The Uses of Books.

A decade ago I quoted Leah Price on shorthand; now Prospect’s Sameer Rahim interviews her about her new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books:

Sameer Rahim: Towards the end of the book, you quote Marshall McLuhan writing in 1966, who listed books as an example of outdated antiques. People have been declaring the end of the book for a while, haven’t they?

Leah Price: When people talk about the death of the book, they’re often talking about two quite different things. One is the death of a particular kind of object that looks and feels and smells a certain way. And the other is a set of practices or activities, which that object has sometimes prompted. You might think of that as the difference between form and function. Personally, I’m not concerned about the survival of the object; I am very concerned about the survival of those human practices or activities.

SR: There’s this myth of an ideal reader, isn’t there?

LP: In the digital age we think of someone reading a printed book curled up in bed or sprawled under a tree, reading for pleasure, probably some classic work of imaginative literature. But for most of the history of printed books, that kind of reading has been distinctly in the minority. If you asked people in Britain or in the US a generation ago what book they had in their house, the most common answers would have been a Bible and a telephone book. So when we blame the absence of printed books for the distraction and the impatience and superficiality of the digital world, it’s unfair. We’re comparing an ideal scenario of print reading with a more realistic assessment of digital reading. We kid ourselves if we think that the presence of printed books would magically make us more attentive and more focused.
[…]

SR: With the rise of audiobooks there’s been a debate over whether listening to a book means you have really read it. Again, though, when literacy rates were much lower, it would have been quite normal for people to listen to books being read aloud.

LP: It could also be a mark of status. If you were an aristocrat whose servant stood behind the chair and read aloud to you while you were having your hair powdered, this would be a form of conspicuous consumption. Although, it could also take the form of a group of semi-literate working-class men having the newspaper read aloud to them in the pub. The resurgence of reading aloud can be explained in large part by the problem of finding time in stolen moments. Since the early 19th century, the commute has been one of the great moments of reading. The great age of the newspaper in the 19th century is also the great age of the railroad. And you can see the audiobook is filling the space occupied earlier by the newspaper on the train.

There’s lots more interesting stuff, about writing in books and the closure of libraries among other things. (I have to say I’m astonished that anyone would question whether listening to a book means you have really read it, but we live in contentious times.) Thanks, Bathrobe!

Comments

  1. I think you would have to listen with sufficient attention, though the same might be said of reading. Indeed, there is a great difference between watching TV or listening to the radio and simply having them on.

  2. I’ve never listened to an audiobook. The idea doesn’t appeal to me, simply because I’d be depending the tone and inflections (and therefore meaning) that another reader was putting into it, which may not always be the same as mine. Maybe, though, if my lifestyle was different and I had a long, boring commute, that objection would be over-ridden so I could sit back and watch the scenery while being entertained.

  3. Leah Price makes a pertinent distinction between form and content. Another needs to be made.

    In my experience when the subject of books comes up, the questions people ask are of this sort: “Are you a reader?”, “What books do you read?”, “What book are you reading?”. These arise from a mindset with several assumptions: that you should have books; that what you should do with a book is “read it”, and “read it” means you must start with Chapter 1’s first word, and read the whole text in sequence until the last word. This erases books where you can read a part of it, and that part makes sense without the context of the book’s foregoing text. The specific titles that people mention in such a context show that they use the word “book” to strongly suggest (if not to absolutely imply) “narrative fiction book” — books of fact are rarely mentioned.

    The book is not as dead as some might fear. But let’s not think that “book” implies “fiction”; remember books of fact. Let’s remember textbooks — admittedly you might have to read all the text in sequence if you were studying for a course, but on the other hand you might refer to just one chapter or a short section. Let’s remember books whose content is best read that way — books which are collections of short stand-alone texts.

    I have hundreds of books. A mere handful are fiction. Many are textbooks or collections of short stand-alone texts — mathematical articles, chess problems. The last thing I read in a book might have been to brush up on how to write for a musical instrument. The people who ask “What book are you reading?” presumably expect some literature title, rather than what I’ve been doing. To me such questions are as relevant as “what’s the word you most recently looked up in a dictionary?”.

  4. I think you would have to listen with sufficient attention

    For me, at least, there’s no way to “half-listen” to an audiobook as one might to music playing in the background. You’re either absorbing what is being said or you’re not. If I ever find my mind wandering while listening, I’ll bookmark my place and come back to it later. And in general I haven’t noticed any difference whatsoever in my level of retention between listening to unabridged audio or reading a text.

    I’m a big fan of the genre. The great Victorian novelists, in particular, beg to be read aloud, as they very often would have been in their own day.

  5. AJP Crown says:

    “what’s the word you most recently looked up in a dictionary?”

    An excellent question, together with “and which dictionary did you use?”

    I’m astonished that anyone would question whether listening to a book means you have really read it
    It expect it’s because of the premise that so much of silent reading is left to the reader’s imagination (ok, not the Maths books), whereas the listener is subject to a third party’s tone of voice and pauses and whatnot. Sometimes, of course, the intermediary is a plus and for that I cite once again Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ books read by Martin Jarvis. Every long car ride needs these tapes.

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    Violet Elizabeth’s “I’ll thcream and thcream ’till I’m thick” might be unfortunate in its power of suggestion, though.

  7. Stu Clayton says:

    Leah Price makes a pertinent distinction between form and content.

    She doesn’t, actually. She is quoted as saying

    # And the other is a set of practices or activities, which that object has sometimes prompted. You might think of that as the difference between form and function. #

    The cookie-cutter metaphor of form/content is an impertinent incubus that imposes itself everywhere. No wonder you misread her as using it.

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    myth of an ideal reader

    Myth? I’m sitting right here.

  9. Stu Clayton says:

    I can’t see you. Could you turn a light on ?

  10. David Marjanović says:

    For me, at least, there’s no way to “half-listen” to an audiobook as one might to music playing in the background. You’re either absorbing what is being said or you’re not.

    For me, that holds for music, too. That’s why I never put background music on.

  11. The great Victorian novelists, in particular, beg to be read aloud, as they very often would have been in their own day.

    And indeed, I read them to my wife at bedtime. Trollope is a particular favorite.

  12. It expect it’s because of the premise that so much of silent reading is left to the reader’s imagination (ok, not the Maths books), whereas the listener is subject to a third party’s tone of voice and pauses and whatnot.

    I can see that as a reason for preferring silent reading, but not as a reason to deny that having heard a book entitles you to say you’ve read it, unless you take a very literalist approach to the verb “read,” in which case you’d better watch your own speech carefully for metaphorical/extended usages lest you be a hypocrite.

