The Crocodile and the Liars.

After reading a novella by Leskov and dipping into the first version of War and Peace (see this post), I turned to a little-known piece by Dostoevsky, Крокодил [The Crocodile], and enjoyed it thoroughly. I mean, I can see why it’s little-known; it’s not only unfinished but very silly, a throwback to his early days writing feuilletons for the newspapers. It’s about a man who is dragged by his wife to see a crocodile on display in the St. Petersburg Arcade and winds up inside, quite content and expecting to become famous — he wants his wife to start having salons in their apartment and have him wheeled in to give lectures. When I described the plot to my wife, she said “That doesn’t sound like Dostoevsky!” It doesn’t, and yet it is, and it’s a lot of fun. Here’s a passage of philological interest, from the swallowed man’s imaginings of his future salon lectures:

Даже этимология согласна со мною, ибо самое название крокодил означает прожорливость. Крокодил, Crocodillo, — есть слово, очевидно, итальянское, современное, может быть, древним фараонам египетским и, очевидно, происходящее от французского корня: croquer, что означает съесть, скушать и вообще употребить в пищу.

Even etymology supports me, for the very word crocodile means voracity. Crocodile — crocodillo — is evidently an Italian word, dating perhaps from the Egyptian Pharaohs, and evidently derived from the French verb croquer, which means to eat, to devour, in general to absorb nourishment.

(The translation is Garnett’s, from the link above.)

After that, I turned to Pisemsky’s Русские лгуны [Russian liars], a series of eight stories published, like the Dostoevsky, in 1865. The first seven are basically humorous anecdotes; the eighth is longer and more serious: Красавец [The handsome man], in which Marya Nikolaevna, an official’s wife, falls in love with the worthless but handsome Imshin and follows him into exile when he is arrested for murdering a 14-year-old girl. The striking thing about it to me was the similarity of the ending to that of Leskov’s Леди Макбет Мценского уезда [Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District] — both Katerina Izmailova and Marya Nikolaevna accompany the men they passionately love on the long journey to Siberia, though the former is a murderess and in shackles and the latter only an adulteress there by choice. I wonder if both Leskov and Pisemsky were inspired by the famous example of the Decembrists’ wives?

Next I move on to 1866 and Crime and Punishment. Oh, and in case anyone’s wondering what my wife and I are reading at bedtime these days, it’s Thackeray’s Vanity Fair; we’re about three-quarters of the way through.

Comments

  1. Vail and Genis (did you hear about them?) thought that Ostrovsky’s Thunderstorm was a reply to Madame Bovary. I didn’t read the latter and cannot say how far fetched the theory is, but it is possible that Leskov and Pisemsky likewise tried to see what a strong female character can do to break free from the limitations of the time.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    Wiktionary:

    From Middle English cocodrill, cokadrill, cokedril, from Old French cocodril (modern crocodile), from Medieval Latin cocodrillus, from Latin crocodilus, from Ancient Greek κροκόδειλος (krokódeilos). The word was later refashioned after the Latin and Greek forms.

    Then it gets interesting:

    κροκόδειλος • (krokódeilos) m (genitive κροκοδείλου); second declension

    1. lizard
    2. crocodile
    3. A fallacy of the sophists

    Alternative forms

    κροκόδιλος (krokódilos), κροκύδιλος (krokúdilos), κρεκύδειλος (krekúdeilos), κροκύδειλος (krokúdeilos), κορκόδιλος (korkódilos), κορκότιλος (korkótilos), κορκόδριλλος (korkódrillos)

    Etymology

    Ionic word for “lizard” (common being σαύρα (saúra)), perhaps from κρόκη (krókē, “pebbles”) + δρῖλος (drîlos, “worm”), because crocodiles like resting on flat stones. Typologically compare Sanskrit कृकलास (kṛkalāsa, “lizard, chameleon”), said to be composed of the words for “pebble” and “sit”.

