The Desuetude of All.

Jonathan Morse has a post featuring a store display card published in 1888 for the Cotton Bale Medicine Company of Helena, Arkansas; he has various things to say about it, but the point of linguistic interest concerns the phrase “free to all,” which he says is no longer immediately intelligible:

When I teach Ulysses in the years that have followed its day in 1904, I have to bracket a word into the text to make sure the class reads Poldy’s throwaway in “Lestrygonians” as a constative, not an imperative: “All [are] heartily welcome.” All used to be understood to mean everybody, but that sense seems to have gone obsolete. Rhetoric has lost something that sounded somehow grander than everybody: not restricted to the mere body or the mere human but universal.

Is it really obsolete? I would have thought of it as a bit formal, but not something that would require bracketed elucidation. But then I am a fossil of the last century.

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s so far from obsolete for me that I couldn’t initially understand what he was driving at at all.
    Maybe young Americans don’t understand it? (How like them …)

    I would suggest that readers who have difficulty understanding “All heartily welcome” should perhaps be gently dissuaded from attempting Ulysses at all. It’s only going to lead to tears before bedtime.

  2. Well yes: if you teach in the United States, your students will be young Americans. And if you teach Joyce where I do, in Hawaii, your young American students will understand most of Joyce’s language only theoretically, not as a reference to lived experience in a culture. Until they’ve been taught, they won’t have an emotional response to the line “Snow was general all over Ireland,” either the snow part or the Irish part. Speaking of Ulysses, they won’t understand “Jew” either. Add the general change in idiom across space and time and you have a teaching problem.

    But sometimes solutions present themselves, and then the problem gets elegant. That’s when the students come back even after the grades are in and say “Thanks.” They aren’t thanking us teachers; they’re thanking language.

  3. “All heartily welcome”.

    In the age of the Internet, “all” is an awful lot of people.

  4. per incuriam says:

    readers who have difficulty understanding “All heartily welcome” should perhaps be gently dissuaded from attempting Ulysses at all

    And to steer well clear of The Three Musketeers.

  5. Does anyone understand the distinction he’s making between constative and imperative? I’m aware of the philosophical distinction between constative and performative utterances. And i know the grammatical imperative as one of the three moods of English verbs. But I have no earthly idea what it means to describe the phrase “all heartily welcome” as potentially either constative or imperative, or how that mysterious dichotomy implicates a change in the meaning of the word “all.”

  6. Everybody for one and one for everybody!

    I think the writer is just not very smart. If all was no longer understood as everybody, what would the imperative mean in “all heartily welcome”? And why would (are) help. If all doesn’t still mean everybody, then “all are welcome,” is the same nonsense.

    It’s just an awkward phrase. And possibly always was.

    Nor is the problem with “free to all” the question of whether people still understand the usage of “all”. “Free to everybody” doesn’t sound any better. Normally, at least in my dialect, something would be “free for you,” not “to you.” If the advertiser had written “free for all” it would have given the wrong impression. I don’t know if that’s what led to “free to all.” But all is easily recognized in “free to all.” The writer is simply incorrect.

    I think part of the problem with “free to all” is that it doesn’t make much real world sense. It’s too open-ended for such a product. “All” are not going to pick up the Cotton Bale Memorandum Book. “Free to all” seems ridiculous there.

    That’s just the beginning of my problems with the essay. Who sees that poster and has no other possible point of reference than the Sound and the Fury? And what the hell does this mean:

    >I also have the photoresources to reconstruct it physically, without regard to any shelfspace it may fill in the library of the imaginary.

    Why does the guy believe that making “something made of pictures and words” larger and more colorful lets it “escape from time”?

  7. Ryan writes, “If all was no longer understood as everybody, what would the imperative mean in ‘All heartily welcome’?”

    Teach in a Marxist environment and you’ll become familiar with the idiom of abstract metaphoric exhortation, as in (a perennial fave on my campus’s bulletin boards), “Drive out the [insert politician’s name] regime!” Read next to that bulletin board, “All heartily welcome” could be read (and believe me, sometimes would be read) as, “Everybody, heartily welcome [him].” Do an image search for “warmly welcome” and you’ll see the imperative in current use in China.

  8. I believe Ryan’s point is you can’t read the hypothetical imperative phrase as “everybody, heartily welcome […]” unless you have the capacity to read that “all” to mean “everybody”. In which case why mess around with the imperative reading. It

  9. I have to apologize, because I really know better, but for some reason I can’t help thinking of “desuetude” as meaning “removal of beef fat”.

  10. Thanks, eub. His point in the essay was that no one understands all to mean everybody anymore. He comes hear and writes that in his Marxist environment, most people would understand it to mean everybody, and doesn’t see his mistake. Hoo-boy.

    It’s not even “why mess around with the imperative?” It’s just, dude, you’re flat out wrong about all everybody for young folks. Your own examples prove it.

    Which just gives me more confidence that all his unusual suggestions about usage are likely wrong. I don’t think there’s an English speaker in the world who would supply an implied but unstated “him” for the phrase all heartily welcome.

  11. I wonder what the poor kids today make of the pledge of allegiance, that many of them say every day. “With liberty and justice for all.”

    Must be completely inaccessible to them!

    Maybe schools should footnote it.:

    * this means liberty and justice are available to everybody.

  12. To Ryan:

    The Pledge of Allegiance dates from 1892. It has been rewritten several times, but the final phrase “with liberty and justice for all” has remained unchanged since the nineteenth century. I should think it’s now largely a formula recited by rote, like “Come one come all.” How many of the people reciting it, do you think, try to understand the words they’re saying, and do those words mean now what they did then?

    Here’s one possible answer: in the advertisement for Cotton Bale Remedies that I reproduce on my blog, the offer of a memo book “free to all” in 1888 Arkansas wouldn’t actually have been taken up by all in a narrow dictionary sense of the word, if only because few of the people baling the cotton would have been taught to write. But our writing practice isn’t now what it would have been in 1888 Arkansas, so yes I think we do need footnotes when we read what was written then. But I also think footnotes can be instruments of historiographic liberation.

  13. AJP Crown says:

    Teach in a Marxist environment

    Hawaii is a Marxist environment? Who knew. After Marxist independence we can revert to calling it the Sandwich Islands, such a lovely name. Cucumber or pastrami? might be its motto.

  14. Google ngram shows a significant increase in the usage of the phrase “all are welcome” over the last 30 years, now back to where it was in 1916 after a long slow decline until about 1985. So someone out there understands it.

  15. Google ngram shows

    A Google Image search likewise demonstrates that the phrase remains common. The notion that all without an accompanying noun is in any way “obsolete” is just plain bonkers.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Read next to that bulletin board, “All heartily welcome” could be read (and believe me, sometimes would be read) as, “Everybody, heartily welcome [him].”

    Commas are important people!

    Must be completely inaccessible to them!

    “and to the Republican, Richard Sands, one vegetable…”

    (This is one reason why only dictatures and the US have a pledge of allegiance. But I digress.)

  17. Well, this comment thread certainly illustrates the difficulties of human conversation!

    Who on Earth would be reading Ulysses while simultaneously being taught, for the first time, the words “snow”, “Ireland”, and “Jew”? How? Why? What?

  18. AJP Crown says:

    The Sandwich Islands could have as its motto Out of one [loaf of bread], many [sandwiches]. I think that’s Ex uno, plura™, depending on the gender of the sandwiches. In Norway, a loaf is neuter (et brød).

