Shilling, Long Bit, or Levy.

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (via Far Outliers):

The following Monday I went to work at painting ships and steamboats for an old Portuguese, by the name of Desimees, in Algiers, a town situated on the opposite side of the river. A party of five, one an old shipmate of mine, hired a small shanty and kept bachelor’s hall. We employed an old colored woman as housekeeper. On Saturdays we used to quit work early and go across the river to New Orleans and purchase our weekly supply of provisions. Although there was a United States mint in the city, there were at this time no cents in circulation. The smallest pieces of money were a five-cent piece, and a picayune, — six and a quarter cents, — and a Spanish coin called fourpence. It used to confuse Jack before the mast very much, that in Boston it was six shillings to the dollar, and in New York eight; that an eighth of a dollar, or twelve and a half cents, should be called ninepence in Boston, a shilling in New York, a long bit in New Orleans, and a levy in the Western States.

“Jack,” of course, is Jack Tar.

Comments

  1. I don’t know anything about these old American terms, but I’m reminded that ‘bit’ survived in British English up until decimalization in the “threepenny bit.” (Pronounced ‘thrupny bit,’ in my attempt at eye dialect). No other coin was referred to as a bit, at least not in my version of English.

    I always thought the 3d bit was a very solid, trustworthy-looking coin. You could buy a little bag of sweets for threepence back then.

  2. OED s.v. bit 2 (first sense: “The portion of food bitten off at once”):

    8. In reference to money:

    a. Thieves’ slang. Money. Cf. bite n. 5.
    1607 T. Dekker & G. Wilkins Iests to make you Merie sig. F4, If they..once know where the bung and the bit is, as much as to say, your purse and the money.
    […]

    b. Applied in the Southern states of N. America, in the West Indies, etc., to small silver coins forming fractions of the Spanish dollar, or (when these are obsolete) to their value in current money. Now usu. applied in the U.S. to a unit of value equivalent to an eighth of a dollar; used only in even multiples, as four bits, six bits.
    In the eighteenth century the bit was generally the old Mexican real = 1/ 8 of a dollar or about 61/ 2d. sterling; later values assigned are a half pistareen or 1/ 10 of a dollar, 1/ 16 of a dollar, and (in some colonies) the value of 11/ 2d. sterling.
    1683 in Colonial Rec. Pennsylvania (1852) I. 85 Their Abuse to ye Governmt, in Quining of Spanish Bitts and Boston money.
    1730 J. Southall Treat. Buggs 8, I would give him..a Bit, (a Piece of Spanish Money, there current at Seven-pence Half-Penny).
    1776 J. Cook Jrnl. 30 July (1967) III. i. 10 The Meat is..sold for half a bit (3 pence sterling a pound).
    c1782 T. Jefferson Autobiogr. in Wks. (1859) I. App. 165 The tenth [of the dollar] will be precisely the Spanish bit, or half-pistareen.
    […]
    1938 D. Runyon Furthermore xiv. 281 She has..a smile like six bits.
    1939 J. Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath xvi. 224 If you wanta pull in here an’ camp it’ll cost you four bits.

    c. colloq. A small coin or ‘piece’ of money, the value being generally named, as seven-shilling bit (an obs. English gold coin), sixpenny bit, fourpenny bit, and threepenny bit. In slang = fourpence.
    1829 F. Marryat Naval Officer I. ii. 68 A seven shilling bit would be thought handsome.

  3. January First-of-May says:

    very solid, trustworthy-looking coin

    The brass 3d was in fact only introduced by Edward VIII (his version did not make it to full production before his abdication, but George VI immediately introduced it again); before that, the 3d coin was silver and very tiny (half the weight of the sixpence). Australia, which used the same coin sizes as the UK at the time, kept the silver 3d right up until their decimalization (1964).

    Long bits previously on LH. Apparently it meant 15 cents in 19th century San Francisco.

    Although there was a United States mint in the city, there were at this time no cents in circulation

    The mint in New Orleans opened in 1838, which is actually far later than I thought this fragment was set.
    It only ever minted gold and silver coins, and never anything below a five-cent piece except for a very small issue of three-cent pieces in 1851; it was not until 1908 that cents were minted anywhere except Philadelphia (at San Francisco; Denver was added in 1910).

    There had in fact been eight coinage mints in US history, with Philadelphia the only one prior to 1838.
    New Orleans, Charlotte, and Dahlonega mints opened then, with the later two only striking gold in small quantities; all three were closed in 1861 when the cities ended up in the Confederacy, and only New Orleans was later reopened (1879-1909).
    San Francisco mint was added in 1854 (and still makes coins, though now only for collectors), and Carson City in 1870 (closed 1893).
    Finally, the Denver mint opened in 1906 (still operating), and the West Point mint (officially) opened in 1988 (but did not start striking coinage for circulation until 2019, and even then it was more of a gimmick).

  4. The mint in New Orleans opened in 1838, which is actually far later than I thought this fragment was set.

    Sorry, I should have provided some sort of chronological indication in the post. The full title is Twenty years before the mast: With the more thrilling scenes and incidents while circumnavigating the globe under the command of the late Admiral Charles Wilkes 1838-1842 (available at HathiTrust).

  5. John Cowan says:

    Apparently it meant 15 cents in 19th century San Francisco.

    12.5 cents, actually, and that was where long and short bits came in (see link above).

  6. AJP Crown says:

    very solid, trustworthy-looking coin
    The brass 3d was in fact only introduced…
    He’s right, J1M, it was very solid, trustworthy looking and indeed trustworthy. As was all the money until about 1960, when they started shrinking £5 notes and £1 notes. Then came decimalisation when all the sizes shrank, and the devaluation of the pound in ’68ish, when its actual value shrank… It was the beginning of the end for Britain. One spring in the mid 1970s it rained nonstop for forty days and nights (in London anyway). And then Wilson went gaga, Jim Callaghan became PM and promised not to do anything, not to ‘rock the boat’ as if everything was perfect and nothing needed fixing; complacent bastard. And so they got Thatcher. I blame Callaghan for Mrs Thatcher. Last week, the UK gdp was shown to have shrunk by 20% because of corona. What is their problem? No one else’s shrank by more than 5%. They can’t even grade national exam papers without screwing it up. If it weren’t for the three generations of immigrants from India, Pakistan & the West Indies holding the place together so the old white folks can reminisce about the times England thrashed Germany [p.94]

  7. Lars Mathiesen says:

    exam papers — how do people in the UK even get out of bed in the morning? Also where are the other 93 pages of your memoirs?

  8. January First-of-May says:

    when its actual value shrank…

    I recently got for my collection a 10 pound note from the late 1970s (with Florence Nightingale and the J.B.Page signature) in terrible condition. I paid 300 rubles (about $4 or £3 at current exchange rates), which even I thought was unexpectedly low, but so far as I can tell the note appears to be real. (Not like I could spend it anyway.)

  9. And then Wilson went gaga, Jim Callaghan became PM and promised not to do anything, not to ‘rock the boat’ as if everything was perfect and nothing needed fixing; complacent bastard. And so they got Thatcher.

    You forgot The Right Honourable Jeremy Thorpe!

  10. A scandal worth it for giving rise to Peter Cook as Mr. Justice Cantley (“You are now to retire — as indeed should I — carefully to consider your verdict of Not Guilty”).

  11. I should have called that a bit, shouldn’t I.

  12. PlasticPaddy says:

    Auberon Waugh notably stood against Thorpe as a member of the “dog lover’s party” but lost his deposit.

  13. Yes, his account of the trial, The Last Word, is apparently a terrific read.

  14. Douglas Murray wrote: “Jeremy Thorpe had hoped to be remembered as a great political leader. I suppose they all do. And perhaps he will be remembered longer than many other politicians of his age or ours. But it will always be for the same thing. Jeremy, Jeremy, bang, bang, woof, woof.”

  15. I remember seeing Jeremy Thorpe at a campaign event somewhere. He was wearing an exceedingly old-fashioned suit (with waistcoat, if I recall correctly) and some kind of homburg hat. He was not very tall, gaunt, and very pale of complexion, as if he didn’t come out in the daylight often. He looked like a sinister lawyer from one of those BBC productions of Wilkie Collins.

  16. John Cowan says:

    “Jeremy, Jeremy, bang, bang, woof, woof.”

    Sounds like he’d been charged with shooting a dog.

  17. where are the other 93 pages of your memoirs

    In case non-Brits missed the meme, “[cont. p.94]” is the usual way in Private Eye magazine to end a rant from their large stable of peevers/Starbores/retired Colonels from Tunbridge Wells/etc.

    The magazine never runs to as many as 94 pages.

    I imagine p.94 also contains the summary of rules for Mornington Crescent. (Willie Rushton was long associated with The Eye.)

  18. Hat is not doing current events posts (except an occasional obituary), but it should be noted that US is currently experiencing a coin shortage. Federal reserve is taking over from Seth Meyer:

    Business and bank closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly disrupted the supply chain and normal circulation patterns for U.S. coins. While there is an adequate overall amount of coins in the economy, the slowed pace of circulation has reduced available inventories in some areas of the country.

