Richer than English.

My wife and I are continuing to read Dorothy Richardson at night, occasionally baffled by the absence of plot and the unexplained vanishing of characters but enchanted by the prose, and we’ve gotten to Deadlock, the sixth novel in the Pilgrimage series. I was reading along as usual when I was thunderstruck by the following passage (Miriam, the heroine, is giving English lessons to a Russian named Shatov):

“[…] People are, in general, silly. But I must tell you you should not cease to read until you shall have read at least some Russian writers. If you possess sensibility for language you shall find that Russian is most-beautiful; it is perhaps the most beautiful European language; it is, indubitably, the most rich.”

“It can’t be richer than English.”

“Certainly, it is richer than English. I shall prove this to you, even with dictionary. You shall find that it occur, over and over, that where in English is one word, in Russian is six or seven different, all synonyms, but all with most delicate individual shades of nuance …. the abstractive expression is there, as in all civilised European languages, but there is also in Russian the most immense variety of natural expressions, coming forth from the strong feeling of the Russian nature to all these surrounding influences; each word opens to a whole aperçu in this sort …. and what is most significant is, the great richness, in Russia, of the people-language; there is no other people-language similar; there is in no one language so immense a variety of tender diminutives and intimate expressions of all natural things. None is so rich in sound or so marvellously powerfully colourful….. That is Russian. Part of the reason is no doubt to find in the immense paysage; Russia is zo vast; it is inconceivable for any non-Russian. There is also the ethnological explanation, the immense vigour of the people.”

Miriam went forward in a dream. As Mr. Shatov’s voice went on, she forgot everything but the need to struggle to the uttermost against the quiet strange attack upon English; the double line of evidence seemed so convincing and was for the present unanswerable from any part of her small store of knowledge; but there must be an answer; meantime the suggestion that the immense range of English was partly due to its unrivalled collection of technical terms, derived from English science, commerce, sports, “all the practical life-manœuvres” promised vibrating reflection, later.

But somewhere outside her resentful indignation, she found herself reaching forward unresentfully towards something very far-off, and as the voice went on, she felt the touch of a new strange presence in her Europe. She listened, watching intently, far-off, hearing now only a voice, moving on, without connected meaning…. The strange thing that had touched her was somewhere within the voice; the sound of Russia. So much more strange, so much wider and deeper than the sound of German or French or any of the many tongues she had heard in this house, the inpouring impression was yet not alien. It was not foreign. There was no barrier between the life in it and the sense of life that came from within. It expressed that sense; in the rich, deep various sound and colour of its inflections, in the strange abruptly controlled shapeliness of the phrases of tone carrying the whole along, the voice was the very quality he had described, here, alive: about her in the room. It was, she now suddenly heard, the disarming, unforeign thing in the voice of kind commercial little Mr. Rodkin. Then there was an answer. There was something in common between English and this strange language that stood alone in Europe. She came back and awoke to the moment, weary. Mr. Shatov had not noticed her absence. He was talking about Russia. Unwillingly she gave her flagging attention to the Russia already in her mind; a strip of silent sunlit snow, just below Finland, St. Petersburg in the midst of it, rounded squat square white architecture piled solidly beneath a brilliant sky, low sledges smoothly gliding, drawn by three horses, bell-spanned, running wildly abreast, along the silent streets or out into the deeper silence of dark, snow-clad wolf-haunted forests that stretched indefinitely down the map; and listened as he drew swift pictures, now north, now south. Vast outlines emerged faintly, and here and there a patch remained, vivid. She saw the white nights of the northern winter, felt the breaking through of spring in a single day. Whilst she lingered at Easter festivals in churches, all rich deep colour blazing softly through clouds of incense, and imagined the mighty sound of Russian singing, she was carried away to villages scattered amongst great tracts of forest, unimaginable distances of forest, the vast forests of Germany small and homely ….. each village a brilliant miniature of Russia, in every hut a holy image; brilliant colouring of stained carved wood, each peasant a striking picture, filling the eye in the clear light, many “most-dignified”; their garments coloured with natural dyes, “the most pure plant-stain colours,” deep and intense. She saw the colours, mat and sheenless, yet full of light, taking the light in and in, richly, and turned grievously to the poor cheap tones in all the western shops, clever shining chemical dyes, endless teasing variety, without depth or feeling, cheating the eye of life; and back again homesick to the rich tones of reality…… She passed down the winding sweep of the Volga, a consumptive seeking health, and out into the southern plains where wild horses roamed at large, and stayed at a lodge facing towards miles and miles of shallow salt water, sea-gull haunted, and dotted with floating islands of reeds, so matted and interwoven that one could get out from the little shallow leaky fishing-boat and walk upon them; and over all a crystal air so life-giving that one recovered. She heard the peasants in the south singing in strong deep voices, dancing by torchlight a wild dance with a name that described the dance….

Throughout the recital were vivid words, each a picture of the thing it expressed. She would never forget them. Russia was recognisable. So was every language …. but no foreign sound had brought her such an effect of strength and musical beauty and expressiveness combined. That was it. It was the strange number of things that were together in Russian that was so wonderful. In the end, back again in England, sitting in the cold dilapidated room before the table of little books, weary, opposite Mr. Shatov comfortably groaning and stretching, his eyes already brooding in pursuit of something that would presently turn into speech, she struggled feebly with a mournful uneasiness that had haunted the whole of the irrevocable expansion of her consciousness. A German, not a Russian ethnologist, and therefore without prejudice, had declared that the Russians were the strongest kinetic force in Europe. He proved himself disinterested by saying that the English came next. The English were “simple and fundamentally sound.” Not intelligent; but healthy in will, which the Russians were not. Then why were the Russians more forceful? What was kinetic force? And … mystery …. the Russians themselves knew what they were like. “There is in Russia except in the governing and bourgeois classes almost no hypocrisy.” What was kinetic… And religion was an “actual force” in Russia! “What is ki——”

“Ah but you shall at least read some of our great Russian authors …. at least Tourgainyeff and Tolstoy.”

“Of course I have heard of Tolstoy.”

“Ah, but you shall read. He has a most profound knowledge of human psychology; the most marvellous touches. In that he rises to universality. Tourgainyeff is more pure Russian, less to understand outside Russia; more academical; but he shall reveal you most admirably the Russian aristocrat. He is cynic satirical.”

I think what she has Shatov call “the people-language” is what I called “the rhetorical devices of the spoken language” in this post; at any rate, the whole passage is amazingly accurate compared to what most English-language authors have to say about Russians and their language and literature, and I wonder how Richardson came by it. It’s certainly strengthened my determination to finish Pilgrimage.

Comments

  1. SFReader says:

    I wonder how Richardson came by it

    obviously she met a Russian just like Shatov who delivered this lecture almost verbatim

    this sounds exactly like a kind of thing Russians would say about their language

  2. SFReader says:

    Popular linguistic joke to illustrate richness of Russian language.

    A story starting with P.

    Petr Petrovich Petukhov, poruchik pyat’desyat pyatogo Podol’skogo pekhotnogo polka, poluchil po pochte pis’mo, polnoye priyatnykh pozhelaniy. «Priyezzhayte, — pisala prelestnaya Polina Pavlovna Perepolkina, — pogovorim, pomechtayem, potantsuyem, pogulyayem, posetim poluzabytyy, poluzarosshiy prud, porybachim. Priyezzhayte, Petr Petrovich, poskoreye pogostit’».

    Petukhovu predlozheniye ponravilos’. Prikinul: priyedu. Prikhvatil poluistortyy polevoy plashch, podumal: prigoditsya.

    Poyezd pribyl posle poludnya. Prinyal Petra Petrovicha pochtenneyshiy papa Poliny Pavlovny, Pavel Panteleymonovich. «Pozhaluysta, Petr Petrovich, prisazhivaytes’ poudobneye», — progovoril papasha. Podoshol pleshiven’kiy plemyannik, predstavilsya: «Porfiriy Platonovich Polikarpov. Prosim, prosim».

    Poyavilas’ prelestnaya Polina. Polnyye plechi prikryval prozrachnyy persidskiy platok. Pogovorili, poshutili, priglasili poobedat’. Podali pel’meni, plov, pikuli, pechonku, pashtet, pirozhki, pirozhnoye, pol-litra pomerantsevoy. Plotno poobedali. Petr Petrovich pochuvstvoval priyatnoye presyshcheniye.

    Posle priyoma pishchi, posle plotnogo perekusa Polina Pavlovna priglasila Petra Petrovicha progulyat’sya po parku. Pered parkom prostiralsya poluzabytyy poluzarosshiy prud. Prokatilis’ pod parusami. Posle plavaniya po prudu poshli pogulyat’ po parku.

    «Prisyadem», — predlozhila Polina Pavlovna. Priseli. Polina Pavlovna pridvinulas’ poblizhe. Posideli, pomolchali. Prozvuchal pervyy potseluy. Petr Petrovich pritomilsya, predlozhil polezhat’, podstelil poluistortyy polevoy plashch, podumal: prigodilsya. Polezhali, povalyalis’, povlyublyalis’. «Petr Petrovich – prokaznik, prokhvost», — privychno progovorila Polina Pavlovna.

    «Pozhenim, pozhenim!», — prosheptal pleshiven’kiy plemyannik. «Pozhenim, pozhenim», — probasil podoshedshiy papasha. Petr Petrovich poblednel, poshatnulsya, potom pobezhal proch’. Pobezhav, podumal: «Polina Petrovna – prekrasnaya partiya, polnote parit’sya».

    Pered Petrom Petrovichem promel’knula perspektiva poluchit’ prekrasnoye pomest’ye. Pospeshil poslat’ predlozheniye. Polina Pavlovna prinyala predlozheniye, pozzhe pozhenilis’. Priyateli prikhodili pozdravlyat’, prinosili podarki. Peredavaya paket, prigovarivali: «Prekrasnaya para».

  3. Stu Clayton says:

    This is a wonderful satire on Trump speeches. The mesmerizing force of bungled syntax and bananas enthusiasm.

    # Mr. Shatov comfortably groaning and stretching, his eyes already brooding in pursuit of something that would presently turn into speech #

  4. @SFReader – that’s a bit cheating, after all, about half of any Russian dictionary consists of words beginning with P. 😉

  5. The story I remember about Petr Petrovich happened thus (from children’s magazine Murzilka way back when):
    Petr Petrovich poshel pogul’at’,
    Pojmal perepelku, poshel prodavat’,
    Prosil poltinnik, poluchil podzatyl’nik,
    Prosil proschen’ja, poluchil pachku pechen’ja.

  6. this sounds exactly like a kind of thing Russians would say about their language

    Yes, I have heard similar monologues several times in real life.

    This takes place pre-revolution I assume? Hard to read it now without some nostalgia for a vanished world of hypocritical bourgeoisie, wild forests and peasants singing with strong voices and wearing garments colored with natural dyes. Not to mention a Russia that still had “kinetic force”.

  7. Stu Clayton says:

    about half of any Russian dictionary consists of words beginning with P.

    A large percentage of them starting with “po”, “pri”, “pod”, “pro” itd ?

    I wonder whether there are many more German words beginning with “V” than you might expect from the low frequency overall of the letter “V”, due to the prefixes “vor” and “ver”.

