Nobody Said That Then!

That’s the title of a New Yorker blog post by Hendrik Hertzberg, a senior editor and staff writer, who is upset that “the makers of movies and television shows set in the historical past” take pains with everything except the language, listing examples from the show Masters of Sex, set in St. Louis in the early nineteen-fifties, e.g. “I’m going to pass on the bacon”: “People played a lot of bridge back then, but ‘pass on,’ as a metaphor for skipping or refusing something, was not yet in use.” This of course warms my heart, but I was also surprised and irritated that he didn’t mention Benjamin Schmidt’s Prochronisms site (see this LH post from last year), which has been working that territory for some time now and deserved a shout-out. Schmidt responds with this post, in which he quotes Hertzberg’s “Are there no production designers for language? There ought to be” and responds “Be reassured, Hendrik: we exist!” (I was impressed by his limiting himself to such a mild complaint at being ignored); he goes on to point out that “Hertzberg’s not right about all of his claims” and provide some nifty graphs. Anyway, if you like this sort of thing, read both posts, which are short and meaty.

Addendum. A good response to Hertzberg by Ammon Shea, pointing out that “words have a nasty habit of first appearing much earlier or later than memory or intuition would attest” (though also stipulating that “he is largely correct: some of the words he calls into question were not actually used at that time, and some of the others were not in widespread use”).


  1. English novels set in Russia don’t have the dialogue in Russian, blah, blah, blah, been there, said that.

  2. My ex sometimes said I ought to try getting Hollywood to hire me as an expert on coats of arms.

  3. des von bladet says

    Following John Cowan’s suggestion, They should go the Full Shakespeare and have settings of Jane Austen’s Frockwatch in expressionist decor and bathing costumes, or whatever.

  4. English novels set in Russia don’t have the dialogue in Russian, blah, blah, blah, been there, said that.

    If it doesn’t bother you, it doesn’t bother you, and nobody’s forcing you to be bothered. Some people aren’t bothered by blatantly wrong clothing or decor, either. People are different, everyone’s entitled to their own etc., blah, blah, blah, been there, said that.

  5. “English novels set in Russia don’t have the dialogue in Russian” – yes they do, it’s just the author has translated it into English.

  6. They should go the Full Shakespeare

    Been there, done that.

    Robert Graves took it one step further and complained about entire mindsets. Did the Romans have the concept of a “sense of humor”? He thought not. (Of course, he had plenty of quirks of his own….)

  7. Jeffry House says

    He mentions Deadwood as a transgressors.
    I recall reading somewhere that before deciding on a full panoply of f’ing modern curses, they did one script with period cuss words. They gave up on that because “everyone sounded like Yosemite Sam.”

  8. If for some reason Hertzberg himself were a character in some historical tv drama, it might I think be a serious mistake to have another character call him “Hendrik” (rather than “Rick”) in direct address — unless the point was to show that this other character didn’t really know him well enough to be on first-name terms with him even in an informal age. And wasn’t the Bonnie & Clyde movie ’67 rather than ’57? Is the prochonisms fellow running afoul of Muphry’s Law?

  9. @John Cowan: I think a distinction should be drawn between a work which uses “dramatic translation” – conveying to the audience, either implicitly or explicitly, that the characters are canonically speaking a different language, but that it’s being converted into contemporary English for the benefit of the audience -, and one with no translation convention, in which there’s a presumption that what we’re hearing is the canonical speech of the characters. In these latter cases, I think it’s valid to seek historical accuracy in dialogue. There seems to be a consensus that this category should include works set (in an English-language environment) since 1950 or so, and probably a widespread feeling that it should apply at least as far back as 1900 – and you could even make a case for its applying as far back as the beginning of Late Modern English. Of course the distinction between the two categories will be blurry in practice, and it’s very hard for most scriptwriters to craft historically accurate dialogue even for the recent past – but I think there’s a concrete reason why it’s more jarring to hear a 2010ism in a work set in 1980 than to hear a 1980ism in a work set in 1400.

    Of course, even works with a translation convention can still have anachronistic dialogue, if the characters refer to anachronistic concepts – Julius Caesar’s clocks being a famous example. I just recently saw an ad for the new movie Pompeii, in which a character says something like, “Every second takes her farther away from you.” But the Romans didn’t have seconds. You could say without too much difficulty that the character is canonically using some Latin word that means “moment” or “instant”, but I still find it jarring.

  10. Personally I wouldn’t mind “Every second takes her farther away from you” in a literary translation of something written 2000 years ago.

  11. I think a distinction should be drawn between a work which uses “dramatic translation” – conveying to the audience, either implicitly or explicitly, that the characters are canonically speaking a different language, but that it’s being converted into contemporary English for the benefit of the audience -, and one with no translation convention, in which there’s a presumption that what we’re hearing is the canonical speech of the characters. In these latter cases, I think it’s valid to seek historical accuracy in dialogue

    And, indeed, “Deadwood” is an example of the former; the writers were quite open about the fact that they were trying to capture the flavour of the exuberant swearing of the period, rather than reproducing it exactly.

    For “dramatic translation”, though, it isn’t really into modern English; it’s more like “timeless modern English”. It’s more formal than real modern English. If it’s a show about ancient Rome, someone can say “Cicero, be careful. Catiline has powerful friends in the Senate and they may move against you” and it’s OK for Cicero to reply “Catiline’s friends do not worry me”, but it’s not OK for him to reply “Yeah, whatever”.

  12. If it’s a show about ancient Rome, someone can say “Cicero, be careful. Catiline has powerful friends in the Senate and they may move against you” and it’s OK for Cicero to reply “Catiline’s friends do not worry me”, but it’s not OK for him to reply “Yeah, whatever”.

    Exactly! John C., how do you feel about this?

  13. I know this is ‘Languagehat’ rather than ‘Earlymusichat’, but the situation for musical authenticity (especially for earlier period things) is much worse.

    But to be a bit more OnT: I’ve noticed in several films recently (and maybe not noticed it in the past) that while the dialog isn’t in Russian or French or whatever, things we see rather than hear, like signs and books, are.

  14. Please feel free to expound on musical authenticity — this is Liberty Hall, we don’t worry about such trivialities as staying on topic, and besides, it is on topic.

  15. J. W. Brewer says

    I’m not sure what R H-B means by much worse – sometimes modern performances don’t pretend to bother with trying to recreate “authentic” period style; sometimes they try to do so with alleged obsessive-compulsive attention to detail but may well be getting it wrong because the historical record is perhaps too vague to be confident in the accuracy of modern conjectural reconstructions. Somewhere or other I have a copy of this CD, whose liner notes proudly claim that the singing (of Latin texts) is done in precisely the regional accent that was used for singing Latin-texted church music in 16th-century Scotland (as opposed to that used in 16th-century England, or anywhere else). Well, maybe . . .

  16. At the moment, Yeah, whatever is youth-speak, so inappropriate for a man of 43. In a generation it may be universal, and then it would probably be fine.

    But I do recognize the distinctions between archaic, contemporary, and timeless style, and to prove it I will drop a huge wodge of Le Guin’s essay “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie” here. She’s been reading a then-new fantasy novel (she doesn’t name it, but it is the 1970 edition of Deryni Rising, by Katherine Kurtz):

    The persons talking are a duke of the blood royal of a mythical Keltic kingdom, and a warrior-magician — great Lords of Elfland, both of them.

