From Wikipedia:

The pasilalinic-sympathetic compass, also referred to as the snail telegraph, was a contraption built to test the pseudo-scientific hypothesis that snails create a permanent telepathic link when they mate. The device was developed by French occultist Jacques-Toussaint Benoît (de l’Hérault) with the supposed assistance of an American colleague monsieur Biat-Chrétien in the 1850s.

Benoit claimed that when snails mate, a special type of fluid forms a permanent telepathic link between them. This fluid forms an invisible thread that keeps the snails in “sympathetic communication” by using animal magnetism similar to an electric current pulsating along it. They claimed that this method would work instantly, wirelessly, over any distance, and be more reliable than a telegraph. […]

During the 1871 uprising in the Paris Commune, the need to send and receive secured messages prompted a revival of the idea by Marquis Rochefort, president of the barricades commission. However, it proved to be as unreliable then, as it had originally been.

This is one of the greatest ideas humanity has ever come up with; alas, the experiment proved inconclusive. You can read about it at that link, you can read Jules Allix’s lengthy report here (“Ever since I have had the honor of announcing the discovery of Messrs. Jacques Toussaint Benoît[…] and Biat-Chrétien[…], my excitement about their new system for the universal and instantaneous communication of thought has not ceased to increase”), and you can watch a brief video with a visualization here; my concern, however, is linguistic, and since the word pasilalinic is (unaccountably) missing from the OED, I thought I’d render a public service by pointing out that it’s from Greek πᾶς ‘all, every, each’ + λαλέω ‘talk, chat, prattle.’ Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find some snails. I want to believe!


  1. a contraption built to test the pseudo-scientific hypothesis that snails create a permanent telepathic link when they mate

    I’m not sure how a hypothesis can be called “pseudo-scientific” before it’s even been tested.

  2. Yes, I resented that editorial intrusion. Let the facts speak for themselves!

  3. Jen in Edinburgh says

    This vaguely reminds me of some of the odd ‘inventions’ aiming to win the longitude prize, where the core problem was establishing the time in a known location and your unknown location simultaneously. Telepathic snails might have done it, as long as you could convince your snail to do a certain thing when something happened to its partner at a set hour in London Paris.

    Does a scientific hypothesis need an observation to explain? Not that that rules out the poor snails – some animal behaviour must look telepathic until you figure out what the unexpected external stimulus is.

  4. John Emerson says

    The hypothesis may be “untested “, but anyone who spends much time with snails knows that it is TRUE. It’s just common sense, really.

  5. Wow, it’s all that! But even more, don’t neglect fn. 1, regarding the American collaborator Biat-Chrétien: “According to Dickens, no one ever saw Monsieur Biat, and it is undetermined whether he really existed.”

  6. Trond Engen says

    It’s just common sense, really.

    Or so my old mates keep telling me through our permanent telepathic link.

    If messieurs Benoît and Biat-Chrétien were linked by invisible threads to the same snail, the latter wouldn’t have to be physically present,

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    I am not altogether clear how you could actually tell whether snails had a telepathic link. Their thoughts are not as our thoughts.

  8. You would need snail-whisperers, presumably, to translate their responses into actionable intelligence.

  9. PlastiPaddy says

    According to
    Pour mener à bien ses travaux, il [Toussaint Benoit] demande l’aide d’un autre Héraultais fort connu sous le second Empire : Antoine-Hyppolite Triat. .. .

    Après un an de travaux, deux machines sont prêtes.

    On va pouvoir tester : chaque boîte est chargée de piles et de câbles et dans des auges, repérées par les diverses lettres de l ‘alphabet, se pavanent des escargots « sympathiques ». En clair pour la lettre A, deux escargots ayant eu un rapport sont séparés et placés chacun dans une des boîtes. Dès que l’escargot A de la boîte 1 reçoit une légère décharge (si j’ose dire) électrique, l’escargot A de la boîte 2 doit aussitôt sortir ces cornes et permettre ainsi de lire le mot envoyé… Enfantin, quoi !

