The Sumerian Rib.

Anne Enright in the LRB (8 March 2018) discusses the malign effects of the usual understanding of the Biblical account of the Garden of Eden; she mentions language a fair amount, and here are a couple of such passages:

‘Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.’ The word ‘naked’ is a translation of the Hebrew erom, which is used to describe a state of being stripped or vulnerable, and is without sexual connotation. As for ‘no shame’, Jerome in his translation into the Vulgate Latin uses ‘et non erubescebant’ implying that Adam and Eve did not blush – and this is sweet, for Jerome. It suggests a moment of virginal self-consciousness, full of possibility. It also, perhaps, reflects Jerome’s skill as a linguist. The original word in Hebrew, bosh, comes from a primitive root ‘to pale’, and is here used reflexively – ‘and they were not ashamed before one another.’ In the rest of the Old Testament, bosh is used in contexts that involve feeling confounded or disgraced, but it is rarely linked to ideas of impurity and abomination (when it comes to sex, the Old Testament is mostly worried about marrying out). Other Latin translations settled on the stronger pudere, a term for shame which conveys bashfulness, as well as a sense of decency. Pudor contains the idea of being caught out, but it also had social and ethical implications. It was, for the Romans, a manly difficulty and not something a slave could experience. A woman’s honour was usually limited to sexual respectability, and this was referred to by the more limited form pudicitia. The concept conveyed by the word pudor suffered a narrowing of meaning over time, becoming more sexualised and specific. By the 17th century the root had yielded ‘pudenda’, meaning ‘genitals’, usually female. This is where the shame of nakedness landed and got stuck.

[…]

In the question and response we call ‘the temptation of Eve’, the snake repeats God’s and then Eve’s sentences, then distorts them with a question mark, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden” or a negative: “You will not certainly die”?’ Eve becomes enclosed in a circular exchange with her own words. In many medieval images, the serpent bears the face of Eve, acting as an enthralling, ghastly reflection. This phallic Eve reminds us of the less spooky but equally phallic rib, which has caused generations of children and philosophers to run a counting hand down their sides. The choice of bone is most likely a remnant from an earlier myth, that played on the double meaning of ti in Sumerian – the noun ‘rib’ and the verb ‘to make live’. The fact that we find the choice of bone both odd and satisfying could be used as another rule for writing enduring fiction: your story must contain the remnants of former drafts, whose original meaning is lost, but which now make an odd kind of sense.

I am particularly intrigued by that last bit, from which I have extracted the post title, which I hope will serve to attract our Sumerian expert, ə de vivre.

Comments

  1. your story must contain the remnants of former drafts, whose original meaning is lost, but which now make an odd kind of sense

    I am reminded of Pound’s emendations of the following lines in the Wasteland.

    From

    And other tales, from the old stumps and bloody ends of time
    Were told upon the walls

    to

    And other withered stumps of time
    Were told upon the walls,

    Pound’s emendation arguably loses much of the original meaning but now makes “an odd kind of sense” possessing its own power.

  2. John Cowan says:

    I would read the latter version as containing told ‘counted’, as in what tellers do. But I have never made a close reading of the poem.

  3. J.W. Brewer says:

    What a dreary screed. Creaky arguments cribbed from Victorian-era village atheists without any attention to internal consistency. Jesus was a groovy hippie, but his message got hijacked by that uptight buzzkill St. Paul! But maybe this epistle wasn’t even written by St. Paul! No, maybe on the third hand the problem is that Jerome mistranslated the actual Greek verb used by the pseudonymous bad author pretending to be the bad saint! (FWIW, English translations of 1 Tim 2:14 mostly shifted from “seduced” to “deceived” way way back in the 16th century when everything was still pretty uptight and ungroovy.)

    Separately, she is vertutzt about a particular word choice used in the Vatican’s English translation of a document originally drafted (and presumably reviewed and approved by the Pope) in a different language. Perhaps she should, consistent with the general theme of the piece, track down the original Urtext of the papal statement in order to appropriately apportion responsibility between whoever drafted the original and whoever did the English translation? In any event, the specific Papal sentence doesn’t read most naturally as an exegesis or paraphrase of 1 Tim 2:14, which is not cited even though other Biblical verses are When I read the larger Papal discussion (in English, admittedly) it doesn’t evoke for me a perhaps problematic Augustinian exegesis of Genesis but frankly sounds more like mid-20th-century pop-Freudianism with a light coating of Biblical allusions.

    https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-01/pope-world-communications-day-message-2018-truth-journalism-fake.html

    Separately, Hat might be interested to learn that if you scroll down from the section of the papal message where the English translation keeps using “seduction” and “seductive,” the next section starts quoting the Bros Karamazov.

  4. Pound’s emendation arguably loses much of the original meaning but now makes “an odd kind of sense” possessing its own power.

    Yes, as so often Ez greatly improved what he was editing. Don’t go to poetry for easily grasped meaning!

    the next section starts quoting the Bros Karamazov.

    And very aptly too:

    Constant contamination by deceptive language can end up darkening our interior life. Dostoevsky’s observation is illuminating: “People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others. And having no respect, they cease to love, and in order to occupy and distract themselves without love they give way to passions and to coarse pleasures, and sink to bestiality in their vices, all from continual lying to others and to themselves.” (The Brothers Karamazov, II, 2).

    Dude knows his Dostoevsky!

  5. John Cowan says:

    But, alas, only the non-flying ones.

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    Among liberal Christians there is a sadness about St Paul; a feeling that were it not for his letters they might all be reciting the Beatitudes and fighting for justice in the Third World.

    This is a sure sign that the writer has not actually taken the Beatitudes at face value. I agree with C S Lewis that it is hard to imagine a more desperate spiritual confusion than that required to take the Beatitudes as comforting. Seriously, have you read them? Do you think they’re meant to be pretty?

    St Paul’s letters are the least canonical in the canon, and the most worldly

    Given that the uncontroversially Pauline letters antedate the Gospels, this is a …. remarkable analysis. And she seems either to be using “worldly” in some peculiar private meaning, or not to have actually read the letters in question. All the mystical stuff about the union of believers in Christ in his death and in his resurrection: that’s from Paul, not the Gospels. And that’s worldly, now?

    I will be interested to hear from ə, but suspect that the stuff about Sumerian is (likewise) moonshine.

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    In fairness to our Holy Foremother Eve, it should be noted that while the assertion in 1 Tim (“Adam was not deceaved but the woman was deceaved”) is consistent with the Genesis narrative, it’s not like the serpent is shown as having tried his best to deceive Adam but having failed because Adam cleverly saw through the deception. Rather, Adam’s problem seems to have been that he relied on bad advice (possibly implicit) given him by someone (Eve) who herself lacked deceptive intent. But it still led to trouble. If you are a modern secular lawyer like myself, you will naturally be trying to figure out if Adam can sue the serpent even though he did not speak directly with the serpent, and also interested in whether the serpent carried liability insurance that might help ameliorate the resultant harm.

    Separately, while most recent English translations have Eve explaining to the Lord God (in Gen. 3:13) that the serpent had “deceived” her, the KJV’s preferred verb (“beguiled”) is rather lovely.

  8. January First-of-May says:

    but suspect that the stuff about Sumerian is (likewise) moonshine

    I first read about that particular theory in David Rohl’s Genesis of Civilization, which does not strike me as an especially mainstream source.

    In retrospect, I should have realized that it sounded too good to be true. But it’s not like I actually know any Sumerian.

  9. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    @ J.W. Brewer: the Italian text of the Pope’s message, which is most likely the original, does use the words seduzione and seducente; but I don’t think a screed would be warranted because the non-sexual meaning of those words is alive and well in Italian. In fact, it is surely the primary meaning in an elevated register.

    Says the Treccani dictionary:

    seduzióne s. f.
    1. a. letter. Genericam., azione diretta a indurre al male, mediante allettamenti, e il risultato di tale azione; corruzione. b. estens. Capacità di sedurre, attrattiva, fascino: la s. della musica, della poesia, dell’arte; cedere, resistere alle s. del successo, del denaro; la sua s. è irresistibile; un attore capace di esercitare una grande s. sul pubblico. Talora, le cose stesse che seducono: le s. della vita, del mondo.
    2. Con senso specifico, nel diritto italiano, delitto contro la moralità pubblica e il buon costume commesso da chi, con promessa di matrimonio e facendosi credere celibe, ha rapporti sessuali con una donna minorenne (è stato abrogato nel 1996).

    Admittedly, the complete omission of a specific sexual meaning outside of obsolete legal terminology seems a little extreme. The Treccani thesaurus may be more attuned to actual usage:

    seduzione s. f.
    1. (lett.) [azione diretta a distogliere dal bene con lusinghe e allettamenti: una s. diabolica] ≈ corruzione, traviamento. ↓ tentazione. ↔ redenzione.
    2. a. [atto del sedurre, anche sessualmente: ha ceduto alla sua s.] ≈ ‖ adescamento, irretimento. b. [capacità di sedurre, anche sessualmente: esercita una grande s.] ≈ attrazione, fascino, incanto, malìa, sex appeal.
    3. (fig.) [condizione di ciò che attrae: la s. della musica] ≈ attrattiva, fascino, (lett.) illecebra, lusinga, richiamo.

    In any case, I feel quite certain that in Italian seduction does not necessarily have to be sexual, for the very simple reason it had never occurred to me it has to in English.

  10. I’ve never felt that rib was phallic.

    If the normal translation or common remembrance of that were Adam’s bone, it might be different. But I think she’s off base in giving that connotation to rib. It doesn’t sound like it’s there in the Hebrew or the Sumerian either.

    I’m also dubious that the sexual sin of Gomorrah was marrying out.

    Torah seems loaded with strange preoccupations, sexual and otherwise, and people doing things like lapping water like dogs, which is impossible for anatomically modern humans as far as I can tell.

  11. The way I read it, Nin-ti, the alleged Sumer rib-giver aka life-giver goddess, was rather peripheral in the myth, where the water-god was afflicted by 8 ailments for having stolen and eaten 8 magical herbs from the mother goddeses’ garden, and after much ado mother goddess gave birth to 8 healing deities, one of whom was Nin-Ti. Perhaps a true pun, but kind of lacking central importance?

  12. ə de vivre says:

    I feel like a bona fide celebrity, getting name-checked in a LH post.

    The issue of the TI (𒋾) sign was hotly debated as early evidence for a specifically Sumerian reading of proto-cuneiform, since the homophonous extension of the sign to cover “arrow,” “life,” and “rib” would require the scribes to be thinking in Sumerian, as it were. (I’m kind of agnostic about this evidence. I think there are better reasons to believe that cuneiform was invented by speakers of a Sumerian language).