    The Federal Reserve is working with the U.S. Mint and others in the industry on solutions. As a first step, a temporary cap was imposed on the orders depository institutions place for coins with the Federal Reserve to ensure that the current supply is fairly distributed. In addition, a U.S. Coin Task Force was formed to identify, implement, and promote actions to address disruptions to coin circulation.

  19. Sounds like he’d been charged with shooting a dog.

    The dog’s name was ‘Rinke’. The alleged contract shooter was Andrew Newton. It was all reheated in that movie/TV series a couple of years ago ‘A Very English Scandal’, with Hugh Grant playing Thorpe.

    And yes Peter Cook’s spoof of the judge’s travesty of a summing-up is pure comedy gold. It was at the time; it still is — which says a lot about Britain’s legal system.

  20. I recently bought a new annotated Penguin edition of Three Men in a Boat / Three Men on the Bummel. I was shocked to have it explain that there are 5 pennies to a shilling. Rant, kids today, universities going to dogs, etc., etc.

  21. John Cowan says:

    Ahh, too parochial deep for me at the moment, I fear. Possibly low blood sugar or perhaps sadness from hearing the tale of someone cheated out of her B.A. thesis because “need more references!” when there was only one reference to the particular algorithm and that wasn’t the point anyway.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    “by his own admission a loat’some spotted reptile”.

  23. January First-of-May says:

    I was shocked to have it explain that there are 5 pennies to a shilling.

    Well, I mean, technically there are 5p to a shilling; it’s just not relevant to the setting of Three Men in a Boat (and distracts from the relevant figure of 12d to a shilling).

  24. That’s what I meant. How could someone qualified by Penguin to comment on a Victorian book not know that some time between then and now the currency system has changed? They do know enough to explain what a Guinea is.

  25. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Private Eye is one of those things I’ll read when I find all the round tuits I must have hid in a closet once and forgot where they are.

  26. Ben Tolley says:

    My 1999 Penguin edition follows ‘shilling’ with ‘(5p)’, but the context makes it clear the writer of the annotations was aware of decimalisation and expected the reader to be aware of it too, and to know the abbreviations for the old currency, but maybe felt it unwise to count on their mental arithmetic; the full paragraph is:

    shilling shocker: short, popular novel, often of a sensation nature. Arrowsmith originally wanted to publish Three Men in a Boat at a shilling (5p), but Jerome insisted on its being priced at 3s 6d (17½p), then the alternative ‘going rate’ for new novels.

    Is the annotation in the new edition an alteration of this, or completely rewritten?

  27. AJP Crown says:

    I see I could buy Auberon Woof (how appropriate) ‘s book for £14, via Abe. I read Kiss Me, Chubbley, and I was going to say it was good but it was long enough ago that I now see it was by someone else completely, not by Bron himself (who as well as his father’s writing jeans, also had great senses of humour, timing and irony).

    The thing about Jeremy Thorpe was how bizarre the story seemed. He was so witty and benign-seeming, a Liberal not a Tory and well on the way to being a National Treasure; so it was as absurd as if Bill Cosby had turned out to be a serial rapist, say or the president… oh, never mind.

    Britain has tiny, almost worthless copper coins that should all be melted down and made into roofs (see UK housing shortage).

    If you had to choose between the Beatles and the Stones (and of course you didn’t; the answer to that question was always Bob Dylan), there was never a favourite with Beyond the Fringe & Python: if you like one you like them all.

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    If you had to choose between the Beatles and the Stones

    Some time ago, the Economist (no less) pronounced on this very question. The correct answer is (of course) the Stones.

  29. Well, of course. (All props to Beatles and Bob.)

  30. I mean, The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band says it all.

  31. AJP Crown says:

    Isn’t Trump the Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World?

    Sir Mick writes good lyrics (Nobel prize?), but the Stones were never the same after Brian and never worth listening to post Mick Taylor (imo).

  32. Well, “never worth listening to” might be an overstatement (not that there’s anything wrong with that, my entire career has been a series of overstatements, and that’s another one), but it’s true Exile on Main St. is the last album I’d feel bereft without. I do have a soft spot for Some Girls and Tattoo You, though. How can you resist “Start Me Up”?

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    More on the variability of names for that coin, from a “miner’s story” published in 1890 but set in the Gold-Rush California of 1851:

    Jesse did not usually indulge in
    the vices common to the miner ; but at
    sight of the saloon the desire for a drink
    came strong upon him. He thrust his
    hands deep in his pockets, and was as
    much surprised as pleased to find a coin
    variously known in the different portions
    of Uncle Sam’s territory as a nine-pence,
    a shilling, a levy, a real, and a bit. He
    was surprised, because he had supposed
    that his earthly possessions consisted of
    the clothes he had on, a chip hat, a
    wool shirt, a pair of duck pants, and
    some well-worn boots.

    Entering the saloon Jesse said, inter-
    rogatively, ” Drinks are two bits ? ”

    ” Yes,” said the barkeeper.

    ” I have but one bit,” said Jesse, “but
    I would like what whisky it will buy.”

    ” Take what you want,” answered the
    barkeeper, setting out a bottle ; ” liquor ‘s
    free to them as has no money.”

    Jesse poured out nearly a full tumbler,
    drank it off, laid down his bit, –
    passed out of the door and along the
    dusty road, taking no heed in which di-
    rection ; for then as now, in California
    and elsewhere, to the man without a
    cent in his pocket it matters nothing
    which way he travels.

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    In 1981, the Stones released a compilation of material originally recorded in ’74 through ’79 jokingly titled Sucking in the Seventies, with the joke perhaps being on them because it does tend to confirm that Some Girls was the only album of that period that wasn’t manifestly flawed (apart from being imho the last non-manifestly-flawed album they ever released). That said, SitS picks up right after Goats Head Soup, which has just been rereleased with Special Collector Bonus Tracks and whatnot. GHS has always had a rep as a weak album because it is so overshadowed by the run of four great albums which proceeded it, but with enough hindsight it seems fair to rate it as better than any subsequent album except for Some Girls.

  35. Yup. Jesus, even now I shudder at the thought of how bad Emotional Rescue was. And I’m a little embarrassed that I bought a copy of Undercover when it came out, but hey, I was a Stones fan.

  36. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think Undercover may be the most recent Stones album that I have listened to all the way through. It convinced me not to invest that much effort in their subsequent releases. *Why* they began to suck in the Seventies is perhaps most comprehensively explained by Bill Wyman’s (not that Bill Wyman, the other one) magisterial response to Keith’s autobiography, written in Mick’s voice. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2010/11/imagine-if-mick-jagger-responded-to-keith-richards-about-his-new-autobiography.html

  37. Thanks, that was a good read. An excerpt:

    Keith brought something out of me, way back when. Through Exile, I felt I had to rise to his songs. When he checked out creatively, I lost something important. While there is some spark, I guess, in “Some Girls” or “Shattered” or whatever, however contrived, I know most of the other songs sucked. In the 1980s and ‘90s it got worse. I could conjure up only the most banal cliché or the most pretentious polysyllabic nonsense. Compare “Sympathy for the Devil” with “Heartbreaker.” One Godard made a film about. The other is a TV movie. I literally wrote a song called “She’s So Cold” and then, a few years later, one called “She Was Hot.”

    Now, Keith went through the same thing. I think this is why Keith lost himself with heroin and now drinks: to stave off the pressure to match himself and dull the knowledge that he can’t any more (and, back then, couldn’t). It’s trite, maybe, but there’s a reason a guy spends a decade in a haze, and the three decades since in a stupor. Keith’s rancor is almost entirely based on the fact that it was not, in the end, easy to keep the appearances of what in the public mind is the Rolling Stones, and the process wasn’t always pretty. But I did it, and, among other things, to this day it is hardly in the public mind that Keith Richards hasn’t written a significant rock ’n’ roll song in nearly 35 years.

  38. AJP Crown says:

    I heard one called Scarlett that they were putting on the Goat’s Head Soup rerelease (it’s on Spotify) on which Jimmy Page plays. It sounded good. It’s too bad a) the Stones are such awful old prima donnas and b) Led Zeppelin were waxing at the time the Stones had begun waning, because Jimmy Page instead of Ron Wood* would have made all the difference to the Stones.

    *Wood seems a much nicer guy than the others, perhaps that’s part of the problem

  39. AJP Crown says:

    I’d forgotten the long Mick Taylor guitar on Time Waits for No One.

  40. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    The thing about Jeremy Thorpe was how bizarre the story seemed. He was so witty and benign-seeming, a Liberal not a Tory and well on the way to being a National Treasure.

    Yes, educated and cultivated, too. There is a story about a time when he, Edward Heath and Harold Wilson were trying to have a conversation in French with Georges Pompidou. On the British side all the talking was done by Jeremy Thorpe, with other two looking on and smiling approvingly at what Pompidou said. At one point Thorpe said “Ces deux cons n’ont aucune idée de quoi on est en train de dire”, at which point Pompidou laughed, and Heath and Wilson did so as well.

  41. Lars Mathiesen says:

    It’s a strange time when being fluent in two languages is taken as a sign of education and culture. I wonder how many bilinguals there are in the world right now, and how many of those never went to school?

