WRIST-SLAPS.

Time to gripe about Things that Annoy Me in Periodicals!
1) Claire Messud’s enthusiastic NY Times review of a Leskov collection says of the author: “he emerges as a literary missing link, a writer who brings the metafictional playfulness of Sterne into the Russian tradition…” Leskov is a wonderful writer, but he started publishing in the 1860s, seventy years after Karamzin, the “Russian Sterne,” brought that playfulness into the Russian tradition starting in the 1790s (see this post). Karamzin was followed by a whole passel of writers influenced by him and Sterne, including Veltman (see this post), Narezhny, and Senkovsky, and doubtless others I haven’t read. It’s not fair to blame Messud for this, since she probably took it from Pevear’s introduction (and of course I’m always happy to blame Pevear and ­Volokhonsky for things), and the real blame goes to the distorting lens through which we all view pre-Tolstoy Russian literature.
2) This is a simpler case, but more unexpected and therefore more aggravating. In Rebecca Mead’s New Yorker piece on dementia care, “The Sense of an Ending,” we find the sentence “Residents may choose when, and if, to bathe, provided that they maintain basic hygiene, and there is no compunction among staff members to get uncoöperative residents spiffed up for visitors.” She obviously means something like “staff members feel no compulsion to…”; I don’t know how the inappropriate “compunction” got in there, but even after years of watching the magazine’s standards slip, it still somehow shocks me that their once-famed editing staff didn’t root it out.

Comments

  1. I don’t much like that “when, and if, to bathe”, either. Or do American English speakers get to choose “if” to bathe?
    Mike

  2. No, you’re quite right, that’s dreadful phrasing. Bad New Yorker, bad!

  3. dearieme says:

    I dislike “prevaricate” for “procrastinate”, “parse” for “analyse” or “construe”, and “careen” for “career”. How long a list would you like, Hat?

  4. Patrick says:

    In a February issue of the New Yorker, one could read But Phillips is attacking an idée réçue, and you have to thank him for it with réçue(http://archives.newyorker.com/?iid=74073&startpage=page0000082#folio=0C1).

  5. I’m happy with when and if as an idiom, even when followed by an infinitive rather than a finite clause. Not just plain if, though.

  6. jamessal says:

    Please assign more blame to Messud. In an article for the Boston Globe, she called Palestine a “dystopian surreality.” Could she not hear those words kicking and screaming as she forced their heads into pant legs after putting lipstick on their asses? Don’t get me started on her novels, please. She might not be as bad as Nicole Krauss, but she’s a worse literary impostor, given who publishes her. Perhaps my regular bafflement at seeing her byline betrays some naivete.

  7. Jeffry House says:

    I have only an amateur knowledge of Russian literature, but Languagehat’s championing of Narezhny, Senkovsky and Vel’tman really surprised and delighted me.
    I feel as if he may have singlehandedly brought them back into the canon of Russian literature; in which case I don’t blame Messud so much.
    Can anyone tell me how much attention this trio gets in Russian literature courses in English these days? What about in Russia itself?

  8. Can anyone tell me how much attention this trio gets in Russian literature courses in English these days?
    Zero, I’m sure.
    What about in Russia itself?
    No real idea, but I’d be surprised if it was far from zero. But I’m doing my best to bring ‘em back!

  9. marie-lucie says:

    idée réçue
    Of course the second word is reçue, from the verb recevoir ‘to receive, accept’. This reminds me of a verb réjéter instead of rejeter ‘to discard, refuse’, which I saw a few days ago, I don’t remember where (but in an English language medium). Perhaps many anglophones are now hypercorrecting, placing accents where they don’t belong instead of omitting them where they belong.

  10. Not to mention Québéc, home of the Québécois, or even the Québéçois (pronounced “kwee-beckers”).

  11. grackle says:

    ah, but maybe Ms. Messud meant something in the nature of: “…and there is no twinge of misgiving among staff members to get uncoöperative residents spiffed up for visitors.” rather then that they didn’t feel any particular onus to make them presentable?

  12. Let’s all write letters to the editor complaining about a reviewer of a translation from Russian who doesn’t know Russian. This drives me mad.

