ON HAVING THE GAELIC.

Having finished Master and Commander (see here and here), my wife and I have moved on to the second in the series, Post Captain, and have come to a passage that I want to share for obvious reasons. Stephen Maturin, Captain Aubrey’s friend and ship’s surgeon, is speaking to the lieutenant of Marines, a Scotsman named Macdonald; Parker is the ship’s first lieutenant (and thus in charge of discipline):

‘Two of your men, both by the name of Macrea, I believe, were speaking privately, furbishing their equipment with one piece of pipeclay between them as I stood near them — nothing of any consequence, you understand, just small disagreement about the pipeclay, the first desiring the second to kiss his arse and the second wishing the soul of the first to the Devil and a good deal more to the same effect. And I understood directly, without the least thought or conscious effort of will!’
‘You have the Gaelic, sir?’ cried Macdonald.
‘No, sir,’ said Stephen, ‘and that is what is so curious. I no longer speak it; I thought I no longer understood it. And yet there at once, with no volition on my part, there was complete understanding. I had no idea the Erse and the Irish were so close; I had imagined the dialects had moved far apart. Pray, is there a mutual understanding between your Hebrideans and the Highlanders on the one, and let us say the native Ulstermen on the other?’
‘Why, yes, sir; there is. They converse tolerably well, on general subjects, on boats, fishing, and bawdy. There are some different words, to be sure, and great differences of intonation, but with perseverance and repetition they can make themselves understood very well — a tolerably free communication. There are some Irishmen among the pressed hands, and I have heard them and my marines speaking together.’
‘If I had heard them, they would be on the defaulters’ list,’ said Parker, who had come below, dripping like a Newfoundland dog.
‘Why is this?’ asked Stephen.
‘Irish is forbidden in the Navy,’ said Parker. ‘It is prejudicial to discipline; a secret language is calculated to foment mutiny.’

Lots of interesting material there; if you’re surprised to see “Erse” and “Irish” differentiated, I will quote the OED on “Erse”: “Applied by Sc. Lowlanders to the Gaelic dialect of the Highlands (which is in fact of Irish origin), to the people speaking that dialect, to their customs, etc. Hence in 18th c. Erse was used in literary Eng. as the ordinary designation of the Gaelic of Scotland, and occasionally extended to the Irish Gaelic.”


While I’ve got the book out, I can’t resist quoting a wonderful sentence Stephen utters to Jack Aubrey in the course of expressing strong opposition to the Navy’s disciplinary traditions: “I am opposed to authority, that egg of misery and oppression; I am opposed to it largely for what it does to those who exercise it.”

Comments

  1. Yesterday I ran into this sentence from Neil Munro’s 1898 novel John Splendid: The Tale of a Poor Gentleman, and the Little Wars of Lorn: “The Irish were in good humour; they cracked jokes with us in their peculiar Gaelic that at first is ill for a decent Gael of Albion to follow, if uttered rapidly, but soon becomes as familiar as the less foreign language of the Athole men, whose tongue we Argiles find some strange conceits in.” The book is set in 1645 before and after the Battle of Inverlochy.

  2. Charles Perry says:

    In another O’Brian novel, The Golden Ocean, a Church of Ireland clergyman’s son is headed to Cork to take a midshipman’s berth, accompanied by the parish handyman and a young friend who has impulsively decided to join him at sea. They’re talking about what a learned man the minister is, him having the Latin and the Greek.
    “I wish I had the Greek,” says the friend.
    The handyman takes great umbrage at this and proceeds to berate the friend for running wild, “playing the fiddle and making of verses or jingles in Irish. It is bad enough to be speaking it among ourselves the way nobody can hear, but to be putting it down in sheets!”
    “What is wrong with the Irish?”
    “It is a language of servants. And it is not good enough even for them, for who would hire a servant and him speaking nothing but Irish, like something that has come in out of the bog?”
    “It was once the language of kings.”
    “I spit on your kings. It was never the language of commerce.”
    “It is the language they are speaking in Heaven.”
    “They are not! Some few very poor and ignorant angels with scarcely a feather on them yet may speak it in the dark corners of Heaven, but the language that is properly spoken there is the English!”

