Calf of God.

A reader writes:

A nationally syndicated columnist here in Canada, born in Ireland and claiming to have some Gaelic, recently wrote this: “In Irish, the ladybug is the ‘Calf of God.’ Nobody knows why. Some other languages have similar names for this sweet insect. A linguistic mystery.”

Is that a mystery that languagehat could solve? I was interested in the point about “some other languages” and imagined you and your contributors might be able to add context.

So: thoughts on ladybugs?


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    In (Scottish) Gaelic it’s just a speckled beetle, apparently. It’s butterflies which belong to God.

  2. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Irish wikipedia gives a list of names, mostly on a theme:
    bóín Dé (bó shamhraidh, bóín Mhac Dé, bóín shamhraidh, cearc Mhuire, ciaróg na mbeannacht, bó Dé)

    little cow of God (summer cow, little cow of the son of God, little summer cow, Mary’s chicken, beetle of the blessing, cow of God)

    So the claim seems to be true enough, but whether anyone really knows *why*…

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Didn’t Language Log have a thread on this once?


    -Bird in English, -bug in American. Marihøne, (the Virgin) Mary’s hen, in Norwegian and Marienkäfer (Mary beetle) in German. I dunno; anthropomorphising seems to go together with God, for some pretty obvious reason. Not that I’m an atheist or anything; merely an agnostic, like John.

  5. For ‘God’s cow’, see Quora:
    In Russian (божья коровка), in Polish (boża krówka), in Irish (bóín Dé), in Romanian (vaca domnului), in Latvian (dievgosniņa), in Lithuanian (dievo karvutė) mean ‘God’s cow’ or ‘God’s little cow’. It can also be called ‘God’s chicken’ (poulette à Dieu, French), ‘Good God’s animal’ (bête à bon Dieu, French again) or ‘little animal of our Good Lord’ (lieveheersbeestje, Dutch). Ladybird can also belong to a saint. In Argentina, it is called vaquita de San Antonio or vaquita de San Antón (‘St. Anthony’s small cow). In Uruguay, they call it San Antonio; in Tuscany, lucia; in Mexico, catarina. In both Yiddish and Hebrew, it is ‘Moses’s little cow’. In Czech, ladybird is slunéčko (‘little sun’) and in Turkish uğur böceği (‘good luck bug’).
    And he/she reminds us that the Lady of ladybird/bug is “Our” Lady.

  6. In Dutch, it’s lieveheersbeestje, literal translation “little animal of the good lord.” Wikipedia has a section on ladybugs in various cultures, including other instances of “God’s little cow.” A footnote on Wikipedia leads to this set of responses in Notes and Queries in 1849. The cross-culture nature of the insect’s name, its association with good luck, the appearance of similar nursery rhymes about it in different cultures, and its old Norse name associated with the fertility goddess Freyja, all suggest that this bug’s name derives from quite ancient and probably untraceable roots.

  7. It turns out, of course, that a pretty comprehensive, seemingly scholarly study of this question has been made, in the form of The Folklore of the Ladybird, by Rob Hendriks. Chapter 1 can be found here. To navigate the chapters, there is a set of posts here and continuing here, to which these chapters relate. The Folklore chapters are in English but the posts are in Dutch, mostly. Chapter PDFs are linked at the bottom of the posts. The post numbering is not continuous, for some reason. Along the way, Hendriks debunks the Old Norse theories. Lots of links along the way. This is quite a rabbit hole.

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm. I had no idea that the lady- in “ladybug,” a word I have known since forever (i.e. I don’t really have very many memories from before the age of four or five but I expect “ladybug” was in my active lexicon by the time I was three) was b/c it was “Our Lady’s” bug. Mildly curious to know if Catholic kids of that time and place were more likely to have been told the etymology or if everyone ignored it regardless of presence or absence of Marian devotion because it didn’t seem like a mystery requiring an explanation – you call that kind of bug a ladybug because that’s what it’s called just like one kind of berries are called strawberries because that’s what they’re called and no one but a weirdo is curious about why “straw.”

  9. In Czech, ladybird is slunéčko (‘little sun’)

    And in Russian Солнышко, солнышко, полети на небо… (Little sun, little sun, fly up the sky… with various continuations)

  10. The least obvious and most intriguing to me is cow. Why a cow, in all these languages? (I don’t buy the ‘milking’ explanation.)

  11. Moses’s Cow in Hebrew (פרת משה רבנו).
    To AJP’s question I offer the “spots” hypothesis.

  12. I’ve tried without success to find out the classical Latin or Greek for ladybug. You’d think it’d be in Aristotle or Pliny or someone, but no luck, it seems.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    There don’t seem to be any Western Oti-Volta words, either. But then there don’t seem to be any West African ladybirds, so that’s hardly surprising. (I’m not certain: I haven’t had much luck in finding out the global distribution of ladybirds.)

    this bug’s name derives from quite ancient and probably untraceable roots


  14. Never heard “солнышко, полети на небо”. Is it an atheistic version of “божия коровка, полети на небо, принеси нам хлеба” or a regional variation?

  15. One more thing: Hendriks (cited above) has quite an exhaustive global list of words for ladybugs in many languages and dialects in this chapter. The list is an annotated version of one presented in a book called The History of the Ladybird. With some Diversions on This and That, by Dr. A.W. Exell, issued in 1989.

  16. Impressive. But what the devil are Ab. Ad. (cvə cīykīu) and Ab. Kab. (mėšbẻv)?

  17. Oh, Adyge and Kabardian?

  18. Is it an atheistic version [] or a regional variation?

    Probably. Martin’s/Dr. A.W. Exell’s list lists it as Ukrainian. Never actually heard it applied to the bug outside the ditty, which in turn could have featured a straight up божья коровка.

  19. Yuval,
    The “spots” hypothesis is fairly convincing. The wings open sideways like placement of a cows ears, I’m beginning to see some similarities.

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    Icelandic maríuhæna “Mary’s hen” has got garbled into m’āriuh’aina somehow.

    The actual Shona word appears to be mhandira.

  21. @J.W.Brewer – the straw in strawberries is fairly straightforward and not that weird: traditionally strawberries were commercially grown low to the ground and straw was laid around the plants so the berries would be kept away from the mud/wetness to prevent rotting (and apparently it also discouraged slugs). Wild strawberries are smaller and lighter and more likely to keep off the ground naturally; commercial strawberries were bred heavier and bigger and juicier, and in rows with people walking up and down churning up mud. Nowadays professional growers grow them in raised hydroponic facilities and they dangle in the air on long stalks so I guess they should be renamed airberries or some such thing.

    Maybe the connection is only something weirdos get – the writer of this blog, an actual strawberry grower (a Brit now in Orgeon), says “It took me a long time to make the connection between straw and Strawberries – no really! I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes”

    I live near what was once a big strawberry-growing area in the Mendips in Somerset, with a now grubbed-up railway line known as the Strawberry Line (still called that as a walking path) and a local pub in Draycott called the Strawberry Special. One of my student holiday jobs was picking strawberries in the hills above Cheddar, £1 an hour. Back then (late 1970s) they were still on the ground, on straw. You picked and arranged them stylishly in little punnets for sale at the same time (too delicate to be dumped in a big barrel and then sorted for sales packaging later)(grape-picking for wine-making was rather simpler and quicker in that respect).

  22. The word strawberry goes back to Old English, though — well before any commercial cultivation. The theory I’ve seen is that they’re so called because they grow as if “strewn” over the ground.

  23. Croatian: bubamara. Mara is probably from Virgin Mary. Also božja ovčica = god’s little sheep.

  24. David Marjanović says

    and apparently it also discouraged slugs

    Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so. Nothing discourages slugs.

  25. That’s why it would make a good kids’ story. Sally the Discouraged Slug.

  26. The Armenian name, զատիկ , continues the cow theme. Wiktionary gives the following etymology:
    “According to Martirosyan, who develops J̌ahukyan’s etymology, the word originally meant “sacrificial animal (particularly cow or heifer) devoted to/representing the Goddess Anahit; spring festival of the cow sacrifice” and is derived from զատանեմ (zatanem, “to separate”) +‎ -իկ (-ik).

    Alternatively, according to Hovhannisyan, զատիկ (zatik, “sacrifice”) is an Iranian borrowing, ultimately from Proto-Iranian *ǰati-ka-; compare Middle Persian ztn’ (zadan, “to hit, beat, strike, smite”), the present stem zn- (zan-) of which is seen in Old Armenian զենում (zenum, “to slaughter an animal, to sacrifice”).”

    In Persian, ladybugs are کفش دوزک – “little cobbler”. I never knew why, but according to Wiktionary it’s “from the likening of its spots with the sewing on of patches.” This word is supposedly the source of Arabic دعسوقة .

  27. Copper discourages slugs. They don’t seem to like metal one bit. Or overhangs. So I made, in sections, an eighteen-inch-high sheet metal & wood-backed solid continuous fence; it has a copper three-inch wide top, like flashing, that overhangs both sides a little bit. I set it around the perimeter of a strawberry & veg patch that’s about 3m x 8m. It’s a few inches into the ground to keep tunnelers out. The occasional slug gets in by dropping off an adjacent blueberry bush like a German parachutist, but it’s nothing that requires a dog team to catch. The strawberry plants are covered by green netting about a foot off the ground for protection from the birds.

    Raspberries, wild strawberries, blackcurrants and the rest require a hell of a lot less work to grow. But strawberries ripen much earlier than any of the others (the blackberries still aren’t ripe here).

  28. quite an exhaustive global list of words for ladybugs in many languages and dialects

    Well, not so exhaustive. As usual it falls down with east Asian languages, especially Chinese.

    Wikipedia is a better source, giving in addition to 瓢虫 piáo-chóng the terms 胖小 pàng-xiǎo ‘fat little’, 红娘 hóng-niáng ‘red mother’, 花大姐 huā-dàjiě ‘flowery big sister’, and 金龟 / 金龟子 jīnguī / jīnguīzi ‘golden turtle’ — although the latter appears to also refer to a different kind of beetle.

