I’m in the middle of E. E. Cummings’s EIMI, a sometimes too poetickal and occasionally wellnigh incomprehensible but withal lively (or Alive with Is, as Comrade Kem-min-kz might say) and well worth reading account of the author’s month (May-June 1931) in the still relatively new Soviet Union, newly admired by the Depression-struck West. Cummings went with a wary but open mind; what he saw there turned him into a conservative for the rest of his life. (There’s a Frank Bures review, with a couple of quotes, here, and a very useful set of annotations here.) At the moment I am inspired to post by a couple of inspired euphemisms encountered on successive pages.

On page 206, our hero is staggering back to his temporary home from a drunken party with his host and hostess, the American journalist Charles Malamuth (pseudonym’d by EEC “the Turk”) and his wife Joan (“the Turkess”), daughter of Jack London; the chapter ends thus:

  (“the”)at(“engineers have shaggy”)random(“ears”)misquote, upholding the who’s me upholding 1
  (“and p-“)1 starewiselying meward essays(“pi-“)his big eyes laugh helplessly(“pis-“)
  “Charlie!” she admonished
  (“stolsintheirbreeches”)he succeeded.

In other words, Malamuth’s amused but disapproving wife thinks (as he intends) that he’s about to launch into a well-known (at the time) WWI song: “The engineers have hairy ears,/ They piss without their britches [or “through leather britches”],/ They bang their cocks against the rocks,/ Those hardy sons of bitches”; he switches smoothly into the harmless mutation “and pistols in their britches.” (The tune, or a tune, is notated here, as “The Mountaineers,” by Vance Randolph, who provides many textual variants.)

On the next page and the next morning, the lathered Turk suggests that his hungover guest might “feel like perhaps dropping any soiled object into yonder socalled laundrybag”:

  “I cannot” almost tearfully “impose…”
  “you” busily “New Englanders are a very curious” sopping “folk. Folk you” he,beaming,said.

I’m really astonished that “Folk you” could be printed in New York City in 1933, even by a small publisher like Covici Friede (who had also, to be sure, printed The Well of Loneliness, so they did not shun controversy).

Incidentally, Pascal Covici was born in Romania, where I assume his surname was pronounced /ko’vič/ (koh-VEECH), but I assume that in his adopted America, it became koh-VEE-chee; anybody know? [thanks, MMcM!].

Addendum. On page 306, I’ve run into an even more startling use of obscenity, barely disguised: “Okay… there’s uh reel beerjoint eye know,thih beer’s suwell… nize un sudzy un beeg un cool… yunno—nut like this fuggin peevoh [Russian beer]!”


  1. I’ve heard it as though it were Italian, so -chee. While Donald Friede pronounced the last syllable, free-duh. And this seems to confirm that.

  2. no;I wish to go as myself.

  3. ..and a2xpost gets you for an hour well spent gone slogging through his notes. i guess the word plays in wwI came in handy and was he not a bit on the ‘servitive before this?

  4. While Donald Friede pronounced the last syllable, free-duh
    That’s nicely Choiman, but what your link gives is “Freed-a”. Ain’t quite the same (but I wouldn’t bother to mention it outside this circle of Phonetians).

  5. “Ain’t quite the same”, because ambiguous in comparison with the convention for pronouncing “uh”.

  6. Isn’t “uh” schwa? It’s only Germans & Scandinavians who worry about the difference between A and E at the end of the word, Grumbly.

  7. MMcM: You are invaluable. I will correct the post.
    clav: Heh, and it’s nice to see you around these parts!
    Stu: What AJP said. Your ambiguity is purely theoretical, sfarzeyecnsee.

  8. You guys play too rough. These are my fledgling attempts to get another leg to grumble on. Musing over those persnickety disquisitions on vowel quality in unknown tongues that occasionally turn up here, I thought: I can do that for German !

  9. too poetickal me dictionary fails to explain.

  10. Just a humorous mock-archaic spelling of poetical, as used by (for instance) Wallace Irwin back in 1909 (“When this was subsided I made so nervous as to read following poetickal thought”) and by an anonymous and probably fictitious poetess in Judge’s Library: A Monthly Magazine of Fun in 1906 (“It is not my first attempt at poetickal composition”).

  11. K instead C may give Soviet/Russian flavour, compare: commissioner – comissar – komissar. No?

  12. No, not in this case.

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