Dundalk and Sock.

Brian Maye writes for the Irish Times:

Patrick Kavanagh was one of the foremost Irish poets of the 20th century. He is often seen as a “rural” poet but most of his output was produced in the city. […] Kavanagh liked to be different, and this also applied when it came to the poetic convention of rhyming. He said “outrageous” rhyming helped him escape from respectability. Some of the rhyming he indulged in certainly was not respectable.

In The Great Hunger, he rhymes “Dundalk” with “sock”, which maybe works if spoken in the accent of Kavanagh’s part of the country. “Butter” is rhymed with the Monaghan placename “Mucker” in Kerr’s Ass, a poem that tells nothing about the animal in the title and begins with the great expression, “We borrowed the loan of”. And the poem with the elaborate title On Looking into EV Rieu’s Homer has “ravaged” rhymed not very respectably with “cabbages”. (Kavanagh is harvesting cabbages as he reads tearfully Priam’s lament for his dead son Hector – the one who is ravaged.)

In Advent, “talking” is rhymed with “shocking”, as is “searching” with “lurching”, while in A Christmas Childhood, “ditch” is rhymed with “touch”. One of his late poems, the Petrarchan sonnet The Hospital, is a riot of outrageous rhyming: “ward” with “snored”, “bridge” with “pledge”, and “lorry” with “transitory”.

As well as outrageous rhyming, Kavanagh was fond of the odd outrageous neologism (such as “Niagariously” in Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal), and far-fetched comparisons (such as comparing the water falling over a canal lock to Niagara Falls in the same poem, or a Monaghan drumlin to the Matterhorn in Shancoduff, or three “whin” bushes on a hill to the Three Wise Men in a Christmas Childhood).

Sounds like fun; I’ll have to investigate him. (Via Steven Green’s Facebook post.)

Also, The Untranslated has been back for a while, and he’s written about a Finnish novel by Jaakko Yli-Juonikas:

The problems with Yli-Juonikas’ experimental 650-page novel Neuromaani start already with the title. According to translator Douglas Robinson, who mentions this book in an interview for The Collidescope, the ambiguous title can be translated as Neuronovel, Neuromaniac, or My Neurocountry. Once you get past that, it gets only worse. There are at least three degrees of inaccessibility you have to reckon with when it comes to Neuromaani. Firstly, and most obviously, if you, like myself, don’t know Finnish, you cannot hope to read the novel even in theory, and all you are left with is the impressions of other people shared in a language you understand. The second degree is applicable to you if you know the language but have just learnt about the existence of Neuromaani. You still won’t be able to read the novel because it is out of print and is impossible to get in any online used bookstores. The third degree of inaccessibility is for the lucky ones: you are not only proficient in Finnish but also managed to buy your copy when it was still available. But even you can’t possibly read the book in its entirety. Of course, you can try and read all the pages from first to last, but instead of following the story, you will be exposed to a jumble of incoherent episodes without rhyme or rhythm. Such a stab at the old-fashioned linear method of reading will leave you frustrated and suffering from a headache. All you can hope for is to experience some parts of Neuromaani by undertaking a series of non-linear journeys through the novel, making choices at the end of each chapter.

Read the rest, it’s enjoyable. And pooh to the grumpy commenter who complained that it’s not informative enough!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Byron liked stupid rhymes for comic effect. Don Juan is full of them.

    His classic studies made a little puzzle,
    Because of filthy loves of gods and goddesses,
    Who in the earlier ages raised a bustle,
    But never put on pantaloons or bodices;
    His reverend tutors had at times a tussle,
    And for their Æneids, Iliads, and Odysseys,
    Were forced to make an odd sort of apology,
    For Donna Inez dreaded the Mythology.

    Ovid’s a rake, as half his verses show him,
    Anacreon’s morals are a still worse sample,
    Catullus scarcely has a decent poem,
    I don’t think Sappho’s Ode a good example,
    Although Longinus tells us there is no hymn
    Where the sublime soars forth on wings more ample:
    But Virgil’s songs are pure, except that horrid one
    Beginning with “Formosum Pastor Corydon.”

  2. I love stupid. I should read more Byron.

  3. Jen in Edinburgh says

    There are people who don’t rhyme talking with shocking?

    None of the examples in that paragraph sound particularly outrageous to me, actually – certainly not on the pneumonia/never phone ya level…

  4. In English, unlike Italian, rhymes of three are more syllables* are nearly always jocular. What’s the best counterexample?

    *hyper-feminine rhyme?

  5. There’s a Dundalk outside Baltimore, and the local pronunciation rhymes it pretty closely with sock.

    I don’t rhyme talking and shocking, but searching/lurching and snored/ward are perfect rhymes for me.

  6. hyper-feminine rhyme?

