Fun with Latin.

A couple of bits of Latinity that mix amusement and edification:

1) “I am almoost beshytten”: A 16th Century English to Latin Textbook. Phrases “excerpted from an English to Latin textbook printed in the early 16th century (Auct. 2Q 5.9(4)), which has been digitized by the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford as part of an ongoing project. You can read the whole thing here or learn more about the project here.”

2) Corruptae Latinitatis Index: Or, a Collection of Barbarous Words and Phrases, which are Found in the Works of the Most Celebrated Modern Writers in Latin. With an Alphabetical Table, Shewing, what Words and Phrases, Taken from the Classics, Would Have Clearly and Fully Answered Their Purpose. By William Massey, Master of a Boarding-School at Wandsworth. The Preface gets quite censorious:

After the Roman Empire began to decay, their Language likewise was soon debased by an Inundation of foreign and new-coined Words. * The African Latin Writers, both ecclesiastic and profane, such as Tertullian, Apuleius, Arnobius, &c. are justly charged with greatly debasing the Roman Language in the Decline of that Empire, by introducing a Multitude of Words and Phrases, that would have been disgusting to a pure Roman Ear.

In the words of the excellent Conrad, who sent me the link: “Prescriptivism ca. 1755.”

Too Many Books, Part Umpteen.

I’ve linked to essays about this sort of thing before (e.g., here and here); now I present for your perusal Alice Fishburn in the Financial Times (of which she is an editor):

It was as I tried to squeeze all 784 pages of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – my final purchase of 2013 – on to an already overcrowded bookshelf that I realised I had a problem. Piles of books were all over the house, many of them unread. There were unopened political doorstops; texts from the undergraduate canon with embarrassing student notes on 10 pages – “heteronormative cliché!” was a particular favourite – before my attention petered out; stacks of classics consigned to the “one day when I have time” category. Clearly my supply and demand assessments were way, way off.

And so the pact began. My rules were simple. Books could be accepted as gifts or used when needed for work. They could be purchased for others, but not as a backhanded way of smuggling them into my own library. My fellow Brits may have spent £2.2bn on books in 2013 but I was no longer going to be one of them. Every page I turned in 2014 had to come from those already inside my house.

She mentions that “My new tactic of reading only what I already own turns out not to be new at all: Susan Hill wrote a whole book on the subject, Howards End is on the Landing, in 2009,” and some of the commenters on those earlier LH posts seem to successfully maintain policies of never buying more books until they’ve read all the ones they own already; I don’t know if I find such restraint admirable, but I know for sure that I could never emulate it. And I’m pleased to say that I have in fact eventually gotten around to many of the books that years ago no one, including myself, believed I’d ever read. But it’s true I’m adding very few these days, and the ones I acquire are usually for the Kindle. Even I am abashed by the groaning shelves and growing piles… (Thanks, Paul!)

Slang of the Times.

Megan Garber, Adrienne LaFrance, and Ian Bogost have a delightful post at Citylab on how the Gray Lady has dealt over the years with the jargon of the young and/or underclass, presumptively unintelligible to its well-bred readership. They open with a quote from a recent article about a $25 penalty for pot possession in Washington, D.C.:

“A ticket when you just have a jay or something?” said Clifford Gray, a lifelong District of Columbia resident who is in his 20s, using a slang term for a marijuana cigarette. “I’m good with that.”

And they continue thus:

This—”a slang term for a marijuana cigarette”—was so delightfully, perfectly Timesian. Not a joint, mind you, but a marijuana cigarette! (In related Times-speak, a whip isn’t just a car but an automobile.)

And it made us wonder: What other terms had the paper of record decided to wordsplain in this way? What else, in the Times‘s more than 150-year history, had writers and editors decided to clarify as “a slang term for X”?

We decided to find out. We searched the paper’s archives—a corpus of news articles from 1851 to the present—for any and all instances of “a slang term for,” “slang for,” and “a slang word for.” We LOLed at the results. (“LOL” is a slang term for “laugh out loud.”)

