Chipotle Mayan.

Slate’s language blog, Lexicon Valley, recently featured a funny and even sort of educational post by Taylor Jones (“the author of and a jazz musician and composer”) called “What Do the Glyphs at Chipotle Mean? They’re Mayan—Sort of.” Jones “went to a Chipotle in Philadelphia, looked at the wall, and realized their design was more than just decoration”; having an interest in Mayan, he “did some research and found that the wood and metal sculptures at many (or maybe all) Chipotle locations were provided by a company named Mayatek Inc.”

In order to get more information, I wrote an email to Dr. Marc Zender, one of the leading scholars on Maya glyphs and author of The Book on the subject, asking if he could tell me whether the bas relief decoration at this Chipotle was imitating some known work or complete gibberish (email title: “a frivolous question”). To my surprise, he responded, and the answer is that it’s a little of both. He told me that the artist for Chipotle intended to copy a well-known collection of stucco glyphs from Palenque’s Temple 18.

He explained: “The text was commissioned by the early 8th-century king K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nahb, and had fallen from the rear wall of a temple in antiquity. The stuccos were then recovered piecemeal by several different archaeological projects between the 1920s and 1950s. Primarily because their original order couldn’t be determined, but also because most of them couldn’t be read at that time, the curators at Palenque’s archaeological site museum unfortunately ended up mounting them in (unreversible) cement, placing similar signs next to one another and creating a nonsensical text. ”

He went on to explain that “the Chipotle artist has also picked glyphs at random from this collection and has made his best attempt to copy them. It’s not a bad effort in some places, but note the ‘bird with wings’ the artist has created in the bottom rightmost glyph, as well as some missing or invented details in a few other places.” [...]

Then, Dr. Zender made my day. “Just for the fun of it,” He translated the glyph blocks from Chipotle[...]

What fun! And you’ll find Zender’s translations at the link.

Hats and Lexicography.

I’m reading Catherine Evtuhov’s Portrait of a Russian Province: Economy, Society, and Civilization in Nineteenth-Century Nizhnii Novgorod, which, while frequently dry, has all sorts of interesting tidbits and creates a convincing portrait of both the city and province of Nizhnii Novgorod. Here’s a paragraph I can’t resist posting, for obvious reasons; it’s pretty representative and should give you an idea of whether the book is for you:

Hats were another matter. Their transcendence of local boundaries rested on fame and fashion. Seventy artisans and 250 workers crafted hats each year from September to February, and caps from February to July. Vladimir Dal’, whose most productive years of work on the dictionary were spent in this particular region (he wrote up to the letter “O” while there), adduces as the example for the word kartuz (cap): “V Kniaginine sh’iut kartuzy na ves’ krai” (Caps for the whole region are made in Kniaginin). Hat and cap makers worked at home; they bought materials and instruments at the Nizhnii Novgorod fair. Unlike some of the technically more primitive handicrafts, the hat business required a serious investment: sewing machines by Popov, Singer, or Blok could cost between forty and eighty rubles; blocks (bolvany), an iron, scissors, thimbles, measures, and needles, as well as a variety of materials and fabrics—sheepskin, wool (drap), broadcloth (sukno), velveteen (plis), corduroy, and so forth—added up to a total initial expenditure of eighty-five rubles. Hats and caps could be considered partial products, because essential parts—crowns for hats and also for caps—were bought at the Nizhnii Novgorod fair or in Moscow; this was for reasons of prestige as well as difficulty of manufacture: the crucial segments bore a much-coveted stamp of the city factories, making the final product that much more valuable. The types of hats also reflected fashion rather than practicality. There were nine types: Moscow, buttoned, Polish, round, semiround, boyar, Tatar, Slavic, and Persian.29 True to the example given by Dal’, the most prosperous artisans traveled as far as the Krestovskaia fair in Siberia, while others frequented the southern provinces and of course the Nizhnii Novgorod fair; only fifteen to twenty of them stayed home, though sales at Kniaginin and neighboring rural and urban markets flourished. Thirty families lived entirely elsewhere, maintaining their connection to Kniaginin only through their official papers.