    And that’s not the end of it. Linnaeus regarded all crocodiles in the widest sense as a single species of lizard, Lacerta crocodilus. Ten years later, Laurentius recognized that as nonsense and saddled us with Crocodylus, which is the one form not listed among the “alternative forms” in Wiktionary. Then Alligator (1807) and Caiman (1825) were named, and then it was determined that the specimen(s?) Linnaeus had actually been looking at when he named Lacerta crocodilus didn’t belong to Crocodylus but to Caiman, sticking us with Caiman crocodilus to this day.

    Italian, meanwhile, has coccodrillo.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    D.O.: … Madame Bovary. I didn’t read the latter …. it is possible that Leskov and Pisemsky likewise tried to see what a strong female character can do to break free from the limitations of the time.

    Madame Bovary tries to break free, but she is not a strong person.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    As for Russian replies to Madame Bovary, what about Anna Karenina?

  5. it is possible that Leskov and Pisemsky likewise tried to see what a strong female character can do to break free from the limitations of the time.

    Yes, I think you’re right. Pisemsky in particular was far more interested in actual women (as opposed to the idealized Tatyana/Natasha type so prevalent in Russian literature) than most (male) Russian authors of the day.

  6. I’m glad to hear that Vanity Fair is your bedtime reading, Languagehat, because the Crime and Punishment murder scene gave me horrible, horrible nightmares! I hope your rereading goes better than mine did: I enjoyed many parts of the book (the atmosphere) but just couldn’t bring myself to finish after reading more than half. (I’ve never been a C&P fan and procrastinated on the Russian reading for many years so felt more than a little guilty quitting!) The bright spot was that I made the reading into a sort of personal translation workshop because I’d bought Oliver Ready’s very inspired and very enjoyable translation, which I looked at every time I wondered how someone would translate a certain word or phrase. Oliver’s end notes are also extremely helpful. (I’ve even referred to them for one of my own translations.) Anyway, happy reading!

  7. Thanks! I expect I’ll be posting about it eventually, and I’ll try not to let the Crime murder sleep…

  8. 1. lizard
    2. crocodile
    3. A fallacy of the sophists

    Definition 3) caught my eye, though wiki reminded me what it was: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crocodile_dilemma

    And from which sense, if any, is the satirical magazine “Krokodil” derived?

  9. perhaps from κρόκη (krókē, “pebbles”) + δρῖλος (drîlos, “worm”), because crocodiles like resting on flat stones.

    Not noticeably they don’t. And rather less than all other lizards, to be honest.

    More likely to be because of the texture of their hides? They aren’t pebble-worms, but pebbled worms?

  10. And from which sense, if any, is the satirical magazine “Krokodil” derived?

    I checked Wikipedia, which claimed it was from this story but without citing a source; after checking Russian Wikipedia, I corrected the passage to this:

    It was founded in 1922,[1] at first as the satirical supplement to the Workers’ Gazette (called simply «Приложения» [Supplement]); when it became a separate publication, the name ‘Crocodile’ was chosen at an editorial meeting from among a list of suggested animal names.[2]

    2. Boris Efimov, Десять десятилетий, ch. 6: “Тогда пошли в ход всевозможные жалящие и кусающие представители животного мира: оса, еж, шмель, ерш, ястреб, волкодав, скорпион и даже… крокодил.”

    The quoted Russian text means “Then all sorts of stinging and biting representatives of the animal world came into play: a wasp, a hedgehog, a bumblebee, a ruff, a hawk, a wolfhound, a scorpion and even … a crocodile.”

  11. Rodger C says:

    Surely the definition should read “because lizards like resting on flat stones.” Or “gravel-worm” would fit your average lizard.

  12. a scorpion

    One eventually made its way here.

  13. As for Russian replies to Madame Bovary, what about Anna Karenina?

    Unlike Madame Bovary I have read Anna Karenina, but it was 20 years ago and I am not at all sure that my recollection mirrors the text faithfully. Having said that,

    Firstly, Anna could have easily leaved with Vronsky without much sacrifice and even probably be accepted by her circle. What she wanted (I guess) is not to break free from the bounds of marriage, but change the bounds from Karenin to Vronsky. In other words, she wanted to use the extant social mechanism to create stable families, she just wanted another family. (In case anyone cares, I don’t see anything wrong with that, it’s just very different from the choice women in other mentioned stories faced).