    Boris Johnson can quote Homer, too. Possibly in Greek. And I hear he has good French.

  42. PlasticPaddy says:

    @acb
    The anecdote does not convey Thorpe’s cultivation or education in my opinion. A bit like the Russian joke about the intellectual who is unable to book a concert ticket because the show is sold out and says to the unfortunate ticket agent something like “You do not understand what a tragedy this is. I am a sensitive intellectual, while you are an ignorant cow.”

  43. AJP Crown says:

    I suppose that Johnson has shown that in a PM a sense of humour is no substitute for good judgement. I wonder if afterwards Thorpe thought that coming out might have been preferable to being remembered for dogslaughter and attempted murder. That it was apparently so difficult shows how acceptance of some things has changed. I’d like to know more about Maria Donata Nanetta Paulina Gustava Ermina Wilhelmine Stein, pianist, known as Marion and Thorpe’s second wife. And then there was Cyril Smith and Gladstone ‘rescuing’ sex workers. Not to mention Lloyd George; it does make you wonder about the Liberal Party.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    It’s a strange time when being fluent in two languages is taken as a sign of education and culture.

    Or intelligence for that matter. Donald J. “Uday” Trump Jr. speaks Czech natively (and claims to be fluent), and he’s not any smarter or knowledgeable than Eric (supposedly the dumb one) or Donald Sr..

    Boris Johnson can quote Homer, too. Possibly in Greek.

    Indeed in Greek, for several minutes. – But while he’s not as smart as he thinks he is, he is clearly smarter than a whole lot of people. Most of his flippant silliness is an act; he tussles his hair before he steps in front of a camera because he wants to be underestimated.

    (Donald Sr., incidentally, was asked to play the POTUS for Sharknado IV. That’s probably where he got the idea of nuking a hurricane. Anyway, Sharknado IV, V and now VI were eventually produced without him.)

  45. David Marjanović says:

    Gladstone ‘rescuing’ sex workers.

    I would suppose that was the tragedy, and Hilmar Kabas was the farce: up to then a major figure in the Vienna branch of Austria’s xenophobic party, he used the party’s credit card to “perform a security check” in a brothel almost 20 years ago. He has not been heard of since.

  46. Some Girls is arguably a better album than any album the Stones produced with Brian Jones, as I would argue the last album Brian really contributed to meaningfully was Satanic Majesties Request

  47. Lars Mathiesen says:

    If years at university and lines of Homer known by heart are the measures of education and culture, clearly Johnson qualifies. But as our resident crowned head reminds us, education and culture can be found among the incompetent as well.

  48. AJP Crown says:

    The anecdote does not convey Thorpe’s cultivation or education in my opinion.
    Remembering that he went to school in the 1930s – 1940s and leaving immigrants out of it, to me it says a lot. I often wonder about politicians’ ability to communicate without help and it’s only recently that journalists have started to report on it. And I don’t think I’ve met an English speaker who is very fluent or bilingual in French who wasn’t worth knowing. Even now not everyone in the first world (do we still use that expression?) has an opportunity to acquire languages proficiently; Wilson & Heath would have learned French or another modern language for 5 years at school in order to get into Oxford, and I know Heath went to Germany right before WW2 to learn the language, so he wasn’t completely uninterested, but without prescience Wislon as an economist had no reason to keep up his French or equiv. after the age of about 16.

  49. AJP Crown says:

    I think Jagger (“the smart one”) is a good French speaker. Not sure about the rest of them.

  50. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    The anecdote does not convey Thorpe’s cultivation or education in my opinion.

    It wasn’t intended to be more than a trivial illustration of a point that would need much more evidence to be established. I didn’t suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, even if the ability to speak French did not prove that Thorpe was educated, the total inability of two other leading British politicians (both Prime Ministers at one time or another) to understand a conversation in French does say something about them.

  51. PlasticPaddy says:

    @acb
    For me it is not the language but the lack of gentleness. He could have handled the situation by saying something like “monsieur le president is curious about / does not understand X. I believe you might be able to help,” And the others could be included in an enjoyable mishmash of french and english (if they wanted to be).

  52. AJP Crown says:

    And the others could be included
    Lib leader Thorpe hadn’t been able to get either Wilson or Heath to agree to form with him a national gov. of minority parties (1973-4ish?) so he had good reason to be antagonistic towards them, and as background to EC issues Pompidou would have known that.

  53. Indeed in Greek, for several minutes.

    Thanks, that may be the best recitation of Homer I’ve heard — he clearly not only knows the lines but understands the material thoroughly; he actually knows Greek. Doesn’t make me like him any better, but it’s very impressive.

    For me it is not the language but the lack of gentleness.

    Oh, come on — these are politicians. It’s like expecting sharks to be gentle. It was a good joke between him and Pompy, and if the other two were too ignorant to get it, that’s on them. They shouldn’t have been pretending to know French.

  54. I think Jagger (“the smart one”) is a good French speaker.

    I once saw a clip of Jagger being interviewed, in French, on a French TV show. They felt the need to give him subtitles, but perhaps that was just French snootiness. He sounded fine to me, but then my French is probably on a par with Edward Heath’s.

  55. AJP Crown says:

    That’s ok. Heath was fluent, he just had an unusual accent not unlike his English. Did Wilson even attempt a speech in French?

    I wonder if Johnson could with a little preparation make a speech in modern Greek. That would really be impressive.

  56. I strongly doubt it. Modern Greek is a completely different language with a very different pronunciation and grammar (despite what modern Greeks think), as different as Modern English from Old English, and unless he’s studied Modern Greek (which I very much doubt — why would he?) he’d have to start from scratch.

  57. AJP Crown says:

    I bet Johnson learned the Homer quite young, before university. He probably started Latin at about age 8 and by 13 the theory is (was) at places like Eton that the entering scholarship boys should learn pretty much nothing but Latin, Greek and Maths, the presumed hardest subjects, to develop the brain muscles as if they were doing a kind of 12-15 hrs/day weight training. This was explained to me by a contemporary of mine at school who had been through this and went on to teach Classics there – needless to say, I didn’t win a scholarship – and THIS IS THE REASON THE COUNTRY IS IN THE STATE IT IS: PMs like Harold Macmillan and Johnson running it, who only learnt Greek, Maths & Latin for five years. So much for Harold Wilson’s white heat of technology. Actually it might be quite a good idea, who the fuck knows. And public schools may have phased it out by now, kept the Maths but introduced Music and Biochemistry instead of L&G.

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    he’d have to start from scratch

    I learnt Modern Greek after having done classical Greek at A-Level in school: though certainly it was absolutely necessary to learn Modern Greek as a separate language, it was very much easier than starting from scratch. It’s probably only those beginning from classical Greek who could ever end up with the impression that Modern Greek was comparatively simple (an illusion, as with all languages, but still …)

    I would have been able to read Katharevousa on the basis of classical Greek alone, I think. There were still daily newspapers in Katharevousa when I first visited Greece in 1972.

  59. I would have been able to read Katharevousa on the basis of classical Greek alone, I think.

    Possibly, but that’s very different from speaking it. You’d have to master not only the pronunciation (not that hard) but the grammar, and you’d have to know which elements of the ancient language have been retained and which lost, a difficulty which almost overpowers the helpful similarity that makes you say it’s “very much easier than starting from scratch.” It is doubtless somewhat easier, but it ain’t easy. (I too learned the ancient language first, and though I read Modern Greek decently and could carry on a simple conversation, I’d never dream of trying to give a speech, which is the demonstration AJP had in mind.)

  60. And, as I say, there would be no reason for Boris to turn his attention to it; he probably has the prejudices of his class, seeing the ancients as grand ancestors of modern civilization and the moderns as wretched half-Turkified barbarians.

  61. Well, yes, it’s Old Etonians who are the true and sole inheritors of ancient Greek traditions, not the current inhabitants of that benighted country.

    (I should say that I had a college roommate who was an Etonian. He was an amiable and down-to-earth guy who went on to become a very good schoolteacher. In science, even.)

  62. David Eddyshaw says:

    While I hold no brief whatsoever for Old Etonians, it is certainly unfair to generalise on the basis of Alexander Johnson (or the – in his way – equally rebarbative Cameron.)

    Many Old Etonians would make perfectly decent middle managers, though admittedly only a few are up to science teacher level. One or two* have been quite passable novelists, if scarcely Nobel prize material.

    *Two.

  63. Latin, Greek and Maths, the presumed hardest subjects

    No, the hardest subject, without any doubt, is Organic Chemistry. From time to time I’ve met people who claimed they could understand it, but I am almost certain they were pulling my leg.

  64. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Did anyone actually speak Katharevousa, even in the days when it was the approved version of the language? Didn’t they just speak Dimotiki while pretending to speak Katharevousa? I had a friend at Oxford who studied classical Greek, who said that Katharevousa was such an artificial construct that some words were virtually unpronounceable.

    I’m reminded of the story of the Arabic speaker who wanted his daughter to speak classical Arabic conversationally. When they had a conversation in classical Arabic in a Cairo bus people looked on in amazement, never having had encountered anything like it before.

