THE MADNESS CONTINUES.

The following letter, from Andrew Charig, appeared in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine:

I was very sad to hear of the death of William Safire, who most likely was the foremost expert on the American language.
In “Error-Proof,” Ammon Shea suggests invoking Chaucer and Shakespeare as a defense against criticisms of bad grammar because they used so many obsolete forms that almost any error can be found among their works. But Shakespeare wrote before English was standardized; Chaucer before it was English at all. Both are loved for what they said, not for their use of grammar. Their eloquence in usage should not make their grammar a standard for ours.
With computer communication threatening to corrupt our language beyond intelligibility, it is more important than ever to uphold usage that has precedent and to limit change to what is sensible and useful. Our criteria should be Fowler, Strunk and White, the O.E.D., Webster — not Chaucer.

I too was sad to hear of Safire’s death, but this letter gave me a wry laugh and reminded me that the worst aspects of his punditry are exactly what were appreciated by many of his fans. This letter is so full of nonsense it’s hard to know where to start; since Language Log has covered the “expert” claim, I’ll point out that the idea that Chaucer wrote “before it was English at all” is ridiculous and the desire to “limit change to what is sensible and useful,” however attractive to a certain regimentation-loving cast of mind, is (fortunately) a hopeless one. Also, “the O.E.D.”? Is Mr. Charig under the impression that that magnificent work of lexicography supports his prescriptivist views? He should try actually using it someday, instead of invoking it as an idol.
This seems a logical place to insert a silly quote from David Runciman’s LRB review of Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens, by Josiah Ober: “He also describes Athenian democracy, in the hideous modern jargon, as ‘scalable’, meaning that lessons learned on the local level could be generalized across the government system.” The word scalable is “hideous,” apparently, because Runciman did not grow up with it and it is not part of his professional vocabulary, and we all know that professional vocabulary that is not ours is by definition hideous. Seriously, what’s wrong with it? It’s short, reasonably euphonious, and (most importantly) provides a handy way of referring to a complicated idea. Does Runciman want writers to say “capable of being easily expanded or upgraded on demand” (M-W) every time they need to refer to it? What fools these language moralists be!

Comments

  1. I guess Runciman wants people to follow his example and use the word “scalable” but apologize for using it whenever they do. The word is apparently so useful that he can’t avoid using it, but that’s not enough to save it from condemnation, because some inexplicable characteristic makes it “hideous”.

  2. “Scalable” is a necessary word with a specific technical meaning. It’s been metaphorically extended like all good words, but most of the extended uses I’ve seen are also useful.

  3. Also, is Charig really committed to the distinction he seems to be drawing in “loved for what they said, not for their use of grammar”? It’s as though he started with the point that their oeuvres are not the decisive corpora for answering questions about what is and is not grammatical today, and then overstated the point beyond recognition or sense. We can, do and should love writers of older forms of English, and indeed of other languages, for their use of grammar.

  4. Chaucer’s not English yet? Oh Lord. What do you do with ignorance that deep? A dime gets you a dollar that if you gave Charig a page of Middle English and a page of Elizabethan English, both (or neither) with modernized spelling, he wouldn’t be able to tell which was which. What a low tolerance for variation some people have!
    I met “scalable” as a computer science student, fifteen years ago, and immediately regretted not being able to use it in ordinary speech, it’s such a useful word. So I’m delighted to see it making progress that way.

  5. I have just been involved in a lengthy deabte on an ESOL forum about the grammaticality of the double negative. In the course of the discussion I learned that everybody who uses a double negative is part of the, and here I quote, “poorly educated lower-middle-class” AND that I am not a real person but merely a sock-puppet for someone else expressing a view similar to mine. So reading this piece was a refreshing reminder of the sanity that prevails here, and an illustration of the futility of getting into arguments with people who share Charig’s views.

  6. We now have scalable professions, those in which your income is not necessarily proportional to the amount of work you put in. Dentistry is non-scalable, options trading distinctly scalable. (I’m suffering from a newly installed temporary crown (not A.J.P., to be sure), and have dentists on my mind.)

