The D.C. Manual of Style and Usage.

As a copyeditor by profession, I love style manuals, especially when they’re not too hidebound and show their own sense of style. Submitted for your consideration, the D.C. Manual of Style and Usage of Washington City Paper; some of my favorite entries:

Respect the periods! However, many organizations and campaigns don’t use the periods. Respect proper nouns!

Gray, Vince
Not Vincent C. Gray, as the Post styles him, because we asked him when he was elected whether he wanted to be known as Vince or Vincent.

jont, junt, jount
Can be substituted for any (nonhuman) noun in the English language. Spelling is interchangeable, but be consistent.

Never all-uppercase. Ugh.

Saint Elizabeths Hospital
Former psychiatric hospital near Congress Heights, the site of which is slated for redevelopment. Its lack of an apostrophe is a result of inconsistent usage in the 17th century, when the tract of land upon which it was built was named; Congress didn’t include an apostrophe when it officially renamed the facility from its original moniker, the Government Hospital for the Insane, in 1916. Copy editors have been confounded ever since.

After a city, use the old AP style abbreviations (e.g. Madison, Wis., and Ocean City, Md.). Ignore the AP’s oafish new policy of spelling out state names. For cities in the immediate D.C. area, states are generally not needed; our readers know that McLean is in Virginia and Potomac is in Maryland, even if they justifiably find both locations a little frightening.

Not theatre, except as part of a proper noun. We don’t know how the obsession with French spelling arose, but we’re not playing along. Studio Theatre, you’re doing it wrong. Howard Theatre, WTF? Signature Theatre, just stop. You’re making our spellcheck misfire and our copy editors gnash their already worn-down teeth. Take a hint from our star pupil, Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater, or we may start calling you thee-AT-ruhs.

This is how the AP does it, though it’s probably the least elegant possible way to write it; we haven’t adopted a better style yet, but we will.

“We haven’t adopted a better style yet, but we will”: style is not set in stone! You go, City Paper! And I am glad to learn new words, like jont/junt/jount (above) and bama. What’s a bama? A mook. What’s a mook?

Farewell to Troubadour.

Seven years ago I sang the praises of Troubadour Books in North Hatfield (across the river from here); in 2010 I added an update saying that the store was moving to Hadley, where it would share a building with Grey Matter Books. (You can see the new bookstore in a 2011 video here: “Two Guys Sitting Around Talking About the Used Book Business,” the two guys being John Riley of Gabriel Books in Northampton and Bob Willig of Troubadour.) And now it is my sad duty to report that after today the collections will be merged and Sam Burton of Grey Matter will be running the store (as he has for some time, actually; Willig is blind and has been in bad health). I went in, sold some books (including a huge and heavy Irish dialect atlas I’d been lugging around for four decades), and confined myself to buying a nice Penguin paperback of Henry Green… but since they say on the store website that during the merger next week “Anyone coming into the store … will be pressed in to service,” I may go in and help. It’s one way to finally figure out what they have and where to find it.

Ring-singing Tsvetaeva.

Via wood s lot, where Tsvetaeva is featured in yesterday’s post, I discovered this superb version of an untitled 1914 poem of hers, translated from the Russian by Ekaterina Rogalsky:

I do not think, or argue, or complain.
Or sleep.
I long for neither sun, nor moon, nor sea.
Nor ship.

I do not feel the heat amidst these walls,
Nor garden’s green,
Nor do I long for your desired gift,

Neither the morning gladdens nor the trolley’s
Ring-singing run.
I live, forgetting date and age
And daylight sun.

I am – a dancer on a tightrope slashed
And hewn.
I am – a shadow’s shadow: lunatic
Of two dark moons.

You can see the original Russian, along with another Tsvetaeva poem (whose translation I don’t think is quite as successful), here, where you’ll also find a description of the poet beginning:

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) is considered to be one of the most original 20th Century Russian poets. Her extremely eccentric personality and difficult character found release in her poetry writing. Tsvetaeva’s perfect control of language is one of the key elements of her poetry, as are the striking images her short, full-throated poems practically overflow with. [...] But it is the rhythm and cadence of Tsvetaeva’s language that makes her poetry truly unique – changing pace and musicality to match her images and her meaning, Tsvetaeva’s fluid, “ring-singing” lines reflect the depth, accuracy and emotional capacity of the Russian language, which presents quite a challenge for translation, as the meaning of her poetry is intertwined with its musicality to form a single organism, which is lost to the reader when one of these components is left out.