  8. Stu Clayton says:

    a Russia that still had “kinetic force”

    In the sense of a “dynamic society” ? I see a lot of horsepower there now, it’s just that the horses are no longer pulling the dogcart of MLism.

  9. @Stu on prefixes: exactly, there are so many and frequently used prefixes starting with P.
    On German: probably yes, but without ever having counted, my impression is that the number of German words in V is a lower share of the dictionary than for Russian words in P.

  10. Stu Clayton says:

    I would agree, impression-wise, about the lower share in German. At the back of my mind when I made those comments was actually something more along the lines of: “what is the cash value of such statistical information” ?

    Here’s one selling point: the documented prevalence of “V” in German should warn you that it needs to be pronounced proper-like. Otherwise you end up saying /nerven/ instead of /nerfen/ for 40 goddamn years.

  11. AJP Crown says:

    you shall at least read some of our great Russian authors

    I can’t imagine anyone using that ‘our’ in English about any cultural subject. Our great English footballers, our great Welsh poets, our great American filmmakers? It sounds phoney. Is that the case in Russian or is there something else going on (people do speak of “our little Norway” in Norwegian)?

  12. In my experience, that kind of self-identification with the national culture and literature is totally unremarkable among Russians. Of course, there are Russians who have a more ironical or cynical position regarding these things, but that kind of (entirely non-phoney) self-identification seems to be the default, as far as I have observed.

  13. AJP Crown says:

    An ironical or cynical national position is certainly true of people in Britain & Ireland though perhaps not so much the US or Australia (and I do remember hearing “our little New Zealand” once.)

  14. Stu Clayton says:

    MRGA !

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    Googling “nos grands écrivains”, almost the first hit I get is a book called “Les plus jolies fautes de français de nos grands écrivains.”

    Quite where that puts the French in the national self-depreciation stakes I cannot say; however, I strongly suspect that in French the antonym of “our great writers” is “our lesser writers” rather than anyone else’s not-so-great writers. The superiority of French culture is axiomatic and needs no rhetorical reinforcement …

  16. SFReader says:

    In most varieties of English, “our” in the above sense tends to be supplanted by “this” – “this great country”, “this sceptered isle”…

    In Russian such usage is unthinkable and creates suspicions of Jewishness (or non-Russianness) of those who do use it.

  17. Lars (the original one) says:

    Danish certainly can have vores store danske kunstnere/forfattere/sønner — and vores lille Danmark is a bit precious, but not because of vores. I blame it on the mentality of retrenchment after that unfortunate affair in ’64.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    In English, this country always means “the one where I am right now”, while any other is that country. Other languages use their demonstrative pronouns differently.

    Except maybe Polish. Odkrycie z tej ziemi on a sign in Upper Silesia means “a discovery from Upper Silesia”.

  19. Stu Clayton says:

    The superiority of French culture is axiomatic and needs no rhetorical reinforcement …

    That may be true when qualified to “literary culture”. Philosophy might not even count as culture, but here the French play fast and loose with axiomatics. Yesterday I read some of the “corrigés” of the national bac exams. The L Philosophy topic was an excerpt from Hegel !!?? [in French]

    Admittedly Hegel with all sails swelling in stately discourse on the difference between natural law and positive law. From the corrigé I conclude that the task was to explain what Hegel was on about in that passage. Rephrasing the Old Masters. Shucks, I could have done that – perhaps not in French, though.

    Bac to the drawing-board.

  20. “[T]his sounds exactly like a kind of thing Russians would say about their language”

    This sounds exactly like the kind of thing anybody would say about their own language.

  21. This takes place pre-revolution I assume?

    Yes, somewhere around the turn of the century, though it’s impossible to be precise given the absence of chronological markers (as in Proust).

    I can’t imagine anyone using that ‘our’ in English about any cultural subject. Our great English footballers, our great Welsh poets, our great American filmmakers? It sounds phoney. Is that the case in Russian or is there something else going on

    It is absolutely the case in Russian; one of the things that strikes a foreigner in Russian literature is the prevalence of “we” and “our” in talking about things Russian. “Our troops,” “our winters,” and the ubiquitous “we Russians” — they crop up in all authors and all time periods. An interesting quirk.

  22. Father Jape says:

    I’d say BCS uses ‘our’ (naš) just as much.

    In fact, that’s what BCS is sometimes called by ex-Yugoslavs who want to avoid using a different label (e.g. „Možemo na našem” when proposing a switch from English to BCS).

  23. AJP Crown says:

    SF: In Russian such usage is unthinkable and creates suspicions
    Wait. So in Russian you can say “Our great country…” but not “This great country…”? That’s so TOTALLY weird.

    In America politicians say to voters “This great country of ours” and that kind of sentiment is beginning to catch on in Britain too so maybe painters, actors etc. will be adopted next.

    Regarding the French, if some countries were more interesting and in different ways superior to others France would certainly be up near the top. But why make a point of it except (like say being born rich) to cheer yourself up when it’s raining? There’s no real positive side to that attitude. Likewise with the smug, superior British “Oh we’re awful at that” when they really believe the opposite.

  24. I’d say BCS uses ‘our’ (naš) just as much. In fact, that’s what BCS is sometimes called by ex-Yugoslavs who want to avoid using a different label (e.g. „Možemo na našem” when proposing a switch from English to BCS).

    But that’s different — that’s a conversational shortcut. Is BCS literature full of “our X”? I’ve read a fair amount of Ivo Andrić and don’t recall it, but of course he’s not representative.

  25. Yvy tyvy says:

    The superiority of French culture is axiomatic and needs no rhetorical reinforcement …

    Regarding the French, if some countries were more interesting and in different ways superior to others France would certainly be up near the top. But why make a point of it except (like say being born rich) to cheer yourself up when it’s raining? There’s no real positive side to that attitude. Likewise with the smug, superior British “Oh we’re awful at that” when they really believe the opposite.

    We are accustomed to laugh at the French for their braggadocio propensities, and intolerable vanity about La France, la gloire, l’Empereur, and the like; and yet I think in my heart that the British Snob, for conceit and self-sufficiency and braggartism in his way, is without a parallel. There is always something uneasy in a Frenchman’s conceit. He brags with so much fury, shrieking, and gesticulation; yells out so loudly that the Francais is at the head of civilization, the centre of thought, &c.; that one can’t but see the poor fellow has a lurking doubt in his own mind that he is not the wonder he professes to be.

    About the British Snob, on the contrary, there is commonly no noise, no bluster, but the calmness of profound conviction. We are better than all the world; we don’t question the opinion at all; it’s an axiom. And when a Frenchman bellows out, ‘LA FRANCE, MONSIEUR, LA FRANCE EST A LA TETE DU MONDE CIVILISE!’ we laugh good-naturedly at the frantic poor devil. WE are the first chop of the world: we know the fact so well in our secret hearts that a claim set up elsewhere is simply ludicrous. My dear brother reader, say, as a man of honour, if you are not of this opinion? Do you think a Frenchman your equal? You don’t—you gallant British Snob—you know you don’t: no more, perhaps, does the Snob your humble servant, brother.

    And I am inclined to think it is this conviction, and the consequent bearing of the Englishman towards the foreigner whom he condescends to visit, this confidence of superiority which holds up the head of the owner of every English hat-box from Sicily to St. Petersburg, that makes us so magnificently hated throughout Europe as we are; this—more than all our little victories, and of which many Frenchmen and Spaniards have never heard—this amazing and indomitable insular pride, which animates my lord in his travelling-carriage as well as John in the rumble.

    —W. M. Thackeray, The Book of Snobs

  26. Father Jape says:

    Hmm… not 100% sure about literature, but I’d say that, all told, we definitely use it more than English speakers use ‘our’.

  27. Well, I’m only talking about literature, because conversation is a whole different ball game.

  28. John Cowan says:

    the dogcart of M[arxism]L[enin]ism

    Me, I think oxcart is le mot juste myself. Given that even oxen can only pull loaded oxcarts at 1 mph.

  29. AJP Crown says:

    It is absolutely the case in Russian; one of the things that strikes a foreigner in Russian literature is the prevalence of “we” and “our” in talking about things Russian…they crop up in all authors and all time periods.

    Thanks, Language.

  30. So in Russian you can say “Our great country…”

    You can say it, yes, but it would be very pompous. “Our country…” is completely neutral, one can continue it with “is the best in the world” (word for word, it might be even “most best in the world”) or with “is in deep shit” with equal felicity. Some people manage to believe both of those things at the same time and say as much.

  31. Yvy tyvy says:

    “Our country…” is completely neutral, one can continue it with “is the best in the world” (word for word, it might be even “most best in the world”) or with “is in deep shit” with equal felicity. Some people manage to believe both of those things at the same time and say as much.

    We are kind, but provoked. Powerful, but oppressed. Rich, but robbed. Cultured, but cut off from education. Resourceful, but deprived of opportunities. Such is life in Nationstan.

  32. The usage of “this country” in Russian is informed by the essential absence of the article “the”. This / that typically become references to an object mentioned earlier (“Let me tell you about Iceland. This country is located near the Arctic circle…”). Also, use of Motherland / motherland (capitalization makes the “the” trick) and Fatherland is typically coupled with “our”. Only a century ago, “someone’s” rodina “motherland” primarily meant place of birth / hometown, while “nasha rodina” ~ our Motherland meant “this country”. The hometown sense has become obsolete (except for an occasional “malaya rodina” ~ lesser motherland), but “our” remains stuck to Motherland / Fatherland.

  33. Dmitry Pruss says:

    or with “is in deep shit” with equal felicity
    There is a classic Motherland joke about the two ringworms seeing the sunshine for the first time…

  34. John Cowan says:

    I’d say that our country is cromulent AmE in a political speech, but hardly elsewhere. One of our unofficial national anthems begins with my country, but again this is obviously political though not partisan.

  35. Rodger C says:

    Dmitry Pruss, Do you mean tapeworms? Ringworm is a fungal infection.

  36. Dmitry Pruss says:

    Do you mean tapeworms?
    I had roundworms in mind but not enough caffeine in my system yet, I guess 😀

  37. AJP Crown says:

    this amazing and indomitable insular pride with which Thackeray deliberately undermines his paragraph of criticism is absolutely typical of the Brititude.

  38. except for an occasional “malaya rodina” ~ lesser motherland

    Which reminds me of that classic work of literature «Малая земля».

  39. Yvy tyvy says:

    @AJP Crown

    “I try to be self-deprecating. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at it.”—John Cleese (if memory serves)

  40. One of our unofficial national anthems begins with “my country”

    And then there is “This land is your land…”

  41. John Cowan says:

    True, the 19C vs the 20C in a nutshell.

  42. AJP Crown says:

    Algy met a bear & John “Meta” Cleese.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    Wait. So in Russian you can say “Our great country…” but not “This great country…”? That’s so TOTALLY weird.

    Well, there’s no exact equivalent of the English this; there are two demonstrative pronouns, but their usage doesn’t quite map onto the two English ones. Case in point:

    (“Let me tell you about Iceland. This country is located near the Arctic circle…”)

    As far as I understand, that’s not an option in English unless the speaker happens to be in Iceland at that moment.