    In terms of the Sumerian source of Adam and Eve (or Adam-the-gala-priest and Steve; gender dynamics in ancient Mesopotamia are not always what they seem…), I think the pretty convincing evidence that the Noah myth has Akkadian antecedents got people really eager to solve the Bible through Mesopotamian influence—and the story would be pretty great if true. As far as I’m aware there’s no evidence for how the sort-of homophony (miaphony?) in Sumerian would make it into a Hebrew myth.† There’s no equivalent story that would serve as a vector, or evidence of cultural significance to the rib. And ancient Mesopotamians loved puns more than Mel Brooks, so I’d take the rib-life explanation as a just-so story.

    (This is off the top of my flu-addled head. There’s a relevant article I bet I can find tomorrow)

    †That said, the fact that the Sumerian “ey gal,” “palace,” made it into West Semitic as “hekal” and ultimately into Turkish “heykal,” “statue,” will never cease to blow my mind.

  13. John Cowan says:

    He changed Christ’s brothers and sisters to ‘cousins’, for example, a tweak which facilitated the retroactive virginity of Mary, and this doctrine endured long after the translation was corrected.

    He did not: Matt 13:55-56 “nonne hic est fabri filius nonne mater eius dicitur Maria et fratres eius Iacobus et Ioseph et Simon et Iudas et sorores eius nonne omnes apud nos sunt unde ergo huic omnia ista” and the same in Mark, and both are preserved in all later editions. Fratres and sorores don’t mean ‘cousins’.

    the unbearable feelings of worthlessness that flood the infant when abandoned or alone

    Worthlessness? A pretty complex emotion to attribute to an infant. Fear, yes.

    Adam and Eve coupled in the open, being unashamed – though who, you might ask, was there to see?

    One of the few times I did that, it was in a paddock in Ireland, and we were chiefly concerned that there might possibly be a bull in it.

    According to Seneca, ‘nothing is more depraved than to love one’s spouse as if she were an adulteress’

    It is very gratifying to me that it is he who can be blamed for this absurd idea.

    So it must have been deliberate when [Jerome] moved Adam from Eve’s side as she ate the apple. Jerome takes the phrase ‘with her’ out of the line, ‘She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.’

    Well, perhaps. Gen 3:6 says “[…] tulit de fructu illius et comedit deditque viro suo qui comedit”, i.e. she took (some) of the fruit and ate it and gave it to her man who ate it. Comedere is generally glossed just ‘eat’, and certainly that’s what comer means in Ibero-Romance (in French it survives only in comestible), but perhaps in Jerome’s day the prefix/preposition com- still carried its comitative force in this word.

    deceived/beguiled

    Young’s Literal Translation makes it “the serpent hath caused me to forget”, neither deception nor beguilement but distraction.

    I agree with C S Lewis that it is hard to imagine a more desperate spiritual confusion than that required to take the Beatitudes as comforting.

    Well, considering that the Sermon was preached in and for the Third World, it probably was meant to be comforting to the audience. Especially if you suppose, as I do, that “in spirit” in the First, “for righteousness” in the Fourth, and “because of me” in verse 11 (just after the Beatitudes proper) are very old rationalizing interpolations, particularly since they do not appear in Luke.

    the most worldly

    I take that to mean ‘the most concerned with matters of church administration’, which is true, though of course not the whole truth (which is always conditional).

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    the most concerned with matters of church administration

    Undeniable (and unsurprising in view of why the letters were actually written in the first place); however, Enright’s clear implication that that is what Paul is essentially all about is either deliberate misrepresentation or woeful ignorance. I suspect the latter; few seem to find it necessary to actually read the Bible before pronouncing on it.

    it probably was meant to be comforting to the audience

    Fair point indeed; and I was seriously misrepresenting Lewis (as I realised too late to edit); he was referring not to the Beatitudes alone but to the entire Sermon on the Mount. I think (despite my error) I would still maintain that for a typical modern Westerner to find the Beatitudes anything other than deeply unsettling argues for poor reading skills and/or a startling lack of insight.

    To be fair to Enright (not that I feel particularly inclined to be fair to someone who seems so unconcerned with accuracy) she may in the context of supposed liberal-Christian concerns with third-world issues actually have intended this very interpretation. My own experience (which is undoubtedly greater than hers in this respect, at least) is that the kind of Christians who are actually concerned with injustice in the so-called “third word” are rarely “liberal” in the theological sense she presumably has in mind. If she has anything substantive in particular in mind.

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

    I was delighted to find this in the Kusaal Bible translation, because it gave me a beautiful example of a relative clause that could not conceivably be interpreted as restrictive.

    It is very gratifying to me that it is he [Seneca] who can be blamed for this absurd idea.

    Amen. I am always happy to join in putting the boot in to the ineffably smug loathsome hypocrite toady L Annaeus. No wonder Nero went to the bad …

  16. John Cowan says:

    the kind of Christians who are actually concerned with injustice in the so-called “third word” are rarely “liberal” in the theological sense she presumably has in mind

    I think “rarely” is too strong. Christian leftists (in the U.S. at least) certainly aren’t necessarily liberal Christians, but they certainly can be. I seem to get a lot of letters and pamphlets in the mail from such overlappers. Nevertheless, I can’t resist this anecdote:

    Reverend Spooner [yes, that one] was asked whether he thought there was much Christian Socialism at Oxford. “No, I shouldn’t say there was much”, he replied, “in fact, I think there are only two Christian Socialists in Oxford, Dr. Rashdall and myself. Only Dr. Rashdall and myself; and I’m not very much of a Socialist, and Dr. Rashdall isn’t very much of a Christian.”

  17. a beautiful example of a relative clause that could not conceivably be interpreted as restrictive.

    In one thread you mentioned that you accepted the division between ‘restrictive’ and ‘non-restrictive’ relative clauses as existing in all languages. I posted a comment at completely different thread, which was promptly swamped, throwing doubt on the distinction between the two.

    In fact, it is doubtful that there is a hard-and-fast distinction between the two types of clause even in English, which is why the Cambridge Grammer of English abandons that terminology altogether. They give a number of examples of what they call “integrated clauses” that are not restrictive at all.

    Popular grammars of the type you find on the Internet rely heavily on examples using the definite article (‘the boy, who was sick of relative clauses’ vs ‘the boy who was sick of relative clauses’). But these are not the only types of relative clause. scepticism about the distinction goes a fair way back in serious linguistic circles.

  18. The connection of ribs with the progenitor of humanity is also found in the Indo-Iranian tradition, in Rigveda 10.86, a hymn of full of sexual banter and probably connected to the Vedic horse sacrifice. Párśu is the daughter of Manu, the first man, and her name literally means “rib”. At the end of the hymn, “Rib” endures an “explosive fertility” (as the Indologists Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton aptly describe the effect of the sacrifice) that would seem to lead to the founding of a clan.

    Rigveda 10.86.23:

    párśur ha nā́ma mānavī́ sākáṃ sasūva viṃśatím
    bhadrám bhala tyásyā abhūd yásyā udáram ā́mayad…

    “The daughter of Manu, Parshu by name, gave birth to twenty at once,
    good fortune indeed for her whose belly was in pain…”

    Unfortunately the rest of the myth is unknown, although it has frequently been connected with the name of the Persians.

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    In one thread you mentioned that you accepted the division between ‘restrictive’ and ‘non-restrictive’ relative clauses as existing in all languages

    Did I? I don’t remember that. If I did, I was certainly wrong. Must have been drunk.

    I have in fact changed my views in the last months about the situation in Kusaal specifically (actually because I was thinking through the implications of a discussion about apposition that we had right here, where Stu provided the key insight): relative clauses are intrinsically restrictive, but can be used in appositional constructions which are capable of either interpretation.

    The Kusaal version of the passage goes

    ka zaŋ sieba tis o sid onɛ da bɛ nɛ o la ka o mɛ di
    and take some:PL give her husband:SG relative:SG past exist with her the and he also eat

    where the bolded part is an entire headless relative clause, in apposition to sid “husband”; the default construction would incorporate “husband” into the relative clause, with sid onɛ replaced by the compound sidkanɛ (husband-relative:SG), but that would force an (absurd) restrictive interpretation.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    Rigveda by way of Xerib:

    The daughter of Manu, Parshu by name, gave birth to twenty at once, […]

    Speculating. A rib is one of a large set of equal pieces. This image lends itself to a metaphor of branching into an alliance (a brotherhood) of related tribes. The whole set of ribs would have been denoted by the collective (-> feminine), so the mythical progenitor was conceived as female.

    Speculating further. The Germanic ‘fork’ word is a borrowing from Latin, but Latin furca is of unknown origin. I think a sufficiently early borrowing from a Germanic **furxa “tool (or other object) with parallel spikes” would have yielded the Latin form.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think “rarely” is too strong

    Yes, you’re probably right; especially in the US, where religious conservatism has so often been hijacked by right-wing politics: all too natural to react against the bigotry and self-centredness of self-proclaimed evangelicals* by swallowing their own false claim that the bigotry and self-centredness are logical consequences of conservative religious views, and that the only escape from the bigotry is therefore to abandon the doctrines.

    *These people are trashing the brand; or as the football people say, “bringing the game into disrepute.”

  22. And ancient Mesopotamians loved puns more than Mel Brooks, so I’d take the rib-life explanation as a just-so story.

    I might have regretted posting what appears to be a mess of crackpottage if it weren’t all worth it for this.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    This phallic Eve reminds us of the less spooky but equally phallic rib

    Oh for literal fuck’s sake.

    Not all that many people see penises everywhere. I’m happy to accept that Freud’s patients did, but they were not representative of much more than their social class in their decade or two.

    …That said, I’ve come across the truly beautiful idea that “rib” was a euphemism for the penis bone, and the point of the story once was to explain why humans don’t have one. And that would fit splendidly with the Vedic horse sacrifice, wouldn’t it. 🙂

    but perhaps in Jerome’s day the prefix/preposition com- still carried its comitative force in this word.

    I would go with “eat up” as the meaning that came before “eat”, not “eat while being around someone”.

    Párśu is the daughter of Manu, the first man, and her name literally means “rib”.

    …Pork rib?

    The Germanic ‘fork’ word

    Gabel. 🙂

    (…I suppose a gavel is, or once was, what the hammer rests on.)

  24. Trond Engen says:

    The only meaning of Scand. gav(e)l is “end wall of a building”. I think the older meaning was “forked wooden frame”. For “fork” we use the LG borrowing gaffel, but fork < ON forkr is found in some old compounds.

  25. It was here, more than a decade ago, in a piece titled “Congenital Human Baculum Deficiency”, that I first encountered the idea, mentioned above, that the ṣēlaʿ צֵלׇע “rib” that God took from Adam was the os penis. It was an interesting read.

  26. Trond Engen says:

    I overlooked this:

    David M.: Pork rib?

    Or the other way around? Metonymic “side of ribs” -> “pig”.