    “Whether or not they succeed in the end will depend largely on Kelson’s personal ability to manipulate the voting.”

    “Can he?” Morgan asked, as the two clattered down a half-flight of stairs and into the garden.

    “I don’t know, Alaric,” Nigel replied. “He’s good — damned good — but I just don’t know. Besides, you saw the key council lords. With Ralson dead and Bran Coris practically making open accusations — well, it doesn’t look good.”

    “I could have told you that at Cardosa.”

    At this point I was interrupted (perhaps by a person from Porlock, I don’t remember) and the next time I sat down I happened to pick up a different kind of novel, a real Now novel, naturalistic, politically conscious, relevant, set in Washington, D.C. Here is a sample of a conversation from it, between a senator and a lobbyist for pollution control.

    “Whether or not they succeed in the end will depend largely on Kelson’s personal ability to manipulate the voting.”

    “Can he?” Morgan asked, as the two clattered down a half-flight of stairs and into the White House garden.

    “I don’t know, Alaric,” Nigel replied. “He’s good — damned good — but I just don’t know. Besides, you saw the key committee chairmen. With Ralson dead and Brian Corliss practically making open accusations — well, it doesn’t look good.”

    “I could have told you that at Poughkeepsie.”

    Now, I submit that something has gone wrong. The book from which I first quoted is not fantasy, for all its equipment of heroes and wizards. If it was fantasy, I couldn’t have pulled that dirty trick on it by changing four words. You can’t clip Pegasus’ wings that easily — not if he has wings.

    Before I go further I want to apologize to the author of the passage for making a horrible example of her. There are infinitely worse examples I could have used; I chose this one because in this book something good has gone wrong — something real has been falsified. There would be no use at all in talking about what is generally passed off as “heroic fantasy”, all the endless
    Barbarians with names like Barp and Klod, and the Tarnsmen and the Klansmen and all the rest of them — there would be nothing whatever to say. (Not in terms of art, that is; in terms of ethics, racism, sexism, and politics there would be a great deal to say, but fortunately it has all been said, indirectly and therefore with greater power, by Norman Spinrad in his tremendous satire
    The Iron Dream.)

    What is it, then, that I believe has gone wrong in the book and the passage quoted from it? I think it is the style. Presently I’ll try to explain why I think so. It will be convenient, however, to have other examples at hand. The first passage was dialogue, and style in a novel is often particularly visible in dialogue; so here are some bits of conversation from other parts of Elfland. The books from which they were taken were all written in this century, and all the speakers are wizards, warriors, or Lords of Elfland, as in the first selection. The books were chosen carefully, of course, but the passages were picked at random; I just looked for a page where two or three suitably noble types were chatting.

    Now spake Spitfire saying, “Read forth to us, I pray thee, the book of Gro; for my soul is afire to set forth on this faring.”

    ” ‘Tis writ somewhat crabbedly,” said Brandoch Daha, “and most damnably long. I spent half last night a-searching on’t, and ’tis most apparent no other way lieth to these mountains, save by the Moruna, and across the Moruna is (if Gro say true) but one way…”

    “If he say true?” said Spitfire. “He is a turncoat and a renegado. Wherefore not therefore a liar?”

    [second passage]

    “Detestable to me, truly, is loathsome hunger; abominable is an insufficiency of food upon a journey. Mournful, I declare to you, is such a fate as this, to one of my lineage and nurture!”

    “Well, well,” said Dienw’r Anffodion, with the bitter hunger awakening in him again, “common with me is knowledge of famine. Take you the whole of the food, if you will.”

    “Yes,” said Goreu. “That will be better.”

    [third passage]

    “Who can tell?” said Aragorn. “But we will put it to the test one day.”

    “May the day not be too long delayed,” said Boromir. “For though I do not ask for aid, we need it. It would comfort us to know that others fought also with all the means that they have.”

    “Then be comforted,” said Elrond.

    Now all those speakers speak English differently; but they all have the genuine Elfland accent. You could not pull the trick on them that I pulled on Morgan and Nigel — not unless you changed half the words in every sentence. You could not possibly mistake them for anyone on Capitol Hill.

    In the first selection they are a little crazy, and in the second one they are not only crazy but Welsh — and yet they speak with power, with a wild dignity. All of them are heroic, eloquent, passionate. It may be the passion that is most important. Nothing is really going on, in those first two passages: in one case they’re reading a book, in the other they’re dividing a cold leg of rabbit. But with what importance they invest these trivial acts, what emotion, what vitality!

    In the third passage, the speakers are quieter, and use a less extraordinary English; or rather an English extraordinary for its simple timelessness. Such language is rare on Capitol Hill, but it has occurred there. It has sobriety, wit, and force. It is the language of men of character.

    Speech expresses character. It does so whether the speaker or the author knows it or not. (Presidential speech writers know it very well.) When I hear a man say, “I could have told you that at Cardosa,” or at Poughkeepsie, or wherever, I think I know something about that man. He is the kind who says, “I told you

    Nobody who says “I told you so” has ever been, or will ever be, a hero.

    The Lords of Elfland are true lords, the only true lords, the kind that do not exist on this earth: their lordship is the outward sign of symbol of real inward greatness. And greatness of soul shows when a man speaks. At least, it does in books. In life we expect lapses, and laugh at an “over-heroic” hero. But in fantasy, which instead of imitating the perceived confusion and complexity of existence, tries to hint at an order and clarity underlying existence — in fantasy, we need not compromise. Every word spoken is meaningful, though the meaning may be subtle.

    For example, in the second passage, the fellow called Goreu is moaning and complaining and shamelessly conning poor Dienw’r out of the only thing he has to eat. And yet you feel that anyone who can talk like that isn’t a mean-spirited man. He would never say “I told you so.” In fact, he’s not a man at all, he’s Gwydion son of Don in disguise, and he has a good reason for his tricks, a magnanimous reason. On the other hand, in the third quotation, the very slight whine in Boromir’s tone is significant also. Boromir is a noble-hearted person, but there is a tragic flaw in his character and the flaw is envy.

    Well, I happen to like the Deryni books very much, despite their firmly contemporary style. They are not, after all, set in Elfland, or even Middle-earth, just the Middle Ages. There’s magic, yes, and the map is hard to recognize: go over the mountains on the eastern border of Wales, and find yourself in Hungary? But fundamentally the place is another world, not the Otherworld. What’s more, I suspect Le Guin is a little more forgiving forty years onward.

  17. It would be silly for Martin Cruz Smith to have published Gorky Park only in Russian, because then no one would understand it. How is that similar to anachronistic speech in Downton Abbey? (And apparently that’s only done to tease the pedants and distract the bored).

    Jane Austen with expressionist decor = Percy Wyndham Lewis.

    You know who’s good at old-fashioned-sounding speech without descending into cliché is Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies.

  18. I just like the way Le Guin throws Tarl Cabot in with the Ku Klux Klan.

  19. Well, they do have much the same view of women. I don’t know that the KKK were actually pro-slavery, though.

  20. AJP, it’s just an extreme case. The authenticity that demands a character in 1950 talk always and only like 1950 is different only in degree from the (obviously absurd) authenticity that demands Russians in Russia should be represented as speaking Russian. It’s true that Russian is wholly unintelligible to the 2010 anglophone, whereas 1950-speak is only a little difficult to understand. We don’t get upset when a novel written in 1920 but set in 1880 is full of 1920isms, after all.