  19. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I am more intrigued by the guaranteed cure for twins…

  20. Answer to AG’s “Who on Earth” question: an undergraduate living on a majority-Buddhist island in the tropics.

    Answer to the “How” question: see my reply to David Eddyshaw. If what I say about teaching Joyce in Hawaii seems hard to believe, replicate the experiment and see for yourself. Try, for instance, teaching language less difficult than Joyce’s under less radically different conditions — say, something out of New England like Emerson’s “Fate” (“The cold, inconsiderate of persons, tingles your blood, benumbs your feet, freezes a man like an apple”) in Florida. Go ahead and assume your students are fully capable of imagination and sympathy. But see then, anyway, whether you don’t find yourself occasionally succumbing to the temptation of a Sapirian thought about connections between where we read and how we read.

    But yes, the “Why” and “What” questions are fundamental, and perennial.

  21. I didn’t take it as the students never having heard of snow in Ireland and so on, but rather lacking the experience and the emotions connected to that experience. Just as it is one thing to read about the midnight sun, and another thing to sit down a fine evening under the midnight sun reading a book, and then look up and realize it’s morning. Things we experience ourselves leave a deeper memory than anything we only read about.

    I also find the “Everybody heartily welcome” confusing. “All heartily welcome” makes slightly more sense. Clearly it’s the lack of the verb (is/are) that’s confusing, and not the word “all”.

  22. I nominate Jonathan Morse to finish Pierre Menard’s Quixote.

  23. “Drive out the [insert politician’s name] regime!”

    This is precisely the kind of barking, bullying language that turned me off campus Marxism nearly half a century ago. Where do you teach where Trotskyese is still spoken, or at least written?

  24. I think the writer is just not very smart.

    “The writer” is right here, for Christ’s sake. Maybe we can make our points without tossing in personal insults? And those of you who find the ignorance of Jon’s students incredible should try teaching for awhile. I’m happy to take his word for it.

  25. John Cowan says:

    This is one reason why only dictatures and the US have a pledge of allegiance.

    In fact most states, including Austria, have an oath that is exacted from immigrants who become citizens. Though the U.S. pledge is not the same as the U.S. citizenship oath, there is clearly a general similarity in purpose. In Austria the oath is recited alone; in the Netherlands it is recited in a group (as is true of both the pledge and the oath in the U.S.); in Denmark it is merely subscribed to in writing.

    I haven’t been able to determine the German wording of the Austrian oath, only an English-language version of the pre-2010 version: “I swear I will be a loyal citizen of the Republic of Austria, that I will consciously [in conscience, maybe?] abide by the laws, and that I will avoid everything that might harm the interests and reputation of the Republic.” The 2010 addition referred to “the core values of a European democratic state and society”.

    (Dictatorship and dictature were in competition in English since both were introduced in the late 15C, but the Latin-English hybrid has definitively beaten the French borrowing. The OED has only one modern quotation from 2003, and it’s in a book written by a Netherlander, so I think it is most probably an L2 error, as in your case.)

    majority-Buddhist

    Statistics on religion in Hawaii are crap, as they in the whole of the U.S., because the census bureau is legally restrained from even asking about it. But the preponderance of the summaries I found say that Christians are a small majority, although a majority of them are unchurched. Nobody puts Buddhists above 15%.

    snow in Ireland

    I think students in New England would have the equal and opposite problem: “Snow over the whole country, so what? That’s what winter is.” The striking and unusual nature of such a thing in Ireland would be lost on them until they learn otherwise. But then again we don’t take literature classes because we already know what they have to teach us.

  26. I can easily image an EFL reader misinterpreting “All heartily welcome” as “All, heartily welcome!” instead of “All [are] heartily welcome”; I am prepared to take Jonathan Morse’s word that native speakers make the same mistake. However, I am not convinced by his explanation for this.

    As others have attested, the literal claim “All used to be understood to mean everybody, but that sense seems to have gone obsolete” is untrue. One might charitably reinterpret the claim as something like, “people nowadays say ‘everybody welcome’ instead of ‘all welcome'”; an admittedly very crude Google nGram does not support this. Perhaps something else again was meant.

    I am not moved either by the claim that all sounds “somehow grander than everybody: not restricted to the mere body or the mere human but universal”. “All” in this context is a plural “All [are] heartily welcome” not a singular “All [is] heartily welcome”. If you want to avoid the word “body” in “everybody” there is also “everyone”.

  27. AJP Crown says:

    Jonathan Moser has a wonderfully interesting blog. It’s idiosyncratic but so are all the best blogs – he describes the expressionist poet Gottfried Benn as a Nazi in another post and yes he was in the party in the very early years but it’s like calling Churchill a watercolourist or Lewis Carroll a photographer, true but misleading.

  28. @ryan I wonder what the poor kids today make of the pledge of allegiance, that many of them say every day. “With liberty and justice for all.”

    Must be completely inaccessible to them!

    As a kid, at Easter I carolled “there is a green hill far away, without a city wall.”

    The significance of the comma was inaccessible to me; I always wondered why you’d even mention that a hill (not a city) would have a wall, let alone a city wall.

    Schools/teachers/adults are continually like that for kids: full of inaccessible stuff to be learnt by rote.

    @hat And those of you who find the ignorance of Jon’s students …

    Em, I don’t think we should go (im)personally insulting the students. Is it reasonable to expect students to understand the word usages of 1892? Isn’t that why they are students, to learn?

  29. Jonathan [Morse] has a wonderfully interesting blog. It’s idiosyncratic but so are all the best blogs

    Exactly! I don’t go to blogs (or writing in general, for that matter) for exact and verifiable descriptions of the universe (that’s what textbooks are for) but for stimulating writing.

  30. And those of you who find the ignorance of Jon’s students incredible should try teaching for awhile

    Meh. I happen to teach undergraduates in a Middle Eastern country that is rather well-known for its heat. It does snow in this country, but only very rarely, and only very locally, so most of my students have never seen it with their own eyes. But they do not live in some prelapsarian information vacuum. Many, for instance, are avid Game of Thrones fans and metaphorically shivered along with Jon Snow, north of the Wall. I also don’t think they are at all unable to visualize being “extremely cold,” though what they’d call “extremely cold” and what I call “extremely cold” likely differ by at least 30 degrees F.

    And, sorry, but I really do find it incredibly implausible that any native speaker of English would need to have “All heartily welcome” footnoted, still less interpret it as an imperative, Chinese machine-translation-style. There’s really not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that all is any less common as a pronoun in English today than it was in Joyce’s day.

  31. And, sorry, but I really do find it incredibly implausible that any native speaker of English would need to have “All heartily welcome” footnoted, still less interpret it as an imperative, Chinese machine-translation-style.

    I don’t, and I suggest that your Middle Eastern students have far more exposure to out-of-date English-language material than the average US student.

  32. Rodger C, for a true campus-Marxism story from the 1970s, I’ll immodestly recommend

    https://jonathanmorse.blog/2014/01/08/political-history-book-song-anecdote/

    For an update to 2019, just do an image search for “Drive out the Bush regime,” followed by “Drive out the Trump/Pence regime.”

  33. have far more exposure to out-of-date English-language material than the average US student.

    And I’d suggest that you could not, by any possible stretch of the imagination, be more hopelessly wrong.

    I also think it’s entirely fair to say that any college student who can’t make the imaginative leap from the extremely common phrase “All are welcome”–seen on church signboards throughout the land–to “All (x-ly) welcome” is not even remotely qualified to tackle Jane Austen, let alone James Joyce. They should probably stick with Harry Potter or Diary of Wimpy Kid.

  34. I also think it’s entirely fair to say that any college student who can’t make the imaginative leap from the extremely common phrase “All are welcome”–seen on church signboards throughout the land–to “All (x-ly) welcome” is not even remotely qualified to tackle Jane Austen, let alone James Joyce. They should probably stick with Harry Potter or Diary of Wimpy Kid.

    That’s… kind of a snooty attitude.