  7. I don’t know. Is it really so unreasonable to claim Chaucer is not “English”? Charig has made his point in an awkward and technically inaccurate way, but of course Chaucer’s language is not our language, any more than vulgar Latin is Italian. John McWhorter has even been claiming that Shakespeare’s language is now so inaccessible to moderns that we need to start reading it in translation.

  8. I think the objection is to the assumption that once English was “standardised” it was frozen in time. Of course Chaucer and Shakspeare are poor models for writing in modern English, but so are Pope, Wordsworth, Defoe, and Austen, for that matter.

  9. Is it really so unreasonable to claim Chaucer is not “English”?
    Yes. It’s not Modern English, to be sure, but it’s recognizably the same language. You could make a case for Old English being so different as not to be lumped together with later developments, but once you’ve got the Norman vocabulary influx and the elimination of most inflection, you’ve got English, no question.
    John McWhorter has even been claiming that Shakespeare’s language is now so inaccessible to moderns that we need to start reading it in translation.
    I like McWhorter, but that’s just silly.

  10. Archaisms in nursery rhymes, jingles, scriptures, and literature add to their fascination, and in my experience, not just for literati. It’s puts whatever it is onto a different plane, more interesting than shopping lists and TV news.
    Truisms, I know, but I had to say it.

  11. mollymooly says:

    I can’t object to a metaphorical extension of a jargon word, provided the metaphor is apt.
    I think “scalabity” maps from algorithms more intuitively to policies than to professions.
    In cases like “quantum leap”, the metaphor is more tenuous. I don’t blame the originators for objecting when a new sense is so distant from the old that it seems like a misapplication or misunderstanding rather than a retooling. On the other hand, if the old and new domains are distinct, there may be no possibility of ambiguity between the old and new senses.

  12. I like McWhorter, but that’s just silly
    It is if you’re intelligent and reasonably educated. If you read Yahoo! Answers, however, questions from students about what lines from Shakespeare mean, even (to me) blindingly obvious ones, are very common.

  13. > Also, “the O.E.D.”? Is Mr. Charig under the impression that that magnificent work of lexicography supports his prescriptivist views? He should try actually using it someday, instead of invoking it as an idol.
    That actually seems to be a pretty common misconception. I think it’s a sort of circular reasoning: I use the OED’s prescriptivism to justify my own, but my only reason for thinking the OED is prescriptivist is that I’m a prescriptivist and think (correctly) that it’s a standard-bearer of the English language.
    But in all fairness, sometimes the OED does come off a bit prescriptivist sometimes; for example, a search for definitions using the word “erroneously” pulls up 347 hits, and while many are either coincidental (words that really mean “erroneously”) or objectively correct (erroneous claims in other sources), many are what I would consider prescriptivist. Similarly with “ignorantly” and “carelessly”. Admittedly, these are small numbers of entries when you consider the size of the Dictionary, but then, even the most prescriptivist screeds object to only a small portion of the lexicon.

  14. Answers, however, questions from students about what lines from Shakespeare mean, even (to me) blindingly obvious ones, are very common.
    Well of course. Language changes, and English has changed faster than many other languages. I think McWhorter does have a point – a modern person well educated in science, mathematics and literature written after 1900 with no exposure to Elizabethan English has a very hard time with Shakespeare. Ironically Shakespeare is more accessible today to French, Germans and Russians who read him in modern translation.

  15. But in all fairness, sometimes the OED does come off a bit prescriptivist sometimes; for example, a search for definitions using the word “erroneously” pulls up 347 hits
    Right, but those (I am willing to bet) are hangovers from the nineteenth century, when even relative descriptivists (and the official approach of the OED was very descriptivist, annoying the Strunk/Whites of the day) were still laden with value judgments they were unable to completely shake off.
    questions from students about what lines from Shakespeare mean, even (to me) blindingly obvious ones, are very common.
    a modern person well educated in science, mathematics and literature written after 1900 with no exposure to Elizabethan English has a very hard time with Shakespeare
    Well, sure. But there’s a huge middle ground between a contemporary writer, who requires no explanation, and Beowulf. It’s one thing to say “This writer has many obsolete usages, so annotation is required for full understanding,” quite another to say “Just translate!” The latter approach ignores the fact that much of what is important about Shakespeare would be lost in translation. I would point out that Shakespeare was no more understandable to people a generation ago; they simply worked a little harder to get the meaning. The McWhorter attitude seems to be that nobody should have to make any effort whatsoever, and “silly” is actually a kind word for it—that attitude is responsible for much of what’s wrong with the modern world. (Yes, I’m turning into a cranky old man. Get off my lawn!)
    Ironically Shakespeare is more accessible today to French, Germans and Russians who read him in modern translation.
    But in fact they’re not reading Shakespeare, they’re reading the translator. If they want to read Shakespeare, they need to do a lot more work than English speakers.