    Les boîtes sont éloignées de quelques mètres et Allix envoie des mots. L’expérience est concluante. Le récepteur a trouvé le mot… Plus fort, Toussaint Benoit indique à son mécène qu’un Américain du nom de Biat-Chrétien a fabriqué une boîte similaire et qu’un échange transatlantique sera réalisé. C’est encore un succès…

    Antoine-Hyppolite Triat a des doutes. Il a constaté que lors de l’expérience, Toussaint Benoit avait beaucoup navigué d’une boîte à l’autre…. Quant à l’expérience internationale, impossible de vérifier. …

    Toussaint Benoit finira plus ou moins clochard et mourra deux ans plus tard. Jules Allix continuera à inventer des choses extravagantes avant de finir interné à Charenton.

  10. Their thoughts are not as our thoughts.

    Cue Wittgenstein, and lions.

  11. David Eddyshaw says


  12. I worked as a snail whisperer of sorts in my waning days in the old country, and I can confirm that the snails aren’t stupid (they are just slow!) yet it’s very hard to figure out what they have in mind. In the late 1980s, we set out to find a model system for studying gene activity underlying memory. We visited many wonderfully weird labs around Moscow, and eventually found the snail team. The snails seemed perfect for the task since their neuron cells were truly giant … big enough to study electrophysiology of individual cells, and also big enough to study RNAs from individual cells. But how to be confident that a snail memorized something? Luckily, the snails were known to have conditional Pavlovian reflexes, a clear-cut case of learning and memorization. After some pilot experiments, we won an excellent grant from the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Alas, just then this grand nation was entering its final tailspin, so we didn’t get a penny disbursed, and I retreated into earning my researcher’s bread with the same kind of DNA structural chemical tricks which earned me a PhD a few years earlier. But the snail – memory – giant cell concept lived on, and actually won a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2000 (but without me). All this said, it beats me that anyone claimed to understand the telepathic chatter between these tasty but slow creatures.

  13. John Emerson says

    Googling around tells me that snails make complex decisions with the help of just 2 brain cells.

  14. @Fancua: I think testable ideas can certainly be non-scientific (or pseudo-scientific, if they dress themselves up in apparently scientific colors). A proposal (like the one that snails form permanent telepathic links after mating) that is strongly counter to what we already think we understand about how the universe works can fairly be labeled as non-scientific. I can hypothesize that a two-foot-tall purple alien has slipped into my downstairs bathroom since the last time someone used it. This is eminently testable. (In fact, I just looked, and the hypothesis turned out to be incorrect.) However, as our extensive existing experience has never shown any indications that diminutive extraterrestrials are apt to be found sneaking into townhouse powder rooms, there was really no reason* to believe or bother to test my hypothesis. Moreover, I think it should be pretty obvious that the purple-alien-in-the-bathroom hypothesis was, by design, flagrantly non-scientific. Falsifiability is thus unsatisfactory as the sole criterion for addressing the demarcation problem. This one of the things that Popper got largely wrong; falsifiability does not, on its won, make a conjecture scientific.

    That is not to say that the mating characteristics of terrestrial snails are not rife with thoroughly bizarre phenomena. For example, some hermaphroditic species try to spear their conspecifics with a gypsobelum (sometimes cutely known as a “love dart”), which has nothing to do with the actual transfer of gametes.

    And yet, all that said, I think snail telegraphy based on some kind of animal magnetism sounds incredibly picturesque. I think Robert W. Chambers, had he been aware of the idea, could have profitably incorporated it into some of the later stories in The King in Yellow. The first stories in the collection are supernatural horror, but the later ones are more conventional romances set in the besieged Paris of 1870–1871. Including an advanced new form of gastropod-mediated remote communication in last three stories could have given the book a bit more thematic unity.**

    * I mean that there was no scientific reason for performing the test that I did. Obviously, I had a separate rhetorical reason for doing so.

