ONLY ONE IS THE SAME AS NONE.

I’m well into Slezkine’s Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (see this post), and I’ve encountered one of those impressive people I like to commemorate here occasionally: Lev (Chaim-Leib) Sternberg. I don’t have time to write much about him (and the Wikipedia article is terrible, focusing almost entirely on his political activity and prison sentences), so I’ll just say he was a founding father of Russian anthropology and ethnography with an admirably humanistic orientation; according to him:

The goal of ethnography was to study culture in general and the non-literate peoples in particular. It both included and was a part of history, sociology, archaeology, philosophy, folklore, linguistics, and the study of religion. Accordingly, along with various ethnology courses, the curriculum of Shternberg’s department included all of the above disciplines plus traditional Sinology, Egyptology, and Oriental studies. A convinced evolutionist and a believer in the “psychic unity of mankind,” Shternberg attributed backwardness to the environment. It was only natural, therefore, that his students were required to master the basics of physics, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, biology, and geology.

And he had a saying I like very much: “He who knows but one people does not know any; he who knows but one religion and one culture, does not know any.” [Кто знает один народ - не знает ни одного, кто знает одну религию, одну культуру - не знает ни одной.]

Comments

  1. dearieme says:

    Was he varying Kipling or was Kipling varying him? Who said it first?
    (And what should they know of England who only England know?)
    Obviously, Kipling said it better.

  2. How can it be obvious to you that Kipling said it better, if you don’t read Russian?
    Kipling seems to have written that line in 1891.

  3. mopsimus says:

    This one? Kipling: The English Flag (1891):

    Winds of the World, give answer! They are whimpering to and fro —
    And what should they know of England who only England know? —

    Goethe: Maximen und Reflexionen; II.; Nr. 23, 91 (posth. 1833):

    Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen. [Who does not know foreign languages, knows nothing of his own.]

    Max Müller: Über den buddhistischen Nihilismus (1876) alluding to Goethe:

    Von den Religionen gilt aber dasselbe, was unser großer Dichter einst prophetisch von den Sprachen sagte: Wer nur eine kennt, kennt keine. [But what our great poet prophetically said of languages, also applies to religions: Who knows only one, knows none.]

    But I wouldn’t be surprised if the meme is much older.

  4. Wilde generalized the idea around the same time: “Only the shallow know themselves”.

  5. A claim to know a particular thing involves an implicit claim to a kind of knowledge about everything else – at the very least a claim that everything else is irrelevant to that particular knowledge, if only for present purposes. So knowledge always involves generalization in one way or another.
    Most of the above quotes can be regarded as particular applications, to language, of a general dictum: in order to make valid generalizations, you must have general knowledge.
    The question immediately arises, though, whether anyone making this statement has sufficient knowledge about generalization to justify making it. The same question can be asked about someone who questions that statement. ;-)
    Thank you for your attention.

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    I had a bit of difficulty following the argument of Kipling’s poem, to the extent it is something other than “the English are awesome and well-traveled.” (I don’t even know what he means by the “English flag” – the cross of St. George or the Union Jack or the White Ensign or what?) The broader point seems to confuse two different senses of “know” to the extent it’s not just snobbery by the self-consciously cosmopolitan. Whatever the cognitive or cultural advantages of multilingualism, monolingual native speakers “know” their own language perfectly well in the most obvious and useful sense of the word, even if they are perhaps hampered in their ability to reflect about it in abstract linguistics-majory ways. What does Goethe even mean? Who is he scorning? The peasants or tradesmen in his home town who knew no Latin, French or Italian? In what sense did he “know” German better than they did? Analogously “knowing stuff about various religions” and “religious knowledge” (the sort the pious believer or mystic possesses) are not really the same sort of thing, and privileging by definition the ethnographer’s mode of knowledge over that of the priest or shaman is rigging the game.

  7. Another formulation of the idea, rather older than Goethe’s, is that Nature is a book whose language we must learn to understand. It is not enough to know French only, even though it is the most natural language:

    … il n’y a guère de langue qui use moins de ces figures que la nôtre, parce qu’elle aime particulièrement la netteté, et à exprimer les choses autant qu’il se peut, dans l’ordre le plus naturel et le plus désembarrassé, quoiqu’en même temps elle ne cède à aucune en beauté ni en élégance.

  8. J.W.: I don’t read Goethe’s remark as expressing scorn of tradesmen. That would be beneath his dignity. In any case Mißgunst and Tadelsucht are not the right interpretive tools to apply to an aphorism.

  9. I myself wield those tools right and left on the slightest occasion, but not to aphorisms, I hope.

  10. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the meme is much older.
    « Autant de langues on parle, autant de fois on est homme. » – Charles V.

  11. dearieme says:

    Who did Charles V speak French to – the old joke claims it was his diplomats, didn’t it?

  12. dearieme says:

    Who did Charles V speak French to – the old joke claims it was his diplomats, didn’t it?

  13. Voltaire remarked that German is good only for speaking to soldiers and horses.

  14. dearieme says:

    “How can it be obvious to you that Kipling said it better, if you don’t read Russian?” By the translation. You’re not implying that Hat would quote a dud translation, are you?

  15. @ dearime: Who did Charles V speak French to – the old joke claims it was his diplomats, didn’t it?
    According to wikipedia: An anecdote sometimes attributed to Charles is: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.” But this quote has many variants and is often attributed instead to Frederick the Great.

  16. I assume that means “a similar quote is attributed to Frederick the Great” – I don’t think that he’d have said that he speaks “Spanish to God”.

  17. Hans: I don’t think that he’d have said that he speaks “Spanish to God”.
    Why not ? If he knew Spanish, he is entitled to speak it to God. If he knew no Spanish, then he would essentially be saying that he doesn’t speak to God at all.
    I myself speak Laotian when I speak to God.

