You Get No Gotten in the New Yorker.

Ben Yagoda has a piece at Lingua Franca about one of the New Yorker‘s weird stylistic tics I don’t think I’d noticed:

Among the various quirks of The New Yorker‘s house style, maybe the quirkiest is the insistence on got as the past participle of get—that is, to write had got instead of had gotten to mean “become” or “obtained” or any of the numerous other senses of get. Just a few of the most recent examples:

● “I had got such satisfaction out of the systems she introduced, the sharp pencils and crisp manila folders.”—Lena Dunham, September 1, 2014
● “It drove away, but not, Kwasman told a reporter, before he had got a look at the passengers.”—Amy Davidson, July 28, 2014.
● “Kennedy got about seventy per cent of the African-American vote, much more than Stevenson had got.”—Louis Menand, July 21, 2014.

Every other publication would have used gotten. Every other publication in the United States, that is. In the British Isles, gotten got unfashionable in the early 1800s and disappeared from the scene. When Henry Higgins sings,”I think she’s got it,” he means “I think she’s gotten it,” not “I think she has it.”

I also didn’t realize how bizarre the US gotten sounds to others:

I was once interviewed on an Irish radio station about my blog, Not One-Off Britishisms, and was asked for an example of a British usage that had popped up in the United States. I mentioned The New Yorker‘s preference for got over gotten. The host was gobsmacked. “GOT-ten?” he bellowed. “GOT-ten? Do you expect me to believe people over there actually say GOT-ten?”

I like the fact that Yagoda started a Facebook group called “Get The New Yorker to Start Using ‘Gotten.’” Needless to say, it had no effect, and he’s “accepted got as a New Yorker eccentricity, like doubling consonants in words like marvellous and travelled, and being militant in identifying nonrestrictive elements of a sentence.” I wonder how a publication so strongly identified with an American city came to adopt and stubbornly cling to these very un-American usages?

Liberman on Kibosh.

We’ll probably never know where the wonderful slang word kibosh comes from, but Anatoly Liberman has a fine roundup of some interesting recent theories that is worth your attention; J. Peter Maher traces it to French caboche ‘head (informal),’ Stephen Goranson to kurbash ‘a long whip made of hippopotamus or rhinoceros hide used as an instrument of punishment in parts of the Muslim world,’ and David L. Gold to the clogmakers’ term kibosh ‘iron bar about a foot long that, when hot, is used to soften and smooth leather’ (thanks for the link, Bruce!).

Also, Sashura sends me this query on an obscure dialectal form:

It’s blackberry season and I posted a picture of my pick on facebook. In the comments thread a Ukrainian friend of mind said that in Transcarpathia (Закарпатье) they call it by a strange word эуфаны [eufany]. I tried several languages on Wikipedia and none seems to correspond to euphany. What could it be?

Any ideas?


My wife and I are approaching the end of Hearing Secret Harmonies, the twelfth and final volume of Anthony Powell’s series of novels A Dance to the Music of Time (begun last November, and contrary to Christopher Culver’s warning in June, we have not found a “drastic decline in quality with the last two volumes,” although I agree they aren’t up to the level of the earlier ones), and among the things that have intrigued me is his discussion of Ariosto, an author I knew had once been famous and much read but whom I had never paid attention to. The more I read about Ariosto, the more interesting he sounded; from Wikipedia:

Throughout Ariosto’s writing are narratorial comments dubbed by Dr. Daniel Javitch as “Cantus Interruptus”. Javitch’s term refers to Ariosto’s narrative technique to break off one plot line in the middle of a canto, only to pick it up again in another, often much later, canto. Javitch argues that while many critics have assumed Ariosto does this so as to build narrative tension and keep the reader turning pages, the poet in reality diffuses narrative tension because so much time separates the interruption and the resumption. By the time the reader gets to the continuation of the story, he or she has often forgotten or ceased to care about the plot and is usually wrapped up in another plot. Ariosto does this, Javitch argues, to undermine “man’s foolish but persistent desire for continuity and completion”. Ariosto uses it throughout his works.