Footnote 29 gives the Russian terms for the types of hats: “The types were described as moskovskaia, pod pugovku, po[l]‘skaia, sharik, polusharik, boiarochka, tatarskaia, slavianskaia, and persiianka.” I love that kind of detail.

Not worth a separate post, but I have to record for posterity this quote from p. 162 (she is discussing a meeting of the Arzamas district zemstvo in September 1881): “…the Poltava zemstvo’s fund-raising effort for a school named after Nikolai Gogol was rejected on the grounds that too few constituents would have heard of the accomplishments or even the name of this writer.” (Footnoted to pp. 8-9 of the Журналы XVII очередного Арзамасского уездного земского собрания 1881 года с приложениями, which, unsurprisingly, is not online.)

The Story of Dinkum.

Everybody knows the Australian expression (fair) dinkum, but where does it come from? Bruce Moore, who is currently editing the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary, has the answer in an Ozwords post (excerpted from his book What’s Their Story? A History of Australian Words); after laying out a couple of folk etymologies (from “fair drinking”; from Cantonese “‘ting kum’ meaning genuine gold”), he gets down to brass tacks:

A major argument against the purported Chinese origin of dinkum is the fact that the word is attested in British dialects, and that even fair dinkum appears in one of those dialects. A large number of Australian words derive from British dialects, and dinkum is one of them. In the dialects of Lincolnshire and Derbyshire there is a word dinkum that means ‘work; a fair share of work’. There is an 1891 record from a coal-miner who says ‘I can stand plenty o’ dincum’, that is, ‘I can put up with any amount of fair work’; and from north Lincolnshire there is the record of a person who says ‘You have gotten to do your dinkum’. The first record of the word in Australia has this meaning. It occurs in Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms (1888): ‘It took us an hour’s hard dinkum to get near the peak’, that is, ‘an hour’s hard work’. A more recent Lincolnshire dictionary defines dinkum: ‘It means to give fair or deserved punishment to; the correct punishment, justice; to do what is fair and right.’ The Essex dialect has dinkum meaning ‘above-board, honest’. More importantly, in the north Lincolnshire dialect there occurs the idiom fair dinkum meaning ‘fair play’, ‘fair dealing’, ‘that which is just and equitable’. In fact, the notion of ‘fairness’ has always been associated with dinkum. It is from this connotation of ‘fairness’ that the particularly Australian meaning ‘reliable, genuine, honest, true’ developed in the first decade of the twentieth century. This dialect evidence is so dinkum that we do not need to look elsewhere, and certainly not to Chinese miners.

He goes on to tell a great WWI spy story and concludes, “Dinkum was one of those words that served to articulate Australian values during the First World War—it belongs, especially, with Anzac, digger, and Aussie, and is the opposite of furphy.”

Bête de Somme.

At the start of 1830, the Pushkin-Delvig camp began a new periodical, «Литературная газета» [The Literary Gazette], to counteract the malign influence of Bulgarin and Grech (the editors of the reactionary Northern Bee); Delvig was editor-in-chief, with Orest Somov as the main critic and assistant. It was not expected to last long (such ventures have always tended to be ephemeral), and in fact was shut down after a year and a half; on April 26 Vyazemsky wrote to Pushkin: “Дельвиг — ленив и ничего не пишет, а выезжает только sur sa bête de somme ou de Somoff” [Delvig is lazy and writes nothing, and he relies exclusively sur sa bête de somme ou de Somoff]. That little pun makes use of the French idiom bête de somme ‘beast of burden,’ which is an interesting relic.

In French, un somme is a nap and une somme is a sum, but this is neither; it’s used only in this phrase, which goes back to the 12th century, and it’s from Late Latin sauma/salma/soma ‘packsaddle,’ derived from Latin sagma, a straight borrowing of Greek σάγμα. It’s allegedly a feminine noun, but how can you tell when it’s only used in this phrase? My question to French speakers is: do you have any sense of this somme as a word in its own right, or is it just an unanalyzable (and presumably mysterious) part of the phrase bête de somme?

New Work on Ugarit.