  16. The main defect of “scalable” is that it refers (I suppose?) only to scaling up, not to scaling down, but it doesn’t say so. I think that the Office of Neologisms could have done a better job.
    Of course Chaucer wrote English. We “did” Chaucer at school in the original; no Coghilling in class.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    vanya: English has changed faster than many other languages
    What makes you say that? it changed a lot between Old and Middle English, in part because of the upheavals of the Norman conquest, but afterwards I don’t think that is true (at least on paper, since the pronunciation has indeed changed much more than the spelling shows). Rabelais, for instance, is very difficult to read in the original 16th century French. Both Shakespeare and Rabelais use a lot of colloquialisms in addition to words that they apparently invented. Essayists like Montaigne or Sir Thomas Browne are easier to read as their style is more consistent.

  18. English has changed faster than Italian over the last 500 years – Machiavelli, as a playwright, is easier to read than Shakespeare, so is Dante for that matter. The Castilian of Don Quixote is also easier for modern Spaniards than Shakespeare’s language is for Americans. That’s what I was thinking of. You’re probably right in general though, Marie-Lucie, English has not changed as quickly as Japanese, and certainly the poor Turks are at a loss reading anything more than 90 years old.

  19. McWhorter attitude seems to be that nobody should have to make any effort whatsoever
    I don’t think that’s fair – I think McWhorter believes modern people delude themselves that they understand Shakespeare when in fact they don’t understand much of it as well as they think they do, i.e. the similarity to modern English is deceiving and encourages laziness in reading and interpretation. The attitude that the ancestor of modern English is the same language we speak is as inaccurate as claiming that Scots is the same language as English. If you’re going to really read Shakespeare you need to take a step back and recognize that 500 years is long enough to create a significant linguistic gulf. Which would be just as true for someone born in 1900 as for someone born in 1980. I don’t agree with him on encouraging reading in translation either, but I think it is a useful exercise to think about just what an alien world Shakespeare really comes from.

  20. OK, that’s fair, and I certainly agree that people think they understand Shakespeare a lot more than they do, but in the grand scheme of things that’s a pretty minor problem and not one that justifies such a drastic solution. I’m glad we’re in basic agreement.

  21. If they want to read Shakespeare, they need to do a lot more work than English speakers.
    On the other hand, because the reward per unit effort is so much greater, Shakespeare doesn’t seem that much harder than anything else. In my own reading of German I’d much rather read difficult stuff than easy stuff, because the easy stuff is almost equally hard, but not worth it. And as I’ve said, I find the “deceptively simple” poets like Heine or (in Spanish) Machado the least rewarding to read, because “getting” them requires a very fine-grained eppreciation of tiny nuances (and, I think, and implied contrast both with less simple poetry, and less perfect simple poetry).
    Brodsky recommended commencing language study with the great poets of a language. One reason for this is that it’s fail-safe; even if you don’t really learn the language (and mostly I don’t), you still have the poems.
    Certainly the poor Turks are at a loss reading anything more than 90 years old.
    And Chinese. I have a friend who has inherited her Chinese grandfather’s correspondence with the famous men of his day — Sun Yat-sen, Hu Shih, et al — and because it’s written in literati Chinese, even in China only specialists can read it any more.