That reminded me of Veltman, who similarly drops plotlines for many pages, and then I remembered Veltman had actually written a story called “Неистовый Роланд” [Orlando Furioso] (see this post from last year), and I realized Ariosto must have been quite important to Veltman and I should really give him a try. So I’m reading the version that’s easily available online, the one translated by William Stewart Rose in 1823-31 (and no, I’m not going to try reading it in Italian, this is a side interest and I want to get an idea of it, not linger over its poetic qualities), and I’m enjoying the unexpected bonus of Rose’s recondite vocabulary. Here’s a stanza from the first canto:

There, lodged by Charles, that gentle bonnibel,
Ordained to be the valiant victor’s meed,
Before the event had sprung into her sell,
And from the combat turned in time of need;
Presaging wisely Fortune would rebel
That fatal day against the Christian creed:
And, entering a thick wood, discovered near,
In a close path, a horseless cavalier.

Bonnibel! The OED (not fully updated since 1887) defines it as “Fair maid, bonny lass,” says it’s “apparently < bonny adj. + belle adj. and n.; but possibly < French bonne et belle good and fair,” and gives four citations, the first from 1579 (Spenser Shepheardes Cal. Aug. 62, “I saw the bouncing, Bellibone; Hey ho Bonibell”) and the last from 1823 (J. G. Lockhart Vow Reduan in Anc. Spanish Ballads ii, “But bid a long farewell..To bower and bonni~bell, thy feasting and thy wooing!”), just when Rose was doing his translating. And the third line flummoxed me completely: “Before the event had sprung into her sell”? The event had sprung… what? Then I realized the subject was the gentle bonnibel, with “before the event” an adverbial phrase modifying the action, but what the dickens was a sell? Turns out it’s an old word (from French selle < Latin sella) that originally meant “A seat, a low stool” but came to mean “A saddle” (latest citation 1885 R. F. Burton tr. Arabian Nights’ Entertainm. I. xx. 198 “He bade one of his pages saddle him his Nubian mare-mule with her padded selle”). Ods bodikins!

Addendum. Having gotten the Penguin translation by Barbara Reynolds from the library (thanks, Songdog!), I might as well provide her version of the stanza above for comparison:

Angelica did not prolong her stay.
She, who was promised as a victor’s bride,
Into the saddle leapt and straight away,
Choosing her moment well, set out to ride.
She had foreseen the fortune of the day
Would bring disaster to the Christian side.
Along a forest glade she took her course
And met a cavalier without a horse.

Economic Success Drives Language Extinction.

Tatsuya Amano, Brody Sandel, Heidi Eager, et al. have a paper in Proc. R. Soc. B 22 of obvious LH interest; the abstract begins:

Many of the world’s languages face serious risk of extinction. Efforts to prevent this cultural loss are severely constrained by a poor understanding of the geographical patterns and drivers of extinction risk. We quantify the global distribution of language extinction risk—represented by small range and speaker population sizes and rapid declines in the number of speakers—and identify the underlying environmental and socioeconomic drivers.

The whole paper is online (way to go, Royal Society!); there’s also a summary at ScienceDaily that boils it down conveniently: “Thriving economies are the biggest factor in the disappearance of minority languages and conservation should focus on the most developed countries where languages are vanishing the fastest.” Thanks for the links, Paul and Martin!

Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications.

This is wonderful:

CLICS is an online database of synchronic lexical associations (“colexifications”, see here for more information) in currently 221 language varieties of the world. Large databases offering lexical information on the world’s languages are already readily available for research in different online sources. However, the information on tendencies of meaning associations they enshrine is not easily extractable from these sources themselves. This is why CLICS was created. It is designed to serve as a data source for work in lexical typology, diachronic semantics, and research in cognitive science that focuses on natural language semantics from the viewpoint of cross-linguistic diversity. Furthermore, CLICS can be used as a helpful tool to assess the plausibility of semantic connections between possible cognates in the establishment of genetic relations between languages.

For an example, here‘s the semantic map of “give”; pause your mouse over words and links alike, and click when you feel like it, as I’ve been doing for too long — I have to work. Many thanks to Wm Annis for the heads-up!


I just finished Charles Stross’s The Atrocity Archives (thanks, bulbul!), and I enjoyed it greatly, barring some moral concerns about using the Holocaust as a plot mechanism for a light-hearted fantasy/sf/spy thriller with a touch of romantic comedy (because I am a tiresome old fart). Stross has fun mingling terms from modern computer geekery and (pseudo-)ancient Magick, and one of the latter is the noun geas, meaning a magical injunction or prohibition. I had run across it before (not surprising, considering my youth was misspent reading all the fantasy and sf I could get my hands on), but not for decades, which means I had no idea of its origin or pronunciation (as a wee lad I mentally said “JEE-ass,” but was very dubious about it). Now, with the resources of an overgrown reference library and the near-infinite internet, I set out to remedy that. It wasn’t in M-W or AHD, but there it was in the New Oxford American Dictionary (3 ed., 2011): “geas /geSH/ noun (pl. geasa /ˈgeSHə/ ) (in Irish folklore) an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on a person”; the etymology said simply “– origin Irish.”

