Nabokov’s NY Times review (April 24, 1949) of Sartre’s Nausea (translated by Lloyd Alexander) is typically supercilious, pointing out some terrible translation flubs and then mocking the novel itself, but the first line contains a mystery:

Sartre’s name, I understand, is associated with a fashionable brand of cafe philosophy and since for every so-called “existentialist” one finds quite a few “suctorialists” (if I may coin a polite term), this made-in-England translation of Sartre’s first novel, “La Nausée” (published in Paris in 1938) should enjoy some success.

The word “suctorialist” apparently occurs only here, and it is presumably based on the adjective suctorial “adapted for sucking, especially : serving to draw up fluid or to adhere by suction” (New Latin suctorius, from Latin sugere), but I have no idea what the Great Man might have meant by it (I can hear Beavis and/or Butthead chortling “Sucks, man!” but that sense — “of people, objects, situations, to be worthless, contemptible, pointless, objectionable” — is dated by Green to 1963 and is thus after Vlad’s time even if it weren’t infra his dig). Any ideas?

By the way, when I was googling “suctorialist” I found this webpage with a section of user-created lists that contain the word “shippon,” including:

only nabokov

shippon, carpilastics, suctorialist, vendective, grimpen, woodwose, rizzom, stang, peba, versipal, nenuphar, kickshaw and 7 more…

Alas, that link throws a 404, so we’ll never know what the 7 more were.

Lagniappe: I just learned the great word mortsafe. Have a care for Burke and Hare!


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Suckers-up? I.e. for every actual existentialist there are several hangers on only interested because it’s fashionable?

    Wild guess 🙂

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    I would guess “lamprey-like, parasitic” (basically the same as Jen’s reading.)

  3. Wikipedia and Google Books point to suctorial as an established zoological term, which is perhaps how our lepidopterologist first came to know it. It often refers to the mouth organs of unpleasant parasitical creatures such as lampreys.

    Edited: So yeah, double jinx.

  4. Nenuphar ‘water lily’ comes from Persian and is quite pre-Nabokovian. Kickshaw is likewise obscure but old (and < quelque chose).

  5. OK, the collective wisdom of Jen, DE, and Y convinces me.

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    Woodwose is actually in Chambers’ Dictionary. While I can’t exactly claim it as part of my active vocabulary, I knew what it meant (or guessed right, at any rate.)

    Wodwo (as in Ted Hughes’ book) seems to be a back-formation singular made from it, like “pea” or “cherry.”

  7. Does Nabokov mean “fellators”? We use that today to mean something like “mindless worshippers” (or make snarky remarks about knee-pads), but was that the case in 1949?

  8. Nausea (translated by Lloyd Alexander)

    … *that* Lloyd Alexander? Author of the Chronicles of Prydain? Wikipedia says yes, that Lloyd Alexander. His World War II service included work as a translator in Paris, and after the war he studied at the University of Paris and translated the poetry of Paul Éluard. Unexpected connection!

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    I had the same “surely not THAT Lloyd Alexander” reaction as ktschwarz, but by the time I had figured out that it was and thought that worth mentioning, it had been mentioned …

  10. John Cowan says:

    OK, the collective wisdom of Jen, DE, and Y convinces me.

    Henceforth to be known by the epicene name “Jendey”.

  11. John Emerson says:

    Loosely related : Veblen spoke of “gentility and political suction” as being the stock in trade of certain sorts of influential players (I think of David Brooks).

  12. I had two immediate responses after reading this, both related to fantasy writing. I suspect that almost any English-speaking fantasy fan of approximately my age would immediately notice the mention of Lloyd Alexander. To what has already been said, I should add that Nabokov’s “made-in-England” characterization is almost surely inaccurate. The only time Alexander lived in Britain was when he was deployed there prior to Overlord; and even then, he spent most of his posting in Wales (which he, of course, fell in love with). The work on translating Sartre was almost surely done in Paris (1944–1946) or Philadelphia (1946 onward).