It took me much longer to appreciate Tsvetaeva than the other poets of her generation, and I’ve rarely seen a translation that begins to capture her in English — they usually betray either sound or sense — so I wanted to pass along this one and congratulate Rogalsky, who (according to the bio on that page) was born in Moscow and has lived in America since the age of six.


Another bit of humor in Veltman (see this post) involves playing with a Chinese name, and trying to investigate it has taken me through interesting paths to a dead end. Here’s the passage in Veltman:

He found the tea business tempting. He learned that besides the Chinese van-sun-cho-dzi there was the Russian Ivan-sun-cho-dzi, and he began to deal in tea, opening a store for Chinese teas, sugar, and coffee. [...]

Needless to say, selling tea at retail did not satisfy Vasily Ignatov, and he started wholesaling it; he started off for Kyakhta himself, he himself went to Dmitrovsky uyezd to buy the best sort of Ivan-sun-cho-dzi at wholesale.

Его соблазнила чайная торговля. Он узнал, что, кроме китайского ван-сун-чо-дзи, есть русский Иван-сун-чо-дзи и стал торговать чаем, завел магазин китайских чаев, сахару и кофе. [...]

Нужно ли говорить, что мелочная торговля чаем не удовлетворила Василья Игнатова, он пустился в оптовую, пустился сам на Кяхту; сам съездил в Дмитровский уезд, чтоб сделать оптовую закупку самого лучшего сорту Иван-сун-чо-дзи.

The Russian name is a play on Иван-чай [Ivan-chai, literally 'Ivan-tea'] ‘Chamerion Raf. ex Holub, fireweed, willowherb’; what I’m wondering is what the Chinese might mean, and I think I’ve found where Veltman must have come across it, in this paragraph from page 20 of the article “Май-Май-Ченъ” [Maimaicheng, the Chinese border trading town just south of Kyakhta] in Памятник искусств и вспомогательных знаний, Vol. 2 (Saint Petersburg, 1843):

The dialect of the merchants living in Maimaicheng, from Shansi province, differs greatly in pronunciation from that of Peking; for example, the firms pronounced in the Peking dialect Shi-de-tsyuan’-tszi [Shi-de-quan-ji?], Van’-shun’-chan [Wan-shun-chang?], and Mei-yui-gkun [Mei-yu-gong?] are pronounced in the Shansi dialect Shi-ty-choan-dzi [Shi-ty-choang-ji??], Van-sun-cho [Wang-song-chuo??] and My-yu-kon [My-yu-kong??]. This difference is due to the fact that in Shansi they pronounce sounds from the larynx, through the nose, so that voiceless sounds, especially soft ones, cannot be distinctly/intelligibly expressed. In general, dialects all across China are the same, but differ in the pronunciation of certain sounds; this difference extends from north to south and imperceptibly reaches the point that it is difficult for a southern Chinese to understand a northern one.

Нарѣчіе живущихъ въ Май-май-ченѣ купцовъ, губерніи Санъ-си, имѣетъ по произношенію большое различіе съ Пекинскимъ; напримѣръ: Пекинскимъ нарѣчіемъ произносятся фирмы торговыхъ домовъ: Ши-дэ-цюaнь-цзи, Вань-шунь-чанъ, Мэй-юй-гкунъ, а по Сансинскому произношенію — Ши-ты-чоан-дзи, Ван-сун-чо, Мы-ю-конъ. Разность эта происходитъ отъ того, что въ Санъ-си произносятъ звуки изъ гортани, чрезъ носъ, при чемъ, безгласныя, особенно мягкія не могутъ быть внятно выражены. Вообще во всемъ Китаѣ нарѣчія одинаковыя, но отличаются произношеніемъ нѣкоторыхъ звуковъ; это различіе простирается отъ сѣвера на югъ и нечувствительно доходитъ до такой степени, что южный Китаецъ съ трудомъ понимаетъ сѣвернаго.