    The best I can manage (but not comparable at all) was a conversation I once had with my wife and daughter in a Marseilles bus, in which I spoke entirely in English, my wife entirely in Spanish, and our daughter entirely in French. However, no one looked on in amazement. (This arose quite naturally: we were each speaking in the language we found easiest, not trying to impress anyone.)

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    the hardest subject, without any doubt, is Organic Chemistry

    I’d vote for Organic Chemistry too. Certainly gave me more grief than Latin, Greek and Maths.

  66. Did anyone actually speak Katharevousa, even in the days when it was the approved version of the language? Didn’t they just speak Dimotiki while pretending to speak Katharevousa?

    It’s complicated. Certainly hardly anyone spoke pure katharevousa (never say nobody — you never know what people will get up to), but they adopted varying amounts of it depending on how dedicated they were to showing off their education and suitability for better things. To speak pure dhimotiki was to acknowledge oneself to be essentially a peasant/dockworker type (or a leftie assuming the guise of a peasant/dockworker type).

  67. And of course it correlated with politics — the more conservative you were, the more you clung to katharevousa; the more dhimotiki you used (if you weren’t obviously a peasant/dockworker type), the more likely you were to be suspected of communist sympathies (which could lead to big trouble in the postwar decades).

  68. See this colorful but accurate account by the excellent Peter Mackridge (“In 1901, riots broke out on the streets of Athens in protest against the serialisation of the Gospels in demotic translation in an Athens newspaper. Eight people lost their lives, the Archbishop of Athens was deposed, and the government fell.”).

  69. John Cowan says:

    He probably started Latin at about age 8

    Seven, most likely, if indeed he did not study it on his own first. He entered Lichfield Grammar School (now King Edward VI School, Lichfield) at that age, and was noted while there for his excellent Latin. He dropped out for six months to visit his cousins, and the headmaster would not readmit him (which Johnson resented), so he got another six months of secondary education at KE6 Stourbridge.

    When he entered Pembroke, his tutor asked him to make a Latin translation of Messiah as a Christmas exercise: he did the first part in one afternoon and the second the following morning. He spent only a year there before leaving for financial reasons, but Oxford gave him an honorary M.A. just before his dictionary was published so that it could appear on the title page, which the consortium of publishers who funded it thought would increase sales. Ten years later, TCD gave him an LL.D. and Oxford a D.C.L.

    In any case Johnson was very substantially an autodidact, first from the books in his father’s bookshop in Lichfield, then at Pembroke, and finally on his own. While on Christmas vacation from Pembroke, he worked on improving his Greek while learning French at the same time.

    (Much of this resembles my own irregular academic career, though I am no Johnson for several independent reasons. What is more, he married Tetty Porter, who was 21 years older than he; I married Gale Waas McGhan, merely 15 years older. Tetty had money as a widow; Gale did not. On the other hand, Tetty died after a mere 17 years, much of it spent apart, whereas Gale and I will have 41 years this Halloween (inshallah), entirely spent together. )

    I’d never dream of trying to give a speech

    You could, if you wrote the speech in half-and-half Modern and Classical, got a reasonably educated Greek to edit it (or half-translate it if you like), and then read it off a teleprompter, as all modern politicians do. If everyone were reasonably literate in the IPA (hah), the cúpla focal would be de rigueur for all politicians on state visits. (Damn, I very nearly put the accent on the wrong word. I do seem to have that “eue” sequence down, though.)

  70. Seven, most likely, if indeed he did not study it on his own first. He entered Lichfield Grammar School (now King Edward VI School, Lichfield) at that age, and was noted while there for his excellent Latin.

    You are talking about an entirely different Johnson than the rest of us.

  71. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    No, the hardest subject, without any doubt, is Organic Chemistry.

    As someone who did his D.Phil. in an organic chemistry department I must protest, albeit without much passion, as to some extent I agree. Organic chemistry as taught traditionally has much too much boring memory work (typical 1950s exam question: list five reactions of aldehydes), but the physical organic revolution changed all that. Physical organic chemistry is not particularly difficult, doesn’t require a lot of memory work, and is understandable.

    Even the most boring topics, like natural products and organic synthesis, can be made exciting in the right hands. In 1995 I went to a symposium at Harvard in honour of my doctoral supervisor, who had moved from Oxford 20 years earlier and was on the threshold of becoming Dean of Arts and Sciences (and giving up his laboratory and teaching). One of the lectures was about organic synthesis and was given by George Fleet (I don’t usually name names in these posts, except for members of the group and famous people, but in this case I’ll make an exception). The topic was almost by definition crashingly boring, but he had us all of the edges of our seats wondering what was going to be on the next slide. (Each slide just had organic reactions — nothing salacious.)

  72. David Eddyshaw says:

    an entirely different Johnson

    An understandable confusion. One, a fundamentally decent man who made lasting contributions to our cultural life; the other, not. Lucus a non lucendo.

  73. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Many Old Etonians would make perfectly decent middle managers, though admittedly only a few are up to science teacher level.

    That’s enough nastiness about Etonians! If memory serves our own AJP Crown is an Old Etonian.

  74. I found organic chemistry to be a rather easy subject. (I did get a little bit of a head start though. When I was five—and kindergarten back then was only a half day—I occasionally would attend organic chemistry lectures with my mother, who was studying for a second bachelor’s degree, in the afternoon. I remember that once after class, she explained stereoisomers to me using Tinkertoys.) Although I initially considered majoring in chemistry, I only ended up taking one semester of organic (although I did also take biochemistry). I decided that I could learn what I wanted to of organic chemistry better on my own. Most of the subject matter in Organic Chemistry I (and the two subsequent semesters, from what I heard from other people) was just memorizing lots of reactions that could be used for the synthesis of various compounds: double bond reactions, nucleophilic substitutions, acyl transfers, carbon radical reactions, etc.

    I thought inorganic chemistry would be more interesting—and a few aspects of it were; however, the consistently poor quality of the teaching turned me off to that subject as well. I have commented on that class here a few times previously.

  75. David Eddyshaw says:

    That’s enough nastiness about Etonians!

    The superior man transcends his origin and upbringing. A fortiori, the superior Hatter.

  76. David Marjanović says:

    I see your organic chemistry and raise you electrochemistry: math, math, math.

    some words were virtually unpronounceable

    That’s due to modern spelling-pronunciations of Ancient spellings, ignoring regular sound changes that hadn’t made it into the spelling. For instance, the ancient change from [d] to [ð] had a quite understandable exception in the cluster -νδρ-, but the logic of Katharevousa is that a δ is a δ and must be pronounced [ð] no matter if [nðr] is in anyone’s native repertoire.

    I’m reminded of the story of the Arabic speaker who wanted his daughter to speak classical Arabic conversationally. When they had a conversation in classical Arabic in a Cairo bus people looked on in amazement, never having had encountered anything like it before.

    That’s a bit more like my reaction when I got a classmate (in Linz, the year before we moved to Vienna) who spoke Standard German and only Standard German. I was perfectly fluent myself in the language of all writing, TV and radio, but the concept of using it in everyday conversations with fellow locals was completely alien to me.

    cúpla focal

    “Delighted, I prompted him on the issue of Irish letters exercising their constitutional right to remain silent while clearly up to no good.”

  77. J.W. Brewer says:

    Etonians, Shmetonians. Is my memory playing tricks on me or did it come up in some prior thread that one of the British Hatters is an Old Silhillian, a perhaps less prominent distinction but likewise a less overdiscussed one?

  78. If memory serves our own AJP Crown is an Old Etonian

    That raises the number of Admirable Etonians to at least two.

    George Orwell was another, wasn’t he? But I have never quite been able to decide if I like him or not.

  79. When I first studied electrochemistry in high school, it seemed rather mystifying what was going on, but I had no difficulty with the math. It was clearly related to equilibrium analysis, but there was more to it that the high school chemistry sources* did not elaborate on. Later, when I took proper physics** in college, a lot of the strange stuff I remembered from electrochemistry fell into place as I came to understand the nature of the electric potential.

    * My chemistry teacher** decided I should take the USA Chemistry Olympiad exam, so he bought me a study guide for the AP Chemistry test preparation workbook to study. I had about three weeks to study before the Olympiad, but I did passably well on the written part (which covered exactly the same topics as the AP test). However, I ran into greater trouble with the lab component, not having learned good lab skills. The next year, I took AP Chemistry as an independent study class, which meant I had the same material to learn over one a whole school year that I had crammed for for just three weeks the previous spring. However, I did get the chance to do some advanced labs that I enjoyed, although I wasn’t allowed to do the lab in the manual that involved the production of pure oxygen, on the correct grounds that there was a nontrivial chance I would “blow us all up!”