  35. AJP Crown says:

    I apologise to Jonathan Morse for getting his name wrong! I’d been confusing him with Ben Schott, and that led me to this book on a subject that came up recently, useful excerpts of which have been listed here in the New York Times.

  36. I will cop to being a snoot.

    But I also strongly believe in not setting students tasks for which they are intellectually ill-equipped. If a student (particularly a native speaker) can’t make a very simple 2+2 = 4 surmise about so very elementary a phrase as “All heartily welcome,” the chances that they will get anything at all out of the “Sirens” or “Oxen of the Sun” episodes of Ulysses (or at least half the other chapters) is less than zero. You’re wasting their time, your time, everyone’s time. It’s really not at all an exaggeration to say that if you can’t correctly interpret that phrase at a glance, you shouldn’t be taking any class with Joyce on the syllabus. Full stop. They should be reading simpler texts. Much simpler. Try Hemingway.

  37. David Eddyshaw says:

    I should clarify that my experiences with young Americans have been overwhelmingly positive (especially because they tend to be strikingly more courteous than their European coevals) and I do not in fact in any way subscribe to the idea that they are typically intellectually deficient (still less that Jonathan Morse is.) My invocation of Americanism was only because I was wondering if this might be yet another of those wholly unexpected UK/US divisions that we stumble across now and again. It seems not, judging from other responses.

    However, it does seem to me that teaching James Joyce to students who cannot parse “all heartily welcome” unaided is probably not an optimal use of resources. Nobody has to read James Joyce. I’m sure it’s possible to lead a completely fulfilling life without ever doing so. I wouldn’t recommend Tacitus to a weak Latinist, either, still less make them read him. There are laws against that sort of thing.

    Hawaii is a Marxist environment?

    Of course it is. All environments are Marxist. You are evidently suffering from false consciousness. Calvinistic Socialism is the one true path, and it explains Everything.

  38. Lars (the original one) says:

    All Hail Doctor Marx!

  39. >I can easily image an EFL reader misinterpreting “All heartily welcome” as “All, heartily welcome!” instead of “All [are] heartily welcome”; I am prepared to take Jonathan Morse’s word that native speakers make the same mistake.

    For all to heartily welcome, it would have to be possible for you to welcome, or for me to do so.

    But we can’t. At least in English. As a verb, welcome requires an object. The default interpretation of “All, heartily welcome!” is simply “All are heartily welcome!”

    The trouble here is the semantics of heartily. It doesn’t work with welcome. You can be heartily welcomed, but the sentence “you are heartily welcome” doesn’t work for me. The sense of heartily almost demands a verb or verbal adjective.

    It’s possible that heartily meant something different a century or more ago. But I wonder whether it was just an awkward phrase even then.

    What may be happening is that students probably do have trouble parsing it, not because of all, but because of heartily, which seems to imply a verb. No one would jump to the idea that welcome was being used as an intransitive verb, but instead they are left double-clutching.

    Supplying (are) helps alert them that the awkward meaning they’ve been trying to reject, with heartily modifying the adjective welcome, is the author’s awkward intent.

  40. “Drive out the X regime” isn’t even 21st-century native English. It’s what Northcote Parkinson called “top-hatted and gaslit jargon.”

  41. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (for which, as I have previously remarked, I have a deep reverence bordering on idolatry) calls this sort of use of all a “fused determiner-head with a special interpretation” (p414.) It says “All is here equivalent to the compound determinative everybody, which is much more usual.” It doesn’t label it as archaic or elevated as such, but this does support Jonathan Morse’s point that the usage is at least a little bit unusual (as, to be honest, does my own Sprachgefühl.)

  42. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Drive out the X regime” sounds to me as if it’s calqued from Chinese. Bathrobe will know.

  43. the sentence “you are heartily welcome” doesn’t work for me

    Really? I don’t have any problem with it. A bit Falstaffian, perhaps, a bit over-ripe, but it sounds fine to my ear.

  44. The trouble here is the semantics of heartily. It doesn’t work with welcome.

    Agreed. I can’t be heartily welcome. I can be heartily welcomed, by a particularly cheerful host, say. I could be belatedly welcomed or gloomily welcomed or operatically welcomed or ominously welcomed.

    But adverbs for “welcome” are more like possibly, definitely and so on – they’re modifying “are”, not “are welcomed”. Am I welcome, or am I not?

    t any college student who can’t make the imaginative leap from the extremely common phrase “All are welcome”–seen on church signboards throughout the land–to “All (x-ly) welcome” is not even remotely qualified to tackle Jane Austen, let alone James Joyce. They should probably stick with Harry Potter or Diary of Wimpy Kid.

    I would actually be prepared to bet that the phrase “all welcome” appears in at least one of the Harry Potter books.

    And I can’t imagine having a teacher even at school, far less at college, who assumed that I would need that amount of handholding – that I would be unable to understand a text including the word “elephant” because I had never actually seen an elephant. I think we would have thrown things at such a person, and continued to throw them until he sought alternative employment.

  45. I don’t have any problem with it.

    Me neither. It seems different people have different English usage.

    I think we would have thrown things at such a person, and continued to throw them until he sought alternative employment.

    And yet his students presumably don’t. He’s probably glad you’re not in his class.

  46. David Eddyshaw says:

    It occurs to me too that “All [heartily] welcome” is in fact a specimen of what’s sometimes called “block language” (akin to headlinese), which has its own rather peculiar grammatical system differing from normal clause structure. You might be a fairly proficient English speaker without having had all that much exposure to this subsystem (kids today, all Twitter abbreviations: what’s become of good old-fashioned block language, eh? Eh?)

  47. Good point!

  48. Really? I don’t have any problem with it. A bit Falstaffian, perhaps, a bit over-ripe, but it sounds fine to my ear.

    Agreed. In context, it’s just a synonym for very. A little highfalutin (deliberately so) but otherwise entirely unexceptionable.

  49. AJP Crown says:

    You are evidently suffering from false consciousness.

    Thanks. Oddly enough I had a very thorough consultation with a nice young ophthalmologist yesterday and he never mentioned this. Cataract incidentally, in Norwegian is gråstær or grey starling (the songbird), as in “it’s a routine operation to remove grey starlings.”

  50. Removing starlings is a big activity in some parts of the US, although judging by the general lack of success it doesn’t seem to be a routine operation.

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    I had a very thorough consultation with a nice young ophthalmologist yesterday and he never mentioned this

    Ah, the curse of overspecialisation. Did he not even seek to put your grey starlings in their proper world-historical context? Or did he simply subscribe to the hegemonic neoliberal view which seeks to divorce illness from the oppressive social constructs which generate it and profit by it?

    (Incidentally, is “glaucoma” a green starling?)

  52. “I have to apologize, because I really know better, but for some reason I can’t help thinking of “desuetude” as meaning “removal of beef fat”.”

    Well, that’s because you’re doing it wrong, maidhc. The proper form would be “dissuetude”.

  53. ktschwarz says:

    “Medicare for all” is much in the US headlines, particularly this week, and nobody seems to need it explained (admittedly, the candidate using that slogan is very old — but he’s also associated with young supporters).

  54. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, “Hi, I’m clinic’s hegemonic neoliberal” was how he introduced himself, poor man. Really, they’re awfully nice at that hospital. Grønn stær – green starling – is the dreaded glaucoma. I expect the bird metaphor makes total sense to you but I pity the poor ophthalmologists who aren’t also linguists.