This is a perfect storm of vague and exoticizing linguistic description (apparently in Russian, too, foreign speech is always “guttural” and “nasal”), Sinocentric totalizing (all Chinese talk the same, just differently), and antique transcription (this was written before the standard Palladius system for transcribing Chinese, so I’ve added question marks to all my Latin transcriptions, which are based on the Palladius system), so I suspect it’s unlikely that anyone can decipher it more accurately, but if anyone has any idea what Wan-shun-chang/Wang-song-chuo might have meant in North China two centuries ago, I’m all ears. (I assume Veltman stuck the -dzi on for effect, taking it from other firm names mentioned.)

Update: It seems the ван-сун-чо-дзи label was well known as representing high-quality tea from Kyakhta, so I withdraw my suggestion that Veltman got it from the article I quote above; see my comment below for details. Also, I have discovered that in the original magazine version of this passage, there is a much more detailed discussion of how Ignatov discovered the immensely profitable potential of the tea trade (after being beaten up for selling fake booze) and learned how to mix the expensive Chinese tea with cheap Russian Ivan-chai; I wonder if Veltman was forced by the censors to delete it for book publication? It’s practically a manual of how to cheat the public for fun and profit.

Further update: Bathrobe has discovered that the Chinese name is 萬順昌 Wànshùnchāng ‘success in everything’: 萬順 Wànshùn means ‘ten thousand things go smoothly’, 昌 chāng means ‘prosper’. He adds that “There is a Hong Kong company called Van Shung Chong Holdings which uses those characters, although it was only established in 1961.”


The word carnival is interesting in its own right; despite appearances — OED: “The explanations ‘farewell flesh, farewell to flesh’ (from Latin vale) found already in Florio, and ‘down with flesh!’ (from French aval), belong to the domain of popular etymology” — it’s from medieval Italian carnelevale, from (again quoting the OED) “Latin *carnem levāre, or Italian *carne levare (with infinitive used subst. as in il levar del sole sunrise), meaning ‘the putting away or removal of flesh (as food)’, the name being originally proper to the eve of Ash Wednesday.” But in lit-crit circles it’s strongly associated with the name of Bakhtin (Wikipedia), and I had never thought about where he picked it up. I just ran across an intriguing footnote from Katerina Clark’s Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941 (see this post) and thought I’d share it:

The term “carnival” is actually sparingly present in the early chapters of the dissertation, but its use increases from chapter to chapter until it becomes the dominant term for his analysis in chapter 4. Before then, especially in chapter 1, his main term is “Gothic realism.” The final draft of the dissertation was probably begun no earlier than November 1938, but some work on Rabelais may have been begun earlier in the decade. One might therefore speculate that Bakhtin adopted the term “carnival” only at some point after it became central to Soviet official cultural practice in 1935, but this could only be speculation; “Istoriia ‘Rable’: 1930–1950-gody,” in M. M. Bakhtin, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 4 (1), ed. I. L. Popova (Moscow: Iazyki slavianskikh kul’tur, 2008), 841, 846, 858).

Speculation, sure, but what interesting speculation! And the very existence of official Soviet carnivals was new to me as well; there’s a considerable amount about them in Karen Petrone’s Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin, which I should read one of these days.

Genbun Itchi.

Matt’s latest post at No-sword brings to my attention the Japanese equivalent to the attempts to reconcile katharevousa and demotic Greek, genbun itchi:

Written Japanese, fundamentally standardized by the eighth century, had undergone sporadic and incremental change prior to the Meiji period, evolving into a collection of documentary, epistolary, and narrative styles that were firmly bound in the classical language. The spoken language, on the other hand, which had developed considerably over the centuries, reflected the multiple dialects and complex hierarchies of contemporary Japan. The disparity between writing and speech caused great concern for Meiji leaders, both because learning the written language took a great deal of time and effort and because it was a barrier to mass literacy. Although Tokugawa literature contained examples of colloquial dialogue, writers and scholars sought a narrative style that was closer to speech yet flexible enough to be used in formal contexts.