  13. (The “you” being general, obviously, not “you, AJP.”)

  14. John Cowan says:

    For me, musical notes seem to be processed in the same part of the brain as words, and they conflict. I can of course cope with songs, but words (read or heard) and unrelated music compete such that I can understand only one and have to filter the other out.

  15. My wife and I hate the currently fashionable practice of adding background music (usually electronic and/or minimalist and/or telephone-hold) behind the voices on shows like To the Best of Our Knowledge (which we otherwise love); it often makes it hard to decipher what’s being said and is always a distraction. Why do they do it??

  16. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks for the clarification! I was a bit worried for a sec. But you don’t ‘read’ oral discourse, and take Pride & Prejudice (“Please!”): nowadays you’ve got the book, the audiobooks, the film, the abridged versions for young readers, the TV series, the parodies (also filmed) and the whole world knows the the opening sentence & (therefore) the plot. I bet you millions of people say they’ve read it without going anywhere near the printed Penguin volume written by Jane Austen.

  17. Stu Clayton says:

    I read it many times, but didn’t know the opening sentence offhand. I’m not excited by famous first and last things. Although famous last words in the schadenfreude sense are ok.

    Now that I’ve reminded myself of the sentence, it doesn’t convince. I suppose that’s because I’m reading the Palliser novels, in which heiresses are presumed to be in want of a husband.

  18. AJP Crown says:

    That’s why I never put background music on.

    Women can do two or three things at once. Watching TV while talking and texting goes on a lot around here. It’s fascinating to observe except I have to break off whatever it is I’m doing.

  19. Stu Clayton says:

    If you can do only one thing at a time, you can’t be sure by following the women closely that they are doing several things at a time. They may want you to believe they do, but that doesn’t make it so.

    They may even claim to be doing those several things only superficially, so as to console you for thinking deeply about one thing. The only certainty here is that men fall for this multitasking guff.

    Men are just blockheads, in my modest experience. Women shine only by comparison. It’s enough to go on.

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    Operating while listening to music is pretty common.

    Personally, I’ve no doubt that Hippocrates would have specifically forbidden the practice if it had ever crossed his mind that his distant progeny would become so degenerate as to indulge in it. Also, I don’t like it.

  21. Stu Clayton says:

    I imagine surgeons listen to baroque chamber music rather than Sousa marches.

  22. Stu Clayton says:

    By the way, multitasking in IT is not what people have in mind with reference to people. A multitasking operating system performs little pieces of tasks sequentially, switching between the tasks so rapidly that you the human get the impression they are being performed simultaneously.

    Multiprocessing just means several processors each processing one task.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    I imagine surgeons listen to baroque chamber music rather than Sousa marches.

    Sadly, neither seem to be common choices.

    There was an actual published paper on background music in operating theatres during eye surgery under local anaesthesia, looking into whether the surgical results were better if the surgeons picked the music or the patients did. I’m sorry to report that the results merely validated the unequal power dynamic between doctors and patients and were frankly ideologically unacceptable. La lucha continúa.

  24. Why Surgeons Listen To Music In The Operating Room — And How It Could Help You, by Carolyn Gregoire:

    The tradition of playing music during medical procedures dates back to ancient times, when the Greeks had identified Apollo as the God of both healing and music. In the early 1900s, Pennsylvania surgeon Evan Kane came out as a proponent of the “phonograph in the operating room,” which provided a means of “calming and distracting the patient from the horror of the situation,” according to the BMJ report.

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    Who’s going to calm and distract the surgeon from the horror of the situation, that’s what I want to know? Patients! honestly, they think it’s all about them.

  26. “what’s the word you most recently looked up in a dictionary?”

    I second AJP in the opinion that it is a fascinating question (of course, instead of dictionary, you can use Wiki or just google search).

    Let’s remember textbooks

    A story from my undergraduate years. Students, who wanted to join a section of the class studying with the Institute of theoretical physics in Chernogolovka, had to undergo a selection process including a written test and an interview. One of the questions during the interview was “which book have you read the last?” to which a normal answer was “volume III” (of Landau & Lifshitz Course of theoretical physics). After all, the test was on the stuff from volume III. Which prompted a follow up question “which book have you read before that?” to which a usual answer was “volume V”.

  27. J.W. Brewer says:

    I had the misfortune a few years ago of having to have root-canal work performed (w/ only local anesthetic, so my hearing was just fine) in a dentist’s office that had decided the appropriate soundtrack for the occasion was so-called “smooth jazz.”

  28. PlasticPaddy says:

    @D.O
    What is the purpose: surely no one is going to answer “vampires in theoretical physicist institute: a true story” or “the anarchist’s cookbook: unexpurgated version”. It reminds me of the question of whether anyone answered yes to ESTA Eligibility Question 4? See
    https://www.official-esta.com/esta-resources/what-are-the-esta-questions/

  29. J.W. Brewer says:

    PlasticPaddy – many generations before the current ESTA form one of the standard US immigration questions, aimed at screening out anarcho-syndicalists and Bolsheviki and whatnot, was supposedly something like “do you advocate the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or violence,” which led to jokes about hapless foreigners who understood it not as a yes/no question but a question requiring them to select either “force” or “violence” as the answer.

  30. David Eddyshaw says:

    I dimly recall an anecdote about a would-be visitor to the US who answered: “Sole purpose of visit.”

    Sadly, I can remember no more.
    G K Chesterton somewhere has an extended riff on how the question is not quite as stupid as it appears, arguing not altogether convincingly but with his customary brio.

  31. Stu Clayton says:

    How did the venerable C get on that subject ?

  32. AJP Crown says:

    D.O. Volume III… a follow up question “which book have you read before that?” to which a usual answer was “volume V”.

    Assuming it’s written on a historical timeline and not just with ever-diminishing comprehensibility, it makes total sense. With Physics, the thing you want to know is how it turns out in the end.