    ** Having written all of the above, about snails, impalements associated with mating, and classic horror fiction, I now find myself wondering whether there could be an outre, snail-based interpretation of what happens in Robert Aickman’s “The Swords.”***

    *** I’m not sure that link to the story is entirely safe. Caveat visitator.

  15. Dmitry Pruss says

    just 2 brain cells.

    kind of like that, except they have no brain. Just a handful of ganglia in various parts of the body…

  16. Googling around tells me that snails make complex decisions with the help of just 2 brain cells.

    Real decisions with one cell and imaginary decisions with the other (sorry, couldn’t help myself). This is for Cartesian snails. Polar snails use one cell for the absolute value and the other one for the argument.

    … the barricades commission

    Truly funny. I’ve heard from the natives that it is impossible to make a revolution in Switzerland because it will require insurmountable quantities of paperwork.

  17. Brain is overrated.

    In 2007, Lancet published an article about a French civil servant who literally lacked brain – his cranium was filled with fluid with just a thin outer layer of brain tissue left. It was apparently enough for normal social functioning (he was married with kids) and white collar work in the French civil service.

    I suspect hardly anything would change if we replaced government bureaucracy with telepathic snails.

  18. John Emerson says

    An expert on snail IQ is not one of the things I ever thought I would run into on this site, diverse though it is.

  19. Mollusk nerve cells have historically been very important in the study of neurophysiology, because they can be so large. The squid giant axon* is so broad (up to a millimeter or more in diameter) that it is possible to run ordinary wire electrodes down it, and this technique has made possible a tremendous amount of quantitative research into the nature of nerve signals, starting in the 1940s.

    * Mathematical Physiology, by James Keener and James Sneyd** features this woodcut as figure 5.1, helpfully captioned: “The infamous giant squid (or even octopus, if you wish to be pedantic), having nothing to do with the work of Hodgkin and Huxley on squid giant axon.”

    ** Or should that be “Jameses Keener and Sneyed”?

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    In 2007, Lancet published an article about a French civil servant who literally lacked brain – his cranium was filled with fluid with just a thin outer layer of brain tissue left. It was apparently enough for normal social functioning

    I’ve actually seen this phenomenon myself: in the case I saw, it was a maths undergraduate at Cambridge with arrested hydrocephalus. His situation came to light because he was getting headaches a bit and ended up having a CAT scan. Otherwise no signs or symptoms; well above average intelligence.

    Admittedly, “normal social functioning” for a Cambridge maths undergraduate may not be a high bar.

    The practice of neurosurgery sometimes leaves you with the feeling that the cerebral cortex is really only there as protective padding for the brain stem.

  21. Sherman Alexie was born with hydrocephalus, but had surgery at a young age to deal with it. Such surgery typically shunts the excess fluid out and lets the brain develop fully.

    (I am still mad at him.)

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    Genuine verbatim quote from A Neurosurgeon whom I once knew: “You know, it’s amazing how much brain you can flush away down the sucker and the patient seems to be none the worse in the morning.”

  23. I can’t locate the paper in which the experimenter took a mated pair and placed one on a path to a garden beer trap to see whether the mate would be warned off but when the second also died in the beer decided it was suicide.

  24. Not really different to all those people who are warned against the dangers of alcohol and nevertheless drown themselves in it.

  25. Brain is overrated.

    My wife and I saw an expert on slime molds on TV who said “No brain? No problem!” We were so struck by this pithy formulation it’s now taped to the microwave.

  26. ə de vivre says

    “I am still mad at [Sherman Alexie].”

    These days, take a number.

  27. John Emerson says

    Alcohol and the warnings against it; have been doing a self-experiment on alcoholism since 1964. If you eliminate the cofactors like automobiles, guns, tobacco, malnutrition, and unendurable jobs and marriages, the remaining strictly medical problems are much less than advertised.

    It’s not usually good for productivity, though sometimes it has no apparent effect — look at Truman Capote, who was far too productive despite getting sloshed daily.