    I don’t think there’s a commonly agreed-on name (which in itself is odd); George Benjamin Woods in The Writer’s Handbook (1922) says “A rhyme consisting of three syllables, the first one stressed and the others unstressed, is called a triple or multiple rhyme, thus: tenderly – slenderly.”

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Don Juan is such fun that it’s quite easy not to notice Byron’s sheer technical brilliance in it; as Auden says (in “Letter to Lord Byron”, naturally):

    Ottava Rima would, I know, be proper,
    The proper instrument on which to pay
    My compliments, but I should come a cropper;
    Rhyme-royal’s difficult enough to play.
    But if no classics as in Chaucer’s day,
    At least my modern pieces shall be cheery
    Like English bishops on the Quantum Theory.

  8. What I find consistently comical in English is more than one word in the rhyme, like show him / poem or horrid one / Corydon.

    Does Hibernian English rhyme lorry and transitory, or does the latter have initial accent in normal speech, as in General British?

  9. Sorry to lower the tone from Auden to Lehrer, but I found this rhyme reasonably memorable:

    “These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard,
    And there may be many others but they haven’t been discovered!”

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    You will all go directly to your respective Valhallas
    Go directly, do not pass ‘GO’, do not collect two hundred dollars

    (… and indeed, almost all the rhymes in that wonderful singalong number. Auden would have loved it. In fact, for all I know, he did love it.)

  11. David Marjanović says

    There are people who don’t rhyme talking with shocking?

    Cot–caught merger

    reasonably memorable

    Memorable for having LOT=PALM rather than STRUT in discovered.

  12. If I were a cassowary
    On the sands of Timbuctoo,
    I would eat a missionary,
    Skin and bones and hymn-book too.

    (An 1862 version). “Cassock, bands, and hymn-book, too” is attested later, but is better, to my taste.

    I read a version of it attributed to Samuel Wilberforce (who publicly jousted with Darwin), but it turns out there’s a great literary mystery behind it, which has occupied the ancients as well.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    As various people have implied on the linked page, the cassowary could be forgiven for its lapse in view of the disconcerting effect of being transplanted so far from its natural habitat. The trauma might cause anybody to eat a missionary. It is not for us to judge.

  14. Other versions speak of the plains of Timbuctoo, or the banks of Timbuctoo. The mighty Timbuktu tempted many a flightless fowl to feed upon flesh and fabric.

  15. jack morava says

    Joseph Djugashvili
    Showed with his pipe and his
    Flowing moustache

    Making some comrades break out
    Out in a rash.

    [John Hollander]

  16. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Cot–caught merger

    I have heard of such a thing, of course, but I genuinely have no idea how people decide what should be on either side of it when unmerged. With the ‘bawth’ one I can at least make a slightly educated guess, possibly by pretending to be terribly English.

    Also, are these things which have come unmerged since the spelling was standardised? ‘Cot’ words seem to be generally spelt with ‘o’, but there’s no guarantee that ‘caught’ words won’t be, and I don’t think there’s any real spelling difference in the ‘a’ ones.

  17. dundalk/sock, talking/shocking, searching/lurching, ward/snored, and lorry/transitory are all perfectly good rhymes to me.

    I agree with Y’s point about multiple words combined to rhyme with a single word almost always seeming comical, like, er, “…window / let the hair on your chin grow” or whatever.

    The recently deceased rapper MF DOOM had a unique skill at humorously rhyming entire sentences with each other (which I think people on message boards 20 years ago used to call multisyllabic rhymes, but I don’t know if that’s still used)…. for example:

    “Off pride tykes talk wide through scar meat
    Off sides like how Worf rides with Starfleet”

  18. p.s.: I LOVE cabbages/ravaged.

  19. Ben Tolley says


    There’s three of J.C. Wells’ lexical sets involved: LOT, THOUGHT and CLOTH. In modern RP and generally in the northern half of England, LOT and CLOTH are the same, and they’re fairly easily distinguished from THOUGHT by spelling: they almost always with a simple o (there are a few with a, mostly after a /w/ as it wasp, quad). THOUGHT, on the other hand, is spelled in quite a variety of ways: augh, ough, au, aw, al, a – but never o (at least, I can’t think of any counterexamples, and Wells doesn’t list any). Accents which have the LOT-CLOTH split merge CLOTH with THOUGHT (older RP, parts of southern England, North America where it’s not been undone by the subsequent cot-caught merger) and are more difficult: some environments where you get the CLOTH vowel are similar to BATH, but like BATH, it’s quite variable.

  20. I genuinely have no idea how people decide what should be on either side of it when unmerged.

    Just to be clear: of course people don’t have to decide such things, they hear and imitate. But you were probably talking about people who have the merger trying to figure out which words are on which side.