Gregorio del Olmo Lete has a post at the blog of the American Schools of Oriental Research on “The Current State of Ugaritic Studies” (available to “Friends of ASOR”), with what looks like a pretty comprehensive bibliography; I’ll quote some of the description:

Juridical and diplomatic texts and the diverse corpus of economic and administrative texts have been tackled. Many diplomatic tablets record the relations between Ugarit and the Hittite empire to which it was subject, and with other Syrian kingdoms. Administrative matters include the organization of the Ugaritic city-state, transfers of property, and management of prisoners of war. The corpus of letters is the only section of Ugarit texts that is waiting for a fresh revision. The mythological and epic material, already the best studied in the past, has been visited anew in books on the Baal Cycle, which discuss the tablets where Baal receives permission to build his palace from El, the myth of the “Gracious Gods” (birthed by El and his wives), and the Refaim, a term apparently referring to dead kings. But above all it is the genre of the cultic texts that has received the most attention.

Aside from those overall text studies, different religious and ideological topics have been dealt with in monographs giving witness to the almost inexhaustible material Ugaritic offers to scholars. Studies on the Ugaritic Pantheon and the divine epithets are examples. Other topics are hippology (equine knowledge), economy, society, literary impact, topography and material culture in general. Most of these monographs also take into account comparative Biblical material. In fact, comparison between Ugarit and the Bible is going on in an uninterrupted way,

Special mention should be made of the new Ugaritic material offered by the new series of Ägypten und Altes Testaments for its use of comparative Ugaritic-Biblical studies. In fact no serious commentary of the Hebrew Bible can nowadays be carried out without casting an eye on the Ugaritic materials. Other topics also very significant in this regard are the origin and history of the alphabet and the collapsing geo-political situation of the Levant at the end of the second Millennium.

We live in exciting times (much as they did at the end of the second millennium). Thanks, Paul!

Father’s Bookshelves.

From Words Without Borders, a lovely reminiscence by Can Xue (the pseudonym of Deng Xiaohua: “She was born in 1953 in Changsha City, Hunan Province; her parents were sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, and she only graduated from elementary school”) that captures what it’s like to be enthralled by the important adult books you’re not yet ready to read:

I grew up with books as my companions. Ever since I was very young, I regarded some books as “serious works.” One couldn’t understand them immediately. I could access them only after I “grew up.” Father’s bookshelves held “serious works” on Western philosophy including books by Marx and Lenin. The most conspicuous were the blue-covered volumes of Capital and several sets of the history of Chinese classical literature. Father read from these books every day for years. He read most of them over and over again.

These books emitted a special smell that drew me into reverie. Whenever I was alone at home, I loved to place these books on the table one by one and pore over them carefully. I would smell them up close and touch them repeatedly. The bindings of all of these books were unadorned and exquisite, and the pages were filled with Father’s notes. At moments like this, the emotions in my young heart soared beyond admiration and rapture. At the time, I also began reading books, most of them light literature. I couldn’t classify them together with Father’s books. I hungered for books that could keep me enthralled temporarily. After I read them, I was finished with them. I had no desire to keep them. And I couldn’t have kept them, even if I’d wanted to, for most of the books were borrowed. In those days, who could afford to buy books?

Father’s books stood quietly on the bookshelves—always silently luring me toward them. Subconsciously, I sensed a very profound world in those books. It would cost a person a lifetime to enter that world in depth. Father read those books at night, every night, for years. His contemplative expression behind his spectacles was certainly not a pose. What reading stirred up in his mind was much different from what I felt when I read ordinary books. What was that? No one could tell me—not even Father himself. He said only, “In the future, you must read all of my books.” Did he mean that in the future I should do as he had done—sit in front of the same book for years, steeped in meditation? I didn’t understand.

And, Words Without Borders being the wonderful site it is, you can read it in Chinese as well, if you can read Chinese.

Sittlichkeit and Thought.