    People who don’t do this think it sounds crazy—why would anyone want to know what happens at the end of the book before even starting it? But it turns out that people who “spoil” stories for themselves may actually have a more enjoyable time reading them, according to a study from the University of California at San Diego. If this is you, keep it up! (Just don’t ruin the endings for the rest of us!)
    Reader’s Digest

  33. AJP Crown says:

    Chesterton:

    When I went to the American consulate to regularize my passports, I was capable of expecting the American consulate to be American. Embassies and consulates are by tradition like islands of the soil for which they stand; and I have often found the tradition corresponding to a truth. I have seen the unmistakable French official living on omelettes and a little wine and serving his sacred abstractions under the last palm-trees frying in a desert. In the heat and noise of quarreling Turks and Egyptians, I have come suddenly, as with the cool shock of his own shower-bath, on the listless amiability of the English gentleman. The officials I interviewed were very American, especially in being very polite; for whatever may have been the mood or meaning of Martin Chuzzlewit, I have always found Americans by far the politest people in the world. They put in my hands a form to be filled up, to all appearances like other forms I had filled up in other passport offices. But in reality it was very different from any form I had ever filled up in my life. At least it was a little like a freer form of the game called “Confessions” which my friends and I invented in our youth; an examination paper containing questions like, “If you saw a rhinoceros in the front garden, what would you do?” One of my friends, I remember, wrote, “Take the pledge.” But that is another story, and might bring Mr. Pussyfoot Johnson on the scene before his time.

    One of the questions on the paper was, “Are you an anarchist?” To which a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, “What the devil has that to do with you? Are you an atheist” along with some playful efforts to cross-examine the official about what constitutes atheist. Then there was the question, “Are you in favor of subverting the government of the United States by force?” Against this I should write, “I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning.” The inquisitor, in his more than morbid curiosity, had then written down, “Are you a polygamist?” The answer to this is, “No such luck” or “Not such a fool,” according to our experience of the other sex. But perhaps a better answer would be that given to W. T. Stead when he circulated the rhetorical question, “Shall I slay my brother Boer”–the answer that ran, “Never interfere in family matters.” But among many things that amused me almost to the point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it respectfully. I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, “I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.” Or, “I intend to subvert by force the government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into your President at the earliest opportunity.” Or again, “Yes, I am a polygamist all right, and my forty-seven wives are accompanying me on the voyage disguised as secretaries.” There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies.

    [There’s a very long digression here.]

    Take that innocent question, “Are you an anarchist?” which is intrinsically quite as impudent as “Are you an optimist?” or “Are you a philanthropist” I am not discussing here whether these things are right, but whether most of us are in a position to know them rightly. Now it is quite true that most Englishmen do not find it necessary to go about all day asking each other whether they are anarchists. It is quite true that the phrase occurs on no British forms that I have seen. But this is not only because most of the Englishmen are not anarchists. It is even more because even the anarchists are Englishmen. For instance, it would be easy to make fun of the American formula by noting that the cap would fit all sorts of bald academic heads. It might well be maintained that Herbert Spencer was an anarchist. It is practically certain that Auberon Herbert was an anarchist. But Herbert Spencer was an extraordinary typical Englishman of the Nonconformist middle class. And Auberon Herbert was an extraordinarily typical English aristocrat of the old and genuine aristocracy.

    Everyone knew in his head that the squire would not throw a bomb at the Queen, and the Nonconformist would not throw a bomb at anybody. Every one knew that there was something subconscious in a man like Auberon Herbert, which would have come out only in throwing bombs at the enemies of England; as it did come out in his son and namesake, the generous and unforgotten. who fell flinging bombs from the sky far beyond the German line. Everyone knows that normally, in the last resort, the English gentleman is patriotic. Every one knows that the English Nonconformist is national even when he denies that he is patriotic. Nothing is more notable indeed than the fact that nobody is more stamped with the mark of his own nation than the man who says that there ought to be no nations. Somebody called Cobden the International Man; but no man could be more English than Cobden. Everybody recognises Tolstoy as the iconoclast of all patriotism; but nobody could be more Russian than Tolstoy. In the old countries where there are these national types, the types may be allowed to hold any theories. Even if they hold certain theories they are unlikely to do certain things. So the conscientious objector, in the English sense, may be and is one of the peculiar by-products of England. But the conscientious objector will probably have a conscientious objection to throwing bombs.

    Now I am very far from intending to imply that these American tests are good tests or that there is no danger of tyranny becoming the temptation of America. I shall have something to say later on about that temptation or tendency. Nor do I say that they apply consistently this conception of a nation with the soul of a church, protected by religious and not racial selection. If they did apply that principle consistently, they would have to exclude pessimists and rich cynics who deny the democratic ideal; an excellent thing but a rather improbable one. What I say is that when we realise that this principle exists at all, we see the whole position in a totally different perspective. We say that the Americans are doing something heroic or doing something insane, or doing it in an unworkable or unworthy fashion, instead of simply wondering what the devil they are doing.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._T._Stead
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Spencer
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auberon_Herbert
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Cobden

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    I regret to say that U.S. immigration policy was not quite so free of “racial selection” in Chesterton’s day as he seems to have supposed, the Chinese Exclusion Act having been a thing since he was a young boy and the principle having expanded until it excluded virtually all other “Asiatics.” (I’m not sure if Chesterton’s visit was before or after the 1917 legislation which expanded the scope of the exclusion although it had been growing piecemeal for a while.) That said, it is nonetheless true that the new arrivals the US was trying to process at the time were an even more diverse (along ethnic and religious and cultural and etc etc dimensions) assortment of white people than the Hapsburgs had just ceased (or were just about to cease, depending on the exact time of writing) ruling over.

  35. Stu Clayton says:

    Thanks, Crown. The man does go on and on rather, is it not ? Like a non-stop Greyhound bus from Houston to LA, with no piddle pauses.

    I’m beginning to sympathize with readers who read the last page first, in order to decide if they want to read the whole thing. The Father Brown stories did not require this, but I have been warned about the rest.

  36. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, and it’s very dated, but I enjoyed the very dated rhino joke.

    For fans of the latter, Chesterton grew up less than a hundred yards from the site of Holland Park School (so did Leonard Woolf).

  37. Stu Clayton says:

    The rhino joke was ok, you need put only one toe in a time machine to catch the mood.

  38. What is the purpose…?

    A theoretical physicist was supposed to be a well-rounded intellectual as well. Intellectual life in Russia is (or at least was) literary-centric. In more relaxed society similar question could have been about film, concert, exhibition, play etc.

    The US customs questions is a good source of jokes:
    – Do you carry any illicit drugs?
    – Sorry, officer, I meant to, but forgot.
    – Next time, please, take them with you.

    Of course, you would like to know the book ending before reading it. Suppose you are about to embark on a biography of Karl Marx. Before reading about his childhood and formative years, you would like to know that he ended up writing Partita on “Was Gott tut” for flute solo and not a weird-beard political philosopher.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    it often makes it hard to decipher what’s being said and is always a distraction. Why do they do it??