  18. By the way, folks, over the last few weeks I have noticed that several people have posted a comment several times. I presume that is due to their sense that sometime is wrong when the browser takes a long time to return the page with the new comment. So they get impatient and post again.
    The impatience is understandable. Its cause, however, is probably not a sudden outbreak of personality defects in the form of impatience. The root cause is the extremely long time it has been taking, over the past few weeks, for Hat’s server (or perhaps some network/cloud in which it resides) to pass back a response after accepting a post.
    This HTTP dawdling has been bugging me as well. Here’s how to avoid multiple posts: open a new browser tab on the comment page. Almost always this tab page will load completely within a reasonable amount of time, even though the other tab page is still waiting for a response.
    Check the bottom of the new tab page to see whether your comment has been posted. If it has, then you can just close the other tab page which is waiting for a response. If not, to avoid multiple postings you’ll just have to wait.
    99.9% percent of the time the newly loaded page shows that my comment has been accepted. I can’t really imagine why the response takes so long.
    Hat, I know your server people are nice people and all, but at present they seem to be trying to get by on a capacity shoestring. It may be that the team has been joined by a penny-pincher. If not, then I’m sure we can raise funds here to add another battery to your server.

  19. Exactly what I described happened just now with my last post. The tab in which I posted was hanging, so I opened this new tab and posted this comment – after closing the hanging tab.
    Snail post has its annoyances, blog comments have new kinds. When you send a letter, you have not the slightest assurance that it will be received or replied to. When you post a comment, the “spinning circle” busy signal gives you to expect that it will be only a matter of seconds before your reply arrives.
    When the updated page doesn’t arrive within a reasonable time, at least you can check if it was received (as I described), at no upfront expense. To achieve that with a letter, it must have been sent by registered mail with receipt.

  20. J.W. Brewer:
    Goethe is not in fact equivocating. There are three verbs for ‘know’ in German: kennen ‘know, be familiar with’, wissen ‘know (as a fact)’, and können ‘know (a skill, how to do something)’. We had this tripartite distinction in English too, once upon a time, but in the standard language we no longer ask “Do ye ken John Peel?” or lament “Had I wist when first I kissed” (though we still say to wit ‘namely’, a calque of Latin videlicet ‘it may be seen’). As for the third verb, we cannot even use can ‘be able’ as a main verb any more.
    Here Goethe uses kennen in the first clause and wissen in the second, whereas he would use können if he referred to the ability to use a language: Ich kann Deutsch, with können, is how one says ‘I know German’. Consequently, I would translate the aphorism as “Someone who is not familiar with foreign languages knows nothing about [not "of"] their own.” In other words, what they know of it is what a fish knows of water: how to swim in it, certainly; but nothing of its properties.
    As for the Kipling poem, the epigraph tells us that the Union Jack is meant, and the poem is using England for the U.K. All proper praise to the latter, but its name doesn’t make for good verses. Anyway, I’d paraphrase the line as meaning “What do people who have never left the shores of the British Isles know about the restless, maritime, and adventurous spirit of the British?” If Kipling still had the living kennen/wissen distinction available to him, he might have said “What do they wit of England who only England ken?”

  21. Hat, another explanation for this HTTP dawdling has just occurred to me. Your server people may be experimenting with newfangled “asynchronous IO” technology, but haven’t got it working right.
    Just mention “asynchronous IO” (eye-oh) in the presence of one of the server people, and watch for a reddening of the face in embarassment.

  22. John, that’s a good explanation of the different German words for which the single word “know” has to do service in English. I simply read the quote and understood what it meant (as you made explicit), without pausing to mull over “kennt” and “weiß”. I’m quite sure Goethe meant to distinguish them in the way you describe.
    One minor point, though. You write: “Ich kann Deutsch, with können, is how one says ‘I know German’”. This is a vernacular expression without spot and void of culpability, but it’s not exactly one you would want to use in a PhD thesis. The more proper-like expressions are ich spreche Deutsch or (say on the part of a researcher in an international field) ich lese Deutsch.
    My Sprachgefühl does not incline me to believe that Goethe, Wieland etc. might have written, say, ich kann Französisch.

  23. “What do they wit of England who only England ken?”
    Very nice !!

  24. I would knight JC for that superb comment if he weren’t an American and therefore not entitled to such titles.
    Obviously, Kipling said it better.
    That’s a matter of taste; in any case it’s silly to compare prose and poetry.

  25. Being neither a queen, a quean nor a Queen, you are not entitled to dish out titles anyway.

  26. Stu, can one say “Ich kann X” in proper-like German, where X is a noun? For that matter, does one ever say it in not-so-proper German when X does not denote a language?

  27. Actually, Americans and other non-subjects can be and are knighted, though they do not use the titles “Sir” or “Dame”, and are not dubbed with the royal sword: what they receive is a honorary version of one of the orders of chivalry, typically a KBE or OBE. The U.S. Constitution merely says “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.” I hold no such offices.
    Still, I don’t think I’d particularly want a title given to such worthies as Billy Graham, Stephen Spielberg, Rudy Giuliani, and Bill Gates. I’m with Sancho Panza: I neither put down king nor set up king, I only stand up for myself who am my own lord.

  28. empty: sure, you could say Ich kann Karate, or Schach. Ich kann nouvelle cuisine might just pass, but ich kann Homeopathie sounds strange. I think the latent low-browness of the claim is due to the vagueness of kann. Does this mean beherrschen, or just some degree of kennen ?
    “Proper-like” speech preens itself on precision. Of course not every such pretension pans out – take the speeches of politicians, for instance. A PhD thesis on a novelist who acquired a certain competence in Karate would not say er konnte Karate, but rather er hat einen grünen Gürtel in Karate erworben.

  29. John, I cast no doubt on your chivalry. I merely reminded Hat that he could not dub you himself. Had he written: “I will make representations to the Court that John should be on the next Honors List”, I would have been doomed to silence.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: we still say to wit ‘namely’, a calque of Latin videlicet ‘it may be seen’
    How is to wit, literally ‘to know’, a calque of Latin videlicet ‘it may be seen’?
    The French equivalent of to wit is à savoir (savoir = ‘to know (sthg thoroughly), to be able to (do sthg skilled, eg swim, play an instrument, speak a language)’ (like German weissen).
    The Online Etymology Dictionary says:
    The phrase to wit, almost the only surviving use of the verb, is first recorded 1570s, from earlier that is to wit (mid-14c.), probably a loan-translation of Anglo-Fr. cestasavoir, used to render L. videlicet (see viz.).
    So to wit is not a “calque” of videlicet, but (according to this) a “loan-translation” (= word-for-word translation) of the à savoir portion of “c’est à savoir”, lit. ‘it is to know’ (= ‘it is to be known’), a rough French equivalent of Latin videlicet.
    The French phrase (sometimes reduced to simply savoir) is not commonly used in speech but is more likely to occur in formal or legal texts such as the detailed description of a property on a deed (eg a large farm comprising, “to wit”, a barn, henhouse, etc as well as fields, woods, etc, or simply a house with a separate garage). The shortening of the English phrase probably followed the shortening of the French phrase, since English legal language closely followed French legal language.