    I also felt that woodwose was an uncommon word but one of impeccable pedigree. The OED defines it as:

    A wild man of the woods; a satyr, faun; a person dressed to represent such a being in a pageant,

    which sounds exactly right to me. However, it does label it as Obsolete (exc. Historical), which I am not so sure about. I think that if there were men living rough in the forests, with minimal to no outside contact, I think woodwose might still be an accurate (although probably derogatory) term for them. And now, having started thinking about this scenario, I cannot shake the idea of describing Ted Kaczynski as a modern-day woodwose.

    The word does not appear in writing until after the Normal conquest, but it can be found in some of the finest Middle English sources: the alliterative Morte Arthur (line 3817, where it is punned against “unwise”) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (line 721, during Gawain’s briefly described physical testing, as he travels the wild in search of the Green Knight). Wikipedia’s article on the “Wild Man” claims that, “ther shuln dwelle there ostricchis & wodewoosis,” appears in Isaiah 13:21 in the Wycliffe Bible; however, all the Wycliffe texts I can find online* have the verse as:

    But wielde beestis schulen reste there, and the housis of hem schulen be fillid with dragouns; and ostrichis schulen dwelle there, and heeri beestis schulen skippe there.

    (Yet it’s not inconceivable that a variant text does have woodwoses instead of hairy beasts.) Much later, Tolkien used just “woses” as a Westron word for the Drughu people. (The more commonly occurring “Drúadan” is a combination of the people’s endonym with the usual Sindarin –adan suffix.)

    * There are numerous Bible comparison sites that have a clearly modern edition erroneously labeled as Wycliffe’s. I have no idea why.

  13. The verse in Isaiah was discussed in the context of the ostrich*. The “dragouns” correspond to אֹחִים ’oħīm, plural of אֹחַ ’oaħ, probably ‘eagle owl’. The “heeri beestis”, plural of שָׂעִיר śā‘īr, evidently something hairy, from שֵׂעָר śē‘ār ‘hair’. The word is used for ‘he-goat’, but in this context it’s usually taken to mean some goat-like demon.

    The wodewoosis are from another version of the Wycliffe, see here at the beginning of the page. I think that might be one of the “later” group of versions of Wycliffe’s translations.

    *A large flightless bird of the levant and Africa which, oddly, has no taste for proselytizers.

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    Surely is a somewhat better example of a contemporary woodwose than the Unabomber dude?

  15. All about the Wild Man. They were somewhere between human hermit and yeti.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    Le nénuphar is the normal French word for ‘water llily’.

  17. Grimpen mire is a well known UK placename. Everyone in Russia knows it.

    “As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor.”

  18. I have to wonder if Nabokov had in mind lampreys, of which those that suck on a host are indeed parasitic, or remoras, which are mutualistic.
    WikiP even says that remoras are also called suckerfish.

    Also WikiP:

    Although it was initially believed that remoras fed off particulate matter from the host’s meals, this has been shown to be false; in reality, their diets are composed primarily of host feces.


  19. At one point when the topic of the “hairy ones” in the bible came up, I had recently been reading Armand Leroi‘s Mutants, which has a chapter about hypertrichosis. Could there have been a clan of people with such a condition, living on the outskirts of society?

    Who knows?

  20. Cookiecutter sharks are particularly repulsive artists of the suctorial.

    When I read descriptions of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in the old days, when ships would be immobilized because the water was so packed with fish, I envision their seabed as a spectacular if lightless Garden of Eden, nourished by an endless downpour of fish shit, that was lost before any people could imagine setting eyes on it.

  21. Rizzom, also spelled rissom, is British dialectal meaning the head of grain, and metaphorically a small bit of something. It’s a Scandinavian borrowing and cognate with rice.

  22. In 1393, Charles VI of France and some of his courtiers appeared at a masquerade costumed as woodwoses. Their costumes, which were extremely flammable, accidentally caught fire and four of the lords died. This incident became known as the Bal des Ardents.