    Pubs do it so you drink faster.

    Chesterton:

    So… the reason America asks silly questions under the threat of punishing you if you’re found to have lied is that it’s “a nation with the soul of a church”?

    Nothing is more notable indeed than the fact that nobody is more stamped with the mark of his own nation than the man who says that there ought to be no nations.

    I’m reminded of Spengler saying each civilisation has brought forth a nihilist philosophy, but one that is characteristic of that civilisation: “The Faustian* nihilist smashes the ideals; the Apollonian** one lets them fall apart in front of his eyes; the Indian*** one retreats from them into himself.”

    * Natively speaks Standard Average European. Well, actually, Spengler was talking about Nietzsche… a lot.
    ** From Ancient Grome, where Classical was spoken.
    *** Buddha.

  40. The only background music I would object to during an operation is a funeral dirge.

  41. Lars (the original one) says:

    Of course nobody will answer yes to a question about intent to commit crimes — but if you then do it, you will be found to have lied to an immigration officer and that might carry a penalty and/or be cause for extradition even if the crime itself is not.

  42. PlasticPaddy says:

    @lars
    Right. So if you commit genocide while in the US and you lied about having committed genocide before, you can be convicted of the more serious and “easy to secure a conviction” crime of lying to a US official ☺

  43. AJP Crown says:

    GK Chesterton’s grandfather founded Chestertons, big London estate agents that just found my daughter a rental place to live with her borzoi, a task thought impossible by other agents. The late Gervase Jackson-Stops, a well-known architectural writer was also from a family of estate agents. He died from AIDS but not before he’d renovated The Menagerie (a pdf, you can easily enlarge the pics).

  44. John Cowan says:

    Who’s going to calm and distract the surgeon from the horror of the situation,

    I had understood that surgeons tend to be sublimated sadists, so that it wasn’t a problem.

    Patients! honestly, they think it’s all about them.

    I have certainly met surgeons (though certainly not all) who obviously felt that the patient was irrelevant to their practice.

    “Sole purpose of visit.”

    This is widely (though not exclusively) attributed to Gilbert Harding, known to the tabloids as “the rudest man in Britain” (which is a pretty high bar by American standards).

    Of course, you would like to know the book ending before reading it.

    I thought the great thing about biography is that you do know the end before reading it. Mary Catherine Bateson’s memoir of her mother, Margaret Mead, begins with “Lord knows, they meant well” (referring to her parents) and ending with “Lord knows, she meant well. And she did well too.”

  45. John Cowan says:

    As for the rhino, Thurber shows us that if you do see a unicorn (after all, they both have one horn) in your back yard, you want to be very careful who you tell about it. Then again, it’s even more important for those people to be careful who they talk to about you.

  46. Stu Clayton says:

    Catherine Bateson’s memoir of her mother, Margaret Mead

    Just now ordered it.

  47. The best joke on immigration interrogation theme so far remains:

    “Nationality?”
    “Russian”
    “Occupation?”
    “No, no! Just visiting”

  48. Stu Clayton: Form and function, then. I stand corrected.

    Hat: “My wife and I hate the currently fashionable practice of adding background music […] behind the voices on shows”

    Substitute YouTube videos for shows, and I agree with you! Muzak in shops and other premises, too. Buskers who use amplified sound so that it’s *ages* before they’re out of earshot. Making it hard to hold a conversation is one disadvantage, but it’s annoying even when I’m not with anyone: it destroys my train of thought and makes further thinking practically impossible.

    That might make it look as if I hate music. I don’t. I love music. I spend lots of time listening to it. But that’s time when I don’t have to do anything else which requires concentration, and I am willing to spend it on this pleasurable activity. But there’s much more time when I want to be at peace, or I’m thinking about something else, and someone else’s choice of music, at someone else’s choice of time, is an unwelcome annoyance.

    Stu Clayton: “I imagine surgeons listen to baroque chamber music rather than Sousa marches.”

    Oh, I do hope mine wasn’t listening to music when he should’ve been concentrating on my body!

    J.W. Brewer: ‘I had the misfortune a few years ago of having to have root-canal work performed […] in a dentist’s office that had decided the appropriate soundtrack for the occasion was so-called “smooth jazz.”’

    I once had the misfortune of waiting for a dental op at a clinic where, in the waiting-room, there played a local pop-music radio station. I needed to get relaxed but that unremitting din kept me on edge. Even the dentist had the radio on in his room although he was kind enough to turn it off when I asked.

  49. Right, I will gladly agree that smooth jazz and radio pop are unacceptable background music for dentistry, the superior option is clearly glitch techno.

  50. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s really sweet and restful. It might have lifted my mood when I had a tooth pulled three weeks ago.

  51. Veritas Odium Parit says:

    “So when we blame the absence of printed books for the distraction and the impatience and superficiality of the digital world, it’s unfair. We’re comparing an ideal scenario of print reading with a more realistic assessment of digital reading. We kid ourselves if we think that the presence of printed books would magically make us more attentive and more focused.”

    I disagree with her assessment. A printed book would certainly make one more attentive and focused than reading from a computer or reading device. A book has no distractions; it only offers the printed word.

    Putting that aside people are just not reading substantive literature anymore. People, especially young people today, read in a rather desultory fashion, and most of them don’t do any one thing on the Internet. Instead, they do many things, some of it frivolous, some of it heavy, but most of it is just mindless data that’s voluminously spewed out, but without affecting long-term memory or deep thinking.
    Deep thinking is predicated on rumination, reflection and cogitation, contrary to the requirements set by Internet usage for intellectual assimilation.

    After all, culture must be cultivated and cultivation is a very slow process.

    Also, there is a distinctive difference between fiction and non-fiction literature. The reading of fiction in novels and stories are to a greater or lesser degree, simulations of reality. There is a very special transformation that takes place when one reads fiction that is not experienced in non-fiction. One identifies with a character’s voice in a book; we don’t entirely become the character, but we associate with his/her experiences and we connect, in a way, with the character and author’s consciousness.

    It requires imagination, which technology is assiduously eviscerating.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    A printed book would certainly make one more attentive and focused than reading from a computer or reading device. A book has no distractions; it only offers the printed word.

    I read scientific papers on a computer every day. I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

    Deep thinking is predicated on rumination, reflection and cogitation, contrary to the requirements set by Internet usage for intellectual assimilation.

    There are no such strict requirements in my experience.

    It requires imagination, which technology is assiduously eviscerating.