  44. Now I am wondering why Jacques Brel’s “Le plat pays” became “Mijn vlakke land” in the Dutch version.

  45. Owlmirror says:

    (“Let me tell you about Iceland. This country is located near the Arctic circle…”)

    As far as I understand, that’s not an option in English unless the speaker happens to be in Iceland at that moment.

    No, that looks perfectly fine to me. “This country” is referencing what was named in the previous sentence.

    What do you think it should be?

    (After scrolling up a bit and trying to parse the discussion)

    I see that Dmitry is talking about Russian — is that what you meant?

    If someone wrote “This country is a volcanic island near the Arctic Circle”, without reference, it would be strange indeed. It would be a perfectly cromulent Jeopardy clue, though.

  46. ktschwarz says:

    I can’t imagine anyone using that ‘our’ in English about any cultural subject.

    Our American Poets, discussed here in 2018. Some commenters remarked on how nineteenth-century it sounded.

  47. There is a whole program (recorded in 2012) on Moscow Echo Radio about “our country” vs. “this country”, and the angry reaction consistently invoked by “this country” (эта страна) which Lurkmore defines as “ugly Rushka”, a way to diss Mother Russia, and Moscow Echo explains as an Anglicism, a too-literal translation of English patriotic usage.
    https://echo.msk.ru/programs/vahta/954090-echo/

    An example they use is, “I like my flat” vs. “I hate this flat” (if you really don’t like your place anymore, then and only then it would cease to be yours and become “this”). The phone poll confirmed Lurkmore’s wisdom, that the words “this country” upsets most listeners.

  48. Yet, эта страна (this country) does crop up on occasion. The most famous being in Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem (“and if sometime in this country they decide to build my monument…”). But most of the time, if not “ugly Rushka” exactly, it does show a degree of separation, most famously in “this country was ours until we got bogged down in a war”. But it is also a normal way for Russians to speak of Russia in indirect reference (don’t know a correct grammatical term) something like “[nominally Russian people who I dislike or do not consider my in-group] think that in this country [something outrageous]”. The separation obviously is between someone else, not the speaker, and the country.

  49. SFReader says:

    I am going again to say something politically incorrect – perception of the vast majority of Russians is that this is how Russian Jews speak about Russia – “this country”, implying that they don’t feel Russia is “our country” for them.

    Luchshiy vid na etot gorod
    Esli sest’ v bombardirovshik

  50. If what you’re reporting is true of “the vast majority of Russians”, then it’s not you being politically incorrect, but them.

    OTOH if I were a Jew whose family had lived (or more likely died) through C19th and 20th Imperial and Soviet Russia, I wouldn’t feel welcome there nor inclined to feel much sense of belonging.

    Those Russians could look in the (collective) mirror.

  51. AJP Crown says:

    (“Let me tell you about Iceland. This country is located near the Arctic circle…”)

    As far as I understand, that’s not an option in English unless the speaker happens to be in Iceland at that moment.

    No, that looks perfectly fine to me. “This country” is referencing what was named in the previous sentence.

    What do you think it should be?

    Perhaps either: This is a country that’s located…
    or: This country, located near…, is

    (But it is perfectly fine.)

  52. SFReader says:

    As far as I understand, that’s not an option in English unless the speaker happens to be in Iceland at that moment.

    Teacher: {pointing at the map} This country is located near the Arctic circle…

  53. AJP Crown says:

    Лучший вид на этот город – если сесть в бомбардировщик.
    The best view of this city (is from the belly of a bomber).
    – Attributed to Brodsky. But in this link, Brodsky used the story (if not the actual word эта) in an imitation of American tourists rather than as his own opinion of Moscow.

    Dmitry: There is a whole program … about … the angry reaction consistently invoked by “this country” (эта страна) … a way to diss Mother Russia…Moscow Echo explains as an Anglicism, a too-literal translation of English patriotic usage.
    I don’t know if I’m right but that sounds to me like “in most cases, and unless they’re translating, anyone saying эта страна is intending to diss Russia. They know what they’re doing.”

    SF: I am going again to say something politically incorrect
    Please go ahead. PC harassment is a kind of censorship.

  54. Stu Clayton says:

    I think of PC as Politically Censorious. But there’s also Perfectly Cromulent, Pizza Calabrese and Po-faced Complicity.

  55. David Marjanović says:

    So context does override the “here” sense of this [place] in English – good to know, thanks.

  56. SFReader says:

    In Russia, you can get two years jail sentence for saying politically incorrect things on the Internet. Doesn’t stop anybody though

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Not the ones with a working VPN at least, I imagine.

  58. Stu Clayton says:

    VPNs protect transmission only between server endpoints. The VPN entry and exit servers are weak points. If you don’t operate your own entries and exits, you’re exposed.

    You’d have to be pretty stupid to rely on a “clandestine” VPN service at $5 per month, if you were conspiring with others to spit in Trump’s diet cokes. As things are, all of your pirated films etc are already known to certain official and inofficial groups. It’s only a matter of time and cost/benefit analysis before the boom is lowered.

  59. When a Russian says “my flat/apartment” (moya kvartira), chances are she owns it, alone or jointly with her husband and/or their children and/or their parents, with or without a mortgage. A Russian can also refer to a rented flat as “my flat” but she’d probably qualify this with “actually we’re renting it.”

    @AJP Crown: “Attributed to Brodsky.” It’s a line from his long poem Predstavlenie (1986) – “A Performance” or “A Show.” It’s highly heteroglossic and keeps you wondering who and where these voices could be coming from.

  60. Owlmirror says:

    If someone wrote “This country is a volcanic island near the Arctic Circle”, without reference, it would be strange indeed.

    Actually, I can see someone writing like that if they wanted to talk about Iceland while leaving it unnamed for a while. Maybe to have a bit of mystery? It could be a Jeopardy clue, as I wrote above, or a riddle: “This country has the Mid-Atlantic Ridge running through it. What is its name?”

  61. It’s a line from his long poem Predstavlenie (1986) – “A Performance” or “A Show.” It’s highly heteroglossic and keeps you wondering who and where these voices could be coming from.

    Yeah, that’s an amazing poem that I should take another crack at — every time I read it I pick up more bits I had missed.

  62. Owlmirror says:

    I am going again to say something politically incorrect – perception of the vast majority of Russians is that this is how Russian Jews speak about Russia – “this country”, implying that they don’t feel Russia is “our country” for them.

    What do you think that “politically correct” means, such that the above is not politically correct?

  63. I suspect he just means that talking about Russians vs. Jews is inherently likely to cause trouble.

  64. SFReader says:

    Article 282, Criminal Code of the Russian Federation

    1. Actions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity, as well as at abasement of dignity of a person or a group of people on the basis of gender, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, as well as belonging to any social group, committed publicly, including with use of mass media or information and telecommunication networks, as well as the Internet, a person who received administrative penalty for a similar act within one year, –

    shall be punished with a fine in the amount of three hundred thousand to five hundred thousand rubles, or in the amount of the salary or other income of the convicted person for a period of two to three years, or compulsory works for a period of one to four years with deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities up to three years, or imprisonment for a term of two to five years.

    With laws like that one would expect Russians to be the most politically correct people in the world…

  65. “Этот город” , this city, is repeatedly used in poetry as a technique of defamiliarization, an invitation to see the strange in the familiar. Bravos classic song continues with an invitation to drop from the wings of the breeze and to stay here. And Sukhanov, in a classic of our generation, leads us into a mystery with “this city is called Moscow”, where a regular narrow street and a nondescript claustrophobic room became the strangest, least familiar places.
    https://youtu.be/9nLalZGWLwc

  66. As far as I understand, that’s not an option in English unless the speaker happens to be in Iceland at that moment.

    It is more complicated than that. It is perfectly normal in English, while standing in New York, to say things like, “Let’s look at China. This amazing country has one of the best economic growth stories of the last 20 years.”

    On the other hand, if someone asked you “how do you like China?”, you would probably say “this country is fascinating!” if you were in China or “that country is fascinating” if you were not in China.

  67. Owlmirror says:

    @SFReader: A citation of Russian legal code does not answer my question. What do you think “politically correct” means?

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    This/that.

    The relevant distinction is between spatiotemporal deixis and discourse deixis. Some languages (Kusaal – how did you guess?) actually have different but related sets of demonstratives for these two usages; most (like English) use the same forms. Languages which conflate spatiotemporal and discourse deixis differ among themselves in how their spatiotemporal demonstratives get used (metaphorically) in discourse, as people have been illustrating.

  69. John Cowan says:

    With laws like that one would expect Russians to be the most politically correct people in the world…

    If they really were, there would be no need for such laws. There are no laws against flying by flapping your arms, and per contra there are no laws mandating breathing.

    In American English people do say “this president’ and “this (supreme) court” to distance themselves from the current occupants. The implication is that this president may do this or that, but the next (presumptively from the speaker’s party) will not. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” ―Theodore Roosevelt (ex-president at the time)

    Owlmirror: Politically correct has or has had at least five meanings.

    David E: Lojban distinguishes firmly between spatiotemporal deixis and discourse deixis. The latter has words for “this very utterance”, “the last utterance”, “the next utterance”, “a recent utterance”, “a future utterance”, “a remote past utterance”, “a remote future utterance”, and “some utterance or other, specified by context”.

    It also has words, vaguely analogous to English “ditto” or “what you/he said” when used as whole sentences, that actually re-assert previously spoken sentences. Thus one can say in a single word “What you said”, or with a negation particle “Not what you said”, and these are standard ways of saying yes and no. These follow basically the same pattern as the discourse deictic particles.

  70. “about half of any Russian dictionary consists of words beginning with P.”

    Same for Croatian, and I’d guess other Slavic languages too.

    English dictionaries have a largish section starting with S, because it includes words starting with [s] and [ʃ ].

    “Usage of our”

    In Croatian, you can say of someone “he/she is ours”, meaning: he/she is a Croatian. This goes back to renaissance Dubrovnik (the word used then was “našijenac”), if not earlier.

  71. Owlmirror says:

    I think Vanya gets it right.

    Generally, “this” refers to something near (“This dog [right here, being looked at by the speaker] is so cute”); “that” refers to something remote (“That dog [over there, or in some other location] is so cute”). With a certain possibility for overlap, I think. For events, “This” would be used for something in the present (“this party is amazing!”); “that” for something in the past (“That party was amazing!”) — where the presentness/remoteness is in time.

    Now I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile that with what Dmitry & I wrote above about referring to Iceland. Weird how something so automatic needs to be analyzed to figure out how it works. It’s a centipede’s legs situation.

    The best I can come up with at the moment is the immediacy of the subject: Iceland is being referred to here and now, even if the country itself is not “here” to the speaker.

  72. “This” этот / это is also used in Russian “without an antecedent” to avoid a tabooed word or name. “This woman” would be a rival-not-to-be-named. “This ethnicity” is how some guests at the Russian Jewish genealogy portal prefer to describe their suspicions that one of their ancestors may have been (no, they can’t make themselves utter this word!) a Jew

  73. @Owlmirror: I think the this/that distinction is indeed the same one as with here and there. Notice how this can be used for referents that are only present as topics, not physically: “Take Iceland, for example. Here we have a country with more geysers than….”