    [The previous comment shows the level of research I can muster from outside a shop with my wife in it, this one the level while I’m in the kitchen cooking.]

  27. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Not all that many people see penises everywhere.

    Some people do, apparently. I was taken aback the other day to read the following in J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy — a book I hadn’t read before but was curious to know how she would write a novel for adults:

    He was an extravagantly obese man of sixty-four. A great apron of stomach fell so far in front of his thighs that most people thought instantly of his penis when they first clapped eyes on him, wondering when he had last seen it, how he washed, it, how he managed to perform any of the acts for which a penis is designed.

    Well I’m sorry, J. K. Rowling, but although I’ve seen extravagantly obese people such thoughts have never sprung instantly to my mind, or even after long reflection. I tend not to think of their penises at all (or of their vulvas, in the case of obese people who have them). OK, I’m just a sample of 1, but I think she’s wrong about “most people.”

    As for the book as a whole, I got through it, but with little pleasure. Virtually all the characters in it were deeply unattractive.

  28. Congenital Human Baculum Deficiency

    wow, originally published the venerable American Journal of Human Genetics, and in July 2001 rather that in April. Hereditary HOX family gene disregulation was hypothesized. Despite 33 citations listed by Google Scholar, the molecular mechanisms are still elusive (most of the citing work was in the cultural studies and psychology, and the lone genetics paper merely took note of the old publication)

  29. Well I’m sorry, J. K. Rowling

    Your mind obviously moves in higher circles than mine. I would probably think of it. On the other hand, I would quickly dismiss such unappealing thoughts.

    Then again, I have to admit that I have sometimes wondered how some middle-aged men with disgusting mouths (unhygienic-looking, bad teeth, etc, etc.) could ever get their wives to accept their kisses. (Answer: they probably don’t.) But this is also something that I would instantly dismiss as too repulsive to think about.

  30. ancient Mesopotamians loved puns more than Mel Brooks

    The Chinese are also great lovers of puns.

    For example, bats were traditionally auspicious because their name contains the word for happiness (蝙蝠 biānfú ‘bat’ contains 福 ‘happiness’).

    Fish are emblematic of the new year because 鱼 ‘fish’ is pronounced the same as 余 ‘superfluity, plentifulness’, as in 年年有鱼 nián niān yǒu yú ‘every year have fish = every year have plenty’.

    And so on.

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    Perhaps Ms. Rowling has an unusually heightened degree of speculative intellectual curiosity, which might in turn have something to do with her mass-market success? (I dunno. I haven’t read any of her books. I was happy for my now 18-year-old to get obsessed at age 9 or thereabouts with the HP series and read them all straight through in a month or less, because I approve of kids getting into reading. But whenever I peeked at where my child was was in whichever volume she was up to I could never get through more than 3 or 4 paragraphs before giving up because the basic quality of prose style fell below my admittedly idiosyncratic standards.)

  32. Trond Engen says:

    Bathrobe: Fish are emblematic of the new year because 鱼 yú ‘fish’ is pronounced the same as 余 yú ‘superfluity, plentifulness’, as in 年年有鱼 nián niān yǒu yú ‘every year have fish = every year have plenty’.

    Compare PIE *laks- (I don’t think a laryngeal is necessary to explain the various forms) which may be the origin of Hindi lakh “100 000” as well as Balto-Slavic and Germanic words for “Atlantic Salmon”. We’d need something like “swarm, shoal” to unite the meanings..

  33. David Marjanović says:

    Thanks for the link!

    Perhaps Ms. Rowling has an unusually heightened degree of speculative intellectual curiosity, which might in turn have something to do with her mass-market success? (I dunno. I haven’t read any of her books.

    All seconded. My imagination is not very spontaneous.

    I don’t think a laryngeal is necessary to explain the various forms

    But neither is an *a; it could just be yet another root noun with *o. Except I’m not sure about Tocharian…

    Wiktionary on PGmc. *lahsaz: “Proto-Indo-European *laḱs- (“salmon, trout”). Cognate to Proto-Slavic *lososь, Ossetian лӕсӕг (læsæg, “salmon”), and Tocharian B laksi (“fish”).[1] See lax and Latvian lasis for further non-Germanic cognates.” There is no article on PIE *laḱs- or *loḱs-.

    Incidentally, the Ossetian æ is /ɐ/ and never was any kind of [æ].

  34. I could never get through more than 3 or 4 paragraphs before giving up because the basic quality of prose style fell below my admittedly idiosyncratic standards.

    This is my problem with her as well. I require good writing, not just good stories.

  35. John Cowan says:

    Or it could just mean ‘a whole lot’.

    Wikt says that biānfú < OC *peːn pɯɡ, where it’s the second syllable that actually means ‘bat’ < PST *baːk ‘id.’, and the first is just a reduplication.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    …It’ll be a while before comparative Sino-Tibetan reaches the point that such things can be stated with any confidence. At least the different reconstructions of Old Chinese largely map onto each other nowadays.

  37. John Cowan says:

    In general, yes. Wikt does mention a cognate in Mizo (the largest Kuki-Chin language and an official language of the Indian state of Mizoram), namely bâk ‘id.’ (the circumflex means rising-falling tone, very intuitively). Unfortunately even though the link is blue it links only to an accidental homophone in another language. At any rate, the interesting bit is that this is one of the few two-syllable words that actually reconstructs back to OC, because in Min the second syllable is hok. Min branched off before EMC and has no /f/ to this day (except in Hainanese where the voiceless aspirated stops have become fricatives).

  38. @David Marjanović:

    That said, I’ve come across the truly beautiful idea that “rib” was a euphemism for the penis bone, and the point of the story once was to explain why humans don’t have one.

    I’ve always had problems with this idea. I’ve had in mind to write them up formally (Maybe titled: “Objections to the Argumentum ad os baculum”). Until then, a brief summary of my arguments.

    The primary objection is based on the vagueness of what “rib” (tsela) is supposed to refer to, and the syntax of Gen 2:21. Does tsela mean the os penis alone, as a “structural support beam” [Gilbert & Zevit 2001] ? Then shouldn’t the phrasing in Gen 2 be singular, for this unique structure, rather than plural, one of the man’s multiple tsalot? Or is tsela meant as a euphemism for the entire penis, as one projection/spur/spar from the torso in addition to the limbs, analogous to the “tsela” of a hill/mountain? Then shouldn’t the phrasing in Gen 2 say that the bone within one of his tsalot was removed? Either way, something doesn’t quite match up with the way that the verse is phrased.

    The second major objection is epistemic. It’s all very well to say that we, heirs of the broad and multi-generational research project of science, specifically zoology, which seeks to study animal anatomy thoroughly, correlate it with evolutionary heritage, and disseminate that knowledge out in educational programmes that recruit the next generation of researchers, know that many mammal species, including those most closely related to us, have an os penis (in males; there is a corresponding os clitoris in females), and that we, along with some few other species in the greater Primate family, have unusually lost this this bone during the course of evolution.

    However, consider the author of Genesis 2: An Iron-age priest, whose religion includes many taboos surrounding the impurities of dead bodies, and a diet restricted to clean/kosher animals. How was he supposed to know that there was such a thing as a bone in the penis of many mammal species, whose lack in humans was something that needed to be explained? All of the mammals whose bodies that he would have been most familiar with, members of the Bovidae family of artiodactyls, lack an os penis (as indeed all artiodactyls and perissodactyls so lack). A non-Israelite hunter of that era might well have killed bears, otters, wolves, and lions, and noticed their corresponding penis bones, but why would the priest have had contact with the hunter, full of the impurities of dead bodies? If they did converse on the topic for whatever reason, why would the priest have cared enough to worry that humans lacked this bone that wild carnivores had, any more than he would have cared that humans lack a full-body pelt, carnassial teeth, and enlarged canines?

    Ziony Zevit made his arguments in the above-linked paper, in his book What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden, and in: (Zevit, Ziony. “Was Eve Made from Adam’s Rib—or His Baculum?” Biblical Archaeology Review 41, no. 5 (2015): 32–35.). In the latter works, he bolstered his main argument with others that I might address in a full rebuttal, but I don’t think he actually satisfactorily addresses either the syntactic or the epistemic problems. He simply reiterates that Gen 2 & 3 are supposed to be etiological; explaining why things are as they are.

    Possibly more later.

  39. Rowling wrote three really excellent children’s books. Unfortunately, she had committed herself to seven (based on her child’s age when she started writing), and at the same point that she had used up her original plot outline, her explosion of popularity gained her “protection from editors” (a term from TV Tropes,* although derived from Dungeons & Dragons).

  40. Trond Engen says:

    John C.: Or it could just mean ‘a whole lot’.

    I’ll sort that under “something like”. Also ‘abundance’.

    However, since yesterday I’ve learned that lakh also means “stakes in gambling”. Note the parallel to ‘lot’ in ‘lottery’.

    Wikt says that biānfú < OC *peːn pɯɡ, where it’s the second syllable that actually means ‘bat’ < PST *baːk ‘id.’, and the first is just a reduplication.

    It struck me that < ~**lʲɯɡ < **la:k, but Wiktionary is no fun. The cognates of the one meaning fish all start with a more or less palatal nasal.

  41. David Eddyshaw says:

    The reduplication made me think of pipistrelle, but disappointingly, that seems in fact to be a case of assimilation:

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pipistrello#Italian

    The word for “bat” actually does show initial reduplication in Kusaal (zinzauŋ), where it fits a pattern of initial reduplication in words for insects, creeply-crawlies, and smallish no-account animals in general.

  42. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Wikipedia page on bats turns out to be fascinating. Among much else

    Moth species including the tiger moth can produce signals to jam bat echolocation.

    and the Middle English word was bakke, clearly the source of PST *baːk. Tell Victor Mair!

    Also

    Medical attention should be given to any person who awakens to discover a vampire bat in their sleeping quarters

    Seems reasonable.

  43. Bats are our friends, mine anyway. For one thing, they don’t eat my jerseys.

    “structural support beam” [Gilbert & Zevit 2001]
    Cf. “moral support beam” or simply “beam”.

  44. @Owlmirror: The author of Genesis 2 was the Yahwist, which takes the story back quite a ways already; and why assume that he was the originator of the story, or even remembered that the bone in question was once-upon-a-time a baculum?

    By the way, this discussion keeps reminding me of a weird little book by Robert Graves (who else?) maintaining that the Genesis account of Creation originated when some Hebrews looked at a set of tablets of a Mesopotamian account of the creation of the universe by the Goddess, couldn’t read the text, and read the pictures backwards.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    All of the mammals whose bodies that he would have been most familiar with, members of the Bovidae family of artiodactyls, lack an os penis (as indeed all artiodactyls and perissodactyls so lack).

    Oh. Oops!

    Os clitoridis, BTW. With Latin you just never know.