  22. Whether we follow rules (‘prescriptions’) because we need to (for reasons of hardwiring and/or of pragmatism) or we devise (or intuit) rules ‘freely’ and attach the concept of need after (and to explain) the fact of their ‘standing over’ us, certainly we use rules both to seek and to cement understanding.
    But it seems to me that, equally pragmatically, no rule can eliminate the plasticity of language, which is the plasticity of abstracted attention to reality.
    Getting the meaning of, say, a single word is like landing one’s most effective punch: the muscles of the hand and wrist are loose until the moment of impact, when a sudden concentration of tension is translated ‘into’ the target.
    I’d say, likewise with making up words– their inventability is also their discoverability, until that moment when they’re imposed, when they stand in a context to mean some particular thing or nexus of linguistically associated things.
    Does this analysis make sense?

  23. In French I read a lot of 1500-1600 era literature, for example Rabelais, so there may be things that are relatively easier to me than a Frenchman, whereas a modern novel is tough because of the vocabulary.
    All languages except English are literary languages for me, though I’ve been reasonably close to usable spoken French and Chinese at some points.

  24. Does this analysis make sense?
    I won’t say that I fully understand it, but it was so much fun to read that I definitely want it make sense.

  25. “and because it’s written in literati Chinese, even in China only specialists can read it any more.”
    Letters were especially difficult, even back in the day. Even then only specialists could read or compose them. There was a whole separate verbiage for letters and a boy had to had to learn it alongside his general studies in classical literature. Later on it authenticated his status and thus the letter, besides providing job security for rent-a-scribes.

  26. Emers: commencing language study with the great poets…even if you don’t really learn the language, you still have the poems.
    Funny you should mention this. I’m learning Finnish from the contents lists on the sides of Skandinavian food packets; if it doesn’t work — and it’s not ideal for learning grammar — I still have the frozen peas.

  27. Emers: commencing language study with the great poets…even if you don’t really learn the language, you still have the poems.
    Funny you should mention this. I’m learning Finnish from the contents lists on the sides of Skandinavian food packets; if it doesn’t work — and it’s not ideal for learning grammar — I still have the frozen peas.

  28. I learned to read English from the backs of cereal boxes — yet I almost never eat cereal any more! Is that a paradox or what?
    I have a friend who learned to read Italian passibly well from the backs of CD and record jackets.

  29. …and now thanks to Des my daughter and I are learning Dutch by reading ebay-like advertisements for cheap Friesian horses. It’s better than the Finnish because they have full sentences. And even if we don’t learn Dutch, in six months from now we still can’t afford a Friesian.

  30. Crown, is it Dutch you’re picking up or Frisian? One could get quite a frisson from picking up a Frisian Friesian, no?

  31. You mean they have Friesian horses as well as cows? How productive can a place get?

  32. Goodness, perhaps we’re learning Friesian. There are no instructions. They grow everything there; all the men and women are taller than your front door, according to Des. Friesian horses are largish cold-blooded horses with long tails. They’re distictive trotters and good at dressage. Friesian cows are known as ‘Holsteins’ to Americans, as I’ve noted before. It’s the other Schleswig-Holstein question. Also, according to Wikipedia, Friesian things that aren’t cows and horses are spelled ‘frisian’, but they don’t specify what these things might be.

  33. Goodness, perhaps we’re learning Friesian. There are no instructions. They grow everything there; all the men and women are taller than your front door, according to Des. Friesian horses are largish cold-blooded horses with long tails. They’re distictive trotters and good at dressage. Friesian cows are known as ‘Holsteins’ to Americans, as I’ve noted before. It’s the other Schleswig-Holstein question. Also, according to Wikipedia, Friesian things that aren’t cows and horses are spelled ‘frisian’, but they don’t specify what these things might be.

  34. Hm. If you get your daughter a Friesian horse she can be a knight in armor. If a Friesian cow, then a milkmaid. This is a serious choice.

  35. This conversation would not be complete without the remark that before the Frisians started growing horses they used to build them.

  36. She’d never get up at 5 in the morning to milk a cow. I’d be the milkmaid.

  37. She’d never get up at 5 in the morning to milk a cow. I’d be the milkmaid.

  38. Just as a data point: my daughter read Romeo and Juliet in high school in a facing-page translation, which I think was very successful. I read some of the original bits to her in the original: Shakespeare’s language, after all, wasn’t meant for the page. But without the recto pages she’d never have been able to slog through the whole play with its obscurities. At least it keeps you going, unlike the notes-at-the-bottom-of-the-page editions that I dealt with.