Michael Rosen has a review of the terrifyingly gargantuan The Impact of Idealism: The Legacy of Post-Kantian German Thought (four volumes, 1,690pp., £240/$365) in the Oct. 17 TLS (illustrated with a cropped version of this fetching image of Hegel lecturing), and I was struck by a couple of linguistic tidbits. This is hilarious (whether or not it’s true I leave to Hegelians):

“Thought”, for Hegel, is a technical term used to refer to the content of his own philosophy. So when he writes that something can be “justified in thought”, that means that it is justifiable from the standpoint of that philosophy.

And here’s a claim of untranslatableness I’m curious about:

From which it follows that law and authority must be understood as embedded within a concrete ethical life – Sittlichkeit, to use Hegel’s own, untranslatable, German word.

Anyone want to take a crack at explaining the subtle nuances of Sittlichkeit?

Dostoevsky’s Landlady.

I took a break from Veltman to read one of Dostoevsky’s early stories, Хозяйка [The Landlady]. I fear Victor Terras is quite correct in calling it “perhaps the only outright failure Dostoevsky ever produced”; he sums it up very well:

The story begins in a nervous, precariously balanced style, neither ironic nor stylized, just tense and highstrung. But then, beginning with the second scene at the suburban church, it turns into a steady flow of unabashed romantic colportage, crass color effects, and hyperbolically emotional sensuality. Needless accumulations of adjectives, trite metaphors, and hackneyed similes abound. Time and again, one cannot help seeing a rift between statement and drama, or between statement and image, without any indication that we are dealing with stylized or ironic diction. (Reading Dostoevsky, p. 25)

Terras says it’s basically a mashup of Hoffmann’s “Erscheinungen” (in which the hero “meets a demonic old man, who at one point tries to kill him, and an angelically beautiful but demented peasant girl” whose betrothed, Alexei, died crossing a river — all these elements, including Alexei, are in Dostoevsky as well) and Gogol’s «Страшная месть» [A Terrible Vengeance] (where the beloved woman with the evil sorceror father/suitor is named Katerina, as in Dostoevsky), and that’s about the size of it; I wouldn’t feel the need to write about it except that as I read it I kept thinking of Andrei Bely’s novel Серебряный голубь [The Silver Dove], which I wrote about here; just as part of “The Double” reminded me of the opening of Bely’s Petersburg, the melodramatic/mystical plot and folk-poetic language of “The Landlady” reminded me of Bely’s earlier novel. Bely, of course, was as heavily influenced by Gogol as Dostoevsky was, but I wonder if he had “The Landlady” in mind when he developed his plot, splitting Dostoevsky’s madonna/whore Katerina into the virginal Katya and the sexy Matryona? Old Murin in “The Landlady” is the same sort of lewd religious fanatic as Kudeyarov in Bely. Having such an influence would be at least do something to redeem the story.

Lenin’s Rathmines Accent.

An odd bit of historico-biographico-linguistic trivia, reported by Sam at Come here to me! (Dublin life & culture):

Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary, spoke with a Dublin accent. Well, according to Roddy Connolly, son of James, who said in a 1976 Irish Times feature that Lenin, more specifically, had a “Rathmines accent”. This was due to the fact apparently that Leinin was taught English in London (c. 1902) by an “Irish tutor, who had lived in Leinster Road”.

There’s more detail on the history and the accent at that link and at the Dublin Review of Books.


Adam at hmmlorientalia reminds me that I’ve always loved the exotic-sounding Manzikert, now more usually known as Malazgirt (though Adam uses the Armenian form Manazkert), famous for the Battle of Manzikert of 1071, which while not directly responsible for the destruction of Byzantine authority in Anatolia and the subsequent Turkification certainly opened the door for it. Wikipedia says:

The suffix -girt, found in many toponyms in Eastern Anatolia, comes from the Armenian -kert which means, “built by”. A popular Armenian folk tradition, tied to the writings of Armenia’s early medieval historian Movses Khorenatsi, holds that Manzikert was founded by Manaz, one of the sons of Hayk, the legendary and eponymous patriarch and progenitor of the Armenians. The name of the town was originally Manavazkert (Armenian: Մանավազկերտ) but over time its name was shortened to simply Manzikert.

You can see various forms of the name here.