  3. You are so lucky to be reading that series for the first time.

  4. Of course, the Irish is not the only language of Heaven. Here’s Tolkien on the point (from his 1956 lecture “English and Welsh” [PDF]):
    “Anyway, I grant that I am myself a ‘Saxon’, and that therefore my tongue is not long enough to compass the language of Heaven. There lies, it seems, a long silence before me, unless I reach a destination more in accordance with merit than with Mercy. Or unless that story is to be credited, which I first met in the pages of Andrew Boord, physician of Henry VIII, that tells how the language of Heaven was changed. St Peter, instructed to find a cure for the din and chatter which disturbed the celestial mansions, went outside the Gates and cried caws bobi [*] and slammed the Gates to again before the Welshmen that had surged out discovered that this was a trap without cheese.
    “But Welsh still survives on earth, and so possibly elsewhere also; and a prudent Englishman will use such opportunities for speech as remain to him. For this tale has little authority. It is related rather to the contemporary effort of the English Government to destroy Welsh on earth as well as in Heaven.”
    [*] Tolkien glosses this expression in extenso in a 1962 letter to his aunt Jane Neave, who was living in Wales:
    “I should not be surprised to hear that your postman did not know bobi: caws bobi. It seems not to be mentioned in modern dictionaries, and is probably obsolete. It means or meant ‘toasted cheese’, i.e. Welsh rabbit, pobi is the Welsh word for ‘cook, roast, toast’, and (if Andrew Boorde got it right) it has changed p- to b- because pobi is used as an adjective, after a noun. London was for a while very Welsh-conscious at the time (as seen in Shakespeare), and bits of Welsh crop up in plays and tales. But the notion that Welsh was the ‘language of heaven’ was much older. Andrew B. was simply making fun of an often heard Welsh claim. I expect the postman will have heard of it. Postmen are on the whole a good tribe – especially the country ones who still walk. But Welsh postmen seem specially kind, and also learned. Sir John Morris Jones, a famous Welsh scholar (and author of the grammar that I bought with prize-money as related) said, commenting on the work of a learned French scholar (Loth) on Welsh metres: ‘I get more learning and sense on the topic out of my postman.’
    “Which did not mean, of course, that Loth was as ignorant as a mere postman ‘passing the time of day’; but that the postman was better read and more learned than a French professor. It may have been true – in Welsh matters. For as a ‘poor country’ even yet Wales has not learnt to associate art or knowledge solely with certain classes. But the Welsh for all their virtues are contentious and often malicious; and they do not always whet their tongues against ‘foreigners’, they often turn the sharp edge upon their own kind (who do not readily forgive). All ‘scholars’ are apt to be quarrelsome, but Welsh scholarship and philology are a faction-fight. My reference on p. 3 to ‘entering the litigious lists’ was not mere rhetoric, but a necessary disclaimer against belonging to any one of the factions.
    “It is said that Sir John M[orris]. J[ones]. built himself a fine house near Bangor overlooking the Menai Straits, to Môn (Anglesey). But the ‘friendly’ nickname for the inhabitants of that isle is (on the mainland) moch ‘swine’. Some gentry from Beaumaris paid him a visit, and after admiring his house, asked if he was going to give it a name. ‘Yes’, said he, ‘I shall call it Gadara View.’

  5. For anyone who has not already followed the several past recommendations here for The Invention of Tradition, Hugh Trevor-Roper outlines there how (and how recently) those ruffian immigrants became the true Scotsmen.

  6. I believe he misremembered a footnote to Boorde’s use of cause bobi referencing the Hundred Merry Tales.

  7. “I am opposed to authority, that egg of misery and oppression; I am opposed to it largely for what it does to those who exercise it.”
    Very apt. (Spoken as a parent of 2 obstinate, inattentive, and deliberately unruly children on the last day of a too-long summer vacation. Imposing authority is exhausting. I have hatched that egg, and by now feel quite miserable and oppressed.)

  8. Toasted cheese in modern Welsh is either caws pobi or caws wedi’i bobi (cheese which has been baked). Tolkien may well have heard “caws bobi” (we Welshes are nothing if not inconsistent) but he was wrong about the reason for the mutation; only feminine nouns trigger a soft mutation in subsequent adjectives, and caws is masculine.