  74. @LH: “Yeah, that’s an amazing poem that I should take another crack at — every time I read it I pick up more bits I had missed.”

    Have you read, by chance, Skvoz’ proschalnye slezy by Timur Kibirov?

  75. No, I haven’t.

  76. David Marjanović says:

    Some languages (Kusaal – how did you guess?) actually have different but related sets of demonstratives for these two usages; most (like English) use the same forms.

    And then there’s German, where all but the most literary register don’t make any deixis distinctions at all, except for having three words (in the standard) where English (outside of archaic registers) has just here & there. And my dialect has simplified that situation by losing “here” and redistributing the other two.

  77. No deixis distinction? You are right that “jener” as distant counterpart to “dieser” is purely literary, but what about colloquial “der hier” vs. “der da”?
    For the equivalents to “here” and “there”, are you talking about “hier”, “da”, and “dort”? At least in my idiolect, the distinction between “da” and “dort” is purely one of style / register, with “dort” being the “higher” variant, but implies no difference in deixis. (Plus, certain compounds and colocations can only take one or the other.)

  78. David Marjanović says:

    are you talking about “hier”, “da”, and “dort”?

    Yes. We’ve lost hier, making der hier impossible. Da is “here” and “where I’m pointing, not too far away”, while dort is “there, farther away”; warst du schon einmal da means “have you been there” here in Berlin, but “have you been here before” back home.

    The dialect has also lost the whole family of dies-, and uses the (unreduced) article as the only demonstrative pronoun. Also, 3rd-person pronouns are replaced by this demonstrative pronoun at the slightest hint of demonstrativity.

  79. The dialect has also lost the whole family of dies-, and uses the (unreduced) article as the only demonstrative pronoun.
    What has your dialect where the standard has attributive dies-, as in e.g. dieser Mann ist gefährlich? dér Mann (or whatever the equivalent would be in Weanerisch?
    Also, 3rd-person pronouns are replaced by this demonstrative pronoun at the slightest hint of demonstrativity.
    That’s also happening (maybe not to the same degree) in colloquial German further up North, although it’s censored as vulgar by the upholders of the literary standard and considered impolite by many people (“Die hat mein Radiergummi geklaut!” – “Ich bin keine ‘Die’!”).

  80. I remember being a little bit put out the first time I was referred to as “der” by an Austrian.

  81. David Eddyshaw says:

    Spoken Welsh has done something similar: instead of the Literary Welsh demonstrative adjectives it uses (y)ma “here” and (y)na “there”: y llyfr ‘ma “the book here” for Literary y llyfr hwn “this book.”

  82. David Marjanović says:

    dér Mann

    Yep. Usually it just amounts to keeping the e at all instead of reducing der to /dɐ/.

    (I don’t speak specifically Viennese, but that’s all the same in this respect.)

  83. Trond Engen says:

    Denne and dette (and den and det as deictics) are lost in many Norwegian dialects. Instead they have (forms broadly represented by) den/det her and den/det der.

    What I think happens is that when one deictic is semantically bleached (to pronoun or article), it has to be reinforced for deictic purposes (den > den der). This leads to the other deictic being replaced analogically (denne > den her).

    Is this some sort of linguistic universal, a Jespersen cycle of sorts, or at least a SAE thing?

  84. AJP Crown says:

    Hans: considered impolite by many people (“Die hat mein Radiergummi geklaut!” – “Ich bin keine ‘Die’!”).

    David Marjanović said:
    February 9, 2014 at 6:39 pm
    Oh and I forgot – it does not matter in the slightest if the person is around or not. Referring to someone as Die/Der actually tends to happen when someone complains about a third party who might not be there, in that respect it seems similar to “That one/man/woman..” in English.

    …I think what’s going on here is something quite different: in Bavarian-Austrian dialects, the demonstrative pronoun* is used instead of the 3rd-person personal pronouns at the slightest hint of emphasis, whenever there’s too much of it to use the clitics**. People from farther north likely find this bizarre, misunderstand it as derogatory (like “that one down there” or Latin iste), and therefore try to discourage it when it spreads to them.

    * They’re like Highlanders, there can be only one. Die/der/das spans the whole range from definite article to pronoun; dies- does not exist, there is no “this”/”that” distinction.
    ** [ɐ] “he”, [s] “she/it/they”.

    I used to get very cross when as a child my daughter in a discussion with her mother referred to me as ‘he’ in Norwegian (and the same with er & der in German when I lived there). It does seem extraordinarily disrespectful to any foreign person, imo.

  85. @LH: We discussed Kibirov on this blog in December 2012 (“Kara-Baras! Or, the Intertext”). If you’ve deciphered half of Brodsky’s cultural allusions, you’d probably enjoy Kibirov’s Tears. In 2014, Oleg Lekmanov invited his LJ friends to contribute comments to the first section of the poem (“Introduction”), and they ended up glossing each line but one or two.

  86. Is there a better link for the poem than this (from that 2012 thread)? I’d rather not have to change encoding every time I want to read it.

  87. Trond Engen says:

    I used to get very cross when as a child my daughter in a discussion with her mother referred to me as ‘he’ in Norwegian (and the same with er & der in German when I lived there). It does seem extraordinarily disrespectful to any foreign person, imo.

    I’ve never thought of it as disrespectful. I don’t think I’ve ever taken notice of whether I’ve been referred to as “han” or “Trond” by anyone.

    A colleague of mine had a client who used to come into the office and tell long stories. In these he consistently referred to his wife as hennær “her (dial.)”. (He came more to talk than actually to have anything built. When was there he told everything he had in his head, which was the same story about something about his summer house for three quarters of an hour.)

  88. AJP Crown says:

    I didn’t know you could just walk in to structural engineers for a chat. Sounds fun. Did he speak of hennær when she was in the room? It’s maybe being talked about in the third person in another language than English that offends me. When they first started doing it at my office in Hamburg I didn’t speak much tysk so they could have been saying anything. Paranoia may be involved.

  89. Trond Engen says:

    No, hennær wasn’t in the room. I never saw her. But his son used to come along. He was the same square build as his father, and almost the same age. They even had the same first name. The son may well have had a story of his own hennær to tell, but he never got to insert more than an occasional yes to confirm his father’s account.

  90. AJP Crown says:

    I get from google that it’s maybe from Porsgrunn or elsewhere in Telemark and was considered old-fashioned even before the 1920s. Would she have used ham to talk about her husband, or something more exotic?

    https://www.porsgrunn.folkebibl.no/bok/reynolds/porsgrunnsmaal/pm-h.html

  91. Trond Engen says:

    Porsgrunn is not a bad guess. It may well have been old-fashioned before 1920, but so would our protagonist.

    She might have called him han. The form with m is from written Danish and is used only in the most elevated circles, if at all.

    Hennær is the old possessive (Nyn. hennar). The dialect has a new possessive form hennærs, mostly doubled to hennærses, to which may be added the 3p possessive for good measure in predicative position: hennærses sin. (To a child: Nei, den er hennærses sin “No, that is hers”.)

  92. AJP Crown says:

    Golly. I use ham all the time and no one’s ever batted an eye let alone accused me of being elevated. I’m pretty sure I learnt it at norskkurset i Asker på folkesuniversitet, but they taught us some weird stuff. Good to know, anyway.

  93. Trond Engen says:

    You do have some really elevated circling going on in your neighbourhood.

  94. AJP Crown says:

    My impression is that they talk pretty normal for Asker og Bærum. There was a big dinner discussion the other day about whether it’s subtly rude to decline something you’re offered with “Ellers takk” (something about it having been used in a theatre piece).

  95. Owlmirror says:

    But his son used to come along. He was […] almost the same age.

    Not sure how to interpret that . . . surely there was an approximately 2 decade age difference? Maybe 16 years at a minimum?

  96. Trond Engen says:

    Ellers takk can be anything from very polite to a fierce attack depending on how you say it.

    They do talk pretty normal for Asker og Bærum — more colloquial than those who (used to) make up their closest circles. When the king or the crown prince is interviewed on TV, I amuse myself by pointing out colloquialisms or dialect features to my wife.

  97. Trond Engen says:

    Not sure how to interpret that

    They were both sort of ageless. The son was as old-fashoned as the father. They had the same cough. Etc.

    (I had forgotten that they worked together, running some sort of maintenance service for their summerhouse neighbours, and they came into the office with overalls and flannel shirts. Actually, I don’t think they saw themselves as customers of my colleague as much as partners, since he too had a summerhouse there and he was at the board of the water co-op or something. My colleague probably sketched an outhouse for them for free.)

  98. AJP Crown says:

    hennærses sin. (To a child: Nei, den er hennærses sin “No, that is hers”.)

    I’m going to try using this at my first opportunity, possibly breakfast.

  99. SFReader says:

    I do feel that referring to a person standing next to me as he or she is kind of mildly disrespectful in any language.

  100. dainichi says:

    > warst du schon einmal da

    This is intriguing. In Danish, using the preterite with this kind of experiential meaning is completely ungrammatical, and I thought it was in German too, so I expected “Bist du schon einmal da gewesen?”.

    I know about the perf>pret phenomenon in colloquial/dialectal German, but this looks like it’s going the opposite way, sorta like AmE “were you ever here?”.

    My guess: Dialects/registers which have generally lost the preterites, still keep some commonly occurring ones, like “war”. But the perf/pret distinction is lost, causing the preterite to be used in cases where (I think) only the perfect can be used in the Standard. Is this right?

  101. Hans: considered impolite by many people (“Die hat mein Radiergummi geklaut!” – “Ich bin keine ‘Die’!”).

    David Marjanović said:

    …I think what’s going on here is something quite different: in Bavarian-Austrian dialects, the demonstrative pronoun* is used instead of the 3rd-person personal pronouns at the slightest hint of emphasis, whenever there’s too much of it to use the clitics**. People from farther north likely find this bizarre, misunderstand it as derogatory (like “that one down there” or Latin iste), and therefore try to discourage it when it spreads to them.

    In the North, it depends on the register – there are colloquial registers (at the lower end of social stratification) for which this phenomenon is relatively normal and no rudeness is intended. But middle class and upwards it’s frowned upon, so doing that after kindergarten / elementary school, where using the demonstrative pronoun instead of the 3rd person pronoun is weeded out, means you’re either rude or an uneducated prole (or both).

    I used to get very cross when as a child my daughter in a discussion with her mother referred to me as ‘he’ in Norwegian (and the same with er & der in German when I lived there). It does seem extraordinarily disrespectful to any foreign person, imo.

    I do feel that referring to a person standing next to me as he or she is kind of mildly disrespectful in any language.
    But that would extend only to the first mention, wouldn’t it? Or would you expect your name to be repeated all the time?
    “Let me introduce Mr. John Smith from XY auditors. John is responsible for the Due Diligence. John will look at our financial reports and will also request further documentation. Please cooperate with John in all matters. Should you have any doubts whether John has clearance to obtain any specific document John may request from you, please let me know” etc. etc.
    Surely at some point it would be admissible to switch to the 3rd person pronoun without it being impolite?

