The word stupa has long been familiar to me; it’s (to quote the OED, entry updated June 2019) “A structure serving as a Buddhist monument, shrine, or mausoleum; esp. a domed or bell-shaped structure topped with a spire.” The name is “< Sanskrit stūpa, specific use of stūpa, stupa lock of hair, top of the head, further etymology uncertain.” But I didn’t know the equivalent Russian word субурган [suburgan], which I just had to look up; the Russian Wikipedia article has this useful paragraph on terminology:

The name “stupa” (Sanskrit for ‘top, peak’) is characteristic only of India and Nepal; in Sri Lanka the name dagoba is used, in Myanmar zedi and pato, in Thailand chedi and prann, in Laos that, in Tibet and Bhutan chorten, and in Mongolia suvarga; in Russia (Buryatia, Kalmykia, Tuva, Altai) it is suburgan, in China and Vietnam bao ta, pagoda, etc.

Название “ступа” (санскр. – “макушка”) характерно только для Индии и Непала; в Шри-Ланке применяется название дагоба, в Мьянме — зеди и пато, в Таиланде — чеди и пранн, в Лаосе — тхат, в Тибете и Бутане — чортен, в Монголии — суварга; в России (Бурятия, Калмыкия, Тыва, Алтай) — субурган, в Китае и Вьетнаме — бао та, пагода и т. п.

English Wikipedia adds “The Asian words for pagoda ( in Chinese, t’ap in Korean, tháp in Vietnamese, in Japanese) are all thought to derive from the Pali word for stupa, thupa.” In the “Translations of Stupa” box in the right margin they have all the ones mentioned in the Russian article except for suburgan, which is obviously of the same origin as Mongolian suvarga, whatever that is. They also don’t explain the origins of chedi/zedi, prann, and chorten; for the last-named, M-W says “Tibetan mchod rten, literally, offering holder.” As always, your thoughts are welcome.


I’d never heard of the Irish insult “latchiko,” and I am glad to do so via Frank McNally’s Irish Times column:

There don’t seem to be quite as many latchikos in Irish life as there used to be, or at least not around where I live. Having flourished briefly in the second half of the last century, the word may be in danger of dying out again. And the odd thing is that many of us are still unsure what it meant, exactly, or where it came from.

It was never a compliment to be called a latchiko, that much is clear. But in Terry Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English, for example, it’s defined as “an unpleasant, disagreeable person (origin obscure)”. Whereas in most quoted instances I can find, the quality implied was more like uselessness, sometimes to be pitied rather than disliked.

A writer who used the expression more than most, John B Keane, sounded sympathetic when describing “some poor latchiko who wasn’t long out of the bogs”. Elsewhere, in broadly similar vein (albeit in a bovine context), he also offered a definition, via an agricultural inspector discussing the pedigree of a bull at Abbeyfeale Cattle Fair: “‘His grandfather was a latchiko,’ the inspector recalled, meaning that the parent in question was sometimes remiss in his obligations towards consenting heifers and often turned his back on what more industrious bulls might regard as golden opportunities.” […]

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They Progress So Fast!

Just a cartoon (XKCD), but it speaks to me as a quondam would-be Indo-Europeanist. (Mouseover title: “The worst is the Terrible Twos, when they’re always throwing things and shrieking, ‘forsooth, to bed thou shalt not take me, cur!’”) Thanks, Sven!


I’ve just started Andrei Bitov’s Оглашенные (Catechumens or Possessed/crazy people, translated by Susan Brownsberger as The Monkey Link from the title of one of the parts), and I was stopped before I got well started by the image on p. 9, just before the first part of the book — if you’re on Pinterest you can see it here, labeled “Human Head: ‘Zupf dich selbst bey deiner Nasen’ [tweak yourself by the nose] — 1640s.” (I can’t find any more accessible images.) Below the bird biting the nose is a set of verses in German that I could only partly make out, so I googled a phrase that was clear to me and found the text here, under “Sich an (bei) der (eigenen) Nase fassen (nehmen, zupfen)”:

Wer selber weder Storch noch Strauß
Vil närrischer sieht als andre auß,
Doch jedermann weiß außzulachen
Die kleine Fehler groß zu machen
Der jedem kann die mängel sagen
Und allen Leuthen Blech anschlagen,
Der mag nur seine Federn rupfen
Und selbst sich bey der Nasen zupfen.