    Technology is what allows us to imagine gods of our own making and then to write about them.

  53. A printed book would certainly make one more attentive and focused than reading from a computer or reading device. A book has no distractions; it only offers the printed word.

    Has your mind never wandered while reading a book? Mine certainly has. And, like David M, I am quite capable of focusing on material I read online.

  54. Stu Clayton says:

    I found my attention wandering as i read that long comment about attention-wandering. I got suspicious, so I printed out the comment and read it again. Sure enough – it’s not the medium that is unfocused, but the message.

  55. John Cowan says:

    My computer screen has no distractions either: at present it is displaying nothing but this Languagehat page from edge to edge, and although there are a few icons at top and bottom, I don’t see them until I need to. Otherwise it’s words, words, words. (Granted I am a certified old fart, but I’m not exactly alone either.)

    Technology (I assume you implicitly exclude such things as fire, electric lights, comfy chairs, etc.) has expanded my imagination, not eviscerated it.

    (Hey, it’s the VOPper! I didn’ t notice until I had written this far and was about to save. Welcome back; the ban-hamor is still behind Steve’s bar so far.)

  56. A printed book would certainly make one more attentive

    No, only manuscripts can have this effect.

    It’s not worth reading a book if it is not written with love and care by hand of the author, but printed out by dead machine.

  57. AJP Crown says:

    Veritas odium parit confuses bluntness or frankness with truth.

    Young people can tend to flit from thing to thing, but that’s because they are new and there’s so much to be absorbed that needs attention. You become more focussed as you age. Young or old, both conditions have good and bad sides.

  58. Stu Clayton says:

    You become more focussed as you age

    Some of that is due to finally getting spectacles, once vanity has been subordinated.

  59. David Eddyshaw says:

    confuses bluntness or frankness with truth

    The proctocrats currently in the ascendant in the Anglosphere rely greatly on this confusion.

  60. John Cowan says:

    I don’t need reading glasses even at 61 and don’t expect to, as I am hopelessly nearsighted. Fortunately, I rarely need to read anything tens of feet away from me (a sign in a supermarket aisle or two and some street signs), and I don’t drive, so I’m fine until I need cataract surgery.

    “What incredible luck you do have, Peter. People who, in the ordinary way, would avoid you like the plague, gate-crash into your parties at the psychological moment and offer you their noses to lead them by.”

    “Not so much luck, old man,” said Wimsey. “Good guidance, that’s all. I sent the fair Dian an anonymous letter, solemnly warning her against myself and informing her that if she wanted to know the worst about me, she had only to inquire at my brother’s address. It’s a curious thing, but people cannot resist anonymous letters. It’s like free sample offers. They appeal to all one’s lower instincts.”

    “You are a devil,” said Parker. “One of these days you’ll get into trouble. Suppose Milligan had recognized you.”

    “I prepared his mind to accept a striking resemblance.”

    “I wonder he didn’t see through it. Family resemblances don’t usually extend to details of teeth and so on.”

    “I never let him get close enough to study details.”

    “That ought to have made him suspicious.”

    “No, because I was rude to him about it. He believed me all the time, simply because I was rude. Everybody suspects an eager desire to curry favour, but rudeness, for some reason, is always accepted as a guarantee of good faith. The only man who ever managed to see through rudeness was St. Augustine, and I don’t suppose Milligan reads the Confessions.

    —Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder Must Advertise

    And while I’m at it, from The Unpleasantness At the Bellona Club we have:

    “What put you on to this poison business?” [Parker] asked.

    “Aristotle, chiefly,” replied Wimsey. “He says, you know, that one should always prefer the probable impossible to the improbable possible. It was possible, of course, that [name deleted] should have died off in that neat way at the most confusing moment. But how much nicer and more probable that the whole thing had been stage-managed.”

    And lastly, a one-liner from Whose Body?: “The golden mean, Sugg, as Aristotle says, keeps you from being a golden ass.”

    proctocrats

    Word! Of the day!

  61. Yes, I liked “proctocrats” a lot.

  62. @John Cowan: The way Wimsey sets up an entire alternative identity as Death Breedon in “Murder Must Advertise” is so absurd that I know it has to be satire, but when I read it, I feel like I do not know enough about the British upper class in the appropriate time period to really get it.

  63. John Cowan says:

    It’s an identity Wimsey had already used in “The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste” six years before (1926), and at that time he was able to switch identities in Paris and just before getting on a train. So he’s already set with passports and cartes d’identité and so on, probably with the help of the War or the Foreign Office, though he does have to forge a letter of introduction from himself-as-Wimsey on the spot. He also lived in 1927-29 under a completely different identity in the role of “a footman. perhaps, who ha[s] come into a legacy”.

    I don’t think it’s social satire in any way, just part of the conventions of detective fiction, like the celebrated occasion on which the notorious Dr. Grimesby Roylott picked a steel poker out of Holmes’s fireplace and bent it with his hands before walking out, and Holmes then took the poker and straightened it, also with his bare hands. Or the incident in the “Bibulous Business” when Wimsey shoots another man’s revolver between trigger and barrel, causing the gun to explode before the other can fire it, and in a quick-draw situation at that.

  64. I haven’t read “The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste,” so maybe it seems less absurd if you have read that one first.

    Searching a bit online for views of how satirically Sayers’ writing should be taken, I found this quote from Orwell:

    It is, after all, a very ancient trick to write novels with a lord for a hero. Where Miss Sayers has shown more astuteness than most is in perceiving that you can carry that kind of thing off a great deal better if you pretend to treat it as a joke. By being, on the surface, a little ironical about Lord Peter Wimsey and his noble ancestors, she is enabled to lay on the snobbishness (‘his lordship’ etc.) much thicker than any overt snob would dare to do.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    shoots another man’s revolver between trigger and barrel, causing the gun to explode before the other can fire it, and in a quick-draw situation at that

    Lucky Luke avant la lettre !

  66. I feel like I do not know enough about the British upper class in the appropriate time period to really get it.

    https://youtu.be/z14uhNXcx-s

  67. John Cowan says:

    Sorry, I meant to link “Bibulous Business” above. That’s a collection of short stories, so use the linked Table of Contents or search locally on the page for that phrase.

    WP on social satire in the books, including that Orwell quotation. Tl;dr: the class system and many of its participants are satirized by Sayers, Wimsey satirizes them and himself (he is a self-mocking hero, avant la lettre as DM says), but Sayers does not satirize Wimsey.

