Songdog e-mailed: “I noticed ‘Soupy’ on the specials menu at our regular Westerly, RI post-beach dinner stop […] and wasn’t at all sure what it was other than some kind of cured meat.” A little googling turned up this, which of course he passed on to me:

Westerly, RI and the surrounding areas are the only places that it is called “SOUPY” or “SUPRI”. The residents here consider the town of Westerly to be the “SUPRI” capitol of the country, each year in our small town there are tens of thousands of pounds of this flavorful sausage made by individuals in their own homes. This dry cured sausage is a byproduct of Italians from the region of Cosenza, in Calabria, Italy, it is a small town in southern Italy, and Westerly RI is made up largely of descendants from this region of Italy and to this day they carry on the tradition of their forefathers in the making of Bread, Wine, Sopressata and Cheeses. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Westerly and someone offers you a taste of their Sopressata try it, you will be glad you did. Everyone in town that makes Sopressata will tell you the same thing that theirs is the very best!

I love that kind of local lingo, and the sausage sounds delicious. Anybody know anything about the Italian origins of the word?

Birthday Loot 2018.

Once again I’m too full and tired (and hot — it’s been in the upper 90s today, the mid-30s Celsius) to do a proper post, so I’ll just list the books I got:

American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 by Alan Taylor
Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past) by Cixin Liu
The Memoirs of Elias Canetti: The Tongue Set Free, The Torch in My Ear, The Play of the Eyes
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Alan Taylor is one of my favorite historians (see this post), so I’m looking forward to his new book, and I’ve been wanting to read Canetti for decades now (the three-books-in-one memoir is over 800 pages, so it will keep me busy for a while). I also got a bottle of Connemara Single Malt Irish Whiskey, which will help pass the summer evenings. Sláinte!

Update. The mail has brought two more items to delight me (and extend the celebration):

Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti (thanks, D.O.!)
A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis, Language, and Style of Dostoevsky’s Novel by Victor Terras (thanks, jamessal!)

“Like” as Infix.

Stan Carey describes a new and surprising development in English As She Is Spoke:

The latest novel use to which like is being put is as an infix. Infixes are a pretty small set in English, so a new one is a genuine surprise, linguistically. In some ways it is unlikeprecedented. […]

This re-like-markable innovation seems to have been around for a couple of decades at least (see below), but it came to my attention only recently, through The Vocal Fries, a podcast about linguistic discrimination. Episode 21 features (guess who!) Alexandra D’Arcy, who, around 23 minutes in, discusses the different roles of like and says:

And now there’s an infix. Right? So you can get—I can’t do it, it’s not part [of my grammar], it’s too new for me. This one’s genuinely new, but younger speakers can say things [like] ‘un-like-believable’. Right? ‘She’s un-like-sympathetic’… […]

Certain words are more amenable than others to like­-infixation, for both semantic and morphosyntactic reasons. Forever forming for like ever is a particularly common construction (it even features in a popular print), with ever sometimes typed in all caps (for like EVER) to like add to the user’s expressive style.

Browsing Twitter suggests it’s pretty much all younger people using it, mostly young women – ever in the vanguard of linguistic change – but a fair number of young men too.

There are further examples and corpus counts, and I can’t argue with his conclusion: “Within a generation it’ll feel like like has been an infix for like ever.”

The Bodiless Masquerade.

As promised, I am reading Leskov’s Воительница [The Battle-Axe], and I found this description of the protagonist interesting and amusing enough to share:

Furthermore, Domna Platonovna’s manner was refined. Not for anything in the world would she say in a drawing room, as others do, “I’ve been to the public bathhouse”; instead she would express herself thus: “I had, sir, the pleasure yesterday of attending the bodiless masquerade.” About a pregnant woman she would never blurt out, like others, that she was pregnant; she would say “She is in her nuptial interest.”

In general she was a lady with manners and she knew how to give tone with her education where it was needed. But even so, truth to tell, Domna Platonovna never acted superior, and she was what is called a patriot. The narrowness of her political horizon meant that her patriotism itself was of the narrowest sort; she considered herself bound to praise the Oryol province to everyone, and she received cordially everyone “from her place” and treated them kindly in every way.

К тому же и обращение у Домны Платоновны было тонкое. Ни за что, бывало, она в гостиной не скажет, как другие, что «была, дескать, я во всенародной бане», а выразится, что «имела я, сударь, счастие вчера быть в бестелесном маскараде»; о беременной женщине ни за что не брякнет, как другие, что она, дескать, беременна, а скажет: «она в своем марьяжном интересе», и тому подобное.