But I was immediately distracted by the site I was on — what was “Slovopedia”? I went to the main page and found a slew of links to German dictionaries — but then I noticed a link to the true main page, in Russian, and found a slew of links to Russian dictionaries, as well as sidebar links to comparable pages for Ukrainian, Belorussian, Georgian, and Kazakh. What a treasure trove! I’m adding it to the sidebar.

The Bitov doesn’t thrill me, by the way; I’ll probably drop it for now after the first part.

Sorokin’s Norma.

Not long ago I posted about Vladimir Sorokin’s novel Роман (Roman); I hadn’t been planning to write about his Норма (Norma, forthcoming from New York Review Books in Max Lawton’s translation as The Norm; it was written in 1979-83 but published only in 1994) because I figured I’d described what Sorokin is up to (“present some pleasing cliché and violently deconstruct it”) and I didn’t want to repeat myself. But Norma is so different, and the things written about it in English are so unsatisfying (hopefully that will change when the translation is published), that I wanted to give an idea of what it’s like so the prospective reader might know whether to give it a go. It’s a lot of fun, but (like all Sorokin) frequently offensive and sometimes incomprehensible and/or unreadable.

The first thing you see when you open the book is a few pages in italics, recounting the arrest of Boris Gusev (born 1951, like me, hence thirtyish when the novel was written) by two KGB agents, who search his apartment and find, along with forbidden literature like Vol. III of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, a manuscript of 372 typed pages called Норма (Norma). One of them takes it to their boss, a thirteen-year-old boy, who dismisses him coldly and settles down to read. I note that on page 5 of my edition (the first, as it happens), the question “How are things going?” is answered “Все нормально” [Everything’s normal (i.e., OK)]; thus is introduced the leitmotif of the book, nearly every part of which contains the words норма ‘norm,’ нормальный ‘normal,’ and/or нормально ‘normally.’ (For an extensive discussion of the word “normal” and its history, see this 2008 post.) The boy opens the book, and a colon introduces the novel proper, which is divided into eight parts.
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He Did It His Way.

Michael Henry had a letter in the LRB (at the bottom of this link to the article it responds to) that has interesting things to say about Jack Fishman, “journalist, writer, songwriter, and spycatcher,” who had to give up writing songs for a while because his pseudonyms kept getting revealed and “He feared that if people found out that he was a successful Tin Pan Alley songwriter he wouldn’t be taken seriously as a journalist.” But I’m bringing it here for the final paragraph:

When I met Jack in the 1980s, he was working as music supervisor for the Cannon Group, a big player in the British film industry. He was a canny operator. In the opening scenes of Superman IV, a Russian cosmonaut is floating in space, struggling to repair the outside of his spacecraft. As he works, he sings a Russian version of the Sinatra classic ‘My Way’. The cost of acquiring the rights to one of the most famous lyrics of all time far exceeded the sum available in the music budget. But Jack knew that the American lyrics were a cover version of the French song ‘Comme d’habitude’. He suggested that instead of buying the rights to use the American lyrics, it would be cheaper to make a new Russian-language cover version to accompany the original French music. He figured that so long as the words weren’t a translation of ‘I did it my way’ it didn’t matter what they actually were, since any English-speaking viewer would automatically infer the words to ‘My Way’ from the tune alone.

(I was thinking the Wikipedia article I linked to should include the Russian version in Superman IV as a nice match for Raymond van het Groenewoud’s Dutch translation, but then I realized it’s not necessarily a translation of the French, so it probably doesn’t belong there..)