  68. @John Cowan: I’m not sure what it would mean for Sayers to satirize Wimsey, as he is a fictional character of her own creation. So I fear I do not follow the distinction you are meaning to draw.

  69. Veritas Odium Parit says:

    “Has your mind never wandered while reading a book?”

    Yes it has, quite a few times. What’s your point? I never referred to one’s mind wandering; I referred to distractions. There are no distractions in a book; as I stated, it only offers the printed word. I’m certain you’re familiar with all the distractions from a computer: e-mails, tweets, pop-ups etc.

    “And, like David M, I am quite capable of focusing on material I read online.”

    Again, what is the purpose of your statement? The fact that you, and everyone who has commented on my post, is capable of focusing while reading online is admirable, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there are numerous computer distractions. Furthermore, I referred to the effects of technology on young people in general, and it seems that many people today, young people primarily, are having a problem focusing on a longish sentence or article. Their capacity for deep reading has diminished.

    There are numerous studies and articles corroborating what I wrote; my comments are just an iteration.

  70. David Eddyshaw says:

    There are numerous studies and articles corroborating what I wrote

    Citation needed.

  71. AJP Crown says:

    Verita’s Odious Parrot: it seems that many people today, young people primarily, are having a problem focusing on a longish sentence or article.

    You may be talking about attention-deficit disorders. It’s not that more people have them than in former times, just that they have only recently been drawn to our attention (especially in schools) as a public health issue. It’s not that these occur mostly in young people, just that they first become evident during childhood and adolescence and therefore with luck first get treated then.

    Their capacity for deep reading has diminished.
    No, no, this is rubbish (see above). You may think you’re speaking the truth but the Terence quotation doesn’t make what you’re saying any more true than it ever was.

  72. PlasticPaddy says:

    In my case I would say there are two modes of reading: (1) skimming and (2) precise parsing. In both printed and online texts I would skim to the point of interest and then precisely parse the interesting bit. Skimming requires less effort. I would say I also pursue a similar strategy in conversation, often to the dismay of the person (s) who speak to me. I do not believe that the young only can skim, but what they regard as interesting may be quite different to what I find interesting.

  73. David Marjanović says:

    pop-ups

    Adblock.

    And I’m not on Twitter. Admittedly, the main reason nowadays is that every day around 10 am local time I’d get into a Twitter war with the President of the United States, and, uh, I wasn’t elected to do that.

    You may be talking about attention-deficit disorders. It’s not that more people have them than in former times, just that they have only recently been drawn to our attention (especially in schools) as a public health issue.

    See also: “the autism epidemic”. It has simply replaced the traditional diagnosis of “naughty stubborn child”.

  74. I am confused. I thought attention deficit and autism were two different (in fact opposite) things.

    As I understand it, if you are not focused enough, you have attention-deficit disorder, if you are too focused, you are autistic.

    And if you got it just right, you are mediocre.

  75. I’d get into a Twitter war with the President of the United States

    Please don’t.

    I am not a lawyer, but I believe people were accused of “election meddling” for doing (or not doing) much less.

    I wouldn’t risk it, especially with a surname like yours.

  76. See also: “the autism epidemic”. It has simply replaced the traditional diagnosis of “naughty stubborn child”.

    You’re risking some sort of war with a pack of oldsters, myself included, who grew up being labeled “naughty stubborn children (but gosh, can he read!)” until the ambiguous Dr. Asperger received attention decades after he did his work.

    I recognize that you weren’t equating autism and ADHD, only drawing an analogy to their social constructions.

  77. Stu Clayton says:

    Lots of things are social constructions, including this blog and social constructivism itself. In virtue of this they are real.

  78. Veritas Odium Parit: I’ve deleted your latest supercilious diatribe and will delete any others of a similar nature. If you want to have a conversation, you’re welcome to; if you want to preen and rant, go somewhere else. And don’t whine about unfairness, please; it’s my blog and my decision. I won’t have people derailing pleasant threads with pestiferent petulance.

  79. Stu Clayton says:

    “Plug pulled on pestiferent petulance”

    I hope one day to see POTUS added to that headline.

  80. John Cowan says:

    I’m not sure what it would mean for Sayers to satirize Wimsey

    In the sense that George Eliot satirizes Edward Casaubon in Middlemarch (sorry, the best example I can think of offhand).

  81. John Cowan says:

    I am confused. I thought attention deficit and autism were two different (in fact opposite) things.

    They are, but comorbidity is far from unknown. My grandson, for example, is not as ADHD as his mother, but he probably gets his very mild autism from his (undiagnosed) father.

  82. David Marjanović says:

    Last I read about it, “Asperger syndrome” was now considered part of “the autism spectrum”, and the overlap with ADD and ADHD is also increasingly recognized.

    Personally I expect all this will turn out to be several different things with different causes but overlapping symptoms (as has recently been shown for schizophrenia). After all, it’s not a one-dimensional spectrum: rather than there being an ordered list of symptoms where some people go higher up than others, different people have different random subsets. And some of the symptoms are opposites of each other. For instance, many people on the spectrum are less sensitive to pain than neurotypical people. Some, like myself, are more sensitive instead.

  83. I’m starting to feel very nostalgic about Odium. Such fun times we’ve had together.

  84. Fun yes, in some ways. But the thing about Ody was that he actually seemed to think that his rather desperately deployed ultra-high-register English gave him, in itself, a right to be taken seriously, no matter how little sense he made. Sad, really.

  85. Stu Clayton says:

    That is a common failing. As well as its opposite, see Trump and Co. Both techniques are intended to signal purity of motive. The former displays effort, the latter effortlessness.

  86. Veritas Odium Parit says:

    “Veritas Odium Parit: I’ve deleted your latest supercilious diatribe and will delete any others of a similar nature. If you want to have a conversation, you’re welcome to; if you want to preen and rant, go somewhere else. And don’t whine about unfairness, please; it’s my blog and my decision. I won’t have people derailing pleasant threads with pestiferent petulance.”

    You can do better than that Mr. Dodson; don’t insult my intelligence. Veritas Odium Parit, and to whose moniker it belongs, is what sticks in your craw. You allow your co-conspirators free reign to offend, but not to one whom you think is your adversary, not only your adversary in language, but more significantly your opponent in thought. You and your clique of sycophantic pseudo-intellectuals vituperatively denounce anyone whose viewpoint is not aligned with your sanctimonious and politically-correct nonsense.

