Labia simul.

I am easily annoyed by April Fools foolery, especially on the internet, but I enjoyed Grove Music’s spoof article contest:

For the first time in the history of the contest, our judges split three ways. After some internal squabbling rational, well-reasoned argument, we selected “Lip Synch” by Lisa Colton, Reader in Musicology and Director of Graduate Education at the University of Huddersfield. Although Colton’s article misses one key Grove style point—all Grove articles begin with a definition sentence that succinctly explains the subject—it made us laugh so long and so loud, that we feel it is indeed deserving of this great honor. “A quite clever and evocative parody of a performance practice article, replete with medieval terminology, Latin texts, and modern drag references,” noted Judge Root. Judge Cusick called it “an imaginative pseudo history of the performance practice as originating in a queerly illicit mix of ecclesiastically silenced nuns and the monks on the other side of many monastic institutions’ walls; parodies the ventriloquization of women in music studies, the quest for origins that drives a certain kind of musicology, the elision of technology that characterizes another kind of musicology and the elision of gender that characterizes still another kind. Needs only a mention of the theorist/practitioner of the genre, Lypsinka, whose name before monachization was John Epperson.”

Lip Synch

The popular origins of Lip Synch, or Lip Synchronization, lie in the violent Crumhorn Battles of early modern Flanders, but comparable practices can be found much earlier in northern Britain, probably arriving there with the Vikings during the tenth century. The socio-cultural impetus for combining the voice of one singer with the performance of another individual seems to have been in the exclusion of women from all vocal performance, especially in religious settings, between the edict of St Paul and the reversal of that rule by second wave feminists in 1965. Giraldus Cambrensis (De rebus a se gestis, c1204) provides the fullest description of what he termed labia simul: the Gilbertine nuns he visited at Shouldham in 1201 opened their mouths in unison, making the shapes of words, while the canons in the adjoining church provided the musical sounds themselves. Matins would begin each day with the cantrix intoning Psalm 69 (Vulgate), Domine, labia mea aperies (“O Lord, open my lips”), in secret, and thus the combined liturgical rituals would commence in a broadly synchronized fashion. The technical challenge presented by the wall separating the male and female chambers of Gilbertine houses was obviated by a revolving hatch, through which feedback from the cantor and cantrix would be exchanged with appropriate modesty. A handful of examples of their notes are extant, typically employing the high-status, Anglo-Norman vernacular. One such memorandum (now DRu-P.a.UL), dating to the Feast of the Circumcision, 1243, reads simply: “Chantez, restez”, with the appropriate liturgical response proper to the day, “Sachez awez”.


P.J. Nixon: ‘Giraldus Cambrensis on Music: How Reliable are his Historiographers?’, Medieval Studies: Skara 1988, 264–89

Margolyes: Hildegard von Bingen and The Flaming Lips (Tunbridge Wells, 1983)

Visage: Lip Synchronization: A Surprising History (London, 2020)

I also enjoyed the runner-up, a biography of Johann Egbert Bach Bach-Bach [b Eiburg, Prussia 1755; d Bauernomelett, Prussia 1823], German musician and composer (“His works were catalogued by Otto Hahnrei and given a Bach Musik Werk number: BMW”).


  1. PlasticPaddy says

    It is a disgrace that the distinguished Otto Hühnerei (a celebrated, and, some would say, essential ingredient of the delightful mix that is his native village of Bauernomelett) is here referred to as “Otto Hahnrei”.

  2. The derivation of Otto Hahnrei is fairly transparent. It is a phrase meaning “Eight Samurai,” with the initial [h] due to debuccalisation and the [n] due to regressive nasal assimilation. Presumably it is a pseudonym of someone who was a devotee of Fellini and Kurosawa.

  3. As Prof. Dr. Reiner Irrsinn showed in his magisterial “Der vergessene Bach und seine Einflüsse” (Schilda 1888), Hahnrei is actually a nickname Hühnerei received after he complained that Bach overused the horn in his orchestra setting: Ich kann diese Hörner nicht mehr ertragen!. Everyone started thinking that this was his real name, until even he himself resigned and accepted it as his pen name.

  4. Re: “Der vergessene Bach und seine Einflüsse” – probably caused by having the Lethe as confluent.

  5. David Marjanović says

    with the initial [h] due to debuccalisation

    That is in fact a thing in Lower Bavaria.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    This is unsurprising, as Lower Bavarians are, of course, Hellenised Welshmen.

    The phenomenon also occurs in Nawdm* (e.g. hɔ́mgá “hare”, plural hɔ́míí [from *hɔ́míhí], beside Mooré sóaambà, plural soomse, Kusaal su’oŋ, plural su’omis.)

    *This is undoubtedly due to a Welsh substratum, as the name “Nawdm” is of course transparently derived from the name of the god Nodens.

  7. Trond Engen says

    No particular relevance, but I just came upon the ON word bæverskr “Bavarian”. I’ll start calling them bæværinger from now.

  8. John Cowan says

    the name “Nawdm” is of course transparently derived from the name of the god Nodens.

    Quite so. Of all the Great Old Ones known to mortals, he is the most beneficent, or at least the least indifferent. It is not surprising that the night-gaunts of Earth’s dreamlands, who look to him in his role as Arglwydd yr Affwys Mawr (I hope that is correct, as my copy of the MS was much emended before it reached my hands, with many variant readings obliterating the original), merely tickle their captives before depositing them in an ossuary of unusual size (perhaps the same that Ezekiel saw in his vision), rather than torturing, killing, or eating them (the last being difficult at best, as night-gaunts have no facial organs or orifices). Tickle is of course a characteristically Lovecraftian euphemism based on a perhaps Proto-World metaphor.

    The Deep Ones, on the other hand, worship Dagon in the ocean and on coasts throughout the world, though worship may not be the cromulent word, since he is conceived of as simply the oldest (and therefore largest) of his undying subspecies of humanity. In any case, the best-known of his admirers, those near the eastern end of the Middle Sea, have long since displaced him in their affections with a far more mysterious entity that they call simply “The God”, who cannot be further identified with certainty.

    (The Deep Ones, I will add, are generally portrayed as far too batrachian and indeed squamous, which is absurd. The well-documented “unblinking gaze” of course refers to the adaptation of their nictitating membranes to serve as a second cornea, allowing them to see well both underwater and on land; the loss of most body hair and of external ears, the presence of gills, and the inter-digital webbing, a mere exaggeration of what our type of humanit has, are all to be expected in what is after all a seagoing primate.)

  9. David Marjanović says

    batrachian and indeed squamous, which is absurd

    Quite so, now that the name Batrachia is restricted to frogs & salamanders.

    are all to be expected in what is after all a seagoing primate.

    Not the gills, no. Those are proof of Intelligent Design.

  10. Inasmuch as they are “blasphemous fish-frogs,” I don’t see a contradiction.

  11. David Marjanović says
  12. John Cowan says

    Inasmuch as they are “blasphemous fish-frogs,” I don’t see a contradiction.

    The merest slander, I assure you.

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