  28. jack morava says

    @ AntC: “Wittgenstein has a lion of towering beauty who is not talking to us. I think we court more than one kind of tragedy when we dismiss either the volubility of lions or the tremendous silence of the lion of the Investigations.” [Vicki Hearn, in `Animal Happiness ‘(1994)]

    Cf also Lord Running Clam in PKD’s `Clans of the Alphane Moons’

  29. How can someone be coining a scientific term and know πᾶς but not know that the prefix from it is pan-? And where does the -in- come from? The word should have been something like panlaleic.

  30. It’s not usually good for productivity, though sometimes it has no apparent effect — look at Truman Capote, who was far too productive despite getting sloshed daily.
    I once knew a woman in Mongolia whose husband was a well-known surgeon, and she told us that he actually worked better after downing a couple of shots of vodka. I assume many of us have heard similar stories.

  31. @Keith Ivey: there is a Greek compound element pasi- meaning “to/by all, universal(ly),” etc (originally the dat. pl. form); I assume that’s what’s used here.

  32. Trond Engen says

    Keith Ivey: And where does the -in- come from?

    It’s transparently a Finnish illative or possessive suffix attached to a toponym. It’s the second -l- I don’t understand.

  33. jack morava says
  34. John Emerson says

    This is the standard comment on such cases….. BORING…. but anyway: Halsted’s addiction did NOT ruin his life, because the police didn’t get involved .

  35. jack morava says

    @ John Emerson: maybe it’s just one more data point, perhaps grist for an episode of Grey’s Anatomy? His colleagues took him on a Caribbean voyage to detox him… The radical mastectomy was one of his innovations, now thought by many to be barbaric; in his defense, at the time such afflictions usually came late to medical attention, perhaps justifying extreme measures.

  36. @jack morava:
    „ Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.“

  37. By serendipity, I happened upon this last night:

    Natural Histories

    Snails have earned a terrible reputation among gardeners and growers as voracious pests – and yet these slow-moving molluscs have inspired both artists and writers, been made famous by a magic roundabout and provided us with food and sustenance for millennia. We have used snails to predict the true course of love, cure warts and smooth out our wrinkles (with varying degrees of success). As Brett Westwood discovers our relationship with them is multi-faceted and complex and so rather than evict them from your garden perhaps we should show them a little more respect.

    The show has much information on the often-overlooked role of snails in literature. And the traditional role of snails in predicting the course of romantic relationships is not entirely unconnected to the snail telegraph. Plus the exciting sport of snail racing.

  38. Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable

    Here’s the start of the story:


    Scott Shane


    In his later years, the eminent doctor wore a tall silk hat, ordered his suits from a London tailor and his shoes from a Paris boot maker. In the fireplace of his mansion on Eutaw Place, he burned only hickory logs cut on his summer estate in North Carolina and aged at least three years. He was a dignified and meticulous man with a long, white mustache, pince-nez and the slightly reproachful look of a Victorian gentleman.

    As the first surgeon-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. William Stewart Halsted had helped transform surgery from a brutal business for amateurs to a delicate science.

    A founding father of Hopkins, Halsted had developed or improved operations for breast cancer, hernia, aortal aneurysms, thyroid and gallbladder trouble. He had pioneered the use in America of silk sutures, surgical clamps and rubber gloves. He had corresponded with the greatest medical minds of Europe, operated on the rich for mind-boggling fees and trained a generation of surgeons who preached his gospel all over the country.

    And he had kept his astonishing secret to himself.

    Only a few of his closest associates knew that as a young surgeon experimenting with anesthesia, Halsted had become one of America’s first cocaine addicts. The habit derailed and nearly destroyed his career, sending him twice to a mental hospital before he finally managed to get off cocaine — by getting on morphine. Fewer still knew that he took time each day from the busy schedule of a Hopkins Medical School professor to shoot up with morphine, probably to the end of his life at the age of 70 in 1922.

    “He fell into this not realizing the effect it could have on his life,” says Dr. Daniel B. Nunn, a Florida surgeon and historian for the Halsted Society, a surgical honor society. “He was a true victim.”