Futabatei Shimei is generally credited with the first successful use of a vernacular style in his novel Ukigumo (1887; tr. The Drifting Clouds, 1967). However, Futabatei gives credit for his model of colloquial narrative to rakugo storyteller San’yutei Encho, whose collaboration with Takusari Koki (inventor of sokki, Japanese shorthand) allowed rakugo stories to be published in newspapers. Other writers quickly joined the so-called genbun itchi (unification of writing and speech) movement, to which there was opposition through the 1910s. Publishing houses adopted the new style in their children’s literary journals, such as Akai Tori, and other massmarketed publications, which led to its widespread adoption. The use of classical written styles continued among some authors, however, for several decades.

With that background, Matt focuses on “the mass of past and/or perfective verb endings”:

That particular part of Japanese reached its peak of complexity during Early Middle Japanese; it’s been a downhill slope of simplification ever since, and today we’re basically down to the -ta ending. But because Early Middle Japanese also served as the model for Classical Japanese, as the centuries rolled on the literary community were expected to master and preserve fine distinctions of a sort that their native language clear-felled and paved over increasingly far back in the mists of history.

He quotes “a marvelous rant on this topic by Ochiai Naofumi 落合直文, from an essay published in 1890 called ‘Shōrai no kokugo’ 将来の国語 (‘The national language/Japanese of the future’),” which I highly recommend. Peevery is ubiquitous and eternal!

Veltman’s Displaced Prison.

I’m getting closer to the halfway point of Veltman’s Приключения, почерпнутые из моря житейского (Adventures drawn from the sea of life — see this LH post), and I want to translate the beginning of Book Three (it’s pretty long, so I won’t provide the Russian; you can go to the linked text and Ctrl-F for “Часть седьмая” and read what follows):

My readers probably have some idea of Moscow either from various “Voyages en Russie” or from a journal of impressions. From the former, they will doubtless have formed a clear idea of its outward appearance, and from the latter, of its inhabitants, mores, and customs. From these descriptions you know that the Kremlin stands beside the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, that the Sukharev Tower is by the Tver Gate [on Tverskaya Street], that the Tver Gate is on Prechistenka Street, that the Moscow River flows right under Zamoskvorechye, and so on. There is, therefore, no need to describe Moscow for you; you know it as well as befits a Russian person. I’ll get down to my story.

One foggy August day a carriage pulled by four horses rolled up to the Krestovskaya barrier-gate. The sentry was about to lower the barrier, but a servant called out “From the Moscow region!” and the carriage passed freely.

In the carriage sat two gentleman. One, thickset and appearing to be a Moscow landowner, was leaning back in a corner and dozing; the other — thin, squinting, with a pale face and a significant look — appeared to be a Petersburg department head or official for special assignments; in a word, his face was significant, and in his personal opinion even of statesmanlike significance.

“At last I am in Moscow!” said the latter, raising a lorgnette to his eye; “Let us see what sort of a beast Moscow is! Please point out to me anything of interest.”

As soon as there appeared on the right a Gothic building enclosed in battlements and towers like a knightly castle of the Middle Ages, the young man again held his lorgnette to his eye and cried:

“Is that the Kremlin?”

“Yes,” answered the thickset landowner, not opening his eyes. The Petersburger flew past. Let us leave the Petersburger and follow the crowd of shackled prisoners being led along the street. A woman in simple peasant dress was being carried along behind them on a cart. When this whole consignment [транспорт] neared the locked gates of the castle, before which there was no drawbridge, the sentry waved toward a small gate with a little barred window; the corporal escorting the consignment was the first allowed in, and then they opened the hell-gate, which, opening like the jaws of a beast of the Apocalypse, swallowed the whole consignment and closed with a gnashing of teeth.

In the interior courtyard of this castle were strolling what in reality were not people but dark shadows. We will not describe the human form distorted by passions and crimes. Someone in a worn overcoat and peaked cap separated himself from the ugly crowd and, hands in his pockets, walked quickly down the courtyard. From his face and glances you could see that he too had staked his soul, but his appearance did not show any deep impressions of crime, nor was there an answer in his eyes to anyone else’s soul. He was still, it appeared, a newcomer, looking at the high walls surrounding him and the “honored company” without surprise but with a certain special curiosity, as if he were asking himself where the devil he had wound up.