  21. J.W. Brewer says

    One online source gives “DUN-dok” and “DUN-dawk” as alternative pronunciations for Dundalk, Maryland, basically saying it can go either way for AmEng speakers without the cot-caught merger, rhyming with “sock” in the first instance but not the second. Obviously Dundalk, Ireland may be pronounced differently, at least for IrEng speakers. But the problem as suggested above is that those of us in America who lack the cot-caught merger *do* have both the lot-cloth split (unlike RP) and the cloth-thought merger (unlike RP). One consequence of this is that unmerged Americans who think of a particular word’s vowel as being on the “caught” side of the cot-caught distinction won’t necessarily be able to predict whether it’s in the CLOTH set or THOUGHT set for furriners for whom those sets are unmerged. I myself don’t know where what I hear as “dawk” in DUN-dawk would fall in between CLOTH and THOUGHT for those without that merger.

  22. dundalk/sock, talking/shocking → THOUGHT–LOT merger (mostly unmerged in Ireland)

    searching/lurching → TERM–NURSE merger (more often than not merged in Ireland. There was a letter in the Irish Times complaining about newsreaders mispronouncing Bertie Ahern’s name as Burtie.)

    ward/snored → NORTH–FORCE merger (more often than not unmerged in Ireland)

    lorry/transitory → Initial stress for transitory. Possibly relevant for Kavanagh’s contrived rhyme, I have heard “lorry” in Ireland pronounced “lurry” (not sure if it was the STRUT or NURSE vowel). If I were forcing a full vowel in “transitory” it would rhyme with “story” rather than “sorry”, but once you’re in the realm of jocularity a more artificial vowel might be funnier.

  23. January First-of-May says

    Other versions speak of the plains of Timbuctoo, or the banks of Timbuctoo. The mighty Timbuktu tempted many a flightless fowl to feed upon flesh and fabric.

    I wonder whether the story of Sara Barabu is a distant descendant somehow… do any of the Norwegians here have a copy of Trollkrittet to check the text of the original song?

    (Admittedly, Sara Barabu was apparently unable to obtain a cassowary and had to make do with a more local species of humongous avian.)

  24. Trond Engen says

    Oh, I forgot that question. It didn”t strike me that it’s from Trollkrittet. And I’m said to say I don’t have the book. My mother grew up with it, but didn’t own it herself. When she got it for us, I must have been a little too old/not old enough, bur my sister loved it, and I think she got it when we split the bookshelves.

  25. In “The Raven,” Poe uses some multi-word rhymes. The most memorable of them for me is the pairing of “lattice” with “thereat is” as an internal rhyme. I don’t know whether internal rhymes should traditionally be given greater leeway to slant, but “The Raven” has a whole regular pattern of internal rhymes, more than a few of which I find dubious. For example, Poe repeats the internal sight rhyme

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

    twice in its entirety.

    I must confess, I dislike such eye rhymes, but they follow an establish tradition, and I can understand them in situations, like a formal poem, in which the written version of a work may be seen as the most fundamental. However, it is stranger to find them in composed song lyrics—especially when a singer-songwriter makes no attempt to make the rhyme work when singing. It seems jarring when Stan Rogers uses the (admittedly very common) sight rhyme of “plain” and “again”—two words which he pronounces nothing alike—in “Northwest Passage.”

  26. David Marjanović says

    Did he write the song himself? The unreduced pronunciation of again does exist, rare as it is nowadays.

    Anyway, off the top of my head:

    NORTH = L/CL/TH + r, FORCE = GOAT + r

    Canadian and northernmost US:


    Other merged US:


    Unmerged US except traditional NYC:

    PALM=LOT [ɑː], CLOTH=THOUGHT [ɒ], GOAT [ɔʊ], NORTH=FORCE [oɻ ~ ɻʷ]
    (strong, dog, other words with velars, and God often go with CLOTH instead of LOT; there may still be people with a separate NORTH = CL/TH + r)

    Terribly English (e.g. the last few prime ministers):


    Scarily English (Definitely Lower Middle Class):


    Frightfully English (older RP, the lorst par of the British Empar):

    LOT [ɒ], CLOTH=THOUGHT [ɔ̝ː], GOAT [ou], NORTH [ɒɐ], FORCE [ɔ̝ːɐ]

    CLOTH is basically what happens to LOT (or not) when a fricative follows; that’s also the most common cause of BATH vs. TRAP.

    I wish I had been taught this stuff. The opportunities for confusion, when the same few sounds are distributed so differently across different accents, are endless.

  27. hyper-feminine rhyme?

    Jazz and musical theater lyrics routinely go beyond this stodgy old gender binary into rhymes of three, four or five syllables: mad about the boy / sleepless nights I’ve had about the boy / something of the cad about the boy. (Five is the Iongest such rhyme I can think of offhand; I wonder what the record is.)

