Ex pede.

Laudator Temporis Acti has a brief quote from Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve’s “Brief Mention” (American Journal of Philology 30.2 [1909]: 225-236):

But to the true scholar no blunder is small. He insists on immaculate cleanliness. If ex pede is a good motto, why not ex pediculo? To him any and every mistake is a sin.

Eric Thomson responded: “Gildersleeve’s witty ex pediculo is an excellent riposte to the charge of nitpicking. Lousy scholars should have fine-toothed combs.” It is indeed witty: pēdiculus is Latin for ‘louse’ (OED: “perhaps < the same Indo-European base as pēdere to break wind […] and also Avestan pazdu- small harmful insect”). But I hadn’t been familiar with the scholarly tag ex pede, which turns out to be short for Ex pede Herculem ‘from his foot, [we can measure] Hercules’: “The principle was raised to an axiom of biology by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, in On Growth and Form, 1917; it has found dependable use in paleontology, where the measurements of a fossil jawbone or a single vertebra, offer a close approximation of the size of a long-extinct animal, in cases where comparable animals are already known.” I’m guessing that by now it’s dusty enough that few scholars but traditional classicists would recognize it.

As for the sentiment about immaculate cleanliness, of course I would be the last person to deprecate close attention to detail, but it can be carried too far — my dissertation adviser, Warren Cowgill, one of the great Indo-Europeanists, never published a book because of his perfectionism. (I never finished the dissertation because of his perfectionism as well, but the academic world would have been a bad fit for me, so I have no resentment about it.)

Comments

  1. I’m curious: how did Cowgill manage to finish his own dissertation?

  2. Good question! I should have asked him…

  3. And while we’re on attention to detail, does anyone know how the French pronounce the name of the French film director Mia Hansen-Løve? I presume the first part is /miaʔansɛn/, but I can think of half a dozen ways Løve might be pronounced, and I worry about the nits…

  4. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    There is no uniformity at https://www.pronouncekiwi.com/Mia%20Hansen-L%C3%B8ve, but [ləv] seems to be the most popular.

  5. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    As ex-pédé has a specific meaning in French it might be better avoided.

  6. Trond Engen says

    IHuh. The name is very Danish (though Mia with -a is Swedish — the Danish form is Mie). I read that her father Ole Hansen-Løve (a perfectly Danish name) was not Danish-born either, bur born in Vienna from a Danish father. But her brother is named Sven, so the heritage must be important in the family. All that to say that I wouldn’t be surprised if the family enforced/encouraged a pronunciation close to the inherited.

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    Cowgill finished his dissertation (on “The Indo-European long-vowel preterits”) in 1957. In a variety of academic disciplines, I expect including linguistics, the baseline expectation for how lengthy, complex, and monstrous a dissertation was expected to be went through significant growth from the Fifties to the Seventies, thus likely making completing one a more daunting prospect. Cowgill got his doctorate five years after his B.A., which is longer than usual for the period (assuming he went straight through, which I am not certain of), so maybe he had some perfectionism-induced paralysis even then?

    As I have mentioned before, I just barely missed the chance to study with Cowgill – if I had gotten to college a year or two earlier, or if his cancer’s progression had been delayed by a year or two, it would have happened. (Although the side effect of this is I got to study historical linguistics at age 19 or 20 with hat’s old grad-school contemporary Stephanie Jamison, who was brought in briefly as an adjunct to fill the hole created by the department’s untimely loss of Cowgill before going off to UCLA for a more long-lasting position.)

  8. Ex pede Herculem is new to me too, but it put me in mind of Johann Bernoulli’s remark when he saw an anonymous solution to a mathematical problem he had set: tanquam ex ungue leonem, immediately recognizing that Newton was the author.

    The Wikipedia page on Ex pede Herculem mentions the similar phrase ex ungue leonem but doesn’t mention the fairly well-known Bernoulli-Newton connection. I assume Bernoulli already knew the thing about the lion’s claw, those old mathematicians being fearsomely well-educated in the classics, unlike those of today.