    For Japanese he gives 天道虫 tentō-mushi, literally ‘celestial path insect’, but that could be due to their habit of flying upward towards the sun (お天道様 o-tentō-sama) when they reach the end of a branch — at least that’s what Japanese Wikipedia says.

    For Mongolian he gives цох хорхой tsokh khorkhoi straightforwardly ‘beetle insect’ and neüne, which is ᠨᠡᠦᠨ᠎ᠡ ᠬᠣᠷᠣᠬᠠᠢ (нүүнээ хорхой nüünee khorkhoinüünee insect’) in Inner Mongolian dictionaries and нүүнээ цох nüünee tsokhnüünee beetle’ in Mongolian dictionaries. Mongolian Wikipedia gives шүрэн цох ‘coral beetle’. An Inner Mongolian dictionary gives ᠰᠢᠬᠦᠷ ᠬᠣᠷᠣᠬᠠᠢ (шүхэр хорхой) or ‘umbrella insect’. For Kalmyk he gives ger xorxa, which looks like ‘house insect’??????.

  29. Mongolian Wikipedia also gives эмгэн цох emgen tsokh ‘grandmother beetle’.

  30. Bubamara, also the greatest weirdest Chicago pizzeria ever., narrowly besting Gulliver’s, the pizzeria with a vast collection of classical statuary. My first encounter with the owner/chef was on a first date, when we stumbled in to a previous restaurant of his before he got his liquor license. He insisted that though he couldn’t sell us wine it was perfectly legal to give it away. Alas that restaurant didn’t survive to the issuance of the license. Nor did the relationship.

    Years later my wife and I had ordered from Bubamara a couple times, hearing the unsettling but certainly untrue mantra that it wouldn’t be open long bc he’d had to kill his partner’s wife, (an embarrassed waitress would silently shake her head, vigorously dismissive) before I put together that it was the same guy. You would order, then wait in awkward silence, trying not to make eye contact. The quattro stagioni was incredible though. You got a bubamara each time you ordered, and you could exchange 10 for a pizza. We had 9 when it closed for good.

    I’ve always assumed the owner/chef moved on to some sort of clandestine operation where pizzas were furtively exchanged for rare insect specimens, both living and pinned, on the top floor of a downtown parking garage after midnight.

  31. Mongolian Wikipedia gives шүрэн цох ‘coral beetle’.

    If anybody wonders why Mongols would be so familiar with coral, exchange of snuff bottles with powdered tobacco plays great importance in traditional Mongolian culture. Most valuable are coral snuff bottles.

    Corals are traditionally imported from south China and Taiwan.

  32. TR and others: for straw = strew, Matthew 25.26 in the King James version offers, “I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed.”

  33. So straw is straw because it’s strewn. Of course!

    The word strawberry goes back to Old English, though — well before any commercial cultivation.

    Commercial cultivation, sure, but people might still have grown them to eat (and used straw to protect them).

  34. PlasticPaddy says

    strawberry reminds me also of german strauchtomate (which grows on a plant similar to strawberry, i.e.not what i imagine as a Strauch!)

  35. David Marjanović says

    For Kalmyk he gives ger xorxa, which looks like ‘house insect’??????.

    From the domed shape?

  36. they have spots, they like fields, and are placid, so i can understand the “cow” idea… i remember reading as a kid that aphids were “ant cows”. and there are ant lions and dragon flies…

  37. Placid? Cows chase people just for fun and they overturn cars, I’ve never seen ladybirds do that.

  38. In the news today: Murderous Swiss cows.

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    Sheep would be murderous too if they were better organised (under a Strong Leader.)

  40. Chickens can be murderous, too.
    Chechen has делан котам /dēlan kōtam ‘God’s chicken’, y-class, and дедо /dēdō, also y-class.

  41. kōtam and κότα.


  42. PlasticPaddy says

    In sanskrit you have kukuttii. But these names could be like “cuckoo”, separate and onomapotoeic.

  43. Mike Chisholm says

    In Norfolk, England, ladybirds are known as “bishy barnabees”, generally thought to derive from “Bishop Barnaby”, though no-one really seems to know why. I prefer “Bishop Bonner’s bee”. There was a plague of the things in the hot summer of 1976, that was reported to bite any people they landed on.

  44. Re: Ladybirds & cows

    Mike Chisholm, thanks for that Norfolk name. By googling, I found this in Notes & Queries, from 1849 under BISHOP BARNABY:

    Sir,—I cannot inform LEGOUR why the lady-bird (the seven-spotted, Coccinella Septempunctata, is the most common) is called in some places “Bishop Barnaby.” This little insect is sometimes erroneously accused of destroying turnips and peas in its larva state; but, in truth, both in the larva and perfect state it feeds exclusively on aphides. I do not know that it visits dairies, and Tusser’s “Bishop that burneth,” may allude to something else; still there appears some popular connection of the Coccinellidæ with cows as well as burning, for in the West Riding of Yorkshire they are called Cush Cow Ladies; and in the North Riding one of the children’s rhymes anent them runs:—

    “Dowdy-cow, dowdy-cow, ride away heame,

    Thy1 house is burnt, and thy bairns are tean,

    And if thou means to save thy bairns

    Take thy wings and flee away!”

    The most mischievous urchins are afraid to hurt the dowdy-cow, believing if they did evil would inevitably befall them. It is tenderly placed on the palm of the hand—of a girl, if possible—and the above rhyme recited thrice, during which it usually spreads its wings, and at the last word flies away. A collection of nursery rhymes relating to insects would, I think, be useful.

    W.G.M.J. BARKER.

  45. More about W.G.M.J. BARKER: He wrote a poem, The Early Violet and a book The Three Days of Wensleydale; the Valley of the Yore. Published by Charles Dolman, 1854.

  46. The latter available at Google Books. Veritas temporis filia!

  47. Dedicated “To Simon Thomas Scrope, of Danby-super-Yore, Esquire.”

  48. PlasticPaddy says

    The way that is written, the Esq. looks like an afterthought????

  49. The mysterious “Yore” is apparently the River Ure in North Yorkshire: “By 1140 it is recorded as Jor, hence Jervaulx (Jorvale) Abbey, and a little later as Yore. In Tudor times the antiquarians John Leland and William Camden used the modern form of the name.” Here we find:

    This parish on the north bank of the Ure covers an area of nearly 2,399 acres, of which the surface is clay and loam on a subsoil of Millstone Grit. … Near the bridge are the old water-mill and the Roman Catholic chapel of St. Simon and St. Jude, the burial-place of the Scropes of Danby (fn. 8); it dates from 1788, though still unfinished in 1823. … A ‘manor’ and 4 carucates in DANBY ON URE (Danebi, xi cent.; Daneby super Yore, xiii cent.; Little Danby, xiv cent.; Danby, Danby upon Yore, xv cent.), held by Gamel under the Confessor, were among the lands of Count Alan in 1086, and were parcel of the honour of Richmond.

  50. Trond Engen says


  51. Interesting stuff, including contemporary flora & fauna (no mention of ladybirds). Also p.277, I’ve transcribed this letter from Mary Queen of Scots, her first written in English (she was 26ish), to some bloke called Knollys:

    Mester Knoleis, I heve sum neus from Scotland; I send you the double off them I writ to the quin, my gud sister, and press you to du the lyk, conforme to that I spak yesternicht vnto you, and sent hasti ansar. I refer all to your discretion, and will lisne beter in your gud delin for mi, nor I kan persud you, nemli in this langasg: excus my iuel writin for I neuur vsed it afor, and am hestet. Ye schal ci my bel vhuilk is opne, it is sed Seterday my unfrinds wil be vth you. I sey nething bot trests weil, and ye send oni to your wiff you may asur her schu wuld a bin weilcom to a pur strenger, huar nocht bien acquentet vth her, vil nocht be ouer bald to rriet bot for the acquentans betwixt ous. I will send you little tokne to rember you off the gud hop I heuu in you, gues ye find a mit mesager I wuld wysh ye bestouded it reder upon her nor any vder; thus affter my commendations I prey God heuu you in his kipin.
Your assured gud frind,
Excus my iuel writin thes furst tym.
[Bolton, Sept. 1st, 1568.]

    Lovely spelling that gives a good feeling for her accent, I thought.

  52. David Marjanović says

    In the news today: Murderous Swiss cows.

    Alpine cows hunt and kill German tourists. That is well known.

  53. Lovely spelling that gives a good feeling for her accent, I thought.

    Yes, it is and does.

  54. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Jorvik is apparently the classic example of placename forms not to be taken at face value – it’s a Norse mangling of Eoforwic, which is an Anglo-Saxon mangling of Roman or Celtic Eboracum (one has to do with boars and one with some kind of tree, but I’ve forgotten which is which). The river name is another neat coincidence, though.

    (I was amused when I went to the SOUTH to keep coming across local references to the ‘Sussex Ouse’, as if they thought the Yorkshire version might just arrive for a visit some day and need to be disambiguated.)

  55. According to the OED, iuel, as in “Excus my iuel writin thes furst tym”, might be from the verb yfall, To descend or drop; to collapse; to fall down. Also figurative.

  56. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I think I would have taken it as ‘evil’, but what do I know.

  57. David Eddyshaw says

    I agree with Jen. Mary fairly consistently writes i for (modern) /i:/ from /e:/ (as with “mit” and “kipin.”) And apologising for her “bad writing” fits the context fine. I think the period is too late for preservation of i- from OE ge- (as in Chaucerian “yclept” and the like), and it be odd for Mary to use u for /f/.

    She seems to have done pretty well for someone presumably used to the much more sensible French spelling.

  58. Definitely evil.

  59. Jorvik is apparently the classic example of placename forms not to be taken at face value
    That’s right. I first thought you were talking about Gjøvik, in Norway.