    I think this is fundamentally different in kind from the anachronism of a novel in 1950 referring to Elvis, or clocks in Caesar’s day, or (in a movie) signs in English when the movie is set in France. There is an author who never lets her characters use a word in dialogue that wasn’t already part of English in their day, but her syntax is Modern not Middle English. What’s the point of all that? Yeah, when someone on Downton Abbey says “bored of”, I get upset (on the other hand, it passes Gale by; apparently she’s never noticed anyone saying “bored of” in real life either). But I recognize that it’s a completely futile upset; if Downton Abbey is re-aired twenty years hence, no one will pay the slightest attention.

  21. J. W. Brewer says

    The first two passages Le Guin quotes are embarrassing and overwrought hackwork, almost certainly no better than the Gor-etc. books she disdains. (Whether they are better or worse than Le Guin’s own style I couldn’t say, since I haven’t read her since I was maybe 13 or 14 and had not yet developed much aesthetic judgment in matters of style; I see no reason to revisit her now any more than I would revisit her Gor-etc. competitors.) That that third guy she quotes could come up with something archaic and/or timeless feeling while avoiding that trap and making it seem effortless rather than affected is actually somewhat impressive, because the amount of embarrassing/overwrought hackwork on the market suggests that that achieving that result must be harder than it looks.

  22. Yeah, I’m afraid I have to agree with JWB: where LeGuin sees (or saw) power, dignity, and passion, I see bargain-basement High Fantastickal Speeche, Ye Olde Craparoonie. If I had to read an entire book full of it, I wolde runne madde.

  23. des von bladet says

    I read Gorky Park in the original Dutch, of course, and I will not make another attempt at Tolkien until I master hobbitsh. Meanwhile I was once jolted out of a fine translation of Baudelaire by the word ‘diaper’.

    (I don’t have a point – I mostly just come here to piss on the cat and call the rug a bastard. And complain about ‘early music’ performance conventions, of course. )

  24. des von bladet says

    (Also: they really talk like that in Elfland. All the time. And if you bring it up, they just call you racist.)

  25. A while back, I was attending some sort of student conference at George Washington University and reading a fantasy novel set in the quaint little backwater of Foggy Bottom. I suppose there could be other Foggy Bottoms out there besides the one in DC, but at the moment it was hard not to (read: really fun to) conflate the two.

  26. There could be no anachronism in the purely made-up epoch. And when wants to convey a different epoch AND a foreign land AND the ability to identify with the characters and their circumstances, then sometimes anachronisms might help. Because a more familiar culture might have had similar circumstances in a different historic period. Actually I consistently use slang and imagery from Russia’s NEP era underworld romance (some genuinely from the 1920s and some made up later) to convey the aura of 1900’s underworld lyrics of Argentine tango – IMVHO the mismatches of time and space almost cancel each other.

  27. I mean that, in say an Elizabethan setting, there will be loads of effort put into clothing and scenery and then the music played within the narrative (as distinct from background music) will be totally inappropriate and anachronistic (and often just lousy).

    I even attended, upon a time, something at the (rather self-consciously-named?) Shakespeare’s Globe where they played mediæval music, in a pretty authentic style but totally anachronisticly: didn’t fit with Shakespeare’s time or the internal time of the play (which, come to think of it, might also have been Shakespeare’s). Maybe they were indulging in hyper-correction, because usually things go wildly the other way.

    There also seems to be a horribly strong tendency to mistake ‘Celtic’ music for mediæval. (I’ve come out of a cinema, more than once, with an inexplicable desire to have a shower with a bar of ‘Oirish Spring’ (Begorrah!)

    Music (especially background music) doesn’t have to be academically HIP, but some sensitivity would be nice. A great example of modern but sensitive is Walton’s score for Henry V, where at the climax, at Agincourt, (while the visual aspect of the movie has been changing from a straight(ish)-forward record of a theatrical performance to a realistic, outdoor depiction of the battle) Walton brings in a modern setting of the Agincourt Carol. Not HIP, but very satisfying.

    Down here in DFW Shakespeare Dallas is doing all the plays and poems, about one performance a month (it’s taking them five years) in staged readings. From the start any music they performed was always vaguely new-agey-celticy, and after one of the earliest performances, I asked them why they didn’t try to use more authentic stuff, and they were nonplussed: never even thought about it, didn’t even know there was any! I told them about the wealth of music that has survived from the period, even pointed them at a book that has pretty much all the music from the time that can be associated with the plays (however tenuously).
    And would you believe that at the very next play they went on exactly as before.

  28. One of my favorite quotations is from Robert Graves, Antigua Penny Puce (1936), chapter 10. It’s the only bit we ever hear from a very unattractive character’s historical novel about the Diet of Worms:

    “‘Nay,’ cried the good bailiff of Hochschloss, ‘all folk who journey through this bailiwick must first drink the health of my Lord the Duke: in mead, be they poor; in good Rhine wine, be they of the better sort.’”

    We learn in chapter 17 that the author “had to pay to get it published and was grossly over-charged and, in spite of a large additional sum that the publishers demanded for advertising, only sold forty-five copies in England and seven in Canada”.

    That really ought to be as famous as Waugh’s parody of a certain style of nature writing in Scoop (1938), which is in the Oxford Book of Quotations:

    “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.”

  29. Sorry: forgot to connect my last comment to the topic at hand. I have very low tolerance for stuff like “Detestable to me, truly, is loathsome hunger”, etc., which sounds way too much like Graves’ parody.

  30. JC, I’d love reading 1950 speech in a novel, and I’d despise any author who screwed it up. Here (50s onwards) nostalgia, or something related to it, sets in: I’m sure I loved Ian MacEwen’s Sweet Tooth a little bit because it was set in the early 1970s, a period I remember well, and of course MacEwan gave it special attention because he too remembers it. In that case, attention to the speech & other details added to the pleasure of reading the book (at least for me). I’d have got nothing out of authentic 1530s English if it had been used in Wolf Hall. In that case Hilary Mantel has to use analogous speech: how a poor young boy or old rich man might talk today (but nothing too stylised).

  31. Yes, I complained about it here and here.

  32. Er, that was in response to Michael, not “Teddy” Heath.

  33. And I am planning to read Wolf Hall soon, I swear.

  34. marie-lucie says

    des: I was once jolted out of a fine translation of Baudelaire by the word ‘diaper’.

    Can you find the original? English “diaper” translates as French une couche, but this word is one of two homophones: besides ‘he word meaning ‘diaper’ there is another one, used mostly in classical poetry, meaning ‘bed, sofa, anything you can lie on and sleep’. I can’t think of a context in Baudelaire’s work where he might have wanted to refer to diapers rather than beds.

    There is also the plural form les couches, an obsolete word referring to a woman’s labor and act of giving birth.

  35. embarrassing and overwrought hackwork

    E.R. Eddison is certainly not to everyone’s taste, and even those who like him for one book or aspect often dislike others. But he was certainly no hack, either in the sense of someone who writes inferior work for money, or in the sense of someone who uses styles or tropes about which he knew nothing. His style is entirely artificial, but it is impeccable Early Modern English written in the 1920s, and the attitudes of his characters are equally Elizabethan or perhaps rather Jacobean.