Large-scale Migration into Britain.

No, this isn’t about the causes of Brexit, I’m abbreviating the title of Large-scale migration into Britain during the Middle to Late Bronze Age by Nick Patterson, Michael Isakov, and a long list of coauthors ending with David Reich, published in Nature last month. At that link you can only get the abstract unless you’re a subscriber, so a more useful one is Juan Siliezar’s Harvard Gazette story about it:

New research reveals a major migration to the island of Great Britain 3,000 years ago and offers fresh insights into the languages spoken at the time, the ancestry of present-day England and Wales, and even ancient habits of dairy consumption. The findings are described in Nature by a team of more than 200 international researchers led by Harvard geneticists David Reich and Nick Patterson. Michael Isakov, a Harvard undergraduate who discovered the existence of the migration, is one of the co-first authors.

The analysis is one of two Reich-led studies of DNA data from ancient Britain that Nature published on December 22. Both highlight technological advances in large-scale genomics and open new windows into the lives of ancient people. […] The researchers analyzed the DNA of 793 newly reported individuals in the largest genome-wide study involving ancient humans. Their findings reveal a large-scale migration likely from somewhere in France to the southern part of Great Britain, or modern-day England and Wales, that eventually replaced about 50 percent of the ancestry of the island during the Late Bronze Age (1200 to 800 B.C.).

The study supports a recent theory that early Celtic languages came to Great Britain from France during the Late Bronze Age. It challenges two prominent theories: that the languages arrived hundreds of years later, in the Iron Age, or 1,500 years earlier at the dawn of the Bronze Age. Previous research has shown that large-scale movement often accompanied language changes in pre-state societies. The Reich team argues that this untold migration event makes more sense for the spread of early Celtic languages into Britain.

“By using genetic data to document times when there were large-scale movements of people into a region, we can identify plausible times for a language shift,” Reich said. “Known Celtic languages are too similar in their vocabularies to plausibly descend from a common ancestor 4,500 years ago, which is the time of the earlier pulse of large-scale migration, and very little migration occurred in the Iron Age. If you’re a serious scholar, the genetic data should make you adjust your beliefs: downweighting the scenario of early Celtic language coming in the Iron Age [and early Bronze Age] and upweighting the Late Bronze Age.”

There’s other interesting stuff (“the researchers found that the ability to digest cow’s milk dramatically increased in Britain from 1200 to 200 B.C., which is about a millennium earlier than it did in central Europe”), and I’m sure there are plenty of Hatters who will want to dig into it. Thanks, Bonnie!

The Languages of Kinder Surprise.

Bathrobe sent me this article by the splendidly bearded Keith Kahn-Harris about the multilingual messages on the warning message slip found inside Kinder Surprise eggs:

As someone who adores languages I don’t understand, for a long time I have been obsessed with this small sheet of paper—an obsession culminating in the publication of my new book The Babel Message: A Love Letter to Language. At first, I saw the warning message sheet as a feast of linguistic diversity. It includes 34 languages, everything from Albanian to Azerbaijani, in multiple scripts. There are “small” languages, like Estonian (spoken by about a million people) and massive ones, like Chinese and English.

I was intrigued, but disappointed to find that the piece contained only his Deep Thoughts and no actual examples. Happily, a little googling turned up The Message: An ever-expanding list of translations:

On this page, I have collated the translations and versions of what I call in The Babel Message, ‘The Message’ – the warning message found on the piece of paper found inside Kinder Surprise Eggs.

Below you can find the complete list of translations of the Message, including both the ‘Official’ versions found inside the Kinder Surprise Eggs and the ones commissioned for The Babel Message. The book does not include every Message I have found or commissioned so there is plenty of exclusive material here that you won’t find elsewhere, including alternate translations. In some cases, I have included supplementary explanations and translation glosses that were too lengthy to fit into the book.