  39. Trond Engen says:

    Nøgne Ø: So you say that if they order a Friesian horse in French, she’ll have a barricade, and if they orders a barricade in English she’ll have a horse? If they resort to German or Norwegian Coronette will end up with a Spanish rider. I don’t dare think what she might get if she orders in Spanish. Language is destiny.

  40. I believe that they’ve bred modern afternoon cows for people who want to keep reasonable sleep-till-noon hours.

  41. For anyone who didn’t follow Ø’s wikipedia link:

    Cheval de frise means “Frisian horse”. The Frisians, having little cavalry of their own, relied heavily on such anti-cavalry obstacles. The term also came to be used for any spiked obstacle, such as broken glass embedded in mortar on the top of a wall.

    It’s good to know there’s a word for that stuff, Ø.
    I’m going to continue to spell ‘frisians’ friesians. In German, French & Norwegian ‘Frisians’ makes them sound like hairdressers.

  42. I suppose you could always braid ribbons, etc. into the animal’s mane and tail in order to avoid some of the cognitive dissonance.
    Since I’m not exactly actively using my Danish, the connection with hairdressers didn’t occur to me. I got a real kick out of.

  43. I associate hairdressers with Harleys, not with cows, but my daughter cuts my hair & I probably just don’t know the right hairdressers.

  44. I associate hairdressers with Harleys, not with cows, but my daughter cuts my hair & I probably just don’t know the right hairdressers.

  45. Um, why hairdressers and Harleys?
    We are riding this right into the ground, aren’t we? Milking it for all it’s worth.
    I sometimes forget how to spell the flowering plant Freesia. It turns out that it matters just a little more than I thought: “Friesia” is the name, or rather a name, of not one but two other genera of plants.
    I wonder what they speak here.

  46. Those wonderful cities: Cabaru, Banar, Ocibar… All, all imaginary? I want to visit them, and learn the subtle differences among the dialects of Frislandibari!

  47. By the way, I discovered this magic land by way of the Wiki Disambiguation Article on Frisland, where I read
    “Frisland, a mythical island in the 1500s and 1600s”,
    a phrase that I did not manage to decode before I followed the link.

  48. Frisland is not the only “mythical” island on the old maps. In the Atlantic Ocean besides Frieslant there’s St. Brandain, Brasil and more. In South America are the lands of Beach, Maletur and Lucach.
    http://www.oldworldauctions.com/detail.asp?owa_id=2145233791
    (you can zoom on this map)
    Atlantis anyone? Or maybe those Irish monks out exploring in their currachs. I seem to remember when the Vikings discovered Iceland, there were already monks living on the island who left. But what language are those topographical names? They sound vaguely French.
    http://www.orteliusmaps.com/topnames/ort160.html
    The Faroes sure don’t have place names like that.
    http://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/europe/faroe-islands/

  49. marie-lucie says:

    I’m going to continue to spell ‘frisians’ friesians. In German, French & Norwegian ‘Frisians’ makes them sound like hairdressers.
    In French the noun la frise also means “frieze” (a kind of wall decoration), but it never refers to hair. The verb friser means “to curl” and the past participle frisé means “curly”, both referring mostly to hair.
    In German there is the noun der Friseur meaning “hairdresser”, which looks French and must have referred originally to a specialized hairdresser, but is not used in Standard French (perhaps it was invented among the Huguenot refugees in Germany?).

  50. It originally referred to Iceland (“Freezeland”
    I really don’t approve of mapmakers making little jokes. You travel thousands of miles to some place in the Arctic Ocean and back, only to find ‘Oh, that was a joke. Didn’t you get it?’.
    Friseur certainly does look French, m-l. I always thought it was.

  51. Mapmakers do put fake towns on their maps for legal reasons, to catch plagiarists.
    I have found that the roadmaps you buy are inaccurate (probably out of daye) for the lowest level of country road. And also, many country roads have three or four designations (old state designation, new state designation, County A designation, County B designation) and the designation on the map is often different than the designation on the roadsign.