More than meets the eye is going on with that first paragraph. Not only is it amusing in itself, muddling up the sights of Moscow (the Sukharev Tower is nowhere near the Tver Gate, which is nowhere near Prechistenka), but it sets up the Petersburger’s mistake of thinking a building he sees shortly after entering the city is the Kremlin. However, I think Veltman is doing something else as well. The mistakes follow a pattern: you have to go counterclockwise from the Sukharev Tower to get to the Tver Gate, and from the latter to get to Prechistenka. As far as I can tell, there is no battlemented building just inside the Krestovskaya (also called Troitskaya) barrier-gate, in the center of the north wall of the city (a застава, what I am calling a barrier-gate, is where internal passports were checked to make sure the bearers had the right to enter the city), but if you go counterclockwise from that gate, the next one is the Dmitrovskaya or Butyrskaya (there’s a useful map and listing at this Wikipedia page), and if you enter that gate, not far ahead to the right was (and still is) the Butyrka, Moscow’s famous (and dreaded) central transit prison. I suspect that is what Veltman is describing, cleverly displacing it to avoid arousing the attention of the censors. I also can’t remember encountering an earlier description of a prison (the passage goes on to an account of a new arrival being threateningly accosted by an inmate); I had thought Dostoevsky’s Записки из мёртвого дома (Notes from the House of the Dead or Notes from the Dead House; see this LH post) was the first account of prison life in Russian literature, but now I’m thinking it was Veltman’s. I’ll be curious to hear what those who know more about Moscow and Russian literature think of these surmises.

The Brummie Black Hole.

Lucy Townsend of BBC News describes a situation I had not been aware of:

The accent frequently comes bottom in polls of people’s favourites. It is rarely heard on television or in films unless they are comedies.

It is also rarely pronounced correctly – the rounded vowel sounds and the hard “ing” are often emphasised like a caricature. Phrases like “alroight bab” and “trarabit” appear in screen versions of Brummie far more than in real life.

Steven Knight, the Birmingham-born writer of the BBC’s post World War One gangster series Peaky Blinders, has described the accent as “harder even than Geordie” to get right.

It’s considered so difficult to master that production companies have shied away from setting dramas in Birmingham: “There’s been a big black hole in the middle of the country as far as TV production goes.”

There’s a good deal more discussion, as well as a little glossary of words and phrases (in which, oddly, the local version of goodbye is given as “tarabit” rather than “trarabit” as in the second paragraph — Google supports both variants). I’ll be interested in people’s thoughts on Brummie as well as on any other accents/dialects they consider frequently done wrong. (Thanks, Paul!)

An Interview with Gérard Diffloth.

A very interesting interview with Professor Gérard Diffloth, “a leading figure in Southeast Asian linguistics, specializing in the languages of the Austroasiatic family”; the interviewer is Nathan Badenoch, with whom he is working on “a group of small and endangered languages spoken in northern Laos.” Diffloth started by studying Russian; Badenoch says: “you moved from Russian to languages further east. How did that happen?”

Diffloth: Gradually, via Persian and then Tamil — I wrote my dissertation on a variety of Tamil called Irula — and from Tamil to the mountains of Malaysia. And from there to the rest of the Austroasiatic family across the whole of Mainland Southeast Asia. But in a more personal way, by interacting with speakers of languages such as Khasi, Semai, Mon, Kuay, Khmer and others, I found that the Austroasiatic family was unique in many ways, and historically very rich.

Some good exchanges:

Badenoch: One of the things that has underpinned your linguistic career has been fieldwork. What do you think the ­experience of doing intensive fieldwork can teach us about language?

Diffloth: Very quickly you realize that language is not an object, but an activity. Unfortunately, in societies where literacy is well implanted, most people think, — because they are taught this in school —, that language is basically writing, the sort of black stuff you can see on paper as text. But written text is not language, and we have been made to forget that this writing is actually derived from language, not the other way around. One of the first things you witness in doing fieldwork is that language is something people do, not something people make. There are still societies today where the idea of putting down language on paper appears quite senseless, even objectionable.