    Secondly, Tolstoy undoubtedly had some grand ideas when writing AK and they might have been influenced by Flaubert or by the spirit of times or whatever. But he was way to good a writer to be bound by them. His characters are very much alive and resent being made examples of this and that. So Fat Lion might have wanted to say something on the topic of marriage, but in the end this remained just a plot device, not the focus of the novel.

  14. Marja Erwin says:

    If alligators are “the lizards” because they look more like lizards than like birds, I don’t see why crocodyles couldn’t be “lizards” too.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    “Pebble lizard” reeks of folk etymology, but of what? A natural first assumption may be that the word was formed in Alexandria Greek from an Egyptian source. But I suppose we know the Egyptian words for crocodile. Or is it older than that? If so, do we know that it meant “crocodile” in the oldest sources?

  16. sbk, apparently, so that’s a no-go.

  17. Rodger C says:

    Yields Greek soukhos.

  18. The ancient Egyptians did not always distinguish between snakes and crocodiles as reptilian types. Witness that the god of evil, Apep, could be represented as either, even in the same archetypal scenes; while Set was usually positioned at the front of Ra’s solar barque impaling a serpent, versions of the tableaux can be found it which he is stabbing a croc instead. (On the other hand, there was the distinct crocodile god Sobek as well, with a very different portfolio of powers. It’s not reasonable to expect absolute consistency in a religion that persisted for thousands of years.)

  19. Trond Engen says:

    Here’s a crazy idea: No. firfisle, dial. fjorføtle “viviparous lizard” (but since it’s the only lizard-like species of lizard found in Norway, I’d gloss it “lizard”) < Pgmc. *feðworfitilon *”four-feeter” (I think it’s the suffix that shows the Proto-Germanic pedifree). If we project it further back we get **qwetworpedelo- vel. sim., which I imagine might yield something like kekrokódeilos after Greek consonant levelling.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    sbk, apparently, so that’s a no-go.

    Yes, I should have remembered. Sobek have mercy on me.

    I see I was unclear, but I meant the meaning of krokódeilos etc. in the oldest Greek sources.

  21. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, quadrupedalus!

  22. Sebecosuchia, a group of fossil relatives of the crocodiles, which survived the great extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, but didn’t make it past the Miocene, are named tautologically as ‘crocodylo-crocodiles’.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    Wikipedia has a reconstructed skull of Sebecus icaeorhinus. All clear sebecids so far are South American and apparently terrestrial.

    firfisle

    …Is that High German or something? Specifically Swabian?

    Greek consonant levelling

    What is that?

  24. marie-lucie says:

    LH: the French verb croquer, which means to eat, to devour, in general to absorb nourishment.

    Not quite, it is much more specific.

    The verb croquer is a derivative of le croc (pronounced kro) which means ‘fang’, one of the long, strong canines of carnivores. It is very likely that these words influenced (or caused) the transition from cocodrile to crocodile.

    The verb then means ‘to use one’s fangs on’ a food that is firm enough to need a conscious effort. A typical example among humans is the apple.

    Croquer une pomme is ‘to eat an apple (making good use of one’s teeth)’, but croquer la pomme refers to the story of Adam and Eve, as Eve is supposed to have eaten the forbidden apple – thus committing a sin, hence the phrase is (or perhaps was) a euphemism for (as a woman) ‘to engage in forbidden sexual activity, especially adultery’.

  25. LH: the French verb croquer, which means to eat, to devour, in general to absorb nourishment.

    Not quite, it is much more specific.

    That is not, of course, my interpretation; it’s Constance Garnett’s translation of Dostoevsky’s facetious pseudo-etymology. But it’s always a good idea to clarify such things.

  26. Huh? Dost was obviously making fun of this character of his. The guy only thinks of words meaning eat, none of them means bite. Translation is pretty faithful.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    Oh, LH, of course I did not think that was your definition, I just quoted from your quote! But not everyone here might know the verb croquer, which I don’t think has an equivalent in English.

  28. Huh? Dost was obviously making fun of this character of his.

    I know, that’s what I thought I was saying. But if it wasn’t clear, that’s what I meant.

