Why Not Have Both?

C.S. Lewis makes a good point and a nice comparison (from An Experiment in Criticism, via Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti):

‘Why’, they ask, ‘should I turn from a real and present experience— what the poem means to me, what happens to me when I read it—to inquiries about the poet’s intention or reconstructions, always uncertain, of what it may have meant to his contemporaries?’ There seem to be two answers. One is that the poem in my head which I make from my mistranslations of Chaucer or misunderstandings of Donne may possibly not be so good as the work Chaucer or Donne actually made. Secondly, why not have both? After enjoying what I made of it, why not go back to the text, this time looking up the hard words, puzzling out the allusions, and discovering that some metrical delights in my first experience were due to my fortunate mispronunciations, and see whether I can enjoy the poet’s poem, not necessarily instead of, but in addition to, my own one? Do we not all still enjoy certain effects which passages in classical or foreign poets produced in us when we misunderstood them? We know better now. We enjoy something, we trust, more like what Virgil or Ronsard meant to give us. This does not abolish or stain the old beauty. It is rather like revisiting a beautiful place we knew in childhood. We appraise the landscape with an adult eye; we also revive the pleasures—often very different—which it produced when we were small children.

Admittedly, we can never quite get out of our own skins. Whatever we do, something of our own and of our age’s making will remain in our experience of all literature. Equally, I can never see anything exactly from the point of view even of those whom I know and love best. But I can make at least some progress towards it. I can eliminate at least the grosser illusions of perspective.

Also, for those of you who miss libraries and their ambience, Oxford has you covered with Sounds of the Bodleian. You can choose between the rustlings, shufflings, and discreet coughs of four different reading rooms, each with a glorious image that enables you to experience that great institution vicariously. (One of my favorite lines in all science fiction, from the thoroughly delightful “The Last of the Spode” by Evelyn E. Smith: “Pity about the Bodleian, though.”)

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    In which the characters drove lorries around the streets of New York

    (From the epigraph to “The Last of the Spode”)

    I remember a long-term resident of (what was then) Zaïre, talking about trying to maintain his children’s British linguistic birthright in the face of the fact that their friends all spoke French or Lingala or mishkid-American. He said that they had a rule that at family meals everyone had to speak British English, with special attention to using proper English words like “lorry.”

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s an odd word. One of those that nobody has any idea of the origins of, too.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lorry

    Both proposed etymologies look pulled out of thin air to me.

    It’s been a major Wanderwort in West Africa, though, even in countries which are officially Francophone (cf Mooré lórè “voiture”, pl lóayà.)

  3. The Americans have certainly retaliated in force for any earlier mistakes by British SF writers; the critically lauded and immensely successful “Time Travel” books by Connie Willis, set in 1940s Britain, had the characters using decimal currency.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    If I were to drive a truck around the streets of New York, surely the truck would then be a lorry?

    Deep philosophical issues seem to be involved here.

  5. SFReader says:

    I am not exactly sure that even modern British authors know how many pennies in a guinea

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    All old-school doctors can tell you. (I actually used to work for a surgeon who would pay you in guineas for help given with looking after his private patients.)

    As a young potential entrepreneur in Glasgow, I recall all too well that we started every school day with reciting “aliquot parts of the pound”:

    Two ten shillings are one pound.
    Three six and eightpences are one pound.
    Four five shillings are one pound.
    Five four shillings are one pound.
    Six three and fourpences are one pound …

    and so forth. This has stood me in good stead throughout life.

  7. Lars Mathiesen says:

    People who had guineas to spend may not have known either, only plebeians like that man Holmes would have to hire transportation. 252 is not good for arithmetic anyway.

  8. As Ramanujan would say, “it is a very interesting number; it is the largest central binomial coefficient divisible by all coefficients in the previous line.”

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    that man Holmes

    His grandmother was French. One must make allowances.

  10. If I were to drive a truck around the streets of New York, surely the truck would then be a lorry?

    Well, it would be to you.