  31. marie-lucie: (savoir = ‘to know (sthg thoroughly), to be able to (do sthg skilled, eg swim, play an instrument, speak a language)’ (like German weissen).
    A small correction: wissen, not weissen [= whitewash]. Apart from that, there may be differences in actual usage of savoir and wissen.
    In German one doesn’t say *er weiß Französisch, but er kann/kennt Französisch. It would not be *er weiß/kennt/kann Schwimmen, but er weiß wie man schwimmt or, discarding the noun, simply er kann schwimmen.
    Is it idiomatic or even possible to say il sait nager ? Since French doesn’t go in for substantivation the way German does, I don’t suppose there is a French structural equivalent to er kann Schach. How would one put that in French ?

  32. That didn’t come out right. Er kann Schach is not an example of “substantivation”. What I meant was that in German you can properly formulate a lot of statements using “substantivized verbs” that, in other languages, can only be properly formulated with a verb phrase. Or something like that.

  33. I think the latent low-browness of the claim is due to the vagueness of kann. Does this mean beherrschen, or just some degree of kennen ?
    Nah. When the proper-like people say “ich lese Russisch” they’re being just as vague, aren’t they.

  34. Grumbly: I was correcting our Hat’s assumption that I could not be knighted because I was an American. I think what’s wrong with ich kann Homeopathie is that homeopathy is a body of knowledge rather than a skill.
    Marie-Lucie: Yes, I saw that “calque” was the wrong word as soon as I hit Post: “post in haste, repent at leisure”. Thanks for doing the proper research. But it’s true that videre can mean ‘to know’ as well as ‘to see’ (indeed wit and videre are cognates), just as the defective verb licet can mean ‘be able’ as well as ‘be permitted’.

  35. Actually, someone could well say er weiß Französisch, and nobody would fall into a prescriptive faint. Just as in English, there are many ways to say things in German that are not proper-like, but nor are they completely unidiomatic.

  36. empty: When the proper-like people say “ich lese Russisch” they’re being just as vague, aren’t they.
    Why do you think that ? The statement may be humbug, but it’s more precise, more restricted than ich kann Russisch. It lays claim to an ability to read Russian weill, and implicitly disclaims an ability to speak it equally well (unless the claimant is splitting hairs, or laying a discursive trap).

  37. John: I think what’s wrong with ich kann Homeopathie is that homeopathy is a body of knowledge rather than a skill.
    Yes, that’s what I think as well, more or less. The trouble is that it is hard to draw a line between having knowledge in a field and being skilled in that field. Speaking a language, practicing homeopathy, playing chess: these all involve skills.
    “Knowledge” is attributed to skilled persons for various reasons, one being in order to suggest that the skill does not reside in and die with the skilled person, but has an “objective” nature independent of life and death. The notion of knowledge functions as a term of consolation and encouragement.
    It is socially constructed, just as is the notion of skill, or of anything else that you can’t wrap your hand around (I provide this qualification merely to make the medicine go down more easily, I will disown it in court).

  38. Sorry for the multiple posts, I had a browser problem.

  39. Unfortunately, my apology arrived six hours late. Well, anyway, thanks to Grumbly Stu for explaining what’s going on with the multiple postings. BTW, if someone would say “ich weiß Französisch” in my presence, I maybe wouldn’t correct it, because I’m a polite guy and don’t like to discourage non-natives speakers by constantly pointing out their mistakes, but it’s certainly wrong, and if asked or if I had an agreement with the speaker to correct his mistakes, I’d tell him.

  40. In English, if someone says “I know Russian”, you can’t be sure how well they know it, or even how well they think they know it. Much the same would apply if they say “I know physics” or “I know how to rewire a house”. In context you might or not have a good guess. It might require further inquiry. I think it it is useful to have the option of saying “I know Russian” rather than “I speak Russian fairly fluently” or “I can make my way pretty well in conversation with a native speaker if they are patient” or “I can read technical papers in Russian in my subject if I have a dictionary on hand” or “I have a black belt in Russian-English translation”.
    You seem to be saying that “ich kann Russisch” is frowned upon because it is vague. I doubt that that’s true, because we don’t frown on the equally vague “I know Russian”. But maybe Germans are different. Maybe their cold scissorlike minds require greater precision.

  41. I merely reminded Hat that he could not dub you himself.
    Oh yeah? Then how do you explain Sir JCass?

  42. That was an act of Crown, as I recall !

  43. Hans: if someone would say “ich weiß Französisch” in my presence, I maybe wouldn’t correct it, because I’m a polite guy and don’t like to discourage non-natives speakers by constantly pointing out their mistakes, but it’s certainly wrong
    Es fiel mir halt nachträglich ein, daß sogar ein einfaches, deutschsprachiges Gemüt so etwas rausbringen könnte – ich denke da an eine ältere Bäuerin aus der Eifel, zum Beispiel. Solchen Leuten bin ich schon begegnet.
    Natürlich ist es inkorrektes Deutsch, aber was man nicht alles an inkorrektem Deutsch hört, aus dem Munde der Jugend heutzutage usw ! Ginge es nicht um einen Deutschen, hätte ich ihn wohl korrigiert, da ich tendenziell hilfreich und unhöflich bin.
    empty: You seem to be saying that “ich kann Russisch” is frowned upon because it is vague.
    That is merely a speculation on my part. Forget that, because my claim is that it would not be “the right register” in a PhD thesis, or in a public address. You are free to believe that or not, quite independently of whether I could “prove” it to you by some lucubrations or other.
    We can ask Hans what his reaction would be if Alfred Grosser or Daniel Cohn-Bendit were to say, in a round-table political discussion on German tv, in answer to a very naive question as to whether they speak French: “Ja, ich kann Französisch” instead of “Ja, ich spreche Französisch“. It wouldn’t be wrong, but it would be surprisingly shirt-sleeved in such a discussion, coming from one of these two men in particular.