Below, our random generator of 73 pieces of Times-defined slang, many of them long forgotten, many of them deserving of resurrection, and all of them revealing about the place and time that gave rise to them.

We marveled at the way these expressions—the ones we understood, anyway—captured the spirit of the era in which they were defined. It makes sense, for instance, that the Times defined acid (“a slang term for the drug LSD”) in 1970, grunt (“a slang word for an infantryman”) during the Vietnam War, diss (“a slang term for a perceived act of disrespect”) in 1994, and macking (“a slang term for making out”) in 1999.

One particularly memorable example is how the Times unpacked “punk” in 1977: “Slanguist Eric Partridge speculates that punk is hobo lingo to describe very stale bread, perhaps from the French pain. Punk, applied to a person, began as a slang term for a catamite, or boy kept by a pederast, and later extended to cover young hoodlums.”

You don’t have to click their link to know that the last quote is from William Safire; the first word gives it away. Needless to say, the first sentence is utter balderdash (to use a word Bill would have enjoyed), and you should never take Eric Partridge’s word for anything. Anyway, enjoy the random generator; Yoram, who sent me the link, also sent the full list (thanks, Yoram!), and for your delectation, here is the earliest citation:

1855. “I have found by [associating] of late with [criminals] and other low people, that Marianne is argot for guillotine, just as wipe is slang for handkerchief.”

(I have added the words in brackets from the original article, which is a very enjoyable read in its own right.) As Yoram says, it’s a pity they didn’t search for “argot” as well.

Are the World’s Languages Consolidating?

That’s the title of a paper (pdf) by David Clingingsmith of Case Western Reserve University; the abstract says:

Scholars have long conjectured that the return to knowing a language increases with the number of speakers. Recent work argues that long-run economic and political integration accentuate this advantage, leading larger languages to increase their population share. I show that, to the contrary, language size and growth are uncorrelated for languages with ≥35,000 speakers. I incorporate this finding into an evolutionary model of language population dynamics. The model’s steady-state follows a power law and precisely fits the size distribution of the 1,900 languages with ≥35,000 speakers. Simulations suggest the extinction of 40% of languages with <35,000 speakers within 100 years.

It looks interesting and well written but quickly gets into more statistics than I can handle, but I’m sure some of my readers will have no problem with it. (Incidentally, if you’re curious, as I was, about the name Clingingsmith, there’s a book called Klingensmith, Klingelsmith, Clingingsmith, Etc, which is suggestive if not very enlightening.) Thanks, Kobi!

Every-day Pronunciation.

In trying to determine the pronunciation of the Belgian town of Popering(h)e, I discovered the wonderful Every-day Pronunciation, by Robert Palfrey Utter (Harper & Brothers, 1918). It had exactly what I wanted, even giving the anglicized pronunciation presumably used by the Tommies in World War I (the equivalent of “POPP-ering”):

But wandering through its pages, I discovered all sorts of delights:
pumpkin, pum’kin, pung’kin, pump’kin. Objections to the first two are pedantic.

sacrilegious, sakrelĭdẓ’us, sakrilēdẓ’us. The second is still the favorite of the lexicographers but they are beginning to recognize the fact that no one uses it.

scenario, shānă’riō. So in all dictionaries, but now, through the influence of the moving pictures, pretty well naturalized as sina’rio.

sem’inar, seminar’. The first is frowned upon by lexicographers, but in the United States it is the only pronunciation heard in academic circles where the word is current. British usage favors the second.

Xavier (Saint Francis), zăv’ier.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone say “shay-NARio,” “semi-NAR,” or “ZAV-ier” (with short a, as in “have”); I’m guessing the last is still used by some but the first two have sunk into the dustbin of history. And of course I love “Objections to the first two are pedantic.” (I’ve provided images to show the complicated system of phonetic transcription, which I haven’t tried to reproduce; I hope you can see them.)