Вообще была дама с обращением и, где следовало, умела задать тону своей образованностью. Но, при всем этом, надо правду сказать, Домна Платоновна никогда не заносилась и была, что называется, своему отечеству патриотка. По узости политического горизонта Домны Платоновны и самый патриотизм ее был самый узкий, то есть она считала себя обязанною хвалить всем Орловскую губернию и всячески привечать и обласкивать каждого человека «из своего места».

The last bit is an example of the kind of local patriotism which became so notorious in WWI; as General Yanushkevich said, “A Tambov peasant is willing to defend the province of Tambov, but a war for Poland, in his opinion, is foreign and useless.”

As for the fancy diction, the phrase “bodiless masquerade” is funny in itself, but it seems маскарад ‘masquerade’ was an old humorous euphemism for ‘bathhouse’ — does anybody know the history of that?

Addendum. Having read a bit farther, I see that the beginning of the next chapter is equally LH-worthy:

My acquaintance with Domna Platonovna began for a trivial reason. I was renting a room from a colonel’s wife who spoke six European languages, not counting Polish, which she mixed into all the others. Domna Platonovna knew a frightful number of such colonel’s wives in Petersburg and for almost all of them carried out a wide variety of little tasks: affairs of the heart, of the pocket, and combined pocket-heart and heart-pocket. My colonel’s wife was truly an educated woman; she knew the world, behaved in the most proper way, knew how to make it appear that she valued in people their straightforward human worth, read a great deal, went into unfeigned raptures over poetry, and loved to declaim from Malczewski‘s Maria:
Bo na tym świecie, śmierć wszystko zmiecie,
Robak się lęgnie i w bujnym kwiecie.
[For in this world death destroys everything;
the worm hides in the luxuriant flower.]

Мое знакомство с Домной Платоновной началось по пустому поводу. Жил я как-то на квартире у одной полковницы, которая говорила на шести европейских языках, не считая польского, на который она сбивалась со всякого. Домна Платоновна знала ужасно много таких полковниц в Петербурге и почти для всех их обделывала самые разнообразные делишки: сердечные, карманные и совокупно карманно-сердечные и сердечно-карманные. Моя полковница была, впрочем, действительно дама образованная, знала свет, держала себя как нельзя приличнее, умела представить, что уважает в людях их прямые человеческие достоинства, много читала, приходила в неподдельный восторг от поэтов и любила декламировать из «Марии» Мальчевского

I’m not sure I’ve correctly understood “на который она сбивалась со всякого,” and I don’t know why the name of Malczewski’s poem is given in some sources as “Maria” and in others as “Marya.” (I’ve corrected the spelling of the Polish from here.) Of course one wonders which are the six languages (apart from Polish); French and German obviously, and I suppose English and Italian, but what are the other two? Hungarian, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish? What might a well-educated and cosmopolitan colonel’s wife have known in the 1860s?

Update. I found the story boring after a while and gave up on it; I’ve moved on to Dostoevsky’s Gambler, which grabbed me right away.

Languages from Edison Cylinders.

Bob Yirka writes for Tech Xplore about another valuable linguistic project:

A team of researchers at UC Berkeley has embarked on a project to save wax recordings made a century ago using modern technology—they are calling it the “Documenting Endangered Languages” initiative. As they describe in a post they have made on the UC Berkeley Library website, the group has plans to use optical scanning technology to retrieve the recordings and then to save them in digital format.

The recordings were made using the Edison phonograph (some in 1900 and some in 1938) and are part of a collection of recordings of indigenous people speaking, singing or praying. The recordings were made by anthropologists interested in studying the languages spoken by indigenous people in California. The subjects sang or spoke into the wide-open end of a megaphone connected to a device that recorded the sounds onto wax cylinders. Those cylinders now reside at Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. Over time, the cylinders have degraded or have been damaged in other ways. In this new effort, which is part of a larger effort called Project IRENE, the team plans to transfer those songs or spoken words from the wax cylinders to digital media to preserve them. […]

The initiative is being sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The goal is to transfer and preserve approximately 100 hours of audio representing 78 indigenous languages, many of which no longer exist. Retrieving them from the cylinders, the researchers note, is the only way to preserve them.