    ** My high school’s physics and chemistry were both decidedly second rate, despite the overall good reputation of the school. They chemistry teacher who had become head of the science department at the school had seemingly forgotten most of the actual chemistry he hand learned decades earlier. (He said we were using the Brønsted-Lowry definitions of acids and bases, so I looked that up and read the explanation of why ammonia functioned as base under the Brønsted-Lowry formulation.*** I included a discussion of the relevant issues in my lab report on titration, and he marked it wrong. He was an extremely nice guy, and very engaging, but he did not cover nearly the amount of material that we were supposed to see in an Accelerated Chemistry class. His lack of solid scientific knowledge had an unfortunate knock-on effect over time. As the older science teachers, including the Accelerated Physics teacher, retired, he tended to hire people who seemed charismatic, rather than people who were actually good at teaching advanced classes. When I compared what was covered in Accelerated Physics when I took it with the new guy to what the previous teacher had covered the year before, I was flabbergasted by how slowly we had gone and much time we had spent on topics that were not actually part of the standard physics curriculum.

    *** In fact, one of the manifest strengths of the Brønsted-Lowry definitions of acids and bases (as proton donors or acceptors, respectively) was that it clearly showed how ammonia behaved as a base, without having the postulate the effective existence of the ammonium hydroxide complex. Likewise, carbonated water is acidic, even though it actually contains negligible amounts of dissolved carbonic acid.

  80. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    the presumed hardest subjects, to develop the brain muscles

    I have certainly heard a theory that once you have learned how to *learn* – any subject – you can then learn any other. And the universities complain about having to unteach what the schools have taught – so if you think that learning is the most important thing to learn, you should presumably use a subject that is unlikely to be of further use (like Latin and ancient Greek) to teach it so that there’s no subject material to unlearn later.

    Of course, in the 18th century or whenever classical philosophy and statesmanship was probably considered useful training for future politicians. And some of it might be…

  81. Eton’s Web site links to the Wikipedia lists of notable Old Etonians. The ones I admire are very much in the minority, but there are still a good number: e.g., Mosely (Henry, not Oswald, obviously), Dunsany, Merton, Haldane, Orwell, Brett, and numerous Huxleys.

  82. David Eddyshaw says:

    to develop the brain muscles

    There is a venerable Confucian tradition 君子不器 (kunshi wa ki narazu, with apologies to the many Hatters who know Chinese) “the administrator ought not to be a specialist” (paraphrasing just a little)

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%90%9B%E5%AD%90%E3%81%AF%E5%99%A8%E3%81%AA%E3%82%89%E3%81%9A

    which underlay the exceedingly rigorous traditional imperial Chinese civil service examinations, the subject matter of which was entirely the Chinese classics. Admiration of this system fed into the

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northcote%E2%80%93Trevelyan_Report

  83. 君子不器 (kunshi wa ki narazu)

    Very nice, except that you’ve given the Japanese kanbun reading. Mandarin is jūnzǐ bú qì

    Modern China followed this sentiment with 要红不要专 yào hóng bú yào zhuān ‘Don’t be expert, be red’ or ‘Better red than expert’. Look where that got them.

  84. David Eddyshaw says:

    except that you’ve given the Japanese kanbun reading

    Hence the apology to those who know Chinese. Also, I just like kanbun.

    I think the principle has some merit. Certainly, medical experts do not typically make good managers, at any rate (contrary to the prevailing wisdom underlying current NHS organisation.)

    I would have thought “being Red” is something of a specialism myself, but I imagine that the Party line differs …

  85. In principle we are all Red, comrade; it’s just that some of us need to be reminded from time to time.

  86. he probably has the prejudices of his class, seeing the ancients as grand ancestors of modern civilization and the moderns as wretched half-Turkified barbarians.

    Ironic, given that he is himself part-Turk, as he has mentioned on several occasions (though not recently).

    and THIS IS THE REASON THE COUNTRY IS IN THE STATE IT IS: PMs like Harold Macmillan and Johnson running it, who only learnt Greek, Maths & Latin for five years. So much for Harold Wilson’s white heat of technology.

    David Edgerton has much to say on this concept and why it’s not accurate; he’s worth reading in general, in fact.

  87. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t think learning is a single transferable skill.

  88. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Peter Naur spent a fair bit of my first undergraduate lecture in Computer Science ranting about how industry wanted the university to teach “useful” programming languages (Pascal, Cobol, Fortran, Z80 assembler), but his job was to teach us how to (learn to) program in any language that we happened to encounter.

    I’ve since found out that he wasn’t the shining star on the firmament of CS that he and we then believed, but he had a good point about that.

  89. David Eddyshaw says:

    Cicero’s De Oratore addresses the very question as to whether there is a specific art of oratory (and for his contemporaries, by implication, statesmanship) as opposed to having a wide-ranging grasp of general culture and morality. He comes down in favour of “no”, basically; though it has to be said that MTC has an agenda, and is probably describing how he would like things to be, rather than how they actually are.

    (One would have to agree that Cicero was a genuine expert in this matter, at least.)

  90. In 1969 at DLI I saw a newspaper in Katharevousa. My friends who were taking Modern Greek found it difficult; I, who’d only learned (basic) Classical Greek, found it much easier than the language they were studying.

  91. At my university organic chemistry was obviously taught in such a way as to weed out those who weren’t going to be good engineers. It certainly worked with me. That plus the teachers were researchers who emerged pale and blinking from their labs in order to teach. And my high-school teacher of chemistry and physics was a newbie whose actual field, I think, was psychology.

  92. In his post about Old Etonians, Brett appears to be thinking not of Thomas Merton but of the other Thomas Merton.

  93. At my university organic chemistry was obviously taught in such a way as to weed out those who weren’t going to be good engineers.

    I’ve doubtless told this story before, but my Introductory Sanskrit teacher (the late Stanley Insler) started the class with the most complicated Vedic irregular verbs in order to weed out the students who were there because they thought Hindu culture was cool.

  94. J.W. Brewer says:

    Brett is unusually well-situated to treat the physicist Thomas Merton as the default/unmarked one.

  95. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    There is a venerable Confucian tradition 君子不器 (kunshi wa ki narazu, with apologies to the many Hatters who know Chinese) “the administrator ought not to be a specialist”

    When I was at school Clement Attlee, former Prime Minister, came to talk to the Forum Society, a group for older boys interested in government and politics. He was asked if he thought that a minister, for example of Health, should be an expert in the field he was administering. Absolutely not, he said, that’s the worst thing you can do. You need someone who can listen to expert opinion and decide accordingly.

  96. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    In fact, one of the manifest strengths of the Brønsted-Lowry definitions of acids and bases (as proton donors or acceptors, respectively) was that it clearly showed how ammonia behaved as a base,

    Unfortunately most biochemists have been so brainwashed with other definitions that they rarely understand that the Brønsted-Lowry definition is the only one that matters in aqueous solution in physiological conditions (pH around 7 etc.), and rarely teach students accordingly. In consequence the proton-accepting amino acids aspartate and glutamate are almost universally called “acidic amino acids” (etc.).

  97. the administrator ought not to be a specialist

    I think that’s pernicious nonsense. Having some expertise in a subject doesn’t make it impossible for a person to also have the ability to listen to other experts and make decisions accordingly. Of course, you don’t want something who thinks they know everything and therefore won’t listen. But that’s a matter of personality, not expertise.

    Attlee’s attitude is essentially a snobbish justification for the idea that people who specialized in ancient Greek or whatever make the ideal PM.

  98. David Eddyshaw says:

    You need someone who can listen to expert opinion and decide accordingly.

    I’m with Attlee on this (too.) The principle is good, regardless of the status of classical Greek and specialists therein.
    I base this on having had the good fortune over the years to work with some very good managers, who clearly had some managerial mana – quite separate from particular technical expertise – that I (and many non-medical managers, come to that) lack.

    I don’t think this comes with having an MBA either; unless you had it already beforehand:

    Techt do Róim,
    mór saítho, bec torbai.
    In rí chon-daigi i foss,
    manim-bera latt, ní fogbai.

  99. From that translation, “You won’t find the king you seek there” is wrong: i foss is ‘here.’

  100. I agree that the ability to manage well is a separate thing from expertise, and a rare ability, in my limited experience. But I don’t think that being an expert in a particular subject necessarily precludes one from also being a good manager in that same subject. (Although being an expert and a good manager would make a person doubly rare).

  101. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    You are right but then techt do must be coming to, not going to, ,i.e., I would say the translator has changed the poem
    POV from inside to outside Rome.

  102. Or it could be from outside but the speaker is saying “the king you’re seeking here you won’t find in Rome.”

  103. David Eddyshaw says:

    @David L:

    The original citation in the Analects is (as usual) pretty context-free, which I suppose at least leaves open the possibility that Confucius might allow that a gentleman might be a utensil, so long as he was not only a utensil (i.e. his specialism did not blind him to the bigger picture.)

  104. @Jonathan Morse, J.W. Brewer: Actually, the first Merton that springs to mind for me is the economist Robert Merton. The physicist Thomas Merton would likely be second, and the sociologist Robert Merton third. The theologian Thomas Merton is probably the only other Merton I am familiar with. However, since the physicist was the only one of those four who was of British (or British Empire) origin, it seemed unnecessary to specify which one I meant when talking about attendees of Eton College. (However, I actually just discovered that the future Trappist monk actually attended a number of boarding schools in both France and Britain.) In contrast, both Henry Moseley and Oswald Mosley were British, I figured it was worth distinguishing them, although I just looked now and Oswald’s boarding school was not Eton.