  9. MMcM: Where’s the misremembrance? Tolkien says he read it first in the pages of Boorde, and it’s quite likely he did.
    Nic: Thanks. While you’re here, do you know why the name of St. Tysilio in LlanfairPG is not mutated? I’d expect “-llandysilio-” but we get “-llantysilio-”. Welshes that I’ve asked about it basically just shrug.
    (Just one universe away, where Welsh and Cornish were replaced by the Brito-Romance languages, the town is called “Pluifairllagunblancoryllentiostillrhebiddgurypluitysiliocafurnrys.”)

  10. If Tolkien misheard he’s not the first one. “I am a Welshman, I do love cause boby, good roasted cheese.” Andrew Boorde: The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, the whyche dothe teache a man to speake parte of all maner of languages, and to know the usage and fashion of all maner of countreys (1542)

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    @John Cowan:
    It’s Llandysilio in Welsh, at any rate. I blame the English. They made Llanilltud into Llantwit after all, so no atrocity is beyond them.
    The caws p/bobi thing maybe has something to do with the Welsh tendency to equate the unaspirated voiceless stops in the clusters sp sk st with the voiced b g d, whereas the English hear them as equivalent to the ordinary aspirated p t k. Modern Welsh actually spells sb, sg though not sd.
    There seems to have been some sort of mismatch in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries anyway between the Welsh and English pronunciations of b d g, judging by Shakespeare’s odd rendering of Welshmen speaking English.

  12. I take “in the pages of Andrew Boord” to mean the pages authored by Boord(e), not a Victorian edition. All those have is what kvalda quotes, not the story of St. Peter. I have no doubt that Tolkien encountered it through Boorde’s use of the phrase. Maybe Boorde even had the joke in mind.

  13. The Lowland use of “Erse” makes more sense once you see the joke (which many Englishmen might not).

  14. On internal evidence I suspect the footnote of being Boord’s. It contains “they’d rusht”, whereas Furnivall would surely write “they had rushed”. If so, Borde (why should I be consistent? It’s spelled two different ways on the title page!) not only knew the story, he was citing it.
    Furnivall quotes the whole story from the Hundred Merry Tales on pp. 330-31, complete with the “krakynge and babelynge” of the Welsh saints. Or as Tolkien says elsewhere in E & W: “Cacophony is an accusation commonly made, especially by those of small linguistic experience, against any unfamiliar form of speech.”

  15. What is the joke, then? That “Erse” sounds like arse?

  16. Yup, in Scots your erse is your situpon.

  17. Here’s a bit of context, Crown: the joke is in part an allusion to it maybe.
    http://homepages.tesco.net/~scotsnet/o.f.carter/poe/poe21.htm

  18. It is reported that the popular musical ensemble the Pogues had to shorten their name from the original Pogue Mahon – from the Irish póg mo thóin, “kiss my arse” – “partly due to BBC censorship following complaints from Gaelic speakers in Scotland”. I wonder if O’Brian had that in mind, at least obliquely …
    IIRC, in Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore, set, of course, in the Hebrides during the Second World War, two characters have a brief discussion about the mutual comprehensibility of Ulster Irish and Hebridean Gaelic. Unfortunately I’m nowhere near a copy, so I can’t supply a quote.

  19. John Cowan: Oh, I see what you had in mind. Sorry for being thick.
    Sure, it’s possible that the reference was original. Margin notes were all the rage then, particularly in English Bibles. And the true footnote was just appearing. But, in this case, I do not think so. The book is in black letter and laid out more or less like the chapter introduction on the preceding page. Here are scans of the original editions from EEBO: 1555 and 1562.
    Also, using your principle, anecdote didn’t exist for the Tudors, didn’t it? And Johnson’s Dictionary still tried to claim that it only meant unpublished or secret history.
    I believe that Furnivall is just being cute. Though he was an early member of the Simplified Spelling Society near the end of his life. He was also a vegetarian, and the London Shakespeare Society, of which he was president, met at the Chesire Cheese, which is famous for its Welsh rarebit. So let’s pretend this matter held a personal interest for him. And a teetotaler, so we’ll have to assume that there wasn’t any ale in it or the alcohol was cooked out to his satisfaction.