  102. @dainichi:
    The use of the preterite in that example would also be unremarkable in the North, where the preterite / perfect distinction still is alive. But it wouldn’t work with any other verb, so I think it is a peculiarity of the usage of sein and has nothing to do with the loss or non-loss of the preterite – perfect distinction. It’s also possible to use the perfect here, it wouldn’t make any difference in meaning in this case.
    On keeping war: that probably works differently in different Southern dialects. Some guy who knows (Southern) Badisch told me once that they don’t use war at all, it’s always isch gsii. But DM can probably say more about this.

  103. SFReader says:

    Surely at some point it would be admissible to switch to the 3rd person pronoun without it being impolite?

    For a formal speech like in your example, use of 3rd person pronoun should be even less frequent than in informal conversation.

    {thinking} I guess, it’s all right to switch to he or she in several subsequent sentences forming one paragraph (I don’t know what it’s called in oral conversation, but I feel such thing certainly exists). But when you start new paragraph, you’ll have to use the name again.

  104. I vaguely remember a series of “draznilki” taunts, teasing nursery kind of rhymes, for those kids who overuse “undesirable words”, like for 3rd person pronouns, it goes он, он, он – жопой чистит стадион

    BTW there is a fascinating study of the geography of the Russian taunt rhyme for a greedy kid which, to everyone’s surprise, comes in 3 different regional flavors:
    жадина-говядина-в жопе шоколадина and its more bowdlerized versions, e.g. in St. Petersburg

    жадина-говядина-соленый огурец, на полу валяется, никто его не ест e.g. in Kiev

    жадина-говядина-турецкий барабан, кто на нем играет? (name of the offender here) -таракан! Pretty much only in Moscow.
    https://www.facebook.com/yandex/photos/a.10150358106400577/10161768496485577/?type=3&theater

  105. @SFReader: Interesting. It seems my German instincts seem to be off as compared to the norms of politeness in other languages. To me, using names instead of pronouns as frequently as you propose would sound pompous or ridiculous. An added reason is that in Germany, you use “Herr /Frau Lastname” much more frequently than in English, so it would be a long chain of “Herr Müller” or “Frau Meier”.

  106. AJP Crown says:

    Hans: Surely at some point it would be admissible to switch to the 3rd person pronoun without it being impolite?

    To some extent. Often there is no rule to define what’s rude; you play it by ear and hope all parties get the same impression. I’d be more comfortable with my daughter referring to me as “papa” and not “han” throughout a conversation, but maybe I’m not remembering all cases correctly.

    Without reasoning too much, I’d say:
    “Let me introduce Mr. John Smith from XY auditors. John is responsible for the Due Diligence. He will look at our financial reports and will also request further documentation. Please cooperate with John in all matters. Should you have any doubts whether John has clearance to obtain any specific document he may request from you, please let me know”

    in Germany, you use “Herr /Frau Lastname” much more frequently than in English
    And the siezen boundary doesn’t exist in English.

  107. David Marjanović says:

    This is intriguing. In Danish, using the preterite with this kind of experiential meaning is completely ungrammatical, and I thought it was in German too, so I expected “Bist du schon einmal da gewesen?”.

    The past is the past, the two tenses are exactly synonymous, their usage is guided only by stylistic and regional considerations. That’s why I like calling them passé simple and passé composé (…though Étienne has taught us recently that in fully literary French there is a residual distinction).

    I’ll elaborate on the stylistic considerations later.

    On keeping war: that probably works differently in different Southern dialects. Some guy who knows (Southern) Badisch told me once that they don’t use war at all, it’s always isch gsii.

    Yes, broadly defined Alemannic has lost the passé simple completely, while Bavarian dialects keep one or two – mine and Viennese, at least, keep war and wollte, the exception of the exception being the 2pl wolltet because the two possible forms I can imagine for it would be identical to the present or to the subjunctive.

    And at the northern fringe, each verb has its own line in the landscape south of which it lacks the passé simple. There’s a map in the dtv Sprachatlas.

    Interesting. It seems my German instincts seem to be off as compared to the norms of politeness in other languages.

    Mine too!

    I mean, I can see that talking about people who are present right there as if they couldn’t speak for themselves comes across as not nice, but how does reminding everyone of their names magically switch that off?

    And the siezen boundary doesn’t exist in English.

    In German it coincides with the first/last name boundary, with regional exceptions that make me feel queasy. But of course that boundary isn’t quite in the same place in German as in various Englishes (despite its dramatic movements over the last 100 years).

  108. Lars (the original one) says:

    So what is the alternative to the alienating feeling from referring to present individuals in the third person? Using their names is not much better, if you ask me.

    You could, of course, frame all statements involving someone as a direct address or question to them, but there are non-verbal ways of acknowledging people as well. Or the acknowledgment can be done in a prefatory fashion, for instance “I spoke to Lars about it, and he’ll …” This would be an acceptable compromise for me, at last.

  109. Or the acknowledgment can be done in a prefatory fashion, for instance “I spoke to Lars about it, and he’ll …”

    I can’t imagine anyone objecting to that. I thought the whole problem was with referring to someone present only by a pronoun; I would think that once you mention the name, you can use pronouns freely.

  110. AJP Crown says:

    “I spoke to Lars about it, and he’ll …” sounds fine to me.

    I just remembered a discussion at a meeting of the “leader group” at an architects’ office in Oslo, about whose desk was going to be located where in the future. And this Scottish Interiors woman goes “Og hva med ham?” about me, ffs. She’d been in Norway years longer than me and figured as a newcomer I wouldn’t understand. That was 20 years ago now and never forgotten. (I guess you had to be there.)

    In German it coincides with the first/last name boundary
    Perhaps because so few people use my last name in English, I remember with one Hamburg couple being addressed as Herr Crown so frequently in each sentence that I pleaded with them to be on duzen terms. They were delighted, it turned out.

  111. Trond Engen says:

    I’m suspicious of people who use my name in every other sentence. I think they try to coerce me into something, like the faux-intimacy of salespersons.

  112. Me too.

  113. Stu Clayton says:

    Not coercing, but welcoming in with gently smiling jaws.

    My mother used our full names when she got very severe: “Barbara Ann Clayton, you stop that right now!” That’s the way they did it in Miss’sippi.

  114. AJP Crown says:

    Ba Ba Ba
    Ba Barbara Ann…

    I’m the first to notice?

  115. Stu Clayton says:

    Including last name. The beach boyz never told us hers.

  116. Owlmirror says:

    The Voice of Trouble is not the Voice of Troubadour.

  117. John Cowan says:

    I remember with one Hamburg couple being addressed as Herr Crown

    Being from Hamburg is the key to the situation. They were probably overcorrecting for their native Hamburger Sie (in German, soz), the local use of Sie with the first name, because they feared that you as a foreigner would not understand it. Like its formal opposite, Münchner du with surname or title plus surname, it is meant to express a third level of formality between the other two, which is what makes David M. uneasy about it.

  118. AJP Crown says:

    Goodness. I didn’t know. But

    Das Hamburger Sie kann in asymmetrischen Beziehungen zwischen Ranghöheren und Untergebenen vorkommen, wo es einseitig verwendet wird, also ersterer mit dem Nachnamen und letzterer mit dem Vornamen angeredet wird.

    The old Gräfin in whose house I lived did make it clear from the very first day (when I didn’t even know any German) that I must call her Sie and she would call me du. It was nice of her to spell it out so she wasn’t caused any embarrassment. She was actually from Mecklenburg, but she’d lived in Hamburg since the mid-1930s. She called me Arthur and I called her Gräfin as requested, and never Frau Gräfin which is what a servant would be required to say. She was quite hard up and didn’t have servants. She’s dead now, an extraordinary woman and a brilliant storyteller.

  119. David Marjanović says:

    it is meant to express a third level of formality between the other two, which is what makes David M. uneasy about it.

    That and the fact that it’s so alien to me it feels flat-out ungrammatical.

  120. I haven’t encountered the Hamburger Sie in real life, but it’s not uncommon on TV, especially in dubbings of English language shows. There, it’s a workaround to keep faithful to the use of first names in the original in situations where you use last names and Sie in German. It always makes me cringe a little. (But use of first names and du is steadily expanding in Germany, so in 2 or 3 generations there may not be any discrepancy between English and German any more.)
    The other phenomenon mentioned in the wiki article, the “Münchner Du”, is actually two different things. The one where “du” is used with the last name without “Herr/Frau” is typical for asymmetric relationships. I mostly associate it with teacher / pupil or master / apprentice relationships and similar before ca. the 70s, used by teachers talking to pupils. The other one, “Du” plus “Herr / Frau” plus last name, is used by children in preschool and elementary school age towards adults of authority, especially teachers, before they master “Sie”, and by people with lower educational background among colleagues (whence the other designation as “Kassiererinnen-Du”). Both phenomena aren’t limited to München at all.

  121. Stu Clayton says:

    … and by people with lower educational background among colleagues (whence the other designation as “Kassiererinnen-Du”).

    I don’t see how “lower educational background” has any relevance here. This type of address is used between employees in every kind of store with large numbers of walk-in customers. Except in that phoney-smiley Starbucks.

    I was given the simple explanation years ago, when I asked an Edeka cashier about it. Managers impose this form of address.

    They want to put a brake on a tendency among per-du employees to get stroppy / vulgar / natural with each other in front of the customers. Some managers tried to enforce Sie, but that was too hard for people who’d known each other for years. I think that Edeka back then was in the throes of a Sie rule, which was why I asked what was going on.

    So they leave the Du now, but counteract it with a dose of Frau/Herr [Nachname].

  122. I never knew. But I must admit, I have a hard time imagining that it’s a policy being enforced by management throughout all those different chains of stores in Germany.
    I had noticed the Münchner Du first in parts of Northern Germany where people used to speak Platt until very recently and “Sie” is used much rarer than in urban environments, especially by people with less of an educational background (that’s where that comes in). So I always had assumed that the Münchner Du was some sort of compromise with the need of formality in the work place by people for whom “Sie” is a rarely used form of address.

  123. Stu Clayton says:

    I didn’t mean to imply that there is a central management directive for all chain stores in Germany, posted on their official websites. All I mean in that in NRW, where I am most of the time, you encounter the Ka-Du almost everywhere in stores with high customer volume, certainly in supermarkets – just as you would expect if the policy at that Edeka were being practiced everywhere. In the big hardware stores, for example, such as Bauhaus here.

    It’s certainly not something you find outside of stores. It’s effective in stores, in order to maintain a modicum of dignity.

    Take as counterexamples H&M, the Douglas perfumery stores and Kaufhof here in Cologne. As a customer you don’t hear Du between employees there, and not first names either – unless you’re overhearing an exchange not intended for you. The customer come-and-go is not as intense (depending on time of day) as in supermarkets. How Kaufhof employees address each other in private is not exposed to the customers.

    Tempers get frayed in a supermarket where the employee is pinned down to the cash register, and needs to call out in annoyance to a colleague about whether the store carries this and that, or what the price is when a customer disputes it.

    I have no experience of, or views on, this Münchener Du.

    Starbucks is a prominent exception, with their policy of making everybody feel that they’re experiencing real American manners.

