a philologist. I know very little of concepts of god, and I do not presume to say what Augustine may have meant by deus, but I do know something about grammar.

  78. John, in that article Shippey makes a good point: “Philosophy is too important to be left to philosophers. Philosophy deals with the great questions of human life, and anyone who has lived for very long is at least aware of them.”

    Unfortunately, he also writes: “Nevertheless, I think even Lewis would agree that we do not need to know the history of philosophy to be philosophers.”

    This is unfortunate because the examples of so-called philosophical questions he gives in between those two passages are, with one exception, dusty questions from the history of philosophy that should *not* be taken for granted as inherently sensible ones: “Why must we die? Why are our lives so different from each other? Is there no justice in the world? Are we merely the victims of chance? Anyone who has asked any of these questions – and surely that means all of us – is beginning to be a philosopher.”

    It is crucial to become aware of how much of our thinking is dominated by hand-me-down bits of Western systematic philosophy. Without some knowledge of philosophies in history, we can’t recognize when we are rehashing them. Do-it-yourselfers in philosophy usually end up in a rut, having re-invented the wheel, but this time square instead of round.

  79. I think you are right, and I don’t think Shippey means that we can be competent philosophers without knowing something of the history of the subject. But I would add that much of what he says about philosophers is equally true of linguists, whose roots are in philology: the scholars have less and less to say to the rest of us, and many clever-but-heartless schools have turned their backs on those same roots.

    Here’s a bit more Shippey, from his essay “The Roots of Romance” (repr. Roots and Branches):

    [S]ome 22 years ago, in 1970 [recte 1969], [...] I addressed a Tolkien conference at the Cannon Hill Centre on Pershore Road, [Birmingham, England]. It was a one-day event. I was down to talk about ‘Tolkien and Philology.’ I was the last speaker of the day. And I went on after several speakers had discussed Tolkien and philosophy, Tolkien and sociology, Tolkien and Jungian psychology (etc.). By the day’s end the prospect of one more -ology had the audience heading for the rear exit in droves. Fortunately it was 1970, I had been a lecturer at Birmingham University during the student ‘troubles’ of that era, and I was well used to dealing with mutinous audiences. I got up to the front of the platform, told them to sit back down again, and told them philology was different from other -ologies, because it was based on fact; and I proposed to tell them the facts they needed to know, both about Tolkien’s words and Tolkien’s world. This approach went down particularly well.

    My wife’ adult English literacy students, once they have learned a little bit of how to read and write this most difficult language (they are all orally competent in it, whether natively or not, or they’d be in a different class), are immediately full of philological questions: Why are words spelled so differently from how they sound? Where do these long words come from, and what do they “really” (i.e. etymologically) mean? These are dusty questions too, but unlike the dusty philosophical questions, many of them have answers, which I relay back through Gale when she relays me the questions. As m-l and Etienne have noted here repeatedly, students often become interested in linguistics because they want to know about word origins, and are often disappointed when that’s not what the subject turns out to be about.

    They say here “all roads lead to Mishnory.” To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road. To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road.

         —Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness)

  80. David Marjanović says:

    Tet Zoo is actually remarkably similar to Language Hat. The commentariat contains professional scientists, birdwatchers (often the same people) and interested laypeople; there are in-jokes remarkably similar to “everything is Dravidian”; there are posts about speculative biology, comparable to the Klingon language; and there are posts about artistic depictions of extinct tetrapods. As for us being tetrapods, you might like this post which puts us in context. :-)

    Why must we die?

    That’s a biological question, not a philosophical one.

    (Lots of questions that used to be treated by philosophy have over time turned out to belong elsewhere.)

  81. I never thought I would live to see discussions of tetrapod philosophy on Language Hat…

  82. Thank you for the Tet Zoo, David. The large robins and small woodpeckers I’ve been seeing lately may well be nuthatches.

  83. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, Tet Zoo is a complement to Languagehat!

    David, thanks to the article on “us being tetrapods”, I knew some of the information but learned more, and in more depth.

    Lots of questions that used to be treated by philosophy have over time turned out to belong elsewhere.

    In France what corresponds to approximately grade 12 (or the 12th grade) includes the study of “philosophy”. I don’t know what the curriculum is nowadays, but “in my time” it was a hodgepodge of philosophy, psychology and probably one or two other disciplines I don’t remember (the course was not officially subdivided, and there was no textbook, just the prof lecturing). Later I was also exposed to classes in what I think was more deserving of the name of philosophy. Altogether I had three ‘philosophy’ teachers, only one of whom occasionally gave me a glimmer of what philosophy was about.

  84. On a collective reading, “Why must we die?” is indeed a biological question. But considered distributively, “Why must I (and you, and you, and you, …) die?” it is still a separate philosophical question.

  85. David Marjanović says:

    In France what corresponds to approximately grade 12 (or the 12th grade) includes the study of “philosophy”.

    Austria too; psychology is treated the year before, but by the same teacher.

    “Philosophy” ends up being a short look at the history of philosophy. “Psychology” is not much different…

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