  9. @David L: Bernoulli’s quote (if he ever actually said it; many historians are dubious), is a Latin translation of a Greek quote by the poet Alcaeus (preserved for posterity by Plutarch).

  10. @Brett: thanks! I’m glad to find that at least some modern mathematicians and physicists possess fearsome classical knowledge.

  11. jack morava says

    I find it amusing that what passes for classical knowledge in many Toryish contexts can be pretty ignorant of Mycenae…

  12. David Marjanović says

    I’m curious: how did Cowgill manage to finish his own dissertation?

    Must have had a good supervisor.

    /miaʔansɛn/

    [ʔ] is really rare in French. Not only is it not phonemic, it’s not even obligatory as a voice onset.

  13. As ex-pédé has a specific meaning in French it might be better avoided.

    We teeter hereabouts on the rim of this also. Lately I’ve been leafing through my copy of The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, where much is made of the Greek origins of many such terms. Surprising periphrastic, for a 1990 book.

  14. a Latin translation of a Greek quote by the poet Alcaeus (preserved for posterity by Plutarch)

    The original story is about Pythagoras, as far as I can find.

  15. [ʔ] is really rare in French. Not only is it not phonemic, it’s not even obligatory as a voice onset.

    Ah, so how should the hiatus be rendered in transcription? As you will have noticed, I’m no expert at this stuff.

  16. David Marjanović says

    It’s simply a vowel sequence, [aa]. Compare les haricots [leaʀiko].

  17. Does Louisiana French elide h aspiré? The usual etymology of zydeco is from les haricots.

  18. John Cowan says

    Cowgill’s supervisor was Werner Winter. I worked out Donald Ringe’s Stammbaum in 2015: August Schleicher > August Leskien > Ernst Fraenkel > Werner Winter > Warren Cowgill > Donald Ringe, which means that you and Ringe are dissertation siblings and your Doktor-ur-ur-ur-großvater is Schleicher, making you part of the aristocracy of IE studies.

  19. I think it would be more interesting to try to find the most notable researcher who has absolutely nobody else important in their academic pedigree.

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve actually heard h aspiré pronounced as [h] by a native speaker, the mother of my elder son’s penfriend.

    (I didn’t like to ask about this at the time, as I thought any allusion on my part to nonstandard French practices might be unwelcome.)

  21. “h aspiré pronounced as [h] by a native speaker.”

    In parts of France (Dordogne, Normandie, and Vendée), parts of Canada (Manitoba, Ontario, and what was once the French colony of Acadia), and Belgium, [h] is still heard in certain words.

    References here: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/H_aspir%C3%A9_en_fran%C3%A7ais (Gauthier 2000, p. 126, and Horiot 1991, p. 166).

  22. January First-of-May says

    I think it would be more interesting to try to find the most notable researcher who has absolutely nobody else important in their academic pedigree.

    IIRC once you get far enough back you get big-name notables for the majority of the pedigrees. (Partly because the lines start branching…) So it must be one of those lines that kinda stall because there’s no (or, at least, no attested) supervisor at some point.

    I looked up Schleicher on Academic Tree and according to it apparently his supervisor had in turn four supervisors, all of whom had two or three themselves, so the tree expands very rapidly (though a lot of the names are shared, so it’s not quite as rapid as that makes it sound like).

    EDIT: I looked up Cowgill and it has a different line, via Paul Tedesco and Bernhard Geiger. They don’t know any supervisors for Donald Ringe.

  23. January First-of-May: IIRC once you get far enough back you get big-name notables for the majority of the pedigrees.

    That’s precisely why I think looking for the opposite would be interesting (or at least amusing). I just traced one branch of my own pedigree (several people in my tree having more than one advisor) to Karl Weierstrass, who after two hundred years of hand waving gave the rigorous definition of limits and thus founded modern analysis. But I must have hundreds of academic cousins, both more and less illustrious than myself.

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