  44. Shirt-sleeved, condescending or humoring-along, depending on whether the question was asked by a cute young female thing.

  45. Stu, yes, of course I am free to believe or disbelieve your claim is that it would not be “the right register” in a PhD thesis, or in a public address. And of course if you offered evidence for that claim I would be free to ignore or not ignore the evidence.
    In fact, I was never doubting that claim. I was only questioning your speculation about why. But it’s not worth any more lucubrations on anybody’s part.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    JC: thank you for the precision on videlicet.
    Grumbly: Sorry, it is a long time since I studied or even read much German. I should be more careful. In my case it is much more ich lese Deutsch than ich spreche Deutsch. I recognize many individual words and have a good understanding of sentence structure, but my knowledge is mostly passive and it is hard for me to put two sentences together. And I am not familiar with colloquialisms. So if someone were to ask me: Savez-vous l’allemand?, I could reply: Je connais assez bien l’allemand, mais je ne le parle presque pas.
    Is it idiomatic or even possible to say il sait nager ?
    It is the only way to say “he can swim” meaning ‘he is capable of swimming, he has mastered the skill of swimming’.
    Since French doesn’t go in for substantivation the way German does, I don’t suppose there is a French structural equivalent to er kann Schach. How would one put that in French ?
    I suppose that this refers to a person’s ability as a chess player. This would be il sait jouer aux échecs or il joue très bien aux échecs. If you said il connaît (très bien) les échecs it could mean that he is an aficionado or even scholar of chess, acquainted with its rules, history, grand masters, etc, without being much of a chess player himself. If you were looking for someone to play chess with, you would be likely to ask your acquaintances: Tu joues / Vous jouez aux échecs? and the person could answer, for instance Oui, mais pas très bien.

  47. dearieme says:

    In my school Charles V spoke Latin to his cardinals, Spanish to his generals, French to his diplomats, Italian to his mistresses and German to his horses. Naturally someone demanded to know why he didn’t speak Flemish.

  48. That was an act of Crown, as I recall !
    Damn, I think you’re right. Crown, of course, can knight freely.

  49. J.W. Brewer says:

    Since I have no Russian, I had looked at the English version of the Goethe to compare it to the English version of the Sternberg while as it were overlooking the fact that I do have enough German (although it’s very rusty) to have noticed the difference in verbs had I bothered to read the original Goethe quote which was right there on the screen. I feel a bit silly since while at this point my German is rusty enough that I can’t read anything of any complexity unassisted, I do from time to time get out e.g. Goethe or Rilke from the library in facing-page translation because glancing over at the original does give me more of a feel for nuance (and/or the ability to assess how loose an approach the translator is taking).
    My other point that (to adopt John Cowan’s metaphor) the ichthyologist is not necessarily superior to the fish still stands, although now I’m reminded of the anecdote that attempts to hire Nabokov to teach literature at Harvard (before he went to Cornell) were torpedoed when some incumbent professor said it would be like hiring an elephant as professor of zoology.

  50. I do love multilinguism, even though there is more comprehension than performance on my part. I’m glad I can come to the right place!

  51. AJP Queen says:

    It was probably an act of the Crown, not a Crown.
    In Norway if you’re going to ask directions, you first say to someone ‘Scuse me, er du kjent her? in other words “are you known here?” – I suppose if you’re known then it’s likely that you yourself would know the area. I can’t remember if the same kind of phrase is used in German.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    In Norway if you’re going to ask directions, you first say to someone ‘Scuse me, er du kjent her?
    Nice observation. The verb kjenne is really the lost infinitive/present stem of the preterito-presentic verb kunne, and here we see an archaic meaning “make oneself acquainted, get to know”, thus “are you familiar with this area”. We have it also in gjøre seg kjent “make oneself familiar (with a place or an area)”, kjentmann “local guide”.

  53. I can’t remember if the same kind of phrase is used in German.
    The standard question is kennen Sie sich hier aus ?. A lovely old-fashioned way to put it is sind Sie hier ortskundig ? = “are you place-knowledgeable here ?” Unfortunately it doesn’t mean “does the place know you ?”, which would have been nice as well, sort of a polite equivalent of sind Sie ein bunter Hund hier ? = “are you an exotic figure that everyone knows ?”. Here is another bunter Hund.

  54. Actually, bunter Hund doesn’t imply “exotic”. I got carried away by the picture of the multicolored dog in sunglasses. The expression is bekannt wie ein bunter Hund, said of someone who is often involved (or often involves himself) in certain kinds of situation, so that many people come to know him.
    The expression is slightly deprecating, as you might have expected from Hund and bunt – more show than know.

  55. Sir JCass says:

    Then how do you explain Sir JCass?
    No one can explain Sir JCass.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: bekannt wie ein bunter Hund
    There is a similar phrase in French, connu comme le loup blanc ‘as well-known as the white wolf’: the white wolf is a legendary figure everyone has heard about and would immediately recognize. This sort of person often runs for office and gets elected.

  57. Es fiel mir halt nachträglich ein, daß sogar ein einfaches, deutschsprachiges Gemüt so etwas rausbringen könnte – ich denke da an eine ältere Bäuerin aus der Eifel, zum Beispiel. Solchen Leuten bin ich schon begegnet.
    Grimm (4aβ) has some cases, as late as the 19th century, so I cannot exclude that there are German dialects where “(eine Spache) wissen” would still be correct today. I can only say that I’ve never heard that construction from any native speaker, regardless of regional or educational background.
    We can ask Hans what his reaction would be if Alfred Grosser or Daniel Cohn-Bendit were to say,
    in a round-table political discussion on German tv, in answer to a very naive question as to whether they speak French: “Ja, ich kann Französisch” instead of “Ja, ich spreche Französisch”. It wouldn’t be wrong, but it would be surprisingly shirt-sleeved in such a discussion, coming from one of these two men in particular.

    Exactly. It’s a question of register, not of grammaticality. That said, my impression is that the register required in TV talk shows has dropped somewhat over my lifetime; I wouldn’t be very astonished on hearing “Ich kann Französich” even from the persons you mentioned, especially if it was on a talk show on one of the private stations (RTL etc.).