  29. Ken Mner says:

    FWIW Esperanto ‘krokodili’: “(slang) to speak among Esperantists in a language besides Esperanto, especially one’s native language or a language not spoken by everyone present (literally, “to crocodile”)… Etymology:

    From krokodilo ‎(“crocodile”‎). The origin of the expression is unclear. Several suggestions have been made:
    From the fact that crocodiles’ extremely large mouths make an apt comparison for carelessly flapping one’s jaws without consideration.[1][2][3]
    Ferrari, an Esperantist in Paris in the 1930s, would comment Kion volas tiuj krokodiloj? (What do those crocodiles want?) when noisy non-Esperantists entered the cafe where he was speaking Esperanto with friends.[4]
    Students of Andreo Cseh. When Cseh taught Esperanto, students were only allowed to speak their native language when they were holding a wooden crocodile he always brought with him.

    The latter two may be allusions to the idiom rather than its source. ” (Wiktionary)

  30. From whence comes croquet and croquette?

  31. marie-lucie says:

    david: le croquet, I don’t know, but une croquette is based on the verb croquer as it is somewhat crusty.

  32. Michael Hendry says:

    The place to go for Greek etymologies is Robert Beekes, ‘Etymological Dictionary of Greek’, 2 massive volumes, Brill, 2010. It gives the original form as κροκόδιλος, with κροκόδειλος the result of itacism, and etymology as unknown. Apparently the korko- and -dril- forms are later, and excellent examples of metathesis.

    Especially worth noting: “Frisk’s etymology as a compound from κρόκη ‘gravel’ and δρῖλος ‘worm’ (with dissimilation) should be forgotten.” For those who want to research this further, it refers to two articles that should be on Google Docs since they’re out of copyright: “Diels & Brugmann IF 15 (1903-1904): 1ff. and Solmsen BPhW 1906: 785f.”, but these seem from Beekes’ description to be mostly on the alternate spellings.

    The original spelling looks like a folk-etymology of some non-Greek word, since the Greek compound (or at least the itacized form) would naturally mean ‘saffron-cowardly’, which is ridiculous.

    By the way, the best folk-etymology I know is the Arkansas town of Smackover, named for the covered bridge located there. Even if I haven’t mentioned this before on Languagehat (I may have), I’m sure it won’t take long for someone here to solve the riddle and tell us what words in what language were misheard by monoglot English-speakers as ‘Smackover’.

  33. Trond Engen says:

    David M.:

    firfisle

    …Is that High German or something? Specifically Swabian?

    It almost looks like that. But -tl- > -sl- is regular in many dialects, e.g. lisle “(the) little”, nesle “nettle”.

    Greek consonant levelling

    What is that?

    I see it looks like a term, but it just means “whatever combination of semi-regular Greek consonant-alterations it takes to produce that form”.

    Michael Hendry: The place to go for Greek etymologies is Robert Beekes, ‘Etymological Dictionary of Greek’, 2 massive volumes, Brill, 2010. It gives the original form as κροκόδιλος, with κροκόδειλος the result of itacism, and etymology as unknown.

    I think my suggestion works better with κροκόδιλος as the result in Greek. But it’s still too much of a longshot to be serious. I can’t see what series of folk etymologies, assimilations, and analogical alterations that would yield κροκόδιλος rather than e.g. προπόδιλος.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    -tl- > -sl- is regular in many dialects

    Fascinating.

  35. # In 1686, the French settlers called this area “SUMAC COUVERT”, which translates to “covered in sumac bushes”. This was transliterated, that is, phonetically Anglicized by the English-speaking settlers of the 19th century and later to the name “SMACKOVER.” #

  36. David Marjanović says:

    Makes sense except for the word order: French can’t make compound adjectives like “sumac-covered” that put the noun part first.

  37. Michael Hendry says:

    What I heard (from a Spanish professor) is that the name comes from ‘chemin couvert’, which seems more plausible not only for word order, but phonologically. To my non-French ears, that would sound a lot like Shman-koovair, which is a couple of vowel changes and a dropped N from Smackover, and I don’t think the French N would have been nearly as distinct/audible as an English one. A road is not a bridge, but a bridge is a road over water, so close enough?