  39. jack morava says

    Dear Venerable Hat,

    Thanks for the kind help: I didn’t see that problem coming. Perhaps returning to the original topic of this thread:

    This chapter traces the history of representations of snails as both ‘other’ and Gothic. By analysing the ways in which crime fiction author Patricia Highsmith presents these creatures in her work, both novel and short stories, it reveals how these creatures can be utilised to reveal both benign and malign tendencies when appropriated by human beings. It argues that, as abject objects, snails can be both an anchoring presence in a dangerous universe, and, by way of their almost infinite multiplicity, they can overwhelm and destroy the humans who enter their territory.

    Gothic Animals pp 159-171 | Cite as
    Uncanny Snails: Patricia Highsmith and the Allure of the Gastropods

  40. My driving teacher, a dignified Armenian gentleman, told me that he sometimes recommended for particularly nervous students a shot to calm themselves before the driving test, of arak if if they were Armenian, vodka otherwise.

  41. @LH: Thanks!
    @jack morava: yes, I think one could find cases like this for many drugs.
    In any case, I don’t mind snails in my garden (we don’t grow food and we don’t aim to win gardening prizes), but I certainly don’t want them in my beer.

  42. John Emerson says

    Snails are tasty if cooked right. A friend of mine experimented with raising them, and reports that they’re noisy eaters. If there are 100 snails in the room (he rigged a bathtub for them IIRC) you will know that they’re there.

    And I suggest “snail brain” as a serviceable new epithet.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    This chapter traces the history of representations of snails as both ‘other’ and Gothic

    Dougal’s objection to Brian is simply that he (Brian) is irredeemably common.
    Our response to this blatant classism in our more enlightened times must, of course, be

    Respect the snail!

  44. But even more, don’t neglect fn. 1, regarding the American collaborator Biat-Chrétien: “According to Dickens…”

    This is an intriguing footnote for another reason: Dickens having been dead for 20 years when the relevant article was written, he must have wired it to our side of the soil by way of snail.

    Alternative explanations—that the attribution is wrong, or that the article is really being credited (rightly or not) to Dickens’s son Charles, Jr., then editor of the magazine that featured it—are available to the bitter at heart.

  45. The nonexistent Dickens telling Biat-Chrétien he doesn’t exist… I am staying out of this. Yeah, this is a matter for gastropod intelligence, not my feeble one.

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    I expect that’s an error for Charles Dikkens, the eminent Dutch malacologist and author of Rarnaby Budge.

  47. Dmitry Pruss says

    Snails are tasty if cooked right.

    Not those learned snails. They are proverbially slow, and by the time they learn stuff, they grow too old and too calcified to make a good escargot.

  48. “Slow Food” etc. I’m sure someone’s made that joke before but I’m too lazy to look.

  49. Snails were the traditional enemy of the medieval knight…

  50. Is the knight holding the holy hand grenade?

  51. jack morava says

    @ e-k: a saucy symbol of female sexuality …

    Mary of Magdala
    said to the dolorous
    Mother of God

    I for one left to the
    simple amoeba or

    [James Merril, circa 1967]

  52. Ben Tolley says

    @jack morava

    Snails in beer have had their own moment of fame:

  53. jack morava says

    “To be quite candid, I detest that snail … I think that [Lord Normand] did not reveal to you that when the law had been settled by the House of Lords, the case went back to Edinburgh to be tried on the facts. And at that trial it was found that there never was a snail in the bottle at all. That intruding gastropod was as much a legal fiction as the Casual Ejector.”

    Discretion suggests I not pursue the Casual Ejector down (his?) rabbit hole …

  54. That article has a heading “Condescendences.” What a great word!

  55. The action was brought against the real defendant or, more usually, for semi-secrecy and to ensure the low court, against another fictitious person (e.g. William Styles), in many papers termed the “casual ejector“, who both sides’ papers would state evicted the first fictitious tenant(s) by virtue of an (equally fictitious) lease granted by the real defendant.