    If you, being a BrE speaker, were to write a novel, even one set in New York and featuring only American characters, I would expect you to write that your characters drove lorries and repaired them with spanners. The only requirement is that when your characters speak they should talk about trucks and wrenches. But this Evelyn Smith person’s apparent idea that it’s wrong and ignorant for a Brit to write about New York except in American English seems peculiarly parochial.

  11. What?! Where are you getting “wrong and ignorant”? Reread her quoted remark in the introduction to the story; I don’t see how it can be seen as anything but charming.

  12. “Deep philosophical issues seem to be involved here.”
    Not philosophical, but literary. The point is that a novel, even one in the third person, has a narrator, and the narrator, even though anonymous, is a character with a voice – a diction, a dialect, a point of view.

  13. David Eddyshaw-
    In pre-motor car days, a lorry was a long horse-drawn wagon without sides. It was then adopted to apply to similarly shaped wagons used on rail lines. Per the OED, in North and South (1865) Mrs Gaskell mentioned “great loaded lorries” that blocked the roads, and an 1886 newspaper article told its readers that “the time-honored ‘lorrie,” or open cart,” was “indigenous to Liverpool.” The London newspaper’s decision to define it implies that it was a regional word, and this inference is reinforced by a couple of references in 19th c Scottish law reports (found in ngrams) discussing road accidents. Lorry appears to come from a verb, lurrie, meaning (says the OED) to drag or carry, or to push. The OED gives an example of a dog lurrying a flock of sheep, from 1875 – again, likely a Northern usage.
    As the UK auto industry developed in Manchester, Birmingham, and Coventry, it’s not too surprising that a Northern word for a type of wagon was adopted for motorized goods carriers.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not philosophical, but literary

    I need that special font again. Groucho Sans, that was it.

  15. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Back in 1975 (or thereabouts) I examined a DPhil thesis at Oxford, for which I was paid the princely sum of £15.75. What an odd amount, I thought, until I realized that it was 15 guineas.

    trying to maintain his children’s British linguistic birthright …

    A hopeless task, I think. Children grow up to speak they way they want, not the way their parents want. I have two adult daughters from my first wife, both of whom now live in the USA. One was born in 1969 in Oakland (though she prefers to say Berkeley, and, to be fair, the Kaiser Hospital is only just in Oakland), the other in 1971 in Birmingham. Both grew up in Birmingham and lived there until about 1982. The older one was very sensitive to the way people spoke and matched her voice to those of her friends. One day she started playing with a girl from across the street who had a strong Birmingham accent (often regarded as the ugliest accent in England). That very day she acquired a stronger Birmingham accent than the girl from across the street. The younger daughter paid no attention to the way other people spoke. One summer they went with their mother to California while I stayed in Birmingham, and talked with them from time to time on the telephone. The older one spoke like an American within 24 hours of being away; the younger still spoke exactly the same as she had when they came back after six weeks. Now they both live in the USA, one in romantic Tracey in the San Joaquín valley, and the other in Denver. The older still sounds very British (though she probably says truck rather than lorry, with no obvious American accent. The younger sounds fully American to my ears, though Americans may detect some British signs. Essentially they’ve turned out exactly opposite to how they were when they were young.

    So what’s the point of this story? Just that parents have very little influence on how their children speak.

  16. David Eddyshaw says:

    the princely sum of £15.75

    Month’s rent* for me, in 1975, that was. Of course, we were ‘appy.

    *Actually, three weeks’ rent, but my rhetoric still stands.

  17. Actually, three weeks’ rent

    So around £21/month, then, which was $46 in Real Money, which, wow, that was cheap. Just a few years later (1979) I rejoiced to find a doddering old lady who would rent me a room (bath down the hall) for $200 in New Haven, and I had the impression she thought it was still the 1960s. (I had to pretend I was still a grad student to get the room — she loved Yalies.)

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    It may have been more than that in Real Money in 1975 (I’m old enough to have a sort of folk-memory of there being almost three dollars to the pound, but I suspect you have done your research …)

    ‘Course, when I say it were a flat*, it were a flat to me.

    *Apartment.