  28. See Dialect Blog, and Aschmann. Note that in some accents cot/caught are pronounced much fronter than [ɑ].

  29. TR: Good point, but with such long rhymes, a secondary accent (in this case on “boy”) can sneak in and spoil the perfection.

  30. Andrej Bjelaković says

    @DM I am pretty sure God never goes with CLOTH/THOUGHT for unmerged Americans.

    P.S. Also, I’d include, under Frightfully English, the Queen-like GOAT, along the [ɛ̈ʊ] lines. 😀

  31. J.W. Brewer says

    Andrej B: The eye-dialect jocular spelling “Gawd” for “God” in a U.S. context suggests a CLOTH/THOUGHT vowel to me, although of course that’s not an exclusively American eye-dialect spelling – you can find it in Kipling and I have no good intuition as to what vowel he meant it to suggest to his readers.

  32. @David Marjanović: Writing “plain” and “again” as a rhyme is quite common, probably precisely because there is a reasonable pronunciation of again that makes it a perfect rhyme. However, if one is writing a song to sing oneself (and Stan Rogers definitely wrote “Northwest Passage”), I don’t see how it makes sense to write the sight rhyme and then not sing it so that they syllables rhyme. Nevertheless, there are plenty of singer-songwriters who do this. I mentioned Rogers specifically because the American-Canadian folk genre is one where the performed version of folk song is normally taken to be the primary form.

  33. January First-of-May says

    Good point, but with such long rhymes, a secondary accent (in this case on “boy”) can sneak in and spoil the perfection.


    Ogden Nash’s Very Like A Whale (previously on LH) plays fairly well with three-syllable rhymes (in particular, experience / Assyrians is a stroke of genius), but it’s also not a standard-style rhymed work, so the rhymes also aren’t as prominent as usual.
    I know of some Russian four-syllable examples, but offhand I can’t think of any English ones.

  34. Andrej Bjelaković says

    @J.W. Brewer I am aware of the old Cockney eye-dialect tradition of ‘Gawd’, and I do see it from contemporary Americans, but this still doesn’t mean that *unmerged* Americans ever have it normally with CLOTH/THOUGHT rather than their LOT.

  35. Niagariously


    Can’t imagine how else this word can be used.

  36. PlasticPaddy says

    @jwb, ab
    I understood the Cockney sound was a shortened version of the ‘aw’ in ‘drawl’ (compare the exclamation ‘Cor blimey!’), and the US sound was like ‘oh-a’ or ‘ow-a’, so longer and a dipthong.

  37. Kate Bunting says

    How about this stanza from “Don Juan”?

    My days of love are over; me no more
    The charms of maid, wife, and still less of widow,
    Can make the fool of which they made before, —
    In short, I must not lead the life I did do;
    The credulous hope of mutual minds is o’er,
    The copious use of claret is forbid too,
    So for a good old-gentlemanly vice,
    I think I must take up with avarice.

  38. Yeah, “did too” and “forbid too” is strong medicine.

  39. January First-of-May says

    plays fairly well with three-syllable rhymes

    In retrospect, I’m not sure how I missed that Modern Major General’s Song (and consequently all of its multipicitous imitations) pretty much entirely consists of three-syllable rhymes.

  40. @January First-of-May: The stage directions for the “Major-General’s Song” includes a note that the singer is “bothered for a rhyme” before the last line of each verse. Some productions interpolate quite a bit of hemming and hawing before the Major-General finally comes up with the final lines, with their strained multisyllabic rhymes. This version, for example, overdoes it—as well as making numerous other changes that I think detract from the performance (including omitting part of the song; by what ill-considered logic could a director of The Pirates of Penzance decide to cut part of the “Major-General Song,” the signature piece of the play?!?). On the other hand, this rendition, gets it much better, I think; the pauses are brief, but Simon Butteriss sells it with his acting.

  41. Yes, the second is excellent; the first is unwatchable.

  42. Niagariously

    reminds me a bit of some of avrom sutzkever’s nonce words… his “lid fun a togbukh (ver vet blaybn, vos vet blaybn)” [poem from a daybook (who will remain, what will remain)] has two particularly lovely ones in one of my favorite phrases:

    בראשיתדיק אַרויסצוגראָזן / breyshisdik aroystsugrozn
    the first word adverbized from the first word of the torah; the second verbed from ‘grass’ with two different verbal prefixes (which often do in yiddish things that polish does with case, plus prepositional things) – adding up to, more or less: ‘in-the-beginning-ly attentively-grassed-out’.

    is this a problem for translators? /cackles exuberantly in a vilna accent while smuggling manuscripts/

    here is the whole poem with a not very good translation (but with transliteration, which is why this link). and here is zhenya lopatnik’s setting of the poem, in Yiddish Princess’ hard-rock meets power-pop version. i couldn’t find a version online of josh waletzky’s setting, which i actually like better as a song…

    the rhymes in the poem, however, are all monosyllabic.