  60. @Jen in Edinburgh: The main previous Languagehat discussions of the etymology for Jorvik are here and here.

  61. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Almost on topic, now that AJP Crown has mentioned phonetic spelling and I’ve mentioned York – here’s Jonathan Martin writing to York Minster in 1828 before trying to burn it down, from the book I’m currently reading.

    I right Oh Clargmen to you to warn you to fly from the roth to cum you who are bringing a Grevus Cors upon the Land you blind Gieds and Decevers of the Peopeal How can you Easpe the Damnation of Hell you whitent Sea pulkirs you who are Draging Millians of Souls to Hell with you will not the Rich and myty have to Curs the Day thay sat under your Blind and Halish Doctren but I warn you to repent and cry for marcy for the Sorde of Justes is at Hand and your Gret Charchis and Minstaris will come rattling down upon your Giltey Heads for the Sun of Boney part is preparing for you and he will finish the work his Father has left undun.

    Jontan Martin

    Your sinsear Frind

    (Google books has a slightly different version, but mostly things like swapping i for e which might be unclear in the original.)

    I especially like the ‘whitent Sea pulkirs’ – I’ve never been particularly sure what a sepulchre is, but a marine animal had never been one of the options!

  62. David Eddyshaw says

    It is Martin’s misfortune that he was born before the age of Twitter.

    Interesting spellings: he was obviously rhotic (which is to be expected for the time IIRC) and he has the perfectly cromulent “marcy”, since ousted by a horrid erroneous spelling pronunciation. “Clarg(y)” likewise.

    Odd that he had /i:/ in the first syllable of “sepulchre.” I wonder if that’s an older form too.

    [Just looked him up: he was John Martin’s brother! I Did Not Know That.]

  63. Jen, do you think Mary Queen of Scots sounds a bit Edinburgh?

  64. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I first thought you were talking about Gjøvik, in Norway.

    I thought Trond was talking about York (which sits on the river formerly known as the Ure), but it could easily have been my random tangent!

    An ex-boyfriend of mine is from Gjøvik, but I’ve only been there because it’s where a paddlesteamer lives.

  65. Trond Engen says

    Strange, I thought I had been deeply engaged in some previous LanguageHat discussions of York, and that I maybe even alluded to one of them. It seems not.

    Yes, I did think of the river formerly known as the Ure. York is still likely to be from Eboracum, but “the Wic on the Ure” seems like an unusually inspired and well-founded folk-etymology.

  66. Trond Engen says

    Gjøvik didn’t even strike me. It sounds nothing like Yore-wick in my English (or Norwegian).

    All Norwegians have a cousin from Gjøvik (who was ready for school before the age of five).

  67. Trond Engen says

    The paddlesteamer is named Skibladner, which I think is a well thought-out pun.

  68. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I had no idea that Jervaulx was from the river name, though, although I think I did once know that Rievaulx was named for the Rye. I can never remember which one it is that I’ve been to…

    David: I don’t think I’d heard of John Martin before this book, but I’m glad to know I’m just being uncultured 🙂

    I hadn’t noticed the rhoticity, having taken it for granted, but I’ve now had an epiphany about the Victorian ‘lawks-a-mussy’ (even I can’t remember who says it in what book).

    My favourite bit of actual spelling is ‘gieds’, on the model of ‘tied’!

  69. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Trond: I thought Skibladner was named for a mythical (mythological?) ship? But now I’ve discovered that a ski is called that because it’s a strip of wood, which does make the name seem very suitable.

    AJP: I don’t know about Edinburgh specifically, but I do like ‘nevur’, which is more or less how I say it!

  70. I hadn’t looked at any of John Martin’s paintings in a long time. I think his over-the-top Biblical Romanticism, with vast edifices and crazy storm clouds signifying divine retribution in action, is too florid to be taken very seriously (a view that many critics in Martin’s own time shared). But I just looked over a few of his works that I found on the Internet, and I discovered that he also did a rather interesting (and atypically drab for him) watercolor of battling dinosaurs, “The Country of the Iguanodon” (with the titular saurians looking rather lizard like, as was usual in early depictions).

  71. The one on top looks really bored: “I’m just biting this guy because I’ve got nothing better to do.”

  72. January First-of-May says

    but “the Wic on the Ure” seems like an unusually inspired and well-founded folk-etymology

    …Now that I think about it, if the name Jórvík (“horse bay” in Norse) would indeed have (still) made sense to the non-Viking locals at the time (…if there were any; I’m not sure how deep the settlement went) as Yore-wick, that would explain how it ended up so completely displacing the pre-Viking name of Everwic.


    Only Gjøvik I know of is Gjøvik/Lyn, the football club, and I no longer even recall how I came across that name. (It didn’t help that for some reason I thought it was a Danish football club.)

  73. Trond Engen says

    Oh, there’s an old aristocrat. It’s one of those clubs that.haven’t had notable results for decades but still is remembered for its ancient glory.

    There are a couple of Norwegian club names with slash, It was the custom way to disambiguate clubs with identical names during the consolidation of the Norwegian Football Association in the twenties. The name Lyn alone belongs the name of another fallen giant, Ski- og fotballklubben Lyn from Oslo. The most notable slash nowadays belongs to Bodø/Glimt, the current sensational league leader from north of the Arctic Circle.

  74. David Eddyshaw says

    is too florid to be taken very seriously

    “Lurid” is the word that occurred to me when first encountering Martin’s work (in a rather good exhibition in Newcastle); still, there seems to be a market for lurid …

    the one on top looks really bored

    He’s just playing it cool. (It’s a dinosaur thing.)

  75. PlasticPaddy says

    @de re sepulchre
    W. Sh KL II.iv
    I would divorce me from thy mother’s tomb, 
    Sepulchring an adult’ress. (To Kent) O, are you free?

    So hear we have sePULchre. I also lean against seePULchring here (because of adultress) but agree it is moot (me/free).

    2G of V IV.ii
    Or, at the least, in hers sepulchre thine.
    same as above
    R of Luc

    That all the faults which in thy reign are made  
    May likewise be sepulcherd in thy shade.

    Here it must be sePULchred and not seePULchred

  76. David Eddyshaw says

    It would make sense for the verb to have previously been se’pulchre (the ‘contact/con’tact phenomenon), and that would naturally enough lead to the first syllable being rendered /si:/.

    Still, it’s odd that (Jonathan) Martin would have generalised the verb stress to the noun, especially as the word would surely have been most familiar to him in the very collocation “whited sepulchre” that he uses.

    Perhaps the initial stress on the noun is itself a relatively recent development (which then spread to the presumably not-very-commonly-used verb.)

  77. @David Eddyshaw: Shakespeare uses the noun in Henry VI, Part 3, with the iambic pentameter requiring initial stress:

    My heart (sweet Boy) shall be thy Sepulcher….

  78. i do find משה־רבינו’ס קיהעלע [moses-our-teacher’s little cow] in harkavy’s 1911 yiddish-english dictionary (with the germanizing ה in the last word); i checked to make sure it wasn’t a recently-arrived word (weinreich’s dictionary, and the more recent Comprehensive English-Yiddish, have a ton of unmarked neologisms: letting language-planners write the dictionaries is a mixed bag at best).

    i’d bet money on the yiddish name being a de-christianized calque of one of the slavic names featuring mary. and i wouldn’t even bother to bet about the israeli calque from yiddish. it’d be interesting to know (does anyone here?) if there’s any ladybug vocabulary in any of the medieval or early modern (pre-zionist) hebrews, and whether it’s congnate with coterritorial languages, or calqued from them…

    possibly more interesting: moyshe’s cow is given as the translation under “Lady-bird” (the gloss is אַ מין פֿליג [a kind of fly], with no details), but both “Lady-cow” and “Lady-fly” point to “Lady-bird”. harkavy was aiming at concrete utility for his dictionary (as well as accuracy), so he must have heard or read both “lady-cow” and “lady-fly” in turn-of-the-century new york city – but not “ladybug”, which was the only word for the insect i heard growing up (boston; 1980s)…

  79. David Eddyshaw says


    Looks like WS had initial stress on the noun, second-syllable stress on the verb, in accord with the common pattern.

    I suppose Martin’s version might be based on his only really having encountered the word much in reading (just because he’s a terrible speller, it doesn’t necessarily mean he was a terrible reader, after all.)

    Even in 1829, I don’t imagine sepulchres came up much in conversation (or even in sermons.)

  80. PlasticPaddy says

    I had assumed martin had the English analogue to the US “Foghorn Leghorn” accent (South Midwest? Northwest South?).

  81. Gjøvik didn’t even strike me. It sounds nothing like Yore-wick
    That never occurred to me. It was the spelling Jorvik that looked for a sec like Gjøvik (to me, but I’ve been buying a shrimp sandwich there for more than 25 years, driving to our hut). The paddle steamer, I’ve seen it paddling up and down. I’d no idea Gjøvik played foopall but most places do. The Mjøsa is 500 feet deep, ‘on average’, fun fact.

  82. Trond Engen says

    To Mjøsa for shrimps… I’ve been looking up and down the coast for fried macquerel this summer. I finally found it at a veikro near Hønefoss.

  83. Huh. To Chicken Falls, then. We charcoal-grill mackerel at home, which I normally love, but mostly it’s been frozen (I hate frozen) because during covid tiden.

  84. Trond Engen says

    Oh, i’m not sure it’s worth traveling ens ærend for. Not really sprøstekt but sort of oily in the skin. But it was mackerell, so it can’t be all bad, and I had missed it. (My wife can’t stand the smell of fried mackerell, so I can’t cook it at home.)

  85. Lars Mathiesen says

    (Warm) smoked mackerel is great, and you don’t have to freeze it. Actually it’s best as is, pan frying brings out an oily taste that I personally don’t enjoy very much. But with new potatoes and persillesovs (sauce bechamel with parsley), it goes right down.

  86. David Marjanović says

    The Iguanodon is the one that’s being bitten. You can tell from the thumb spike on its nose.