    I’ve never read Kenneth Morris and can’t speak to the quality of his work, but I don’t think he was in it for the money either, not back in 1930.

    I see no reason to revisit her now

    As Hat is fond of saying to me anent His Poundness, your loss. It’s hard to easily remedy, though: Le Guin doesn’t write novels for the sake of the sentences in them, but sentences for the sake of the novels they are in. I mean, I love sentences like “He knew now, and the knowledge was hard, that his task had never been to undo what he had done, but to finish what he had begun”, but I grant that they probably don’t do much for you, who don’t know who “he” is, or what’s being talked about, or why it matters.

    [T]hat that third guy she quotes could come up with something archaic and/or timeless feeling while avoiding that trap and making it seem effortless rather than affected is actually somewhat impressive

    150+ million book-buyers have certainly thought so; far more than any other author except Dickens, despite what the critical establishment has thought of him. (He’s not a school author, which most of his competitors in that league are, artificially inflating their sales.) The charge of hackwork may be firmly repulsed here as well: he made a lot of money, but neither he nor his publishers had any reason to expect that.

    in the original Dutch

    “A decade or so after graduation one may still have cultivated tastes, but as a rule one can no longer read the Arabian Nights so fluently in the original Arabic, or social science textbooks in the original double Dutch.” —Northrop Frye

    Foggy Bottom

    The first ghit is a Foggy Bottom Farm in Geneseo, NY. I’ve always thought it was somewhat ironic that the U.S. Naval Observatory is in Foggy Bottom.

    in mead, be they poor

    I see nothing inherently risible in this paragraph: embedded in a well-crafted and well-written historical novel, it wouldn’t bother me in the least.

  36. Kenneth Morris’s Book of the Three Dragons, from which Le Guin’s quotation is taken, though it can’t be recommended to those who are allergic to thee’s and thou’s, is a lovely book. It wears its archaism lightly and humorously, which can’t be said for Eddison (who nevertheless was a serious and sensitive artist, working in an unpopular medium). Here is part of a contest between professional satirists:

    Then the third satirist spoke: he was a plump, well-fed man in flashing green, with well-oiled black hair and a smiling look. “To every man his price, good souls; I would not hold my power so cheap. You, my friend,” said he to the red-eyelashed man, “will no doubt be an apprentice at satire?”
    Then said he with the red eyelashes: “If I knew thy name I would satirize thee, and thou shouldst be as that water.”
    “Though I know not thy name I will satirize thee, and the men of Caer Odornant shall see,” said the well-fed one. So he began, smiling kindly as he sang; and they all turned red and then white-cheeked to hear him; but the red-eyelashed could make no answer, knowing not his name.
    “Thou shalt be a rat,” said the well-fed; and went forward with three lines of his satire.
    “Enough! enough!” squeaked the red-eyelashed; “or I will jump and bite thy throat!”
    “What! thou art content with as little rathood as that?” said the well-fed. So he stopped his chanting; but the red-eyelashed had still a good look of rattishness about him, even to the twitching of his whiskers.

    If there were bargain-basement fantasy writers today who could write like Morris or Eddison or Dunsany or Peake, contemporary fantasy might be worth reading. Unfortunately those authors are hardly to be found even in basements nowadays.

  37. (Either Morris, come to think of it: Kenneth or William, the arch-archaizing grandaddy of modern fantasy, whom even I can’t read with much pleasure, and who would doubtless give Hat or JWB an aneurysm within one fie-and-gadzooks-studded paragraph. Lots of Lewis and Tolkien comes out of William Morris; in The Well at the World’s End there is a Stone Table, a character named Gandalf, etc.)

  38. Gromfa gromfa glamfa glamfa aerfa aerfa!

    (the opening line of an Old Irish satire, meaning “I will satirize” using the three different verbs allocated in Old Irish to that function; the third is the normal one)

  39. Oops, I forgot the Old Irish satire link (to my blog).

  40. Can you find the original?

    I’d guess “Enfants, emmaillota dans ses langes d’airain!” in “J’aime le souvenir de ces époques nues.”

  41. John Cowan, the US Naval Observatory is not in Foggy Bottom. It’s more like Glover Park, quite a bit further north, with Georgetown between it and Foggy Bottom. But Wikipedia tells me that it was in Foggy Bottom until 1893, when it moved.

  42. Thanks. I wrote “was in Foggy Bottom”, and then changed it to “is” without checking. My bad. Light pollution was far less in 1844-93, though no doubt the fog was much the same.

  43. richard howland-bolton: That was something that bothered me and my friends about the Lord of the Rings films. Tolkien created an entire world, complete with its own music. That world was created out of raw material from British, Norse and Germanic mythology for the most part, so logically its music would relate to those traditions also. Yet the music in the films was just stock movie music. It could just as easily have been used in a film about cowboys or WWII.

    The song in the first episode of The Hobbit isn’t too bad, but they didn’t really follow up on it. There are plenty of places in the book where various characters are singing, but they haven’t put it into the film so far.

    Re-enactors are usually terrible about music also, Ren-Faire or Civil War or whatever. They go to great lengths to have the right buttons, but the music and the instruments will be gross anachronisms. People in Civil War uniforms playing dreadnought-size guitars and five-string banjos really set my teeth on edge.

    As usual, xkcd puts it best:

  44. Trond Engen says

    The power of satire or public scolding was appreciated also in Germanic societies. Wikipedia has a remarkably thorough explanation of the concept of níð.

  45. des von bladet says

    MIcK has guessed correctly!

  46. des von bladet says

    Fracking android spellthing!

  47. But where is the diaper?

  48. MMcM: thank you!

    The context is a contrast between the beautiful, strong bodies and mines of the mythical Golden Age and the misshapen, degenerate bodies and minds of the present (ie 19C) period. This sentence is part of the second description:

    Ô pauvres corps tordus, maigres, ventrus ou flasques,
    Que le dieu de l’Utile, implacable et serein,
    Enfants, emmaillota dans ses langes d’airain!

    The English translation is pretty good:

    Poor bodies, twisted, thin, bulging or flabby,
    That the god Usefulness, implacable and calm,
    Wrapped up at tender age in swaddling clothes of brass!

    The word langes is correctly translated as swaddling clothes, which do not mean ‘diapers’. Un lange is a piece of heavy cloth large enough to wrap a baby in it from the chest down with a fair amount of overlap, and long enough to be folded back upwards over the baby’s legs. It is not a diaper, but is worn over a diaper (or whatever was used instead in ancient times). My family has baby pictures of me or my sisters wearing those. In ancient times the baby was wrapped from head to toe, only the face showing, as can be seen in many medieval pictures of babies. Cords or bands were used then to hold the cloths together, but in my time the lange was held with large safety pins. It held the legs but not the arms.

    The verb emmailloter means ‘to wrap up (a baby) in swaddling clothes or something similar’. It is from le maillot, a garment which fits the body very closely, as in maillot de bain ‘bathing suit’, maillot de corps ‘sleeveless undershirt’, le maillot jaune ‘the yellow T shirt worn by the winner of the preceding leg of the Tour de France’.

  49. French lange is a substantivized form of the medieval (13th c.) adjective lange ‘woolen,’ from Latin laneus, lanea; it’s thus a close relative of laine ‘wool,’ from Latin lana.

  50. Merci, LH. Indeed the lange is a kind of small blanket, so it could have started as a woolen cloth to keep the baby warm.

