UTAL AND NINETUMA.

This is one of those posts where I take shameless advantage of the Varied Reader to solve a mystery for me. In reading Isaiah Berlin’s excellent essay “Herder and the Enlightenment” (I’m finally overcoming my aversion to trying to wrap my mind around what the thinkers of two centuries ago were thinking about), I’m realizing that Herder and I have much more in common than I had thought: e.g., “to the end of his life he detested and denounced every form of centralisation, coercion and conquest, which were embodied and symbolised both for him, and for his teacher Hamann, in the accursed state… True human relations are those of father and son, husband and wife, sons, brothers, friends, men; these terms express natural relations which make people happy. All that the state has given us is contradictions and conquests and, perhaps worst of all, dehumanisation.” But I’ve just hit the sentence “[Herder] dreams of a visit to the Northern seas reading ‘the story of Utal and Ninetuma in sight of the very island where it all took place’,” and not only do I have no idea who Utal and Ninetuma might be, Google only sends me back to that essay. (You can see the context here, but it doesn’t really help.) So I turn to you lot: does anybody have any idea which heroes of myth or epic these exotic names, so casually tossed out by the erudite Berlin, refer to?
Update. Thanks to the learned and indefatigable MMcM, we learn that the personages involved are actually Uthal and Nina-thoma, from the Ossian tales.

Comments

  1. Wikipedia gives Utal as a place name.

  2. This book says the Tamil word UtalUtu.
    If it’s any connection at all, there are two Sumerian deities named either Utu or Uttu. Uttu is daughter of Ninhursag, also called Nintu, or Mami/Mama. Unfortunately, I can’t find any legend attached to the pair that would suit.

  3. Utal comes from Utu“, rather

  4. Sebastian Franck says:

    Nice, MMcM!!

  5. Sebastian Franck says:

    So it seems Goethe included central passages of this poem in The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Schiller translated and reinterpreted in German. Ossian, it seems, was all the rage among the German Romantics.
    I’m guessing Berrathon is Iceland? It certainly fits the “dessert” moniker best of all Scandinavia. Plus it would be closest to Ireland.
    Just speculating.

  6. I’m guessing Berrathon is Iceland? It certainly fits the “dessert” moniker best of all Scandinavia.

    But not as well as baked Alaska.

  7. “I’m guessing Berrathon is Iceland? It certainly fits the “dessert” moniker best of all Scandinavia.”
    It takes the cake, you might say.

  8. I knew I could count on you, MMcM. Many thanks, and a hearty “tsk, tsk” to Berlin for screwing up the allusion so badly!

  9. Sebastian Franck says:

    Sorry ’bout the misspelled desert there. It is baking hot after all – at least the volcanos are. I’m not a native English speaker, so pardon my French … or whatever the correct idiom is.

  10. Ossian had profound influence on Russian romantic literature. But more through French and German translations and reviews. Herder’s Sturm und Drang group was another huge influence. Russian thinkers are, of course, Berlin’s main subject. Hence the casualness of the reference to Ossian’s Berrathon.

  11. indefatigable
    Is it just me, or is it hard not to reverse the “t” and “g” and when pronouncing this word? Another question, from the learning to talk like a linguist department, could I have said “metathesize” rather than “reverse”? (I.e., is the word used on that small a scale?)

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Jamessal, you could have used “metathesize” but that word would seem unduly technical and jargonny in this context. I think it is quite obvious what you mean. The reason you do it is probably that you are influenced by the words “fag” and “faggot”, even if you do not use those words yourself.
    The word in French is infatigable, I don’t know why English added an exta negative in the form of the prefix de-.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    Uthal/Utal, Nina Thoma/Ninatoma: following the modern German spelling, Barrathon should be Barraton.