  52. marie-lucie says:

    The Trésor de la langue française gives friseur as a rare synonym of coiffeur ‘hairdresser, barber’ first attested in 1557 and found in later dictionaries (not texts), and German Friseur as borrowed from French, which was what I suspected. Many French words were adopted into German as a result of Huguenot influence in Germany (many of the emigrants, escaping religious persecution, were educated and skilled people).
    A related but still possible meaning of friseur in a non-professional sense is found in the single 19th century example friseur de moustache ‘moustache twirler’ referring to a fashionable young man.

  53. Thanks, m-l. I know that’s going to come in useful one day, so I’m filing it.
    Nowadays you can judge the accuracy of draftsmanship by comparing the satellite photograph with the drawing outline, on google maps. Liberties have been taken in places, I’ve found. But I am a grumpy old man, as my family keeps telling me.

  54. many country roads have three or four designations (old state designation, new state designation, County A designation, County B designation)
    Never mind the country. In cosmopolitan Cambridge, Massachusetts it is possible to be simultaneously westbound on (MA) Route 2, northbound on (US) Route 3, and eastbound on (MA) Route 16; this is clearly marked on signs. At the same time you are also on Alewife Brook Parkway.

  55. philip warman says:

    Languagehat, I have not visited in some time due to computer crashes and my wife away in the war. I especially appreciated this observation. You are wonderfully astute, and it lights my day. I enjoy a sharp mind.

  56. Alewife Brook Parkway?

  57. Alewife Brook Parkway?

  58. Yes. Why the bold type?

  59. David Marjanović says:

    It is if you’re intelligent and reasonably educated. If you read Yahoo! Answers, however, questions from students about what lines from Shakespeare mean, even (to me) blindingly obvious ones, are very common.

    And all those people to whom the idea has never occurred that “wherefore” is the question answered by “therefore”, and who in all seriousness believe it just means “where” instead… all the way to putting a comma in when quoting “wherefore art thou, Romeo”.
    That’s of course one of many occasions where German helps (wofür, dafür).

  60. This misinterpretation of Juliet’s “wherefore” is perpetuated in the movie “The Wizard of Oz”. In the middle of the Tin Man’s song about presumin’ that he could be kinda human if he only had a heart a female voice sings “wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
    Earlier the same singer had starred as the voice of Snow White. It appears that Walt Disney, control freak extraordinaire, was so pleased with her work that he saw to it that she never got similar work again.

  61. Ø Why the bold type?
    Because until you’ve found out from Wikipedia that ‘alewife’ is a type of herring it’s a pretty peculiar-sounding name.

  62. Frisee is also a type of fashionable lettuce with crinkly edges.

  63. Trond Engen says:

    Ø: In cosmopolitan Cambridge, Massachusetts it is possible to be simultaneously westbound on (MA) Route 2, northbound on (US) Route 3, and eastbound on (MA) Route 16; this is clearly marked on signs. At the same time you are also on Alewife Brook Parkway.
    AJP: [... U]ntil you’ve found out from Wikipedia that ‘alewife’ is a type of herring it’s a pretty peculiar-sounding name.
    Obviously a red one.

  64. Frisee is also a type of fashionable lettuce with crinkly edges.
    Yes, and I eventually saw that the French for “Frisian” is frison, accounting for someone’s “frisson” joke a few days back.
    Alewife Brook empties into the Mystic River. I once saw what I assume were alewife (alewifes?, alewives?) spawning in great numbers in the shallows, in the upper reaches of the Mystic.

  65. herring [...] red one
    I wasn’t going to say it, but I’m glad you did.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    I have often seen the plural of alewife (a fish) as alewives, without knowing what kind of fish it was. In earlier centuries an alewife was also a woman who brewed (and sold) ale or beer – beermaking, like cooking, being mostly in the hands of women, at a time when the water supply was not very safe for drinking and alcohol acted as an antiseptic of sorts.
    “Frisee”: is this word used in English? I have never seen it in markets or grocery stores in Canada (but I don’t know the whole country). In French it is (la) salade frisée, meaning “curly lettuce” (since la salade is used more often than la laitue to mean “lettuce”, unless you need to be very specific).

