Two Tidbits.

From Futility Closet, “A dry footnote from Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian, regarding the Porteous Riots of 1736, in which a guard captain was lynched in Edinburgh”:

The Magistrates were closely interrogated before the House of Peers, concerning the particulars of the Mob, and the patois in which these functionaries made their answers, sounded strange in the ears of the Southern nobles. The Duke of Newcastle having demanded to know with what kind of shot the guard which Porteous commanded had loaded their muskets, was answered naively, ‘Ow, just sic as ane shoots dukes and fools with.’ This reply was considered as a contempt of the House of Lords, and the Provost would have suffered accordingly, but that the Duke of Argyle explained, that the expression, properly rendered into English, meant ducks and waterfowl.

Thanks, JC! And from Jamie Fisher’s LRB review (8 March 2018) of The Chinese Typewriter: A History, by Thomas S. Mullaney:

The first machine marketed as a ‘Chinese typewriter’ was invented in 1888 by the American missionary Devello Sheffield, his goal less to create a typewriter than to replace the missionary’s intermediary, the opinionated Chinese clerk. ‘They usually talk to their writer,’ Sheffield wrote, ‘and he takes down with a pen what has been said, and later puts their work into Chinese literary style … The finished product will be found to have lost in this process no slight proportion of what the writer wished to say, and to have taken on quite as large a proportion of what the Chinese assistant contributed to the thought.’

Comments

  1. John Cowan says:

    It can work the other way around, too:

    “Your honour puts yourself to much trouble correcting my English and doubtless the final letter will be much better literature; but it will go from me Mukherji to him Bannerji, and he Bannerji will understand it a great deal better as I Mukherji write it than as your honour corrects it.” —told by Sir Ernest Gowers

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    The best medical secretary I ever encountered used to type up, not the letter that you had actually dictated, but the letter you ought to have dictated. She was … formidable.

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mukherji/Bannerji:

    It’s perhaps analogous to the Imperial Achaemenid method: dictate your letter in Persian to the scribe, who will write it in Imperial Aramaic for you; at the far end, your correspondent’s scribe will read the Aramaic letter to him in Persian. Everyone wins, especially the scribes.

  4. Reminds me old Soviet military joke.

    General returns from inspection and calls an old and experienced secretary:
    – Vera Ivanovna, we urgently need to prepare an Order regarding the state of military discipline, are you ready?
    – Yes.
    – Great. Then we begin..
    (walks around the office and dictates)
    – FUCK YOUR MOTHER !!!!
    The woman types:
    “Comrade officers!”
    – NOBODY DOES ANYTHING!
    “Military discipline has fallen among the troops”
    – EVERYONE IS JUST JERKING OFF!!
    “The commanding officers have withdrawn themselves from exercise of their duties..”
    – THICK HEADED IDIOTS, FUCK, JUST WANDERING AROUND LIKE PREGNANT RHINOS, DRINKING VODKA, CAUSING DISRUPTION, FUCKING EVERYTHING, WHAT A FUCK!
    “No one is working on improving morale, drill training has weakened, cases of drunken fights and abuses against the local population have become more frequent …
    – FUCK YOU ALL !!!
    “Hereby, I order!”
    – THIS NEW CONDOM WHO FANCIES HIMSELF A BLIMP HE’LL GET NEEDLES IN THE ASS, NOT A GENERAL’S RANK!
    “To issue a warning to the division commander Colonel Ivanov of his incomplete fitness to the current command …”
    – THE REST OF THE HERD, HE SHOULD FUCK HIMSELF!
    “The rest of the commanding staff is to be disciplined by the authority of the division commander”
    – FUCK !!
    “Military District Commander Colonel-General Petrov”

  5. John Cowan says:

    Okay, if we are doing fuck jokes:

    MacDonald’s mention of the Everest expedition reminded me of the lecture tour undertaken by the commander of the record-breaking climb, Sir Vivian Fuchs. Sir Vivian was appearing on a platform in the British Midlands and the chairman called the meeting to order, proceeding with a few remarks about the distinguished explorer. “Sir Vivian Fucks,” he said, “is the man really responsible for the conquest of Everest. His planning was meticulous, and made it possible for the summit to be achieved by Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing. It gives me great pleasure to present to you, Sir Vivian Fucks.”

    Afterward, the chairman asked a friend if his introduction had gone well, and the reply was that it had, but that he should know that Sir Vivian pronounced his named “Fooks”, not “Fucks.”

    “I know,” said the chairman, “but you’d no expect me to pronoonce that word in pooblic!”

    There are of course many versions of this story, and it doesn’t make that much sense dialectologically: the Midlands don’t reverse FOOT and STRUT, they never had the FOOT-STRUT split in the first place.

    There is also the “CEO computer keyboard”, which only has three keys, labeled “Fuck yes”, “Fuck no”, and “Fuck off.”

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    General Petrov’s natural tongue would appear to have an extremely straightforward semantic and indeed structural mapping to what the US scholar Tom Wolfe has called “Army Creole” (Wolfe, 1979.) Building on the seminal work of Jerry Fodor in this field (Fodor, 1975) I would postulate that both idioms are in fact instantiations of what I propose to call Military Mentalese (“the language of military thought.”)

    Truly, all men are brothers.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    I note on further study of the literature that more recent work suggests that the only truly innate characteristic of Military Mentalese is recursion, or “fighting tomorrow’s wars with yesterday’s weapons”, as it is called in the subfield. However, I also note that much of this work is inspired directly or indirectly by a character notoriously unsympathetic to military thought.

    More research is clearly needed.

  8. I’m sure the Chinese scribes were just doing their job.

    Most of the population in China was illiterate. If you wanted to write any kind of letter you went to your local scribe (who probably operated from a stand in the street) and asked him to compose it for you. He would put everything in the correct format using the correct literary expressions, whether appropriate to an official letter or love letter, in the correct flowing calligraphy. A peasant’s inane mumblings would not be considered acceptable.

    The “opinionated Chinese clerk” was performing the same service for foreigners.

Speak Your Mind

*