Which is fun. The one thing that’s missing is a quiz, but fortunately there is an equivalent that I reported on in 2004 in The Languages of McDonalds. And not only can you still take the quiz (I had the same problem I had eighteen years ago with the Scandinavian languages, though when the language you guess is close enough to the real one the quiz gives you a do-over, which is sporting), but in one of the comments J. Cassian said “I remember a similar multi-linguistic warning I found in a Kinder egg once.” It’s all connected. (Thanks, Bathrobe!)

Where Did the Poetry Go?

Back in 2003 I posted a very funny Charles Simic quote which I got from the long-defunct blog Giornale Nuovo (and I always feel a pang when I think about those blogs that inspired me in my early days of blogging); just now, providing archived links for that post, I liked what misteraitch had to say so much I thought I’d repost it here (minus the bulk of the list of poets he owned, for which visit this link, and the Simic, for which see my first link):

Where Did the Poetry Go?

Right poetry is full of virtue-breeding delightfulness. – Sir Philip Sidney.

At one time or another I’ve owned books of poetry by Anna Akhmatova, Charles Baudelaire, John Berryman, […] and W.B Yeats. Plus others I’ve doubtless forgotten, not counting numerous anthologies, virtually all of which I’ve read and more or less enjoyed, some of which I’ve loved and treasured, and a couple of dozen of which have survived my several changes of taste, circumstance, and address, and are still on my shelves today. The sorry fact of it is though, that I seldom read poetry any more.

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. – William Wordsworth.

I never try to write poetry any more either. For years I strove, in hour after hour of frustrated creative endeavour, to distil a few shining lines of the stuff. The worthwhile results of this work, alas, would scarcely fill both sides of a single sheet of A4, let alone a slim volume of verse. Yet it was not dissatisfaction with the quality of my efforts that brought them, very gradually, to a standstill, rather some ebbing away of my desire to partake of poetry’s essence – a loss of appetite, perhaps.

Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty. – Edgar Allan Poe.

I spent the larger part of my first proper pay-cheque on poetry-books, which seemed to me at that time a more urgent necessity than buying myself one good pair of shoes. These days, I must concede, my priorities have reversed, and the shoes would come first.

Writing a poem… is reaching out into the unexplained areas of the mind, in which the air is too thickly primitive or too fine for us to live continually – Thom Gunn.

So, I wonder, where did the poetry in me go? Did it evaporate away with my youth like some volatile spirit, never to return? Is it in abeyance, a Muse in sullen exile? Or has it merely cooled and congealed into prose?

All of this applies to me as well — in my mid-twenties I was obsessed with poetry, writing it every day (some of which I still think is not bad) and reading it far more than the linguistics books and articles I was meant to be reading for my never-finished dissertation. And of course it’s not just me and misteraitch — that progression, or evaporation, is familiar enough to be a cliché. Is lyric poetry really just an attempt to get laid?

El Amaneser’s 200th.

David Ian Klein writes for the Forward about a publishing milestone:

Throughout the world, only about 60,000 people speak Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish. But the historic language of Sephardic Jewry is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. And what is believed to be the only print Ladino publication in the world, El Amaneser, reached a milestone last week when the Istanbul-based publication cranked out its 200th issue.

“What the editors of El Amaneser have accomplished is no small feat,” said Bryan Kirschen, an American and professor of Ladino at the State University of New York at Binghamton. “Ladino has a long-standing print culture and this monthly paper is a remnant of a thriving past and a hopeful future.”

Though the number of Ladino speakers is rapidly shrinking, with the last generation raised with Ladino as their mother tongue born in the 1940s, younger people are breathing new life into the language, said Karen Şarhon, editor of El Amaneser, which translates to “The Dawn.” And the pandemic has given those with an interest in Ladino more opportunities to study it, she said, with more online classes and Zoom meetups that put Ladino speakers and wannabe speakers around the world in touch with each other. […]

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