  46. Stu Clayton says:

    I find that the os clitoridis is also called the “baubellum” in English.

  47. The author of Genesis 2 was the Yahwist, which takes the story back quite a ways already; and why assume that he was the originator of the story, or even remembered that the bone in question was once-upon-a-time a baculum?

    So you’re saying that as far as the author of the chapter knew, “tsela” meant rib, which is why he phrased it the way he did?

    =====

    My notes on the topic include the midrash that man was created “male and female” (the phrasing in Gen 1:27) — that is, a hermaphrodite with male and female halves joined at the back, which was later split at the back into two separate individuals. I had known this legend before, but I was not aware that there was a linguistic defense of this interpretation in light of Genesis 2:21: R. Samuel bar Nahman (in Genesis Rabbah 8:1) says that “tsela” could also mean “side”, based on Exod. 26:20 .

    So at least one other meaning of “tsela” was known and used in later stories.

    The above is juxtaposed in my source (The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah, by Bialik & Ravnitsky, trans. by Braude) with another, different midrash from Genesis Rabbah 14:10, namely, that Adam was created with a tail (based on him being called “nefesh hayyah”; “living creature” — the same phrase used in Gen 1:24 for all the other animals), which was later removed.

    I think it could be argued that if “tsela” in Gen 2:21, used in the sense of projection/spur/spar, refers to a tail, that addresses both the syntactic and epistemic objections I raised for the os penis interpretation. Zevit argues that the story is supposed to explain the absence of a bone in the penis and the presence of the raphé (the seam on the underside of the penis). If “tsela” means “tail”, the story could explain the absence of a human tail, and the presence of buttocks on humans.

    A storyteller could ham it up with a physical comedy routine — when he gets to “tsalotav“, he could wave first one arm. then the other, then each leg, then reach behind himself to the base of the spine, and widen his eyes in comic surprise. When he gets to “vayisigor basar” (“and he closed up flesh”), he could make a show of pushing his buttocks together.

    “Tahat”, the root of the last word in the verse, means “under, in place of”, but also “bottom, butt, backside” in Modern Hebrew; I am not sure if it had the same meaning in Biblical Hebrew

    If he used a rope as a prop for mock tail, the storyteller could then use it further to shape a female form on the ground. And then a little later on, it can be used to represent the serpent.

  48. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just further to David Eddyshaw’s point about the Beatitudes, I heard them at church yesterday for the first time in a while and did find the experience comforting, yea, verily I say unto you, even upbeat. But I take his point about their substantive content. I imagine my subjective response was a mixture of: a) actually hearing them being a signal that we had arrived less late for services than we have often being doing recently (since they’re chanted toward the beginning of the liturgy); and b) them being chanted with rather lovely melody/harmony, as the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

  49. John Cowan says:

    WP says s.v. baculum: “Evidence suggests that the baculum was independently evolved 9 times and lost in 10 separate lineages” of the placental mammals. That suggests that, like eusociality in Hymenoptera, it’s a strategy that is easily available but whose exact evolutionary merit depends on the details.

  50. Stu Clayton says:

    I imagine such a “tsela” number could wow ’em in the Borscht Belt. America has a Bible Belt, but no Babylon Belt for Catholics as far as I know. Why is that ?

    Yesterday I got to thinking a tiny bit about humor on religious topics, after listening on the Casa de Oración radio station (Guadalajara) to a recording of a Spanish-speaking (Protestant) evangelist addressing an audience. From his diction and style of speaking I’m sure he is Mexican. He was very good in that radio evangelist way, switching between melodrama, biblical quotes and jokes.

    It amazes me that I’ve only just now noticed that Trump has the same hell-raising, schmaltzy-and-angry-by-turns delivery of a radio evangelist. No wonder “the evangelicals” go for him. Their god too is unpredictable, vindictive and boastful.

    But what about Catholic humor ?

  51. John Cowan says:

    I think it’s because there are Irish Catholics and Italian Catholics and Polish Catholics and Hispanic Catholics and … Even though they all speak English now, they still tend to think marriage across ethnic lines is only slightly less heinous than across creedal lines. So they don’t socialize together in the way that Jews of different origins (except the ultra-Orthodox) did and do.

    In the U.S., Byzantine Catholic priests found themselves under the Latin hierarchy, which imposed celibacy and the Latin Mass on them. Since JPII that has begun to change, with the greater recognition worldwide for the “particular churches” other than the Latin church.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    I think it could be argued that if “tsela” in Gen 2:21, used in the sense of projection/spur/spar, refers to a tail, that addresses both the syntactic and epistemic objections I raised for the os penis interpretation.

    Good point.

    “Evidence suggests that the baculum was independently evolved 9 times and lost in 10 separate lineages”

    The evidence of was […] evolved suggests that this passage is outdated by easily a hundred years. (Is it from the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1911?) Basically everything we thought we knew about placental phylogeny before 2001 is wrong.

    Besides, the baculum – the part that ossifies from a cartilaginous precursor anyway – is homologous to a fusion product of the left and right epipubic bones, which are present throughout the non-placental mammals. They were long called “marsupial bones” under the assumption that they somehow support the pouch in marsupials, but they’re restricted neither to marsupials nor to females; in reality they have a function in walking, acting as an attachment site for muscles that run diagonally across the belly.

    Byzantine Catholic priests

    are now officially allowed to hold Roman-rite masses. This is the loophole through which a married man can hold a Roman-rite mass in full keeping with church law.

  53. Owlmirror says:

    “Tahat”, the root of the last word in the verse, means “under, in place of”, but also “bottom, butt, backside” in Modern Hebrew

    . . . and this is of course “tuches/toches/tokhes” in Yiddish with Ashkenazic pronunciation. While Yiddish got it from Hebrew, I am not sure how.

  54. John what evidence do you have for American Catholics avoiding cross ethnic pairings? I don’t believe that’s true. I’m having trouble finding primary sources, but for instance, this paper asserts that by the 2nd generation, the majority of “Italians” had non-Italian ancestry.

    Perlmann & Waters, Intermarriage and Multiple Identities

    According to a Pew study in 2015, 25% of married Catholics are outmarried, not just ethnically but by religion.

    It’s funny tome that the thread came back around to outmarriage by an independent path.

    The US had no Catholic “belt,” because the countryside almost always and everywhere was majority Protestant. You can’t have an intermittent belt.

  55. PlasticPaddy says:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Province_of_Maryland

    The province began as a proprietary colony of the English Lord Baltimore, who wished to create a haven for English Catholics in the new world at the time of the European wars of religion. Although Maryland was an early pioneer of religious toleration in the English colonies, religious strife among Anglicans, Puritans, Catholics, and Quakers was common in the early years, and Puritan rebels briefly seized control of the province. In 1689, the year following the Glorious Revolution, John Coode led a rebellion that removed Lord Baltimore from power in Maryland. Power in the colony was restored to the Baltimore family in 1715 when Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore, insisted in public that he was a Protestant.

    This type of social engineering explains for me why there is no (historical precedent for a) Catholic Belt in the US. Obviously Canada is different.

  56. So you’re saying that as far as the author of the chapter knew, “tsela” meant rib, which is why he phrased it the way he did?

    Well, yeah. The story sure sounds older than literacy. But in view of others’ arguments against the whole baculum theory, I won’t press the point.

  57. In 1699 Coode, from a wealthy Cornish family, was sentenced to pay a 20-lb. fine and be bored through the tongue with a red-hot iron.

    Um, could we up the fine to 30 lbs. and forget about the tongue thing?

    The sentence was in fact commuted.

    Would our own heir to a Cornish(-Bowden) family fill me in on what tongue such a man would have spoken in the mid-17th century? Surely English, but Cornish as well?

  58. J.W. Brewer says:

    There are plenty of parts of the US that are either majority-Catholic or what you might call plurality-Catholic, either reflecting pre-“U.S.” settlement patterns (as in Louisiana or New Mexico) or more recent immigration patterns (many areas in the urban/suburban Northeast, scattered parts of the rural Midwest). There may be no equivalent to the “Borscht Belt,” but that historically was not “where Ashkenazim disproportionately lived” but “where Ashkenazim disproportionately went on summer vacation.” The lack of a comparably Catholic set of old-timey summer resorts is presumably driven by some mix of: a) back before WW2 a material number of hotels/resorts explicitly forbade Jewish guests but overt rejection of Catholic guests was much rarer; and b) many Ashkenazim sought out hotels/resorts with kosher kitchens and there was no comparable issue for Catholics. (You can find some old-timey beach communities in the Northeast that had 19th century sectarian origins under the auspices of various pro-teetotal sects like Methodists and Baptists — those tended not to draw Catholics but also tended not to draw Protestants who found anti-alcohol local ordinances uncongenial.)

  59. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Would our own heir to a Cornish(-Bowden) family fill me in on what tongue such a man would have spoken in the mid-17th century? Surely English, but Cornish as well?

    In Cornwall at that time probably Cornish if he had been from a poor family, but as he was from a wealthy family Coode may have spoken just English.

    Note, however, that Cornish is a Devon name, not a Cornish name (no point in naming someone Cornish if everyone else is Cornish). It usually refers to someone whose ancestors migrated from Cornwall to Devon around the time (15th century, or so) when family names were being established. It’s a reasonably common name in Cornwall today, but that’s easily explained in terms of reverse migration. My own ancestors called Cornish were in Devon as far back as the records go, to Robert Cornyshe (born before 1495, buried in Thurlestone in 1562).

    Bowdens are found in both Devon and Cornwall, and my Bowden ancestors did come from Cornwall. My Great-great-greatgrandfather Ambrose was from Mount Edgcombe, however, which is so close to Devon that it is visible from Plymouth, and parts of it were legally in Devon until the 19th century revision of county boundaries.

  60. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    many Ashkenazim sought out hotels/resorts with kosher kitchens

    Did the Jews start or buy their own hotels in fashionable areas when they became wealthy? There is a town called Papudo on the coast of Chile which now has a large population of “Turcos”, mostly Christian Arabs who came from Palestine in the 19th century. They were not much liked by the upper classes of the time, and the wealthy Arab owner of a factory was having difficulty finding places for his Palestinian workers to live, so he built cheap housing for them in Papudo. This was not well perceived by the upper classes, but what could they do?