There’s a four-minute video clip where you can hear some of the cylinders and see the technique of restoration. Thanks, Trevor!

Crime and Punishment.

I finished Преступление и наказание (Crime and Punishment) a few days ago, and I’ve been mulling it over since then. It’s the first of Dostoevsky’s Late Great Novels I’ve read in Russian, and it would be ridiculous to try to summarize it or make general points about it after all the commentary that’s already piled up. I will say that I had trouble with the melodramatic aspects (the drunken father, the daughter forced into prostitution, the mother who goes mad and drags her little children out into the street to dance and sing); I realize it’s something that comes with the author, as with Dickens (who Dostoevsky loved), and I just have to put up with it, but I can’t help rolling my eyes and thinking of Wilde’s “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” I’m not crazy about organ music either, but if the composer is great enough (Bach) or the performer brilliant enough (Larry Young) I can get past my first reaction. But I’d trade half the wallowing in the misery of the Marmeladovs for another chapter with Porfiry Petrovich.

Also, a word about Svidrigailov. Erik McDonald recently posted links to a longish interview with Michael Katz and Nicholas Pasternak Slater, both of whom translated the novel and both of whom (in Part 2) picked Svidrigailov as the most misunderstood character. I can’t quarrel with Katz’s “he remains something of a mystery,” but I don’t like NPS’s more extended response:

On one reading, he is so enigmatic as almost to make no sense – is he fundamentally good (clearly not), or fundamentally evil (also not), and how do the good and bad sides in his character coexist? On the bad side, he may (or may not) have caused his wife’s death, he is a self-confessed libertine, he tries (or threatens) to rape Raskolnikov’s sister Dunia, and he plans to marry a child for his sexual gratification. Yet he performs many good actions, including saving Katerina Ivanovna’s orphan children and giving Dunia a large sum of money. Perhaps the last of his moral actions is to commit suicide. I think his character actually hangs together quite well: though repugnant, he is an intelligent man with a philosophical bent and humane instincts of empathy and kindness, who is saddled with sexual appetites that he can barely control. This is a paradox we meet often enough in real life (in this day and age, might he have been a charity worker in a third-world disaster area?). Dostoevsky, of course, must condemn him because none of his humane motivations come from God or religion: he is an amoral freethinker.

Talk about false equivalence! His “good actions” boil down to giving lots of money away; in the first place, that’s the easiest way for bad people to try to salvage their reputations (you can read about such lavishness in the papers every day), and in the second place, he mostly gives it to women he wants to seduce, which makes it not a good action at all. He’s a thoroughly bad man, which is why Dostoevsky condemns him — not “because none of his humane motivations come from God or religion.” He doesn’t have humane motivations, for Pete’s sake.
[Read more…]

Teaching Raffi Russian.

Keith Gessen writes for the New Yorker about his dealings with fatherhood and his native language:

I no longer remember when I started speaking to Raffi in Russian. I didn’t speak to him in Russian when he was in his mother’s womb, though I’ve since learned that this is when babies first start recognizing sound patterns. And I didn’t speak to him in Russian in the first few weeks of his life; it felt ridiculous to do so. All he could do was sleep and scream and breast-feed, and really the person I was talking to when I talked to him was his mother, Emily, who was sleep-deprived and on edge and needed company. She does not know Russian.

But then, at some point, when things stabilized a little, I started. I liked the feeling, when I carried him through the neighborhood or pushed him in his stroller, of having our own private language. And I liked the number of endearments that Russian gave me access to. Mushkin, mazkin, glazkin, moy horoshy, moy lyubimy, moy malen’ky mal’chik. It is a language surprisingly rich in endearments, given its history. […]

[Read more…]

New Yorker Style Book.

Ben Yagoda writes for Lingua Franca about a remarkable find. He describes cleaning out his office because of his retirement from teaching at the University of Delaware and finding a 1996 copy of the New Yorker style manual, 87 pages long, that “appears to have been composed on an IBM Selectric typewriter”:

For one thing, it is a sort of sequential time capsule. That is, one has the sense that it was drafted shortly after the magazine’s founding (more on the next comma in a minute), in 1925, with new entries added over the years, with the effect that, even in 1996, many of them would have no longer been in use, but clearly belonged to particular past decades or periods. […]

Some of the style rules, too, are redolent of the past. The 1996 New Yorker would have its authors write catercornered (instead of the now much more common kitty-corner or catty-corner), legitimatize (instead of legitimize), and sidewise (though the guide notes that “sideways is permissible in fiction”). Others are puzzling. “John D. Rockefeller 3rd,” but “John D. Rockefeller IV.”