And while we’re doing lexicography: Grantland Dictionary: Pro Wrestling Edition.

Emendation via Degustation.

From G.W. Bowersock’s NYRB review of two books on the history of food (and I’m as pleased as Bowersock is that the subject is finally being taken seriously):

Petronius’ depiction in the first century AD of a banquet at the house of the pretentious parvenu Trimalchio remains one of the great satires of gourmandise in Western literature. A cookbook of the time [...] has survived in later copies under the name of Apicius, and I cherish the account I had many years ago from Barbara Flower, the translator of this work, about her efforts to establish a sound Latin text. She prepared each of the recipes herself in the presence of the great textual critic Paul Maas, who, when the preparation was obviously in trouble, would emend the Latin original on the spot until the dish appeared to be in order. This was editing of a kind such as not even that formidable editor of Latin authors A.E. Housman could have imagined, and it illustrates the unexpected consequences of culinary studies of the past.

The Story of “Dob.”

Bruce Moore (a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, currently editing the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary) discusses the meanings and history of the Australian slang verb dob in an extract from his book What’s their Story? A History of Australian Words (Oxford University Press Australia, 2010), quoted in this Ozwords post:

The verb dob has a range of meanings in Australian English. The most common meaning (often in the form dob in, dob into, or dob on) is ‘to inform upon, to incriminate’ … It can also (and less commonly) mean ‘to impose a responsibility upon (often a matter of getting someone to do an unpopular or difficult task)’ … As dob in it can also mean ‘to contribute money to a common cause’ … Finally, in Australian Rules football, dob can mean ‘to kick (the ball) long and accurately; to kick (a goal)’ … Are all these meanings related?

A possible clue to the origin of this major sense of dob, and also the other dobs, may lie in British dialect. … In fact, most dictionaries trace the Australian dobs back to these British dialect dobs. There, we find the verb dob meaning ‘to put down an article heavily or clumsily; to throw down’, with widespread dialectal usage… A second dialectal meaning of dob is ‘to throw stones etc. at a mark’, mainly from northern English dialects, and from Cornwall. … In Lincolnshire dob means ‘to hit’ or ‘a hit’. The underlying notion of throwing and hitting is evident in some marble games. In Cheshire the verb dob means ‘to throw a piece of slate, or other flat missile, at marbles placed in a ring at a distance of about six or seven feet from the player’, and in Northamptonshire ‘When one boy strikes another boy’s marble, without his marble first touching the ground, he is said to dob on it’. A dobber in British dialect is ‘a large, heavy marble’ and a dob-taw is ‘a large marble, a “lobber”’. In most of these uses the dialect dob is synonymous with the more familiar dab, and with some of that word’s dialectal uses—for example, a dab can be ‘an amount of money’, and to dab down means ‘to put a thing down quickly’ and figuratively ‘to pay down ready money’.

This is clearly a very complex etymology. The problem with what is outlined here is that those Australian words and meanings, which we are certain have their origin in British dialect, appear during the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influence of dialectal words on Australian English was at its greatest. The Australian dob and its variants are first recorded much later then this. … On these grounds we must conclude that the origin remains uncertain, although the clues provided in the dialectal material certainly provide some very likely origins.

An admirable example of how the nitty-gritty of etymology is carried on; see the link for citations, references, and further speculation.

Garnett and Tolstoy.

Translator Rosamund Bartlett (also author of a biography of Tolstoy) has a very interesting piece in the Financial Times on the history of Tolstoy translations; the centerpiece is an account of how the woman who practically defined Russian literature in English got her start:

Within months of its completion in 1893, Tolstoy’s philosophical magnum opus The Kingdom of God is Within You was being read in English in northern Pakistan by the explorer Francis Younghusband, and in South Africa by a young Indian lawyer called Mohandas Gandhi. It had an equally immediate and explosive impact on both of them, and on countless others in cities as far-flung as Chicago, Alexandria and Rangoon who promptly resigned army commissions or abandoned commerce.