  51. @Richard Howland-Bolton on Shakespeare producers not knowing that real old music exists: David Schrader, the now illustrious organist, told me an exactly similar story in grad school in the 70s.

  52. complete with its own music

    Well, hypothetically. Tolkien actually doesn’t have much to say about specific music, though the Music of the Ainur is how the universe is conceptualized before it’s actually created. The Ainur, which correspond to angels, designed the universe in choral performance, God made it so with a word; he also added some things, like Elves and Men, as the Ainur are not capable of creating beings with independent wills.

    Tolkien collaborated with Donald Swann (of Flanders & Swann), who wrote settings with piano accompaniment for seven pieces from The Lord of the Rings, but (a) some of the works he set are poems in their original context, not songs; (b) the results are definitely Lieder, not folk songs, except for the Gregorian-chant-like setting of “Namárië”, which is Tolkien’s own. (I love them and sing them anyway; Gale has asked me to sing one at her memorial service.)

    People often speak of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as “containing poetry”, but they don’t, not in the sense that (say) La Vita Nuova or The Silmarillion do. Rather, the poems and songs are diegetic: the narrative always says something equivalent to “And then he/she/they sang/recited the following”. A fully satisfactory translation into any language (which does not exist as far as I know, for many reasons) would involve not only translating the sense of the poems, but casting them into the native folk-poetry/lyric style of the target language. (I note that a fair number of the translations have the verse translated by a different translator, which is perhaps encouraging.)

  53. Really!??!!?! Where does one find the Tolkein-Swann collaborations?

  54. The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle. I practically memorized it when I was a teenager.

  55. Trond Engen says

    In his foreword to Ringdrotten Eilev Groven Myhren says that the translations of the poems follow the original rhythm, but counting heavy syllables only, as in traditional Norwegian meters. Also the rhyme schemes are traditional Norwegian, occasionally allowing assonance instead of full rhymes, especially in the folk song-like poems. Only in the Song of Nimrodel did he consciously choose a different meter, the gamlestev of Norwegian medieval ballads. But it’s really not that different:

    Det var ei alvemøy så prud,
    som soli bjart ho var.
    Ei kåpe kvit med sauma gull
    og sylverskor ho bar.

    Ei stjerne var på bruni bunden,
    eit ljos var yvi hår
    lik sol som skein på gylte greinir
    ein fager lórienvår.

    Og håret hekk til jordi ned,
    og lett ho fór i vind,
    ei kvitkledd møy i dansen gjekk
    som lauv or grøne lind.

  56. There are now two more pieces in The Road Goes Ever On that weren’t in the first edition, it seems. I’ll have to get a new copy and learn them if I can. One is “Bilbo’s Last Song”, which was sung at Tolkien’s funeral; the other is from The Silmarillion.

  57. des von bladet says

    Right, now that I’ve got my keyboard out of the cupboard, it is #6 of the Fleurs de Mal “I prize the memory”, as traduced by Richard Howard.

    How these deformities crie out for clothese!
    – wretched bodies, regular grotesques,
    runty, paunchy, flabby, scrawny, lame,
    brats whom Uility, a pitiless god,
    has swaddled in his brazen diapers!

    Brazen, or swaddling, diapers were widely used in the late 19th century*, of course, so this seems an entirely apt translation.

    * This may not be entirely true.

  58. @ Roger C
    And there was possibly less of an excuse back then when the Early Music Movement was in its prime!

  59. marie-lucie says

    des: This translation is striking and powerful but not very literal.

    Brazen, or swaddling, diapers were widely used in the late 19th century

    Do you have any references for this? I wonder what actual (not figurative) object could possibly be referred to as a “brazen diaper”. As for “swaddling diaper”, it seems to be a contradiction. Swaddling refers to wrapping most of a baby’s body (over other cloths or garments the baby might wear, including an early equivalent of a diaper)), while a diaper is a type of undergarment for the lower part only. I wonder if the translator was aware of the difference between les langes ‘swaddling clothes’ and les couches ‘diapers’. You could not emmailloter ‘swaddle’ anybody with a couche ‘diaper’.

    The poem has the word airain, meaning a type of bronze used in antiquity, especially for weapons. This classical reference goes together with the notion of a “god of usefulness’. Neither airain nor bronze is used in the figurative meaning of “brazen” in English (as in brazen lie, etc). Instead the poet’s meaning is that modern people’s misshapen bodies seem to have been “swaddled in hard metal” which interfered with their development. The reference to this hard metal also recalls the iron machinery used in 19th century factories.

  60. m-l: Note des’s footnote “* This may not be entirely true.” I’m not sure whether that means he’s not sure of his memory or whether he just made it up out of whole cloth, but either way I wouldn’t take the factoid too seriously.

  61. marie-lucie says

    Thanks LH. I did notice the footnote. Perhaps des’s whole comment (not the translation) is a joke then. You know that I am sometimes slow to detect joking.

  62. Trond Engen says

    As I read it, Des’ footnote refers to “Brazen, or swaddling, diapers were widely used in the late 19th century”. The translation itself is not tongue in cheek. Richard Howard is a solid name.

  63. des von bladet says

    The translation is completely real; my gloss is completely false. Sincere apologies to marie-lucie – I honestly thought that when I thought better of not signposting my unreliability that it would be unlikely to mislead anyone.

  64. marie-lucie says

    Thank you both! I thought that “brazen” might have had a different meaning in some context.

    I did not doubt that the translation was legit, but I am still convinced that the translator misinterpreted the meaning of langes and also of swaddling. Perhaps he was never a father.

  65. The subtitles in the most recent Hobbit movie mistranslate the Sindarin spoken. Which has got to be a subtle joke on somebody’s part, since Sindarin is a made-up language.

  66. @Richard Howland-Bolton: Exactly. I was like, “Haven’t these fellows ever heard of Nonesuch?”

  67. “For the movie to be made, the book must be killed.” —Tony Hillerman

  68. January First-of-May says

    Un lange is a piece of heavy cloth large enough to wrap a baby in it from the chest down with a fair amount of overlap, and long enough to be folded back upwards over the baby’s legs.

    Oh, so Russian пелёнки, as opposed to подгузники “diapers”.

    (In modern Russian, the word for “diapers” is памперсы, but I could hardly imagine anyone putting that word in anything not set in the modern day.)

    As for the whole Elfland thing – I’m reminded of Varga’s dialogue in the Russian translation of Taylor Varga, a crossover fanfic between an obscure web serial (…well, pretty famous for a web serial, I suppose) set in Poughkeepsie Brockton Bay, and an even more obscure anime (of which Varga is one of the protagonists) set in Elfland Rimsbell.

    Specifically, in the original English version of the fanfic, it is repeatedly mentioned in-story that Varga’s manner of speech is very recognizable (as should be expected, since he’s an Elfland refugee); but in his actual dialogue lines, he talks pretty much just like everyone else in the story.
    As such, for the first twenty-odd chapters (out of 123 so far), the Russian translation had Varga talk just like everyone else (complete with modern slang); but then, at some point, the translator decided that this wouldn’t do, and if Varga is described to have a completely different manner of speech, then he should darn well have one.
    So, starting from chapter 28 of the Russian translation, Varga talks like the Elfland refugee he is – which is to say, in a ludicrously archaic style reminiscent of the first two fragments of Le Guin’s second selection. It is especially jarring compared to the modern slang he drops in, say, chapter 23.