  61. Additionally many Catholics lived in the countryside or had close kin in the countryside, so the advice of sending the kids out of the unhealthy cities for a summer break was easy for them to follow without vacation rentals. The Jews were a city folk, banned from even residing in the villages after 1883 in the Russian Empire, despite a handful of grandfathered exceptions. For them, leaving NYC for a break was a true vacation adventure…

    Re: tuches “butt”, the use of Hebrew for cusswords and ironic sayings was common in Yiddish. Much Russian slang came that way, like хохма or шмон

  62. J.W. Brewer says:

    A C-B – I don’t know the details of the history, but certainly wealthier Jews started their own private gentleman’s clubs, golf courses, and things like that as a reaction to exclusion by the incumbents in those areas — many of which in turn discriminated against the “wrong” sort of Jews. My impression is that overt refusal of Jewish patronage was less common in “regular” hotels of the big-city sort where most guests would just be staying for a few nights but more common in resort settings where people would be staying longer and also spending more time on the premises rather than out and about in the city. See as a random example this blurb about the exclusionary policies of the Lake Placid Club up in the Adirondacks, which were driven by the notorious Melvil Dewey of Dewey Decimal System infamy (who was viewed as unusually anti-Semitic even by the standards of his time). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Placid_Club

    (FWIW in pre-Castro Cuba “Turcos” were typically Sephardic Jews whose ancestors had come from the Ottoman parts of the Balkans, as contrasted with “Polacos,” who were Ashkenazim — although I know the Christian-Arab diaspora did reach many other parts of Latin America.)

  63. Stu Clayton says:

    “Borscht Belt,” but that historically was not “where Ashkenazim disproportionately lived” but “where Ashkenazim disproportionately went on summer vacation.”

    Thanks, JW. That contributes to an explanation of why there is no Babylon or Elmer Gantry Humor Belt. These two groups don’t even have a distinguishing “typical” food, I mean meme-technically “typical”. Is borscht something that was more sought-after by the older generation than it is today ? That’s probably a stupid question, like “was pan-fried steak more sought-after in the 60s in Austin than it is today?”

  64. Athelstan John Cornish-Bowden says:

    the Christian-Arab diaspora did reach many other parts of Latin America.

    Plenty have reached high places, as President of Argentina (Carlos Menem) or Ecuador (Abdala Bucaram), for example, and we are hearing a great deal about Carlos Ghosn in the news in France at the moment. Peter Medawar, one of the most distinguished biologists of the 20th century (if nothing else, read his devastating review of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man: http://bactra.org/Medawar/phenomenon-of-man.html), was another Brazilian Turco.

  65. That contributes to an explanation of why there is no Babylon or Elmer Gantry Humor Belt.

    The devoutly religious are rarely blessed with a sense of humour.

  66. An expression meaning “ass in a hat” even gave rise to a relatively common Ahkenazi surname, Shlyapentokh / Slyapintukh, which I feel I am obligated to share in this hatty place.

    PS:
    https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-belt-regions-of-the-united-states.html

  67. Whatever about 50 years ago, I would have thought that nowadays that many devout Catholic foo-Americans would rather their child marry a devout Catholic bar-American than a lapsed-Catholic foo-American.

  68. >There are plenty of parts of the US that are either majority-Catholic or what you might call plurality-Catholic,

    “Plurality Catholic” requires pulling apart evangelicals and mainliners in a way that doesn’t reflect historical senses of identity. The county results of the 1920 presidential election, at a time when the party system outside the old south was religiously-based, is at wiki:
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/1920nationwidecountymapshadedbyvoteshare.svg

    This book gives a graph of Catholics as percentage of the population through the 20th Century.:
    https://www-tc.pbs.org/fmc/book/pdf/ch6.pdf

    Peaking at less than a quarter of the population, with huge clusters in northern cities, there weren’t enough for them to dominate many hinterlands.

    Yes, there were/are a few parishes in southern Louisiana, and some native American counties, a handful of other spots in scattered mining counties. The massive immigration of the last 45 years, 50 million people in a country that had about 200 million, combined with widespread abandonment of religion as an identity among northern whites, has led to much more mixing, but even so, only about 2.5% of the 3,000 American counties are majority Catholic today, and they’re not clustered geographically.
    http://www.thearda.com/ql2010/QL_C_2010_1_26p.asp

    The Bible Belt was not only a contiguous area where evangelicals dominated, it was also the area that encompassed most evangelicals. The Borscht Belt was mostly a joke name from Borscht Belt comedians. To describe any contiguous swath of the US as Catholic would have been to deny not only the Protestant reality of rural life in the US, but more importantly, the overwhelmingly urban-island reality of American Catholics. That’s why there’s no Catholic Belt.

  69. Owlmirror says:

    I wonder if the tradition of Jewish comedians performing at Jewish hotels derived from Yiddish theater. In the city, non-summer season, people went to see the entertainers; in the summer and at the hotels, the entertainers came to them.

    Was there any such thing as a Christian or an ethnic denomination theater tradition? It seems to me that the theater tradition in the US was mostly secular/nondenominational, but what do I know?

    Not actually that knowledgeable of theater history, so.

  70. Also – the Bible Belt is a massive region comprising like 15 entire states, something like one-quarter of US territory. The Boscht Belt is a handful of resorts scattered across a couple of counties in Upstate New York. (Well, “upstate”).

    The only part of the US that feels truly Catholic to me is Boston. And some towns on Long Island. And even Boston feels only moderately Catholic compared to Quebec, though in fairness Canada in general has far more Catholics (one-third of the population, at least on paper), so Catholic areas in the US feel like more of an outlier.

  71. While Yiddish got it from Hebrew, I am not sure how

    Bored young boys in religious schools forced to learn Hebrew and read Torah all day long.

    Finding dirty Hebrew words in Torah would be natural entertainment and greatest pleasure in precious hours of leisure.

  72. ethnic denomination theater tradition? It seems to me that the theater tradition in the US was mostly secular/nondenominational
    it sounds like a classic confusion about the Jewish immigrants being a “denomination” or “ethnicity”? With Yiddish language, landsmanship and kinship ties, why wouldn’t you expect these people to favor, from time to time, entertainers who spoke their language and their culture and heritage (and indeed most of the early generation comedians had skits in Yiddish as well – and the very name “Borscht Belt” is in itself a Yiddish culture joke) ? And humor was established, for a long time, as the hallmark of Yiddish culture in the old countries like in the US (it is often said that Hitler derided humor as a Jewish subversion, although I couldn’t find an exact quote and although the Aryans were quite apt at subversive jokes too). It was also strong on the Yiddish radio and in the club entertainment culture, with the European Jewish musicians pioneering an American export of “Jazz” which in their incarnation turned largely into lighthearted and humorous song culture for theater and the club scene. (Just recently I posted a story about the antebellum Polish Jazz, but tiptoed around the issue of fairly distant relation between it and the American Jazz – but you can see from the text how much it was about laughs in Poland)

  73. The name “Borscht Belt” is in fact more recent than “Borscht Circuit.” The latter term frames the Jewish resorts explicitly as places for Jewish entertainers to work. (Stereotypically, these were comedians, although there were also plenty of musicians, especially singers.)

  74. David Eddyshaw says:

    The devoutly religious are rarely blessed with a sense of humour.

    I think this is really only true of those religious who would describe themselves as devout, a curious subset with many cross-cultural similarities across the world.

    A well-known story among those famously happy-go-lucky Muslims of Afghanistan:

    A friend asked Mullah Nasruddin how old he was. “Forty”, replied the Mullah. The friend said, “but you said the same thing two years ago!”. “Yes”, replied the Mullah, “I always stand by what I have said”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasreddin

  75. J.W. Brewer says:

    By “plurality Catholic” I don’t mean a place that’s 23% Catholic with no single flavor of Protestant having more than 20% — I mean a place like the county where I live which per ARDA’s numbers is 46% Catholic and has well over 8% of the population that is no sort of “Protestant” in even the loosest ethnocultural sense. I am within a fairly short drive of three quite populous >50% counties (Suffolk, Richmond & Nassau in N.Y.), with more on offer if I drive northeast into New England and some strong-plurality options if I go across the river into New Jersey. I very much appreciate that the demographics of the NYC metropolitan area are *not* those of most of the rest of the country, but they’re still a thing.

    Now, obviously those demographics have shifted over time and the non-Protestant population groups have spread out quite a ways from the parts of Lower Manhattan where they were clustered 150+ years ago — one of my ethnic-Dutch great-great-grandfathers was born in 1842 in Borscht Belt Central (Sullivan County) at a time when I imagine no resident of the county had ever tasted borscht. (Some googling suggests the county’s oldest Catholic parish dates to 1854 and oldest synagogue dates to 1902.)

  76. So to clarify – the performances in the Catskills were in English, not Yiddish. A lot of the performers were also associated with vaudeville – but the Borscht Belt audiences did not tolerate off-color humor. And for the most part they did not explicitly refer to the Jewishness of the audience and the performers – the “house style” was corny puns, jokes about nagging wives or mothers-in-law etc.- kvetching, in a word. The classic Borscht Belt jokes is Henny Youngman’s “Take my wife – please”, but lots of less hacky comedians got their start there like Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, and my personal favorite Jackie Mason.

  77. J.W. Brewer says:

    Also (re the Levantine Christian diaspora south of the border) the Mexican bajillionaire Carlos Slim, whose parents were Maronites from Lebanon.

  78. David = Nasrudin Hodža as we call him in Bosnia is definitely a classic – but the stories about him span the Islamic world, they’re not Afghan in origin. And in any case I would wager the Taliban are not fans. There’s one where he’s taking his donkey to the market, the animal gets spooked and dashes off, and Nasrudin runs after it, panting and puffing. “What’s the hurry, hodža?” “Don’t ask me ask the donkey”. A surprising number of them are about his ugly wife.

  79. JW, if you look at the entirety of Nassau and Suffolk you won’t get the correct impression. Long Island is heavily segregated by ethnicity and religion. Garden City, for example, is very Italian and Catholic, West Hempstead is Jewish (mainly) Modern Orthodox, Hempstead is predominantly a variety of Central American nationalities (some of the best Salvadorean food I’ve ever had, pupusas to die for). But I suppose this goes back to the notion that Catholicism in the US is predominantly coded as ethnic rather than religious belonging. It used to mystify me how a country with hundreds of Christian denominations nevertheless viewed Catholic politicians with suspicions, even hostility, as recently as JFK – but it makes sense in the context of the ethnic aspect of Catholicism.

  80. It used to mystify me how a country with hundreds of Christian denominations nevertheless viewed Catholic politicians with suspicions, even hostility, as recently as JFK – but it makes sense in the context of the ethnic aspect of Catholicism.

    I don’t think it’s just, or mainly, that, though of course it depends heavily on geography and branch of Protestantism. The harder-shell Southern Baptist and similar denominations have (or had, in the heyday of this sort of thing) a strong sense of Catholics as minions-of-the-Satanic-Pope-who-wants-world-domination, with no special ethnic revulsion.

  81. I mean, Catholics are/were not seen as “another bunch of Christians who go to a different church and sing different hymns,” that was how Baptists and Methodists and Congregationalists saw each other. Catholics were seen as the Other, barely Christian at all.