    So the term “woodwose” is still of use in describing historical events.

  23. Wikipedia:

    Fox Tor is a relatively minor tor on Dartmoor in the county of Devon, England. …

    About a kilometre north-east of the tor lies the swampy land known as Fox Tor Mires. This is said to have been the inspiration for the fictional Grimpen Mire in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This wide expanse of peat bog continues to be dangerous to walkers, especially after heavy rain.

    If A. Conan Doyle invented the name Grimpen, I congratulate him. It’s a very fine name.

    But, I found this:

    The OED defined a grimpen as “a marshy area.” (So a Grimpen Mire would therefore be “a marshy marsh” or “a boggy bog”).

    So, another version of the La Brea Tar Pits…

  24. @Owlmirror: True congenital hypertrichosis is astoundingly rare. So while cases of it may well have occasionally entered folklore, the number of sufferers must be minuscule compared to the number of people, in pre-modern times, who were simply forced by circumstances to live in the woods and did not trim their hair.

  25. PlasticPaddy says:

    Re grimpen, I was immediately reminded of what we would call a “sucking bog” where the main or first element of grimpen would be grip or a Brythonic cognate to Irish greim (= grip). The use of words like grimpen and suctorial by N suggest a certain oral preoccupation, which is no doubt the subject of a distinguished dissertation.

  26. Kickshaw was first discussed on this blog exactly 17 years back.

    I read Nausea so long ago that I probably hadn’t heard Some of These Days then (but could have heard One of These Days) – no wonder I didn’t pay much attention to the song itself. Now I see how neatly Nabokov pricked Sartre: Roquentin thinks in stereotypes. Hearing what he perceives as yet another American “jazz” number, he automatically assumes the composer is Jewish and the singer is Black while in reality, it was likely the other way round (at which Nabokov only hints but transparently enough): Shelton Brooks was a Black Canadian by birth and Sophie Tucker came from an Ashkenazic family.

  27. The parasitic/hangers-on interpretation of suctorialist makes perfect sense to me, but for what it’s worth, I see that Nabokov uses “suctorial” in his commentary to Eugene Onegin in reference to an expression he’s translated as “swine drunk”: “Zyuza sounds as if it came directly from sus, Latin for ‘pig’, but is probably a product of suctorial onomatopoeia (cf. susurrus).” And butterflies have suctorial mouthparts, so he may be thinking more of lapping and swilling (cafe-like behavior, I guess) than latching on.

  28. My first thought was to wonder if it was some OCR error or typo for some pun on Sartre’s name like “sartorialists”, which would be almost equally baffling but…

    Behold the suctorial proboscis!

  29. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    the epicene name

    I thought that epicene meant that you weren’t hairy, but now that I have actually looked it up I find it is much more complicated than that!

    I feel slightly weighed down by being one third of collective wisdom, so will gladly hand over to Johanna, whose theory sounds convincing to me 🙂

  30. Kickshaw was first discussed on this blog exactly 17 years back.


  31. This incident became known as the Bal des Ardents.

    An incident evidently known to Poe, cf. “Hop-Frog.”

  32. “Grimpen” was used by Nabokov in Pale Fire, where Hazel Shade is reading T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker,” which Nabokov doesn’t name.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    Cookiecutter sharks aren’t suctorial, they’re sectorial.

    There are numerous Bible comparison sites that have a clearly modern edition erroneously labeled as Wycliffe’s. I have no idea why.

    There’s a publisher called Wycliffe Bible Publishers.

  34. Like Wycliffe, Webster’s isn’t trademarked. Some operator produced some years ago a whole bunch of dictionaries of smaller languages cribbed from other sources, and published them under the Webster name, selling them at high prices.