  55. J.W. Brewer says:

    It’s easy to find menus that say e.g. “All served with chips” (or “with rice and salad” or etc.). These are not intended for as sophisticated a readership as Ulysses, yet those who write them seem to assume (mostly accurately, I should think) that their intended readership will understand the intended meaning just fine. That’s not a particularly formal or Falstaffian usage. FWIW I think glossing “all” as “everyone” may be confusing and unhelpful. “All” w/o further specification still means “all X’s” with the X hopefully reasonably obvious from context. (In the menu context it would typically be “all entrees” or “all sandwiches” or something like that as the layout of the menu might suggest.) In a business or restaurant-type context the implied X in “all heartily welcome” is “potential customers.” You might gloss that as “everyone” out of politeness but there’s a pragmatic limitation in the sense that the invitation is not really being extended to those for whom it makes no sense — e.g. a steakhouse with such a sign on the door doesn’t *actually* want the subset of “everyone” that includes strict vegans and the not-at-all-hungry-because-they-just-ate to come on in. In the particular context of the Ulysses passage, which is an invitation to some sort of Protestant revival-type service given to Bloom by “a sombre Y.M.C.A. young man,” the X is essentially “sinners in need of salvation” or, if you accept the theology of those making the invitation, “human beings.”

    Now maybe it’s hard to figure out that context, due to a combination of Joyce’s prose style and the cultural distance separating the current young reader from 1904 Dublin, but if I were going through Lestrygonians trying to figure out what needed to be glossed for a young American reader I would nominate many stronger candidates than “All heartily welcome” — for example, there’s no good reason to assume the average U.S. high school graduate would know what “11/-” means, especially as Joyce’s context does not make it immediately clear that it’s a price given in a now-obsolete notation for a now-obsolete foreign currency. (Come to think of it the same passage has the phrase “Like getting L. s. d. out of him,” which may be particularly confusing for those who know more about post-1904 innovations in recreational drug use then they do about obsolete abbreviations for foreign currency. And the understanding of the Y.M.C.A. as an overtly Christian organization had fallen into desuetude in U.S. culture well before the Village People came along.)

    Speaking of restaurants, the rather preposterous aging-hippie slogan of the Hard Rock Cafe chain, with locations in Honolulu among other spots, is “Love All Serve All,” which doesn’t sound over-formal to my ear (although maybe it does fall in a sort of ritualistic/vatic register?) and I assume they believe (and correctly so) is reasonably transparent in meaning to a not-very-literary-or-sophisticated readership. Although I do think the late Jim Morrison (does their name evoke that association generally, or is that just me?) might have been rather more selective in his willingness to love or to serve.

  56. John Cowan says:

    Removing starlings is a big activity in some parts of the US

    Yes, the damn things are a pest, yet another product of an attempt by benighted 19C idiot Eugene Schieffelen to naturalize in North America all birds mentioned by Shakespeare. They are now monopolizing nest holes (in trees) at the expense of native birds. He released the house sparrow as well.

    Thirteen Ways of Eradicating Blackbirds
    [not Wallace Stevens, but] Mark DeFoe

    I Reason with them. Speak softly. Hide your stick.

    II Buy them off. Six tons of feed corn, old wheat and rusty sorghum ought to do the trick.

    III Drop brochures of Capistrano, complete with winter rates. Tell them they are swallows.

    IV Frighten their children with authentic stuffed owls.

    V Stand in a field and threaten. Stomp, bellow like a nincompoop. Point and shout, Pow! Pow!

    VI Declare a park. Hire them to pick up trash. When they call in sick, relocate the park.

    VII Dye yourself black. Whirl about wildly, thrash, flap, chirp, and tweet like a demented lark.

    VIII Set out tanks of discount peanut butter. Verily, it gloms to the roof of their beaks.

    IX Take a million hostages. Then mutter about one death a day. Ignore their shrieks.

    X Convert the Super Dome to microwave. Tell them it’s a pie. Them dumbbutts can’t count.

    XI Build a monstrous runway near their roost. Pave it with bird brains. Black feather the airport.

    XII Give them to THREE. To TEN. To a THOUSAND. O. K. Call the Marines. Show the bastards.

    XIII Napalm and flame throw. Douse em in lead. Waste em. Rack their dark wings. Gas them real dead. Laser, defoliate, butt stroke and blast. Pop out each beady, inscrutable eye. Pound them to soup! Win! Win! Win! Die! Die! Die!

  57. Indeed, one could hardly blame a student for overthinking “All heartily welcome” given the context:

    Pineapple rock, lemon platt, butter scotch. A sugarsticky girl shovelling scoopfuls of creams for a christian brother. Some school treat. Bad for their tummies. Lozenge and comfit manufacturer to His Majesty the King. God. Save. Our. Sitting on his throne sucking red jujubes white.

    A sombre Y. M. C. A. young man, watchful among the warm sweet fumes of Graham Lemon’s, placed a throwaway in a hand of Mr Bloom.

    Heart to heart talks.

    Bloo… Me? No.

    Blood of the Lamb.

    His slow feet walked him riverward, reading. Are you saved? All are washed in the blood of the lamb. God wants blood victim. Birth, hymen, martyr, war, foundation of a building, sacrifice, kidney burntoffering, druids’ altars. Elijah is coming. Dr John Alexander Dowie restorer of the church in Zion is coming.

    Is coming! Is coming!! Is coming!!!
    All heartily welcome.

    Paying game. Torry and Alexander last year. Polygamy. His wife will put the stopper on that. Where was that ad some Birmingham firm the luminous crucifix. Our Saviour. Wake up in the dead of night and see him on the wall, hanging. Pepper’s ghost idea. Iron Nails Ran In.

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    I expect the bird metaphor makes total sense to you

    I was actually guessing on the basis of German grauer/grüner Star; although Star does mean “starling” in German, I’ve always assumed (so far as I’ve thought about the matter at all) that this particular Star is rather connected with starr “stiff.” But why speculate when we can ask David M?

  59. Roger McGough:

    Starlings are brave birds
    And grey ones the most
    Like the grey starling that rescues shipwrecked sailors
    Off the Northumbrian coast

  60. Since Mollymooly quotes the whole passage from Lestrygonians, let me drop one more self-citation:

    Jonathan Morse, “The Picture Odyssey of Ben Bloom Elijah.” James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 52, no.3-4, Spring-Summer 2015, pp. 669-89 and cover illustration. Actual date of publication 2017.

    The faith healer John Alexander Dowie presided over a cult in suburban Chicago, and Joyce reasonably assumed he was an American. Great parodies of American speech resulted in Oxen of the Sun and Circe, but he actually was a Scot. His fund-raising tour in 1904 didn’t take him to Dublin either, but it did take him to San Francisco, where a newspaper published a funny series of drawings of the short fat preacher in full gesticulation. See ’em in the article.

  61. AJP Crown says:

    Star is rather connected with starr “stiff.”

    Stiff or rigid, Wiktionary agrees though I’d never have thought of that as characterising a starling. I suppose it’s their beaks.

  62. David Eddyshaw says:

    Both “cataract” and “glaucoma” are thumping misnomers anyway, basically just preserving for our benefit just how very little our forebears understood about eye disease.

    I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Hausa has an accepted term for “cataract”, yana; less impressed when I discovered that the primary sense is “scum, film (e.g. on milk)” – in other words, the Hausa understanding of what a cataract is, is no more sophisticated than that of a typical Western humanities graduate.

  63. David Marjanović says:

    consciously [in conscience, maybe?]

    Gewissenhaft? Conscientiously. Or just thoroughly.

    I don’t know what the wording is either, I’ve never said it or been expected to say it. It’s never used except in the naturalization ritual – so for most people it might as well not exist, in stark contrast to the US, where apparently you can’t get through a day of school without at least hearing that socialist flag manufacturer’s slogan.

    dictatorship

    Oh. Yes. I used to know that… my recency/frequency illusion is that dictatorship, too, has largely disappeared from usage in favor of fascism, totalitarian state and similar expressions that tend to be close enough for the intended examples.

