THE HIGHEST FORM OF LANGUAGE.

Arnold Zwicky at the Log posts an amusing Doug Savage cartoon that I should try to get the publisher to incorporate into the U.S. edition of my book (which should be out in not much over a year, or so they tell me).
Totally unrelated, but not worth a post of its own: I was mildly annoyed today when in one of the “dictionary game” segments of the radio show “Says You” the word whose definition was to be guessed was kis. The OED says:
Obs. rare—1.
[a. Gr. κίς.]
A weevil.
1658 ROWLAND Moufet’s Theat. Ins. 1086 The English call the Wheat-worm Kis, Pope, Bowde, Weevil, and Wibil.
I’m sorry, but a borrowing from Greek that some guy in the seventeenth century claimed was used by “the English” (a couple of Oxford dons, perhaps?) and that occurs nowhere else is not a suitable candidate for the game, if you ask me. There should be at least a sporting chance that someone might know the word.

Comments

  1. “Call My Bluff” is the same way; whenever I’ve seen it the words are either badly-stuck-together Greek (like those words where someone finds out the Greek for “mother shagging your dog” and sticks -phobia on the end of it) or hopeless orientalist relics like “zarf” or some South American tree. Very irritating.

  2. I agree with Conrad about the pseudo-Greek coinages and the archaic orientalisms, but I will go to bat for the names of South American trees. Those are the correct English words for these species, even if they don’t come up much in conversation.

  3. A.J.P. Crown says:

    If you put it in the book for goodness sake write “Give me the fucking ball!’. I hate those star thingies, they’re so old fashioned.

  4. If you put it in the book for goodness sake write “Give me the fucking ball!”. I hate those star thingies, they’re so old fashioned.
    I agree entirely, but the owner of the copyright may not.

  5. How do you know that @!#* doesn’t really stand for something like G-damn, as we say here on Chicago’s South Side, or for that matter, prumphænsn?

  6. A.J.P. Crown says:

    the owner of the copyright may not
    Aren’t I right that there’s nothing to stop me redrawing it?

  7. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Not that I’d actually do it, with cartoons it would be cheating, but I know someone who has redrawn paintings he wanted to discuss and couldn’t get permission to reproduce. (Now he’s being harassed in Sweden for having drawn Mohammed as a dog.)

  8. But if I remember correctly from the book reviews, one of the points of the book is not that profanity is a language “development” but that it’s produced by a more archaic part of the brain.

  9. Bill Walderman says:

    Around 1967 a paper was circulating in the Linguistics Department at Harvard (anonymous, but written, I believe, by George Lakoff) attempting to analyze the utterance “fuck you” according to what was then called “transformational grammar.” Did anyone else see this?

  10. I’ve actually used “zarf” before, and I’m not an orientalist. We had plastic ones in our office, with plastic inserts.

  11. Doug Sundseth says:

    >>the owner of the copyright may not
    >Aren’t I right that there’s nothing to stop me redrawing it?
    It seems likely that the resulting work would be a “derivative work” as defined in copyright law. If so, it would be covered by the copyright of the original piece.
    ps. IANAL. Use this comment at your own risk. Talk to a lawyer if you need legal advice (or before getting up every morning, for that matter).

  12. anonymous, but written, I believe, by George Lakoff
    If that was “English Sentences without Overt Grammatical Subjects,” by Quang Phuc Dong of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology, it’s reproduced as the first piece in Studies out in Left Field : Defamatory Essays Presented to James D. McCawley (which is worth grabbing if you see it used) and online here.

  13. Bill Walderman says:

    “If that was “English Sentences without Overt Grammatical Subjects,” by Quang Phuc Dong of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology,”
    Yes, that’s it!

  14. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Use this comment at your own risk.
    Thanks, but does this mean I can sue you if I use one of the other comments, about which you kind of imply there isn’t any risk, and it explodes, killing my dog?

  15. I know and use the word zarf too. (Well, “use” to the extent of being able to think “that’s a zarf” when I see one.)

  16. I suspect there are many, many words in the big dictionaries that are there merely by virtue of the fact that a mere handful of people in some ivory tower used them on one occasion (maybe even two).
    “Hmmm…let’s call this boosimapafamuss,” said the grizzled professor. “Yes, I quite like the sound of that.”
    “Spot on,” chirped the professor’s starry-eyed assistant. “It is a fine word, sir.”

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