    Glad I never went to law school…

  56. I’d forgotten that it was ginger beer, not the real stuff, when I posted that (Although I did remember it was poured over ice cream, which should have reminded me something was off. I’m not sure I’d want to try ice cream and ginger beer together, but I definitely wouldn’t want to combine ice cream and, well, beer beer.)

    Scottish law seems to have a lot of glorious terminology. I suspect it’s just that it’s no more full of solemn-sounding latinate and Old French words and expressions than English law and its descendants, but they’re less familiar (except to Scottish lawyers), so you get the full effect, so to speak.

  57. I understand that in law school, students deal with hypotheticals in order to learn about salient points of law and how to apply them. But I had no idea that there might be real-life hypotheticals, involving real landlords who write fictitious leases for fictitious tenants and then (actually?) evict said tenants.

  58. Mason Currey’s delightful Daily Rituals: How Artists Work:

    Ill at ease around most people, [Patricia Highsmith] had an unusually intense connection with animals—particularly cats, but also snails, which she bred at home. Highsmith was inspired to keep the gastropods as pets when she saw a pair at a fish market locked in a strange embrace. (She later told a radio interviewer that “they give me a sort of tranquility.”) She eventually housed three hundred snails in her garden in Suffolk, England, and once arrived at a London cocktail party carrying a gigantic handbag that contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails—her companions for the evening, she said. When she later moved to France, Highsmith had to get around the prohibition against bringing live snails into the country. So she smuggled them in, making multiple trips across the border with six to ten of the creatures hidden under each breast.

    I’ve never read Highsmith; this Tuesday will be her 100th birthday.

  59. Here is a more understandable explanation of casual ejectors:

    Ejectment was one of the old common-law Forms of Action. It could be used to oust an intruder on the plaintiff’s land, such as a holdover tenant. It could also be used when there was no intruder, but the owner wished to remove any doubt about his or her right to the land without waiting for someone to sue him or her. In such a case, the strict form of procedure required that the plaintiff name a defendant even when none actually existed. The action was brought against a fictitious person called the casual ejector. The name john doe was used often for this nonexistent defendant.

    I wonder if anyone ever lost a suit against a casual ejector.

  60. I would have thought that would be the casual ejectee. But when it comes to the law, I am a very child, as Mr Skimpole would say.

  61. It belatedly occurs to me that the pasalilinic-sympathetic compass is a foreshadowing of the EPR experiment, with snails in place of electron spin states or whatever. Sadly, one needs a full knowledge of quantum mechanics to realize that even EPR-like entanglements cannot be used to transmit information instantaneously.

  62. David Marjanović says

    Should have been pantoLOL, then.

    How can someone be coining a scientific term and know πᾶς but not know that the prefix from it is pan-?

    One obvious possibility is that he didn’t know πᾶς at all, he just found it in a dictionary and then figured out how to transcribe it. It was all Greek to him.

    In 2007, Lancet published an article about a French civil servant who literally lacked brain – his cranium was filled with fluid with just a thin outer layer of brain tissue left. It was apparently enough for normal social functioning (he was married with kids) and white collar work in the French civil service.

    Is that so? Hydrocephalus does not mean any brain matter is missing, it’s just compressed.

    That said, there’s a lot of redundancy at least between the left and the right half. I once read about a case where someone had a whole half taken out for some medical reason; it’s been replaced with cerebrospinal fluid, the scan is a sight to behold, and yet she has almost no limitations and is (natively) bilingual in Turkish and German.

    I for one left to the
    simple amoeba or

    Blasphemy! Amoebae don’t engage in parthenogenesis, just in ordinary mitosis. Gastropods don’t either, they’re hermaphrodites and fertilize each other – two sexual reproductions for the price of one.

    Lonely Komodo dragons perform parthenogenesis, though. It’s actually quite widespread.

  63. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The OED also thinks that the casual ejector is the (imaginary) person who does the throwing out:
    The casual ejector, a fictitious person, was stated to have ejected the plaintiff from the land, which (as was stated) he held on lease of the person actually claiming the land. The action involved the proving of the lessor’s right to grant the lease, and so incidentally determined his title to the land.