    (The one pledge-of-allegiance ceremony I’ve watched on TV was not fascist, though, and not totalitarian either. It was in Yemen: 6-year-old schoolgirls saying something enthusiastic about al-Thawra – the Revolution.)

    But why speculate when we can ask David M?

    Because I had no idea either. 🙂 de.wiktionary confirms that the medical conditions are etymologically unrelated to the bird and instead related to starr “rigid to the point of being immobile”, which makes no sense in the modern language, but turns out to be back-formated [I couldn’t resist] from MHG starblint, which would be starr-blind today, and that would be parsable as “functionally blind by some kind of immobility of the eyes”.

    I got curious about the rr, so I looked up starr in Wiktionary, too. It’s related to starren, whose English cognate with the same meaning – to stare – just makes things weirder. But the DWDS says the rr was already there in Gothic (andstaurran “to show unwillingness”), and the IE root cognates – στερεός, στρηνής, strēnuus – make me wonder if the PIE root was *sterh₁- and the Germanic rr is an example of Müller’s law (*-RH- > *-Rː- conditioned by accent in a way I’ve forgotten, proposed only in 2007). The DWDS presents the root in prelaryngealistic garb as “*(s)ter(ə)-, *(s)trē-“, which correspond to *sterh₁- and its zero-grade as far as I understand.

    While the starling root is all over Germanic, Latin sturnus (same meaning) appears to contain the only other known reflex of that root.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    blackbirds

    European (one species of thrush) or American (26 species of… close relatives of the New World orioles, which aren’t close to Old World orioles either)?

    (I’m not going to look up their airspeeds…)

    Douse em in lead.

    TV Tropes: More Dakka

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    Presumably the Russian бельмо is connected with белый? That would make sense, after all (more so than the Germanic ones, anyway.) Wiktionary doesn’t seem to have an entry for it, but Hatters will know (indeed Hat himself may well do.)

  66. No, apparently it’s related to Latvian balums.

  67. To circle tediously back to the snow and Jews, I’d like to make one minor point about teaching literature – I think I would differ with “Until they’ve been taught, they won’t have an emotional response to the line “Snow was general all over Ireland,” either the snow part or the Irish part. Speaking of Ulysses, they won’t understand “Jew” either.”

    I think in some cases this is definitely true. I certainly don’t have an emotional response to, for example, anything in Joyce or Yeats about the Fenians, because I (irresponsibly, but there it is) never cared to learn a single solitary fact about Irish politics. I’m like Rilke’s panther, the words simply pass through my eyeballs and then vanish forever. There are emotional connections theoretically present there which I’m missing out on due to ignorance.

    However, think of all the ways in which literature (or any art, really) provokes very real and powerful emotional responses in us precisely BECAUSE it presents us with mysteries, whether intended by the artist or not. I had a lot of strong emotional responses to reading “Moby-Dick” without knowing what a larboard strake or whatever was, and perhaps even because I had no idea what a larboard strake was. Or think of all the cultures around the world where people have had unbelievably strong connections to the stories in the Bible without having any idea what a cubit is, or what the average annual precipitation was in Bethlehem.

    What I take away from the original statement is the implication that without “teaching”, students won’t have the *correct* emotional response to Ulysses, which is worrisome. Ulysses is a giant impossible mess of a book that would take anyone a lifetime to “get”, and no two people’s emotional responses from it would be the same, no matter how minutely they parsed sentences or glossed words. For example, I had a strong and mysterious emotional response to the phrase “agenbite of inwit” and it still pops into my head about once a day, in spite of the fact that I had no idea what it meant for nearly 20 years after reading it. Knowing all the footnote references and all the old or unusual words is part of having a response to literature, but it’s far from the most important part, right?

  68. AJP Crown says:

    David, thanks.

    MHG starblint, which would be starr-blind today, and that would be parsable as “functionally blind by some kind of immobility of the eyes”.

    Yours is more specific but I’m sure I saw German starr-blind translated as blind as a bat somewhere yesterday in Wiktionary. I can’t find it any more.

    English Wiktionary has

    star-blind (obsolete) Half blind. (Webster’s 1913).

    half-blind is also pretty vague.

  69. AJP Crown says:

    Turdus ignobilis – poor thing, the black-billed South American thrush.

  70. Hello all, long time reader and lurker here.

    I’ve decided to come out of lurking to heartily agree with AG’s comment. Especially, “the ways in which literature (or any art, really) provokes very real and powerful emotional responses in us precisely BECAUSE it presents us with mysteries, whether intended by the artist or not”.

    Yes yes yes

  71. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ag
    I think the issue is less “correct emotional response by students” than “inauthentic presentation by teacher (or director, filmmaker, etc)”. I have seen a Kabuki Hamlet where Gertrude was presented in a much more active role (i.e. more like lady Macbeth, which could have been closer to “facts” than Shakespeare’s version). I also have seen a German version of Macbeth set amongst rival gangsters in Chicago. I found these OK but maybe not ideal as a spectator’s only exposure to Shakespeare.
    ReJoyce’s openness to Jews one notes this also in A. Schwarzenegger. I think many (non-Jewish) Irish and Austrians like to schmooze and enjoy sharp self-deprecating humour. Maybe David M can confirm.

  72. David Marjanović says:

    I haven’t followed Schwarzenegger that much. But the Viennese sense of humour (Wiener Schmäh) is very, very snarky, and deprecates everything and everyone.

  73. “It’s easy to find menus that say e.g. “All served with chips” (or “with rice and salad” or etc.). These are not intended for as sophisticated a readership as Ulysses, yet those who write them seem to assume (mostly accurately, I should think) that their intended readership will understand the intended meaning just fine.”

    In particular, that it’s “all [dishes]” rather than “all [customers]”.

    Terry Pratchett (much missed) made rather a habit out of identifying this sort of ambiguity (probably a journalistic habit). In “Truckers” the characters are shocked to see that, despite signs clearly stating “Dogs and pushchairs must be carried”, most people on the escalator are carrying neither.

  74. AJP Crown says:
  75. Especially, “the ways in which literature (or any art, really) provokes very real and powerful emotional responses in us precisely BECAUSE it presents us with mysteries, whether intended by the artist or not”.

    Yes yes yes

    I too thought that was great. Thanks for delurking!

  76. David Eddyshaw says:

    Absolutely agree, especially in reference to Ulysses.

    There’s not a human being alive who can read Ulysses and pick up on all the allusions and puns and what have you. The opacity (when it’s opaque) is part of the very effect that Joyce is aiming at. The very last thing to do with Ulysses is to read it with a commentary. It’s not a crossword puzzle or a roman à clef. It should be read straight through: when you don’t understand something, just let it wash over you. That’s part of the joy of the book, which among other things is a great comic novel.

    A plague on plodding explainers of jokes.

    No worthwhile poem or novel deserves to be treated as a school text (Horace accurately foresaw that this would happen to his own work and regretted it.)

  77. Lars (the original one) says:

    Danish used to differentiate between ‘real’ blindness with the eyes shut, blind, and states where the eyes are open but functionally useless due to severe myopia or disease, starblind where the first part is cognate to E stare (now stirre as a verb in Danish). (Ab/umlaut variants of blind, like Sw blunda, still refer to closing your eyes, while Da blænde vb. now means either ‘dazzle with strong light’ or ‘brick up’. The PIE root seems to be *bʰel- = ‘shine’).

    Add to that ‘stærblind’ = ‘functionally blind because of glaucoma or cataracts’ which is the same word borrowed from Low German where it was specialized to those diseases. (Glaucoma is grøn stær, cataracts are grå stær).