  43. Here’s Sutzkever reading it. I don’t know my dialects but I notice he says vus, not vos.

    How do you parse that line, breyshisdik aroystsugrozn vider dem bashaf? The translation says ‘a primeval seed will sprout again’. Does breyshisdik modify bashaf from across the line?

    (Yeah, the translation isn’t very good. It drops all the repetitions and so loses the power.)

  44. The Major-General’s song: could there be two traditions of performing this song, one based on live performances (with more visual cues), the other based on recordings?

  45. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s always annoyed me that the more recherché rhymes in the Major-General’s song are (as it were) back to front: the clever multi-word rhymes come first, and the impossible-to-find-a-good-rhyme-for words come second. So the Major-General’s dithering is in exactly the wrong place.

  46. @Y: I am sure that must be part of it, although I don’t know how much. Many recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan songs were made by stage performers and include the stage business—for example, this recording by John Reed. Reed was the main comic lead—which means the performer who sings the patter songs—in the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company from 1959–1979. There are no recordings of George Grossman, the creator of most of the comic lead baritone roles, but there are some 1908 recordings of his immediate successor in the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, Walter Passmore, such as this one with “Little List” from The Mikado. If there were a recording of the “Major-General Song” of that vintage, it might be more revealing, since “Little List” has some of the spoken business actually written in. (Moreover, Gilbert’s notes actually suggest changing up the list to keep it relevant to the time and place of the performance.) There are also somewhat different traditions of performing Gilbert & Sullivan; sometimes they are done more like comic opera, other times more like modern West End musicals. This naturally leads to differences in how they are acted and how much departure from the script is allowed.

  47. A separate comment specifically about the “Little List” song (and also because I have a bunch more links):

    You can find a lot of modified versions of the song online. Perhaps the best is, once again, performed by Simon Butteriss. Another version, starring Mitchell Butel, also does a lot of contemporary jokes, but I don’t think it’s as well done. Butel’s version shows that, in principle, you can keep adding verses to the song indefinitely, although I think it ultimately goes on too long. The performance by Butteriss also follows the original lyrics a little longer before going more gradually off script, and it also circles back to the original ending with, “But it really doesn’t matter whom you put upon the list, for they’d none of ’em be missed—they’d none of ’em be missed!” which I like. Both versions (as well as plenty of others) also include some meta elements—jokes from the point of view of the actor, rather than the character Ko-Ko. And both agree, quite naturally, that the chorus should play everything completely straight, in contrast to the lead.

    I also thought that it might interesting to see how John Reed’s stage performance compared with his recorded version of “Little List.” It turns out that they are exactly the same. I have to give credit to Reed for the consistency of his performance, since the video of him is actually combined with the audio version from the album, and it stays in sync for the entire song. The only problems with the lip synchronization I noticed were with the spoken business bits, which he apparently changed the internal rhythm (but not the total lengths) of slightly over the years.

  48. Down the patter song rabbit hole I found this, containing my new favorite rhyme:

    Stravinsky and Gretchnaninoff, Rumshinsky and Rachmaninoff,
    I really have to stop, the subject has been dwelt upon enough.

  49. How do you parse that line, “breyshisdik aroystsugrozn vider dem bashaf”

    it’s a really tough one, and one that i think that translation does particularly badly. in fairness, i don’t think i’ve seen a translation that does it well, and i wouldn’t want to try for anything past a gloss myself. maia evrona does better than most here, with “A syllable will remain behind, / primeval, to cultivate its creation again in time.” but even she adds a lot that isn’t in the original as well as losing a lot of what is.

    in any case: the full sentence is “blaybn vet a traf, / breyshisdik aroystsugrozn vider dem bashaf.” i take that whole line as being about the action of the “traf”. “dem bashaf” is accusative*, so it’s what’s being tsugegrozt aroys.

    so, very clunkily: “a syllable will remain, / in-the-beginningly grassing out creation again.”

    * or, conceivably dative, if we can picture the “aroys” in “aroystsugrozn” forcing it by operating as a preposition as well as a verbal prefix.

  50. PlasticPaddy says

    Influenced by German, i read “vider dem bashaf” as “wider die Schöpfung” = “against Creation”, where wider is a preposition taking accusative. But Yiddish does not appear to have this prepositional usage, only remnants in some compounds.

  51. Kate Bunting says

    David Eddyshaw wrote: “It’s always annoyed me that the more recherché rhymes in the Major-General’s song are (as it were) back to front: the clever multi-word rhymes come first, and the impossible-to-find-a-good-rhyme-for words come second.”