  13. Curious to see whether or not P/V are actually to blame, I used Amazon Inside the Book to take a look. They do mention Leskov’s admiration for Sterne, quoting a letter to that effect, as well as a direct reference to Tristram Shandy in one of the stories. None of Messud’s “missing link” guff, though, or any suggestion that Leskov’s playfulness was a particularly new development in Russian Lit.
    Conclusion: “not guilty” in this instance.

  14. Have you seen this LRB review?

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Québéc, home of the Québécois, or even the Québéçois
    Québécois seems to me to be the correct spelling, corresponding to the pronunciation, which has three syllables, but Canadian French publications seem to prefer Québecois which I don’t like because it looks like a two-syllable word “Québe-cois”. Those anglophones, probably Americans, who write Québéçois (something new to me!) must do so by analogy with Français, not realizing the significance of the ç.

  16. Even Nick Nicholas, who of course knows better, managed to make it Québecquois for a while until someone called his attention to it. I suppose that’s the name of the inhabitants of Québecque. But at least that doesn’t mess up the pronunciation.

  17. ah, but maybe Ms. Messud meant something in the nature of: “…and there is no twinge of misgiving among staff members to get uncoöperative residents spiffed up for visitors.” rather then that they didn’t feel any particular onus to make them presentable?
    But that makes no sense in context. The whole point is that the staff doesn’t do things like that.
    Have you seen this LRB review?
    Yeah, and I didn’t much care for it; it seemed to me that James Meek was more concerned with showing off his own peacock feathers than with Leskov. But I may be being unfair.

  18. I feel that both Messud and Meek are trying too hard to pigeonhole Leskov and place him into a genealogical web instead of accepting he is a major master in his own right and possibly the first in a tradition. Messud reads too much into the boisterous narrative style and misses the essential bitterness of the Levsha story while Meek ignores the price of Levsha’s achievement – the flea could no longer dance. He also surprises when he fails to believe in a grandly generous gesture from a late 18th century Russian aristocrat. And it’s a pity The Iron Will (Железная воля) did not make it into the book. It’s a story of a German engineer who gets a job in Russia and tries to live according to some rigid self-imposed rules.

  19. Perhaps many anglophones are now hypercorrecting, placing accents where they don’t belong instead of omitting them where they belong.
    That would be as well as, not instead of, but surely messing about with foreign accents that most English speakers can’t be expected to know isn’t a big deal. It’s much less of a crime than using the wrong English word (compunction). A phrase I find awfully irritating (it may be most common in Britain) is whether or not when just whether would do.

  20. A phrase I find awfully irritating (it may be most common in Britain) is whether or not when just whether would do.
    Does it annoy you when Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens use this phrase? (This is meant as good-natured, mild snark, rather than the cheap-shot variety that generally prevails on the Internet.) I agree that it isn’t concise, but this could be a self-induced irritation. I can say from personal experience that those can be hard to get rid of, but for a common and deeply rooted phrase it may be worth the trouble. (Someone once told me that the antonyms “plug in” and “unplug” bothered him, since they didn’t form a logical pair; I felt this was demanding too much rigor from language.)

  21. I think USians are as guilty as anyone of whether or not, but I have no problem with it (so for me “guilty” is the wrong word). It’s a little expansive, that’s all. Is there anything wrong with expansiveness? “Whether or not” gives the negative option its due place. It rolls off the tongue. It’s a comfortable fixed phrase.
    Well at least it has its pants on its bottom and its lipstick on its face.

  22. Dearieme, my personal view of “parse”–I mean, what I know, or think I know, from direct observation–is that it has spread in a figurative way from meaning “analyze a sentence grammatically” to meaning “analyze any utterance in any way”.
    But I gather that, for those who were put through their paces in Latin in school the way you were, it means something more specific than “analyze a sentence grammatically”. Something like “assign a part of speech to each word in a sentence”?
    This reminds me of the word “cultivate”. I think that for some gardeners it means “loosen [the soil] to let some air in”, while for the rest of us it just means “grow [stuff]“.