  19. I suspect you have done your research

    Read it and weep: “on 01 July 1975 1 GBP=2.190678 USD.” (Of course, I don’t know if I should trust them…)

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    Woe …

  21. Narmitaj says:

    As a student, with a couple of friends I rented a 3-bed 2-storey flat in a deck access block in Moss Side from 1977-1981 and, at least at the start and maybe for the whole period it was £11.97 a week between the three of us, so £3.99 each, so £15.96 each for a (4-week) month. £207.48 for the entire year (when I think the maintenance grant was about £1,800 for the year). The price also included hot water and central heating.

    They were pre-fab concrete edifices, built in the early 1970s by the council to replace old terraced housing. Within a very few years it was decided they were unsuitable for human (well, family) habitation, so were rented to students as families left.

    They were finally pulled down in the 1990s, and my block’s footprint is largely under a massive ASDA supermarket. You can see a pic of the back of it here ( https://twitter.com/pubs_of_mcr/status/414322581521825792 ), looming over the Hot Pot pub and the Moss Side Centre, a small shopping mall and indoor market. “Grim as fuck” someone comments on that twitter feed – but it wasn’t the back of beyond, it was only ten minutes walk from the main Manchester University campus and the John Rylands Library.

    My flat was in that block visible… in fact, fifth dark square from the right, second down. The black squares were open balconies; as the last to join the group, I was assigned the smallest room, the window of which looked out onto the balcony, though I had no door to it.

  22. By the way, I keep meaning to ask you how “Narmitaj” is pronounced — I mentally say “NAHR-mi-tudge” (/ˈnarmɪtədʒ/), but I have no confidence in it.

  23. There were never any pennies in a guinea: pennies were first silver and then base metal, whereas guineas were gold. There were, however, 252 pence in a guinea.

  24. Narmitaj says:

    “Narmitaj” is more like “nahr-mi-tadge” edging to “nahr-mi-tidge” – It’s just my middle name, Armitage (my paternal grandmother’s maiden name), prefixed with my initial initial and misspelled. I say Armitage more like “Arma-Tidge” than “Army-Taige” (or “tadge” or “tudge”). You have asked this before and I answered, though I am not sure I answered with quite the same spellings!

    On the subject of the original post, CS Lewis refers to “revisiting a beautiful place we knew in childhood”. As an sf reader you are no doubt aware that many sf readers of long standing are reluctant to revisit once-loved works they first read in adolescence in case – as is all too likely – they have been visited in the interim by the suck fairy, sexism fairy, racism fairy or some other fairy that has made them objectionable.

  25. John Cowan says:

    My father (1904-93) had a simple method of reducing inflation shock: he mentally divided all prices by ten.

  26. J.W. Brewer says:

    I don’t mean to suggest that hat was necessarily overpaying in 1979, but New Haven rents I remember paying for summer sublets a bit later than that were $187.50/month (1/4 of $750 for a huge 4 bedroom on Cottage St.) in ’85 and $208.33/month (1/3 of $625 for a somewhat snugger 3 bedroom on Elm St.) in ’86. All perhaps pricey by contemporaneous UK standards, especially since my understanding from books is that the Done Thing for adventurous young people in London back then was to just squat illegally w/o paying any rent at all.

  27. You have asked this before and I answered

    Sigh. Thanks for your patience and willingness to re-explain!

    I don’t mean to suggest that hat was necessarily overpaying in 1979, but New Haven rents I remember paying for summer sublets a bit later than that were $187.50/month (1/4 of $750 for a huge 4 bedroom on Cottage St.) in ’85 and $208.33/month (1/3 of $625 for a somewhat snugger 3 bedroom on Elm St.) in ’86.

    Now I’m not sure whether I was paying $200/mo. (actually $50/week, I think) in 1979; it’s quite possible that was a later rent that I’m projecting backward. I know when I moved to NYC I was paying about that for a horrible basement room, and I agreed to move in with a friend whose wife had left him on condition he only charge me that amount (he was making lots of money, I hardly any), but my memory is obviously (see above) not dependable.

  28. AJP Crown says:

    Wait, she said:
    “And, what’s more, Language only pays fifty-a-week! Otherwise, I’m not leaving you. It’s him or… me.”
    ?
    What a selfless woman! On the other hand you had it in your hands to live on the street and Save their Marriage.