  82. J.W. Brewer says:

    Sure, everything is lumpy and localized in multi-ethnic metropolitan areas, and “Catholic” as a macro-ethnicity lumping together everyone from Irish to Salvadorans is of limited use. And on the simple metric of “what percentage of folks walking down the sidewalk going about their ordinary business on Ash Wednesday have smudges on their foreheads,” Chicago is the most Catholic place in the U.S. I’ve ever lived, much more so than Manhattan. But maybe the big picture point is that however internally varied Nassau/Suffolk may be, it is hard (and harder than it was a few generations ago) to find significant enclaves therein where the “normal American” default expectation that the median person is likely to be Protestant in at least a loose ancestral-or-cultural sense is true. You can see archaeological traces throughout Long Island that the old Protestant cultural-and-demographic hegemony once held sway there as it did in the rest of the 13 colonies and continues in mild form (e.g. in the fictional Springfield of the Simpsons) to do throughout much of the country.

  83. Look, we all know New York City is not actually part of the United States. Let’s be real.

  84. I mean, using the Ash Wednesday metric, Ottawa and Toronto may as well be Riyadh. And Ottawa is allegedly 40% Catholic, though I would be surprised if even 1% of them attended Mass with any regularity. My recollections of Manhattan are colored by having worked for years next door to St. Patrick’s Cathedral but then again in NYC Catholicism is just one of many faiths, none of which can be said to be dominant.

    Not only NYC but much of New York state is atypical for “normal America” – I remember my first trip to Houston staying right next to a megachurch, something you don’t see in NY (apart from some Korean congregations).

  85. J.W. Brewer says:

    Every August I like to take my kids to the Dutchess County Fair up in Rhinebeck (about 100 miles by road north from Times Square – less than that from our house), which always feels like a visit to Regular America, even with an above-average %age of Catholics in the county. Or drive about 120 miles southwest of Times Square and visit the Cowtown Rodeo in Salem County, N.J.

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    @nemanja:

    Mullah Nasreddin is indeed not an Afghan (unless you ask an Afghan, of course.) And the Students indeed doubtless disapprove of him, as you say. But then they fall squarely into the category of self-described devout; not at all the same thing as actually being devout. The two categories are largely (but not entirely) disjoint.

    As Chesterton (surely an actually devout man, and consequently well aware of his own ridiculousness) has the fanatic “Napoleon of Notting Hill” say to the deeply unserious KIng, undoubtedly speaking for the author:

    the human being sees no real antagonism between laughter and respect, the human being, the common man, whom mere geniuses like you and me can only worship like a god.

    My own favourite Mullah Nasruddin story is the Sermon. It seems to cover all eventualities. I’m fairly sure I’ve heard it ascribed to Presbyterian divines …

  87. John

    “The demographics of metropolitan NYC” (and Chicago, etc.) are built into my formulation. Metro NYC and rural have no shared Venn space. Metropoli and hinterlands are opposite poles.

    And the fact that you see no default prot expectation is in no small part bc American cultural Catholics gave in to that expectation and became the mainline Protestants of two generations ago. They don’t hear sermons in an unintelligible language, which was the primary “issue” in the prejudice. They rarely go to confession, which was another big horror bc they were seen as subject to blackmail by priests. The sexual corruption of the priesthood, which was the theme of the only anti-Catholic sentiments I ever heard, is an idea now widely shared by lay American Catholics.

    When my cousin married his Catholic wife and the priest insisted on using a side space rather than the altar, because he wouldn’t assent that Jesus was physically present in the host, the people upset about the priest’s hard line were on the Catholic side of the aisle. Even that was 20 years ago, when the priesthood still had some charisma.

    Not saying those prejudices were justified. But there are far fewer differences these days, mostly because American Catholics became more like Protestants, not the reverse. St. Mary’s might as well be Bethel Reformed today.

  88. John Cowan says:

    Staunch Protestants vs. devout Catholics (and Muslims).

    John what evidence do you have for American Catholics avoiding cross ethnic pairings?

    Only anecdotal and only in NYC.

    as recently as JFK

    Gale remembers well the talk in urban North Carolina about how he’d be taking his orders from the Pope. And indeed, while the Supremes now include no Protestants, no other Catholic has been elected President.

    we all know New York City is not actually part of the United States

    That’s why I call it Europe-beyond-the-Sea and St. Petersburg West.

  89. Nasreddin is, of course, Chinese, and he is properly known as 阿凡提 (ā fán tí)

  90. >Note, however, that Cornish is a Devon name, not a Cornish name

    Bah! You Westrons are all just unspeakably and undifferentiably exotic to us, us … er, um … What?! There’s no demonym for people from Somerset?

    I have no cultural heritage. I may as well just go watch tv.

  91. SCOTUS does have a Protestant now with Gorsuch, but yeah for a while there it was made up entirely of Catholics and Jews. Also I know that Roberts is Catholic but his affect, judicial temperament, legal philosophy etc are pure Midwestern burgher…like how is he not part of a Dutch Reformed congregation.

  92. David Eddyshaw says:

    Nasreddin is, of course, Chinese, and he is properly known as 阿凡提

    Sadly, I can’t read any of the Chinese texts that Googling 阿凡提 produces, but the associated pictures undoubtedly prove you utterly correct, Bathrobe.

    Roberts is Catholic but his affect, judicial temperament, legal philosophy etc are pure Midwestern burgher

    It is surely progress that even Roman Catholics can now be Midwestern-burgers. Excelsior!

  93. Also I know that Roberts is Catholic but his affect, judicial temperament, legal philosophy etc are pure Midwestern burgher.

    Nicely done.

  94. Ā fán tí, apparently. And even I can trace that back to “effendi”. And that’s interesting because while the predominant meaning in Turkish is a polite form of address roughly equivalent to “Lord” or “Sir”, in Bosnia it specifically refers to a Muslim cleric, and evidently the same is true in China.

  95. David Marjanović says:

    if nothing else, read his devastating review of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man:

    ObHat: “The Phenomenon of Man stands square in the tradition of Naturphilosophie, a philosophical indoor pastime of German origin which does not seem even by accident (though there is a great deal of it) to have contributed anything of permanent value to the storehouse of human thought. French is not a language that lends itself naturally to the opaque and ponderous idiom of nature-philosophy, and Teilhard has according resorted to the use of that tipsy, euphoristic prose-poetry which is one of the more tiresome manifestations of the French spirit.”

    Nasreddin is, of course, Chinese

    Heresy! He’s Till Eulenspiegel.

  96. French is not a language that lends itself naturally to the opaque and ponderous idiom of nature-philosophy, and Teilhard has according resorted to the use of that tipsy, euphoristic prose-poetry which is one of the more tiresome manifestations of the French spirit.

    This delights me.

  97. David Eddyshaw says:

    Laying into The Phenomenon of Man strikes me as shooting fish in a barrel; or at least it would, were it not for the fact that, as Medawar says, a remarkable number of people whom you would have thought would have known better were impressed by it (including Julian Huxley, which I suppose is not all that surprising once you start thinking about it, but is still a bit depressing.)

    Agnostic relatives used to recommend it highly to me; a rather similar error in its way to those who assume I’ll like Steven Pinker.

    Heresy! He’s Till Eulenspiegel.

    Surely he must have a Welsh avatar … (Merlin doesn’t really seem to fit the bill.) Rhys Rhedyn?

  98. a remarkable number of people whom you would have thought would have known better were impressed by it

    This is a common phenomenon when it comes to philosophers and other Deep Thinkers, and I’m never sure how far to trust my own incomprehension. I contain multitudes, but I am unable to contain Derrida, it seems; that in itself is no indication of his value, but how am I to judge? I have the same problem with Schelling, Bergson, and others; I try to read the works and don’t get far, but then I read the raves of people I respect and feel the problem lies with me. The swimming pool of my mind may be lacking a deep end.

  99. David Marjanović says:

    including Julian Huxley, which I suppose is not all that surprising once you start thinking about it, but is still a bit depressing.

    Very well said.

    Rhys Rhedyn?

    I need to look him up as soon as possible.

  100. David Eddyshaw says:

    You need to give me time to make him up before you look him up.

  101. The swimming pool of my mind may be lacking a deep end.

    Chomsky has similarly shown up my lack of depth.

  102. John Cowan says:

    There’s no demonym for people from Somerset?

    Indeed, but there is no shortage of proposals. Somerton, which was once the county seat and may even have been the capital of Wessex, uses Somertonian, which would lead to Somersetian or -settian. There are a lot of suggestions out there: Somters (on the principle of Salopians), ’Setters, etc. But I like Wyverners, after the flag of the Kingdom of Wessex which Somerset now uses.

    I also found a page that proposes the non-binary people from Kent should be called Kentish Things (in the east) or Things of Kent (in the west), but it seems too impersonal to me.

  103. much of New York state is atypical for “normal America”

    The upper third of New York state is closer to Siberia than “normal America”.

    I once calculated a hundred miles line across upstate New York which didn’t cross any settlements or inhabited areas at all.

  104. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Laying into The Phenomenon of Man strikes me as shooting fish in a barrel; or at least it would, were it not for the fact that, as Medawar says, a remarkable number of people whom you would have thought would have known better were impressed by it.

    Yes. That’s the point. I don’t think many people take Teilhard de Chardin seriously today, but plenty did when Medawar was writing. Similar considerations apply to Henri Bergson, mentioned above, but Bertrand Russell thought it worth his while laying into him:

    His great reputation began with L’Évolution Créatrice, published in 1907—not that this book was better than the others, but that it contained less argument and more rhetoric. This book contains, from beginning to end, no argument, and therefore no bad argument; it contains merely a poetical picture appealing to the fancy.

    Bergson’s élan vital (“life force”) is still taught in some schools in France.

  105. Stu Clayton says:

    I read most of Bergson’s major works, with fun, profit and edification from most of those, especially Matière et mémoire and Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. That élan vital business in L’évolution créatrice was something I simply learned to ignore, as if it were an otherwise annoying tic.

    Personne n’est parfait. When you read widely, you must keep your hand on your wallet and not faint when weird shit goes down.

  106. Yes, I take Stu’s view — I don’t run in horror when I happen on a piece of stupidity, I just route around it if there’s also stuff I enjoy or can use. I appreciate the Bergson recommendations; I’ll give ’em a try.

  107. Stu Clayton says:

    Those two were published at the end of the 1800s, before EC in 1907. There followed 15 years of exaltation, I find on checking the French WiPe for the dates of what he published in that period and that I have read and squirmed a bit over. He came back down in 1922 with Durée et simultanéité “written after meeting with Einstein” earlier that year. That is worth reading as well.

    When I read them, I rarely pay attention to the chronological order in which books by the same author appeared. A few years ago I discovered I had rather screwed-up notions of when Nietzsche wrote those of his books that made a strong impression on me. Genealogie der Moral, for example, was not an early work, but one of his last before the horse incident.