  38. Yes, “chemin couvert” is what I learned as well.

  39. le croc (pronounced kro) which means ‘fang’

    The original meaning is ‘hook’, and it is a borrowing either from Frankish or from Norse krókr. Indeed, in Belgian French it is pronounced /krɔk/. This meaning is preserved in the idiom croc-en-jambe ‘action of tripping someone’. English independently borrowed krókr as crook, originally ‘any sort of hooked tool’, now mostly applied to the tool used by shepherds to manage the movement of sheep.

    The feminine form of this French croc is croche, which now means an eighth-note in music (> BrE crotchet) from its written shape; in Canadian French the adjective croche means ‘crooked’ either in shape or in morality. The diminutive of croche is crochet, now one of the usual words for ‘hook-shaped tool’, including of course the one used in crocheting, an obvious borrowing. In Normand, however, a diminutive was formed directly from croc, and this is croquet ‘field hockey stick’ < ‘shepherd’s crook’.

    The game itself, however, is of more doubtful origin. Its recent spread has its focus in England, where there are two theories of origin: one that it came from Central France under the name of pall mall < paille-maille, the other that it came from Ireland and ultimately from Brittany. In any case it is clearly related to field hockey on the one hand and billiards on the other.

  40. Herodotus 2, 69:

    [1] Some of the Egyptians consider crocodiles sacred; others do not, but treat them as enemies. Those who live near Thebes and lake Moeris consider them very sacred.
    [2] Every household raises one crocodile, trained to be tame; they put ornaments of glass and gold on its ears and bracelets on its forefeet, provide special food and offerings for it, and give the creatures the best of treatment while they live; after death, the crocodiles are embalmed and buried in sacred coffins.
    [3] But around Elephantine they are not held sacred, and are even eaten. The Egyptians do not call them crocodiles, but khampsae. The Ionians named them crocodiles, from their resemblance to the lizards which they have in their walls.

  41. Annotation to the above, by How and Wells, via Perseus (I am putting it in a separate comment in case the Greek is rejected, as has happened before):

    κροκόδειλος is Ionic for a lizard; the commoner word is σαύρα or σαῦρος. χάμψα is the Egyptian “em-suh,” a name which survives in the Arabic “timsah,” i.e. em-suh with the feminine article prefixed.

  42. When I took Esperanto, miguided teenager that I was, we were taught a comical song about the crcocodile who went to the army. I don’t remember how it ended. There was no mention of the verb krokodili.

  43. Some English speakers may be familiar with croque from the sandwich croque monsieur, though they probably don’t know what it means on its own.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    Keith, I was about to mention le croque-monsieur in a paragraph that just disappeared. It is a hot sandwich with at least some ham, and also cheese and/or an egg. It is not clear how “monsieur” is to be interpreted here – an invitation to Monsieur (“Sir”) to eat, or whatever. Some cooks make a lighter version called croque-madame

    Away from the kitchen, there is the word croque-mort which is easier to etymologize: nowadays it is a slangy way of referring to a funeral specialist, because legend has it that in medieval times such a person would be tasked with biting the toes of a recently dead person to make sure that they were actually dead!

    As for the other meaning of croc as ‘hook’, the word croc-en-jambe refers to ‘hooking’ one’s foot around someone’s lower leg in order to make them fall. Is this what “tripping” is in English?

    More commonly, there are the verbs accrocher and décrocher, respectively ‘to hook up’ and ‘to unhook’, said about using a fixed hook to secure a movable object to a more stable support, as for instance in hanging pictures on a wall or keys on a chain, or to reverse the operation.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    Croche: I have a vague recollection of hearing this word as an adjective, perhaps in rural Normandy. I would use crochu for the physical state of being crooked, not for the ‘dishonest’ meaning which may be due to the influence of English.

  46. To trip (intransitive) is to lose balance and possibly fall because your foot or leg bumps into something.

    To trip (transitive) is to make someone else lose balance and possibly fall by snagging their feet or legs with something.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    χάμψα

    shows up in plenty of scientific names, too.