  87. David Marjanović says

    In the second York thread, make sure to read this comment.

  88. January First-of-May says

    The Iguanodon is the one that’s being bitten. You can tell from the thumb spike on its nose.

    I suspect all three are, though it’s hard to tell with the top one. They certainly look like nearly identical fat crocodiles to me.

  89. @David Marjanović, January First-of-May: They all look conspecific to me—including the two additional beasts that are faintly visible in the background, jawing at one another. It is puzzling, however, that only one of the beasts has what appears to be a spike on the nose. Gideon Mantell’s reconstruction—with the thumb spike transposed to the head—had the purported horn as (along with the iguanodon’s great size) one of the animal’s most notable features.

    Moreover, the way the apparent horn is shaded—less sharply black than the rest of the head on the animal being bitten—makes it almost look like a joint or feature of the torso of the animal located immediately behind—the one doing the biting. On the other hand, the size and shape are very much like an iguanodon skeleton’s spike. It makes me wonder whether Martin added the feature later, after the three foreground animals were already painted. However, that only raises the question of why he would only add a nose spike to one of the three.

  90. Lars Mathiesen says

    I just had my mackerell with persillesovs for dinner, so now I’m a happy man. Cold smoked, of course, I miswrote above. And cold buttermilk soup for dessert.

  91. My wife can’t stand the smell of fried mackerell, so I can’t cook it at home.
    Pan frying brings out an oily taste that I personally don’t enjoy very much.

    My wife doesn’t like the smell much either. Grilling outdoors is the answer in this weather, also because the flavour from the outdoor grilling is good. Mackerel, trout and sole are my favourite fish.

  92. I just had my mackerell with persillesovs for dinner, so now I’m a happy man.

    We had shrimp & afterwards homemade raspberry & rips ice cream, in the garden. You can’t beat Scandinavia at this time of year. 🙂

  93. Trond Engen says

    I don’t often make dessert, but one of the days this week called for rhubarb kissel. It’s supposed to be served with fresh cream, but we had it warm with bowls of vanilla ice. Earlier in summer I could have sweetened the kissel with black currants, except they didn’t come this year. Unfortunately, I don’t have red currants. But it’s going to be the best year ever for the blackberries.

    Mackerel is really a fraught issue around here. Even smoked mackerel is eaten in stealth. But I should try to negotiate a trial period for cooking it outside on the grill.

  94. The one on top looks really bored

    It just looks bug-eyed to me.

  95. Lars Mathiesen says

    Living in the city, the season for fresh redcurrants is regrettably short. (And blackcurrants, for that matter, but I’m partial to redcurrants). I suppose it’s the same as if you have a garden, but raspberries and blueberries are not restricted the same way.

    But there’s blackcurrant jam and redcurrant jelly to be had all year.

  96. Trond Engen says

    Redcurrants are the best part of summer, but alas, not in my garden. Blackcurrants are useful as a filler and sweetener. Like apples, but with more taste and better colour.

    (I do have a smallish garden, but I’m no gardener. There were fruit trees and berries when we moved in more than twenty years ago, and they’re still there. The sweet cherries are all eaten by the birds before they are ripe, but that’s OK because we like the starlings and thrushes. There’s a big old apple tree, but the apples are far too many for us to eat, and my wife and kids don’t particularly like them either. But we’ve kept the trees, and every other year I cut off some branches, I try to maintain the blackberries by removing the thorny new stems. Apart from that I mowe the lawn, carefully avoiding the increasing number of wild flowers and wild strawberries.)

  97. Trond, I didn’t really get into gardening until I stopped going to the office every day; there’s only so much time available. The only important thing is to establish borders or plants that you like as early as you can so you’ll have the possibility to enjoy them. I respond to all the same events as you, esp. grass & morello cherries (squirrels as well as magpies), in the same way except we store our apples for the winter and make applesauce with some of them. Apple flavour is very dependent on the type of apple and winter apples usually have more of it. The blackberries are unbelievable this year, billions & billions. As for their dreaded bushes, I wear protection from the awful thorns but still get injuries when I’m cutting the grass nearby.

  98. Lars, Living in the city, the season for fresh redcurrants is regrettably short…raspberries and blueberries are not restricted the same way.
    That’s odd, because ours are available on the bushes for much longer than the blackcurrants or any other bær and we only have a couple of weeks to pick the blueberries we grow (it’s longer in the forest).

    cold buttermilk soup for dessert
    I’m not sure I’ve had this; perhaps under another name.
    rhubarb kissel
    Nor this (I love rhubarb)

    Estonian: kissell, Finnish: kiisseli, Latgalian: keiseļs, Latvian: ķīselis, Lithuanian: kisielius, Polish: kisiel, Russian: кисель, kisél’, Ukrainian: кисiль, kysil’, Belarusian: кісель, kisél’) is a viscous fruit dish, popular as a dessert and as a drink. It consists of the sweetened juice of berries, like mors, but it is thickened with cornstarch, potato starch or arrowroot; sometimes red wine or fresh or dried fruits are added.[2] It is similar to the Danish rødgrød and German Rote Grütze.[1] Swedish blåbärssoppa is a similarly prepared bilberry dessert. Kissel can be served either hot or cold, also together with sweetened quark or semolina pudding. Kissel can also be served on pancakes or with ice cream. If the kissel is made using less thickening starch, it can be drunk — this is common in Poland, Russia and Ukraine.

  99. Ingush:
    doadolg (-ash pl.)(y, y class)
    доадолг (-аш) (й, й) – божья коровка

  100. Trond Engen says

    Rabarbragrøt. Also rabarbrasuppe if thinner. I don’t know if kissel is the right word, but that’s the translation I found. Whatever you call a fruit soup that is thickened with potato starch to a viscosity of choice (between lemonade and cured concrete). Served hot or cold with fresh cream (or fløtemelk, half and half cream and milk).

    Yes, it’s essentially the same recipe as any fruit grøt or suppe, but the mix of water, sugar and starch and the time on the plate will vary with the fruit. Rhubarb may need 10-15 minutes this late in summer.

  101. Lars Mathiesen says

    Koldskål. And no, we don’t know why the little biscuits are called ‘grooms’ either.

    And rabarbergrød, which is just the shibboleth rødgrød med fløde with rhubarb instead. I should really learn the trick of that, if you do it wrong it turns out ‘long’ which is an embarrassment to the cook — I think that’s a question of temperature when the starch is added. And they are hard to make in one-person lots. I’ve seen them called ‘fruit aspic’ but I think that would need them to be stiffer so they can be turned out on a serving plate, and then we are in the budding domain instead of grød.

    Soup might be easier.

    What is the feeling on stikkelsbær (gooseberries)?

  102. Graham Asher says

    TR says “I’ve tried without success to find out the classical Latin or Greek for ladybug. You’d think it’d be in Aristotle or Pliny or someone, but no luck, it seems.”

    Me neither, but a very useful reference for this sort of thing in Greek is Leonard Whibley’s “Companion to Greek Studies”, which has a very detailed conspectus of flora and fauna known to the ancient Greeks, and neither the on-line 1916 edition ( : page 49) nor my physical 1905 edition (page 36) mentions the ladybird. I think it would be there if Aristotle had mentioned it.

  103. You must never eat concrete, it’s bad for the environment.

    I don’t think there’s a word in English that covers as much as grøt does (porridge and some kinds of soup).

  104. I love stikkelsbær in all forms (berries, jam, stewed osv.) I have two bushes of different ones, both ‘eating’ (as opposed to ‘cooking’, ie sweeter). Aha, I think I know the English word for the dessert: fool. My mother used to make a lovely gooseberry fool that was a pea-green colour, served cold sometimes med fløde.

  105. Lars Mathiesen says

    The end result after you pour on your half-and-half may be roughly the same as a fool, but there is no dairy in the preparation of frugtgrød. It looks pretty good on Wikipedia, though.

  106. >>Lars, Living in the city, the season for fresh redcurrants is regrettably short…raspberries and blueberries are not restricted the same way.
    >That’s odd, because ours are available on the bushes for much longer than the blackcurrants or any other bær and we only have a couple of weeks to pick the blueberries we grow (it’s longer in the forest).
    My grocery experience is that blueberries are available year round, but they only taste right from mid-June to late July, and store-bought raspberries never do.

  107. John Cowan says

    Mackerel is really a fraught issue around here.

    Fraught, by the way, is the old irregular participle of the lost verb fraught ‘load a vessel’, which was regular weak when last seen; freight is a doublet. Both are from MDu vracht(en), seemingly also lost.

  108. David Marjanović says

    Fracht “cargo/freight”, befrachten “load” (even “to load a word with connotations”), verfrachten “transport”… probably all from Middle Dutch, too. I’m not aware of a bare verb *frachten.

  109. Lars Mathiesen says

    So it just means ‘loaded’? Makes sense.

    Fragte is verb in Danish, but formed in Danish to the noun that was borrowed from LG.

  110. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Norwegian blåbaer are my blaeberries, I think – are they sold in shops there? You only see them very occasionally here – usually just the American blueberries.

  111. Lars Mathiesen says

    Actually I am pretty sure the ones you get in Danish shops are the American sort, though they might be produced anywhere in the world depending on season. (Did I get that might right, Hat?) The native ones don’t like garden soil and need a lot of space, so you’ll have to find them in a good spot in the local evergreen woods. (They are all Vaccinium sp., but the European ones have the juice that colors everything you touch purple).

    Berries here are 99% Driscoll’s and then for.a few weeks Danish produced ones in the better shops — the deep discount ones don’t bother. I got Danish raspberries the other day, they were at least as good as the ones I picked by the summerhouse when I was 10. But less fun, and possibly full of fungicides.

  112. I am a connoisseur of berries, especially wild ones. Although I have grown many types over the years, I personally prefer picking many of them wild, and there are many varieties of tasty berries—salmonberries, thimbleberries, etc.—which are essentially not cultivated at all.