  78. David Eddyshaw says:

    That looks like the key to the whole thing. “Staring-blind” would naturally enough be “blind despite having the eyes open”; as the first element of the MH German starblint became semantically opaque, the way would then be open for it to be reanalysed as not “staring” but (one kind of) “blind” by itself (much as “senile” is no longer really usable as “of old people” because most people only ever encountered it in the collocation “senile dementia” and it’s absorbed the colouring of “dementia.” You have to be careful which words you put together in the washing machine.)

    [The Washing Machine of Language, my forthcoming work of haute vulgarisation. Eat your heart out, Frederick Bodmer!]

  79. I will personally buy a copy. And then complain that it doesn’t get my words cleaner than clean.

  80. AJP Crown says:

    David, why green? Does the aqueous humour at the front of the eye turn green when its drainage is blocked? Our gutters do that.

  81. David Eddyshaw says:

    No, it doesn’t. I would guess that “green” is calqued from the word γλαύκωμα itself; I presume that the Greek term originally referred to something quite different from the disease now referred to by that name, which was only really recognised as an entity in the seventeenth century. There are several nasty conditions that could leave you with a greenish blind eye at the end of the day.

    There are, incidentally, a number of diseases so rare that on looking back at the original descriptions of them in the medical literature, it seems likely that they were actually descriptions of something else entirely from the disease which has usurped the name. I would give examples but this margin is too narrow to contain them.

  82. AJP Crown says:

    I presume that the Greek term originally referred to something quite different from the disease now referred to by that name

    Goodness, etymological research and the history of medicine. So many technological and scientific advances were made during the Renaissance and yet – and I don’t know if this is true – but not much seems to have happened in European medicine or surgery until the Enlightenment. I hear about 18C discoveries but not much before then.

  83. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ah, Progress!

    In the deliberately-a-bit-silly Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal some years ago I read an article which stated that there was a grand turning point in the history of medicine around about the year 1900. Prior to that date, if you consulted a doctor you were, on average, somewhat less likely to recover than if you hadn’t; after that date, probably more likely.

    I recall somewhere reading that Chekhov was particularly disturbed by the account of the death of Prince Andrei in War and Peace, because he reckoned that if he had been there he could have saved his life.

  84. I recall somewhere reading that Chekhov was particularly disturbed by the account of the death of Prince Andrei in War and Peace, because he reckoned that if he had been there he could have saved his life.

    Wonderful! Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

  85. >Terry Pratchett (much missed) made rather a habit out of identifying this sort of ambiguity (probably a journalistic habit). In “Truckers” the characters are shocked to see that, despite signs clearly stating “Dogs and pushchairs must be carried”, most people on the escalator are carrying neither.

    Well, that’s interesting. I accidentally got a used Terry Pratchett novel in the mail the other day. It looked so much like a pulp novel that I didn’t take a second look. Maybe I should.

    Also looking for ethics advice. It’s a paperback. Looked to be worth about $4 to Barnes and Noble. Came inadvertently rubber-banded to my new guide to the skipper butterflies of Illinois!

    I decided it wasn’t worth my time to send back. That B&N made the mistake, and that they would find a 2nd copy to send to the purchaser. I’d ripped open the packaging not knowing what it was, so I’d have had to find new packaging, take it to the post office. I think I still had the label, so I could have avoided paying postage.

    Would any of you have sent it back?

    >The very last thing to do with Ulysses is to read it with a commentary. It’s not a crossword puzzle or a roman à clef.

    I’ve generally been a footnote reader – history major in college, I guess.

    My uncle translated a very old Chinese novel, 5 volumes with the footnotes running as long as the text. It took me about 150 laborious pages to realize they were only meant for the 12 academics who had a real interest in what the allusions were, and dispensing with them, to find an amazing work of fiction.

  86. AJP Crown says:

    I’m going to make two lists of academic subjects, one where the practitioners believe in the importance of progress and one where they don’t.

  87. David Eddyshaw says:

    [Thwarted in repeated attempts to post in Yiddish: evidently an Akismet plot]

    Not so much the practitioners in this case:

    Fregt nisht dem roipheh, fregt dem khoileh!

  88. …if you consulted a doctor you were, on average, somewhat less likely to recover than if you hadn’t…

    Selection bias, methinks.

  89. David Eddyshaw says:

    One can only hope so.

    My less comforting reflection on this fact (or factoid) is that there were in fact some pretty effective treatments around long before 1900: so somebody must have been bringing down the average a lot …

    It’s also sobering to reflect on the (on the whole) high prestige of doctors prior to 1900 and the high degree of confidence placed in their ministrations by most people throughout most of recorded history. I’m not sure I want to reflect on this too deeply.

    There is (as all Hatters will already know) a provision in the Code of Hammurabi to the effect that if a surgeon operated on an eye and the eye was lost, his own eye should be gouged out in compensation.

    I and some colleagues once had a discussion on the best strategy for a second-millennium Babylonian contemplating eye surgery: should he pick the one-eyed or the two-eyed surgeon?

    The consensus was that he should pick the one-eyed surgeon, on the grounds that
    (a) he was experienced
    (b) he’d be very careful

  90. David Eddyshaw says:

    Selection bias, methinks

    Actually, my experience in the not dissimilar situation of contemporary rural West Africa suggest you’re basically right.

    The single commonest operation performed in our hospital in Ghana (after cataract surgery) was Caesarian section (followed by repair of typhoid bowel perforation.) There was really no tradition of going to a western-style hospital for anything in our district, and women would only be brought to hospital in labour as a last resort, often when they were in extremis; the resulting high mortality rate then confirmed local people in their reluctance to visit hospitals at all.

  91. AJP Crown says:

    It’s the nouns (doctor & patients, perhaps): ‘Don’t ask the… chief, ask the… aunt on your mother’s side’ is the best I can google for roipheh & khoileh, but it uses a dab of Farsi and I do get the general sense.

    So in Medicine, Physics and Haute Cuisine we await progress. With Architecture, Art and Music on the other hand, most practitioners believe they’re making progress but the public prefers things the way they used to be. I’m unsure about Literature, I expect it swings back & forth depending on the writer and the mood of academia. Lawyers are the most extreme, they won’t make a move without precedents, stare decisis, they call it. Stare decisis et non quieta movere “stand by decisions and don’t disturb what is settled,” and that neatly comes back to stare.

  92. David Eddyshaw says:

    Respectively, “doctor”, “patient”, as you rightly supposed.

    It would have been more googleable if I’d been able to post it in Yiddish/Hebrew letters, but Akismet refused to countenance such subversion. Sorry.

  93. David Eddyshaw says:

    The aphorism perhaps generalises to architecture, art and music too, mutatis mutandis.

  94. AJP Crown says:

    Although – unlike I hope surgeons – many artists, musicians and the odd architect are out to provoke or outrage their patient audience.

    Akismet refused to countenance such subversion. Sorry.
    No prob, but it’s weird it prefers certain alphabets.

  95. I had guessed doctor and nurse.

    My understanding, perhaps gleaned from the amazing upper New England history A Midwife’s Tale, is that through sometime in the mid 1800s women did significantly better in childbirth with midwives than with doctors and also better than without.

  96. It was the marked difference in infection rates between mothers who gave birth attended by midwives versus those attended by doctors and medical students that prompted Ignaz Semmelweis’s research into medical sanitation and infection control.

  97. John Cowan says:

    Lewis Thomas (doctor, medical administrator, and essayist, 1913-1993) wrote in one of his essays that in his father’s time (who was also a doctor), doctors threw out everything they had that didn’t work, and were left with about six non-primary treatments, of which I remember only ipecac and the smallpox vaccination. Instead, since they could not cure nor much alleviate most conditions, they became specialists in diagnosis and prognosis. You went to the doctor, 1880-1920 or so, to tell you what you had and whether you would die of it, you needed nursing, or it would go away by itself. And of course the placebo effect.