    My comments were not “diatribes” and you know that. All I did was respond succinctly to AJP Crown’s refutations to what I wrote. Are you familiar with the word? Diatribe: “a bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism, rant, tirade” Where is the evidence that my comments were a rant or a tirade? There is no evidence because the reason you deleted my comment had nothing to do with derailment or diatribes. It had to do with the fundamental issue, opposing doctrines. What I submitted was an opinion, supported by many. Are you suggesting Professor Greenfield’s statements (whom I quoted in my previous comment) are a diatribe?

    It’s entirely irrelevant, because you know exactly where I’m coming from and that’s the genesis of your aversion. I’m not on your side of the fence; therefore, my comments will be denounced, refuted, disparaged, assailed, and should I persist with my position, regardless of its merit, they will be deleted and ultimately banned from your little forum of sophistic descriptivism. Free speech, free thinking and critical thinking is anathema to your little agenda of in-the-box idealism.

    Therefore, Mr. Dodson, do what so identifies your craven hit-and-run character, delete my comment and ban me from your imperialistic domain of moral relativistic gibberish.

  87. PlasticPaddy says:

    @vop
    Revision a la Spiro Agnew would make your last phrase more memorable. How about Hat as the Reichsführer of relativistic rubbish and Purveyor of Pseudo-intellectual (for full effect, the p has to be pronounced here😊) Pap.

  88. So sunja frijans izwis bringiþ says:

    Ah, I suspected Susan Greenfield might be the fons et origo of the nonsense. Her evidence-free spouting off in the media on issues upon which she has no relevant expertise (this issue in particular) long ago become notorious to those of us who actually care about facts (along with her belief that being on television should automatically confer the right to becoming FRS.)

  89. Veritas Liberabit Vos says:

    I had suspected that it would be Susan Greenfield that VOP would invoke to provide an air of truthiness. Her willingness to spout off in the media on issues far outside her actual field of expertise (such as this very matter) has long since made her notorious to the fact-based community.

  90. David Marjanović says:

    and that’s the genesis of your aversion

    Methinks you could have condensed your whole rant to oderint dum metuant.

    So, let’s have that discussion! What do you want to be feared for? I’m genuinely curious about those “fences” and “sides”.

  91. Ah, VOP snuck in while I was sleeping. Smart! (as a certain White House occupant would say). I’ll leave that silly rant because of the responses it inspired, but I’ll delete any further ones that I notice in time. I’m not sure why these ranters feel the need to return to their vomit, but such are the quirks of humanity.

  92. Stu Clayton says:

    Let’s leave dogs out of this. Mr. Proverbs clearly knows nothing about them. As for “incorrigible” and “inflexible” at the link, that’s merely what someone calls you when you don’t toe a line he’s drawn.

    Trump praised himself for “changing his mind all the time”. He’s corrigible and flexible. This we want ?

  93. Here, VOP, you’ll appreciate this:

    nulla crepido uacat? nusquam pons et tegetis pars
    dimidia breuior? tantine iniuria cenae,
    tam ieiuna fames, cum possit honestius illic
    et tremere et sordes farris mordere canini?

    (Sorry, more dogs.)

  94. Sparky of Cologne says:

    <* indignant bark *>

  95. Down, boy! Eat your far like a good dog!

  96. John Cowan says:

    Farrago is indeed derived from far.

    Here is GT channeling Juvenal:

    No time to settle? Can never be a part of the bridge and rugs.
    Shorter half? Cheaply wrong dinner,
    And empty hunger, since there can be more honest
    And tremble, and coarse grains of dogs bite?

    Sounds quite 20C.

    So sunja frijans izwis bringiþ

    ObPedantic: Properly briggiþ; Gothic used g, not n, for the velar nasal, in imitation of Greek.

  97. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I dimly recall an anecdote about a would-be visitor to the US who answered: “Sole purpose of visit.”

    I think it was Oscar Wilde who gave that answer to the question of whether he was planning to overthrow the Government of the United States of America by force.

    The Chesterton story is good, though.

  98. John Cowan says:

    Everyone thinks all quotations are by one or more of Franklin, Lincoln, Churchill, Twain, Berra, Bush, Reagan, Kennedy, King, Wolfe, Thoreau, Angelou, Rogers, Voltaire, Einstein, Stalin, Wilde, or Shaw (in no particular order). See the WaPo’s flowchart showing how to misattribute a quotation.

    But in fact they are made up and disseminated by the Crazy Ideas Foundation in Schenectady, N.Y., which also supplies crazy ideas to fantasy and SF writers worldwide. At some past time you could subscribe and get six ideas a week for $25, but probably the price has gone up by now, if indeed they are still in business.

  99. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    You forgot Dorothy Parker!

  100. Veritas Odium Parit says:

    Mr. Dodson,

    “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

    No need to worry, I have no intention to participate in inane repartee that will only foster more puerile ad hominem attacks. I’m not interested and I desist.

    Apparently you’re interested in what my previous comment inspired from your staff. Inspiration is always positive? Besides, I would have to extend this thread to over six hundred comments, as I did with the DFW thread, where I subsequently forced a complete capitulation from your vitriolic staff. You do remember? “OK, Veritas, if you will follow the Aiken Formula — declare victory and leave — we can all have a more relaxed life.” Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.

    That was more than three years ago Mr. Dodson; but I’m quite familiar in how to galvanize your team into a hornet’s nest of vitriol. It seemed to be more instantaneous this time. I think perhaps that veritas odium parit is accumulative.

  101. David Marjanović says:

    your staff

    Man, do you have a narrow worldview.

    And if you really don’t understand that the invitation to declare victory and leave means “I’m tired of refuting your PRATTs yet again, you’re boring, just leave”, then I can’t help you.

  102. PlasticPaddy says:

    @vop
    I reread the responses and did not find vitriol. Hat is scathing but (a) he is the host and you are the (somewhat indecorous) guest and (b) as you yourself admit, you have not responded to his kinder admonishments in the past. Perhaps you could also state your points without labelling others. It is hard for me to refute the label of pseudo-intellectual. Depending on what the criteria for being a “real intellectual” are, I may have to settle for pseudo☺. Your points seem to be that (a) the young are not as capable of the sustained concentration needed for academic proficiency as the over 50’s and (b) this is borne out by published research. Evidence for (a) without support as in (b), however valuable, is necessarily anecdotal. The evidence for (b) you have put forward, has not been accepted. This may be indeed because we are all pseudo-intellectual relativists. Or it could be that you need to try a bit harder.

  103. AJP Crown says:

    I’m liking all the new names.

    nulla crepido uacat? nusquam pons et tegetis pars
    dimidia breuior? tantine iniuria cenae,
    tam ieiuna fames, cum possit honestius illic
    et tremere et sordes farris mordere canini?