    More commonly, there are the verbs accrocher and décrocher, respectively ‘to hook up’ and ‘to unhook’, said about

    telephones. Compare hang up.

  48. Speaking of telephones, there is the English word switchhook (with no real standardization about whether it is an open or closed compound word, apparently), which the OED defines as:

    the hook or support in a telephone set which operates the circuit switch when the receiver is placed upon or removed from it

    Depending on the orientation of the receiver in its is “hung up” position, the switchhook may be shaped more or less like a hook. If the receiver rests horizontally, the switchhooks normally consist of one or more buttons.

    I am not sure how well known this word is, especially nowadays. Even before cellular phones, cordless phones were becoming increasingly common. In the 1990s, Seinfeld had a joke about how pressing a button on a cordless phone lacked the expressive impact of slamming down a receiver. I also remember a joke from the same period on Mad About You, which was based on the fact that switchhook was not a universally known term.

  49. Well, as a data point, I grew up with old-fashioned phones and I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing the word “switchhook.”

  50. marie-lucie says:

    David M: accrocher, décrocher and I did forget raccrocher, used about (now old fashioned) telephones! If you had a wall telephone, you first had to accrocher the fixed part on the wall, where it would stay unless you moved away. Then to pick up the receiver is décrocher, then when the conversation is over you raccrocher (= re-accrocher) to hang it back where it belongs. But the context of use of this verb is not limited to telephones, you could use it for instance about putting a towel or anything that has fallen on the floor back on the hook where it belongs.

  51. I’m a measly five years younger than the Hat, and I remember switch hooks very well, and called them by that name. I think the last wall-mounted phone I ever had was in my parents’ house, which I left in about 1980.

    In the context of a croque-monsieur, I would render croque as ‘munch’, though I wouldn’t talk about munching apples. Perhaps it has to do with the incisors (bite) versus the molars (munch).

  52. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Croquer definitely involves the biting teeth, not the grinding ones. Croquer is not just ‘to bite’ (which is mordre), it is ‘to bite and eat’. You would not use it about what a dog might do to a person, for instance. Since monsieur is not literally the food (or the victim of the bite), and the relationship between the two components of the word is therefore doubtful, the actual meaning of croque here is not really the problem.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    Fun fact: German-speaking telephones don’t hang on a wall but lie flat, so that “hang up” is auflegen, literally “lay up”.

  54. January First-of-May says:

    Fun fact: German-speaking telephones don’t hang on a wall but lie flat, so that “hang up” is auflegen, literally “lay up”.

    The Russian equivalent is положить трубку, literally “lay the tube” [= the receiver].

  55. marie-lucie says:

    I think that the wall-mounted telephone preceded the desk telephone, which came out when more and more people had the telephone at home or at least in the office (for professional use).

  56. Gale and I still say that a landline phone making that irritating loud brapp-brapp-brapp that indicates it’s connected to the exchange but no longer to the other party, or has been sending a dial tone for too long, is off the hook. However, pushing the off button to fix this is hanging up, with only implicit reference to a hook. Gale remembers referring to the hook also as a cradle, but I would only use that term for the non-handset part of a desk (non-wall) phone, containing the bell and two buttons depressed by the weight of the handset.

    German-speaking telephones don’t hang on a wall but lie flat

    Public phones definitely hang on the wall even in Germany, and though I can’t find photographic evidence, I bet that before about 1965, one common type of house phone (among houses that had phones, of course) was a wall-mounted device.

    ObHat: The first intelligible sentence transmitted by phone in German was Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat ‘the horse doesn’t eat cucumber salad’, chosen because it is easy to mishear.

  57. January First-of-May says:

    Public phones definitely hang on the wall even in Germany

    In Russia as well, and indeed, now that I think of it, a synonym of положить трубку is повесить трубку “to hang the tube” (i.e. the handset/receiver).

    I (or someone else) should probably look up the diachronical distribution of the terms in Google Ngrams and/or the National Corpus of Russian Language… not sure which one would work better.

  58. Erster Satz war: “Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat”

    From which I learned the word ulkig ‘funny.’

