Carpeting and Wigging.

I recently ran into a bit of non-US slang I hadn’t been familiar with, the verb carpet meaning “to reprimand, esp. in the context of a superior telling off an employee”; that definition comes courtesy of the invaluable Green, who explains the derivation thus: “the miscreant is standing on his or her superior’s office carpet while receiving a reprimand.” His citations run from 1840 ([UK] H. Cockton Valentine Vox 350: They had done nothing! Why were they carpeted?) to 2002 ([Aus] S. Maloney Something Fishy 39: I’ll be carpetted for letting you lot come along), and along the way there’s a lone US cite from the Oct. 18, 1908 (Wash., DC) Evening Star: “Jockeys can’t pull anything now that they’re […] carpeted for it.” I particularly like this, from 1867 ([UK] M. Lemon Golden Fetters I 271): “Some unpleasant communication, which, though jocosely softened into ‘carpeting’ and ‘wigging,’ is really among the most distressing experiences of life.” The citations for wig ‘to scold, reprimand’ (from “a judge’s wig“) run from 1854 ([Ind] Delhi Sketch Bk 1 Aug. 90/2: Did not the Brigadier find fault with me / And wig me on Parade?) to 1938 ([Aus] X. Herbert Capricornia 483: [He] wigged the Government for its ignorance of what it ought to know); I presume it’s obsolete by now.

Is this usage familiar to my non-American readers? And, for that matter, are any of my fellow Yanks familiar with it?


Reading Leslie Jamison’s NYT Magazine article on Turkish baths (hammams), I hit the following sentence (I have reproduced the italics from the printed version; online, they have gone missing):

A woman named Gamze rubbed down my body with the kessa, a rough glove made from woven goat hair, and then draped my raw skin in the cascading bubbles of the swinging torba, a fine mesh towel dipped in copper tubs of olive-oil soap to heap shimmering white hills along the knobs of my spine, feathery and fizzy against my scrubbed skin, silken and gentle where the kessa had been vigorous and bracing.

It was obvious to me at a glance that “kessa” was not a Turkish word, in that spelling at least, and I grew provisionally irritated but of course had to investigate further. It turns out that 1) the Turkish word is kese (from Persian کیسه‎ [kise], ultimately from Akkadian 𒋢𒃻𒉌𒌓 [kīsu]), and 2) the usual English rendering seems to be “kessa,” as in the article. Which is understandable, because “kese” looks to an English speaker as if it should rhyme with “cheese,” but presents a problem: is it an English word, in which case it should not be italicized, or a foreign term that happens to be spelled in a different way than it is spelled in the original language? I suppose the latter, since it’s not in any of my English dictionaries nor in the OED, which mentions the Turkish word only s.v. purse:

In sense 4 [“In the Ottoman Empire: a specific sum of money, a certain number of piastres; spec. a unit of account equal to about 500 piastres”] after French bource (1665 in this sense, in the passage translated in quot. 1687), itself after Ottoman Turkish kise, (in later sources) kese, literally ‘purse’, denoting a unit of account (see note at definition; Turkish kese; < Persian kīsa or its etymon Arabic kīs (now kīsa; reborrowed < Turkish), both in sense ‘purse, bag’).

(Note that they take the Persian word from Arabic, whereas Wiktionary derives it from Akkadian; perhaps Xerîb will weigh in on this.) I’m provisionally withdrawing my irritation about the italics and deciding once again that language is endlessly confusing. I am, however, still irritated that they leave the essential cedillas off the name of the Çemberlitaş Hamamı, spelling it “Cemberlitas.” (I have had baths both there and at the NYC Russian and Turkish Baths she mentions at the start of the piece, and they were splendid experiences.)

Sidonius and Audoin.

The radio was playing something by Saint-Saëns and my wife asked me about his name; I said I had posted about it long ago at LH, and quickly dug up the 2004 post. It wasn’t very satisfactory, however; Saëns is certainly “a much altered form” of Sidōnius, but how did it get from one to the other? So I looked the saint up in French Wikipedia, hoping to find more detail: “Sidoine de Jumièges, appelé aussi saint Sidoine ou saint Saëns ou en latin Sidoneus…” Well, that’s confusing; can’t they pick a name and stick to it? In his exciting biography (captured by pirates, sold to monks who redeemed him but made him work at the abbey, where he became a monk) it mentions that he made a pilgrimage to Rome “en compagnie du futur saint Ouen.” Well, that’s an odd name too, thought I, so I followed the link to Ouen de Rouen: “Saint Ouen (Sanctus Audoenus Rotomagensis en latin médiéval, issu du germanique Audwin) ou Dadon…” The corresponding English article is under Audoin: “Audoin (AD 609 – on 24 August 684; also spelled Audoen, Ouen, Owen; Latin: Audoenus; known as Dado to contemporaries)…” Also, “His father was Saint Authaire (Audecharius)” and he was “a close friend of Saint Eligius,” who is “also Eloy, Eloi or Loye; French: Éloi.” Much as I love alternate names, I’m afraid the study of medieval saints might be a bit much for me.