The translation they read was by Constance Garnett, a remarkable woman who would play a key role in popularising Tolstoy as a novelist. Born Constance Black in Brighton in 1861, the momentous year in which serfdom was abolished in Russia, she graduated in classics from Cambridge and began her career as a librarian in the East End of London. Marriage to the editor and critic Edward Garnett brought her more directly into the world of letters. His work led to friendships with writers such as Joseph Conrad and DH Lawrence, and also to contact with Russian émigrés. Through her interest in socialism, Constance Garnett had already met George Bernard Shaw, a leading light in the Fabian Society, which was a common thread uniting the community of radicals, writers and exiles from Tsarist Russia among whom she and her husband ended up living on the Kent-­Surrey border. She took up translation in the early 1890s, having learnt Russian from the revolutionary journalist Felix Volkhovsky. He provided assistance in her first translating project: Ivan Goncharov’s A Common Story.

Garnett learnt more Russian with another revolutionary with whom she fell in love. Sergei Stepnyak (who had assassinated the Russian head of the secret police in St Petersburg in 1878) encouraged her to tackle Turgenev. But then, as now, the market for literary translation was small, and publishers needed to sell books. What was selling in 1894 was Tolstoy, so it was to The Kingdom of God is Within You that Garnett turned next. Earlier that winter she made her first visit to Russia, and had an inspiring meeting with Tolstoy in a snowbound Moscow. His piercing eyes, she reported, “seemed to look right through one and to make anything but perfect candour out of the question”, while at the same time “there was an extraordinary warmth and affection in them”.

As Erik McDonald of XIX век said, “There’s so much I didn’t know here — it would have taken me a long time to guess the first thing Garnett translated.” (He has some good links on other Garnetts as well.) Thanks for the FT link, Paul!

Maltese and Arabic.

Remember last year I posted about Maltese, and in a comment bulbul talked about a grant to functionally study the mutual intelligibility of Maltese and Benghazi Arabic? Well, he’s now on his way to Groningen for the Methods in Dialectology XV conference where he’ll be speaking about it, and he sent me a link to his presentation (pdf) saying I should feel free to share it, so I’m sharing it; I presume when the actual paper is available he’ll link to it in the comments. He also says “wish me luck tomorrow,” so: break a leg and give ‘em hell!

New Dialects.

1) Of Welsh. The Economist writes about efforts to revive the Welsh language:

But the Welsh that can be heard in schools and that is spoken by the sports commentators on the Blue Boar’s small television set is different from the kind that many native speakers grew up with. A standardisation centre at Bangor University has added new words, such as “cyfrifiadur” for computer. Old words that had fallen out of use in many parts, like “brechdanau” [sandwiches], have been revived. Grammar is more English and less complicated. [...]

Not everybody is delighted with the new lingo. “So bloody fake”, mutters the Blue Boar’s landlord at the television, while local comedians like Daniel Glyn mock the clunky phrases on stage: “I can speak English and Welsh, but neither of them proper, bach.” Jonathan Snicker of St John’s College, Oxford, says the change breaks the link between older villagers and the urbane young, who can struggle to understand each other.

But Colin Nosworthy, a spokesman for the Welsh Language Society, points out that the birth of a new dialect is a good sign for a language. “Better a slack Welsh than a slick English,” he says—and many agree.

Including me. (Thanks, Kobi!)

2) In English. Pamela Druckerman writes in the NY Times about her native city:

Miami even has a homegrown dialect. Young Latinos — regardless of whether they even know Spanish — speak English with a Spanish twang. To non-Miamians, they sound like extremely fluent immigrants. Phillip M. Carter, a linguist at Florida International University, says that when young born-and-bred Miamians visit the rest of America, or even Boca Raton, people often ask them what country they’re from.

“Miami English” is also proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan. People typically don’t realize they’re speaking a dialect unless they leave Miami, Mr. Carter says.

It’s not in the least surprising, but I hadn’t read about it before.