    For the record, in New York, starting in Son-of-Sam-summer 1977, my Columbia-owned 1BR Riverside Drive apt was $220/mo. Moving from London I found that pretty steep: in 1976 our half of a grotty 2 BR flat in Putney had been £2/week (or nearly $18/mo.) – and EVEN THEN I wasn’t satisfied because, as JW says, others were squatting fer nuffink.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    many sf readers of long standing are reluctant to revisit once-loved works they first read in adolescence in case – as is all too likely – they have been visited in the interim by the suck fairy, sexism fairy, racism fairy or some other fairy that has made them objectionable.

    The trick is to have made no moral or intellectual progress since you were sixteen. Works for me …

  30. Bathrobe says:

    1977-1981

    Sadly, for us old timers, this is ancient history for most people nowadays.

    Recently I dragged out an old T-shirt I used to wear at university. Still wearable, although a little faded. Then I realised with horror that it’s almost 50 years old. For a lot of people I know, that’s before they were born…

  31. AJP Crown says:

    I too have some 50 year old rugby socks. As good as new.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    I wear a jacket that’s likely 50 years old. Like, my father bought it in Yugoslavia, and it wasn’t made in Bangladesh but in Italy…

    It’s wearing thin in some places, I should replace it, but that’s much easier said than done.

  33. AJP Crown says:

    Take your jacket to an invisible menders, if you can find one.

  34. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Back some decades, before some government decided that voters would be less unhappy with huge fees than with another penny on the pound in taxes (well, øre on the krone), changing your name still cost 100 mark, though the law had it as 33.33 kr. That price held fixed for a hundred years or more, I think Scandinavia went to krone currency in 1874 and I must have seen that price after 1974.

  35. When I visited England from the US in 1968, there was a simple rule for currency conversion: a penny was a penny.

  36. When I was in Thailand in the late ’50s-early ’60s, there were 20 baht (also called tical) to the dollar, so we said “A tical’s a nickel.”

  37. Aha:

    From 1956 until 1973, the baht was pegged to the U.S. dollar at an exchange rate of 20.8 baht = one dollar and at 20 baht = 1 dollar until 1978. […]

    The baht was originally known to foreigners by the term tical, which was used in English language text on banknotes until 1925.

  38. ktschwarz says:

    ‘Why’, they ask, ‘should I turn from a real and present experience— what the poem means to me, what happens to me when I read it—to inquiries about the poet’s intention or reconstructions, always uncertain, of what it may have meant to his contemporaries?’

    I assumed “they” must be undergraduates grumbling through a required class. Then I checked the book and was surprised to find that “they” actually refers to “the literary”, who are rebelling against the norms of literature (very modernist and New Criticism, it’s the 1950s) and making basically D.O.’s argument against LaPolla, that the speaker’s intentions are cloudy and shifting and may not be relevant or even exist.

    Granted, norms may be very different between art (one-to-many, at a distance, in fixed form) and conversation (face-to-face, real time, interactive). But inquiries about the poet’s intention continue, right over there: “Do we have no evidence for what Blake thought as a person? No diaries, letters, or the like?” in response to “Blake thought the job of the artist was neither to believe nor to disbelieve the religion of his society, but to see what it meant” (which itself is an inference of Blake’s intention).

  39. But inquiries about the poet’s intention continue, right over there

    Sure, but it’s important to bear in mind that I was saying that exclusively in relation to the question of his putative heresy; if we were talking about the meaning of his poetry, I wouldn’t particularly care about his intention.

  40. Why not have both? is a great question when it comes to a lot of things, not just literary criticism. So often the choice is between two things that aren’t in conflict with each other. Of course I can’t come up with any examples right now, my mind has gone blank, but I feel we need to ask this question more often.

    I doubt the arguments between the people who favour the intention of the author and the people who favour the work as experienced by the reader will end any time soon. It seems to have gone on forever, already, and might go on forever into the future too.