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    Wycliffe Bible Publishers

    They’re specifically Bible translators (hence the name Wycliffe), and a sort of fraternal twin of SIL:

  36. At least two of the Bible comparison sites that I found had brief overviews for each of the versions of their sites, and those versions described the Wycliffe Middle English Version correctly. However, the version of the text they actually had in their databases was wrong (and seemingly the same wrong one in each cases; they probably all copied from each other). Maybe that came about from downloading a modern translation from Wycliffe Bible Publishers, but I actually doubt it. The text looked more like it may have been a Modern English translation based solely on Wycliffe’s Middle English, which the sites had sloppily mistaken for the original.

  37. J.W. Brewer says:

    There’s a physical book you can buy that’s titled rather transparently “Wycliffe’s Bible: A Modern-Spelling Version of the 14th Century Middle English Translation.” I don’t know if that’s what those sites are using in online form, but it might be. Note fwiw that virtually all online versions (and almost all printed copies) of the King James Version are in a modernized spelling that finally stabilized/froze circa 1760 and is significantly different from the 1611 original. Someone reprinted within the last few decades a new edition with the 1611 spelling as kind of an oddity/novelty (I have a copy somewhere) and I believe it’s out there online somewhere. But you have to look for it kind of hard.

    Similarly, modern editions of the pre-KJV 16th-century translations (Tyndale et seq.) often have modernized spelling, just like modern editions of Shakespeare (but not Spenser, for some weird Spenserian reason) often do.

    You can I guess argue that because Middle English is substantially more different from our English than the Early Modern English of the Shakespeare/KJV era, modernizing the spelling is actually a worse idea for texts written in the former than in the latter, but I’m not sure everyone would agree.

  38. It seems it’s the early versions of the Wycliffe Bible that contain the “woodwoses” line. If you want to see it in an actual manuscript, check out Christ Church MS 145, page 223v, first line of the left column.

  39. That’s great. Gode blesse þe Ynternette!

  40. That’s a very nice manuscript!

  41. “Carpilastics” is evidently carpalistics, from Pnin. (If you’re going to make a list of obscure words, check your spelling carefully. Jeez.)

    Stang: “Olya stood leaning against the rear railing, gripping the black stang with a white, firm hand…” (The Gift)

    Rizzom: “He too had had just about his ‘last straw’ of champagne, namely four out of half a dozen bottles minus a rizzom (as we said at old Chose)…” (Ada)

  42. “He almost reached timberline but there the weather changed, a damp fog enveloped him, and he spent a couple of hours shivering all alone in a smelly shippon, waiting for the whirling mists to uncover the sun once more” (Transparent things). A shippon is a cowpen (cognate with shop).
    In Strong Opinions he parries Edmund Wilson’s criticism of his use of this (alongside a number of other rare words) in Onegin:

    In the same passage which both I and Mr. Wilson have translated, my “shippon” is as familiar to anyone who knows the English countryside as Mr. Wilson’s “byre” should be to a New England farmer. Both “shippon” and “byre” are unknown to pocket- dictionary readers; both are listed in the three-centimeter-thick Penguin (1965). But I prefer “shippon” for hlev because I see its shape as clearly as that of the Russian cow-house it resembles, but see only a Vermont barn when I try to visualize “byre”.

  43. David Eddyshaw says:

    Auden, though extremely unlike Nabokov in other respects, had a similar love of obscure words for their pure poetry:

    You can see, then, why, between my Eden and his New Jerusalem, no treaty is negotiable.

    In my Eden a person who dislikes Bellini has the good manners not to get born: In his New Jerusalem a person who dislikes work will be very sorry he was born.

    In my Eden we have a few beam-engines, saddle-tank locomotives, overshot waterwheels and other beautiful pieces of obsolete machinery to play with: In his New Jerusalem even chefs will be cucumber-cool machine minders.

    In my Eden our only source of political news is gossip: In his New Jerusalem there will be a special daily in simplified spelling for non-verbal types.