Via Laudator Temporis Acti, Sheldon Pollock, from “Future Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World,” Critical Inquiry 35.4 (Summer, 2009) 931-961 (at 933-934):

First, what precisely do I mean by philology? It is an accurate index of philology’s fall from grace that most people today have only the vaguest idea what the word means. I have heard it confused with phrenology, and even for those who know better, philology shares something of the disrepute of that nineteenth-century pseudoscience. Admittedly, the definition of any discipline has to be provisional in some sense because the discipline itself is supposed to change with the growth of knowledge, and there isn’t any reason why the definition of a discipline should be any neater than the messy world it purports to understand. Still, philologists have not done much to help their cause. An oft-cited definition by a major figure at the foundational moment in the nineteenth century makes philology improbably grand—“the knowledge of what is known”⁸—though this was not much different from the definition offered by Vico in the previous century, for whom philology is the “awareness of peoples’ languages and deeds.”⁹ Perhaps in reaction to these claims, a major figure in the twentieth-century twilight, Roman Jakobson, a “Russian philologist,” as he described himself,¹⁰ made the definition improbably modest: philology is “the art of reading slowly.”¹¹ Most people today, including some I cite in what follows, think of philology either as close reading (the literary critics) or historical-grammatical and textual criticism (the self-described philologists).

What I offer instead as a rough-and-ready working definition at the same time embodies a kind of program, even a challenge: philology is, or should be, the discipline of making sense of texts. It is not the theory of language—that’s linguistics—or the theory of meaning or truth—that’s philosophy—but the theory of textuality as well as the history of textualized meaning.

The footnotes:

8. August Boeckh: “das Erkennen des Erkannten” (“[re-]cognizing [what the human mind has produced—that is] what has been cognized”) (quoted in Michael Holquist, “Forgetting Our Name, Remembering Our Mother,” PMLA 115 [Dec. 2000]: 1977). See also Axel Horstmann, Antike Theoria und Moderne Wissenschaft: August Boeckh’s Konzeption der Philologie (Frankfurt am Main, 1992), p. 103.

9. Giambattista Vico, New Science: Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations, trans. David Marsh (Harmondsworth, 1999), p. 79; hereafter abbreviated NS. See also NS, p. 5: “By philology, I mean the science of everything that depends on human volition: for example, all histories of the languages, customs, and deeds of various peoples in both war and peace.”

10. Holquist, “Forgetting Our Name, Remembering Our Mother,” p. 1977.

11. Quoted in Jan Ziolkowski, “What Is Philology? Introduction,” On Philology, ed. Ziolkowski (University Park, Pa., 1990), p. 6, though the idea is in fact Nietzsche’s, who described himself as “ein Lehrer des langsamen Lesens” (Nietzsche, “Vorrede,” Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, 15 vols. [Munich, 1980], 3:17).

Pollock has appeared at LH several times (e.g., 2010, 2015), and we discussed philology in 2009.

Robots in Greek [sic].

Anthony Ossa-Richardson sent me a link to the Graun’s A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human? (“We asked GPT-3, OpenAI’s powerful new language generator, to write an essay for us from scratch”) with the remark “Good to know AI is just as much of ignorant blowhard as most humans”; he pointed specifically to the statement:

Robots in Greek [sic] means “slave”. But the word literally means “forced to work”.

The Grauniacs were kind enough to add the [sic] and the link to an article which correctly states:

‘Roboti’ derives from the Old Church Slavanic [sic! –LH] ‘rabota’, meaning ‘servitude’, which in turn comes from ‘rabu’, meaning ‘slave’.

Remember, kids, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, especially if it was written by a robot!

Gaelic Thesaurus of the Historic Environment.

Gaelic Thesaurus of the Historic Environment launched:

A new Gaelic thesaurus which offers specialised terminology relating to the historic environment has been launched by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on Ancient & Historic Monuments, with financial support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

The thesaurus contains more than 4,000 terms and is aimed at Gaelic speakers, learners and schools, as well as the general public. It provides terminology relating to areas such as architecture, archaeology and history as well as place-names for many historical sites.