    (IIRC, it had since gone less obtrusively archaic, though not quite down to the level of the Tolkien fragment; the translator claimed that at some point he would go down the early chapters and revise them, but, at least in the version I’m following, so far this hasn’t happened, and the current version of chapter 23 still has Varga using modern slang.)

    …For what it worth, the actual ridiculously anachronistic(-sounding) word that surprised me the most recently is the emendation of sdra[ste] in the Russian text of the (supposedly) 12th century Tzetzes multilingual. (The manuscripts have sdra, with a syllable apparently missing in the meter.)
    Surely any variety of Slavic archaic enough to still have the final vowels in dobra deni wouldn’t have contracted its cognate of zdravstvuite all that much?
    I don’t know which century Russian здрасте dates to (19th? 18th? it seems to be older than late 20th, at least), but I’ve never heard of it being anywhere near as old as 12th century.

    Realistically, I would expect *sdra[vi] or *sdra[vo] or something along those lines; the late Zaliznyak could probably have came up with the perfect emendation, but if he ever did I’m not aware of it.
    In any case, sdra anything, whatever the continuation, would presumably fix the form as South Slavic, not East Slavic, which should have *sdoro (though perhaps the Old Church Slavonic loans had already started by then).

    […Sorry for such a ludicrously long and rambling comment, by the way.]

  69. No, no, it gives me pleasure to have this old thread revived, especially with such an interesting comment!

  70. January First-of-May says

    I see nothing inherently risible in this paragraph

    It struck me as I happened to re-read this thread: the only part of that paragraph that I see as inherently risible is the very concept of a “bailiff of Hochschloss”. Had he been a bailiff of Highcastle everything else would have perfectly fallen into place.

    (Is there an English cognate of Schloss that is used in place names? “Highslot” doesn’t work.)

    As a side-note, Le Guin should probably have changed one more word in her paragraphs; with all due respect, this side of a dressed-up besieging mob, surely no one anywhere near the White House is named Alaric.

  71. In Russian SF circles, Andrzej Sapkowski’s rant on “authenticity” of fantasy is better known.

    At this point, I have to bang my frail breast with a big bang. I wrote, I admit with repentance, a few stories which are, let’s call it, anti -veristic. In these stories, paying no regards to the sacred laws and fantasy rules, I made every now and again… lapsuses, to repeat after a certain young critic from “Fenix”. The young critic, with her own perceptiveness, unmistakably decoded me, proving that these lapses were too frequent to be accidental. I beat my chest a second time. They were not.

    The most terrible lapses, which at the same time could not be thrown out of the text or rejected by vigilant correctors from the “Fantasy”, included the batiste panties Renfri wore in the story “Lesser Evil”. The so-called community boiled and began to discuss. Panties! In fantasy! Nonsense and lack of respect for the convention! Sin and Anathema! You had not read Tolkien or what? Doesn’t you know the canon or what? Does Galadriel wear panties? She does not wear them, because then the panties were not worn!

    After a while, the community cooled down slightly and pacified, and the panties were considered “original”. Perhaps, other than Maciek Parowski, they smelled postmodernism and time travel in these panties. Only one young Piróg reacted proudly and contemptuously to Renfri’s panties, describing his own heroine who in preparation for sex takes off -: … a loincloth and a folded cloth holding breast. The effect of both cold contempt and knowledge as to what “then” was worn by women under the garments was corrupted by the description of the sex itself, ridiculous beyond measure and imagination.

    Other Pirogs thought deeply. Oh, they thought, Sapkowski is allowed to grumble and this is postmodernism. So, the Pirogs thought, if we would start “planting” terrible lapses, we would also become refined postmodernists.

    And it went down quickly. A young Pirożka armed the city guard with lances. Renfri was allowed to wear panties, it was allowed to arm infantry with lances, right? These lances, however, outraged another young Pirog. Young Pirog is a purist sensitive to such things. However, in numerous works he gave such a show of postmodernism that one can lose their batiste panties from laughter. The first example taken randomly – he has dressed up some Pirog or Pirogson from Birka, I don’t remember exactly, in kaftans, sewn with scales of a giant catfish. Some accomplishment, given that the catfish do not have scales: neither the tiny nor the huge ones. Trying to sew something which does not exist on the jacket requires either strong magic or strong postmodernism. To be honest, I would consider it more original and deadly postmodern if the jacket of said Pirog were studded with silver half-dollars.

  72. Nobody who wears a loincloth, still less takes it off, has ever been, or will ever be a heroine.

    P.S. likely I should have summed it up differnetly:
    Nobody who wears panties can be a hero. Nobody who takes her loincloth off can be a heroine.

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    Nobody who wears panties can be a hero

    The supposed problem disappears in UK English, in which the homologous garments for those of any sex are all alike called “knickers.” A fortiori, if, taking a cue from the Guardian’s house style of always referring to actresses as “actors”, one eschews “heroine” in favour of a unisex “hero.”

    I am disappointed to read that nobody who takes her loincloth off can be a heroine. This seems to introduce an unfortunate note of prudishness, not to say puritanism, into the world of fantasy, which I have always imagined to have transcended such mundane concerns.

  74. Stu Clayton says

    All loincloths should be taken off from time to time, ln order to be washed. They get sweaty and harbor cooties of all kinds – lice, fleas and more.

  75. “introduce an unfortunate note of prudishness”

    Clearly some sort of New Victorian madness is taking over. This year I saw a documentary about Australian aboriginal people (Torres strait, I think) and women’s breasts were blurred out. It is the very first time I saw this and I think the effect was as powerful, as seeing someone without pants for the first time ever could be for a prude. If there are prudes who have never looked at themselves in the mirror.

    ( assume it is not new – but I am just not into visual media and see such films once in a few years)

  76. Trond Engen says

    There’s nothing as repugnantly sexualizing as prudishness. Exhibit A: Images of breastfeeding with the nipples painted over. Exhibit B. Images of bathing toddlers with the genitals blurred out.

  77. Stu Clayton says

    Many years ago (on Nickolodeon?) there was a comic series involving drawn, animated sort-of animals. Many of them were shown with their private parts blurred out. I thought that was hilarious, especially if it was due to demands by parents.

    Unfortunately I don’t remember the title, and can’t find it in the ‘net.

    Once an episode of Jackass showed some guy toboganning naked down a slope. He did not face the camera (nimble camera-work there!), which showed only his backside – but blurred out. I found it amazing that prudes are aware that men’s butts can be exciting to a minority, and ensure that this minority is protected from itself.

  78. John Emerson says

    When very young, my nieces (now 21 and 23) habitually played outside naked during good weather. I have an adorable picture of them at ages 3 and 5 with big smiles on their faces, stark naked and covered with mud, but if I were to share it I might go to prison.

    A neighbor down the street was a very proper visiting Englishwoman who was generally quite friendly, but who was horrified by the nudity, especially one time when she saw the elder girl *touching herself*!!!!

  79. Stu Clayton says

    Prudes like that are hyper-sexualized. But perhaps in some cases they are merely timorous sadsacks who have jumped onto the bandwagon of publicized outrage, hoping that by this means someone will pay attention to them

  80. It’s funny how the thread turned into the denounciation of prudishness while the essay quoted by SFReader basically said that Polish fantasy writers cannot write and compensate by gross scenes of sex and gore.