    In my Eden each observes his compulsive rituals and superstitious tabus but we have no morals: In his New Jerusalem the temples will be empty but all will practise the rational virtues.

    One reason for his contempt is that I have only to close my eyes, cross the iron footbridge to the tow-path, take the barge through the short brick tunnel and

    there I stand in Eden again, welcomed back by the krumhorns, doppions, sordumes of jolly miners and a bob major from the Cathedral (romanesque) of St Sophie (Die Kalte):

    One reason for my alarm is that, when he closes his eyes, he arrives, not in New Jerusalem, but on some august day of outrage when hellikins cavort through ruined drawing-rooms and fish-wives intervene in the Chamber or

    some autumn night of delations and noyades when the unrepentant thieves (including me) are sequestered and those he hates shall hate themselves instead.

  44. my “shippon” is as familiar to anyone who knows the English countryside…

    Speaking as someone who grew up in the English countryside, I can only say nope, never heard of ‘shippon’

  45. Likewise, I wonder if anyone of your age who comes from rural New England has heard of “byre”.

  46. A few crude online tests (e.g. Google Ngrams or the OED frequency estimates) suggest that byre is (and probably always has been) two to three nepers more common than shippon. This accords with my personal impression that byre is an uncommon word today, but shippon is truly rare.

  47. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I know shippon, and think of it as English regional – something that would be fairly ordinary in certain places. (Really I mostly remember it because of England being a strange place where pigeons live in ducketts and cows in shippons, which both sound made for something else.)

    Byre is quite normal to me, though – it took me a while to think of another word for it (cowshed?).

    Of course, these days cows mostly live in great big places indistinguishable from other barns, and you’re more likely to come across a traditional byre as a holiday cottage…

  48. PlasticPaddy says:

    Shippon corresponds to German Schuppen. But the other (short)i+p correspondences I can think of are to ü+pf in German. Maybe DM knows why this is.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    In my Eden a person who dislikes Bellini has the good manners not to get born: In his New Jerusalem a person who dislikes work will be very sorry he was born.

    “If someone looks out the window in a John Ford movie, he’s looking into a bright future. If someone opens the window in one of my movies, he’s immediately shot dead.”
    – Sergio Leone, translated and half-remembered several times

    Maybe DM knows why this is.

    Wiktionary says Schuppen is a 16th-century loan (evidently etymologically nativized) from Middle Low German schoppe.

  50. John Emerson says:

    IIRC byre is a rhymeword of a famous poem.

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    Gyre? (the ventriloquist version.)
    That poem doesn’t do rhymes as such, though. So probably not.

  52. I thought it might be Gray’s Elegy, but no: it’s got fire, lyre, requires, and (lazy!) fires, but no byre(s).

  53. David Eddyshaw says:

    Apparently only I and Lewis Carroll pronounce “gyre” with /g/.

    Errare mehercle malo cum Platone …

  54. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry-Picking, maybe, although it doesn’t actually *rhyme*.

    We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
    But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
    A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

  55. «To “GYRE” is to go round and round like a gyroscope», according to Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty. So unless he pronounced “gyroscope” with /g/, probably not.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    How can it be a byre when there’s no cellar?

  57. OED s.v. gyre, v.

    Pronunciation: /dʒʌɪə/
    3. intransitive. To turn round, revolve, whirl, gyrate.
    1598 B. Yong tr. J. de Montemayor Diana 10 When to the west the sunne begins to gyre.
    ?1606 M. Drayton Eglog ii, in Poemes sig. D2v Which from their proper orbes not goe, Whether they gyre swift or slowe.
    1814 R. Southey Roderick xii The eagle’s cry, her highest flight A speck scarce visible, gyred round and round.
    1871 ‘L. Carroll’ Through Looking-glass i. 21 ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
    1920 W. B. Yeats Demon & Beast in Coll. Poems (1950) 210 To watch a white gull take A bit of bread thrown up into the air; Now gyring down and perning there.
    1930 E. Pound Draft of XXX Cantos xxv. 114 Three lion cubs..which born at once began life and motion and to go gyring about their mother.
    1951 S. Spender World within World v. 283 The bomber was gyring and diving.