  58. Actually, John can be nominated for an honorary knighthood: “People who are not UK citizens or citizens of Commonwealth countries of which The Queen is Head of State are eligible to be considered for awards but the award may be an honorary one.”
    I’m not sure if Hat could nominate him directly – he might have to use a UK citizen as a proxy.
    “[t]he honours system recognises people of outstanding merit, and those who have committed themselves to service to the nation. It’s been around for centuries, but it was a closed system for many years. Only since 1993 has everybody been free to nominate.”
    You don’t ask The Queen directly, though the advice is to make sure your nomination is strong enough “to make it to Buckingham Palace”. The application goes to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat at the Cabinet Office, the civil service support of the Prime Minister. The Secretariat sorts out the best possible nominees for gongs at all levels, from peerages (Lords) to lesser but still much valued decorations for people like particularly devoted nurses, etc.

  59. marie-lucie, does connu comme le loup blanc have a slightly disparaging connotation, as the German expression does ? For some reason I imagine that it doesn’t.

  60. Hans: I’ve never heard that construction from any native speaker, regardless of regional or educational background.
    Nor have I. However, around here I have learned that I must be cautious with sweeping claims about German, and sometimes actually am. It has happened in the past that, say, an Austrian (David Marjanovic) von der Seite reingeschossen kam mit seinen eigenen Gegen(d)beispielen.
    By the way, I’m currently experimenting with dollops of German in my comments so that empty, marie-lucie or anyone else who’s interested has a chance to engage with German In Action Instead Of In A Museum. To my liking there are too few people here who know German, and I would like to Make The World A Better Place. I’ll stop should the generality find my observations in highly polished, incontrovertible English to be best when undiluted.

  61. I personally enjoy the bits of German.

  62. And Hat, of course. Sheesh, how could I have forgotten !
    I would say my German is on a par with marie-lucie’s English. This doesn’t mean I don’t worry about making mistakes, of course. I feel that I have to be 110-prozentig on my toes all the time, otherwise it will all start sliding downhill.
    This may sound neurotic and obsessional, but it’s how I got to where I am today. And I pay much more attention now to my phrasing and choice of words in English than I ever did prior to coming to Germany.

  63. I fret that I wrote hilfreich … bin above, instead of hilfsbereit. For reasons hard to explain briefly, I feel that in future I will try to use hilfsbereit for people, and hilfreich for things. hilfreich is in fact used for both, but I see the possibility of making a fine distinction even though no one but myself might appreciate it.
    I assume many people try to find and uphold such distinctions, whether in their native language or another. Unfortunately, that sometimes leads to slanging-matches about “what is more correct”. I prefer to make distinctions without making issues out of them.

  64. When it comes to style, that is. Otherwise, making issues is my middle name.

  65. To my liking there are too few people here who know German
    This confused me. For a moment I thought you were saying that you liked the fact that there are too few. I can try to explain this confusion by pointing out what happens if you substitute any of a number of other things for “liking”, for example “amazement”, “horror”, or “great satisfaction”.
    Is “to my liking” a deliberately awkward translation of some German Word or Phrase? Maybe “meinetwegen” ?

  66. I’ve always liked that word bunt. I believe that in reference to flags or laundry-to-be-sorted-for-washing it means brightly colored. What does it mean in reference to dogs or cows? Multicolored? Red(dish)?

  67. For a moment I thought you were saying that you liked the fact that there are too few.
    Hmmm. I originally phrased it like this: “There are too few people who know German, to my way of thinking”. I then put the last phrase in front, and found occasion to fret about the fact that then there was a “to” and a “too” in close succession. I tried “To my liking”, but that didn’t solve the to/too issue. I considered “For my liking”, but that didn’t sound right. I concluded that to/too was the least of my worries, so left it at “To my liking”.
    Is “to my liking” a deliberately awkward translation of some German Word or Phrase? Maybe “meinetwegen” ?
    If anything, it’s an undeliberately awkward rendering of Für meine Begriffe [to my way of thinking], which is what I had in mind.

  68. laundry-to-be-sorted-for-washing
    You’re thinking of Buntwäsche as opposed to Kochwäsche. The sorting criterion is used because bunte Wäsche should not be washed at the same temperature as weiße Wäsche = Kochwäsche, which you can “boil”.
    In the olden days, Kochwäsche was laundered at 90 degrees and Buntwäsche at 60. Now that we are all ökobewußt, and do the laundry more often than once a month, we don’t need such high temperatures – they’ve moved down to 60 and 30 respectively.
    bunt means “brightly colored” and/or “many-colored”. Bunter Hund is just a fixed expression.

  69. bunt is a simple word, but not one I use often. In terms of color, it means “brightly many-colored”. I guess “brightly colored” is the corresponding English expression, which you also wouldn’t use for something which had only one color.
    bunt has other, related meanings as well. There are several quasi-fixed expressions such as buntes Publikum, meaning “a motley audience” with very different kinds of people, differently dressed. There’s a better English word for that, I think, but it won’t come to me.

  70. I suppose that a cow does not have to be very brightly many-colored to qualify as a Bunte Kuh.

  71. AJP Crown says:

    I’ve always liked that word bunt. I believe that in reference to flags or laundry-to-be-sorted-for-washing it means brightly colored.
    Believe it or not I was thinking of it last night, for some reason. I too remember it from washing machines, though I was very nouveau washing machine when I lived in Germany. The other washing term I remember is the downtown street called Grosse Bleichen, in Hamburg, that got its name from being the place where bleaching was carried out in the very oldern days.
    TROND, thank you very much for that explanation. Not knowing the history of Er du kjent her? has bothered me for ages.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: does connu comme le loup blanc have a slightly disparaging connotation, as the German expression does ?
    I could not say offhand. In my youth I have often heard my father use it, but since I don’t live in France or read much French I am not au courant about that sort of saying. It may be slightly derogatory: “known for being known”, for instance, rather than for special positive or negative attributes or actions.
    More bunt: Schumann wrote a series of very short, varied piano pieces called Bunte Blätter.
    Laundry: bunte Wäsche should not be washed at the same temperature as weiße Wäsche = Kochwäsche, which you can “boil”.
    Boil is literal, although it is not often done these days. When I was a child, white linens (sheets, tablecloths, kitchen towels, etc) which were actually made of linen (the flax-derived textile) were indeed boiled for some time with strong soap and borax or lye in a specially equipped tub. Rather than trying to explain, I refer you to the Wikipédia.fr article for lessiveuse, the name of the tub in question; the article shows a diagram of the tub and its mode of operation, and pictures of a girl and a woman doing laundry at least 100 years ago. Doing the laundry was basically boiling the boilable articles, the non-boilable washables (including more delicate linens such as blouses) being washed by hand. Of course, this was not the end of the process: after boiling, the sodden, heavy linene had to be taken out of the boiling water with wooden tongs, wrung out in some way, rinsed, hung out to dry, etc – laundry day was a day of hard labour.
    The article explains that la lessiveuse is still used for extremely dirty workclothes or cloths subjected to toxic products such as pesticides, which should not be mixed with the family laundry. The only other corresponding Wiki article is in Dutch, which describes the Wasketel in words only.
    The word lessiveuse is from the verb lessiver ‘to wash (cloths) with a washing product’, it self from la lessive, orig. ‘the product(s) used for laundering’, then ‘the act of doing laundry’, ‘the single load of laundry’.
    I would say my German is on a par with marie-lucie’s English
    Well, I am not sure how to take this! Let me guess: very fluent but sometimes odd.