  23. Does it annoy you when Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens use this phrase?
    Depends. I don’t want to do every little thing that the Brontes & Dickens did, no. I refuse to use dots on an e in English for example. It’s not a question of who uses it but when it’s used though: sometimes the “or not” is necessary other times it’s just stuck on for no reason. As I say now that I’ve spotted it it’s irritating, so I may as well inflict it on everyone else; why should I suffer alone.

  24. Weren’t they originally Bruntys anyway? The dots were just pretentious social climbing.

  25. marie-lucie: Québécois seems to me to be the correct spelling
    According to the French Wikipedia entry, the name of the province has been spelled a number of different ways over time.

  26. That’s right. Bastards!

  27. marie-lucie says:

    PO, yes, but I am talking about current spellings.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    PO, yes, but I am talking about current spellings.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: surely messing about with foreign accents that most English speakers can’t be expected to know isn’t a big deal.
    It is true that most English speakers can’t be expected to know foreign accents in a language they don’t know, but surely they could copy words correctly from books, newspapers and magazines printed in the language.
    University libraries send paperbound books or journals out to be cloth-bound. The binders just need to copy the title from a book’s cover page in order to put it on the spine of the bound book. I don’t know how many times I have seen French titles mangled. Perhaps the binders think that they know the language already and don’t need to take a good look at the original title.

  30. surely they could copy words correctly
    m-l, people can only copy correctly features that they see as graphemic, just as they can only mimic speech sounds that correspond to phonemes. To most anglophones, diacritics are typographical flourishes, like heavy-metal umlauts. They don’t realize that the ´ over e in French is as significant as the tail that differentiates j from i — which itself was once just a typographical flourish.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    JC, I am not talking about the ordinary person, who indeed can be forgiven, but professional people like journalists and printers or binders who are supposed to be accurate. With the latter it is not just diacritics (which I agree are usually treated as typographical flourishes), it is often the letters themselves.

  32. People who are copying chunks of a foreign language ought to do it properly and leaving letters or accents or capitals out is unacceptable. I’m talking about the fuzzy area of English: adopted but clearly foreign words. So do you use a capital S in schadenfreude? Do you add an acute accent on the end of blasé? To me the upper case isn’t useful; it doesn’t help the English and also looks a tiny bit pretentious, like “I know a few things about German nouns”. The é shows it’s not a silent e, like “blaise”, so I use it, but then where do you stop? Are two blasé things blasés, pronounced with a silent S? No way. I want a consequent way to deal with this so I don’t have to think about it.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, You obviously already have the “consequent” and only workable way to deal with this problem.

  34. Rodger C says:

    @Marie-Lucie: In my experience, binders copy titles not from the book itself but from an inserted slip of instructions (I know this because it’s often left in the bound book), which I think is usually typed by an undergraduate workstudy with no knowledge of foreign languages and little enough of English.

  35. I capitalize and italicize Schadenfreude, but of course no English adjective inflects for number, despite my Argentinian friend who thought it perfectly natural, having learned this dog, these dogs, and this big dog, to write these bigs dogs and was annoyed when it wasn’t.
    By the same token, risqué remark does not become risquée because remarque is feminine.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    RC, that makes sense. Whoever is copying the titles, the errors are infuriating nevertheless.
    JC: When I first started learning English (many, many years ago), I was very surprised by the boy runs/the boys run instead of the “natural” *the boy run/*the boys runs.

  37. Isidora says:

    How could it never have occurred to me that many learners of English would find the features that m-l and John Cowan’s friend had issues with to be counterintuitive? I guess I’m blind, being a natie speaker, although it has struck me as odd occasionally, the verb agreement in English – the way we just take the ‘s’ and pop it on the other word to swap numbers. (‘The boys run/The boy runs.’)
    Danish has something odd. I’m hoping someone here can shed some more light on it. Danish adjectives and nouns have number and gender, but they do not decline, except for a possessive. However, there is one loan word in the language that does decline according its forms in its original language: the name Jesus Kristus. So the priest says, “I Jesu Kristi navn.” (In the name of Jesus Christ.)
    I think I might have heard/seen it declined for other cases, but that was so long ago that I can no longer remember for certain. In any case, my Biblen isn’t declining Jesus in the accusative, which is the only other case besides the genitive where a Latin 4th declension noun has a distinct form. However, my Danish Bible is a 1992 translation. I have no idea what might be in the previous translation (besides capitalized Nouns, lots more j’s and the ‘aa’.) I don’t even know when the previous Bible translation was made.
    Is ‘Jesus Kristus’ ever declined in anything other than the genitive in the older texts or in any speech?