    When I took Introduction to Stochastic Processes in fall 1998, the instructor initially said that he was planning to cover financial applications is a fair amount of detail, including the Black–Scholes–Merton model. However, that never really happened, and we covered other topics instead. Maybe the fact that the hedge fund that Scholes and Robert C. Merton ran (whose operating principles apparently included heavy borrowing as part of a strategy of continuing to make money in a down market) totally collapsed early in the semester convinced him that it was not so useful after all.

  105. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just in the context of English education it struck me that a number of Old Etonians have no doubt gone on to enroll in Merton College, Oxford, which must be named after someone or other. But of course Walter de Merton is not nearly as big a deal these days as he was in the 13th century, so one needs to look up the wiki article for the college and then work backwards to the source of its name. (Of the Oxbridge colleges with non-religious names, my favorite from an onomastic POV is “Brasenose,” just because it sounds the coolest.)

  106. John Cowan says:

    I’ve since found out that he wasn’t the shining star on the firmament of CS that he and we then believed, but he had a good point about that.

    Really? He’s the middle letter in BNF, and he was responsible for it being so widely publicized that it has become the default way to express programming-language grammar. (As opposed to van Wijngaarten notation, which I personally like better.)

  107. And Echo answers: just offhand, and just among English-language writers, and not counting the Jrs., I can think of two James Thomsons (18th-century English poet, 19th-century English poet), and two Samuel Butlers (17th-century English satiric poet, 19th-century English satiric novelist), and two John Keatses (19th-century English poet, 20th-century American journalist). And my former colleague Sidney Lanier is descended from the Confederate musician-poet, and I was in the audience for a paper read by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is black.

    And (probably like you, reader) I’ve googled myself and discovered that, no surprise, our name is legion. In colonial New Hampshire I’ve been a minister who published his sermons, in Arizona I’ve belonged to an MG owners’ club, in the Yukon Territory I’ve been a newspaper reporter, in Colorado I’ve been a community college basketball star, and in Texas I’ve been an obnoxious salesman who gets complained about online. But among the uniform identities I do have a favorite: the Jonathan Morse, Jr., who in 18th-century Maine married a woman named Experience Paine.

  108. David Marjanović says:

    started the class with the most complicated Vedic irregular verbs in order to weed out the students who were there because they thought Hindu culture was cool.

    The collateral damage must have been horrific!

  109. but his [Naur’s] job was to teach us how to (learn to) program in any language that we happened to encounter.

    All programming languages are merely dialects of Fortran IV, innit.

    van Wijngaarten notation, which I personally like better

    Is there anything applying the van Wijngaarten approach to natural languages? GPSG and some of the other ‘categorial’ style approaches seem to be along those lines. In particular, van-W might be good for explaining anaphor?

  110. Henry Moseley’s father and grandfather were also Henry Moseley as well, and although apparently neither of them went to Eton, they were both notable enough scientists (working on invertebrate zoology and mathematics, respectively) that they also have Wikipedia entries. The use of the same name only lasted those three generations though; the great grandfather was William, and the Henry the third, who took a bullet to the head during the Gallipoli campaign at age twenty-seven, had no children.

    It occurs to me that Moseley should really have an element named after him.

  111. J.W. Brewer says:

    As to the doublets among English writers like those Jonathan Morse was mentioning, the existence of two Wyndham Lewises strikes me as one of the less statistically probable ones, yet there it is.

    Of my four kids, one has a Christian name that is significantly less statistically common than those born by his siblings. Yet googling revealed the existence of at least one other Brewer out there (no relation to me as far as I know) with the same first name, viz. a dentist in Albuquerque who likes to go on long motorcycle trips down into Mexico.

  112. Oh yes, the two Wyndham Lewises! If I remember right, they both took the confusion in good humor. On the other hand, the divorce of Evelyn Waugh from Evelyn Waugh was probably inevitable.

    There’s also an aesthetically pleasing double-register interaction among the poet Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, her mother Emily Norcross Dickinson, her sister Lavinia Norcross Dickinson, her cousin and college roommate Emily Lavinia Norcross, and her aunt and sometime surrogate mother Lavinia Norcross Norcross.

  113. We discussed the two Wyndham Lewises here and Shevelyn here.

  114. At the University of Glasgow in the middle of the 19th century, there was James Thomson, a professor of mathematics, whose oldest son, James Thomson, became a professor of engineering and whose younger son, William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) became professor of physics. There was another William Thomson, who was a professor of chemistry, and also two brothers, Thomas Thomson, a chemistry professor, and Allen Thomson, professor of anatomy, along with a young mathematician by the name of David Thomson.

  115. And I should have identified my two James Thomsons as Scots, even though one of them wrote “Rule, Britannia.”

  116. @Jonathan Morse: It seems like it could be weird rooming with somebody having the same first name, although I guess one would get used to it. In fact, my uncle Daniel was college roommates with his (second) cousin Daniel for a couple years. However, like the Emily pair, they have different surnames.

    At the time, the Daniels were attending the University of Rochester, and my father was doing his medical residency in one of the hospitals there, where I was also born. Uncle Dan still seems to be on good terms with the other Dan, but I don’t think my grandmother liked cousin Dan very much. On display around my grandmother’s apartment, there are about twenty pictures from the first trip my grandparents and great grandfather took to Rochester shortly after I was born. These were selected from about a hundred total snapshots, with the rest tucked away in an album. However, cousin Dan does not appear in any of the photos on display, although all the other family members (and a few other friends) do. The first time I looked through the album, I was pretty surprised that there was another family member I did not recognize in a bunch of the pictures.

  117. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I remember reading (quite possibly here) about a family descended from a famous ancestor, where every son had that ancestor’s name somewhere in his list of names, so that if the elder brother died, there was still a Sir Whoever to be going on with. I just can’t remember who it was!

    The Martin Luther Kings seem to have renamed themselves, but I found out through the week (from Pointless!) that Woody Guthrie’s full name was Woodrow Wilson Guthrie. I don’t think that kind of complete naming-after would happen here – or possibly now – except maybe with footballers.

  118. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thomson

    As good a place as any to mention The Thompson Language, Thompson and Thompson, University of Montana, 1992.

  119. PlasticPaddy says:

    @jen
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_of_Haddington
    Until the title passed out of the family, the forename seems to have been restricted to Thomas, John or Charles, with Thomas preferred.

  120. PlasticPaddy says:

    The 4 earls of kilmarnock were all William Boyd. Of the last one, Wikipedia says:
    His family were supporters of the government and Kilmarnock had not previously been involved with the Stuarts; he later stated “for the two Kings and their rights, I cared not a farthing which prevailed; but I was starving.”

  121. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Plenty of family names about, but… well, say if it was Walter Raleigh (who I looked at and it wasn’t), the sons in one generation two hundred years down the line would be called Walter John, and Walter Thomas, and Walter Richard, and so on, so that they had another name to use, but if they inherited the title could go back to the forebear’s name.

    It was a more distinctive first name, I think. And it could well have been an Elizabethan…

  122. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Aha – I was nearly there the first time!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Drake_(disambiguation)

    In particular:
    All four sons of Sir Francis Henry Drake had Francis as their first name, which further adds to the confusion. The sons’ names were, Francis Henry, Francis Duncombe, Francis William and Francis Samuel.

  123. I was perfectly fluent myself in the language of all writing, TV and radio, but the concept of using it in everyday conversations with fellow locals was completely alien to me.

    This was my experience growing up in West Virginia. I was about thirty before I encountered children who spoke Standard English, and it sounded very strange to me.

  124. Lars Mathiesen says:

    he was responsible for it being so widely publicized — Exactly, as editor of the Algol 60 report. What I heard from people who claimed to have talked to others on that committee is that he was a brilliant editor but left the scientific innovation to others. Also I was sysadmin on the UNIX account he used in the 80s…

    But it seems that it was Knuth who wanted the N to stand for Naur, Backus used a simpler form of it in the Algol 58 report which Naur was not involved in so it was originally just Backus Normal Form. (Naur was still doing astronomy in 1958).

  125. David Marjanović says:

    Lavinia Norcross Norcross

    what

    “Rule, Britannia.”

    Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves is supposedly subjunctive, not imperative: analytically “may Britannia rule the sea”.

    All four sons of Sir Francis Henry Drake had Francis as their first name, which further adds to the confusion.

    Should have numbered them like Prince Michael I and Prince Michael II.

    This was my experience growing up in West Virginia.

    I’m intrigued.

  126. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Lavinia Norcross Norcross

    what

    I don’t know anything about her, but it’s perfectly possible – suppose you’re born Lavinia Norcross Taylor, and marry your cousin James Norcross.