  124. Stu Clayton says:

    So I don’t think an explanation in terms of high-falutin’ morphosyntactic principles/tendencies is needed here. No Great Bowel Shift. Simple temper control measures put in place by managers – that’s an adequate sociolinguistic explanation that could be empirically verified by JAM (Just Asking Management).

  125. could be empirically verified by JAM (Just Asking Management)

    In my experience, you will never get the truth from management. But I Am Not a Manager (nor was meant to be).

  126. Stu Clayton says:

    Nor I. Managers never know what’s happening, because no one tells them anything. By way of compensation they get to make decisions.

  127. AJP Crown says:

    Only trivial ones. (Do we really need more paperclips?)

  128. Stu Clayton says:

    At a store last week I saw paperclips, for the first time in decades. I immediately bought a box of 100. They’re bound to come back in fashion. We really do need them.

  129. John Cowan says:

    As is well known, a paperclip is the larval stage of a certain organism; it then undergoes metamorphosis, entering its pupal stage as a coat hanger, and finally reaches sexual maturity in the form of “his” and “hers” bicycles. The decline of the latter has naturally brought about a decrease in the number of paper clips.

    But more seriously, I can go into any Staples and buy as many as I want. Stationery stores seem to be extinct, but that is only because they have speciated into greeting-card stores and office-supply stores, and the latter (and their ancillary catalogs and websites) provide paper clips of all sizes and types, along with (obviously) staples and the required staplers, as well as bound notebooks with marble covers, three-ring binders and associated three-hole paper punches, etc. etc.

  130. Stu Clayton says:

    In the IT parallel universe, aka “paperless office”, paperclips have mostly been replaced by staples and punched holes, at least in Germany. Of course clips are available at stores, but I rarely am sent any IT thing held together by them, and haven’t had any at home for years.

    I don’t even print much myself, everything’s electronic. Today I went to look for a replacement cartridge for a little Samsung laser printer I bought in 2016. I still had the original cartridge with a capacity of 1000 pages. Two months ago I started getting warning messages that only 8% toner was left.

  131. David Marjanović says:

    There’s a decline of bicycles? Not for lack of trying (one is stolen every 17 minutes in Berlin), but they seem to be fruitful and multiplying.

    Three-ring binders, though, are much rarer over here than two- or even four-ring binders.

    I’ll elaborate on the stylistic considerations later.

    Let’s see what I can come up with…

    In writing:

    1) Consistency. One of the first things taught in school is that every narrative has to be in a single tense; pick one (by default the passé simple) and stick with it – every failure will be marked as an error.
    2) Zeitenfolge: when the narrative looks back at its past, use the pluperfect if the narrative is in either past tense, or the passé composé if the narrative is in the present. This may be explicable from an earlier stage with an aspectual distinction like the English one, and/or it may be copied from the Latin consecutio temporum – under the assumption that the passé simple is the imperfect and the passé composé is the perfect, which are indeed their most traditional names.

    In speaking:

    3) Brevity. Spoken lects that have a passé simple form of any given verb will tend to use it if all else is equal. Once upon a time doubt broke out on a Wikipedia talk page about whether the difference between ich bin gestanden (Austria) and ich habe gestanden (Germany) really lines up with the border. Someone from northern Germany was procured and asked. Answer: well, if pressed, ich habe gestanden as expected… but… ich stand!
    4) Rare irregular verbs tend toward the passé composé, I think. But the forms don’t often get as irregular or as rare as for the Konjunktiv II (starb & schwamm are straightforward compared to stürbe & schwömme).
    5) For centuries, there’s been a general tendency to expect two verb forms in every clause, a finite and an infinite one. This is thought to be part of the reason why the southern loss of the passé simple didn’t stop with the regular verbs (where a simple apocope rendered it identical to the present in much of the paradigm) but encompassed all or almost all irregular ones, even ones as common as “stand”, “sit” or “go/walk”.
    6) Maybe there’s a consecutio temporum thing going on. “Once he’s done that, he does this next” is wenn er das gemacht hat, tut er das als Nächstes in writing, and I can’t imagine anyone saying wenn er das machte in this context either. But then, this usage of the passé composé may not really be a tense in the first place, but a usage of the past participle to express a state in the present tense: compare wenn er das fertig hat with an adjective/adverb, “once he’s done and over with this” or “once he has this ready”.

    Let me introduce Mr. John Smith from XY auditors. John is responsible for the Due Diligence.

    That’s two more things you wouldn’t do in German. Either I’m on a first-name basis with him (whether anyone else is is not relevant):
    John Smith […] John (I’ve mentioned his last name once, so now you know it)
    Or I’m not:
    John Smith […] Mr. Smith (I’ve mentioned his first name once, so now you know it)
    Or I’m not, and I think his first name is irrelevant to the situation:
    Mr. Smith […] Mr. Smith (reference by last name alone is as extinct as in English)
    But Mr. John Smith would be pleonastic, because you can probably see he’s an adult of the male persuasion, and switching from distance (Mr.) to familiar reference (John) from one sentence to the next is not an option.

    My mother used our full names when she got very severe: “Barbara Ann Clayton, you stop that right now!” That’s the way they did it in Miss’sippi.

    And the whole rest of the US, apparently. (Don’t overlook the Real Life examples.)

    Simple temper control measures put in place by managers – that’s an adequate sociolinguistic explanation that could be empirically verified by JAM (Just Asking Management).

    How is it simple to mess with people’s heads so massively?

    (I’ve never witnessed conversations between supermarket employees for long enough to notice forms of address; I know the Kassiererinnen-Du only from reading. But I have noticed that another form of address, extinct for what feels like a century everywhere else, is not quite extinct in Berlin: third-person singular pronoun + last, if any, name. Takes you a while to realize they’re talking to you!)

  132. John Cowan says:

    There’s a decline of bicycles?

    No, no. There’s a decline of female bicycles (note the dropped reinforcing bar designed to accommodate long skirts). I’m alluding, by the way, to “And All The Seas With Oysters”.

    But Mr. John Smith would be pleonastic

    It’s part of being a low-context American, the same reason newspaper ledes refer to people by their full three-part names, just in case you might confuse them with someone else with the same first and last names. “The Odyssey was not written by Homer, but by another man of the same name.”

  133. Multiplying coat hangers are a pretty cheap gag (as here), but having them metamorphose into bicycle imagines is more original.

  134. That’s two more things you wouldn’t do in German

    I would never introduce someone as „Mr. John Smith“ in American English either. That sounds completely bizarre to me. I would just say “John Smith”. The only context where I can imagine using “Mr. Smith” would be if Smith were my child’s schoolteacher.

  135. PlasticPaddy says:

    Mr might be used to distinguish people who have a doctor title from those who do not. Surgeons in Britain and Ireland prefer Mr (more prestigious than Dr).

  136. David Marjanović says:

    There’s a decline of female bicycles

    Ah. Perhaps – I haven’t been paying attention.

  137. Lars (the original one) says:

    When I was shopping for a new bike last spring, I had the opposite experience — if a shop only stocked one of a particular colour / model combination, it was usually the low step-in version and the other was not available.

    This was possibly because I was adventurous enough to try and get something different from black or ‘motoring green’. Those colours on the other hand were usually stocked with multiples of gentlemen’s and maybe a single ladies’. From which I conclude that Danish men are boring scaredy-cats and fashion statements are only for women.

    (I ended up with one that checked all my feature and option boxes except non-black. Eheu. So I exercised my free colour choice on a new pair of Birkenstocks instead).

  138. David Eddyshaw says:

    Surgeons in Britain and Ireland prefer Mr (more prestigious than Dr).

    The convention, probably understood in detail only by actual surgeons, is that Fellows of a surgical College (there are four old-established ones in the UK and Ireland) are called “Mister” (or “Miss” or “Missus.”) It’s more prestigious within surgery to be a Fellow than not, but physicians of whatever stellar eminence are “Doctor.”

    Scots gynaecologists and ophthalmologists call themselves “Doctor” just in case the system was too straightforward for everybody.

    It’s supposed to be a relic of inverse snobbery from the days when surgeons were generally not medically qualified at all. (The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was founded by James IV in 1505 as the Guild of Barber Surgeons of Edinburgh; the Barber-Surgeons of Dublin were incorporated in 1446. The English have probably caught up by now.)

    To complicate matters further, UK medical graduates don’t have doctorates (unless they’ve actually done a postgraduate research degree); they have two Bachelor’s degrees. “Doctor” is thus just a conventional courtesy title; in the nineteenth century physicians too were often called “Mister.”

  139. Stu Clayton says:

    I find it weird that British politicians have “surgeries”. The WiPe article makes a feeble attempt to explain this:

    # At a surgery, constituents may raise issues of concern in the same manner that a person may directly consult a General Practitioner in his or her surgery (a “surgery” being the term for the GP’s workplace, an “office” in American parlance). #

    If issues of concern were handled in the same way by doctors and politicians, namely by the mere laying-on of hands (see etymology of “chirurgery”), we’re doomed. The association of cutting with surgery seems to be have been suppressed in Britain, although we all know that ubi no pain, ibi no gain.

    The association is still there, though, enough for one to be able to say at a politician’s surgery: “Cut it out, Johnson, you’re getting on my nerves”.

  140. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed, until quite recently, you could become a legally qualified UK doctor without any university degrees at all, either by being a joint Licentiate of the College of Physicians and College of Surgeons or (right up until 2008) by being a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worshipful_Society_of_Apothecaries

    It is widely believed that the Charter of the Society grants licentiates the ancient right to pass water in public in London, but I don’t think this has been tested in court lately.

  141. AJP Crown says:

    to say at a politician’s surgery: “Cut it out, Johnson
    First be certain you’re at a non-medical surgery.

    Mr. John Smith would be pleonastic
    But Mr Evelyn Waugh wouldn’t. However, when I was young it was supposed in England to be bad manners to include any title when you introduced yourself, i.e. not ‘I am Mr Smith’ or ‘I’m Lord Smith’ but ‘I am Smith’ or ‘I’m John Smith’.

    newspaper ledes refer to people by their full three-part names, just in case you might confuse them
    But some people just like having longer names (cf architect Frank Wright). John D. Rockefeller was probably compensating for his short & common first name; he’d rather have started life as Melchior Rockefeller. There’s a famous old politician in Norway called Carl I. Hagen, literally “Carl in the garden”.

  142. AJP Crown says:

    And surely “St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe” is misnamed. It ought to be St Andrew’s by-the-Wardrobe. It is St Andrew’s church that was by the Wardrobe, not Andrew himself.

    Outraged, of Tunbridge Wells.

  143. Quite. Andrew himself was in the closet.

  144. Lars (the original one) says:

    bad manners to include any title when you introduced yourself — but good manners to wait to be introduced by your host so they could point out your baronetcy?

  145. AJP Crown says:

    I don’t think you could point out a baronetcy at a formal introduction. It’s just a hereditary version of Sir, so whether you’re a Bart or a Knight of the Bath you’d be introduced as Professor Sir Lars Original either way.

  146. Lars (the original one) says:

    I aimed too low then, if I whip out my dukedom I’d get something fancier? (I just like the word baronetcy for some reason).