  38. It’s just because it’s Latin isn’t it? It’s like konto, bank account, whose plural is suddenly konti (at least in Norwegian) rather than kontoer.

  39. I bet Danish picked that up from German, where Jesus Christus is fully inflected as in Latin: Jesu Christi, Jesu Christo, Jesum Christum, and (uniquely in German) vocative Jesu Christe. Note that Jesus has a declension all its own, as David M. said here.

  40. Where is David M., anyway? It’s the weekend, so he should be showing up. What does he think we pay him for?

  41. On inflecting Jesus in German: that used to be done in older texts, but you’ll find it rarely in contemporary German. If you look at 19th century (or older) texts, you’ll also find other Latin words inflected by Latin rules in German texts. Today, you’ll find the inflected forms mostly in set phrases and religious nomenclature, like Christi Geburt “Christ’s birth”, Christi Himmelfahrt “Ascension”, etc.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Christi Himmelfahrt “Ascension”
    I like the word Himmelfahrt (‘heaven trip’ if I am not mistaken). So much more vivid than “ascension” (in both English and French).
    Is Himmelfahrt also used for the Virgin Mary? in French l’Ascension is used for Jesus Christ, implying that he rose to heaven under his own power (if I may use this phrase), while what happened to his mother is l’Assomption, which implies that she was lifted up to heaven (I don’t think the word is used in other contexts).

  43. Andrew Woode says:

    On the Assumption: yes, one of the options in German is Mariä Himmelfahrt (with yet another Latin genitive!)

  44. Trond Engen says:

    Kristi himmelfart in Norwegian too. (Also Mariæ himmelfart, although the latter is rare in Lutheran Norway). In the modern colloquial it’s often just himmelfarten, and himmelfartshelga for the oval weekend it allows, or even the irreverent himmelspretten “the celestial bounce”.

  45. oval weekend?
    I like Himmelfahrt, too. For me (though probably not for native German speakers) it evokes images of vehicular transport. A sort of celestial funicular railway? Or a monorail?

  46. Trond Engen says:

    Isn’t that an international term for an extended weekend? I’ve always thought of it as an anglicism. A more common Norwegian term is langhelg “long weekend”.
    Kristi himmelfart is a Thursday (40 days after Easter, 10 days befores Penticost). It’s also a national holiday. And it’s in May, with a lot of other red days on the calendar. We often take the Friday off too, and the result is a langhelg.

  47. Never heard of it. I’ve googled it now. According to this, it’s a Norwegian expression. I like it.

  48. In England an Oval weekend would be one spent watching a Surrey or Test cricket match.

  49. Never heard of it either, and in English at any rate it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Not that that’s a bad thing!

  50. This oval- or long-weekend concept is very important in Norway, the summer months are full of them. Hardly any work gets done at all in May due to pinsen Whitsun (aka pentecost), May day (1 May), Kristihimmelfartsdag (Ascension day). I don’t really understand it, because they’re supposed to be introducing a separation between the church and the state here. This sort of thing would never happen in the USA. In England (not the whole UK, I think) they now call Whit Monday bank holiday something bland like ‘Spring Playtime Day’ so that the people in other religions won’t on principle have to keep working.

  51. WiPe asserts that the Norwegians think of ordinary weekends as round, so that an elongated one is oval.

  52. marie-lucie says:

    A long weekend, yes (as in Canada), but Oval? What has this shape to do with an extra day of leisure?

  53. We say “long weekend”. Sometimes we say “three-day weekend” or “four-day weekend”. Or “holiday weekend”.
    To me an oval is neither bigger nor smaller than a circle. Do ordinary weekends look circular on some kind of calendar commonly seen in Norway?
    Is “oval” an English translation of a Norwegian word here?