    I always assumed that that was part of the joke! The first rhymes are so obviously contrived to lead to a particular word, that his then pretending to search for that word is comically absurd.

  52. David Eddyshaw says

    You may very well be right. (I blame my Calvinist upbringing for my defective sense of humour; though, on reflection, I should have realised that the rhymes were inevitably destined to be that way from the beginning of the song.)

  53. David Marjanović says

    But Yiddish does not appear to have this prepositional usage, only remnants in some compounds.

    In German, wider “against” is only used as a conscious archaism (…except as a verb prefix; e.g., widersprechen “contradict”), unlike the etymologically identical wieder “again”.

  54. January First-of-May says

    The first rhymes are so obviously contrived to lead to a particular word

    On my own end, I noticed the neat multi-word rhyme in the last line, and somehow never noticed that all the other cases were reversed. In retrospect, “din afore” was pretty blatant.

    (On second thought, for that particular line I might have also assumed that he knew well enough what he was going to rhyme it with but forgot how he was going to work that into the meter.)

  55. John Cowan says

    “I Am The Very Model Of A Heroine Barbarian”, by Kevin Wald, never actually used in a production of Xena, Warrior Princess, alas. Wald’s other literary works include “In olden days a hint of RUKI / Was looked on as something kooky / But now God knows / Anything goes”, “Dunn, a broc or assa‘s hue / Staer, what dry and ambeht tell!” (aka “Celtic Mnemonic”), “Bartholomae, Grassmann, and Grimm” (which teaches you how to spell Buddha), as well as “For Ant of a Nail”, Wald’s one foray into the world of Xena fanfic, which explains the power of historical linguistics to peacefully settle a dispute over the kingship of the Greek city-state of Psegopolis. Brief sample:

    Xena detached her chakram from her belt and held it up. “Do you know what they call this, out east? I mean, way, way east.”

    Gabrielle thought a moment. “Not a chakram, I take it.”

    “No. A chakram,” Xena said, not using the Greek word for chakram, but the actual Sanskrit word chakram with a ch-sound.

    “A tsakram?”


    “That’s what I — oh, I see. I think. You’re using a sound that doesn’t exist in Greek, I guess, and I can’t hear the difference.”

  56. David Marjanović says

    Worse: actual Sanskrit used actual [c], the palatal plosive, not an affricate.

    Just listen.

  57. Ful often have I payed that was due,
    And suffred peynes, though from crime pure;
    Of soor mistakes have I maad som fewe;
    My part of sand have I received sure
    In face, and have availled; and I dure.
    Ywis, we been the champiouns, my freend,
    And so we shullen fighten on till end.
    (G. Chaucer, “The Compleynt of Mercury”)

    Kevin Wald is a genius.

  58. David Marjanović says

    Isn’t he.

    My favorite:

    Lagu ofer lyfte,     seo latste mearc.
    Þes sind þa stæpstæru     steorrascipes
    Enterprise.     His ærende fif geara*:
    Wendan ofer worlda,     wundorlica ond niwa;
    Uncuþu cwicnesse     ond cynnu secan;
    Fæstlice faran     hwær beforan man ne eode.

    *fif geara] MS B has standend

  59. That’s amazing.

  60. Trond Engen says

    I showed Kevin Wald’s page to my wife and kids after a link from John many years ago. My son can still be heard singing Seven Rings wrought for the deep-delving dwarrows.

  61. January First-of-May says

    On the subject of man-eating cassowaries, I’ve just found a really neat relevant-ish joke in Scottish Referee (18 April 1902) which (IMHO) works even better simplified to its dialogue parts (the original, in typical 1902 fashion, was full of surrounding descriptions).

    “No, I will give no contribution. I do not believe in sending out Foreign Missionaries.”
    “But the Scriptures command us to feed the hungry.”
    “Well, at anyrate, I would feed them on something cheaper than missionaries.”

    I suppose in 1902 encountering a cannibal was probably still something that could occasionally happen to a particularly misplaced missionary…

  62. David Eddyshaw says

    I think there were still places where that might happen (Papua/New Guinea seems possible, though I don’t know of any actual instances.)

    Missionary-eating is not altogether apocryphal, at any rate:


    The melancholy tale shows the great importance of cultural sensitivity for successful missionary endeavour.

  63. Whatever deplorable unchristian habits Malian cassowaries may have, they are not cannibalistic.

  64. David Eddyshaw says

    We are not told. If they do not baulk at missionaries, who is to say what further depravities these hell-spawned creatures may not be capable of? Even unto eating of their own kind?