    I have grown black, red, and white currants, and I my experiences with the North American varieties seems like it may have been quite different from the Scandinavians’. Black currants, I found, tasted quite vile unless they were perfectly ripe when they were picked. Not only were they sour, but they were also astringently bitter. Red currants were similar, although the off flavor of unripe red currants was not as bad.

    Yet white currants were completely different. If harvested before they were completely ripe, there were merely mildly tart and quite tasty. Therefore, for most white currant varieties, it made little difference when precisely they were harvested. However, for the white currant par excellence—the gooseberry—it was definitely worth it to wait for the powerful hit of sweetness that arrived only as the berries softened and developed a final rosy blush.

    When it comes to blackberries and raspberries, the berries are produced exclusively by the year’s new canes, so there is generally nothing to be lost by clearing out the old, dried growth. (The exception that I have encountered is with black raspberries, which are the tastiest of all drupe fruit but maybe also the most difficult to grow. The variety that grows wild in Oregon prefers to grow in the partial shade of older dead canes, which means that the best patches of wild black raspberries are located within the much larger clumps of mountain blackberries.)

  113. From an article by an Israeli food critic (Sagi Cohen, Haaretz, 7/12/2018), of his impressions during a trip to Russia (my translation):

    The summer at a Russian market is a wondrously colorful experience. The various wild berries reveal the existence of dozens of undreamt-of shades of pink, red, and burgundy. The cherries alone come in a dazzling variety of colors and shapes, including yellow cherries and light green cherries, used in pickling fish. Berries make their appearance everywhere, and in every sort of preparation: from cherry, raspberry, and blueberry cakes, which contain very little dough and a whole lot of fruit, to meat browned with flavorful berry sauces which stand in for spices. There are berries which taste of ginger, vanilla, and even cinammon. Even in the terrible cafeterias of the media centers at the stadiums, two things could be safely eaten: cherry strudel and berry pies, whose delicate freshness stood in utter contradiction to the warmed-up horrors around them.

  114. Koldskål. And no, we don’t know why the little biscuits are called ‘grooms’ either.
    You mean kammerjunker, the biscuits? ‘Page boys’ is a better translation. It’s funny how biscuits & cakes have such exotic and kind of upper-class names from, I’m guessing, the 19C. My favourites are the German, Leibnitz chocolate biscuits.

    The name koldskål reminds me of the place on the Norfolk broads called Coltishall (but pronounced COL-shall) and even I can see that there’s no remotely possible etymological connection. Maybe it’s a bit like Norwegian rømmegrøt but less stiff, more liquidy.

  115. Jen, there’s not a whole lot of difference between Norwegian blueberries, either grown in my garden or in the forest, and the American ones though mine are a bit bigger & slightly better in flavour – but I would say that. Now I’m curious to try the Scottish blæberries. Do you ever see cloudberries (norsk molte) on sale? I’ve heard they grow in Scotland (they only grow wild and in marshy, mountain scrub land).

  116. Did I get that might right, Hat?

    I think so, but my native intuitions are pretty worthless by now.

  117. Do you ever see cloudberries (norsk molte) on sale?

    Cloudberries are delicious. We discussed berries of all sorts back in 2008.

  118. Lars Mathiesen says

    I never got around to making an expedition for cloudberries when I lived in Sweden — I was told that you just needed to get north of Tierp, an hour north of where I was by car.

  119. Lars Mathiesen says

    Also I never realized that gooseberries were Ribes (uva-crispa syn. R. grossularium). Genus Ribes is the sole member of family Grossulariaceae DC., so Augustin Pyramus de Candolle clearly felt that gooseberries were important. Currently there are subgenera Ribes and Grossularia

    But when Brett says white currants, I think of white cultivars of Ribes rubrum. Actually, WP thinks the same. Also good, but even harder to find.

    I couldn’t help clicking on Ribes triste. (So Ribes is though it looks plural. From a Persian word for rhubarb, it says). Listed as endangered in Ohio and as a plant pest in Michigan — exterminators had better watch the state line there.

  120. David Marjanović says


    Origin of the ~ Austrian word for currant, Ribisel (initial stress).

  121. Trond Engen says

    I have a small stikkelsbærbusk next to the blackcurrants, and it yields a decent crop every three or four years. The berries are hard-shelled and sour, so not readily edible, but I’ve made a nice ruby red liqueur. The problem is that it takes all autumn with sieving and change of bottles to have it ready for Christmas, and I can’t keep focus on a private project for that long. But the berries that I remove in sieving are soft enough to make a nice dessert. Not for children, though.

    I must have told before that I found molter on a hilltop in North Wales, on the very edge of the distribution. I know the date and year of the observation, because it was our last day in Conway, and early the next morning, before taking the train back to London, my mother in law called to tell us about the Breivik terror attack in Oslo.

    I got fresh mackerels at Meny yesterday and will try grilling the fillets tonight. I also got a basket of raspberries that I’ll try adding to the rhubarb grøt.

    The first blackberries will be ripe this week, and then we’ll have it going for a month or more. I’ve picked blackberries in october. Let’s cross fingers for a sunny september. If it’s pouring rain I rarely bother to go out in the garden to pick them.

  122. @Lars Mathiesen: I think that the white currants I knew were the same as yours. I just didn’t realize that they were considered an albino cultivar of the red currants. (I did know they were the same species, since they can be crossed.) However, I was misled by gooseberries’ coloration into thinking they were an especially large and tasty variety of white currants, rather than a separate species.

  123. January First-of-May says

    white currants

    This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

    – Извините, эта смородина чёрная?
    – Нет, красная.
    – А почему такая белая?
    – Потому что зелёная.

    [“Sorry, is this currant black?”
    “No, it’s red.”
    “And why is it so white?”
    “Because it’s green.”]

    Googling tells me that this joke is sometimes told with reversed “red” and “black” in the first two lines, which does make more sense, but I’m fairly sure that the version I quoted is in the order I learned it in. (In fact the only part I’m not confident about is the initial “Sorry”.)

  124. Lars Mathiesen says

    Brett, the thorns are the giveaway — the gooseberry group has them. Also something about the berries not sitting on ‘racemes’ — what do non-botanists call those?

  125. John Cowan says

    We call them “clusters of flowers” and then, if necessary, explain further. But no, Wikipedia can’t be as helpful as that: their first sentence is “A raceme (/reɪˈsiːm/ or /rəˈsiːm/) or racemoid is an unbranched, indeterminate type of inflorescence bearing pedicellate flowers (flowers having short floral stalks called pedicels) along its axis”. A wonderful display of mathematosis even in biology! The Simple English WP doesn’t have an article.

  126. Lars Mathiesen says

    Danish and Norwegian call them klaser, which is also used for grape clusters. (And why are they not racemes? Or maybe they are but the WP article deselected the word).

  127. Apparently, there is another fruit that goes by the name “gooseberrry.” However, just from inspection, the “cape” or “golden” gooseberry is clearly a member of the nightshade/tomato family.

  128. January First-of-May says

    A wonderful display of mathematosis even in biology!

    I thought biology was all like that. “Общеизвестно, что у метазоа, не проходящих в своём онтогенезе стадию трахофоры, ортогон, в отличие от индона, является дериватом диффузного плексуса.”
    (I have no idea what most of this means, so I cannot provide an English translation.)

    Math, on the other hand, is full of otherwise common words that are used in weird meanings – as in my mom’s favorite “Всякий идеал является ядром (прообразом нуля) некоторого гомоморфизма колец” [literally “Every ideal is the kernel (zero preimage) of some ring homomorphism”], where the only exotic word is “homomorphism”, but none of the other nouns are used in their common meaning (the Russian version of “preimage” is a common-ish word with the meaning “prototype”).

    ‘racemes’ — what do non-botanists call those?

    Wikipedia says that the Russian translation of the botanical term is кисть (literally “brush”), though in my experience at least for the berry version non-botanists say гроздь (no literal translation except “cluster”).

    cape gooseberry

    Russian физалис “physalis”, which Russian Wikipedia says is also called капский крыжовник, though I’ve never heard of that term before, and it doesn’t look much like a gooseberry. The English Wikipedia picture of the cut fruit does make the relation to tomatoes pretty obvious.

  129. Lars Mathiesen says

    Quine — a nice rant, but it smacks of peevery. (Composing functions the other way around causes imminent end of civilization, film at 11).

    The overformalism on WP is another thing, though it shares features with what Quine was complaining about so it should answer to the name of mathematosis.

  130. Physalis is excellent, and once you get it going it can grow like a weed.
    The Chinese gooseberry was rescued from its ungainly name by becoming the kiwi.

  131. @#January First-of-May: In English, the word preimage is pretty much restricted to mathematics. I prefer the term inverse image for the same set; which is more common depends on what area of mathematics you are from.

  132. David Marjanović says

    the thorns are the giveaway — the gooseberry group has them

    Gooseberry in German: Stachelbeere, lit. “spikeberry”.

    стадию трахофоры


  133. I fear there’s been contamination from трахать.

  134. David Marjanović says

    Day saved, I’m going to bed.

  135. January First-of-May says

    I fear there’s been contamination from трахать.

    Could have been, though I’ve learned the phrase in spoken form, so wrote it with an A because that was what it sounded like and I didn’t know any better (and “trachophore” looked sufficiently cromulent).

    Gooseberry in German

    In Russian, it’s крыжовник, which appears to have been borrowed from Polish (though the Polish form is unattested), and ultimately means something like “crossberry”.

  136. PlasticPaddy says

    Re gooseberry in German the normal form in dutch is kruisbes, and the older form probably had an l at the end, compare groseille and the baltic form ( given e.g. in Vasmer).

  137. Lars Mathiesen says

    I am as I write consuming a small pack of kiwibær — because I was looking for gooseberries in the supermarket and thought that was what they were. They are in fact very like gooseberries in size and appearance, down to the little remnant of the flower on the end, though the skin is not translucent the way Ribes berries are and they are less astringent, so I immediately thought this was the cultivar that gave rise to the name Chinese Gooseberry.