  54. Oblong weekend!

  55. Trond Engen says:

    Truth is, I too find the expression “oval weekend” quaint, and I never use it, saying langhelg instead. The expression oval weekend, often pronounced as if English, has connotations of the eighties and of leaving town on Thursday in a far-too-big car to go to the far-to-big cottage in a far-too-expensive winter resort. Thinking of it, saying weekend instead of helg does that all by itself, oval or not. Anyway, that’s why I presumed it was an anglicism.
    Yes, I suppose avlang “oblong” must be the underlying idea.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: I suppose avlang “oblong” must be the underlying idea.
    But I find the underlying idea barely different from the oval one.

  57. oblong – makes me think of Oblonsky, the best Oblonsky must be could have been by the actor who is Manilov in the _Mertvue dushi_
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ1OKVPILMM
    too bad forgot his name, and whether he really was Oblonsky in the movie itself too, but i read the book and imagine him as Stiva, a very good actor, always liked all his roles
    i am looking forward to watching new Anna Karenina movie, Keira Knightley seems like so not very fitting to the role, but i never liked Samoilova in Anna Karenina too, seemed like too like middle-aged, fat and with mustache for a tragic heroine, not how i imagined of AK, but Karenin-Jude law would be even more surprising i guess, i would imagine him as Vronsky more like

  58. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, I agree. I meant to say that I see it as the same idea. Something like No. langhelg -&gt No. (possibly unrealized) avlang helg -&gt Pseudo-Eng. oval weekend.

  59. bruessel says:

    Just to be really pedantic, if Easter is very late, Ascension day (and Whitsun, of course) can also be in June.

  60. I think ‘oblong’ & ‘oval’ are different – unless you think oblong is another word for oval which apparently some people do, but I don’t, I think it’s another word for rectangle. The idea is that weeks (or in this case, weekends) are circular, on Monday you’re back to the beginning. The normal weekend circle is stretched into an oval by being longer than normal. Oblongs have no place in this; what would the four corners represent?

  61. I think you’re overthinking this. The only relevant thing about “oblong” is the last syllable.

  62. Could be. I’m just saying an oval doesn’t have irrelevant things (corners) so it’s a better metaphor (trope?).

  63. I was prepared to be skeptical that oblong had anything to do with long, but apparently it does: the OED says “The exact force of the prefix in oblongus is unclear: there is no analogous word in Latin.” In any case, oblongs can be stretched circles as well as stretched squares, and even stretched spheres: in 1774, Oliver Goldsmith wrote “The egg … though round when in the body, yet becomes much more oblong than those of fowls, upon being excluded.”

  64. Trond Engen says:

    Since German has ablang and Norwegian has (the likely calque) avlang, it’s natural to think of the English form as part of the same group. In English oblong the prefix might suggest that the term was borrowed wholesale from German, langwas nativized to long, and the vowel of the prefix followed suite. Or the prefix form is somehow a semi-nativized compromise form between ab- and off-.

  65. On inflecting Jesus in German: that used to be done in older texts, but you’ll find it rarely in contemporary German.

    I remember reading somewhere that Schopenhauer’s writing was widely regarded as pedantic because of his insistence in declining both Latin and Greek terms according to their syntactic function in the broader, German, clause. Can’t remember the source, though.

  66. Trond, I suspect ablang is half calque, half borrowing of Latin oblongus. Definitely English got the word straight from Latin; coincidentally the long a of Old English lang had undergone a regular sound-change to long o, as in > toe and hundreds of other examples, making oblong and long coincide exactly.
    But something odd has to be going on with lang itself: its similarity (vowel aside) to Latin longus is too close to ignore, and it is found throughout Germanic, even in Gothic laggs (pronounced /laŋgs/), so it’s unlikely to be a borrowing. Yet longus is one of those words where Latin has l- for inherited d-, like lingua for dingua; compare Greek dolichos and Skt. dirgha, also Latin in-dulgere. I can’t explain it.

  67. Trond Engen says:

    Ah, clearly. I misunderstood your “there’s no analogous word in Latin” to mean that oblongus was backformed Anglo-Latin.