  127. AJP Crown says:

    I expect we’ve done this but I can’t find it. From Bathrobe’s Thomson link:

    [With Dupond & Dupont,] translators of Tintin have tried to find in each language names for the pair that are common, and similar or identical in pronunciation. They thus become:
    Uys and Buys in Afrikaans
    Tik and Tak (تيك) and تاك) in Arabic
    Asín and Azín in Aragonese[14]
    জনসন and রনসন in Bengali
    Brea and Bray in Cornish
    Kadlec and Tkadlec in Czech
    Jansen and Janssen in Dutch
    Thomson and Thompson in English
    Citserono and Tsicerono in Esperanto
    Schultze and Schulze in German
    Santu and Bantu in Hindi[15]
    Clodius and Claudius in Latin
    Tajniak and Jawniak in Polish
    Hernández and Fernández in Spanish (Juventud edition only), Galician and Asturian
    Skapti and Skafti in Icelandic
    Tomson and Tompson in Serbian
    Zigue and Zague in older Portuguese editions
    Nisbet and Nesbit in Scots [16]
    An Dòmhnallach and MacDhòmhnaill in Scottish Gaelic
    Johns and Jones or Parry-Williams and Williams-Parry in Welsh (Dref Wen and Dalen editions, respectively)
    Roobroeck and Roobrouck in West Flemish (Kortrijk dialect)
    Aspeslagh and Haspeslagh in West Flemish (Ostend dialect)

    In some languages, the French forms are more directly adapted, using local orthographic ambiguities:
    In Chinese, Doo-bong and Doo-bong or Dù Bāng and Dù Bāng (杜邦 and 杜帮, or 杜邦 and 杜幫 in Traditional Chinese), or Du Bang and Du Pang (杜邦 and 杜庞)
    Ntypón and Ntipón in Greek (Ντυπόν and Ντιπόν, pronounced [diˈpon])
    Dyupon and Dyubon in Japanese (デュポン and デュボン)
    Dipons and Dipāns in Latvian
    Doupont and Douponṭ in Persian (دوپونت and دوپونط)
    Dwipong and Dwippong in Korean (뒤퐁 and 뒤뽕[17])
    Dyupon and Dyuponn in Russian (Дюпон and Дюпонн)

    So there’s a Cornish version of Tintin. Cornwall having had a well known tin mining industry in the past I hope their current tourism industry is promoting the edition. I like Roobroeck vs Aspeslagh in Flemland.

    To clear up one thing, AJP might well be an O.E., I wouldn’t be surprised, but I, Jeremy, his writer, am not. I went to an equally good public school academically, by which I mean not just good at getting pupils into unis but also at sparking an interest in academic subjects and in how, pre-internet, to do independent research. But I was terrified of being sent to a boarding school, so Eton was out and besides, sort of like buying a Rolls Royce in those days, we weren’t really posh enough for Eton (that’s all part of the supply & demand con, like the velvet nightclub rope barrier: are you really GOOD ENOUGH to come here?). Our neighbours put their baby son down at birth for Eton; he left at 15 because of bullying as did someone else I knew at St Paul’s. So I’m thankful I didn’t go there, sent my daughter to a state school but fee-paying university and now I’m an artist, I don’t look back.

    Someone at school once asked me if I was related to the Cave-Browne-Caves. I don’t know why he asked but I think I probably said yes.

  128. Phebe Hyacinth Cave-Browne-Cave (1901–80), MBE, the only child of the fourteenth Baronet, was a Church Mission Society missionary in northern Uganda for over half a century until her death.

    I mean, Cave-Browne-Cave is surely impressive enough by itself; “Phebe Hyacinth” is just gilding the lily.

  129. (And yes, I know Shakespeare said “paint the lily.” I don’t care.)

  130. J.W. Brewer says:

    Gilding the hyacinth, maybe? In America more recently, the boxer George Foreman outdid Sir Francis by naming all five of his sons not only George Foreman, but George Edward Foreman, just like himself. They are supposedly disambiguated as: George Jr., George III (“Monk”), George IV (“Big Wheel”), George V (“Red”), and George VI (“Little Joey”).

  131. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ajp
    Neighbours put their baby son down at birth…
    Dashed impulsive thing to do!

  132. AJP Crown says:

    The. 12th Baronet was a bartender and cowboy, Sir Genille Cave-Browne-Cave. There must be more to this entry. Did he ride over with your drinks?

  133. AJP Crown says:

    Dashed impulsive thing to do!

    The father (a very nice man) was a solicitor who represented the Church Commissioners for some decades before becoming a judge. It was all a bit Trollope.

  134. John Cowan says:

    I was about thirty before I encountered children who spoke Standard English, and it sounded very strange to me.

    Marie-Lucie mentions being started when she came to Canada and discovered that even the children said we; she assumed (probably unconsciously) that this was something taught to foreigners and used in writing but not actually in speaking.

    the more dhimotiki you used […], the more likely you were to be suspected of communist sympathies

    Near the collapse, yes. But in the early 20C, as Nick Nicholas points out somewhere, the Communists were all for katharevousa, considering dhimotiki to be a purely bourgeois amusement.

    entirely different Johnson

    Quite so, and a much more interesting person to talk about anyway.

    she explained stereoisomers to me using Tinkertoys

    Brilliant, and I mean that in the full (American?) sense of the term. It reminds me of the “math manipulatives” used in the primary school that my daughter and grandson attended (and many other schools), whereby you can see that by putting the 3-block and the 4-block end to end and next to the 7-block, that 3 + 4 really is 7, neither more nor less. These can be wooden or magnets. Dominoes are also manipulatives of a more abstract kind, and many children can do quite sophisticated arithmetic when talking of money, but have trouble in general (which tends to confirm Quine’s view that mathematics is an empirical subject), so fake money isa good manipulative. Then there are analog pseudo-clocks (which don’t tick but whose hands can be rearranged as you like). The list goes on ….

    on the correct grounds that there was a nontrivial chance I would “blow us all up!”

    In high school I once had the job of comparing the list of supplies on hand in the chemistry lab to somebody’s list of all the chemicals a proper high school should have, looking up the cost of the ones we didn’t have in somebody else’s chemical supply catalog, and making notes of the same. All went swimmingly until I came to one chemical labeled “(Only available with municipal permit)” in the catalog. Well, I thought, we are a municipal high school, so that shouldn’t be too hard to get.

    But then my inner Elephant’s Child kicked in and took me to the chemistry teacher to inquire. With a smile he informed of all the reasons that he was not going to authorize the purchase of picric acid for my classmates to do experiments with, or on. When I looked it up later (in a printed E.B.), I found that indeed he had understated the case.

    This same teacher was notorious for beginning one particular class period thus: “For those of you who may have forgotten, and for those of you who don’t remember, …” Now I think that was probably meant to be funny (indeed, Jewish humor), but at the time we were all convinced that it indicated either congenital stupidity or temporary cranial insufficiency.

    not of Thomas Merton but of the other Thomas Merton

    Ahaaaaa! The wrong Johnson for me, the wrong Merton for you. But none of these blunders so awful as the Wrong Don Yarbrough.

    the Brønsted-Lowry definitions of acids and bases (as proton donors or acceptors, respectively

    My knowledge that oxygen is etymologically ‘acid-maker’ (quite wrong chemically, of course), and of the mnemonic “LEO the lion says GER (that is, “Loss of electrons is oxidation, gain of electrons is reduction”) has given me the ability to remember and/or reconstruct the B-L definitions that is unshaken to this day. For though MInsk is not the opposite of Pinsk (as Mr. Kaplan told us), nor is Omsk the opposite of Tomsk, it is plain for this purpose that electrons are the opposite of protons. Of course for other purposes, like blowing up whole planets, the opposite of protons are antiprotons.

    (I have always wondered how the Death Star could generate so much antimatter so fast. Had they found a portal to another universe that led into an antisun? Perhaps much of that massive mass was just shielding.)

    Techt do Róim

    Very Daoist. Update: Or Confucianist, although of course Taoism is rooted in Confucianism. Even if you turn your back and walk away from Mishnory, you are still on the Mishnory road.

    applying the van Wijngaarten approach to natural languages?

    Well, it’s Turing-complete (indeed, the Revised Report’s grammar contains a whole interpreter of the language), and so the exact opposite of what Chomskyites want.

    [Naur] was a brilliant editor but left the scientific innovation to others

    The same might (and perhaps will) be said of me.

    And I should have identified my two James Thomsons as Scots, even though one of them wrote “Rule, Britannia.”

    The Scots are as British as the English. Though not so British as the Welsh.

    Indeed, the American patriotic song “Columbia, the gem of the ocean” was originally “Britannia”, but it didn’t sell there. Indeed, Britannia is visually rather more gem-like on a globe than Columbia, though of course “Columbia the huge mass of granite with deep silt overlays” wouldn’t scan.

  135. David and Jen, Dickinson’s aunt Lavinia Norcross (1812-1860) married her cousin Loring Norcross (1808-1863). They also had a daughter named Lavinia, but she died at the age of 4. Their two other daughters, Louise (1842-1919) and Frances Lavinia (1847-1896), were Dickinson’s constant intimate correspondents and the recipients of her last letter (“Little Cousins, Called back. Emily”) — and when the time came to publish the letters they presented the editor with censored transcripts and then destroyed the originals.