  73. very fluent but sometimes odd
    “Odd” ? I have never had that impression at all. Maybe twice a year I find you using a word that seems a bit Frenchy rather than Englishy, but that’s it. Like seeing a bit of slip sneak out from beneath a skirt – now you see it, then it’s gone.
    Your command of English is rather daunting – that’s why I made the comparison, so as to grab some reflected light. I was relieved when you recently revealed that sometimes you speak with a slight French accent.
    My German is neither more nor less “odd” than my English – full of puns (good and bad), neologisms and conceptual freakiness, but syntactically and lexically in the front row. It is easier to hear and to heckle from there.

  74. Yes, I assumed Grumbly meant his German was excellent. I have never been as good at speaking or writing any foreign language as m-l is at writing English (well, when I was four I was as fluent in Japanese as I was in English, but of course that was a much more restricted level of language use).

  75. Grumbly: Could ‘bunt’ be translated as ‘parti-coloured’ ?
    m-l: Now I know what a boiled shirt is! Not that I’ve read such period literature in some time.

  76. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, Grumbly and LH. Grumbly and I have the advantage of living in countries where we are surrounded by the foreign language, while LH is not. LH, if you had stayed in Japan you would no doubt have spoken and written Japanese like a native.
    As for my accent, some people say it is very slight, others that it is terrible! Take your pick, but I usually make myself understood without too much effort.

  77. iakon: Could ‘bunt’ be translated as ‘parti-coloured’ ?
    Yes, except that the word “parti-coloured” is a bit more fancy than “bunt“, in that one wouldn’t want to say “I’m going to do my parti-coloured laundry this afternoon”. As Mr. Genesis (German: Mr. First Book of Moses) relates at 37:3, Israel gave Joseph a bunten Rock.
    Three years ago, I noticed in the WiPe on Thomas Fuller that the tile of one of his books, a collection of sermons, was given as “Joseph’s partly-coloured Coat”. After I corrected this to “party-coloured”, someone reverted it back to “partly-coloured”. Whoever this was may have felt that “party” was too frivolous a concept to appear in the title of a collection of sermons. I chased down a facsimile of the title page of an 1867 edition, added a link and again corrected the article citation to “party-coloured” – as it now remains.

  78. Buntwäsche refers to the pile of clothes as a whole. Many colors may appear in it, but all the items of clothing could just as well have the same color. No individual item of clothing need be bunt = “parti-colored”.
    To do your Buntwäsche, you must plan ahead with a handbook of semiotics. This is not necessary when you wash your colored things

  79. AJP Crown says:

    If only my written English were as good as m-l’s.

  80. So it seems that a thing, or a collection of things, can deserve to be called bunt either by having more than one color or by having one or more bright color.
    I am still wondering about that cow. Is this cow bunt? I am guessing that this pied one is not. What was the pied piper wearing?
    bunten Rock
    That’s what I like about this word! It lets you express the idea of “parti-colored” or “party-colored” or “multicolored” or “of many colors” without making a whole big ponderous thing out of it. It seems that bunt can also mean brightly-colored, with no suggestion of more than one color.
    (Rock surprised me, because in high school German it was a skirt, and thus (a) mainly for females and (b) from the waist down. I suppose it can also mean a gent’s frock.)

  81. Rock in the 18-19 C was a word for, among other things, a man’s coat. They had different cuts that changed with fashion. A 19C German translation of Gogol’s well-known short story could easily have had the title Der Rock.
    The history of coats and words for them seems rather complicated to me – look at this and this. “Coat” appears to be of Germanic origin, see also the OED on this. The Austrian word Kotzen is a kind of rough blanket, but also a kind of heavy coat. The word is pronounced with a long o as in “coat”, not as in kotzen with a short “o” meaning “vomit”.
    Moving seamlessly off-topic, there are several amusing Austrian expressions for “puke” (look up kotzen here).
    des klo oschrein [scream at the toilet]
    durch die Zähne scheissen [shit through the teeth]
    die Speisekarte faxen [to fax the menu]
    I really do love this aspect of Germanic linguistic culture: its absolutely unflappable explicitness, its vivid vulgarity.

  82. My guess is that those expressions are not “used all the time”, no more than their Germany-German counterparts are, or variations on any of them. But they are available at any time to get a laugh.

  83. “To pray to (or, to kiss) Ralph, the porcelain god.”

  84. “It’s too cold for my liking” is a common sort of thing to say and could only be understood one way.
    Does using ‘to my liking’ or putting ‘to my liking’ up front change the meaning somehow?

  85. “Talking into the big white telephone.”