    I love that, especially its deployment in this context. Bravo, Language.

    Far
    Hence Norwegian hundefor for dog-food? [waits to be shot down by Trond.]

    Didn’t Oscar Wilde say ‘I’ve nothing to declare but my genius’ to a customs officer? Did he have it in for them? Hitler’s dad worked for customs & excise, so perhaps it was prescience.

    I’ve learnt off the telly that the police need to show intent if they’re going to get a murderer convicted. If it’s the same for pseudo intellectuals, I’ll just point out that I’ve no interest in being an intellectual. It has historically zero value in England (almost as a kind of proof my cousin, a History professor, said Stefan Collini was wasting his time & academic position even discussing it).

  104. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ajp
    Cognate of far in english is barley.
    Hundefutter in German. Comparing this and food etc., I think the Scandinavians have swallowed a dental, maybe turning it first into a glottal stop.

  105. Stu Clayton says:

    That can happen with cheap false teeth.

  106. PlasticPaddy says:

    Wiktionary fodder:

    From Middle English fodder, foder…compare Saterland Frisian Fodder, West Frisian foer, Dutch voer (“pasture; fodder”), German Futter (“fodder; feed”), Danish foder, Swedish foder), from *fōdô ‘food’, from Proto-Indo-European *peh₂- (“to guard, graze, feed”).

  107. John Cowan says:

    I don’t think you can actually make a staff out of vitriol: it’s a liquid.

    ObChem: When pure, sulfuric acid’s freezing point is actually 10 C (50 F), so it has to be shipped with heating coils around it. As a water eutectic, though, it freezes at a balmy -63 C (-81 F), and could be used as an antifreeze if corrosion were not a problem, so don’t try it in your car engine. And remember, kids, always add acid to water, never water to acid!

  108. Stu Clayton says:

    And remember, kids, always add acid to water, never water to acid!

    Erst das Wasser, dann die Säure,
    Sonst geschieht das Ungeheure.

  109. Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einer ungeheueren Säure verwandelt.

  110. Plastic: Cognate of far in english is barley.

    Without my knowing whether or how they’re cognate still some of these cereal names seem so different in other European languages, I’ve noticed. Barley is bygg in Norway, die Gerste in Germany, l’orge in France (ok,and il orzo in Italy) and la cebada in Espain.

  111. Stu Clayton says:

    In one of the drafts I’ve seen, it was zu einer ungeheuren Dinosäure.

    Note: the undeclined form is ungeheuer, pronounced “un-ge-heu-er”. When it’s declined, the final “e” is suppressed in pronunciation and orthography: das Ungeheure “un-ge-heu-re”. I’m sure you linguists have a fancy name for this phenomenon. I would call it energy-saving laziness.

  112. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ajp
    From wiktionary

    1. orge/orzo (“barley”), from Latin hordeum, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰr̥sdeyom (“bristly”).
    2. far from Proto-Indo-European *bʰars- (“spike, prickle”)

    I would guess Gersten fits under 1.
    For bygg there was some discussion on another thread about building/planting (German anbauen)..
    For cebada this goes back to cibus but there is no proposed PIE.

  113. ktschwarz says:

    The best “far” thing to eat is far breton, a baked dessert like a flan with prunes. TLFI thinks it derives from Latin farsus ‘stuffed’ < farcīre, with influence from far ‘wheat’.

  114. Trond Engen says:

    AJP: Hence Norwegian hundefor for dog-food? [waits to be shot down by Trond.]

    No need for that now. I’ll just tell that for [fu:r] is sometimes (and especially in Nynorsk) spelled fôr to keep it apart from the preposition for [for]. I think the convention is the last vestige of circumflex as marker of compensatory vowel length after loss of d/ð, which must have been felt more as an ongoing process in conservative dialects in the 19th century than today.

    When visiting my father’s cousin and his family in Sandane as a boy, I remember being surprised by a signpost pointing to Sandane fôrlag. Overlooking the circumflex, I first read it as “Sandane Publishing House” instead of “Sandane Fodder Co-op”, the distributor of fodder to the local fur farmers (my father’s cousin was one of them).

  115. Names of barley: Estonian oder, Finnish ohra ~ otra, Karelian ozra (etc. but this covers most of the points of variation across Finnic) < Proto-Finnic *ocra. Unrelated to orge / orzo and normally etymologized from Balto-Slavic *aćras < PIE *h₂aḱ-ros ‘sharp’.

  116. David Marjanović says:

    I would call it energy-saving laziness.

    Historically it’s the other way around: un-ge-heu-r became impossible outside of Switzerland and surroundings, so -r was replaced by -er, but there was no need to replace -re by -e-re.

  117. Stu Clayton says:

    un-ge-heu-r became impossible outside of Switzerland and surroundings

    What does that mean: “became impossible” ? First the pronunciation was possible, then impossible ? Possible/impossible with respect to what ?

  118. Trond Engen says:

    Phonotactics. Sequences of sounds that are possible in one language may be impossible in another. This is often visible in the way we mangle foreign names and borrowings.

    As language develops, its phonotactics develops too. In the case of foreign borrowings, this can be used to time them, or to time changes in both the source language and the receiving language.

  119. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm, stu
    I am also not sure about this. Whatever the change DM is talking about affected, it only affects final r: compare shorter words which exist as doublets (I am not sure about dialect dependence): teuere/teure, Säu (e)re. So Ungeheur is not possible, but I have the feeling that the surname Baur is NOT pronounced Bauer in Schwaben. But is Schwaben, e.g Bodensee, “Switzerland and surroundings”?

  120. AJP Crown says:

    Sandane fôrlag… “Sandane Publishing House”.

    Haha. Sandane forslag.

  121. But is Schwaben, e.g Bodensee, “Switzerland and surroundings”?
    I don’t know the features of what people speak on the German shore of the Bodensee, but geographically it surely is Switzerland and surroundings – the lake is shared by Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
    And what is Säu(e)re supoosed to be?

  122. Trond Engen says:

    forslag [‘forsla:g] n.n. “suggestion, proposition”
    fôrslag [‘fu:rsla:g] n.n. “fodder type”

    Openminded fur farmers may not keep this distinction.

    ([-rs-] is western. In my eastern variety it’s [-ʃ-])

  123. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hans
    Säu (e)re was my attempt to show that I think some speakers add an extra vowel and syllable to the word Säure. I agree this may be an accent or I may be misremembering.

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