  20. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid says:

    “mutual comprehensibility of Ulster Irish and Hebridean Gaelic. ”
    I understand that while these have certain close similarities, there are on the other hand some features which are common to Scottish Gaelic & Munster Irish (verb forms and the like IIRC.)
    I thought O’Brian’s treatment of Stephen’s residual “Gaelic” and his Hiberno-English was well done in general.

  21. Tesco?
    I love ordinary toasted cheese, but Welsh rabbit has flour in it.

  22. There are indeed béchamel-based versions of Welsh rabbit, but as far as I can tell the only truly invariant ingredients are the cheese and the bread, and given modern heat-resistant plates one might stretch a point and omit the bread. Some folks put ale in with the cheese, others add various spices, still others Worcestershire sauce (gotta try that).
    Cheddar is said to be canonical, though I myself like to use Jarlsberg.

  23. The versions offered by Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, White House Cookbook and Vegetarian Epicure don’t have flour in them. The first and last call for Worcestershire sauce, as John Cowan suggests, which is odd in the last case, since that has rotten anchovies in it.

  24. Vegetarian W-sauce exists; kosher W-sauce also has less than 1/60 anchovies by volume.

  25. You’re right. We’ve tried a bottle and it wasn’t very exciting. Not sure why one would need ביטול בששים when you can just leave it out. (I don’t get the K on Jell-O boxes, either.)
    The bánh mì place that was today’s lunch knows to leave off the nước mắm when you get the tofu. Rather confusingly, the local Senegalese place, which has a separate veggie menu, calls the nems sauce “nuoc mam dressing,” when it’s peanut-based and they assure me it doesn’t have any fish in it.

  26. I’m flabbergasted to hear that Worcester sauce has anchovies in it.
    About Jell-O, it’s made from gelatin, so wouldn’t that make a Kosher version necessary?

  27. Since the discussion is veering in the direction of toasted cheese, I will speak up for Winsor McCay’s comic strip “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend”. He also turned the strip into a number of animated films–he was quite a pioneer in film animation.
    I have a DVD of these early animated films, which can be obtained quite inexpensively, although I suppose you can find some of them on YouTube as well.
    Several later movies, particularly King Kong plagiarized quite blatantly from these films.
    Back to the original topic, I know some native speakers of both Irish and Scots Gaelic, and they all say that it is not that difficult to understand the other language. There may be a few minor points that are lost, but in general the vocabulary and structure are close enough to get the general idea.
    I’ve also met Flemish-speaking people who say it is impossible for them to understand Dutch television, so I suppose the set of people that I’ve met is not a representative sample.

  28. We get around our inability to be sure whether it’s Welsh Rabbit or Welsh Rarebit by calling it Welsh Pizza.

  29. Winsor McCay’s comic strip “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend”
    There’s a drawing by Beatrix Potter called A Dream Of Toasted Cheese, (it’s too bad that you can hardly see the background in this reproduction).
    Flemish-speaking people who say it is impossible for them to understand Dutch television
    In the approximate words of Mandy Rice-Davis—”Well, they would, wouldn’t they?”

  30. wouldn’t that make a Kosher version necessary
    Yes, it would. But there are several ways to go about this and so there is some interplay with the economics of manufacturing it. You could just have it be vegetarian with agar agar or something. You could only use fish bones. You could declare hides from kosher slaughtered cattle not to be beef and have the end product be pareve. Or you could go all in and declare the entire process so destructive that it’s bitul. Since AFAIK Jell-O makes no attempt to keep unclean animals out, that’s what you need there.
    (Disclaimer: don’t get your kashrut information from the internet. Ask your posek. Or at least listen to those who know.)

  31. Ask your posek. Or at least listen to those who know
    It would be hard to argue with that guy. My grandmother told me that gelatin was made out of horse’s hooves, but I gather that’s out of date. My wife’s the posek, but I’m making my own decision to buy agar-agar.