  86. Does using ‘to my liking’ or putting ‘to my liking’ up front change the meaning somehow?
    “It’s too cold for my liking” is perfectly clear.
    I’m sure that the inverted form “for my liking it’s too cold” would also be perfectly clear to me.
    “It’s too cold to my liking” would be unidiomatic, but I would have little or no doubt as to what was meant.
    The inverted and unidiomatic “to my liking it’s too cold” might puzzle me almost as much as Stu’s phrase did (which is to say, not much).
    Changing topics as seamlessly as Stu, I remember an excerpt from a menu, displayed in a long-ago New Yorker:
    Steaks grilled to your likeness

  87. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: To my liking there are too few people here who know German.
    Bathrobe: “It’s too cold for my liking”…. – Does using ‘to my liking’ or putting ‘to my liking’ up front change the meaning somehow?
    It does make a difference, based on the “scope” of the phrase. Here is a little lesson in syntax.
    Let’s start with Bathrobe’s simpler example. Placed at the end, to/for my liking is a complement of too cold and does not apply to the rest of the sentence. (It’s) too cold for my liking is one possible answer to the question: How cold is it?, which asks for an evaluation of the degree of coldness (eg (It’s) very cold, icy cold, not so cold, etc).
    Placed at the beginning, the phrase applies to the whole sentence as an equivalent of I like the fact that …. Similarly, if you begin a sentence with To my surprise, it is the equivalent of I am surprised that …, To my horror = I am horrified that …, etc.
    Grumbly’s sentence (probably influenced by German syntax) was a little odd because the positive To my liking at the beginning implied I like the fact that …, an interpretation which was immediately contradicted by the negative evaluation contained in too few people, thereby requiring the reader to reconsider their interpretation of the intended meaning: Grumbly was actually deploring, not liking, the fact that too few people here know German.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. (After reading Ø’s comment)
    The use of the preposition, to or for, also makes a differenbe: as Ø says, For my liking it’s too cold is understandable, because the sequence too (adjective) for (noun phrase or nominalization) is the common pattern, but To (noun phrase) does not usually fit into this pattern and normally applies to the whole of the following sentence.

  89. “scope” [...] Let’s start with Bathrobe’s simpler example. Placed at the end, to/for my liking is a complement of too cold and does not apply to the rest of the sentence.
    Yes. But I find that some other prepositional phrases, if placed after “It’s too cold”, might apply to the whole:
    “It’s too cold, to my way of thinking.”
    “It’s too cold, in my opinion.”
    “It’s too cold, in a manner of speaking.”

  90. I think I agree with marie-lucie’s analysis, in principle. As I said later, what I originally had in mind was für meine Begriffe.
    This can be up-fronted or back-tailed in a sentence, with no change in meaning. This apparently is not the case with “to my liking”: mistake 1. Then I thought that something was wrong with “for my liking”, that I was being influenced by the für in für meine Begriffe: mistake 2.
    This is not an example of “forgetting one’s native language”, but of flubbing on certain small things from time to time – with or without a foreign language to blame it on.

  91. Stu, ordinarily the verb “flub” is transitive. Are you forgetting your native language?

  92. empty, you can look at it like this: I may have enriched the language with an intransitive use of “flub”. Anyway, now that I check, I find that MW gives an intransitive sense “blunder”. So I may not be widening, but renovating your vocab.
    Any appearance of forgetting my native language must be only apparent, so long as I can talk my way out of it – don’t you think ?

  93. marie-lucie says:

    Ø : of course, not every preposition will work there. Note that in your new examples you separate the prepositional phrase from the main clause with a comma, which corresponds to a slighe pause and different intonation in speaking. You could not say: It’s too cold, for my liking, the sequence too … for … has to be kept together by the lack of a pause (and if you say for my liking at the beginning, its relation to too … remains).

  94. Trond:

    The various etymological dictionaries I have consulted s.v. English ken say that it, like German kennen, ON kenna > Sw känna, Dan kjende, is an old causative of can (können, etc.) rather than an old present tense. Indeed, it is kennian in Old Saxon, showing the old causative infix -j- that is preserved only as umlaut elsewhere. The original sense ’cause to know, make know(n)’ is retained only in Gothic and Old English. The entire English verb is now obsolete, archaic, or preserved only in Scots, but here are its senses from the OED with quotations omitted:

    I. In causative senses. (All Obs.)
    †1. trans. To make known, declare, confess, acknowledge. Obs. c975—c1275

    †2.
    a. To make known, to impart the knowledge of (a thing). Usually with dat. of person (or to): To make a thing known to one; to teach one something. Obs. a1225—c1430
    †b. With clause expressing what is made known or taught, the dat. of the person being later taken as direct obj., and so as subject of passive. Obs. a1225—?a1500
    †c. to ken thank : to make known or express thanks: = can v.1 10, con v.1 4. Obs. c1440—a1566

    †3.
    a. To direct, teach, or instruct (a person). Obs. a1300—c1540
    †b. with inf. compl.: To teach one, show one how to do something. Obs. 1362—a1529
    †c. absol. To give instruction or directions c1330—1393

    †4.
    a. To direct, guide, show the way to (unto, till) a place or person. Obs. c1200—c1560
    †b. intr. and refl. To direct one’s course, betake oneself, proceed, go. Obs. c1275—c1320

    †5. trans. To consign, commend, deliver, bestow. Obs. a1300—c1440

    II. In non-causative senses.

    6.
    a. To descry, see; to catch sight of, discover by sight; to look at, scan. Now only arch. c1275—1880
    b. absol. To see, look. Obs. or arch. 1577—1755

    7.
    a. To recognize (at sight, or by some marks or tokens); to identify. Now north. or Sc. c1275—1901
    b. To (be able to) distinguish (one person or thing from another). Now Sc. c1340—1901

    †8.
    a. To recognize, acknowledge, admit to be (genuine, valid, or what is claimed). Obs. c1400—1489
    b. Sc. Law. To recognize (a person) as legal heir or successor to an estate; usually, to serve a widow to a life-rent of the third part of her deceased husband’s lands. 1468—1808

    †9. To get to know, ascertain, find out. Obs. c1330—1586

    10. To know (a person); to have acquaintance with; to be acquainted with. Now Sc. c1420—1901

    11.
    a. To know (a thing); to have knowledge of or about (a thing, place, person, etc.), to be acquainted with; †to understand. Now chiefly Sc. c1330—1879
    b. To know, understand, or perceive (a fact, etc.); to be aware of, to be aware that (what, etc.). Now chiefly Sc. a1400—1865
    c. With compl. (Chiefly in pass.) Now Sc. a1400—1869

    12.
    a. intr. or absol. To have knowledge (of or about something). †Also with inf.: To know how to, to be able to (obs.). c1400—1816
    †b. refl. To have skill; to be accomplished in. (= French se connaître en.) Obs. rare. 1362—a1525

  95. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, thanks, good to have that straightened out. That’s what happens when I think I know something. And I suppose I should have been able to tell; the -e- smacks of causative.