    But WP disabused me of this thought, it seems that it was its larger relative, the fuzzy kiwifruit, that was named for a resemblance in taste. Which I have to concur in, now that I see it mentioned.

  138. the “cape” or “golden” gooseberry

    I bought some of these once (they must have been a fad in Norway) and they were absolutely awful; a cross between bitter ribes and like you say, a bit tomatoey.

    I like the name Chinese Gooseberry, the meaning of which is along the lines of “What the hell is this? I give up.”

  139. Lars Mathiesen says

    Physalis as they are known here are to be used singly to decorate a sweet dessert, and I find their papery ‘shell’ to be decorative enough to excuse their lack of fantastic taste. But then I like some bitterness with my sweet stuff.

    And yes, they were a fad, but now seem to be a fixture. And much more affordable.

  140. I’ve occasionally bought tomatilloes, which are evidently a variety of Physalis, and I even grew some once when I had a vegetable garden. They are a little too tart to be eaten raw, in my experience, but they are a good addition to salsa and tomato sauces.

    I haven’t seen any in a while, though. Maybe there was a marketing effort for them in years past that didn’t pan out.

  141. I just like my sweet stuff not too sweet.

    I never thought of cooking them. We have lots of different tomatoes at the moment. Maybe tomatilloes would be worth trying next spring.

  142. It was the resemblance of the golden gooseberries to tomatilloes (including the papery sheath) that instantly clued me in to the fact that they were from the tomato/nightshade family. In America, tomatilloes are commonplace ingredients in salsas and other garnishments (either cooked or raw) for Latin American food, but they don’t see much use outside that.

  143. Sheep would be murderous too if they were better organised (under a Strong Leader.)

    Have you been listening to Pink Floyd?

    I found this the other day, a footnote at p 325 of a photocopy of Scottish Ballads (National Library of Scotland), quoting a Mr Jamieson discussing Scottish, English, and German copies of the same tale:

    The footnote continues at the next page:

    which says about:

    Lady-bird fly away home, you house is on fire, your children at home etc

    that “German children have it much more perfect as well as much prettier, the English having preserved only the second stanza in their address”. This is followed by the full children’s rhyme in German (three verses).

  144. I can’t believe that YouTube does not appear to have either of the Monty Python sketches about sheep leadership or gun-toting sheep gangsters.

  145. David Marjanović says

    This is followed by the full children’s rhyme in German (three verses).

    I didn’t know that one at all, or that a fully beetle-shaped beetle was ever called a little worm; the closest I know (and it’s widely enough known to be alluded to in headlines today) is Darker And Edgier:

    Maikäfer, flieg!
    Der Vater ist im Krieg!
    Die Mutter ist in Pommerland,
    Pommerland ist abgebrannt –
    Maikäfer, flieg!

    “Fly, maybug, fly!
    [Your] father is at war!
    [Your] mother is in Pomerania-land,
    Pomerania-land has burnt down –
    fly, maybug, fly!
    [You’ve got nothing left to lose anymore, so enjoy your superpower.]”

    I don’t know if it’s specifically about the 30-Years War. The tune, in any case, is that of Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.

  146. Lars Mathiesen says

    OK, more innocent: Marie, Marie, Marolle, flyv op til Vor Herre og bed om godt vejr!

    It neither rhymes nor scans, but the beetle still flies from the tip of your finger.

    Googling I find that the second part is from a 1953 vaudeville song, and there’s a melody and three full stanzas that I never heard.

  147. PlasticPaddy says

    From wikipedia:
    “Wilhelm Mannhardt, ein Vertreter der mythologischen Schule der Volkskunde, sammelte in seiner Habilitationsschrift Germanische Mythen: Forschungen (1858) 26 verschiedene Fassungen des Liedes, davon drei in englischer Sprache, aus denen er die These ableitet, dass das im Text erwähnte brennende Häuschen den Weltenbrand der nordisch-germanischen Mythologie bedeutet…. Moderne Volkskundler wie Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann weisen allerdings darauf hin, dass mit derartigen Deutungsversuchen „vorsichtig umzugehen“ sei…”
    So maybe not 30 years war but the “world fire”(Ragnarok II, for those who survive Fimbulwinter).

  148. Maikäfer, flieg!
    Der Vater ist im Krieg!

    Huh. They’re very cute. They have rows of those candelabra horns that reindeer have. They were more often to be seen before the use of insecticides, apparently. “Maybug” is one English name; the other is “doodlebug”, which was the common name for V1 missiles fired at London & other places towards the end of WW2. It says, in the English-lang. Wiki (but not the German-), that a German name for the V1 was Maikäfer because of the rumbling noise, terrifying when it stopped because that meant it was on its way down, so I’m confused whether it was first the German name that was translated or the English one (it seems unlikely both nations came up with the same metaphor independently).

  149. David Marjanović says

    So maybe not 30 years war but the “world fire”(Ragnarok II, for those who survive Fimbulwinter).

    That’s about the Marienwürmchen in the book Bathrobe found, not about the Maikäfer.

    Huh. They’re very cute.

    As the article says, they used to be a pest like slow-motion locusts (the larvae eat roots for 3 years); my grandfather remembered collecting them in buckets.

  150. John Cowan says

    The English version I know says “your children are gone.” It’s ambiguous whether that means “fled from the fire” or “burned up by the fire”.

  151. As the article says, they used to be a pest
    Only to people who grew crops they ate bits of. They look quite like bærfis which are also quite good-looking but can make you uneasy if you’re growing stuff.

  152. WikiP, Coccinellidae:

    The name coccinellids is derived from the Latin word coccineus meaning “scarlet”.[7] The name “ladybird” originated in Britain where the insects became known as “Our Lady’s bird” or the Lady beetle.[8][9] Mary (Our Lady) was often depicted wearing a red cloak in early paintings, and the spots of the seven-spot ladybird (the most common in Europe) were said to symbolise her seven joys and seven sorrows.[8][10] In the United States, the name was adapted to “ladybug”. Common names in some other European languages have the same association; for example, the German name Marienkäfer translates to Marybeetle.[11]

    Oddly, this information is not echoed in the page for Coccinella septempunctata.

    I’m suspicious of the portion that says “often depicted wearing a red cloak in early paintings”. Even my unlearned observations puts Mary as being depicted in blue. Indeed, WikiP, Mary,_mother_of_Jesus:

    In paintings, Mary is traditionally portrayed in blue. This tradition can trace its origin to the Byzantine Empire, from c.500 AD, where blue was “the colour of an empress”. A more practical explanation for the use of this colour is that in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, the blue pigment was derived from the rock lapis lazuli, a stone imported from Afghanistan of greater value than gold. Beyond a painter’s retainer, patrons were expected to purchase any gold or lapis lazuli to be used in the painting. Hence, it was an expression of devotion and glorification to swathe the Virgin in gowns of blue. Transformations in visual depictions of the Virgin from the 13th to 15th centuries mirror her “social” standing within the Church as well as in society.

    And that in turn reminds me of:

    Why a Medieval Woman Had Lapis Lazuli Hidden in Her Teeth

  153. Coccinelle (1931–2006) was the stage name of a famous singer/performer, one of the first transgender woman performers to gain international fame, and by all accounts an inspirational figure. She appeared in Israel in 1964, to a great sensation. Her name, alas, became naturalized in Hebrew slang as an ugly insult for trans women and for gay and effeminate men. I suspect the term is now becoming outdated, but I am not sure.

  154. @David Marjanović: In English glowworm is commonly used to refer not just to luminescent insect larvae, but also to imago forms (such as fireflies) as well, especially when the adult form has an extended larva-like body.

    @John Cowan: The version I learned of the nursery rhyme (which I actually got from a book, not through oral tradition) had, “Your house is on fire. Your children will burn.”

  155. Brett,how widespread is this use of glowworm? It seems as odd to this 50-something Mid-Atlantic US English speaker as Marienwürmchen probably seems to David. I’ve never heard of calling fireflies anything but fireflies or lightning bugs.

    In Tom Waits’s “Jockey Full of Bourbon” the verse has mutated into “Hey little bird, fly away home / Your house is on fire, your children are alone.”

  156. Keith, the only venues where this even more elderly American has ever heard “glowworm” were spinning at 78 rpm.

  157. John Cowan says

    The compound glow-worm (variously written) is of Middle English age, and the OED shows it in continuous use since then. I certainly knew and used it in my childhood, when I would watch fireflies flying and glow-worms, er, worming (actually they don’t move much). But it was undoubtedly made famous by the Mills Brothers song “The Glow-worm”, of which the best-known line is “Shine, little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer” (the first line of the chorus). On investigation, however, this turns out to be a translation by Johnny Mercer of “Das Glühwürmchen”, from the 1902 operetta Lysistrata by Paul Lincke, who also wrote “Berliner Luft”, the city’s unofficial anthem.

  158. David Marjanović says


    The mentioned Glühwürmchen is the only German term for fireflies I know. The other adult beetles that get called “worms” are the earwigs (…and de.wikipedia claims that earworm is a calque/etymological nativization from this Ohrwurm), for the same reason that they’re rather elongate and bendy, sticking out beyond their reduced wings.

  159. I’m familiar with the word glowworm, though mainly from the song. I’ve never used it, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use it in person. But the surprising thing was that it could be applied to lightning bugs, which aren’t at all wormlike.

  160. David Marjanović says

    “Berliner Luft”, the city’s unofficial anthem.

    Better known in its other meaning, a peppermint-flavored liquor widely claimed to be rather nasty (I wouldn’t know, I don’t drink) and yet widely available in supermarkets.


    Not in my dialect, BTW, where instead it’s Ohren…/ʃlɪɐ̯fːɐ/, with a cran morpheme in it. It could be from schlürfen “to slurp”, suggesting it ‘slurps’ itself into your ear if you sleep with that ear on the ground; maybe some confusion with schlüpfen “to slip”, or some hypothetical Kluge mess involving it, has contributed.