  108. Vielen merci!

  109. John Cowan says:

    effendi […] a polite form of address roughly equivalent to “Lord” or “Sir”

    < αὐθέντης ‘lord’ < ‘perpetrator’ (especially of murder or suicide). In contemporary modern standard Greek the /θ/ is neither pronounced nor written.

    a hundred miles line across upstate New York which didn’t cross any settlements or inhabited areas at all

    That’s because of Adirondack Park, a unique forest preserve founded in 1885 whose status as “forever wild” is maintained by the state constitution, but which is about half privately owned and contains about 130,000 permanent residents. The park is 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares) and is about a quarter wilderness (old-growth forest with only low-impact hiking, camping, and hunting by permit), a quarter “wild forest” (second- or third-growth forest where powered vehicles are allowed), a quarter “resource management” (agriculture, small-scale settlement, and forestry). The rest includes about 102 settlements of various sizes with restrictions on development, places where highways cut through the park, and so on.

    But I dare say that similar lines, or even longer ones, could be drawn in North America’s Rub’ al-Khali, namely most of Alaska, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Colorado from Denver west; eastern portions of Oregon, California, Washington, and British Columbia; all of Alberta and Northern Canada; and finally Northern Arizona and the Navajo Nation. Like the Arabian one, it is heavily exploited for its rich natural resources at bargain prices. I don’t have figures for the population density, but it is certainly sparse.

  110. American West is a different story.

    But a literal Siberia within one of the most populous states, in just several hours drive from the largest city on the continent, that’s unusual.

  111. J.W. Brewer says:

    It is probably only the proximity to NYC (by rail rather than automobile back then) that led to the political circumstances whereunder the Adirondacks got the “forever wild” designation in the first place, because enough politically powerful urbanites wanted a wilderness to visit within a convenient distance.

  112. J.W. Brewer says:

    But as to Siberian parallels, not only is the state prison in Dannemora (on the northeastern edge of the “forever wild” area and less than 25 miles south of the border with Quebec) sometimes known as “Little Siberia,” there are stories that the state officials who first decided to build it up there way back in the 1840’s were inspired by the Russian example of sending criminals away to the coldest and most distant location available that was still controlled by the same sovereign.

  113. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I appreciate the Bergson recommendations; I’ll give ’em a try.

    Me too. Until now I only know L’évolution créatrice.

  114. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    a hundred miles line across upstate New York which didn’t cross any settlements or inhabited areas at all

    I don’t think you could find anything like that in England except perhaps near its northern limits. However, I once drove along the A46 from Stroud to Bath, and was surprised to see that there is almost nothing but nice countryside between Nailsworth and the M4, and even after crossing the M4 there isn’t much (apart from Pennsylvania — somewhat smaller than its American namesake) until you get close to Bath.

  115. J.W. Brewer says:

    New York has rather more varied and rugged terrain than England, e.g. the Adirondacks are conventionally said (although more accurate recent measurements have apparently led to some asterisks) to have 46 separate peaks over 4000 feet in height; England has zero. But more to the point there was no large portion of England that was not fully settled and economically developed as recently as 1885 when the law impeded the further settlement/development that would otherwise have been likely to occur incrementally in the Adirondacks.

    The English equivalent of the legally-protected Adirondacks would be medieval royal preserves like the New Forest (“new” as of the 11th century …) from which other sorts of ordinary human usage of the land were deliberately excluded so that the land would be unusually well-suited for hunting or some other such use favored by the powerful. But all such enclaves in England are of comparatively small geographical scale by US standards, because everything in England is of small geographical scale by US standards.

  116. John Cowan says:

    It is probably only the proximity to NYC

    There was also the necessity of protecting the watershed for the Erie Canal, then very economically important, and for Downstate.

    nice countryside

    But does that mean agricultural land, or genuinely wild land such as still exists in the Highlands?

    no large portion of England that was not fully settled and economically developed

    Dartmoor.

  117. Most of Wales looks like wilderness too.

    Due to being mountains and unsuitable for farming.

    British Mongolia, in short.

    Some people call it the Desert of Wales, I believe.

  118. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hah! You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face, SF, when our Cymric Horde sweeps across Eurasia leaving death and destruction in its wake! Oh yes!

  119. J.W. Brewer says:

    Dartmoor (<5% of the acreage of the Adirondacks and only a little big bigger than the aggregate acreage of the 5 boroughs of NYC) is only "large" from an English point of view, so my prior point that nothing in England is actually "large" in a more absolute sense stands.

  120. Mountains of southeastern France are like that too. Empty, pastoral areas populated by strange and exotic folk.

  121. >Most of Wales looks like wilderness too.

    If your vision of wilderness is sheep pasture.

    Wales is lovely, but if you walk the coast path, the only wilderness is from clifftop to the low tide line.

  122. John Cowan says:

    There’s a wilderness across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The trees that precariously cling to the steep sides of the Palisades in New Jersey turn out to be old-growth, because nobody ever figured out how to economically log the side of a cliff, though the clifftops were stripped bare and the cliffs themselves were quarried for rock by the simple method of dynamiting them and picking up the pieces. Apparently it was Verrazzano himself who described the formation to Mercator in 1541 as looking like a fence of stakes.

  123. David Marjanović says:

    Bergson’s élan vital (“life force”) is still taught in some schools in France.

    …Surely just as historical background!?!

  124. AJP Zealot says:

    Scotland isn’t really wilderness any more; it used to be forested like most of Britain. Wilderness will return to Britain once its farms have died a natural death and the food, except for the fruit & veg, comes from factories.
    See, if you can, George Monbiot’s documentary Apocalypse Cow https://www.channel4.com/programmes/apocalypse-cow-how-meat-killed-the-planet
    It’s better than the title suggests.

  125. What kind of name is Monbiot, anyway?

  126. Sounds like Mont-Something.

  127. Most people having the name Monbiot come from modern département Aisne (02), though it’s not easy to find a Mountain Biot or whatever there.

  128. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    nice countryside

    But does that mean agricultural land,

    Agricultural. Definitely not wild.

    New York has rather more varied and rugged terrain than England,

    More rugged, maybe, but varied?

  129. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Bergson’s élan vital (“life force”) is still taught in some schools in France.

    …Surely just as historical background!?!

    You’d think so, but when I looked at

    https://www.lyc-vinci-st-witz.ac-versailles.fr/spip.php?article90&artpage=7-8

    some time ago it seemed to be taught as a serious contribution to the understanding of life. Unfortunately, however, I didn’t succeed in checking just now, because “www.lyc-vinci-st-witz.ac-versailles.fr refused to connect”.

  130. AJP Crown says:

    What kind of name is Monbiot, anyway?
    The kind you choose to evade revolutionary spies (though surely ‘Smith’ would have worked better).

    His own ancestors lost their land over 200 years ago. Descended from the French Ducs de Coutard, they fled their estates outside Tours in the Loire Valley in 1789, when the local peasants, stirred by news of Revolution in Paris, began redistributing fields and occupying chateaux. The family slipped across to England and changed their name from Beaumont to Monbiot to evade revolutionary spies.

    The Independent

    George’s mentor (“George and I go on expeditions looking for fossils together” – ibid.) is called Sir Crispin Tickell, an escapee from The Merry Wives of Windsor.

  131. What a story — thanks for investigating!

  132. AJP Crown says:

    Oh, I’m quite interested in George as you probably gathered.

  133. In 1789 was Beaumont pronounced Biomon?

  134. J.W. Brewer says:

    How much semantic overlap is there between “elan vital” and the Mongolian word “khiimori” that was claimed in another thread to be difficult to translate?

  135. David Marjanović says:

    “www.lyc-vinci-st-witz.ac-versailles.fr refused to connect”

    I get the same error message, but the site works; I just can’t find the page’s new address, if it still exists.

  136. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm, ac-b
    Is this what you want? I did a site search for Elan vitale…
    http://www.lyc-vinci-st-witz.ac-versailles.fr/spip.php?article90

  137. Khiimor’ is similar to luck, except that luck is purely fortuitous while khiimor’ is the kind of luck that comes of being ‘virtuous’ in a Mongolian (not Chinese) sense, e.g., being a great hunter of wolves.

    Unfortunately I’m almost entirely khiimor’-less from the point of view of Mongolians.

  138. David Marjanović says:

    Thanks – so, Bergson’s book is taught as history of philosophy.

  139. Owlmirror says:

    The story [of Genesis 2] sure sounds older than literacy.

    I’m not so sure. The garden of Eden, as described, certainly looks like a piece of cultivated (thus postdating agriculture) property. Property, as in a large parcel of land controlled by one individual, implies money; an economy that is no longer based on ad-hoc bartering. Money and property together imply record-keeping, which is to say, literacy and bureaucracy.

    It’s not like creation myths require that a human of one sex be created from the body of a human of another sex. Although, glancing at a few ancient near east creation myths, some do speak of creating humans from the body and/or blood of a god, for whatever that’s worth.

  140. While Yiddish got it from Hebrew, I am not sure how

    Bored young boys in religious schools forced to learn Hebrew and read Torah all day long.

    Finding dirty Hebrew words in Torah would be natural entertainment and greatest pleasure in precious hours of leisure.

    But looking through Strong’s concordance, I did not see any instance of “taḥat” to refer to the anatomical backside. And in the other direction, I don’t recall seeing/hearing of words like sheten (“piss”, best known from the phrase mashtin ba’qir, “pisseth against the wall”) or tsoa’h (excrement) in Yiddish, despite the fact that they are in the bible.

    Have I been missing something?

  141. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ajp re Monbiot
    https://tourainegenealogie.org/produit/familles-de-touraine-et-alliances-xviie-et-xviiie-c27/
    Has a resource available for only 140 Euro. It seems from other sources that the de Coutards were counts, not dukes, and not clearly associated with Touraine (originally Lyon) and the Beaumonts of Tours were “Bonnin de la Bonniniere de Beaumont” (I think there may be a living descendant of that name in France).

  142. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Thanks – so, Bergson’s book is taught as history of philosophy.

    Up to a point, but I don’t detect any note of scepticism. I get the strong impression that Serge Durand agrees with Bergson’s point of view, even if he doesn’t say so in so many words.

    If I were lecturing on, say, spontaneous generation, I might say quite a lot about what Van Helmont said and why he said it, but I wouldn’t leave the students with the impression that that was the current idea, saying nothing about Pasteur.

  143. @Owlmirror: Agriculture is about 9,000 years older than Hebrew literacy. Coinage is several hundred years younger.

  144. Owlmirror says:

    Agriculture is about 9,000 years older than Hebrew literacy. Coinage is several hundred years younger.