    Checking Bjorvand & Lindeman, I gather that the PIE paradigm had a nasal present instead of a present stem parallel to spin-. This nasal present stem survived into OHG in the weak verb kunnēn “experience, realize”. Eng ‘know’ is derived from an ablauted form, but I won’t pretend that I understand how.

  96. Marie-Lucie:

    If you were looking for someone to play chess with, you would be likely to ask your acquaintances: Tu joues / Vous jouez aux échecs? and the person could answer, for instance Oui, mais pas très bien.

    In English that response is traditionally “I know the moves”, meaning that you know the rules of the game but not its strategy.

  97. David Marjanović says:

    It has happened in the past that, say, an Austrian (David Marjanovic) von der Seite reingeschossen kam mit seinen eigenen Gegen(d)beispielen.

    *pew pew*

    (Nice pun! Gegenbeispiel “counterexample”, Gegend “small geographical area”.)

    Ich weiß Englisch sounds completely wrong to me, but I’m not surprised to learn that it exists regionally – perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the area where it’s found is close to France. Ich kann Englisch is unmarked and idiomatic, as is ich kann Karate; ich spreche Englisch, while of course possible in Standard German, strikes me as a bit artificial – but keep in mind that sprechen doesn’t exist in Bavarian-Austrian dialects, so maybe it is actively avoided in Austria.

    Ich kann Schach sounds awkward; I’d say ich kann Schach spielen.

    For reasons hard to explain briefly, I feel that in future I will try to use hilfsbereit for people, and hilfreich for things. hilfreich is in fact used for both, but I see the possibility of making a fine distinction even though no one but myself might appreciate it.

    It’s more literal: you can use hilfsbereit to refer to yourself, because it means you’re “ready to help”; to use hilfreich implies that your actions do in fact help, and that you don’t merely offer or intend to.

    “Coat” appears to be of Germanic origin, see also the OED on this. The Austrian word Kotzen is a kind of rough blanket

    Intriguing. I’ve never heard of it, though; it must be more regional than “Austrian”.

    there are several amusing Austrian expressions for “puke”

    Don’t know them either, but then I haven’t moved in boozing circles there. But it may interest people here that the default colloquial word is speiben, which seems to have an interesting etymological relationship with speien (poetic for “spew”) and forms a diminutive, let’s spell it speiberln, to describe how little children do it. Kotzen is known nowadays, but not used much.

    The medical word is erbrechen, which also meant “to break the seal on a letter” and is sometimes shortened to brechen (especially in compounts: Brechreiz “gag reflex”, more literally “stimulus for vomiting”), and the literary word is sich übergeben, literally “to hand oneself over”.

  98. David, while on this serious subject, what’s the distribution of pucken ‘to fart’? Do Austrians think a chef named Puck is funny?

  99. David Marjanović says:

    what’s the distribution of pucken ‘to fart’?

    This is literally the first time I’ve ever encountered that word.

  100. like hiring an elephant as professor of zoology

    The pioneering linguist Roman Jakobson, according to legend: “I do respect very much the elephant, but would you give him the chair of Zoology?” Unfortunately, I don’t know of any collection of his witticisms, so I’ll just give one more in Mark Liberman’s words:

    As I heard the story, [Jakobson] was giving a lecture at Columbia on Eastern European folk epics. He decided to lecture in Bulgarian — one of the couple of dozen languages that he spoke fluent Russian in. One of the audience members raised a hand and protested, in English, that most of the audience did not know Bulgarian. Jakobson’s response, also in English: “You are linguist, no? So listen, and try to understand.”

  101. JC, “Ken”: The entire English verb is now obsolete, archaic, or preserved only in Scots

    Not at all! There’s a very famous BBC comedy series from the early 1960s called Beyond Our Ken, which is a play on the name of Kenneth Horne its star and an expression that’s still used (at least in Britain).

  102. But that’s the noun, not the verb.

  103. marie-lucie says:

    He decided to lecture in Bulgarian

    He had probably given the lecture in Bulgaria already, or prepared it to give it or publish it there, and he did not see why he should go to the trouble of translating it.

  104. But that’s the noun, not the verb.

    Is that significant? Noun or verb “beyond our ken” means roughly “beyond what man knows”. It’s still in use. I might say it later this evening.

  105. Is that significant?

    Sure it is, otherwise people wouldn’t get so upset over, say, using “impact” as a verb (or, for that matter, using “verb” as a verb: “You can’t say ‘I verbed that’!”). The Scots say things like “I harly kent him” for “I hardly knew him”; surely it’s obvious that’s not Standard English. We don’t use it as a verb.

  106. But you do use it as a noun (beyond our ken), as they do in the UK?

  107. marie-lucie says:

    beyond my ken : I have heard people say that, perhaps jocularly, and only in this particular fixed phrase. I don’t think ken is used at all as a verb in North America.

  108. David Marjanović says:
    He decided to lecture in Bulgarian — one of the couple of dozen languages that he spoke fluent Russian in.

    That sentence deserves an award.

  109. But you do use it as a noun (beyond our ken), as they do in the UK?

    Only in that phrase (“beyond [X's] ken”), and only as a fairly formal adjunct to one’s vocabulary; it’s certainly not an everyday term. And I’ll bet you don’t say things like “Is that in your ken?”; in other words, it’s not so much a noun as part of a fixed phrase, as m-l says.

  110. Ok. There’s a song called Do ye ken John Peel?, which must be early-mid 19C, that I remember from some awful school country-dancing lesson where the gym teacher wore a kilt. I’ve tried to erase it from my memory, but it comes back when I’m least expecting it.

  111. Yes, I thought of it too and almost mentioned it, but was afraid of bringing memories of awful school country-dancing lessons to people’s minds.

  112. I actually mentioned “John Peel” upthread back in 2012. This time I looked it up in WP, though, which agrees with the 19C date and attributes it to the North of England, where ken is or at least was in living use, as also in Scots. Apparently Peel was a real huntsman, and one of the song’s lines explains the title of the James Bond story “A View To A Kill”, which turns out to be yet another in the short list of non-constituent titles.

Speak Your Mind

*