  65. Too gamey, whereas missionaries have been made succulent by the Word.

  66. Michael Rockefeller disappeared in 1961, after his boat capsized just off the coast of New Guinea. No one knows what happened to him. He might have drowned, or been eaten by a large predator, or killed by the Asmat locals if he made it to land. The Asmat still practiced headhunting and cannibalism at the time. The headhunting, at least, continued into the 1970s, as documented in the Blair brothers’ four-part documentary Ring of Fire. The brothers spent several years traveling around 1970s Indonesia (on Ringo’s dime), and in the second episode, they spend some time living and working among the Asmat, until they decide to leave in a hurry on the eve of a headhunting expedition.

  67. If the missionaries in question were Catholic, you could think of it as an impressive instance of imitatio Christi (“Take, eat: this is my body…”).

  68. I suppose in 1902 encountering a cannibal was probably still something that could occasionally happen to a particularly misplaced missionary

    The Scottish Referee must have been thinking of Argyll-born James Chalmers, killed and eaten in New Guinea the previous year (who I learned of through the Wiki category “Cannibalised people”).

  69. God bless Wikipedia. I wonder if there are still scholars who deny the historical existence of cannibalism?

  70. Rodger C says

    I wonder if there are still scholars who deny the historical existence of cannibalism?

    I rather doubt it. The first person I ever met (literally, as a freshman) who denied the existence of cannibalism was the late Ashley Montagu. Later, reading his books, I decided that his whole intellectual principle was, “Everything I was told in my horrible schools was the opposite of the truth.”

  71. Lars Mathiesen says

    We are all crunchy and good with catsup.

  72. But do we taste like pork or chicken?

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    Everything I was told in my horrible schools was the opposite of the truth.

    Well, there are worse heuristics …

  74. Lars (the original one) says

    Meat is meat.

  75. They’re Made out of Meat. (Very short, worth the read.)

  76. David Eddyshaw says

    People have always eaten people.
    What else is there to eat?
    If the Juju had meant us not to eat people,
    He wouldn’t have made us of meat!


  77. @LH: Now it all becomes clear 🙂

  78. A Chinese man came to our village, but he was not kind, like Baba Tenakh, and not even like Kapala Lid-jin. He was a very bad man, crocodile anem and rapist of women. He threatened us with his gun and said, “If you don’t give me enough coconuts, I’ll shoot you all.” We brought him as many nuts as he wanted; it turned out a whole heap, more than the one in which weed chickens lay their eggs.

    The Chinese man was delighted and, probably, thought that he could take from us whatever he wanted, since he had not given us anything in exchange for coconuts. And since he was a bad person, he grabbed one girl in the age of iwag by the elbow and wanted to take her with him. But this girl had a father, and her father’s brother, older and younger brothers, and a cousin, and also a young man at the age of meakim, who was going to marry her. They all came with their clubs and, in order to force the rapist to release the girl, they hit him on the head. Then he fell to the ground and died. We do not know which of the men killed him. But everyone beat him.
    As a matter of fact, we only wanted to take the girl away from him, and then he died. We surrounded him from all sides and discussed for a long time what to do. Some said: now polisi-anim will come. But what could they do to us? After all, it was the Chinese man who did the wrong thing, not us.

    People took their coconuts and began to discuss again. Suddenly one old man looked up at the sky and said:

    – When you killed him, the sun was there, and now it is here. If you do not finish speaking before his arrival, then the Chinese man will no longer be edible: he will start to stink.

    Then we cut him into pieces, finely chopped the meat, and the women baked it with sago flour. The Chinese man turned out to be extremely tasty, much tastier than an ordinary person and much, much tastier than a pig.

    Soon, people from neighboring and coastal villages heard about this, and from them the bang-bang in Ermasuke. They sent a polisi-anim to us, and they asked who killed the Chinese man. Then everyone who beat him identified themselves. Then the polisi-anim wanted to know who ate him. And then we all had to go with them to Ermasuke.

    Here in Ermasuke, Tuan Bentir asked us who beat the Chinese man. Then he wanted to know why we ate him. We replied that he was already dead anyway and we felt sorry for such good meat to be wasted. Tuan got angry at first, but then laughed. He said: we must not kill bad people ourselves, but we must call the polisi-anim. But by the time they got to us, the Chinese man would surely have time to harm the girl.

    And yet they put us in Bui. Why are they keeping us here? The Chinese man was bad, and when we ate him, he was already dead. You can’t throw away good meat!

    P. Wirtz, G. Neverman. Myths and legends of the Marind-Anim Papuans. M., Nauka, 1981

  79. Их можно понять.

  80. David Marjanović says

    They’re Made out of Meat.

    Two galactic rotations ago… back in the Cambrian. I’m afraid that’s True Love.

  81. David Eddyshaw says

    Dunno. Sounds a bit clingy to me.

  82. David Eddyshaw says

    The Captain is always relevant, ex officio. Standing relevance.