    I did not write “coinage”. “Money” can be standardized debt tokens or fixed quantities of durable metal..

    https://sites.utexas.edu/dsb/ain-ghazal/tokens-and-writing-the-cognitive-development/

    Also, Hebrew literacy is shifting the goalposts. Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian literacy had existed for more than a thousand years before the Northwest Semitic speakers started writing regularly using the Phoenician-derived script.

  145. despite the fact that they are in the bible.

    Have I been missing something?

    You may be missing the general fact that cuss-words in a given culture are frequently derived from different linguistic strata, and that the bodily function words are typically subject to iterative euphemization. It is unrealistic to expect the words for butt and excrement to have exactly parallel histories. You have to consider the whole corpus to see the spectrum of these histories.

  146. Owlmirror says:

    I noticed, on reading the original, that Anne Enright mentions the baculum ¹ hypothesis:

    This was an odd theory and nice in its way. The presence of a baculum or penis bone makes it a reality in some animal species, and the Daily Mail got a bit shouty a few years ago when a rabbi suggested it was this bone that was taken out of Adam, and not an extra rib.

    Ziony Zevit is a scholar of the bible and Northwest Semitic languages, not a rabbi, FWIW.

    I also tried to figure out where the rib-Sumerian ti connection to Genesis was argued. As best I can tell it’s a declaration with no further supporting arguments.

    [. . .] the strange story of Adam’s ‘spare rib’ from which Eve was created (Genesis 2:20-3) makes perfect sense once it is realised that in Sumerian the feminine particle and the words for rib and life are all ti, so that the tale in its original form must have been based on Sumerian puns.

    Collon, Dominique. Ancient Near Eastern Art. 1995 . University of California Press . 9780520203075 . 213

    That’s all there is. It “must have been” so.
    _____________________________________________________________________

    1: If you had spoken of a baculum before 1915, without context, no-one would have known that it was supposed to mean the os penis ( aka os priapi or os glandis). Oldfield Thomas, writing about squirrel species, declared:

    Since every other bone of the skeleton has a name of its own, not merely the “bone of the leg” or “bone of the head,” it appears to me convenient to have a special term for the bone of the penis, and l therefore propose to call it the baculum, meaning a little stick.

    Ref: Oldfield Thomas (1915) XXXIV.—The penis-bone, or “Baculum,” as a guide to the classification of certain squirrels. Annals and Magazine of Natural History: Series 8, 15:88, 383-387. DOI: 10.1080/00222931508693653

  147. David Marjanović says:

    Up to a point, but I don’t detect any note of scepticism. I get the strong impression that Serge Durand agrees with Bergson’s point of view, even if he doesn’t say so in so many words.

    …Oh. I overlooked that there are eight pages of this stuff. Most of it is just quotes, but the last three paragraphs do make clear that Durand wants Bergson’s philosophy to be, at the very least, taken very seriously.

    (I’m somewhat surprised that Ockham’s Razor seems to be entirely unknown to a teacher of philosophy.)

    Incidentally, I didn’t even know there was a theory of evolution built around the élan vital. I knew that term only as part of a theory of development biology: how does a blob of a cell grow into a functioning organism with the same shape as its parents? Must be magic.

    every other bone of the skeleton has a name of its own, not merely the “bone of the leg” or “bone of the head,”

    There’s the bone of the lap, os pubis.

    Now that the Occident has Declined and Fallen, lots of people have taken pubis to be the name of the bone, and accordingly pluralized it to pubes. Alas, pubes is the singular lap in Latin, and its genitive singular is pubis.

  148. Stu Clayton says:

    Ossa pubis. The bones of contention.

  149. John Cowan says:

    pubis to be the name of the bone, and accordingly pluralized it to pubes

    Well, it’s one of the six declensions of Greek and Latin words in English: -a/-ae, -us/-i, -um/-a, -on/-a, and -is/-es and its variant ix/-ices. These are all legitimate Greek and Latin declensions, but they can be applied pretty freely to whatever nouns (though hoodlum/hoodla is still beyond the pale).

  150. Owlmirror, the story is plainly from an agricultural society–indeed, from the oldest agricultural region in the world. The green place is called, as you point out, a garden, and the story conflates the beginning of agriculture with the beginning of human existence as such. But none of this has anything to do with my point, which is simply that the story sounds very much like an oral product, at least to me.

  151. Lars Mathiesen says:

    So we’re supposed to say “My pubes is” now?

  152. Owlmirror says:

    I also tried to figure out where the rib-Sumerian ti connection to Genesis was argued.

    I feel a bit embarrassed that I relied on Wikipedia to point to the original source of this. Dominique Collon did not originate the idea, although she seems to have promoted it most enthusiastically..

    Samuel Kramer ¹ was a diligent scholar of Sumerian, who translated many works, including a poem about the place called Dilmun, and the gods Enki and Ninhursag. Dilmun had certain garden-like attributes (although it seems that it could have been a city-state, maybe an island); there was an eating of forbidden plants (or at least, Enki ate them and Ninhursag got angry and cursed him for it — the text doesn’t mention an explicit verbal prohibition). Ninhursag disappears and there is a clever animal (a fox, not a snake) involved in getting her back. When she agrees to heal Enki from the curse, she asks him eight questions for each of the eight plants he ate, and creates eight gods and goddesses for him, to fix the problems.

    Ninhursag: “My brother, what hurts thee?”
    Enki: “My . . . hurts me.”
    Ninhursag: “To the god Abu I gave birth for thee.”

    Ninhursag: “My brother, what hurts thee?”
    Enki: “My hip hurts me.”
    Ninhursag: “To the god Nintul I gave birth for thee.”

    Ninhursag: “My brother, what hurts thee?”
    Enki: “My tooth hurts me.”
    Ninhursag: “To the goddess Ninsutu I gave birth for thee.”

    Ninhursag: “My brother, what hurts thee?”
    Enki: “My mouth hurts me.”
    Ninhursag: “To the goddess Ninkasi I gave birth for thee.”

    Ninhursag: “My brother, what hurts thee?”
    Enki: “My . . . hurts me.”
    Ninhursag: “To the god Nazi I gave birth for thee.”

    Ninhursag: “My brother, what hurts thee?”
    Enki: “My side hurts me.”
    Ninhursag: “To the goddess Dazimua I gave birth for thee.”

    Ninhursag: “My brother, what hurts thee?”
    Enki: “My rib hurts me.”
    Ninhursag: “To the goddess Ninti I gave birth for thee.”

    Ninhursag: “My brother, what hurts thee?”
    Enki: “My . . . hurts me.”
    Ninhursag: “To the god Enshagag I gave birth for thee.”

    Ninhursag: “For the little ones to which I gave birth
    Enki: “Let Abu be the king of the plants,
           Let Nintul be the lord of Magan,
           Let Ninsutu marry Ninazu,
           Let Ninkasi be (the goddess who) sates the heart,
           Let Nazi marry Nindar,
           Let Dazimua marry Ningishzida,
           Let Ninti be the queen of the month,
           Let Enshagag be the lord of Dilmun.”

           O Father Enki, praise!

    So apparently, Kramer saw some parallels to the Garden of Eden story, and those, in addition to the ti=rib & life, inspired him to speculate on an actual connection of the Hebrew story to the Sumerian one.

    As Michael Webster states:

    Now the Sumerian word for “rib” is ti (pronounced “tee”). The goddess created for the healing of Enki’s rib, therefore was called in Sumerian Nin-ti, “the lady of the rib.” But the very same Sumerian word ti also means “to make live.” The name Nin-ti may thus mean “the lady who makes live,” as well as “the lady of the rib.” In Sumerian literature, therefore, “the lady of the rib” came to be identified with “the lady who makes live” through what might be termed a play on words. (Kramer, Mythologies 103)

    Kramer suggests that the passage in Genesis where Eve, “the mother of all living” is taken from Adam’s rib may be an echo of this Sumerian pun, though he is quick to point out that “the Hebrew word for ‘rib’ and that for ‘who
    makes live’ have nothing in common” (Mythologies 103). I suppose it is possible that Eve (“life”) was taken from Adam’s rib (and not some other body part) because of some dim recollection of this Sumerian rib / life pun. I should note, however, that in the Bible the two terms are separated: Eve is created from Adam’s rib at Genesis 2:21-24, but she does not receive her “life” name until Genesis 3:20.

    So there was more than just the bare life-rib pun. But is the notion correct? Who can say?

    I suspect that ə de vivre could have provided all this, but I guess stuff happened after that one comment above, and it got dropped.

    Refs:

    Samuel N. Kramer and W. F. Albright. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Supplementary Studies, No. 1, Enki and Ninḫursag: A Sumerian “Paradise” Myth (1945), pp. 1-40
    ( https://www.jstor.org/stable/20062705 ) (pgs 8 and 9 have discussion of the parallels with Genesis 2&3)

    Michael Webster’s Sumerian Mythology page, which contains the summary of the issue.

    Sumerian Mythology on sacred-texts, which has the full translation of the Enki-Ninhursag exchange.

    =____________________________________________________________________
    1: I found an autobiographical note that his name was originally “Simcha Noach”. It seems that on immigrating from Kiev to Philadelphia in the early 1900s, a first-grade teacher decided that the gutturals of those names Would Not Do, and changed the first name to “Samuel” and the second to “Nathan” (a curious decision, given that simply using “Noah” should have been obvious). He retained these names for a while before changing the the “Nathan” to “Noah”. He felt a certain guilt over this change:

    Still this name transformation had its darker consequences. Librarians tend to look upon me as an enemy, since every time they catalogue Kramer, Samuel Noah, they have to add “See also Kramer, Samuel Nathan.” And whenever in my many travels I show my passport with its “Samuel Nathan Kramer,” I do so with some trepidation, since my suitcases bear the inscription “Samuel Noah Kramer,” and I might be taken to be some kind of imposter.

  153. Fascinating, thanks for digging all that up!

    “To the god Nazi I gave birth for thee.”

    Godwin’s Law strikes in old Sumer (“Putting the god in Godwin since 3000 BC…).

  154. @Owlmirror: To the extent that it referred to an island, the name Dilmun was definitely identified with Bahrain by Neo-Babylonian times at the latest. That seems to have been the center of the Semitic-speaking Dilmun culture in the second millennium B. C. E. However, various other locations around the Persian Gulf have been suggested as the original cultural homeland from the third millennium B. C. E. For example, Sargon the Great is supposed to have campaigned in Dilmun, but in that case, that almost certainly meant a region on the Arabian mainland.

  155. Re: God Nazi

    Nanshe (also known as Nanse, Nazi) is the Sumerian goddess of social justice and divination

    Nazi – goddess of social justice!

  156. David Marjanović says:

    There’s always Ea-nasir, whose s was probably still some kind of [tsʰ].

    Alas, the wonderful Tumblr post about him has proved less durable than the original tablet.

  157. Ask Michael Webster how he knows how Sumerian words were pronounced.

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