  32. On ‘Welsh’ etc., from Alexander Waugh’s history of Evelyn, Alec & Auberon and the other Waughs, a wonderful book called Fathers and Sons:
    I do not know if Arthur [Evelyn's father] bothered to look up ‘waugh’ in the Oxford English Dictionary but if he had it did not seem to affect his passion for the name. As an adjective it is defined there as, ‘tasteless, insipid; unpleasant to the smell or taste, sickly, faint, weak, etc.’, and as a noun, ‘an exclamation indicating grief, indignation or the like. Now chiefly as attributed to N. American Indians and other savages.’ J.R.R. Tolkein, author of Lord of the Rings and one time professor of English Language at Oxford, told my father that ‘waugh’ was the singular of Wales and effectively meant a single (no doubt sickly, insipid, etc.) Welsh person. Papa gleefully told this story to Diana, Princess of Wales, but to his dismay she didn’t appear to understand it.

  33. Alex Waugh continues:
    If Arthur Waugh was proud of his forebears I take my own pride in them for reasons that are unconcerned with his. I have never liked the name Waugh, particularly in its anglicised pronunciation. It was originally a Celtic word meaning ‘stranger’ or ‘outsider’, but by the eleventh century the Scots had started to apply it as a term of abuse to any member of the retinue of Alan FitzFaald (founder of the noble house of Stewart and Howard), who had lately barged his way to Scotland from Wales. These unprepossessing invaders were dismissed by the natives as ‘walghs’ and showered, no doubt, with gob loads of Scottish phlegm each time the word was uttered. Over the centuries the name in its various forms – Welsh, Welch, Walsh, Wallace, and Waugh – came simply to mean a disagreeable Welshman. I wonder if Evelyn was thinking of his distant Waugh ancestors when he described the Welsh silver band’s arrival at the Llanabba Castle sports day in his first novel, Decline and Fall:

    Ten men of revolting appearance were approaching from the drive. They were low of brow, crafty of eye and crooked of limb. They advanced huddled together with the loping tread of wolves, peering about them furtively as they came, as though in constant terror of ambush; they slavered their mouths, which hung loosely over their receding chins, while each clutched under hie ape-like arm a burden of curious and unaccountable shape. On seeing the doctor they halted and edged back, those behind squinting and moulting over their companions’ shoulders.

    ‘Crikey!’ said Philbrick. ‘Loonies! This is where I shoot.’

    Arthur’s family pride did not extend to any connection with these moronic Celts, merely to his immediate forebears.

  34. Or you could go all in and declare the entire process so destructive that it’s bitul.
    Not to quibble (though, hey, quibble is the very stuff of LH-land, in a good way) – I think davar hadash (i.e. you’re no longer dealing with living material but chemical constituents) would get you more permissibility than bitul, since if the animals are non-kosher they can’t be batel.

  35. Man, there’s nothing I love more than the finer details of kashruth being hashed out at LH. I just wish my friend Allan were still around to enjoy it.

  36. Yup, Tolkien confirms that in “E & W”:
    “I speak only as an amateur, and address the Saeson and not the Cymry; my view is that of a Sayce and not a Waugh. I use these surnames — both well known (the first especially in the annals of philology) — since Sayce is probably a name of Welsh origin (Sais) but means an Englishman, while Waugh is certainly of English origin (Walh) but means a Welshman; it is in fact the singular of Wales.

  37. David Fried says:

    @Eimear Ni Mhealoid:
    I have read the O’Brian canon over a truly embarrassing number of times. So it is as a devoted admirer that I say that I have always thought that Maturin’s Hiberno-English sometimes seems like stage Irish of the most stereotypical kind. In fact, when I first learned that O’Brian was not Irish at all, at all, the sorrow and the woe, one of my first thoughts was: “Well,that explains it. . . ”
    But as an American, not of Irish descent,who has never been in Ireland, I am ill-qualified to say. And Maturin, after all, lived two centuries ago. Judging by your name, your opinion would be far more valuable than mine. Could you elaborate a bit?
    I might add that in the course of 20 books I have detected O’Brian in three certain errors, one of which I believe was a deliberate shout-out to his friend Mary Renault, and so not an error at all. (And no, I’m not counting “the marthambles.”) While there must be others, this seems to be as near an approach to infallibility as I can imagine. One of his very few bits of Catalan contains an error, though.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    There seems to have been some sort of mismatch in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries anyway between the Welsh and English pronunciations of b d g, judging by Shakespeare’s odd rendering of Welshmen speaking English.