  147. “Of course you know His Grace The Duke of Original.”

  148. Lars (the original one) says:

    That’s more like it. And to think I’d’ve been stuck with Lars if I’d been forward enough to press myself on the other guests.

    Also, is dukedom the right word for the property of being a duke, as opposed to the fief? Dukeness? Ducality? Imperium ducalis?

  149. Dukes never press themselves (or pay for their own drinks).

  150. Also, is dukedom the right word for the property of being a duke, as opposed to the fief? Dukeness? Ducality? Imperium ducalis?

    OED:

    ducality, n.
    humorous.
    Ducal rank or character; concrete, a ducal personage; the ducal order.

    1847 Ld. Houghton Let. 12 Oct. in T. W. Reid Life Ld. Houghton (1890) I. ix. 399 The German ducalities go to Granada.
    1848 Ld. Houghton Let. 12 Oct. in T. W. Reid Life Ld. Houghton (1890) I. 408 Disraeli made an excellent use..of the ducality of his friend.
    1891 Pictorial World 7 Mar. 307/2 The Ducality was in high good humour.

  151. David Marjanović says:

    But Mr Evelyn Waugh wouldn’t.

    Definitely not, no. But such cases have no tradition in German – even though for a whole bunch of not terribly common names you have to just learn by rote what their gender is (Heike f., Eike m. …)

  152. For what it’s worth, the distribution of first letters in the 145,872-word list (not counting inflected forms) for the Russian aspell package for Ubuntu supports the idea that п is by far the most common (though there are some abbreviations and odd things in those lists):

    п 27382
    с 12713
    о 12331
    в 11332
    н 8438
    р 8364
    з 7873
    к 7181
    д 5704
    б 5325
    м 5207
    т 4555
    у 4380
    а 4180
    г 3795
    и 3722
    л 2550
    ф 1960
    ш 1619
    э 1508
    ч 1449
    х 1406
    ж 870
    ц 708
    е 427
    я 381
    щ 263
    ю 172
    й 45
    ё 32

    I was hoping against hope that the <pre> would work so I could line up the numbers. Oh, well. Might as well do German, which has 84,577 words (v doesn’t rank high):

    s 8926
    a 8185
    b 5735
    g 5712
    k 5355
    e 4838
    f 4336
    h 4237
    m 3794
    v 3793
    p 3712
    w 3446
    d 3174
    z 2868
    t 2645
    r 2593
    l 2490
    n 2155
    u 1891
    i 1490
    o 918
    ü 630
    c 593
    j 576
    q 194
    ö 131
    ä 120
    x 21
    y 19

    And English has 126,332 words:

    s 13964
    c 12170
    p 9619
    b 7842
    m 7568
    d 7467
    a 7433
    r 7066
    t 6444
    f 5168
    h 4896
    e 4838
    i 4568
    g 4376
    l 4233
    w 3458
    o 3032
    n 2881
    u 2713
    v 2012
    j 1526
    k 1480
    q 583
    y 513
    z 363
    x 119

  153. J.W. Brewer says:

    Note how (due to reasons that perhaps someone has explicated) frequency of initial letters in English (and perhaps also in German and Russian) doesn’t track particularly closely the Etaoin shrdlu ordering of frequency of letters-in-general.

  154. J.W. Brewer, aside from the fact that initial letters are distributed differently from letters in general, the figures above are from word lists, with one instance of each word and no consideration of frequency. I’d guess an analysis of initial letters in running text would have t and i much higher.

  155. Einstein [attrib] “Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht.”

    Is this being excessively (ironically) deferential, or is it unremarkable to pile up an article, a title, and a Proper noun?

  156. Frequency of first letters in Russian National Corpus (based on 20000 most frequent lemmas)
    п 10.8%
    с 9.9%
    в 9.8
    н 8.7
    о 7.8
    и 6.7
    к 5.4
    т 4.6
    д 4.5
    м 3.6
    etc.

  157. Lars (the original one) says:

    der Herr Gott — I think this is more likely German for ‘GOd the LOrd’. Danish has Gud Herren in appropriate Biblical contexts, but the honorific is always preposed (Hr. Hat).

    Aside: The Danish honorific is that rare thing, a word that can only be written abbreviated. The full form was traditionally Herr to mark the short vowel but we don’t do double letters in Auslaut any more. And yes, Danish uses the period even if the abbreviation ends with the last letter of the word, but the orthographic dictionary claims that it’s an abbreviation of (two-syllable) herre. In obsolete forms of address like min herre, de herrer (dhrr.) it did retain the second syllable so they may have a point.

    Root cognate with hare, BTW, as previously mentioned here. (grey > old > authority).

  158. AJP Crown says:

    DM: such cases have no tradition in German

    Aha, the recurrent & fascinating theme of German names! But don’t forget Klaus Maria Brandauer, born Klaus Georg Steng. Even though there are still strict rules, I suppose there’s nothing to stop you calling yourself whatever (or even Whatever), it just won’t appear on your driver’s licence.

    There’s a 2008 German law that you can have a gender-neutral name, like Biscuit. Only not Biscuit because it has to be clearly identifiable as a person’s first name. Although they did allow Birkenfeld as a first name because… something. It’s a can o’ worms.

    German wiki has other interesting tit-bits:
    In Thuringia and some other areas in Germany it was possible to have two or more living children in the same family baptized with the same name. One distinguished then between “Big Hans” and “Little Hans” [always assuming they weren’t twins, presumably].

    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vorname_(Deutschland)#cite_ref-1_BvR_576/07_3-0

    In Australia you can’t change your name more than twenty times within one calendar year. Seems sensible.

  159. Lars Mathiesen says:

    ducality — and I note with sorrow that only one of the OED quotes is for the abstract sense, and it’s not even the earliest. The same author used it concretely the year before. (Never mind that it’s marked ‘humorous’).

  160. The Speaker of the House always refers to (male) MPs as “Mr Firstname Lastname” rather than just “Mr Lastname” because with 650 of them there are quite a few Smith MPs, Jones MPs, Johnson MPs and so on. Occasionally semi-deranged people set them to music. https://twitter.com/rhodri/status/1111254719777914881

  161. David Marjanović says:

    Is this being excessively (ironically) deferential, or is it unremarkable to pile up an article, a title, and a Proper noun?

    It’s der Herrgott with initial stress. Probably it is from “the Lord God”, but the usual rendering of that is Gott(,) der Herr.

    (Taken literally in the modern language, der Herrgott is odd. It can be parsed as “the God-in-Chief”, implying polytheism. Maybe that’s why it’s become quite rare since Einstein.)

    Der Herr Gott could only be Karel, and the article would be nonstandard (though widespread in dia- and mesolects).

    And yes, Danish uses the period even if the abbreviation ends with the last letter of the word

    Everyone does, except British English. I just had to work with a British-based journal’s instructions to authors, which say if the last letter is preserved, they’re not abbreviations, they’re contractions, and only abbreviations get a full stop.

    Root cognate with hare, BTW, as previously mentioned here. (grey > old > authority).

    Probably an attempt to calque senior, lit. “the older one”. OHG heriro is “the greyer one”.

    But don’t forget Klaus Maria Brandauer

    Maria as a middle name for boys is a tradition in certain very Catholic circles, and therefore indeed legal in Germany and Austria. (No idea how the Swiss handle such things.) It always follows an unambiguously male name.

    There’s a 2008 German law that you can have a gender-neutral name

    No, there was a decision by the Constitution Court which abolished an earlier directive which had said one of your given names had to make your gender explicit. Lots of common Turkish names are gender-neutral…

    …and from the lists at the end of the article, I learn that Eike is actually gender-neutral (it’s originally a nickname derived from the first parts of longer names with gendered second parts), and in 1989 a court allowed it to be given to a boy only if an unambiguously male name was added.

    Likewise, Heike is actually gender-neutral (short for Heinrich/Henrike) and was not allowed as the only given name in southern Germany in 1982.

    Surprisingly, in 1994 a court allowed Sonne to be given to a girl only if an unambiguously female name was added. Sure, there’s absolutely no tradition of calling people “sun”, but… where’s the ambiguity in die Sonne!?!

    Although they did allow Birkenfeld as a first name because… something. It’s a can o’ worms.

    It’s ultimately up to the whims of the individual registrar.

    WP says the exception was granted because Birkenfeld is so rare even as a surname that confusion isn’t likely to happen.

    it was possible to have two or more living children in the same family baptized with the same name

    If Donald Trump had known!

  162. AJP Crown says:

    If Donald Trump had known!

    “Little Hans”.

    Everyone does, except British English.

    I don’t think it’s a consistent rule in Britain – that the full stop represents the missing letters and therefore doesn’t appear in contractions – though I always follow it myself. Actually I’ve seen an American mention it as their own rule in comments here though I can’t remember who it was.

    The Speaker of the House always refers to (male) MPs as “Mr Firstname Lastname” rather than just “Mr Lastname”

    Until quite recently they didn’t use names at all, they said “the learned and gallant member for Barking”. Or wherever it was.

  163. Rodger C says:

    it was possible to have two or more living children in the same family baptized with the same name

    Darryl and his brother Darryl.

  164. David Marjanović says:

    Until quite recently they didn’t use names at all, they said “the learned and gallant member for Barking”. Or wherever it was.

    I watched much of one Brexit debate. The Speaker uses names. Everyone else calls each other “the honourable member for Barking”. Or “right honourable” as the case may be.

    How they learn all of that for 650 colleagues is beyond me. OK, probably most MPs never speak up, so eventually you become familiar with those who do and don’t really need to learn all 650, but even 100 seems daunting.

  165. The traditional way if referring to a member of Parliament in the House of Commons is “honorable member for [constituency]” (“right honorable” for members of the Privy Council). The U. S. Congress likewise uses the state a senator or representative represents to disambiguate common surnames, but only if it is necessary. So Mister Udall from New Mexico reverted to being just “Mister Udall” when his cousin was not reelected.

  166. AJP Crown says:

    I think most everyone in the H of C uses names now unless it’s for the head of the Scottish Nats or someone else who’s always on their feet. But they used to learn all their 650-odd constituencies. What was the point? Of course the British had better brains back then. The other thing you could get in trouble for was reading a speech: “Reading!” “He’s reading!” they’d shout. There was a point to that. Of course the Americans aren’t any better. When they televised the Brett Kavanaugh hearings some of the Republican senators were stumbling so badly that it was clear they could barely read at all. The best speaker by far was the vegan from NJ who’s running for president; really brilliant, Cory Booker. He could think & read at the same time and you had no idea which bits were ex tempore.

  167. How they learn all of that for 650 colleagues is beyond me.

    I wondered that too. Then, if you spend more than 10 years in the place… maybe! But then again, there is a prominent MP in the Brexit debate who goes by “honorable member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford”, which is just a tiny bit baroque. Also, have anybody noticed that Tory represented constituencies tend to have shorter names, on average?

    And yes, Danish uses the period even if the abbreviation ends with the last letter of the word
    Everyone does, except British English.

    Not Russian. It uses hyphen to indicate missing letters.

  168. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, yes. And French still uses superscript a lot; there’s a traffic sign in Aix-en-Provence that points to a Biblio^que.