Now I had a problem. It is impossible to reconcile the spelling “geas” and the pronunciation /geSH/; the iron rule of Irish spelling is that a lenited final consonant (/SH/ is the lenited form of /s/) is preceded by i, and /geSH/ would have to be spelled “geis.” (Similarly, the plural geasa could not be pronounced /ˈgeSHə/ but would have to be /g’asə/.) As it turns out, the Wikipedia entry is under that spelling (which I’m pretty sure I’d never seen before), and it says “The Scottish Gaelic spelling ‘geas’ is also common.” So that explains that: the spelling is from Scottish Gaelic (where it would be pronounced /g’as/, with palatal g, presumably altered by analogy with the plural), and the pronunciation is from Irish geis; it’s parallel to colonel, where the spelling is from French and the pronunciation from Spanish coronel. However, it is physically impossible for me to look at the spelling “geas” and think “/geSH/,” so I am going to adopt the spelling “geis” — assuming /geSH/ is in fact the accepted pronunciation. Is it? (I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone say it.) Are any of you familiar enough with the word to have a confident sense of how it’s pronounced?

Another interesting feature of the novel for me was the UK slang, some of which was unknown to me; a striking example is shower (“What a sorry shower you are!”), which my Cassell Dictionary of Slang tells me is “1. [1930s+] an unimpressive group of people. 2. [1940s+] a term of abuse aimed at a single person” and that it’s an abbreviation of shower of shit. Is this something all you UKanians are familiar with?

Translations of the Stalin Epigram.

Ian Probstein has a post at Jacket2 presenting Mandelstam’s notorious “Stalin Epigram” in the original Russian and three translations, including his own, and discussing various aspects of the poem and problems of rendering it into English verse, which of course is intensely interesting to me. We discussed the poem a few years ago, but only in the context of the nonce-word бабачит [babachit]; Probstein goes into other aspects, like the allusions at the start:

The idiomatic tone is set in the very first two lines in which Mandelstam coins idioms of his own: “not to feel the country” deconstructing two well-known idioms: “nog pod soboi ne chuyat’”: to be running very fast or to be flying, often to be beside oneself with joy (literally not to feel one’s feet), but also: to be run off one’s feet, to be extremely exhausted; however, Mandelstam creates a new meaning implying “running without looking back from fear” and “being deaf and dumb” since the Russian “chuyat’” also means “to hear” and “to feel” [...]

It’s well worth a read, but I have a couple of cavils. He’s wrong to say McDuff’s “thick-skinned” is a mistranslation of тонкошеих — McDuff is actually (for whatever reason) working from the variant толстокожих (scroll down on this page to “8. А вокруг него сброд толстокожих вождей”). And while his complaints about the other translations are often well taken, his is no better, and I find his last line (“His broad chest of Ossete eclipses the jail”) quite silly. Of course, I myself wouldn’t even attempt to translate the poem, so perhaps I shouldn’t throw stones.

Latvian as Code and Oddly Named Parisians.

I’ve finished Dominic Lieven’s Russia Against Napoleon and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars; Lieven not only covers the whole period from the 1812 invasion (and its origins) to the Allied entry into Paris in 1814, he is apparently the first English-language historian to do so using the rich Russian sources. As he says, Russians tend (understandably) to focus on the 1812 campaign, with its dramatic defense of the fatherland (that’s where War and Peace ends, for example), and the history of 1813-14 tends to be written from the German point of view (which is why it’s often called the War of Liberation), but you can only get a useful perspective by viewing the campaign as a whole. In the process he does much to rescue the reputation of Tsar Alexander, and he is constantly drawing the reader’s attention to the vital role of supplies for soldiers and horses (and the dogged heroism of the people who got supplies from Russia to France in good condition and in time to make the final push to Paris possible). I’ll issue the ritual complaint about insufficient maps, but hell, in this age of the internet you can find all the detailed battle maps you want. It’s a superb history.