  161. PlasticPaddy says

    Dwds has the following citation:
    Ohrenschlürfer – auch Ohrwürmer, ‑kneifer oder ‑zwicker genannt – sind nachtaktiv. Neben Blattläusen und Spinnmilben fressen Ohrwürmer […] Insekteneier und sind daher fleißige Helfer im Garten. […]. [Der Standard, 06.09.2011]

  162. Another word for them I remember from my childhood is Ohrenkriecher „ear creeper“.

  163. John Cowan says

    The usual English word for such dermipterans, though, is earwig, so if earworm is indeed a calque, as seems probable, it extends only to the overly catchy tunes. The OED has a few quotations in the insect sense, but I doubt if it’s still current: the AHD lists it only in the form corn earworm, where ear goes with corn and refers to two species of moth larvae that burrow into maize, cotton, tomatoes, etc.; the spelling corn-ear worm would make more sense. I found a living one in an ear I was shucking (but not not jiving) the other day; I simply cut out the kernels around it and tossed them worm and all into the trash.

  164. Gotta love earwigs but as with some diesel locomotives it’s hard to tell which end is facing forwards.

  165. J.W. Brewer says

    By chance I happened earlier today to be browsing through that venerable classic _A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew_, as one does, when I came across an entry for “Lady-birds,” defined as “Light or Lewd Women; also a little Red Insect, variegated with black Spots.”  

  166. @Keith Ivey: I don’t think glowworm referring to actual bugs is at all common in American English. I’ve heard it maybe a handful of times (and those may have been from speakers of foreign varieties). Certainly, the normal words are firefly and lightning bug

    @John Cowan: I once bought a whole baker’s dozen ears of corn at a farmers’ market and found that every single ear contained at least one corn earworm. There must have been a nasty infestation in the farmer’s field.

  167. David Marjanović says

    *facepalm* schlurfen “to walk without lifting your feet and while looking grumpy”.

    The usual English word for such derm[a]pterans, though, is earwig, so if earworm is indeed a calque, as seems probable, it extends only to the overly catchy tunes.

    Yes, of course.

    The cognate of the other ear, BTW, is Ähre, not to be confused with Ehre “honor”, which is a homophone in most accents.

  168. Lars Mathiesen says

    Danish has the n-stem(?) aks from *ahsą (vs ear/Ähre from *ahaz), but the bug is still ørentvist.

  169. David Marjanović says

    Verner! Verner everywhere!

    Is it neuter? Ähre is feminine (like Ehre); Ohr is neuter. Of course it would hardly be the first perplexing gender mismatch between North and West Germanic.

  170. Lars Mathiesen says

    Both aks og øre are neuter in Danish (and going back to ON (*ahsą being a redlink on en.wikt) and PG).

  171. Glowworm was a common enough word in England when I was a child and I’ve no idea why it stopped being used. There was an HMS Glowworm.

  172. John Cowan says

    Both aks og øre are neuter

    This is an example of a speech error, or rather a writing error in the nature of a speech error, I’ve observed quite a lot in people writing about their language in another language: two single words in the source language that are to be connected by ‘and’ or ‘or’ appear with the conjunctions in the source language rather than the target language. It seems that the writer has flipped the “output switch”, in this case to Danish, but it is in some sense too hard to flip it for every word, and so it stays set on Danish right through both content words and the conjunction, and then is flipped back to English.

    The words do not have to be simply mentioned, as in the example above. The effect appears also when they are used, as when talking about concepts not conveniently available in the target language. On the other hand, it does not happen in my experience with two phrases or clauses: even though the switch still has to be flipped four times, they are more widely separated in the written stream.

    I wonder if people have observed this in speech as well.

  173. John Cowan says

    Slight clarification: the writer has consciously flipped the output switch, but it is unconsciously too hard to keep flipping it. Obviously it’s possible to do so, or this error would be far more common than it actually is.

  174. Lars Mathiesen says

    Yeah, I did it another time within the last two weeks or so and only noticed when I visited the thread the next day. I haven’t noticed if other people do it, though, with one exception. (And I’m pretty sure an et/y/e/και/და/और/と would catch my eye, in a way that og doesn’t, at least if offset with spaces and obliqueness different from the neighboring words).

    On the other hand I’m pretty sure I’ve seen und a few times, but you need to pay special attention to catch it because visually it’s so close to and.

    You can get code editors that check 4-5 different syntaxes imbedded within each other — Ninja templating or PHP producing HTML code that contains CSS and Javascript, for instance — and even figure out what’s what. So why can’t my spell checker tell that I’m including Danish quotes in English prose? Maybe a ‘real’ word processor will let me tell it, at least, I dimly remember going on a quest to eliminate all red wigglies from a Word document and finding out how to do that.

    (Actually you can tag text in HTML with what language it is; but I don’t think people bother much, and anyway it’s not allowed in comments here. It would help screen readers, I’m sure, though not spell check in a textarea).

  175. On the other hand I’m pretty sure I’ve seen und a few times, but you need to pay special attention to catch it because visually it’s so close to and.

    That’s a very common error; I had to fix it repeatedly in my copyediting days.

  176. I wonder if people have observed this in speech as well.
    I have, though I’m not sure with speech that I thought of it as an error. I had the feeling the speaker knew perfectly well what they were doing.

  177. Не вызывает сомнений, что «особого внимания заслуживает русская речь тюркоязычных жителей юга Тюменской области, для которой характерно смешение русского и казахского, русского и татарского. Например: соображай жок — ‘несообразительный’, прикол гой — ‘шутка’ (где гой — усилительная частица казахского языка), жандыргалка — ‘зажигалка’ (жандыру ‘жечь’ + ‘зажигалка’), токтановись — ‘остановись’ (токта ‘стой’ + ‘остановись’) и т.п.».

  178. The above is about the insertion of Kazakh (Turkic) words and particles into Russian speech in the southern part of Tyumen province.

  179. Lars Mathiesen says

    For native speakers of German, you mean? Now that you mention it, I’m not sure that the occurrences I spotted were between two quoted German words, at least not all of them.

  180. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Glowworm was a common enough word in England when I was a child and I’ve no idea why it stopped being used. There was an HMS Glowworm.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a glowworm, but I agree that it was an everyday term in England when I were a lad.

  181. John Cowan says

    For me, firefly and lightning bug are synonymous, and refer primarily to my local flashing-insect species, Photinus pyralis, aka the common eastern firefly or the big dipper firefly (though I knew neither of these names until now). It is the state insect of Tennessee, though it is not the famous synchronous firefly celebrated in the Tennessee Firefly Festival, which is P. carolinus. My wife, a North Carolinian, had never heard of this firefly or the festival, but she is from the Piedmont (as am I, further north in New Jersey) and not the mountains proper. (North Carolina and Tennessee form a minimal loop in the who-looks-down-on-who graph of the American South, perhaps because each state tended to assume that the mountain williams of the borderland extend all the way into the other state.)

    In any case, the wingless females of this species are glowworms to me, though not to her.

  182. @John Cowan: Fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are just not that common in the Carolinas. They don’t show up in vast numbers until you cross the eastern continental divide. Driving from where I live in the midlands of South Carolina up through the Smokey Mountains on a summer night, there is a gradual increase in their presence as I pass northwest and gain altitude, and then a huge explosion of them in Tennessee.

  183. On an older thread, starting at: How to Name Animals in German, had a bit of digression on ladybirds/ladybugs in Hebrew and Georgian, and so on and so forth, and a link to the Forward. The Hebrew/Yiddish term was already covered above, but there are some variants perhaps of interest to the completist:

    Yiddish was no different from other European languages. It too had names for ladybug bearing religious associations, such as mashiakhl (“little Messiah”); Moyshe rabbeynus beheymele or Moyshe rabbeynus kiyele (“Moses’ little cow”), and moyshe rabbeynus ferdele (“Moses’ little horse”).
    The modern Hebrew parat Moshe rabbenu is, therefore, a translation of Moyshe rabbeynus beheymele or kiyele. Although today it is the only way of saying “ladybug” in Hebrew, there was a time when it had competitors. There is, for instance, a Hebrew poem of Hayyim Nahman Bialik’s named “Zohar” or “Splendor,” written in 1901, in which the poet, writing about his childhood, lists the many little things that sparked his interest and imagination as a boy. Among them he mentions “Moses’ little horse” — ben-suso shel Moshe rabbenu. Most likely, the different Yiddish terms for a ladybug were regional and Bialik, who came from Ukraine, had grown up speaking of Moyshe rabbeynus ferdele.

  184. The praying mantis is called in Modern Hebrew גְּמַל שְׁלֹמֹה gmal shlomo, lit. ‘Solomon’s camel’. That name was invented in 1912. The camel part was inspired by the Arabic names, lit. ‘the Prophet’s horse’ or ‘the Devil’s horse’. The Solomon part refers to the ‘praying’ gesture, as in many other languages, based on the description of King Solomon raising his hands in prayer upon the completion of the Temple, in 1 Kings 8, verses 22 and 54. Moses’ cow could have been an inspiration, too.

  185. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve just discovered that in Moba (an Oti-Volta language spoken geographically adjacent to Kusaal, though not particularly closely related) “praying mantis” is yendu-naa-taanm “God’s mother’s horse.”

  186. Whereas slaters, or woodlice, which don’t fly but curl up like lapped slates or boards, or perhaps like a grandmother, often have pig names: grammersow in Cornwall, or in W S Graham’s case, ‘grammarsow’.

  187. At Michael’s first link I found this 1980s typed paper by Chater about woodlice in European culture. Well worth checking out, it is.