  58. The Pound passage in fuller form (from Canto XXV):

    the said lioness as is the nature of animals
    whelped per naturam three lion cubs vivos et pilosos
    living and hairy which born at once began life and motion
    and to go gyring about their mother throughout the
    aforesaid room as saw the aforesaid Lord Doge and as it
    were all the Venetians and other folk who were in
    Venice that day that concurred all for this as it were
    miraculous sight.

  59. Pound’s Latin source (Monumenti 10-11 [15 September 1316]):

    Que Leonissa pregnans portavit per circa tres menses, ut dicitur per illos qui illam viderunt assaliri, et in dicto millesimo et mense die Dominico, XII mensis Septembris, circa matutinum sancti Marci de mane, quasi jam facto die, dicta leonissa peperit per naturam, sicut animalia faciunt, tres leoninos vivos et pilosos, qui statim nati vivi inceperunt se movere, et ire circum circha matrem per ipsam cameram, sicut hoc viderunt Dominus Dux predictus, et quasi omnes de Venetiis et aliunde, qui dicta die erant Venetiis, qui concurrenrunt ad hoc videndum quasi miracolosum.

    So “gyre” is Pound’s choice to render “ire circum circha.”

  60. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Wikipedia on Jabberwocky:

    In the author’s note to the Christmas 1896 edition of Through the Looking-Glass Carroll writes, “The new words, in the poem Jabberwocky, have given rise to some differences of opinion as to their pronunciation, so it may be well to give instructions on that point also. Pronounce ‘slithy’ as if it were the two words, ‘sly, thee’: make the ‘g’ hard in ‘gyre’ and ‘gimble’: and pronounce ‘rath’ to rhyme with ‘bath’.”

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    So unless he pronounced “gyroscope” with /g/, probably not.

    [EDIT: Jen beat me to it]

  62. I have always sort of wondered whether between the time that Carroll wrote the first stanza of “Jabberwocky” in 1855 and when he had to explain the poem in Through the Looking Glass (about fifteen years later), he forgot that gyre was not a word he had invented.

  63. That makes more sense than anything else; I’ve always wondered about that.

  64. David Eddyshaw says:

    It seems to me quite possible that Carroll would have pronounced “gyroscope” with /g/ too: compare “gynaecology”, which among UK doctors (at any rate) consistently has initial /g/.

    I was looking up Allen’s Vox Graeca to see if it shed any light on the traditional UK public-school pronunciation of such words (still reflected in e.g. “nous”, and “seismic”), but although it’s full of interesting stuff on the topic in general, it doesn’t seem to discuss the particular issue of gamma before front vowels (and y /aɪ/ specifically.)

  65. @David Eddyshaw: It is entirely possible the Carroll pronounced gyroscope* that way; in fact, it would make quite a bit of sense. However, my puzzlement about the situation was more based on the fact that Carroll seems to include gyre among “The new words, in the poem Jabberwocky.”

    * I don’t think anyone pronounces gyn[a]ecology with a soft g (/dʒ/), although it sounds like there is a good punch line that could be created out of such a pronunciation (This, in turn, reminds me of this sketch from Saturday Night Live this week.)

  66. I tried to find similar words pronounced with a /g/, and found the wonderful gytrash, northern dialect for ‘an apparition, spectre, ghost, generally taking the form of an animal’, used twice in Jane Eyre.

  67. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    The dubious phonetic word search offered Argyll/argyle.

    There’s a local placename ‘Gyle’, too – I’m too used to that to see it as an odd pronunciation, but I suppose it is.

  68. John Cowan says:

    You can see, then, why, between my Eden and his New Jerusalem, no treaty is negotiable.