  81. Trond Engen says

    I obviously haven’t been exposed to Polish fantasy. Or maybe Poiish fantasy hasn’t exposed itself to me.

  82. Trond Engen, actually blurred breasts look just inhumane. So in this particular case it only made me feel that it is a shame to be/live like an aboriginal woman.

  83. Stu: true Man loincloths are not made of cloth. They are made of skins of dangerous animals. They are not to be washed. Can you imagine Conan waiting in line at the dry-cleaners to collect his loincloth?

  84. I used to wash my laundry when I was a teenager. Was very informative in terms of women rights, I especially enjoyed tearing my skin off with denim.

  85. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The supposed problem disappears in UK English, in which the homologous garments for those of any sex are all alike called “knickers.”

    I was surprised to read this. When I was growing up boys wore pants under their trousers; girls wore knickers under their skirts. I started using “knickers” as a unisex term no more than 25 years ago, when my sister, who had three sons, no daughters, referred to some of the contents of her laundry basket as “boys’ knickers”. I thought she was being jocular and that she wouldn’t use that term outside the close family context. But maybe I was wrong. Anyway, I may sometimes refer to my pants as knickers when talking to my wife, but I wouldn’t say it more widely.

    Incidentally, I’lm aware that in American English what I call trousers are called pants.

  86. Stu Clayton says

    Can you imagine Conan waiting in line at the dry-cleaners to collect his loincloth?

    I sure can. Laudromats were great for meeting other squeaky-clean singles, as I recall. When it became known that there were fleas at the Ritz, nobody went there any more [this is a literary reference for DE].

  87. Trond Engen says

    drasvi: it only made me feel that it is a shame to be/live like an aboriginal woman

    That too. Invoke a taboo and you also invoke shame.

  88. Well, it is easy to ascribe “disrespectful” reading to anything (literally), so I’ll be careful here. I’m quite fed up with such accusations, and better I wont repeat that very mistake.
    I do not remember my first emotion and my reaction here depends on my background anyway. Even if I felt disrespect, maybe someone else would have felt something else.

  89. Here male and female butts and buttwear (or should I say butt gear?) are different in that: for butts girls keep using the childish world, for buttwear it is basically the same, but the childish word is diminutive.

    I think (not sure) it is a recent change, and I think it comes from women themselves. I mean, I think when lingerie manufacturers began using it, they did so to be more appealing.

    The word itself, when not diminutive, sounds somewhat ugly/rude.

  90. David Eddyshaw says

    Loincloths made of the skins of dangerous animals would indeed need to be dry-cleaned.

    They would have them in those plastic wrapper things ready for Conan to pick up. The only difficulty I can envisage is the question of where he’d keep his dry-cleaning ticket in the meantime.

  91. Lars Mathiesen says

    Maybe there is a secret compartment in the handle of his sword.

  92. I assume that by “here” drasvi means Russia and the word coyly avoided is трусы, an obvious cognate with trousers. I took a quick look at Russian national corpus to see when the word came to the (literary) language and the search was not without an interest.
    First, трусы as underpants is homographic with трусы as cowards (stress is different). Everything in 19th century had the cowardly meaning and before 1920 I only found a reference in Bunin (Dry Valley)

    […] in the same bathhouse in which Natalya kept the mirror stolen from Pyotr Petrovich, lived white трусы [cowards? undies??]. How softly they jumped out onto the threshold, how strangely, moving their whiskers and forked lips, they squinted their far-apart, bulging eyes at tall tatarkies [some sort of grass, perhaps], henbane bushes and thickets of nettles that suppressed blackthorns and cherries!

    Apparently here it is cowardly rabbits.

    The first real hit is Stanislavsky, My life in Art

    I have already begun to adapt myself to one of the famous Italian baritones, who had good legs in black leotards, wonderful shoes, wide трусы, and well-sewn jerkin with a sword.

    Apparently, it first entered Russian as a theatrical word meaning “knee breeches”. In a sense close to modern the first mention goes to Olesha (Jelousy)

    Valya is standing on the lawn, legs wide and firmly apart. She is wearing black трусы rolled high, her legs very much bared, her full leg structure is in plain sight.

    Here it means “shorts” and comes probably from sports. Olesha uses it elsewhere in connection with football. That is already a modern sense, but still no underpants. And here the trail fades away. There is a flood of mentions in 1930s where I cannot figure out whether the shorts or the undies are meant. Probably, one of the last connecting stations is “swimming trunks”. There is a couple of references in early 1930s, including The golden calf.

  93. […] in the same bathhouse in which Natalya kept the mirror stolen from Pyotr Petrovich, lived white трусы [cowards? undies??].

    Heh. That caused me trouble when I read Суходол; it turns out to be yet another трус, a dialectal word for ‘rabbit’ (see definition IV here). Historically, of course, it derives from the ‘coward’ word.

  94. John Emerson says

    I once heard a dry goods salesman use The word “pants” for two pairs of trousers, and the word “pant” for one of the two pairs when it was being contrasted to the other. That seemed wrong to me then, more than 60 years ago, and it still seems wrong to me today. But I did hear it.

  95. It’s an established usage in the trade, but not common among the common folk.

  96. David Eddyshaw says

    Pantseses, precious.

  97. January First-of-May says

    Pantseses, precious.

    I believe the phrase is “pantses, preciousss“.

  98. When I was perhaps 16 or so I went to the department store in my small hometown to buy a new pair of trousers for school. After trying some on, I picked the pair that I liked and told the salesman — a slender, elderly man with a cloth tape measure around his neck, in the traditional fashion — that I would take them. “Very good, sir,” he said. “An excellent trouser.” “You patronizing fucker,” I cried, as I kneed him in the balls and stormed out. Well, no, but I fumed inwardly as I paid the bill.

    In any case, the trouser in question was a very ordinary one.

  99. David Eddyshaw says

    I believe the phrase is “pantses, preciousss“

    On reflection, as (I believe) the Americas do not yet exist in the LOTR cosmology, Gollum presumably called the article of clothing in question trouserses; or, depending on context, knickerses. (“Underpantses” is possible, I suppose, though to my ear it sounds a bit preciouss.)

  100. a dialectal word for ‘rabbit’ (see definition IV here)

    Yes. I looked it up. There is also a literary reference in Sholokhov.

  101. I am rather surprised that I did not post anything here before about The Worm Ouroboros. Perhaps in 2014 I had read it too recently to feel like I could comment on the work fairly.

    The language of the major characters in E. R. Eddison’s epic—and not just the language, but they way their movement is described, such as when the heroes one by one unbelt their swords and fling them down on the council table—is very evocative and fits the narrative stylistically and structurally. Tolkien himself recognized this when he read The Worm Ouroboros. Eddison was a peripheral member of the Inklings, and Tolkien definitely admired Eddison’s epic style, although he found the political and social viewpoint underlying Eddison’s work repulsive.

    However, while the characters and their dialogue often help elevate Eddison’s plot to the epic scale, some of the other choices he makes in his writing do not. At the beginning of the story, the various nations of the story’s fictionalized planet Mercury are assigned the names Demons, Witches, Goblins, Ghouls, etc. Initially, it seems like this might have some significance to the plot. As they are first introduced, the principal heroes, drawn from the Demon race, are described as having horns and breathing smoke; one of them is even named Spitfire, and presumably the nickname is not figurative. However, along with the frame story that is referenced in the first couple chapters, these demonic features are completely forgotten, and all the races are subsequently treated as humans who happen to inhabit realms known as Demonland, Witchland, and so forth. It reeks of a storytelling device that the author made at the very beginning and quickly repented; yet, rather than go back and rewrite what he had already written, Eddison decided to stick with the incongruous fairy-tale race names throughout the entire work.