Badenoch: When doing fieldwork have you felt any tension between Western academic science, which is strongly based in written culture, and the language that people are speaking?

Diffloth: Yes, but when you do fieldwork for a long time, you begin to see things the way they do. To give an example, at some point in studying the Mon-Khmer languages of Malaysia, I was going through a certain type of words — Expressives, somewhat similar to the Gisego (擬声語) found in Japanese — with a native speaker of Semai. At some point he said to me: “Actually, these words which you call Expressives, they are not really words at all. Up until now, we have been discussing nouns, verbs, and so on, and that is all very fine, but these things are different: we do not speak them, we actually shoot them.” I struggled to understand what he could possibly mean by that; and it has taken me some years to draw the linguistic conclusions from his strange remark.
[. . .]

Badenoch: You have often said that language is history. Can you elaborate a little more on what insights can be obtained from this language perspective on history?

Diffloth: When we get involved in historical linguistics, the results very often end up being rather different from the histories produced from the analysis of concrete historical documents. For one thing, traditional history usually has to do with power structures, governance, armies and battles, things of that kind; historical linguistics can do this as well, but also gets into the minutiae of life: the history of dress, of hunting, of family arrangements. Another difference is that in historical linguistics we are compelled to look at minority languages because they are useful, and historically every bit as legitimate as the major, the usually written national languages. Quite often, the histories of people without writing are simply absent from the more traditional narratives. Sometimes, what we find with the use of historical linguistics squarely contradicts what is said in the history books.
[. . .]

Badenoch: One type of finding we often talk about falls into the category of food history. The vocabulary of hunting, gathering, and processing different foods is incredibly rich in the Austroasiatic languages.

Diffloth: Every word, each with its own meanings, has a history that we can explore; for example the history of food collection and preparation, the history of culinary tastes. This is something we can often do quite well, given sufficient data. It will soon be possible, for example, to trace the history of when and how rice became a staple food, and what the position and uses of rice may have been before that. This subject has now become a major topic in archeological research.

Tnere’s lots of other good stuff there. Thanks, Bathrobe!

Radical Linguistics.

Ross Perlin, whom we met here as a reviewer (of the Yiddish-Japanese Dictionary/Yidish-Yapanish Verterbukh/Idisshu-go jiten), has a very interesting essay in Dissent, called “Radical Linguistics in an Age of Extinction.” I doubt anyone will agree with everything he has to say, but it begins unassailably — “Modern linguistics is founded on a radical premise: the equality of all languages. … Where native speakers are concerned, no language, dialect, or accent can meaningfully be described as primitive, broken, or inferior” — and continues to describe linguistics in a politics-drenched way that is not often seen. He terms what I had thought of simply as linguistics, or structural linguistics, or pre-Chomskyan linguistics, as “radical linguistics,” and I guess in the terms he outlines it is. He writes:

Equality, diversity, respect for orality, descriptivism (not prescriptivism), and “going to the people”: these remain fundamental tenets for any program of radical linguistics, and for anyone who cares about human language. But today there are sobering realities. The concept of linguistic equality has done little to change popular perceptions. Nor have two centuries of revolutionary political and social movements, though certain large-enough languages have been elevated to official status in the course of national liberation struggles. Nearly everywhere, a persistent stigma clings to minority languages, provincial dialects, “non-standard” accents, and working-class “sociolects,” not to mention the linguistic registers used by women, young people, and LGBTQ speakers. The vitriol routinely trained on Black English in America is representative, although politically committed linguists like William Labov and John Rickford have devoted their careers to documenting and defending its integrity. Debates about language are rarely just about language—they’re always about the speakers.

And he pithily describes Noam Chomsky as “a radical and a linguist but not a radical linguist.” Read the whole thing if you’re not allergic to the language of radical politics. (I forget where I got the link, but it may have been the Facebook feed of Franz Boas, who’s surprisingly hip and lively for a guy who’s been dead since 1942.)