  67. Trond Engen says:

    alewife
    It’s an odd name for a fish. Could it be a folk etymology from a folk ichtyology eelwife? In Norwegian I’ve heard the fishname ålekone “eelwife”, and Google tells me that it’s used for the oceanic variety of eelpout. (Since it’s a North American species the name must be recent in Norwegian. I guess that it was coined during the Newfoundland fisheries.) Another example of the belief that different species of fish were man and wife is håkjerring “Greenland shark”, lit. “sharkwife”.(The first element, “shark”, was borrowed by the Dutch as haai and later back into Scandinavian as hai/j, the current generic word for shark.) OTOH, there’s also a small fish named sypike “poor cod”, lit. “(young) seemstress”, apparently for it’s tinyness. For a cod, anyway.

  68. “Frisee”: is this word used in English?
    Yes, Frisee (or frisée with the accent preserved) is a restaurant menu / Food Network / pre-bagged salad word for a curly endive.
    alewifes?, alewives?
    I say alewives. One of the last times I got to use my poor French verbal skills was helping a lost gentleman get to Harvard on the subway (Alewife is a terminus on the Red Line), with a digression on just what an alewife is. I now have the word alose at the ready should there ever be a next time.

  69. “”Frisee”: is this word used in English?”
    There are 42,900 hits for “frisee salad” on Google, including loads of tasty recipes and pretty pictures, so I think the answer is yes. The author of the blog “eating from the ground up”, who lives in Massachusetts, I believe, has this to say about frisee: “Frisee, or “frizzy” as people say at the market, is a wonderful leafy bitter green.”

  70. Trond Engen says:

    Alewife is a terminus on the Red Line

  71. Alewife is a terminus on the Red Line
    That’s really not relevant. It’s, it’s, it’s a false trail that you’re on.

  72. The eelpout is a freshwater cod, doos to eat and withe a remarkably vitamin D rich liver. It is also called a burbot and locally, a dogfish.
    The bowfin is also locally called a dogfish. It is not good to eat and is a very primitive fish. It also needs to breathe air.
    Not very interesting, you say? But it cost me three hours of googling.
    This link would have saved me 2 hours and 55 minutes.

  73. Male bowfin are attentive, responsible fathers.
    I don’t say this to shame any fathers here, such as Crump who refuses to buy his daughter a Frisian horse or even cow.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    In British Columbia (North of Oregon), a dogfish is a kind of small shark, but I don’t know which species (I have heard of them but never seen one).

  75. marie-lucie says:

    “Frisee, or “frizzy” as people say at the market, is a wonderful leafy bitter green.”
    That’s if you like your leafy greens bitter. I don’t particularly, but not all salades frisées are bitter. The one found on this continent is more bitter than the one I know from France, OK if mixed with sweeter leaves, but I don’t like it by itself. It also has smaller and darker green leaves than the French one, if I remember correctly.

  76. When I was researching the bowfin / eelpout dogfishes, I found a website with almost a hundred speies of dogfish. The shark is actually officially called a dogfish. In most cases it’s a local nickname.
    Fish and chips is made with the ocean dogfish, IIRC.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    Fish and chips is made with the ocean dogfish, IIRC.
    Where? I had shark once and did not like the consistency, which would be wrong for fish and chips. Here in Nova Scotia we get fish and chips made with haddock, which is very good.

  78. In New England “dogfish” refers to a small shark. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a live one, but I’ve seen them washed up on the beach.
    Wiki says of the “spiny dogfish”, which I believe is the same:
    In England it is sold in fish and chip shops as “rock salmon”, in France it is sold as “small salmon” (saumonette) and in Belgium and Germany it is sold as “sea eel” (zeepaling and Seeaal, respectively).

  79. Around here the fish in fish and chips is most often made from cod, I believe. But if you asked the people serving it to you they might say “schrod”, a local term which can be somewhat elastic.
    In my experience, shark meat can also be somewhat elastic, or at least rubbery.

  80. Because of a metabolic peculiarity of theirs, shark meat is full of urea (which degrades to ammonia), and it needs to be marinated in something acid before cooking.

  81. In Australia, the flesh of certain sharks is called Flake (see Wikipedia). According to the article:
    “Flake … has a mild flavour, a soft texture that nevertheless remains well-defined after cooking, and a clean white appearance. These qualities, combined with the ready supply and a low price, saw flake become by far the most common type of fish to be served in Australian fish and chip shops”.