    Most of the characters in The Worm Ouroboros are incredibly flat. One of the few definite traits of Eddison’s heroes is their loyalty—or, more particularly, their loyalty to their peers. According to the ethics of Eddison’s chivalric Mercury, no number of commoners’ lives could ever be as important—morally or even practically—as a single nobleman’s. It is worth sacrificing any number of men at arms to rescue a great lord. It occurs to me that half a century later, Michael Moorcock, also English, but not of the gentry the way Eddison was,* ultimately expressed similar sentiments about the relative importance of nobles and commoners. Hawkmoon states (and the narrative seems to show he is correct) that as long as his father-in-law-to-be Count Brass is alive, the count’s realm cannot be conquered. This is true even if the count is bedridden and completely disabled by his wounds; like a Fisher King, his state of existence is metaphysically tied to his realms. Likewise, Eddison’s Demon lords correctly deem that rescuing one of their own number, Goldry Bluszco, is ultimately more important to their campaign than any victory to be won by the tactical maneuvering of regular soldiers.

    However, loyalty to noble friends is not actually even the most fundamental virtue of Eddison’s noble heroes; even deeper was their chivalric class solidarity. In the end, his protagonists would rather have evil nobles to fight against than peace in their dominions. Without warfare—and specifically, warfare against foes of their own station—Eddison’s Demon lords feel they had no purpose. This, more than anything, was probably why Tolkien thought the moral message of Eddison’s writing was so objectionable.

    Eddison appears to believe that the very flatness of his heroes makes them more noble, although he does also appear to understand, at some level, that this kind of reactionary Romanticism is not really a proper picture of human morality. The most interesting and developed character in the story is Gro, who is not a cavalier of Witchland or Demonland but a Goblin exile. And, although through most of the story he is an enemy of the Demon lords, Gro is consistently treated sympathetically and as a fully rounded person—quite unlike most of the story’s other heroes and villains. Yet Eddison cannot quite figure out what to do with Gro in the end, and so he is brusquely cast aside when it comes time for the story’s final showdown, which has to be resolved by dueling charges of mounted knights, because that is ultimately the only kind of resolution that Eddison’s epic order can recognize.

    * Eddison was first educated by private tutor, alongside Arthur Ransome, then attended Eton and Trinity College, Oxford.

  102. Is there an English cognate of Schloss that is used in place names?

    No, nor any cognate at all that I can discover; it must have been lost before recorded Old English. It is an ablaut variant of schließen; the reason the term was applied to castles is that they are closed up / locked / barred. Slot is a Dutch or Low Saxon borrowing, and once had a verbal sense ‘bar, bolt; slam’. Cognates outside Germanic include L clavis ‘key; bar, bolt’ and Irish cló ‘nail’, Classical Greek κλείς ‘id.’ (itself very widely borrowed), Modern κλειδί.

    The slot that is a track is another matter; it is a Norse > French > English doublet of sleuth; a dog that tracks by scent may be called a slot-houd or a sleuth-hound (one that tracks visually is a gaze-hound). The ultimate origin of these words is unknown.

    surely no one anywhere near the White House is named Alaric

    Alaric Jans, the theater and movie composer, was born in St. Louis, lives in Chicago, and certainly might have been in Washington at one time or another. However, he is also known for whatever reason as Rokko.

    I myself know an Alaric Snell-Pym, but he is English. Still, even English people go to the White House from time to time. A certain Nigel was there last February; he is said to have admired the bust of Winston.

    I’lm aware that in American English what I call trousers are called pants.

    Short for pantaloons < Pantalone, the commedia dell’arte personification of greed and authority, traditionally played in Turkish dress with red fez and baggy trousers. This form is mid-19C in the U.S. and has since spread to AU, NZ, ZA. Pants ‘nether undergarments’ is only early 20C, and the OED3 says that the OED1 (1904) described this usage as “loose and sloppy”. I’m rather fond of the 18C unmentionables; in T.H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose, the nearest town to the titular place is called Monk’s-Unmentionable-cum-Mumble.

    I note that pile/load of pants ‘nonsense’ is late 20C and British, whereas your name is pants ‘your name is mud’ is American, though the OED doesn’t record it after 1931. The first use of get into [someone’s] pants ‘have sex with someone’ is American and older than most trouser-wearing by women, so that idiom must once have been current in the U.S. as well. In addition, get your panties in a bunch is the U.S. version of get your knickers in a twist, and is equally applicable to both sexes.

    Maybe there is a secret compartment in the handle of his sword.

    Just holding up his sword should suffice. I myself in such circumstances simply recite my phone number.

  103. With exception of Sapkowski, Polish fantasy is pretty awful – this was my impression for the last three decades.

    Maybe something changed recently, didn’t check.

  104. a secret compartment in the handle of his sword

    A kind of kozuka?

    Kozuka (小柄): The kozuka is a decorative handle fitting for the kogatana; a small utility knife fit into a pocket on the saya.

  105. January First-of-May says

    the reason the term was applied to castles is that they are closed up / locked / barred

    In Russian, as it happens, the words for “lock” and “castle” are homographs (with different stress). Apparently the “castle” word is a calque from German via Polish and possibly Czech.

  106. another трус, a dialectal word for ‘rabbit’


  107. David Marjanović says

    The OED3 cites the OED1 as a source? Awesome, I do the same with my preprints. =8-)

    I found it amazing that prudes are aware that men’s butts can be exciting to a minority, and ensure that this minority is protected from itself.

    I think you’ve overlooked a whole lot of women. All put together there may even be a majority.

    Irish cló ‘nail’

    How is that related to clou/clew?

  108. PlasticPaddy says

    The Irish word is traced to Proto-Celtic *klawos, which seems to me close enough to Proto-Italic *klawis for a borrowing either way. Since Latin has both clavus and clavis, it seems to me we could have either
    a) Proto-Italic had two forms, one of which developed to Latin clavus and was also borrowed in that meaning to Proto-Celtic
    b) Proto-Italic borrowed the Celtic form *klawos and subsequently had two forms, one of which led to clavus and one to clavis in Latin
    c) Proto-Italic borrowed *klawos as *klawis, and clavis/clavus separation is a later development in, or on the way to, Latin.

  109. Here’s Wiktionary on the IE root:

    Italic: *klāwis
    Latin: clāvis (see there for further descendants)

    Celtic: *klāwos (see there for further descendants)
    Italic: *klāwos, *klāwā
    Latin: clāvus, clāva

  110. @Paddy – There is no need to assume borrowing here. The IE languages have lots of cases of derivations from the same roots using different sufffixes with similar meanings in the same or related languages. They usually point to paradigm splits, later derivation from originally consonantal roots, or semantic / syntactic distinctions that aren’t recoverable anymore. This case looks like derivations from an original consonantal stem to me.

  111. PlasticPaddy says

    Yes. That would be the default hypothesis. I was unsure of how in Latin the doublet with two different declensions and final vowel originated, but that could be due to some kind of dialect borrowing or other development.

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