    That is not to say that non-doctors didn’t know plenty of treatments that worked, from surgery to foxglove tea. (Oy, my poor monkey brain!)

  98. I recall somewhere reading that Chekhov was particularly disturbed by the account of the death of Prince Andrei in War and Peace, because he reckoned that if he had been there he could have saved his life.

    True, he did say he would have saved Prince Andrei’s life – in a 1891 letter to Alexei Suvorin, his publisher. It’s not always clear where Chekhov is simply joking, being sarcastic, or using absurdist humor in his letters, but this claim is probably based on his genuine conviction: medicine had been “lousy” (lit. parshivaya) in 1812 but was making great progress in the 1880s (when Chekhov got his MD) and the 1890s. I’d suggest reading the whole letter (October 25, Julian style, 1891) if there’s an English translation. It’s worth it.

    In 1892, Chekhov also published What Disease Did Herodes Die of?, a brief essay, in Suvorin’s Novoye Vremya.

  99. Here’s the letter in Russian:

    В редакцию “Нового времени” от учениц пансиона Ржевской в пользу голодающих поступило 5 р. 85 к. Это велите напечатать, а деньги я отдал Алексею Алексеевичу.
    Я отсоветовал Ал< ексею> Ал< ексеевичу> ехать в Зарайск. Во-первых, ехать человеку с насморком по кочковатой дороге, 25 верст, по дорогам, где теперь не проедешь ни на санях, ни на колесах — это не совсем ладно; во-вторых, зимою осматривают именья только тогда, когда хотят в них разочароваться; в-третьих, он может и в апреле съездить, именье не уйдет, а планы могут измениться, и, в-четвертых, мне хочется с ним завтра пообедать у Тестова — это важнее всего.
    Печатайте “Дуэль” не 2 раза в неделю, а только один раз. Печатание два раза нарушает давно заведенный порядок в газете и похоже на то, как будто я отнимаю у других один день в неделе, а между тем для меня и для моей повести всё равно печататься, что один, что два раза в неделю.
    Среди петербургской литературной братии только и разговоров, что о нечистоте моих побуждений. Сейчас получил приятное известие, что я женюсь на богатой Сибиряковой. Вообще много хороших известий я получаю.
    Каждую ночь просыпаюсь и читаю “Войну и мир”. Читаешь с таким любопытством и с таким наивным удивлением, как будто раньше не читал. Замечательно хорошо. Только не люблю тех мест, где Наполеон. Как Наполеон, так сейчас и натяжки, и всякие фокусы, чтобы доказать, что он глупее, чем был на самом деле. Всё, что делают и говорят Пьер, князь Андрей или совершенно ничтожный Николай Ростов,– всё это хорошо, умно, естественно и трогательно; всё же, что думает и делает Наполеон,– это не естественно, не умно, надуто и ничтожно по значению. Когда я буду жить в провинции (о чем я мечтаю теперь день и ночь), то буду медициной заниматься и романы читать.
    В Петербург я не приеду.
    Если б я был около князя Андрея, то я бы его вылечил. Странно читать, что рана князя, богатого человека, проводившего дни и ночи с доктором, пользовавшегося уходом Наташи и Сони, издавала трупный запах. Какая паршивая была тогда медицина! Толстой, пока писал свой толстый роман, невольно должен был пропитаться насквозь ненавистью к медицине.
    Будьте здоровы. Тетка умерла.

  100. And here’s Garnett’s partial translation:

    MOSCOW, October 25, 1891.

    […]
    Print “The Duel” not twice a week but only once. To print it twice is breaking a long-established custom of the paper, and it would seem as though I were robbing the other contributors of one day a week; and meanwhile it makes no difference to me or my novel whether it is printed once a week or twice. The literary brotherhood in Petersburg seems to talk of nothing but the uncleanness of my motives. I have just received the good news that I am to be married to the rich Madame Sibiryakov. I get a lot of agreeable news altogether.

    I wake up every night and read “War and Peace.” One reads it with the same interest and naive wonder as though one had never read it before. It’s amazingly good. Only I don’t like the passages in which Napoleon appears. As soon as Napoleon comes on the scene there are forced explanations and tricks of all sorts to prove that he was stupider than he really was. Everything that is said and done by Pierre, Prince Andrey, or the absolutely insignificant Nikolay Rostov — all that is good, clever, natural, and touching; everything that is thought and done by Napoleon is not natural, not clever, inflated and worthless.

    When I live in the provinces (of which I dream now day and night), I shall practice as a doctor and read novels.

    I am not coming to Petersburg.

    If I had been by Prince Andrey I should have saved him. It is strange to read that the wound of a prince, a rich man spending his days and nights with a doctor and being nursed by Natasha and Sonya, should have smelt like a corpse. What a scurvy affair medicine was in those days! Tolstoy could not help getting soaked through with hatred for medicine while he was writing his thick novel. . . .

  101. (He’s quite right about Napoleon.)

  102. Since I am rereading my science fiction manuscript this week, in the hope that will jump-start me working on it again, I discovered that I had had something to say about starlings:

    Jonah squeezed her leg more tightly, his fingers roving high enough up her thigh to make Yarec a bit uncomfortable. “You got out of that place,” Jonah murmured softly. “You’re out now, starling.” From what Yarec had seen of starlings, that seemed a rather unsavory nickname, but they were one of the few birds that had thrived through the human-wrought devastation of the major landmasses.

    ###

    The survival of vermin in a post-apocalyptic future is practically a cliche, of course—although I don’t think I have ever seen starlings used in the cliche before. (A short but classic version, with a more conventional type of vermin, appears in “The Figure” by Edward Grendon, from 1947. The name “Edward Grendon”—which was not familiar to me except as the author of “The Figure”—was apparently a pseudonym used by psychologist and sometime crack parapsychologist Lawrence LeShan, under which he wrote four short science fiction stories in the late 1940s and early 1950s.)

  103. January First-of-May says:

    novel. . . .

    I’m not sure why Garnett’s translation excluded the final line: “Be healthy. The aunt died.”

    (The first of those sentences appears to be just a closing formula, and should probably be translated by an equivalent formula in English, but I could not think of one offhand.
    As for the second sentence, it surely makes much more sense in context – though regardless of any context it doesn’t fit very well in that position within the letter.)

  104. I found it hilarious, in a grim Russian way. Especially coming from a doctor.

  105. John Cowan says:

    Lawyers are the most extreme, they won’t make a move without precedents, stare decisis, they call it.

    Stare decisis is by no means universal in legal matters: it prevails where it is much more important that there is a definite rule and everyone concerned knows what is, than what its exact content may be. A good example is left- or right-hand traffic: switches are very rare because they are expensive and in most places provide no net improvement. The most recent switch was in 2009, when Samoa switched from right (inherited from Germany) to left, primarily because driver-on-the-right cars were readily available from AU and NZ and therefore much cheaper. Sweden, similarly, switched from left to right in 1967 due to its long land borders with right-side Norway and Finland (which switched from left to right when the Russians took over) and the fact that some 80% of its cars were already driver-on-the-left. (I hope I have not made any of my usual aphasic left/right errors.) Contract and inheritance law in particular generally work like this: the rules are complex and produce unjust results in some cases, but certainty for the many is felt to trump injustice for the few, or the one.

    Tort law, on the other hand, is the very opposite of stare decisis: where there is a wrong, even a hitherto unheard-of wrong, a remedy will be found or created. It’s no surprise that in common-law jurisdictions most of it is judge-made, and even when the legislature stirs the pot, it’s only in deciding actual cases that the meaning (if any) of the change becomes actualized.