  41. I like Lewis’s idea of continuing to take pleasure in your own past misunderstandings, which for me works for learning languages before you even get to poetry—part of me will always think of Russians talking about poisonous weapons (ядерное оружие), since I learned яд ‘poison’ before ядро ‘nucleus,’ and will want to conjugate опоздать as я опоздам, ты опоздашь. I’d add the pleasure of accidentally combining poems with the same meter by different poets that one memorized a long time ago.

  42. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    perhaps from dialectal English lurry (“to lug or pull about, drag”), or from the forename Laurie.

    Both proposed etymologies look pulled out of thin air to me.

    Maybe, but I find the first more believable than the second. A cousin of my father’s married someone called Laurie: as a child I thought it was written “Lorry”.

  43. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I too have some 50 year old rugby socks. As good as new.

    No rugby socks here, but I have plenty of old LPs, at least one bought in 1960. I have been copying them to USB keys, with a view to giving the LPs to a charity (which is willing accept such things). I was reading the other day that some of them could be worth real money. For most of mine I think that’s very unlikely. However, I came across one of Working Man’s Dead that I bought in San Francisco at a time when the Grateful Dead were well known in San Francisco but not too much elsewhere. I thought it might be worth a significant sum, but no: when I looked it up I found that it might be worth $4.

  44. AJP Crown says:

    it might be worth $4.

    How extremely disappointing. In my ongoing fantasy about selling all my LPs – I left them in New York, thinking I’d come back and collect them and never did – I imagine my British 1967 Sgt. Pepper (it has better quality ink & paper for the posters, cut-outs etc. than the US version) alone is worth several thousand.

  45. AJP Crown says:

    A cousin of my father’s married someone called Laurie: as a child I thought it was written “Lorry”.

    Me too! In my case, a cousin of my mother’s married someone whose father was Laurie (and I thought it was ‘Lorry’).

  46. John Cowan says:

    I’d add the pleasure of accidentally combining poems with the same meter by different poets that one memorized a long time ago.

    As a teen or pre-teen I learned a song from a nostalgia-record commercial that turns out to have this flavor: the lyrics are:

    Blue, I’m blue
    Heartache and heartache
    Blue I’m blue
    Now that we are through —
    My darling, most of all
    I love how you love me
    There, I’ve said it again:
    Lonely, I’m Mr. Lonely,
    I’ll send you all my love
    In a le-e-ter
    Sealed with a kiss.

    And then it repeats with “Blue, I’m blue”.

    I can still sing it fluently, but I don’t because Gale hates it, understandably: she was born in 1943, but I not till 1958.

  47. How extremely disappointing. In my ongoing fantasy about selling all my LPs – I left them in New York, thinking I’d come back and collect them and never did – I imagine my British 1967 Sgt. Pepper (it has better quality ink & paper for the posters, cut-outs etc. than the US version) alone is worth several thousand.

    I’m afraid almost all LPs are worthless these days; you’ll probably have to pay to have them hauled away. I discovered this when I had to get rid of a lot of mine a few moves ago. (The ones I kept were mostly ruined in a basement flood. Sic transit…)

  48. AJP Crown says:

    John,
    Blue, I’m blue
    Heartache and heartache
    Blue I’m blue
    Now that we are through

    is this Bobby Vinton record,
    whereas
    I’ll send you all my love
    In a le-e-ter
    Sealed with a kiss

    is this Bobby Vinton (among others) record.

    (I’m not sure about the middle.)

    Can you squeeze them both into one song?

  49. AJP Crown says:

    you’ll probably have to pay to have them hauled away
    No, luckily for me (apparently), someone nicked them all in 1994ish. And the record player & speakers to boot.

  50. John Cowan says:

    Thanks, AJP. Yes, melodically they blend together fine, though of course the original commercial was all jump cuts. It turns out (which I didn’t know until today) that they are all Bobby Vinton songs: “Blue, I’m Blue”, “I Love How You Love Me”, “There, I’ve Said It Again”, Mr. Lonely, “Sealed With A Kiss”.

    The dash was misleading: the two lines actually run together into one rhythmically, and I should have written them on a single line, perhaps.