  14. I just ran across this fascinating footnote in Berlin’s essay (he’s been talking about Herder’s doctrine of the unity of art and life and “the restoration of the unbroken human being by the growth of civilization”):
    “Like other passionate propagandists, Herder pleaded for that which he himself conspicuously lacked. As sometimes happens, what the prophet saw before him was a great compensatory fantasy. The vision of the unity of the human personality and its integration into the social organism by ‘natural’ means was the polar opposite of Herder’s own character and conduct. He was, by all accounts, a deeply divided, touchy, resentful, bitter, unhappy man, in constant need of support and praise, neurotic, pedantic, difficult, suspicious, and often insupportable. When he speaks about the ‘simple, deep, irreplaceable feeling of being alive’ and compares it with the carefully tended, over-arranged world of, say, the critic Sulzer, he is evidently speaking of an experience which he longed for but must often have lacked. It has frequently been remarked that it is tormented and unbalanced personalities – Rousseau, Nietzsche, D.H. Lawrence – who celebrate with particular passion physical beauty, strength, generosity, spontaneity, above all unbroken unity, harmony and serenity, qualities for which they had an insatiable craving. No man felt less happy in the Prussia of Frederick the Great, or even in the enlightened Weimar of Goethe and Wieland and Schiller, than Herder. Wieland, the most amiable and tolerant of men, found him maddening. Goethe said that he had in him something compulsively vicious – like a vicious horse – a desire to bite and hurt. His ideals seem at times a mirror image of his own frustration.”

  15. Is it just me, or is it hard not to reverse
    People are different. I have heard some children pronounce spaghetti “skabetti” and others “bisketti”.
    Is there any other word ending in -igable? Oh yes, navigable. Navigate. Indefatigate?
    Incorrigible, but that’s -ible. Is there such a thing as incorrugable cardboard?
    Okay, I’ll stop now.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    I have heard some children pronounce spaghetti “skabetti” and others “bisketti”.
    This is quite common in children if pre-school age, because the word does not follow the unwritten rules of English: usually an s-initial consonant cluster comes before the stressed syllable, and is most often found at the beginning, and sk is much more common than sp, so the children are rearranging the word to be closer to the typical English patterns.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    It has frequently been remarked that it is tormented and unbalanced personalities … who celebrate with particular passion … qualities for which they had an insatiable craving. … His ideals seem at times a mirror image of his own frustration.
    This seems to be typical of people who hold extreme idealistic positions, such as those who founded hippie communes, and also some fundamentalist leaders, as well as extreme left-wingers. Quite often such people who preach one thing and end up doing another are not necessarily crooks or conscious hypocrites, but people who are trying to deny their own very selfish tendencies. I think that is also one reason why revolutionaries often turn into tyrants.

  18. komfo,amonan says:

    The word in French is infatigable, I don’t know why English added an exta negative in the form of the prefix de-.
    Apparently the -de- of indefatigable was in the French, but disappeared. It was also in the Latin, but as an intensive, rather than a negative or reversal.

  19. Is it just me, or is it hard not to reverse the “t” and “g” and when pronouncing this word?
    It’s probably not just you, but for me it is nearly impossible to get my tongue around indefagitable, while indefatigable rolls off easily. I have read that many people have similar trouble with “cavalry”, pronouncing it as “calvary”, but again I go other way and find “cavalry” easy and natural while tending to trip over “calvary”, turning it into “cavalry”.

  20. For what it’s worth, there is no mention of indefatigable (with or without an accent on the first e) in the TLFi entry infatigable. Lewis & Short have both versions of the Latin. indefatigabilis is said to be post-Augustan.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    in(dé)fatigable
    Perhaps the longer version (which would definitely have an accent in French) is quoted somewhere in a French text, but as a nonce form, perhaps by a early translator (the Renaissance writers borrowed a lot of Latin words into both languages)? infatigable is very common in spoken French, for a person has lots of energy, but I have never run into the longer form except in English.

  22. In German, it’s easier to say Deketiv (Dek-e-TIV) than the correct Detektiv (De-tek-TIV), i.e. detective. A friend of mine used to say that. It seems to me that tongue-and-palate-wise it’s easier to move from d to k (and then t), than from d to t (and then k, and then t). You also save a “t” that way.

  23. komfo,amonan says:

    I found indéfatigable in Godefroy’s Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française (1880).

  24. The Real Academia says Spanish “infatigable” is from Latin “infatigabĭlis”.

  25. I found indéfatigable in Godefroy’s Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française (1880).
    And used by no less a writer than Montaigne! A very nice find.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, a very nice find, which confirms my earlier point: Montaigne was a Renaissance writer (so a borrower from Latin), and he was raised to actually speak Latin (in addition to French, and he also spoke the local dialect of Gascon, an Occitan variety). I don’t remember him using the word, but it is a long time since I read any of the Essais.