  188. It certainly is:

    Woodlice are little-used medicinally now, but they are, and have been for at least a century, used gastronomically. […] Much has been published on the etymology of the various names for woodlice in European languages, as well as on the rich variety of local names. “Cloporte,” the standard French word for woodlouse, is in particular of much-debated etymology. […] Many writers assume that their readers will know that woodlice are found in damp, dark, decaying and deserted and depressing situations and accordingly use them to enhance their descriptions. The Russian novelist Andrei Bely (1880-1934) in his novel Petersburg (1916) uses woodlice on several occasions to indicate the squalid nature of the garret lodgings of one of his characters […] Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), as will appear in a later section, must be considered the presiding genius of woodlice in literature. […] The use of woodlice by Thomas Mann (1875-1955) reveals a curious crux. […] In literature, Tennyson (1809-1892) seems unique in using the woodlouse as an image of contentment in adversity, even allying it with the dormouse — and one could not go further than this in recommending the woodlouse to the English reader. […] Gorky’s grandmother was quite right about woodlice. […] The woodlouse to the French represents all that is most despicable in human nature. […] The Boomtown Rats, the rock band led by Bob Geldof, adopted the woodlouse in 1984 in connection with their record album In the Long Grass. […] The writer in English who comes nearest to casting a real slur on the woodlouse is Swift, but he, of course, was an Irishman describing an Englishman as a woodlouse.

    And there are great section headings like THE WOODLOUSE FOR ITS OWN SAKE (DIE ASSEL AN SICH).

  189. I noticed that Paul Klee (141 this coming Dec.) spelled it Assjel. I suppose that must be a Swiss thing (no doubt by nothing more than coincidence sjel is Norwegian for soul).

  190. I tried that link and I get a page that says “this domain is brand new – please check back again soon.”

    Personally, I remember thinking even as a child that woodlice are rather admirable little creatures. You would turn over an old rotting log and find them scuttling about, taking care of business and doing their bit to clean up the world.

    Admittedly, these were woodlice outside the house rather than inside. But even so, they don’t bite or sting or pass on nasty diseases, as far as I’m aware. That famous final paragraph in Middlemarch could have been written for the woodlouse.

  191. Dorothea was a woodlouse ?! That satisfactorily explains her marriage to Casaubon.

  192. Dorothea was a woodlouse,
    Was a good friend of mine…

  193. That article did not mention my favorite appearance of the woodlouse in English literature (although I am also quite fond of “The Tale of Mrs. Tittleouse”), from “Price Rabbit,” by A. A. Milne. The rabbit protagonist is in a contest with a human lord, for the hand of a king’s daughter, and the king, quite naturally, favors the human. One of the competitions involves answering a riddle that has been in the royal family for many years, and the king secretly feeds the rabbit’s opponent the supposed answer: “dormouse.”

    (In actuality, there is no way “dormouse” could actually be the answer. The riddle, apparently in charade form is

    My first I do for your delight,
    Although ’tis neither black nor white.
    My second looks the other way,
    Yet always goes to bed by day.
    My whole can fly and climb a tree,
    And sometimes swims upon the sea.

    If you are interested in an actual answer to the riddle, here is what the Internet came up with when I asked about it on Stack Exchange.)

    The rabbit catches onto the fact that the contest has been fixed, but he has to pass off his answer as something more than just repeating his opponent’s. So the rabbit claims that he thought his opponent said “woodlouse,” not “dormouse.” In this instance, Milne apparently is just using “woodlouse” because it sounds funny and rhymes with “dormouse.”

    However, that article from Isopoda (a former publication of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group—“promoting the study of centipedes, millipedes and woodlice in Britain and Ireland”) did reference this poem, “Winter” by Tennyson, which Milne would almost certainly have read. Tennyson uses “woodlouse” and “dormouse” as contrasting examples of diminutive creatures.

    The frost is here,
    And fuel is dear,
    And woods are sear,
    And fires burn clear,
    And frost is here
    And has bitten the heel of the going year.

    Bite, frost, bite!
    You roll up away from the light
    The blue wood-louse, and the plump dormouse,
    And the bees are still’d, and the flies are kill’d,
    And you bite far into the heart of the house,
    But not into mine.

    Bite, frost, bite!
    The woods are all the searer,
    The fuel is all the dearer,
    The fires are all the clearer,
    My spring is all the nearer,
    You have bitten into the heart of the earth,
    But not into mine.

    So maybe Milne was making subtle allusion to this poem. After all, Milne loved inserting private jokes that his readers would never get into his stories.

  194. Since we had discussed the pronunciation of sepulcher here, it occurred to me the other day to wonder whether there would have been anything unusual about the pronunciation that Mervyn Peake may have intended for “Sepulchrave,” the name of the seventy-sixth earl of Groan, a major character in Titus Groan—and whether the pronunciation would have any effect on how the name was perceived by readers.

    Many of the peculiar names that Peake gave his male* characters don’t seem to have any particular significance and were just chosen to sound funny and perhaps emphasize the absurdity of their situations: Doctor Prunesquallor, Rottcod, and Sourdust in Titus Groan, the teachers Bellgrove, Perch-Prism, and Opus Fluke in Gormenghast. On the other hand, there are other characters with more explicitly suggestive names: Steerpike is the closest thing Titus Groan has to a protagonist, and at the beginning of the book, he makes up his mind to make a change and to steer a straight course toward gaining power; Abiatha Swelter, is the (psychopathic) head of the kitchen; and Muzzlehatch (in Titus Alone) keeps a menagerie (including an automobile that he treats like another one of his animals). Inversely, the most seemingly well adjusted male character in the early story, Sepulchrave’s best friend the Poet, gets no name at all, just a title.

    However, none of the other characters seem to have the kind of explicitly meaningful name that Earl Sepulchrave has. Initially, the name seems merely suggestive of the lord’s depression and dissatisfaction with life. As earl of Groan, Sepulchrave’s life is devoted to a daily regimen of rituals, starting each day with his elaborate ceremonial breakfast—which goes almost entirely uneaten, because (even if there were more people there than just the earl and Sourdust) there is never time to enjoy before they have to get started with the first ceremony of the day. Many of the ceremonies are explicitly meaningless; whatever significance they might once have had has been lost. Sepulchrave longs to be done with the rituals—to have just a little time to himself, to read in the castle library or meet with the Poet. Perhaps it seems like he craves death to free him for the dolorous rituals once and for all. However, this all changes with the destruction of his beloved library and his subsequent descent into madness, when he decides to ascend the Tower of Flints, which is inhabited by gargantuan man-eating owls. Literally at last, he is seeking his own death.

    * The female characters, on the whole, do not seem to receive these kinds of names, except as byproducts of their relationships to male characters—although this may be more due to the tendency to refer to women by their given names, rather than their surnames (although Sepulchrave is also a given name). The Earl’s sisters are Cora and Clarice Groan; his wife is named Gertrude; and their daughter is Fuchsia Groan. Doctor Prunesquallor’s sister Irma Prunesqallor is introduced after the doctor. (The doctor’s first name is the comparatively ordinary Alfred, but unlike “Irma,” it is practically never used in the books; I didn’t even remember his first name and had to look it up online.) Titus’s romantic interest in Titus Alone is named Juno, although the female villain in the book has the somewhat more exotic name of Cheeta. The notable exception to the lack of thematic naming among the women in Nannie Slagg, the aged governess for the earl’s family.

    I could also mention Titus’s wet nurse, Keda. However, none of the Bright Carvers who are named in the story seem to have unusual names. Keda’s two lovers are named Braigon and Rantel.** This initially suggests that the peculiar names are strictly a practice of the Gormenghast castle dwellers, but the appearance of Muzzlehatch in the third book changes this.

    ** I Googled “Braigon and Rantel” to see whether I had the spelling of the names of these two minor characters*** correct. Google suggested that I meant “Braigon and Rental,” but it nonetheless showed me the information I needed, in the form of this 1995 article, “Atrophied Sexuality in Gormenghast” by Desmond Mason in Peake Studies.

    *** Keda, Braigon, and Rantel are all fairly minor characters (especially the latter two). However, Keda’s and Rantel’s wild child daughter—the nameless “Thing”—does end up playing a pivotal role in Titus’s personal development in the second book of the series.

  195. Trond Engen says

    Me: The most notable slash nowadays belongs to Bodø/Glimt, the current sensational league leader from north of the Arctic Circle.

    The slash just got a tad more notable. José Mourinho’s Roma were just slashed 6 to 1 in the European Conference League.

  196. It just occurred to me that the name “Perch-Prism” for one of the teachers in Gormenghast (probably the second most prominent of the schoolmasters, after Bellgrove) does have a suggestion of wearing glasses, which I probably overlooked when I read the book. What’s more, when he is first introduced, the description of Perch-Prism dwells particularly on his nose and eyes:

    His nose was pig-like, his eyes button-black and horribly alert, with enough rings about them to lasso and strangle at birth any idea that he was under fifty. But his nose, which appeared to be no more than a few hours of age, did a great deal in its own porcine way to offset the effect of the rings around the eyes, and to give Perch-Prism, on the balance, an air of youth.

  197. @ David Marjanović: I’m not aware of a bare verb *frachten.

    Please see (search for the word) and

  198. Re frachten
    Duden calls it veraltet “obsolete”, and that chimes with the examples at Wiktionary being mid 20th-century or older. For me, this discussion is the first time that I come across it.

  199. David Marjanović says

    Standard German, its vocabulary in particular, has changed quite a bit faster than Standard English and Standard French in the 19th and even 20th centuries.

  200. >> – Извините, эта смородина чёрная?
    >> – Нет, красная.
    >> – А почему такая белая?
    >> – Потому что зелёная.

    — Извивнете, това синя слива ли е?
    — Да.
    — А сащо е червена?
    — Защото е зелена.


    — Sorry, is that a prune? — prune in bulgarian being (blue (adjective)) [Prunus cerasifera]
    — Yes.
    — Why is it red?
    — Because it is green (unripe).

  201. “What’s red when it’s green? A blackberry.”


  1. […] Ladybird: ‘God’s cow.’ […]

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