    I think I’ve made sense of some of this:

    If you and another person both thought you owned a piece of land, and really wanted to know who actually did (even if you’d both prefer to know that *you* did), you had to go to the Court of Common Pleas, which was slow and complicated and expensive, but had the only jurisdiction over questions of land ownership.

    However, if you just want to deal with a question of trespass, you can do that in a lower court, and the question of ownership is decided incidentally, because you can’t be thrown off your own land (or the land leased to you), or throw the owner (or tenant) off his own land.

    I’m not exactly sure that the imaginary tenants, one of whom evicts the other, are actually necessary, but I suppose they make the story less unlikely than that you both just happened to be on that same piece of land at once.

    (The Court of Common Pleas was also the court which dealt with debt, so instead you claimed that the other person had commited deceit by promising to pay and then not paying, because you could take deceit to a more efficient court. Who tried to claim that Scots Law was weird!)

  64. John Emerson says

    My brother has watched slugs mating, which involved lots of slime. I imagine that snail mating is similar. But my question is, can hermaphroditic Gastropoda go fuck themselves?

  65. John Emerson says

    My introduction to legalese (at age 17) was a book by Roscoe Pound which described a certain law as hortatory, negatory, and fiduciary. Words that still live in my memory.

  66. David Eddyshaw says

    Talking of aardvarks (well, I was talking of aardvarks) I just now discovered that “to cry over split milk” in Turkana is akiboŋ kayi a lokuto “to return to the house of the aardvark.” Who would not wish to know this?

  67. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Aardvarks properly belong in the Afrikaans thread, so I will summon my imaginary anteater to evict you.

  68. John Emerson says

    ^”nugatory”^. I blame autofill.

  69. David Eddyshaw says

    Aardvarks properly belong in the Afrikaans thread

    Behind the veil of Akismet, all threads are One.

  70. Jen in Edinburg, didn’t you get the message, “imaginary” should be properly called “casual”. I now understand all the people raging about casual sex.

  71. Trond Engen says

    That was an aardvark moment.

  72. It must be obvious to some, but not to me: what does it mean to return to the house of the aardvark?

  73. I too am curious. Perhaps our resident Africanist will enlighten us.

  74. David Eddyshaw says

    Alas, the expression occurs, glossed simply “to discuss irreversible facts”, without further explanation, in Gerrit Dimmendaal’s The Turkana Language (p352.) I know no more. I presume that aardvarks in East Africa are notorious for being of no fixed abode, even though their West African cousins are known for going shopping in markets. It must be an aardvark cultural thing: the age-old dichotomy between the nomad and the cultivator.

  75. I presume that aardvarks in East Africa are notorious for being of no fixed abode

    To speculate…

    The aardvark digs an extensive burrow system for itself throughout its range (cf. in Blench’s paper: “other animals, especially those whose habitat is slightly mysterious or inaccessible, are thought of as having their own parallel society. Typical of these is the aardvark (tìmbŭŋ), which does live in underground passageways, but is said to have its own villages and society.”)

    The pits and holes it digs for the entrances to its burrow system are a major hazard for livestock, which can fall into the burrows and be injured. For example, here is some advice for cattle owners in Namibia on aardvarks:

    Keep calving cows out of camps with high densities of aardvark holes, as calves are known to fall into these holes and become injured or die. Also, keep calves away from thick bush for the same reason. Predators often take the blame for these types of losses.

    And here is a research paper that mentions the topic of livestock loss in relation to aardvark conservation:

    Currently, aardvarks both lose habitat to agricultural practices, particularly croplands, and are persecuted by farmers because of the damage caused by burrows to dams, fences, roads, mechanical equipment and injury to domestic livestock falling in burrows.