  68. Trond: Yeah, no, the OED (not me) means that there is no other Latin word in which ob- has the same force, whatever it is, that it has in oblongus.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    JC: But something odd has to be going on with lang itself: its similarity (vowel aside) to Latin longus is too close to ignore, and it is found throughout Germanic, even in Gothic laggs (pronounced /laŋgs/), so it’s unlikely to be a borrowing. Yet longus is one of those words where Latin has l- for inherited d-, like lingua for dingua; compare Greek dolichos and Skt. dirgha, also Latin in-dulgere.
    I know about lingua and *dingua (cf English tongue). But if lang is indeed cognate with Latin longus (assuming final g from *gh in both cases), I am not sure how to relate them to dolichos and dirgha, let alone the dulg- in indulgere. If l- here is from d-, what about the following -l- or -r-? are they common reflexes of -n-? but -n- is often an infix with a grammatical origin, not part of the PIE root itself. And what about the assumed semantic link with -dulg-?

  70. It’s possible that they are aphetic for something beginning *dl-, *del-, I suppose. This is the view that Etymonline takes, that Latin and Germanic lose the d whereas Greek and Indo-Iranian lose the l, and that dulg- keeps both; but no wider explanation of this change is given. Lingua is surely analogous to lingere ‘lick’, but nothing of the sort comes to mind for longus.

  71. The OED basically agrees, though it’s much more tentative about it, and it attributes the Greek and Skt forms to a closely related, but not identical, root:

    This is regarded by some scholars as an alteration of *dlongho- (in Old Persian dranga), cognate with *dlgho-, *dlegho- in Old Church Slavonic dlŭgŭ (Russian dolgo-, dolgij), Greek δολιχός, Old Persian darga-, Avestan darĕγa, Sanskrit dīrghá; to the same root apparently belong Greek ἐν-δελεχής ‘perpetual’, Gothic tulgus ‘firm, persistent’, Old Saxon tulgo ‘very’; some also connect Latin indulgēre ‘to indulge’ (? originally ‘to be long-suffering towards’)

    The OED also notes that long(o)- is found as a combining form in Old Irish and in Gaulish proper names.

  72. Trond Engen says:

    There are forms all over IE (except Germanic) that have the sequence *d l/r (n) gh-. B&L cites a mainstream reconstruction *dlonghó- — and rejects it as a futile attempt to reconcile the unreconcileable, since it doesn’t sufficiently explain the forms with or without initial d-.
    Browsing haphazardly I think I find a formal fit in Germanic too, but it’s semantically far out: The stem of No. telgja “axe (v.)” and some derived words with such meanings as “branch, twig” and “lump of fat”. And no PIE etymology. But thinking of it, and playing the rogue semanticist again, the verb is used for axing along a log or piece of wood to shape it, so might it actually have started as “give a longish shape”?
    This has nothing to do with long, though. Except that if forms preserving initial d- are found in both Latin and Germanic, I’d say it’s even less plausible that long is part of the family.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, JC and Trond. It is good to have more forms to look at. I am still not convinced by Latin dulg-. As for tulgus, it reminds me of Jabberwocky’s tulgey wood.

  74. Trond Engen says:

    I didn’t know that tulgus — a pretty obvious cognate.
    Seems to me that many of the forms across IE are from a zero-grade *dlgh-, presumably itself an extension of *del- “prolong”. The exceptions would be due to ablauts. *del seems to be the origin of Eng. ‘tall’ and cognates with original meaning “endure”. (Nice semantic path: “enduring” -&gt “hardy” -&gt “strong” -&gt “big” -&gt “tall”.)
    How anyone could think they could stick an -n- in between the root and the extension without messing it up is beyond me. So long has to be a aeparate word. Going from beyond me to beyond my capacity, I’d say one ought to look for a pattern among similar formations. Trang “narrow” springs to mind, but also stang “rod” and verbs like Eng. spring. Is there a durative or intensive -ng- suffix added to an umlauted root? So long “that which by nature is laid out”?

  75. I just deleted 264 spam comments from this thread, so I’m closing it up. I just wanted to commemorate a new record in spamming.

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