But this is not a history blog, and I’m just going to pass along a couple of tidbits of LH interest. The first is this, concerning the period in March 1814 when the Allies, approaching Paris, had to deal with the news that Napoleon had wheeled around and was attacking their lines of communication:

Now urgent orders went out to him from Barclay to take emergency measures to preserve Russian bases, supplies and treasuries. Oertel did well on this occasion and reported his arrangements to Barclay, a fellow Balt, in Latvian, a language which the commander-in-chief understood. If the orders were intercepted, it would be a very unusual Frenchman who could decipher them.

When the Allies entered Paris, Alexander stayed at Talleyrand’s residence, the hôtel de Saint-Florentin, on the street named for it, the rue Saint-Florentin. Naturally I looked it up in my font of information on Paris locales, Jacques Hillairet‘s magnificent two-volume Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris (my most treasured souvenir of my visit to the City of Light), and what I found was a series of inhabitants with some very un-French names. It was first occupied by Louis Phélypeaux de Saint-Florentin, whose name is merely weird, but who was apparently disliked enough to earn this sardonic epitaph:

Ci-gist, malgré son rang, un homme assez commun,
Ayant porté trois noms, il n’en laissa aucun.
[Here lies, despite his rank, a common enough man:
Having borne three names, he left behind not one.]

But after him come le duc de Fitz-James and la princesse de Salm-Salm, duchesse de l’Infantado, and after Talleyrand came the duchesse de Dino, the princesse de Liéven (née Dorothée-Christophorowna de Benckendorf, and presumably a distant relative of the author, like the various General Lievens he mentions), and James de Rothschild. What a motley collection!

Quotation and Originality.

I forget where I came across a link to Emerson’s essay “Quotation and Originality” (first given as a lecture in 1859), but as Emerson himself would tell you, it doesn’t really matter. He’s not an especially disciplined thinker — he argues every side of the question and doesn’t really come to a conclusion — but he’s always worth reading, and I like this paragraph in particular:

There is, besides, a new charm in such intellectual works as, passing through long time, have had a multitude of authors and improvers. We admire that poetry which no man wrote, — no poet less than the genius of humanity itself, — which is to be read in a mythology, in the effect of a fixed or national style of pictures, of sculptures, or drama, or cities, or sciences, on us. Such a poem also is language. Every word in the language has once been used happily. The ear, caught by that felicity, retains it, and it is used again and again, as if the charm belonged to the word and not to the life of thought which so enforced it. These profane uses, of course, kill it, and it is avoided. But a quick wit can at any time reinforce it, and it comes into vogue again. Then people quote so differently one finding only what is gaudy and popular; another, the heart of the author, the report of his select and happiest hour; and the reader sometimes giving more to the citation than he owes to it. Most of the classical citations you shall hear or read in the current journals or speeches were not drawn from the originals, but from previous quotations in English books; and you can easily pronounce, from the use and relevancy of the sentence, whether it had not done duty many times before, — whether your jewel was got from the mine or from an auctioneer. We are as much informed of a writer’s genius by what he selects as by what he originates. We read the quotation with his eyes, and find a new and fervent sense; as a passage from one of the poets, well recited, borrows new interest from the rendering. As the journals say, “the italics are ours.” The profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader. The profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine until an equal mind and heart finds and publishes it. The passages of Shakspeare that we most prize were never quoted until within this century; and Milton’s prose, and Burke, even, have their best fame within it. Every one, too, remembers his friends by their favorite poetry or other reading.

More on the subject at Love and Theft.

Spoken British National Corpus 2014.

Tim Dowling at the Guardian writes about a worthwhile new project:

Almost nothing is marvellous these days, but everything is awesome. According to a study by Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press, Britain has all but abandoned the former adjective in favour of the latter.

Early evidence from their project, the Spoken British National Corpus 2014, shows that “awesome” now turns up in conversation 72 times per million words. “Marvellous”, which 20 years ago appeared 155 times per million words, now appears just twice per million. “Fortnight” is also on the endangered list, as is “cheerio”. …

The project is now calling on people to send in MP3s of their conversations – they’ll even pay a small amount – in order to gain a wider sense of how the language as it is spoken has changed over the years.

The press release is more specific: “For each hour of good quality recordings we receive, along with all associated consent forms and information sheets completed correctly, we will pay £18.” See the link for further details, and send in those MP3s. (Thanks, Eric!)