  59. January First-of-May says:

    Ended up checking the National Corpus; the “hang” form is almost certainly older, though early attestations of the “lay” version are muddled by the fact that Russian uses the exact same “tube” word to mean “pipe”, and it’s not always clear from the small bit of context which meaning is intended (or, in a few early cases, it’s clearly the “pipe” meaning).

    (There’s no reason to hang a pipe, of course, so those phrases definitely refer to the telephone; the earliest attestation in the corpus is from 1905, while the earliest clear attestations of the other version are from the 1930s.)

  60. marie-lucie says:

    Not all telephones are used in clean and orderly places, unlikely to be frequented by small or rambunctious children! Wall phones are still convenient for use in public places, but also in rooms such as kitchens, where a desk phone would be a nuisance, taking space on a counter and liable to get mixed up with kitchen utensils and food in various stages of preparation, and also where it might fall on the floor or its cord get caught, etc. Some units for the home are designed to be placed either on a flat or a vertical surface.

  61. Indeed, my parents’ wall phone was in the kitchen, and there was another phone at her desk (which was in the room containing the front door and the main staircase, distinct from the living room) and another in her bedroom. When I was older I got a phone on a separate line in my own bedroom and conducted much of my social life on it. My father, being nearly deaf, didn’t use the phone much.

    One may of course hang a pipe on the wall or from a ceiling, though still basically in a horizontal orientation, quite unlike a handset hanging from a hook.

  62. Crocodiles previously at LH, Russian Division.

  63. David Marjanović says:

    Public phones definitely hang on the wall even in Germany

    Yes. But while I think I’ve seen wall-mounted house phones, that’s very rare at best. Most phones in private homes lie on the top of a cabinet next to the apartment door. Add the phones on desks in offices, and horizontal is the default.

  64. phone making that irritating loud brapp-brapp-brapp that indicates it’s connected to the exchange

    It used to be called cry-baby tone in the telephone biz.

    As the son of an employee of Bell Labs, I knew the word switchhook. I doubt I’d have known it otherwise.

  65. Apparently the official name is off-hook tone.

  66. The first intelligible sentence transmitted by phone in German was Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat ‘the horse doesn’t eat cucumber salad’,

    “Mr Watson, come here, please, and bring that bloody horse with you.”

  67. German-speaking telephones don’t hang on a wall but lie flat, so that “hang up” is auflegen, literally “lay up”.

    But I bet they didn’t always; presumably, at the time when the terminology was developing, they looked like phones elsewhere (candlestick phones) and so you actually would “hang up” something – the earpiece.

  68. You can lead a horse to Gurkensalat, but you cannot make him fress.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    croquer: From Le Monde online this morning, this ad from a French brand of pickles:

    Pour vos cornichons, croquez français

    Un cornichon is a French cucumber pickle, much smaller than the Polish one and definitely firmer.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    Michael H: Smackover

    What I heard … is that the name comes from ‘chemin couvert’, … To my non-French ears, that would sound a lot like Shman-koovair, which is a couple of vowel changes and a dropped N from Smackover, and I don’t think the French N would have been nearly as distinct/audible as an English one….

    You are right, except for “the French N”: there is no audible [n] in, which represents a nasal vowel. English speakers usually “hear” a nasal consonant as well, but “Shmank” does not exist in English, while “Smack” does. As for chemin, after a vowel (whether oral as in le chemin or nasal as in un chemin) it would lose its schwa, as in ch’min.

    This word indeed does not mean ‘bridge’ but ‘path, road’. After a bridge is built, its surface it usually covered with the same substance as the roads it links, whether or not it is also provided with a roof.

  71. In The White Mountains by John Christopher (the first of the Tripods novels), the English boys Will and Henry see people travelling along the “shmand-fair” in France. There are no more powered engines in their post-alien-invasion world, but the tracks are still used for horse-drawn rail cars.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    Brett, le chemin de fer, precisely! Still made of iron.

  73. “but the tracks are still used for horse-drawn rail cars.”

    As indeed they were before steam came along. I was startled to read, in a French description of the British economy written in 1815, that one advantage Britain had over France was its hundreds of miles of railways when the first trains were still a decade away. It meant horse drawn railways of course.

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