  83. Meat rose in hairs, meaty!

  84. I actually once believed in Hufu. It was too good not to believe in, and the internet was young then. (According to the story, it was originally named “Hofu”, but actress Milla Jovovich, whom the inventors encountered by chance, informed them that word meant something rude, perhaps in her language.)

    Speaking of provocative tales, Arens’s The Man-Eating Myth was the last hurrah of absolute cannibalism denialism. It did do some good in making people realize that not every cannibalism account is true.

  85. That’s exactly what I was thinking of when I wondered “if there are still scholars who deny the historical existence of cannibalism.”

  86. Samantha Bee’s Hufu segment on The Daily Show is one of my all-time favorites. The best part is not the interview with the creator,* but the brief interview with the marketing expert later on.

    * Wikipedia currently describes him as “a writer and regular commentator on Russian TV.”

  87. While I was searching for information about something else, I came across this 1981 Italian giallo: Cannibal Ferox (described by Wikipedia as a “cannibal exploitation horror film”)—in which the plot apparently begins with three Europeans heading into the tropical rainforest, hoping to find evidence for the theory that cannibalism is a myth.

  88. David Eddyshaw says

    Trying to prove a negative is bound to end badly.

  89. @David Eddyshaw: Yeah, that problem with the premise did occur to me. However, I don’t think anybody paying to see Make Them Die Slowly (as it was retitled for its American release) was likely to be overly troubled by the logical inconsistencies in the protagonists’ plans.

  90. David Eddyshaw says

    1 Across in the Times Quick Cryptic crossword today:

    One being given sustenance by another. (8)

  91. @David Eddyshaw: How is that a cryptic clue? It’s ironic, certainly, but I don’t see the characteristic cryptic structure (meaning two clues, one of them by wordplay).

  92. David Eddyshaw says

    They don’t have to include wordplay, at least by UK convention: a simple perfectly valid yet highly misleading definition is OK. (This is actually my favourite sort of cryptic clue, and it’s hard for the setter to pull off effectively. A good one should make you want to groan and/or kick yourself when the penny drops.)

    You may have missed the beauty of this particular example on account of knowing the answer in advance.

    A not-quite-so-good example from the grown-up Times cryptic today was

    “An air of resignation?” (3,4,4)

  93. Stu Clayton says

    Que será, será.

  94. David Eddyshaw says

    The prize is Stu’s.

  95. A wicked thing (6)

    Number (4,4)

    Cat litter (7)

  96. David Eddyshaw says

    Candle, dunno, kittens.

  97. The second is maybe a bit of a cheat, comparatively.

  98. David Eddyshaw says

    “More numb”?

  99. Yep, from Tony Augarde’s Oxford Guide to Word Games. I don’t know if sharing lexical morphemes between answer and clue is acceptable to purists.

  100. David Eddyshaw says

    No, that one wouldn’t pass muster in a real cryptic crossword, on the grounds that it’s not misleading enough (which is why it foxed me: I was looking for a trick which wasn’t there to be found.)

    The “candle” one is an old chestnut which actually does turn up in crosswords quite often. I don’t remember having come across the “kittens” one in the wild (but it’s cute.) It would be too easy for most cryptic crosswords, though.

  101. Maybe “Number theory (12)” for anaesthetics would be better.

  102. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes, definitely better. Though I think I’d go for the less theoretical side; maybe “Practising the numbers.”

  103. Trond Engen says

    “Numbering sections”?

  104. January First-of-May says

    I’m not very good at cryptic crosswords (I think; never really tried them), but I’ve long admired the sheer elegance of “Hillary’s challenge as first lady: to do nothing” (7, if you were wondering).

    (It also scores particularly highly on the “how much stuff had to happen just right for this to make sense” scale.)

  105. Highly relevant: Part of autumn operation employs army swimmers (9).

  106. David Eddyshaw says

    Everest octopuses, Batman!

  107. What I admire about the best truly “cryptic” clues is how hard it can be just to figure out where the separation between the two clues is.

  108. David Eddyshaw says

    Setters sometimes show off by having them completely coincide.

  109. John Cowan says

    A different clue I thought of for (3, 4, 4) above: “Yerro sbaglio”. Not very formally a cryptic clue, but a good Hatticism, I think.

  110. Combining three-syllable rhymes and restored lost positives, Felicia Lamport (from her collection Light Metres, illustrated by Gorey):


    The gentle wives fillet a soul
      Eptly, while the men doze,
    Or roast a reputation whole
      On smoldering nuendos.

  111. (Two syllables. It’s good, though.)

  112. Sadly, the excellent version of the “Major-General’s Song” by Simon Butteriss no longer appears to be available online. Instead, here are Gilda Radner and a giant carrot making a go at it. (That whole episode The Muppet Show is one of their absolute best.)

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