    The Turkana are a traditionally pastoral people and measure their wealth in livestock, so the loss of a calf or a kid at the door of the aardvark’s house must be a regular and unavoidable occurrence for them—but still a source of lively regret in Turkana society and perhaps a topic of nagging irritation that is revisited again and again.

  76. From the wiki on gastropod liability:
    Donoghue subsequently contacted and instructed Walter Leechman, a local solicitor and city councillor whose firm had acted for the claimants in a factually similar case, Mullen v AG Barr & Co Ltd,[9] less than three weeks earlier.

    The pleadings of which contain this evocative passage:
    The mouse may have got in and remained in through a mischance, and without negligence.

    The answer of the presiding judge is not documented in my sources, but it is believed he wrote “Cast out first the mouse out of thine own bottle, and then thou canst see clearly to remove the snail out of thy neighbor’s bottle.”

    Are there any fans of Scottish ginger beer here who can let us know whether standards improved after the change in British liability law?

    Also, with nearly every possible naming option for craft brews already in use, has any Renfrewshire brewer offered up a Snail Rot? If not, I’d like to trademark it.

  77. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Apparently going to an aardvark’s house in West Africa gives you the ability to recognise aardvarks even when they are in human form and shopping in the market. Maybe there is some other thing which happens to you on visiting an aardvark’s house for the first time in East Africa, and going back to the house won’t reverse it.

    I do like the note:
    I was somewhat puzzled as to what the aardvarks were doing in markets, but as my informant pointed out in response to my question they were there ‘for shopping’.

    Of course. What else would an aardvark go to a market for?

  78. One obvious possibility is that he didn’t know πᾶς at all, he just found it in a dictionary and then figured out how to transcribe it. It was all Greek to him.

    That or, as someone has pointed out, pasi is the dative plural.

  79. David Eddyshaw says

    Dagbani tìmbŭŋ “aardvark” (= Kusaal teŋin bʋŋ) is literally “earth donkey”, which I suppose is really the nearest indigenous parallel to the Afrikaans “earth pig”; local words for “pig” in Ghana are ultimately from Portuguese porco, including (implausible though it may seem) the Kusaal kukur.

    Afrikaans vark is apparently of the same origin as porco, via one of those weird Germanic diminutive-by-consonant-gemination processes.

  80. I love Russian трубкозуб “tube-tooth”! (Doubtless calqued on the order name Tubulidentata.) Can say that over and over…

    Maybe the Turkana expression likens the person dwelling on unfortunate facts to the nocturnal aardvark spending most of the day in its burrow, or usually observed scurrying away to its burrow as usual when encountered.

  81. jack morava says

    @ Jen, mollymooly & all :

    Never forget that tenure by sochemaunce seseined by feodo copyholds in gross and reseisined through covenants of foeffseignory in frankalpuissance —

    The Plain People of Ireland: This sounds like dirty water being squirted out of a hole in a rubber ball.

    — is alienable only by {droit} of bonfeasaunce subsisting in free-benchcoigny or in re-vested copywrits of {seisina facit stipiedem}, a fair copy bearing a 2d stamp to be entered at the Court of Star Chamber.

    Furthermore, a rent seck indentured with such frankalseignory or chartamoign charges as may be, and re-empted in Market Overt, subsists thereafter in graund serjaunty du roi, eighteen fishing smacks being deemed sufficient to
    transport the stuff from Lisbon.

    The Plain People of Ireland: Where do the fishing smacks come in?

    Myself: Howth, usually.

    The Plain People of Ireland: No, but what have they to do with what you were saying?

    Myself: It’s all right, I was only trying to find out whether ye were reading on. By the way, I came across something very funny the other night in a public-house.

    The Plain People of Ireland (chuckling): What was it?

    Myself: It was a notice on the wall. It read: “We have come to an arrangement with our bankers. They have agreed not to sell drink. We, on our part, have agreed not to cash cheques.”

    The Plain People of Ireland: O, Ha Ha Ha! Ho Ho Ho! (Sounds of thousands of thighs being slapped in paroxysms of mirth.)

    Myself: Good. I knew that would amuse you.

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