    That’s because this Jerusalem is no such thing: it is Newton’s Sleep. The true Jerusalem, the fourfold vision, is beyond Beulah/Eden.

    krumhorns, doppions, sordumes

    I knew what krumhorns are, but it would have been a lot easier to find the dope on the others if Auden had written doppioni, sordunes. The first can perhaps be accounted for by the rhythm, but the second has to be a typo or a PEBCAK (“problem exists between chair and keyboard”). To save anyone else the trouble, a doppione is a wind instrument with two tubes running down it rather than just one, and a sordune is a particular case of that, a bassoon with a double bore.


    O sages standing in God’s holy fire
    As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
    Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
    And be the singing-masters of my soul.
    Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal
    It knows not what it is; and gather me
    Into the artifice of eternity. — Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”, III

  69. Brett, in high school English I had a textbook called Thirty Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary, and I think it taught us that gynecology was to be pronounced with a gin, or djinn. But at that time the glaciers were just beginning to retreat from North America, so don’t hold me responsible for my memory. I see from Amazon that the book was first published in 1942, it’s still in print, and the current edition says guy.

  70. The Century Dictionary (1889) uses the dj- pronunciation for all gyn- words.

  71. Wikt gives /g/ as the main pronunciation for both BrE and AmE, and goes so far as to call the /dʒ/ pronunciation archaic. I asked Gale, as the local person most conversant with gynecologists, how she pronounced the word: she said it with /g/. “How about with /dʒ/?”, said I. “Nonsense,” she said. “That’s obviously what you call a doctor for giraffes.”

  72. It appears that my high school experience with gynecology has left its mark on my idiolect. Offhand I can’t remember ever having occasion to say the colloquial term “Ob-gyn,” but if I ever did I think I would have pronounced it obb djinn. But I’ve just listened to several American and British pronunciation guides online, and the speakers are unanimous in spelling the word out instead, letter by letter.

    But yes, John Cowan, I am archaic. A member of the high school class of 1958, I come haunting back to inform you that Pleasantville is non-fiction.

  73. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think “Ob-gyn” is specifically American, though my contact with that specialty has been only spousal rather than professional for some decades now*; the Traditional British non-chlorinated equivalent is “Obs and Gynae**” (like “Fish and Chips”, “Bangers and Mash”, “Apples and Pears” etc.)

    * my (non-medic) wife claims that she knows more about it than I do, which may well be true. “Experience, though noon auctoritee Were in this world, were right ynogh for me …”

    ** with /g/

  74. “Obs and Gynae**”
    ** with /g/

    But is “Obs” with /z/ or /s/?

  75. David Eddyshaw says:


    Anything else would be unBritish.

  76. John Emerson says:

    In college psychology is Sike, sociology is so so Soshe, but political science can by either Polly Sigh or Pol Sigh.

  77. We said Polly Sigh in my chronotope.

  78. J.W. Brewer says:

    I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say “Pol Sigh,” which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen. I can certainly imagine “Pol. Sci.” in print, but I would expect the missing syllable to be supplied if read aloud.

    Forty-or-so years ago (and perhaps still?) local slang at Dartmouth College deviated from national norms in various regards. E.g. if memory serves “Economics” was known as “Ecky” (that’s phonetic, not sure how it was spelled) rather than the standard “Econ.”

  79. At Cambridge in the 1970s, an optional course on the History and Philosophy of Science was derisively referred to (by science undergraduates who did not take it) as Hiss and Piss.

  80. John Cowan says:

    I understand that sociology students are regionally divided between Soshe and Sock, but I am probably out of date or otherwise wrong.

    A member of the high school class of 1958

    Ah. I am merely a member of the birth class of 1958, and therefore a yunker around these-here parts.

  81. [collective cry:]

    Get off our lawn!

  82. David Eddyshaw says:

    JC is welcome to use my lawn, so long as he tidies up afterwards and doesn’t play any of that horrid Beatnik music that the young people like these days.