As a thesaurus, it not only functions as an English-Gaelic, Gaelic-English dictionary of terminology but also provides the meaning of each term in both languages.

The Gaelic Thesaurus is online here. Thanks, Trevor!

Saint Petersburg by Yanysheva (Romani/English).

Alex Foreman posted this video on Facebook, adding:

Me reading a poem by the Romani poet Lera Yanysheva, first in Xaladytka Romani, and then in my English translation.
This poem is based on real events. Since 2003, Romani neighborhoods in and on the outskirts of St. Petersburg have been repeatedly attacked by Neo-Nazi skinhead groups, with the reaction of the police and the public seldom rising above indifference.

It’s a powerful poem, and I find both his translation and his reading effective; you can see the Romani poem in Cyrillic with a Russian translation (which was helpful to me as I listened) here (scroll down about halfway, to “Петербу́рго”). Of course I was thrilled to hear Romani poetry read aloud, apart from all other considerations.

And if you’re curious about “Xaladytka Romani,” it’s in Wikipedia as Ruska Roma: “The Ruska Roma (Russian: Руска́ Рома́), also known as Russian Gypsies (Russian: Русские цыгане) or Xaladitka Roma (Russian: Халадытка Рома, […] i.e. ‘Roma-Soldiers’), are the largest subgroup of Romani people in Russia and Belarus.” They have a footnote for the translation “Roma-Soldiers” which leads here (scoll down to “Ruska Roma”): “Also called ‘Xaladitka Roma‘ (Gypsy soldiers).” But my Russian/Romani dictionary gives кэтана = kətana for солдат ‘soldier’ and doesn’t have a listing for халадытка [xaladytka], which looks like it should be a derivative of халавав [xalavav] ‘wash, rinse,’ past tense халадем [xaladem]. If anyone knows anything about this, please share.

Greek Phrases in Armenian Letters.

From Peter Brown’s NYRB review (available in full here even to non-subscribers) of
Armenia! (an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 22, 2018–January 13, 2019) and its catalog Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages, edited by Helen C. Evans:

Ancient Armenia was idiosyncratic, but it was far from insular. The Armenian plateau was not a mountain fastness like the Caucasus. Rather it was the meeting point of a series of ridges that stretched southward on either side, like strands of rope knotted in the middle, toward the west into Roman Anatolia, and, toward the east, along the Zagros range, into Iran and Mesopotamia. The roads from the highlands descended gently, most of the way, in a series of wide mountain valleys. For Armenians of the Middle Ages, before the drawing of modern borders, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean lay closer than one might think. Even within recent memory the two worlds would meet in the upland valleys of eastern Turkey. Scattered across the summer meadows, one could see the white felt yurts of the “cold desert” nomads of Central Asia mingling with the black camel-hair tents of the “hot desert” nomads of Syria and Mesopotamia, within view of the majestic white cone of Mount Ararat.

Throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Armenia was like the Scottish Highlands of the eighteenth century—an overbrimming reservoir of military manpower and skilled adventurers of every kind. As soldiers, Armenians fought with equal vigor in the armies of Eastern Rome and Iran. They were not only military men. In the fourth century, the Armenian Prohaeresius was a leading professor of rhetoric in Athens. In the tenth century the engineer Trdat, who reinforced the supports for the dome of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, was also an Armenian. The most remarkable evidence of this constant drift of a hardy and enterprising mountain people into the Mediterranean world was found on an Egyptian papyrus. It was a conversational handbook in which Greek phrases were transcribed into Armenian letters, so that the owner could discuss, in perfect Greek, the pithy sayings of Diogenes the Cynic, among others. [fn: See James Clackson, “A Greek Papyrus in Armenian Script,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Vol. 129 (2000).]

Autological Humor.

Anthony Bladon at the Log has a great list that starts:

• A verb walks into a bar, sees an attractive noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.
• An Oxford comma walks into a bar, where it spends the evening watching television, getting drunk, and smoking cigars.
• A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
• A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
• An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.
• Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

Plenty more at the link, including the comments (which are, alas, marred by foolish carping about where to put periods in combination with quotation marks, as if anything about language was “logical”).
[Read more…]

Constituent Order in Maltese.

JC sent me the link to “Constituent order in Maltese: A quantitative analysis,” by Slavomír Čéplö [in fact, his dissertation], with the comment “It’s not only well-written, it’s charming. And it trounces the Chomskyites good and proper, with much reference to Haspelmath. What’s not to like?” What indeed? (Slavo, of course, posts here as bulbul; if you do tweets, his are here.) Thanks, John!

Addendum. I should mention that all Hatters are thanked in the acknowledgments; see comment thread.