  169. Bizarre!

  170. AJP Crown says:

    There’s nothing to stop them carrying a list of MPs’ constituencies to consult. It’s not an exam.

  171. Trond Engen says:

    Swedish uses : word-internally. Even in names. Thomas G:son.

  172. AJP Crown says:

    Is it Swedish that uses it or just Thomas Gustafsson? (If you google, all you get is ‘Swedish colon and rectal cancer’.)

  173. Suffix separator
    In Finnish and Swedish, the colon can appear inside words in a manner similar to the apostrophe in the English possessive case, connecting a grammatical suffix to an abbreviation or initialism, a special symbol, or a digit (e.g., Finnish USA:n and Swedish USA:s for the genitive case of “USA”, Finnish %:ssa for the inessive case of “%”, or Finnish 20:een for the illative case of “20”).

    Abbreviation mark
    Written Swedish uses colons in contractions, such as S:t for Sankt (Swedish for “Saint”) – for example in the name of the Stockholm metro station S:t Eriksplan. This can even occur in people’s names, for example Antonia Ax:son Johnson (Ax:son for Axelson). Early Modern English texts also used colons to mark abbreviations.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colon_(punctuation)

  174. Lars (the original one) says:

    Swedish roads are full of signs leading to “NORA K:A” (for kyrka). Since Swedish hasn’t merged the vowels in final open syllables, keeping the final letter can disambiguate in many cases.

    (The -a used to mark feminine gender but is now mainly the marker of a declension class (with no neuters, however. Wether it then marks common gender would seem to depend on your philosophy). This class absorbs all loan words in -a, so that ‘the pizzas’ become pizzorna).

    But it’s sort of a legacy usage now, confined K:a and S:t/S:ta in place names– it’s not a part of modern written style as I learned it, at least I don’t remember any opportunities to use it in business emails. I don’t recognize the USA:s thing at all, I’m pretty sure I never encountered it though it would not have surprised me — I’d have loved using it for putting Swedish endings on English-spelled words, but I resorted to apostrophes instead.

    Business journalists like to use Ax:son for some reason (AAJ is the chairman of a large family owned conglomerate). I think the family uses it because tradition (the founder was Axel Johnson, and the best known subsidiary is named Axfood) but your average Jönsson doesn’t go around putting J:son on their mailbox, and if they did people would just ask them to spell it out properly.

    Finnish? Who knows from Finnish, not me.

    Also, I once saw the form Johannessson in an old Swedish document — three s:s because logic.

  175. AJP Crown says:

    This reminds me of a shop I just heard about in central Liverpool that’s called “Everton 2”. Any mail they get is addressed:

    Everton 2
    Liverpool 1

    Oops, that’s almost right but see here

  176. Kiinalainen noutopöytä west orange nj: ssä.
    ‘Chinese buffet, West Orange in NJ’

    Bloomfield yliopisto New Jersey:ssä.
    ‘Bloomfield University in New Jersey”

  177. David Marjanović says:

    There’s nothing to stop them carrying a list of MPs’ constituencies to consult. It’s not an exam.

    But they’re clearly not consulting anything when they speak.

  178. Stu Clayton says:

    three s:s because logic

    Triplified consonants used to be forbidden in German, because ugly. Now they are allowed, because people don’t want to be bossed around in such a trivial matter, and the prescriptivists have lost their moral fiber. I suppose that’s a kind of “because logic”. Material logic ??

  179. Lars (the original one) says:

    The story I was told is that people were worried that the poor computers would not know that Schiffahrt should be divided as Schiff- fahrt at line ends, so the official form was changed to Schifffahrt (and so on). But of course, by the time the change was implemented word processing programs had been able to do the old style word wrap for years. At least they didn’t change Bäcker to Bäkker just because it has to be divided Bäk- ker. (I think they changed the division to Bäck- er instead)

    (I once had my mind blown by seeing the good German word Motherfucker line wrapped as Motherfuk- ker).

    Swedish, by the way, still has the same rule as German used to have because the first printers there were from Germany, and their word processors didn’t explode. ‘Egg yolk’ is äggula which offends my sensibilities. Or rather, I want to read ägg-ula and then get confused what an ula is. I don’t think actual Swedes have that problem. (Also mattvätt ‘carpet cleaning’ which I always read as ‘food cleaning’). They may have had the ‘ck’ > ‘k- k’ rule too (because German printers) but not any more.

    Danish avoids the problem by never ending a morpheme with a double letter.

  180. AJP Crown says:

    they’re clearly not consulting anything when they speak

    They often are looking at their phones beforehand. But how many would you really need to know on the day you arrive at the House? Say, ten each from the cabinet & shadow cab., a couple of Liberals and a few who are always in the news, like Smog, the member for Somerset NE (see, even I know that). I think it’s easier than putting a name to a face, which in theory also has to be done times 650. I bet no one does, but it’s not impossible. Imagine trying to remember the names of all the boys at your school and where they lived. No one bothered except the headmaster, who had to deal with the parents.

  181. This obit of a shit isn’t LH material but it’s such a masterly evisceration I can’t resist sneaking it in here.

  182. SFReader says:

    Damn, I think obituary of a Moscow school linguist written by Vovin would look nicer….

  183. David Marjanović says:

    Triplified consonants used to be forbidden in German, because ugly.

    Worse! They used to be forbidden when a vowel follows, but required when a consonant follows: Schiffahrt, but Sauerstoffflasche. Nobody understood why, so it was unified to triple in the reform of 1998–2005.

    I think they changed the division to Bäck- er instead

    To Bä-cker, which is arguably worse.

  184. Stu Clayton says:

    but required when a consonant follows

    Huh. This knowledge was maliciously hidden from me. The whole business never bothered me much anyway. I suppose my innate sense of harmonious propriety steered me past words with consonant gristle in the middle like Sauerstoffflasche, or rather situations in which I would have to write them down.

    I can’t write *anything* down now, of course, except in an illegible childish scrawl. I’ve been using a keyboard for too long. Spelling is the least of my troubles.

  185. AJP Crown says:

    He’s a smug looking git, but I was admiring the Burmese or Indian little table in the background of the photograph. I wonder if his family’s going to sell it. Also by Sir Richard Evans, a 2013 review of World War Two: a Short History, by Stone, for The New Statesman:

    Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this book is its unremitting dullness. Normally, one expects from a book by Stone outrageous expressions of bias, opinionated obiter dicta, pungently expressed prejudices, quirky judgements and entertaining oneliners. In nearly 300 pages, I could only find one piece of the old Stone, where he refers to the French soldiers defeated by the Germans in 1940 as “the very picture of the demoralisation of Third Republic France: dirty, sullen, cigarette-chewing, and smelling of cheap wine” (in reality, the French fought bravely: more than 90,000 were killed or went missing in action). If there had been more of this kind of thing, the book would have been a good deal more readable.

    Like Stone, Evans himself has written about the cold war & the two world wars, and he’s done a 3 vol history of the Third Reich. The fact that such an eminent historian (regius prof. at Cambridge) would write such an obit about a colleague must mean there’s A LOT of history to their relationship. Coming next, a biography? Stone’s not worth it, I hear him say, but that’s too bad.

  186. David Eddyshaw says:

    Stone is an eminently suitable subject for breaking the de mortuis rule, if for no other reason (there are others) than his own disgraceful obit of EH Carr: follow the links from his WP page and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

    The only comparably well-deserved obit-thumping to this one of Stone that I can remember is one of the loathsome Gerry Healy of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party.

  187. David Eddyshaw says:

    (Sorry for the rash of italics: I’m on a phone, which won’t let me edit my defective closing html.)

  188. I fixed ’em. And if anyone deserved a nasty obit, Stone did.

  189. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, that was weird what he did to the great EH Carr.

  190. David Marjanović says:

    Huh. This knowledge was maliciously hidden from me.

    As you can imagine, not many people had this knowledge in the first place. I remember it, from that one day in elementary school when it was mentioned, precisely because it stood out as utterly illogical (and still does).

  191. I like the little dig at Thatcher, too.

    Historians are (or at least should be) used to writing honestly about loathsome dead people.

    AJP: I noticed the little table first thing, too!

  192. AJP Crown says:

    Y, did you like it? I don’t think it’s for everyone.

  193. I did. My first thought was, “Well, if nothing else, nice furniture.”
    (I don’t like the desk and the lamp, though, for opposite reasons.)

  194. “the very picture of the demoralisation of Third Republic France: dirty, sullen, cigarette-chewing, and smelling of cheap wine” … If there had been more of this kind of thing, the book would have been a good deal more readable

    No, it wouldn’t. Not for me. I can barely bring myself to read such tripe in a blog comment section to see what the inevitable ruckus is about.

  195. John Cowan says:

    the learned and gallant member for Barking

    Actually it is or was honorable and gallant member for military and naval officers, and honorable and learned member for lawyers, doctors, and such. I even find ghits for honorable, learned, and gallant member, but only six.

    At the trial before the House of the “honorable member for Ballarat West” in the Victoria Parliament in 1869 on charges of bribery and attempted bribery, the three more common expressions were thrown about freely, and I can well believe (though Hansard is silent on tones of voice) with increasing degrees of Aussie snark.

  196. AJP Crown says:

    Y: I don’t like the desk and the lamp, though, for opposite reasons.
    Neither do I! Some fly-by-night antiques flogger has stripped a partner’s desk and put on new brass(-like) knobs. So now there are grubby prints where Norman Stone’s ink-stained fingers pushed the drawers closed.

    J: I even find ghits for honorable…
    I only get four google hits for “honorable, learned, and gallant member” but that goes up to eight with “honourable, learned, and gallant member”.

    honorable and learned member for lawyers, doctors
    Unless the protocol has changed I think you’ll find that learned is applied to barristers (also in court, at least on TV) but not to solicitors (half the H of C), doctors of medicine, professors of linguistics etc. There’s a case for MPs with more working-class trades and, say, artists & architects to be referred to as “the hon. member who’s good with his hands”.

  197. John Cowan says:

    Ah, good point. I thought Google would handle the spelling variation, but apparently not in quotes (though it’s still case-blind even in quotes). The current “Rules of Behaviour and Courtesies in the House” says that learned applies only to QCs, and that both terms have mostly fallen out of use. (Of course, it also says you can call the other place “the House of Lords”.)

    the hon. member who’s good with his hands

    The hon. and artisanal member?

  198. AJP Crown says:

    Artisanal would come in useful. Vainglorious and wealthy might be hard to prove, but then so is honourable.

  199. John Cowan says:

    Well, some lawyers are fairly ignorant and some officers are cowards. There’s a saying in the U.S. armed forces, “You salute the uniform [or rank], not the person”, meaning that military courtesy doesn’t necessarily imply personal respect.

  200. AJP Crown says:

    OK, slurs would be degrading for everyone, but I still like ‘my hon. and wealthy friend’ for businessfolk.

  201. I think ‘my hon. and affluent friend’ has more of a ring to it.

  202. “The plushly propertied member from…”

  203. Trond Engen says:

    Is there a tradition for double entendres like, I don’t know, “The male member from Sheffield West”?

Speak Your Mind

*