    Details, please!

  39. Trib, trib, fairies; come; and remember your parts: be pold, I pray you; follow me into the pit; and when I give the watch-’ords, do as I pid you: come, come; trib, trib.

  40. … béchamel-based versions of Welsh rabbit …
    That sounds closer to a kosher Croque Monsieur, without the ham, which would clearly be haram.
    I remember my disappointment when first ordering a Croque Monsieur in a French café, only to discover that it was little more than a ham-and-cheese toastie with pretentions – though a ham-and-cheese toastie and a pint of best bitter is a fine and satisfying lunch.
    “Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese – toasted, mostly” – Ben Gunn.

  41. I remember my disappointment when first ordering a Croque Monsieur in a French café, only to discover that it was little more than a ham-and-cheese toastie with pretensions
    Funny, I was thrilled with mine, but then there’s little I like better than a ham-and-cheese toastie, and one expects pretensions in France.

  42. Funny, I was thrilled with mine
    Yes, me too. It’s one of my best childhood-teenage memories, along with my first pan-bagnat in Nice. There was nothing like that in England, in those days; we mostly ate coal.

  43. if you’re surprised to see “Erse” and “Irish” differentiated
    Sidenote: in Scotland, at any rate, Scottish Gaelic is pronounced “gallic” to distinguish it from Irish, which is pronounced “gay-lic”.
    Shakespeare’s odd rendering of Welshmen speaking English.
    “Kill the poys and the luggage! ’tis expressly
    against the law of arms…”
    Also unvoicing other voiced consonants like J and V: “Captain Jamy is a marvellous falourous gentleman,
    that is certain; and of great expedition and
    knowledge in th’ aunchient wars, upon my particular knowledge of his directions: by Cheshu, he will maintain his argument as well as any military man in the world, in the disciplines of the pristine wars of the Romans.” This is something Compton Mackenzie does when representing (accurately) the Highland accent: “Tam you and your plutty tump! Do you think my ship is a plutty tustcart?” exclaims Captain Macroon at one point when he’s asked to ship some surplus equipment back to the mainland.

  44. Scottish Gaelic is pronounced “gallic”
    I’ve heard it pronounced more like “garlic”.

  45. Croque Monsieur
    We were playing that dictionary game the other day, where you try to fool people with fake definitions of a word. The word was croquignole. I blurted out that it sounded delicious, so it may be my fault that all five fake definitions were then food-related. At least two of them involved toasted bread. Two had to do with both bread and soup. The real answer was a method of curling hair.

  46. David Marjanović says:

    Trib, trib, fairies; come; and remember your parts: be pold, I pray you; follow me into the pit; and when I give the watch-’ords, do as I pid you: come, come; trib, trib.

    Today, both English and (sez Wikipedia) Welsh have unreliable word-initial voicing of /b d g/; apparently, the Welsh started it, and the heavily aspirating Highlanders don’t voice them at all.
    In Icelandic, the unaspirated b d g can go all the way to fortes, [p t k], as I found out when I was in Iceland
    (…for a few hours on Keflavík Airport).
    The Icelanders take their aspiration quite seriously, it sounds much like Mandarin, even though the Mandarin b d g never become fortes.

    croquignole

    Croque-guignol?

  47. I will mention here that I got a hold of and read T. H. White’s The Elephant and the Kangaroo, which is about an Englishman living in Ireland who finds himself cast in the role of a latter-day Noah. The book ought to have been a wonderful absurdist fantasy. Unfortunately, the narrator repeats in the course of the story every slander about the Irish that the English have ever devised, on top of which he adds all the slanders that white Americans have thought up for African Americans: if he doesn’t call them chimpanzees, it’s because he implies it throughout.
    Of course, it’s well-known that White spent World War II in neutral Ireland in order to stay out of the war. I could hardly read the book without gagging. It’s hard for me to imagine that the wise and sensitive author of The Once And Future King and Mistress Masham’s Repose could have produced this treyf.

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