  83. David Marjanović says:

    Guy-necologist. *shaking head* I’d have classified that as the least likely option. It’s a neat inaptronym, though…

    JC is welcome to use my lawn, so long as he tidies up afterwards and doesn’t play any of that horrid Beatnik music that the young people like these days.

    Thread won.

  84. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    I wonder who the youngest hattic is…

  85. Not me 🙂

  86. David Marjanović used to be quite young, but we’ve aged him.

  87. doesn’t play any of that horrid Beatnik music that the young people like these days

    It is the direct, if somewhat commercialized, descendant of the folk musics of the various ethnoi that constitute my country. Though it is true that I no longer remember how to sing “Men of Harlech” or “O’Donnell Abu” in the original Klingon, I can still sing them in English (using the Joseph Barnby lyrics for the former: “Men of Harlech! In the hollow” etc.) Today I learned that Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla, chief of security for Morgan Stanley’s office in the World Trade Center, sang it through a bullhorn in Cornish along with many similar patriotic marches in order to keep up morale as he safely evacuated 2700 employees, only to die trying to evacuate others, in the finest traditions of both the British Army and the U.S. Army (he had served with both). Rescorla was born in Hayle, but perhaps he sang in English with Cornish referents: the evidence is ambiguous.

    Though I do not go so far as Conrad, who despises all music from Mozart’s time onward, I will say that to my mind the European tradition pretty much went off the rails with Modernism, which discarded the good as boring and had to replace it with the bad. “No, gentlemen, even though it sounds wrong, it’s still wrong.” —Paul Hindemith, conducting a rehearsal of one of his own compositions

  88. Guy-necologist. *shaking head* I’d have classified that as the least likely option.

    Belatedly I recall “The Purloined Letter” and open the 2001 edition of The Oxford American Dictionary that’s been sitting on my desk all this time. It accepts either the g or the j. And so, bygeorge, complete with audio clips, does the current online OED.

  89. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I think we scare the younkers away. You don’t have to be on the correct side of 50 to be here, but it helps.

  90. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Andrej seems to be beating me by a reasonable bit 🙂

  91. Hiss and Piss

    A perfect expression of the attitude of your typical science undergrad to the proposition that his (…) ideas have a history, or are ideas.

  92. David Marjanović says:

    David Marjanović used to be quite young, but we’ve aged him.

    I still couldn’t afford a lawn, though. 🙂

  93. A perfect expression of the attitude of your typical science undergrad to the proposition that his (…) ideas have a history, or are ideas.

    Oh, I agree. Or at least, I agree now even if I didn’t agree then. Or at any rate, I half agree. I developed a great interest in hiss and wrote quite a bit on the subject. Still have trouble with piss, though.

  94. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The lawn can be virtual, the damn kids still have to get off of it.

  95. Virtual lawns are environmentally preferable.

  96. I love the encounter with the Woses in LOTR, and even as a child I ADORED Ghan-buri-Ghan. And even now when I am acutely aware of the various racist tropes at play I love the way he refuses to be patronized, and repeatedly calls out Eomer for interrupting him and treating him like a child. And then on top of everything, he casually reveals that he is helping the Rohirrim even though they HUNT WILD MEN FOR SPORT. He may be only wearing a (groan) grass skirt but he is the only character who emerges from the ecounter with his dignity intact.

    I am such a sucker for any plot development that involves mysterious and unexpected forces of the past helping the protagonists in their hour of need.

    And also someone mentinoed it already, but the Bal des Ardants has rocketed to the top of my list of favourite historical events. Its incredible to me that it’s not better known.

  97. Lars Mathiesen says:

    If I can even remember that far back, I don’t think I realized that the Woses were part of mankind when I read LOTR, I assumed they were of separate creation like the Dwarves. So any tropes in play went over my head. There was probably an appendix that explained it, but it didn’t take.

    Also the Danish Royal coat of arms still has wild men as supporters. 16th century my foot.

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