Last year I reported on James Murray’s letter of application to the British Museum Library, which did not get the future editor of the OED a job despite his acquaintance with “the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin & in a lesser degree Portuguese, Vaudois, Provencal, & various dialects… Dutch …, Flemish, German, Danish… Anglo-Saxon and Moeso-Gothic… Celtic… Sclavonic… Persian, Achaemenian Cuneiform, & Sanscrit… Hebrew and Syriac… to a less degree… Aramaic Arabic, Coptic and Phenician.” Now I find the following remarkable passage in an obituary quoted in a Transblawg post: “He could have aspired to a professorial chair—after all, he had even written on word formation in Gothic, an extinct language, mastery of which was once deemed essential to academic preferment in London…” So we learn that Gothic, though clearly not sufficient (vide supra), was a necessary job qualification in the Good Old Days! Ah, to have lived in those times, when philology was valued as the Queen of Sciences…

By the way, Margaret finishes her post with this splendid correction:

In case anyone else looks at the obituary, there is an error in the use of italics: ‘His translation of Beton appeared as Concrete with Dent‘ should read ‘His translation of Beton appeared as Concrete, published by Dent’.

Concrete with Dent: now, there’s an intriguing title!


  1. How much do you think he was bullshitting, though? Latin was surely classified traditionally as an Italic, not a Romance language.

  2. Queen of Sciences: you might want to sit down for this one, Hat, tis a pitiful tale.
    I remember mentioning, a few years back and in the context of some other discussion, the word “philology” to an academic, and having her return my email with a query: “What’s that mean?” She claimed never to have heard the word.
    And this a tenured associate professor in the humanities at an American liberal arts college.

  3. Whoa — it’s supposed to mean “the love of learning,” but it’s written like “the study of loving.” Why not “logophilia,” or something like that?

  4. Garrigus Garrigides says

    I think it’s just a matter of semantic overlap that ‘philology’ doesn’t quite jibe with our other ‘-ology’ forms. One meaning of Greek ‘logos’ is ‘word’, so ‘philology’ means ‘love of words’ as ‘philip’ means ‘lover of horses’ & ‘philadelphia’ means ‘brotherly love’ (actually, that’s not quite what it means, but that’s another story.) — Closest to ‘love of learning’ would be ‘philosophy’.

  5. Long time, no comment. Glad to see you doing well, LH.
    The Gothic requirement is interesting because IIRC Geoff Pullum in his _The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax_, goes off a bit on the LSA’s journal Language and their requirements that discuss the appropriate use of Gothic. (Sorry, it’s at the office right now, so I can’t remember if it is the font used or something else)

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