  51. J.W. Brewer says:

    Some used LP’s (or 45’s or etc.) are worth quite a lot, but those are a small percentage of the total universe. The same is true with used books, innit? If you bring enough random boxes of books you haven’t looked at in 40 years to a used book store and they give you some derisory lump sum for the lot before sorting them, the majority would go onto the not-very-organized take-this-for-a-dollar shelves, a minority would be priced at $5 or $10 on the more organized shelves, and an unpredictable few might be $50 or more. For records, the key to riches is to have items that sold poorly when initially released and went out of print quickly but were made by recording artists whose cult following has grown rather than shrunk over the succeeding decades. I have somewhere on my shelves one punk-rock record I bought in ’84 (on the strength of a rave review in the Village Voice) which is now “worth” (based on current asking prices on the internet) somewhere between 200 bucks and 350 euros. Minimum internet asking price for another non-mainstream (and contemporary commercial failure) album I bought around the same time for comparable original purchase price looks to be six bucks. The pricey one is pricey in large part because it had been a stylistic detour that the band decided in hindsight had been an embarrassment, so for decades they refused to authorize a re-release, thus skewing the supply/demand dynamic.

  52. AJP Crown says:

    Why don’t manufacturers always reduce supply and charge more? Is it illegal or merely rude? They could reduce their costs by making fewer items. I suppose this is the kind of thing people discuss at business school.

  53. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ajp
    I believe many fashion labels do this. They sell a few thousand exemplars with their own label and some discrete hand-stitched enhancement and a few million with a different label and without the enhancement.

  54. AJP Crown says:

    Aha, that makes a lot of sense. The best of both worlds.

  55. Lars Mathiesen says:

    It’s more like the big-name brands figure out (or simply decide) years in advance what colours and patterns and details will be in their collections for a given season, and reserve everything of that look in advance. But the factories in India and China can produce magnitudes more than the luxury brands buy — they are just forbidden from selling the exact same fabrics and so on. (If they do, it’s used for counterfeit goods and they won’t get the lucrative customers again. Criminals don’t pay as well).

    So maybe the blouse you buy at Zara has been sewn in the same factory, with fabrics from the same weaver and cotton from the same grower, and generic buttons from the factory that made those bespoke ones on the YSL thing at ten times the price. But YSL has the right look and has been building up to it for years, and Zara is playing catchup, because that’s how fashion works. (I was married to a fashion designer, her business depended on sniffing out trends before the fast fashion brands swamped the market, and getting to market around the same time as the big-name prêt a porter collections).

  56. More downmarket, the only differences between the goods sold in different lines owned by the same company may be quality control. The factories they have contracts with produce, relatively sloppily, many garments, which are then sorted by how good the stitching ending up being. For the highest end products, they might get a bit of additional hand embellishment, but the lower tiers are just sorted based on a quick look at how well they were constructed.

    I actually first encountered this business model not in connection with fashion, but with electronics. Resistors are labeled with a nominal value and a tolerance (to be read decoded using an incredibly racist, sexist mnemonic). They are made in batches of variable quality, then tested. Those that are within 5–10% of the nominal R get labeled as having a 10% variability, those within 1–5% are the next category, and those within 1% are usually the finest grade. They are labeled according to how far they are out and sold accordingly. This has the consequence that, if you buy cheap resistors, they are never going to have exactly the right value for the resistance. Any that were really close to the nominal R were pulled out and sold for more. (And for some electronic devices, it’s even worse than with resistors. With semiconductor diode lasers, the ones that happen to have wavelengths really close to important atomic transitions are identified, pulled out, and sold for up to a hundred times as much as their peers.)

  57. AJP Crown says:

    Fascinating, Lars & Brett.

    A supply teacher who taught a racist rhyme to a pupil – which included the vile phrase ‘Black Boys Rape Our Young Girls’ – has been found guilty of professional misconduct. James Hersey, 68, taught the shocking mnemonic to a 16-year-old boy who was revising a wiring colour coding system for electronic resistors. He taught the boy the ditty: ‘Black Boys Rape Our Young Girls, But Virgins Go Without.’ Each word represents the first letter of the colours in the code which are; black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, grey and white […] The pupil I was helping with revision asked me how I remembered the code and I told him about a naughty saucy rhyme I was taught when I was at Brighton Polytechnic in the 1950s. The fact that the word black is in the rhyme is because that is the first colour in the code. I also have an issue with the GTC claiming the rhyme was somehow sexual because rape is not a sexual act.’
    Grandfather-of-three Hersey, who worked as a supply teacher for 14 years before he was sacked last March, added: ‘Teachers nowadays are not allowed to teach. ‘Political correctness has gone over the top.