    The South always gets the cultural credit (remember Aunt Pittypat explaining to Scarlett, “The Wilkeses always marry their cousins”?), but unfairly. Remember Ethan Frome in New England. Remember William Carlos Williams’s “To Elsie”:

    The pure products of America
    go crazy —
    mountain folk from Kentucky

    or the ribbed north end of
    Jersey
    with its isolate lakes and

    valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
    old names

  136. David Marjanović says:

    assumed (probably unconsciously) that this was something taught to foreigners and used in writing but not actually in speaking

    It takes years to get German-speaking learners of French to understand that the subjonctif is used in all registers! The similar-looking Konjunktiv I is thoroughly dead in spoken German, arguably more so than in English even.

    I have always wondered how the Death Star could generate so much antimatter so fast.

    It doesn’t. It slowly shoots glowing death rays.

  137. AJP Crown says:

    Johnson has been living in a tent, reading De rerum natura, according to this.

  138. That’s a delightful column, I’ve sent it around to people who might need their day made.

  139. AJP Crown says:

    Ajay, David Edgerton has much to say on this concept and why it’s not accurate; he’s worth reading in general, in fact.

    Really? Because here is David Edgerton in today’s paper, with much to say on why it is accurate. I’ll stick with that version.

  140. AJP Crown says:

    a delightful column
    I thought so too. Be warned that some Brits, lefties (ok, Des), don’t approve of Marina Hyde (it’s mostly a class thing).

    And that reminds me, a British word I learned today: Tankies.

  141. An excellent word, I’ll have to start using it. I can’t stand tankies.

  142. I’m intrigued.

    Well, I grew up speaking an increasingly assimilated mesolect which eventually I mistook for pure standard English until, as a grad student, I moved to Indiana and found people goggling at me and repeating what I’d just said to make sure they’d gotten it right. Later, it was still an odd experience to encounter kids (a species of person not part of my normal social world) who had perfect media accents and actually used all the verb participles found in books.

  143. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    It takes years to get German-speaking learners of French to understand that the subjonctif is used in all registers!

    I was taught the subjonctif at school, of course, but I didn’t think of it as something I needed to know for everyday life until a few weeks after coming to France, and hearing someone say il faut que j’aille.

    Marie-Lucie mentions being startled when she came to Canada and discovered that even the children said we;

    I was puzzled by this we. Did she mean that in Quebec people say nous sommes allés where a French person would say on est allé? Or something else?

  144. David Marjanović says:

    il faut que j’aille.

    Or just faut qu’j’aille – as I said, every register.

    Or something else?

    IIRC, she meant in English, and got her shock long before moving to Canada.

  145. Use of tankie is actually pretty common on the left-leaning part of the World-Wide Web these days. It means, more or less, individuals whose performative far-left politics are more important than anything practical. In 2020 America, these might be the people who initially insisted that nobody except Bernie Sanders could be seriously considered for the democratic nomination; everyone to Bernie’s right was reviled, including Sanders himself after he endorsed Biden.

    I was not familiar with its origins in connections with Soviet tanks, however. I figured it probably had something to do with being “in the tank” for a certain candidate or viewpoint. (Come to think of it, I may have misunderstood the origin of “in the tank” too.)

  146. John Cowan says:

    Did she mean that in Quebec people say nous sommes allés where a French person would say on est allé?

    France and Quebec are as at one in this matter: she meant the anglophone children, who would be expected to use the colloquial form of we, whatever it might be.

  147. David Eddyshaw says:

    Tankie was familiar to me, though not in this hip modern sense of “too Left for me”, but only in the true and original meaning “comrade [alas] too stupid or too doctrinaire [or both] to care that he* is supporting wholesale violent oppression.”
    (If Sanders supporters are “tankies”, then I’m Margaret Thatcher.)

    *He, always, except for Vanessa Redgrave, of course. Let’s not get started on the WRP.

  148. A few years ago a flock of Marxists perched on my Tumblr and (please pardon the multiple redundancies) began feuding in impenetrable jargon with other Marxists. I never did figure out the proletarian subject line of one of their repeating posts, “Shit tankies say,” and after a while they flew away, perhaps to summer nests along the White Sea Canal.

    But now I know what a tankie is, thanks to LH. And the moral is, Look it up!

  149. Lars Mathiesen says:

    the colloquial form of we — I have been stuck on this for days, it’s either calcification of the brain or a lacuna in my upbringing but I can’t bring any such to mind. (Well, things like we unz but that still has we in it).

  150. I don’t understand that either.

  151. AJP Crown says:

    Tankie was familiar to me, though not in this hip modern sense of “too Left for me”, but only in the true and original meaning

    It was this meaning that I saw. It was used by the architectural writer & Culture editor of Tribune Owen Hatherley on the Twitter today. He just wrote

    checkmate ‘tankies’

    above Venezuelan prez Nicolás Maduro’s tweet

    Recordamos a uno de los grandes líderes de la Revolución de Octubre en Rusia, León Trotsky. A 80 años de su asesinato, los revolucionarios del mundo honramos la memoria y el legado de este gran teórico y político que acompaña hoy a la clase obrera que lucha por sus derechos.*

    He (Maduro) had stuck a very big picture of Trotsky underneath.

    *We remember one of the great leaders of the October Revolution in Russia, Leon Trotsky. 80 years after his assassination, the revolutionaries of the world honour the memory and legacy of this great theorist and politician who today accompanies the working class that fights for their [its] rights.

  152. John Cowan says:

    the colloquial form of we […] I can’t bring any such to mind.

    That’s the point. English, unlike French, has no special colloquial form of we, a form which is used both in speech and in writing. But a Frenchwoman who had learned English from classes and books, and who was not yet a linguist, would unconsciously expect to find a counterpart to the nous/on opposition, with we playing the part of nous (as in her English grammar books and works of literature), and then be surprised to find the supposedly formal we in regular use even among those who have not yet been taught to read or write.

    In any case, m-l never lived in Quebec, so she would have gotten the shock during her first exposure to colloquial spoken English, perhaps at the University of Vermont in 1964 where she did part of her M.A. work before getting her degree at Cornell in 1965 (I was there shortly thereafter, but in elementary school). She then did Ph.D. work at Simon Fraser in B.C. from 1967-71 with a lacuna (I was in Canada for the first time in 1967) before finally getting her degree at UVic in 1989.

    ~~ sinks slowly into the tar pit of increasingly lengthy explanations ~~

  153. David Marjanović says:

    Redgrave

    Aptronym!

    (If Sanders supporters are “tankies”, then I’m Margaret Thatcher.)

    A few of them actually are (tankies, not Thatcher) – because they haven’t noticed that Sanders, tone of voice aside, is pretty much a boring mainstream Social Democrat and just project their hopes of a saviour on him. After all, boring mainstream Social Democrats used not to exist in the US.

    los revolucionarios del mundo honramos

    Interesting grammar.

    By which I mean it’s self-evident, but happens to be impossible in (most of) German where the 1pl and 3pl verb endings are always identical.

  154. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Now I get it. It was the that threw me, I thought it implied that M-L knew about a specific colloquial form that she expected children to use. Reading back, your original phrasing does not imply that so strongly but I still didn’t get to “M-L assumed there would be a colloquial form that they just didn’t teach in French schools.”

    As far as I recall, it didn’t take more than ten minutes reading actual French texts in school before on popped up, and building on that I don’t think I’d have assumed that there were ‘secret’ forms in a new language. (French was my third foreign language in school — English first, German second — and that was with scientific specialization in high school. The modern languages specialization didn’t get more languages, but they kept doing German and had more English and third language. We could all choose Spanish or Russian instead of French, too. And there were 2-3 people in my year doing classical languages, out of 150 or so, they had Latin and Greek instead of the third modern language).

  155. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm
    Is this the explanation for the repetition of the pronoun in relative clauses in German: ich, der ich…bin but also wir, die wir…sind? Compare English I who am, we who are.

  156. AJP Crown says:

    m-l’s wikientry (I do hope she’s not watching; the most retiring & modest person, she’d be so embarrassed.)

  157. January First-of-May says:

    checks the entry, sees the birth date
    Weird, I thought she was somewhere in her twenties. You sure you’ve got the right Marie-Lucie?

  158. David Marjanović says:

    That’s the right one.

  159. David Marjanović says:

    Is this the explanation for the repetition of the pronoun in relative clauses in German: ich, der ich…bin but also wir, die wir…sind?

    Hardly, because the 1pl, 3pl and even 2pl endings have been identical in English since English was first written.

    What you’d need to do to translate the phrase in question is exactly the same as to translate it into English: add an explicit pronoun. Wir, die Revolutionäre der Welt, ehren = “we, the revolutionaries of the world, honor”.

  160. AJP Crown says:

    You sure you’ve got the right Marie-Lucie?
    Yes. Trond & I met her when she came to Norway.

  161. January First-of-May says:

    What you’d need to do to translate the phrase in question is exactly the same as to translate it into English: add an explicit pronoun.

    Weirdly, the same would probably be required in Russian, even though the endings would otherwise disambiguate (…I think, as I’m not sure what the verb would have been); a plural noun phrase like революционеры мира would automatically imply 3pl without an explicit pronoun added, to the extent where 1pl agreement would be so unacceptable as to be possibly outright ungrammatical.

  162. I’m not sure what the verb would have been

    I think чтить would fit the high-flown context.

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