  27. According to the Oxford Latin Dictionary, which covers Latin up to 200 A.D., indefatigabilis is attested once (Seneca, de Ira 12.4), infatigabilis at least seven times (one of which is also in Seneca’s dialogues), and indefatigatus once (again in Seneca’s dialogues), while *infatigatus is unattested. All instances of all three are post-Augustan. (The six non-Senecan passages are three from Valerius Maximus, one each from the Elder Pliny, Fronto, and Apuleius.) So we can apparently blame Seneca for English ‘indefatigable’.
    I don’t think the mispronunciation ‘indefagitable’ has anything to do with homophobia: the accent would surely be on the GIT, not the FAG. At least it is when I try to say it. Possibly subconscious memories of Nat King Cole singing ‘Unforgettable’ (‘in-de-fagittable’)?

  28. Bill Walderman says:

    I have heard some children pronounce spaghetti . . . “bisketti”.
    I pronounced it “buzgetti” until as recently as about 57 years ago.

  29. I don’t think the mispronunciation ‘indefagitable’ has anything to do with homophobia
    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dr. Weevil, but I think ML might actually have a point. I was an extremely boorish teenager, and considering that the pronunciation natural to me seems forced to everyone else here, maybe it’s some sort of vestige. On the upside, I’ve probably already corrected it, having spoken indefatigable out loud (to myself) more times since this thread started than in the past few years combined.

  30. John Emerson says:

    I remember bisketti, sangwiches, and venchtables. All three forms can be found on Google, with a folk etymology (possibly valid) for “sangwich”. In Oulu Finland there is a Bisketti restaurant, serving pastries and drinks.

  31. Sebastian Franck says:

    @Bill Walderman
    Danish kids invariably call it “buzgetti” – or, as I’d spell it in Danish transliteration: “basketti”. You’re not Danish, are you? Thought not.

  32. having spoken indefatigable out loud (to myself)
    It rolls off the tongue pretty well, I find — fun to say — but always with a faint irrational nagging sense that it went on a little too long, like a part of me wanted to skip the “b”. Echoes of some awkward pairs like impractical/impractible? and what’s that other example on the tip of my tongue?
    bisketti makes me think of biscotti (and other sorts of biscuits). I wonder if that has anything to do with the Finnish pastry joint.

  33. what’s that other example on the tip of my tongue?
    Inimical/inimicable?

  34. When it does come to me, probably days from now, it will probably turn out to have nothing to do with -al/-able.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t think the mispronunciation ‘indefagitable’ has anything to do with homophobia:
    You don’t have to be homophobic to be familiar with the derogatory words, and we get used to certain combinations of sounds even in a totally different context.
    the accent would surely be on the GIT, not the FAG. At least it is when I try to say it.
    I have always heard indefatigable with the stress on fat. Somewhere I read a jocular definition having to do with inability to lose weight (because of the verb to defat = to remove fat), so fat must be the stressed syllable for most speakers. It is true that most English words in -able or -ible have the stress on the preceding syllable, not earlier in the word, but vegetable (stress on veg) is another exception.

  36. Bill Walderman says:

    “You’re not Danish, are you? Thought not.”
    Well, actually, my mother’s maiden name was Jensen. Her paternal grandfather, Jens Jensen, was an ethnic Dane from Husum in Holstein, which had been absorbed by Prussia. And my middle name is Jens.

  37. I have always heard indefatigable with the stress on fat.
    Same here.

  38. I do not believe I’ve ever heard “basketti” in the wild. Least of all in Danish. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast made fun of that an similar mispronunciations recently (they can be rather selective in the rationality). Another one was “vomix” for vomit and I think the ‘discussion’ started off with “grabbity” as an eggcorn for “gravity”.

  39. John Emerson says:

    One of the outcomes of reading lots of old books is that a lot of errors don’t seem stupid any more. They just become the kinds of routine variants (inversions, substitutions, elisions) that philologists deal with all the time, even if they’re contemporary. I once absently used an archaic Spanish form and drove someone or another into a triumphant rage of correctness. (I don’t know Spanish well, but I know as much old as I do contemporary Spanish.)

  40. Yes, there’s that trendy new “troubador”, grabbitating to itself triumphant rages of correctness. Shouldn’t be long before any other spelling is accepted.

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