    – Daily Male, innit. 25 February 2011

  58. John Cowan says:

    Huh. I just remembered them (fifty years ago) as Black-Brown-ROYGBV-Gray-White, no problem. And Gold for 5% tolerance, Silver for 10%, and no color for worse than 10%. I had forgotten that the same pattern encoded the base-10 exponent, though, though I probably would have remembered that quite quickly if I actually had to read a resistor.

    Beyond that, I don’t think I knew that Gold and Silver exponents meant 0.1 and 0.01. I definitely didn’t know about the color codes for tighter tolerances (I had no dealings with precision resistors), nor about the sixth band that expresses the temperature coefficient.

    This page has the whole story plus a bunch of less-offensive mnemonics. But as I said, I never found the need for any mnemonic at all.

  59. @AJP Crown: It might just be a transatlantic difference, but I suspect that that teacher may already have learned a somewhat cleaned up version of the mnemonic back in the 1950s. The most common American form in days of old ended differently, with, “But Violet Gives Willingly.”

  60. AJP Crown says:

    Brett,
    Yes, they cared more about decorum than racism in the ’50s (there are plenty of suitable alternatives beginning with B, or ‘rescue’ for ‘rape’, ‘gorillas’ for ‘girls’ etc. if anyone had cared; rather than pc gawn mad nowadays it was overt racism back then too).

    At school, my mnemonic for the spectrum was ‘Roy, Great Britain the fourth’ (we had Indigo).

  61. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    As ROYGBIV (including indigo) is pronounceable I just remembered it like that. I cannot distinguish between indigo and blue in real life, and I suspect no one else can either, given that we’ve always used “blue jeans” to refer to jeans dyed with indigo.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    To me the spectrum itself seems intuitive enough that I wasn’t even aware of a mnemonic… I only needed to remember indigo, which Newton allegedly made up (as distinct from blue) so he could have seven. He should have taken turquoise instead.

  63. Lars Mathiesen says:

    According to Wikipedia, Newton’s original markings for how to divide a spectrum into colors show that his blue was more like modern ‘sky blue’ and his indigo was indeed the color of indigo, or dark blue. And indeed the number 7 was important.

  64. So his “blue” was голубой and his “indigo” was синий.

  65. The version I learned in the ’70s in Virginia was “Bad boys race our young girls behind victory garden walls.”

  66. Rodger C says:

    Somewhere over the roygbiv, bluebirds fly.

  67. Lars Mathiesen says:

    So what color names are attached to Russian rainbows?

  68. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Ah, I meant what words are used for the wavelength intervals called blue and indigo in English. And it turns out they are the two that LH gave, which Google both translate to ‘blue’.

    EDIT: Russian WP gives wavelengths for голубой and синий that more or less divide up the range that English WP gives for cyan and blue together — in a system that does not have indigo. And the page I linked to does not give explicit wavelengths for Newton’s colors.

    But the Russian синий does creep 10nm into modern English violet; on the other hand голубой reaches 20nm into modern English green. Which to me suggests that Newton’s blue was the bluer part of голубой and maybe a little bit of синий, so not quite the same.

  69. Lars Mathiesen says:

    which Google both translate — a very interesting construction which however is just an editing flub, not caught in time.

  70. John Cowan says:

    I remember reading a long time back that Polish pomarańczowy is much narrower in scope than orange, more closely tied to the (nominal) color of the fruit.

  71. Now I’m not sure whether I was paying $200/mo. (actually $50/week, I think) in 1979; it’s quite possible that was a later rent that I’m projecting backward.

    I’m now convinced this is correct, having run across this in a 2014 post: “I had a heavenly couple of years living alone in a $25-a-week apartment on Bradley Street in New Haven […].” The $200/mo rent was from when I moved to NYC a couple of years later.

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