And some of the entries are informative or thought-provoking. One reads, “airplane engines (airplanes do not have motors).” Another: “‘Thought to himself’ is redundant. Avoid.” And: “Do not write, ‘He had his throat cut.’ ‘He had his skull fractured.’ This implies nonexistent volition.” […]

The insistence on using of got instead of gotten is one of the eccentricities for which The New Yorker is famous, or should I say notorious. I have long led a lonely campaign to pressure it to accept gotten, as every other American would, in sentences like this one from a recent issue: “… the loving kindness of Petfinder had got in my head.” At this point I have pretty much given up.

In other editorial news, the New York Times with pardonable pride reports on a minor but pleasing triumph by an editor at their Spanish edition:
[Read more…]

Word Aversion.

Surprisingly, LH doesn’t appear to have covered word aversion. Perhaps I was just afraid of provoking a comment thread full of people nattering on about how they hate the word moist, one of the more tiresome fads of the early 21st century. At any rate, Matthew J.X. Malady has written about it for Slate, and I guess I’ll risk posting it:

The phenomenon of word aversion—seemingly pedestrian, inoffensive words driving some people up the wall—has garnered increasing attention over the past decade or so. In a recent post on Language Log, University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman defined the concept as “a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong, nor because it’s felt to be over-used or redundant or trendy or non-standard, but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant or even disgusting.” […]

Participants on various message boards and online forums have noted serious aversions to, for instance, squab, cornucopia, panties, navel, brainchild, crud, slacks, crevice, and fudge, among numerous others. […] Jason Riggle, a professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Chicago, says word aversions are similar to phobias. “If there is a single central hallmark to this, it’s probably that it’s a more visceral response,” he says. […]

Riggle thinks the phenomenon may be dependent on social interactions and media coverage. “Given that, as far back as the aughts, there were comedians making jokes about hating [moist], people who were maybe prone to have that kind of reaction to one of these words, surely have had it pointed out to them that it’s an icky word,” he says. “So, to what extent is it really some sort of innate expression that is independently arrived at, and to what extent is it sort of socially transmitted? Disgust is really a very social emotion.”

I’m voting for socially transmitted; it’s the modern equivalent of tulipmania or hula hoops. At any rate, Malady (appropriate name!) gives a number of examples of over-the-top word avoidance, and ends with an interesting hypothesis; after pointing out that Kurt Andersen “maintains no word aversions of the creep-out variety,” he continues:
[Read more…]

On Italicizing Words.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this interview with Isabel Yap, but the part of LH relevance concerns italics:

And it’s sort of like — in my first fiction workshop, I wrote a story using Tagalog words, and I italicized them, because that’s what I was used to even back home, because I write in English. And it became a huge discussion for the class. Like, “why is she italicizing her words? Is that othering? Is that intentional? Is she writing for a white audience?”

And I was like, “oh my god.” [laughs] I never thought about these things. I used to be like, I write what I write. […]

[…] The main takeaway I got from that conversation was that I probably shouldn’t italicize my words anymore. And you know, because of where I’m coming from, even in the Philippines, that’s what we do, I don’t mind if an editor asks me to change it, but I won’t do it to start with. And that’s sort of like a response to people saying, “who are you writing for?”

‘cos the point of my teacher, who was really amazing, was when you italicize, it draws attention to the text. This is a word that’s not in English, and therefore it’s sort of like you’re catering to a white audience. Whereas if you just leave it in there, it’s more like whatever your background is, you can just read this and take the text as it is, and you may recognize this word or not. It’s a small adjustment for me, because I don’t have a super strong opinion on it, but now that’s what I adhere to in my story.

I must confess that it seemed natural to me, almost inevitable, to italicize foreign words, because, well, that’s what we do. But I found that pretty convincing, and this Daniel José Older video finished the job. “And then I got back, and I realized I needed some books, so I went to… [Panama hat, cigar]… la biblioteca. And I was hungry, so I ate some… [guitar chord] comida típica de la cultura latina.” Yup, use itals for emphasis (in fiction, not linguistics, obviously) and let the reader decide what’s “English” and what’s not (a debate we’ve had here more than once).