  106. In Chekhov’s personal code of communication (as I understand it), being boring was uncivil and dwelling too much on one’s personal pains was bad manners. Hence the structure of his letters to Suvorin, including this one.

    First, business matters. Chekhov wittily explains, with only a drop of irony, why Suvorin’s son Alexey (“the Dauphin”), who was then staying in Moscow, should not make a trip to Zaraysk. (Why? Because Chekhov wanted to have dinner with him the next day. Two decades later, Suvorin Jr. would start preaching and practicing “therapeutic fasting.”) Chekhov also requests that The Duel be serialized once, not twice a week.

    Second, gossip, literature and medicine (the parts on living in the provinces and on Prince Andrei).

    Finally, private matters, kept short, stripped to the essence.

    In earlier letters, Chekhov also wrote about his aunt at the very end, briefly. “The aunt is dying.” (Oct. 13, 1881) “If you see my brother [Alexander Chekhov lived in St. Petersburg and wrote for Suvorin], let him know the aunt is dying of consumption. Days are numbered. She was a good woman. A saint.” (Oct. 16)

  107. David Marjanović says:

    I hope I have not made any of my usual aphasic left/right errors.

    No, not this time, even though I didn’t know about Sweden. 🙂

    (I’ve also seen Japan mentioned as a source of driver-on-the-right cars in Samoa.)

  108. Trond Engen says:

    No, not this time, even though I didn’t know about Sweden.

    Famously, they decided to make the transition gradually, starting with trucks and buses.

  109. AJP Crown says:

    Italian lorries used to have the driver on the Japanese-Indian-UK side, next to the pavement. I don’t know whether they still do this, it’s not very stare decisisesque of them.

  110. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ghana changed round from driving on the left in colonial British fashion to driving on the right like regular folk in living memory (not sure when exactly.)

    The slogan “this is Ghana, drive on the right” remains in active everyday use to this day. Somewhat disturbingly …

  111. Scott Turow’s first book, One-L, a memoir about his first year at Harvard Law School, has very little to say about what he actually learned about the law, except on the subject of torts. At first, he finds his Torts professor’s approach maddening. The professor (whose name had been changed in the book, although I suppose one could figure out who it actually was) uses the most extreme form of Socratic irony among his instructors. He posits some unusual situation, then calls on the students to analyze who bears legal responsibility for whatever damages may have occurred. But when that is done, he adds further knock-on effects to the scenario, and the students have to figure out the increasingly bizarre damages should be adjudicated. Turow says it took him a while to “get” it, but eventually he realized that the point was it was impossible to set bright line rules for all torts, because so many of them involved sui generis situations. After that, it became his favorite class of the year, and apparently many of his classmates agreed.

  112. AJP Crown says:

    I read One-L when it came out and enjoyed it so much I briefly considered applying to law school. Luckily I came to my senses and realised I’d enjoyed it so much I should read Scott Turow’s next book, instead. Saved me three years and a lot of money. His subsequent legal thrillers were so much better than John Grisham’s.

  113. I read One-L when it came out and enjoyed it so much I briefly considered applying to law school.

    I read it a few years after that; fortunately it was too late to go to law school. Yes, a delightful book.

  114. John Cowan says:

    When my father reached a sufficiently elevated position in his profession of law professor (he had two others, philosopher and management consultant), he chose to teach only two courses: L3 jurisprudence and L1 torts. Law schools have, or at least had in his day, retained the laudable tradition that the most senior professors teach the rudiments of the subject. Any grad student can teach other grad students, but it requires deep understanding to straighten out the conceptual messes that beginning students get themselves into.

  115. Lars (the original one) says:

    gradually — Trond, even Danes won’t believe that’s more than a joke. And we’d only tell it of Norwegians, if not for the inconvenient fact that you guys always drove on the right side.

    (IIRC, there is the nugget of fact in there that non-commercial drivers were told to stay off the roads during the night, while lorries and buses were supposed to come to a complete stop at 5am and then cross to the opposite lane. There weren’t many dual carriageways in Sweden in 1967, if any, but they would probably have been closed off completely).

  116. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, it actually happened, sort of, and was well thought out. The joke is funny because it works on another level than the usual joke about stupid Swedes, playing on their (stereotypically) careful attitude and thorough and systematic form of government. Until you realize the joke may actually be on you.

    I learned the story from my father at about the age six. Much later I was pleased to see it repeated in Robert McColl Millar’s second edition of Trask’s historical linguistics as an illustration of how systems have to change wholesale.

  117. John Cowan says:

    I would actually be prepared to bet that the phrase “all welcome” appears in at least one of the Harry Potter books.

    It doesn’t, if Google Books is to be trusted (which it isn’t, entirely). But it does appear in The Gospel according to Harry Potter, a late (2008) and spurious work.

    a true campus-Marxism story from the 1970s

    There are some curious (if devious) connections between me and Mr. Morse, it turns out. My parents were both teaching at Wayne State when they met, somewhere around 1948-49: him at the law school, her as an instructor in the German department. That is, she was, until she lost her job for marching with some striking hospital workers, as the president of the hospital was the president of the university’s cousin (or some such). And my father voted the straight Socialist Workers Party ticket till the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long (1904-1990).

  118. J.W. Brewer says:

    My own first-year torts teacher (who may or may not still use the same pedagogical approach 30 years later — I just googled him and apparently he has not yet taken emeritus status even though he must be past 70 by now) was idiosyncratic in a different direction: while many teachers of first-year law students focus on borderline cases where there are good arguments to be made on both sides and you do well on the exam by “spotting the issues” rather than picking the winner, he was of the somewhat unusual view that understanding the 95% of potential disputes that are “easy” (“easy” in terms of who wins and who loses assuming a given view of the facts — obviously in real-life litigation practice what the correct view of the facts is is often much more hotly disputed than what the legal rules are) was more important as an educational grounding than fussing over the 5% that could genuinely go either way. So he would assign as exam problems the facts of real tort cases decided by the Supreme Court of Nebraska or some such obscure jurisdiction (and with torts there were so many hundreds and thousands of new decisions each year that you couldn’t go out and anticipate what he’d pick), and we would then be graded, at least in part, on how well we actually predicted who had actually won. It was as if he wanted to make us native speakers of Tortese, and our ability to make accurate bottom-line native-speaker judgments about the grammaticality/ungrammaticality of a given sentence was actually more important than our ability to correctly recite the then-current transformational rules that purportedly generated those judgments.

  119. Lars (the original one) says:

    Well, you are technically correct, but it is usually stated in a way that strongly implies that they had trucks and buses driving on the right while passenger cars were still driving on the left.

    In fact the rule was for ‘non-essential’ traffic to stay off the road, and it was mostly delivery trucks and buses that were ‘essential’. If some emergency meant that you had to be on the road in a passenger car at 4:50 am you were supposed to stop and change sides just like the trucks and buses.

    If Mr Svensson drives down the left lane of his residential road at 8pm and parks in his driveway, and then turns back out into the same lane (going the other way so it is now the right one) at 7am — when did he change from driving on the left to driving on the right? Using interval arithmetic, you will find that neither ‘after 4:50am’ nor ‘before 4:50am’ can be assigned a truth value.

  120. I just looked up how long it was between One L and Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent, and it was ten years, although I had actually expected it to be even a little longer. Looking at the author’s biography, it also seems like he graduated from high school at age seventeen, which makes me wonder whether the fact that (besides coming from very similar ethnic backgrounds) the fact that they were both a year younger than most of their classmates was part of why he and my father became friends in school.

  121. lorries and buses were supposed to come to a complete stop at 5am and then cross to the opposite lane

    I remember seeing a film of that on American television the day after it happened.

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