  82. This link would have saved me 2 hours and 55 minutes
    Too bad it doesn’t work then, Emers.

  83. I have fixed the link and doubled Emers’s access fee. Let that be a lesson to all you HTML-mungers.

  84. Am I the only one, even though I know quite well what it stands for, who reads HTML to himself as ‘hatemail’?

  85. Am I the only one, even though I know quite well what it stands for, who reads HTML to himself as ‘hatemail’?

  86. Do you remember the mystery fish from two years ago?
    Fisherpersons persevere, no stone is left unturned.

  87. Do you remember the mystery fish from two years ago?
    Fisherpersons persevere, no stone is left unturned.

  88. Let all of us pause a moment to appreciate the subtlety of the difference between “HTML-mongers” and “HTML-mungers”.
    ~~ ** ~~
    Good. Now, on to alewife. The OED tells us that this refers to Clupea serrata, a purely American fish that Wikipedia calls more modernly Alosa pseudoharengus. The latter source teaches that it is called the gaspereau in Atlantic Canada generally, but the kyack in southwest Nova Scotia, and it is known as LY to bait fishers in the southeastern U.S. We may generically call it a herring, and subgenerically a shad; when sold by fishmongers rather than as bait, it is generally smoked.
    As for its (un)natural history, it is now found in the Great Lakes as well as the Atlantic, thanks to the Welland Canal, which bypasses Niagara Falls, formerly a quite literally insurmountable obstacle. With the extirpation of lake trout, it became the top predator in the Lakes; as a consequence, various Pacific salmon have been introduced to eat it, and various fishermen have been introduced to eat the salmon.
    But I will leave the OED, which begins by defining ale-wife as ‘A woman who keeps an ale-house’ with the last word on the etymology of this fish(y) name:

    Prob. a transf. use of prec., with reference to the large belly of the fish.


  89. Fisherpersons persevere, no stone is left unturned.

    Let’s just not get on to the subject of bottom-feeders again, if we can help it.

  90. Somebody put the claim (seemingly long ago debunked: 1 2 3) that alewife comes from an Indian aloof into Wiktionary.

  91. Thanks, JC. I’d made the assumption–and as far as I know it’s never happened–that Language had made a typo.
    Wiki:In computing, the term munge [mʌndʒ] means to attempt to create a strong, secure password through character substitution.

  92. One cannot munge in the name box, apparently.
    A.J.$.P.Q.R.

  93. JC: when sold by fishmongers rather than as bait, it is generally smoked.
    No thanks, I’m trying to give up.

  94. Somebody put the claim … that alewife comes from an Indian aloof into Wiktionary.
    Fixed it.
    I’d made the assumption–and as far as I know it’s never happened–that Language had made a typo.
    O ye of little faith! I have on occasion made typos (though of course I fix them when I see them), but this was not one. I quote the Hacker’s Dictionary: “mung … 2. To destroy, usually accidentally, occasionally maliciously… Reports from Usenet suggest that the pronunciation /muhnj/ is now usual in speech, but the spelling ‘mung’ is still common in program comments.”

  95. Okay, the definitions are different at Wiki & Hacker’s, so it has two meanings, but the main problem is the spelling: no one knows how to say it. Using the ‘Sponge’ precedent, it could be spelled monge, but I really prefer ‘mundge’. How mundge is pronounced is crystal clear to me. And it’s a woody sort of word. Mundge.

  96. I pronounced mung with a velar nasal the first time I laid eyes on it (as a command on the ancyent DEC PDP-8), and I continue to use that pronunciation to this day.
    AJP, you have failed to observe that Hacker’s is defining mung, whereas Wikipedia is defining munge, though they both become munger as nomina agentis. If some people are perverse enough to write mung and pronounce it munge, I can’t help them.

  97. some people are perverse enough to write mung and pronounce it munge
    Are those the same people who call a microphone a “mike” but spell it “mic”?

  98. Also the same sort of people who spell the short version of Roger “Rog” or spell fridge “frig”.

  99. Architects are taught to write REF. on kitchen drawings, rather than ‘FRIDGE’. God knows why, who’s ever called it a ref?

Speak Your Mind

*