1) A recommendation of scythes as a grass-cutting tool brought to my attention the fact that the shaft of a scythe is called a snath (description and picture here). I don’t know why, but I really like the word. Snath, snath, snath.
2) The OED has an entry “razoo Austral. and N.Z. slang. [Origin uncertain.] A (non-existent) coin of trivial value, a ‘farthing’. Also in phr. brass razoo. Used in neg. contexts only.” (First two cites: 1930 Bulletin (Sydney) 5 Nov. 21/1 The useless graft on patch and flat! They never think a bloke has earned a darned razoo for that. 1931 W. HATFIELD Sheepmates xxx. 268 Richards never has a rahzoo.) They give the pronunciation as RAH-zoo. I looked it up in my Australian Oxford and found the same definition but the pronunciation rah-ZOO, with the stress on the final syllable. How do Aussie/Kiwi readers pronounce it?
3) I recently finished my reading of Dead Souls in Russian (and of all great Russian prose, Gogol is most untranslateable, so I urge readers with any knowledge of Russian to give it a try). To help with difficult passages I kept the Andrew MacAndrew translation handy—it happened to be what I had left over from college days. It’s no worse than any other, but in the final chapter I found a real howler (comparable to Nabokov’s mistaking Khazars for Hazaras). Chichikov’s background is finally being described, and we have reached the moment when he comes up with his brilliant scheme of buying up deceased serfs and mortgaging them to the government. He is considering where he can “resettle” them (since serfs couldn’t be transferred without land); the Russian says “теперь земли в Таврической и Херсонской губерниях отдаются даром, только заселяй. Туда я их всех и переселю!” [They’re giving away land in the Crimea and the Kherson province free to anyone who will settle it; that’s where I’ll resettle them!] But the good Mr. MacAndrew mistook Таврический ‘Tauride, Crimean’ for Тебризский ‘of Tabriz‘ and translated “Today one can get land in Kherson and Tabriz Provinces free,” moving Chichikov’s undead serfs to a hypothetical Russian guberniya in Iran! (I should note for the sake of historical pickiness that Russia did occupy Tabriz in 1827, but they gave it back the next year at the end of the war with Persia.)
Incidentally, while looking up Tabriz I found the remarkable story of Gordon Paddock, the U.S. consul there from 1911 to 1920, told in a well-written article (pdf, Google cache) by David D. Newsom (Foreign Service Journal, November 2005). Paddock, a New York fop languishing in an Iranian backwater and receiving poor marks from his superiors, was told in June 1919 that Christians were being massacred in Urmia, 75 miles away across difficult terrain. He decided “that I could not sit still and wait for the Powers to act, but that I must do something myself.” He took a couple of automobiles and some helpers and after a dangerous and prolonged journey through a war-torn land managed, using patience, guile, and exaggeration of how much official support he enjoyed, to get hundreds of Assyrian Christians safely to Tabriz. The situation in Persia continuing unstable, he decided to head back to the States. He had to pay his own expenses because of the breakdown of communications, and when he got back he discovered the government would not reimburse him because he had not done things in the proper bureaucratic way. He eventually retired and lived in France until his death, the date of which is unknown.
Here’s an excerpt from the Newsom article:
Gordon Paddock was an unlikely hero. Born in New York in 1865, he graduated from Princeton and Columbia Law School. After practicing law in New York for 10 years, he entered the United States Diplomatic Service in 1901.
On June 5, 1911, shortly after Paddock took up his consular duties in Tabriz, State Department inspector Alfred L.M. Gottschalk described him as “a gentleman, trained to the life of the idle rich in his youth. He has no money left now and is trying, late in life, to learn something of business.” Knowing that background, the inspector sympathized all the more with Paddock’s living conditions.
“He has to live in a mud-walled village where there is practically no social life and where the only fellow countrymen that he meets are well meaning, but certainly not broad-minded, missionaries, where clean or well-trained servants are unattainable, and where the house he lives in is not weatherproof and therefore impossible to heat through the severe mountain-winter of Persia.”
In addition, communications were poor and subject to misunderstanding, as when he reported his marriage on April 29, 1918, in Tabriz to Marie Josephine Irma Lefebvre, a French citizen. In a subsequent letter to the American minister in Tehran, he wrote: “I am entirely obliged to you for the trouble the legation has taken in telegraphing the Paris Embassy in reply to my sister, Mrs. Alexander’s, inquiries. I believe a report of my marriage was changed to my ‘murder,’ a rather amusing mistake when played that way, but which would have been extremely unpleasant for me if it had happened the other way around.”
Another despatch to Tehran, on July 27, 1918, illustrates the problems Paddock faced throughout his tenure in reconciling the demands of the Department of State with the realities of the region. “I regret extremely that it is quite impossible for me to comply at present with the request contained in your unnumbered instruction (File 300) of the 15th instant, to supply the legation with quadruple copies of my despatches. I have, after much searching in the shops here, been able to find but five pieces of carbon paper, of poor quality and at an absurd price ($0.10) per sheet, and unfortunately, there remain but two of these sheets, both of which are worn.”