Polizzotti on Translation.

The MIT Press Reader has an excerpt from Mark Polizzotti’s book about translation Sympathy for the Traitor that doesn’t contain any new revelations (is there anything new left to say on the topic?) but has the kind of anecdotes and examples I always enjoy:

The American anthropologist Laura Bohannan once tried to paraphrase “Hamlet” for a tribe of West African bush people. Convinced that “human nature is pretty much the same the whole world over,” Bohannan chose “Hamlet” as a reliable universal archetype. It sounds good on paper, but at practically every sentence, she found her listeners raising objections and interpolations wholly outside her frame of reference […]

As Bohannan discovered the hard way, even supposedly universal truths get filtered through highly local perspectives, and words resonate differently from one country, one collective, one people, to the next. “A language,” as Noam Chomsky observed, “is not just words. It’s a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is.” “Dog,” in whichever idiom, signifies Canis familiaris, but associatively the dog does not mean the same thing to someone who is English, French, or Chinese. Gregory Rabassa has remarked that if you ask a New Yorker what kind of bug Gregor Samsa metamorphosed into, “the inevitable answer will be a giant cockroach, the insect of record in his city,” even though Kafka’s term, Ungeziefer, means simply “vermin.” Similarly, the Russian translator Richard Lourie cautioned that the term communal apartment in English “conjures up an image of a Berkeley, California kitchen, where hippies with headbands are cooking brown rice, whereas the Russian term [kommunalka] evokes a series of vast brown rooms with a family living in each, sharing a small kitchen where the atmosphere is dense with everything that cannot be said.” […]

It’s true that, to some degree, at least, a great work transcends these disparities. To paraphrase an old ad for Levy’s rye bread, you don’t have to be Jewish — or Czech — to love Kafka. But can you love him in the same way? Beyond any linguistic acrobatics the work requires or references demanding explication, there are ambient assumptions that refuse to be ferried across. And just as the book changes with the context, so too does the translation strategy.

For instance, a text in French tends to run longer than the same text in English, usually by 10 to 20 percent. (On that score, I once had the humbling experience of finding that my translation of a short story by Jean Echenoz, who writes remarkably economical prose, was actually longer than the French original. Much paring ensued.) This is true even on the level of sentences, which according to the rules of good French usage can be longer than English normally allows. What this means is that, in general, a lengthy sentence in French will pass as business as usual to a French reader, but will be perceived as excessively wordy to an English one. The translator wishing to maintain a representative effect might well need to repunctuate, sometimes to break the sentence in two or three. […]

In general, though, I would argue that judicious restructuring brings you closer to the author’s desired effect than a close parallel. As an example, Lawrence Venuti’s comparison of two versions of a 40-word passage by Françoise Sagan, one by himself (42 words), one in the published translation by Irene Ash (29 words), shows, perhaps inadvertently, how much closer Ash comes to Sagan’s tone and punch, while Venuti’s ostensibly more accurate calque just makes it sound dull.

Cultural adaptations can take many forms, often passing by unnoticed, or noticed only when they fail. There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglourious Basterds” in which an English soldier in a tavern, who until then has managed to pass as German, orders three glasses, with the corresponding finger gesture. Unfortunately, as an alert intelligence officer observes, he does it with the standard Anglo-Saxon configuration — thumb and pinky looped, index through ring extended — rather than the Continental: thumb through middle extended, last two folded down. By not translating the gesture into the target norm, he gives himself away and unleashes a bloodbath.

The export of popular films is a frequent arena of cultural adaptation, the main intent being not so much to pass as native as to draw in the crowd. The title of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” appropriately enough, underwent any number of international transformations, from the fairly literal (“Unfaithful translation” in Canadian French, “Between words” in German) to more creative options, such as “Lost in Tokyo” in Latin American Spanish and “Meetings and missed meetings” in Brazilian Portuguese (but “Love in a strange place” in Portugal). Not even as seemingly straightforward a title as “Annie Hall” survived the voyage, becoming “Two strange lovers” in Latin America and the harsh but not inaccurate “Urban neurotic” in Germany — though whether that refers to Diane Keaton’s character or Woody Allen’s is unclear. […]

As is well known to any translator, one of the hardest, most culture-bound registers to translate is slang. The topic has been discussed at length and there are as many solutions — or nonsolutions — as there are instances to solve. Richard Howard, speaking of French “low life” texts like the roman noir (but a similar claim could be made for any number of languages), points out that “the French have developed a middle language somewhere between the smell of the sewer and the smell of the lamp,” whereas the closest corresponding English slang tends toward “either the very coarse or the very clinical.” In other words, even a private dick in an American noir will not swear like his flic counterpart (leaving aside the fact that most of the French Série Noire crime novels supposedly translated “from the American” were actually written by French writers, using American-sounding pseudonyms to make the books more marketable). […]

And sometimes the miscommunication goes beyond speech altogether. The story is told of an American professor in Japan who believed from his colleagues’ comments that they had just settled a campus strike, only to realize later that the opposite was true. “You understood all the words correctly,” he was told, “but you did not understand the silences between them.”

Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. “A language,” as Noam Chomsky observed, “is not just words. It’s a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is.”

    Where did The Master say this? We wonders, yes we wonders…

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    “You understood all the words correctly,” he was told, “but you did not understand the silences between them.”

    Reminded me of my early days in Ghana, parachuted in as head of an eye department. It is Just Not Done in that part of the world to contradict a superior to his face, however politely, even if he’s spouting utter nonsense (as, of course, I often was at that point.) I had to learn to ask absolutely non-leading questions, so that people were at liberty to tell me what I needed to know, instead of what they had concluded from my question that I wanted to hear.

    More generally, my experience with conversing in English in Ghana went from “I can’t make out what people are saying because of the accent” to (after about a month) “I understand all the words, but I have no idea why they are saying that in this context.”

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Where did The Master say this?

    Good question. Desultory googling finds only numerous citations attributed to ANC without any particular source, typically among extensive collections of similarly free-floating apophthegms exemplifying His Wisdom, and presumably intended for motivational posters or some such.

    I agree with what I assume to be your implication, that it doesn’t seem to be a particularly Chomskyan thought. Still, perhaps he has his moments. We must be charitable.

    Unfortunately, as an alert intelligence officer observes, he does it with the standard Anglo-Saxon configuration — thumb and pinky looped, index through ring extended — rather than the Continental: thumb through middle extended, last two folded down.

    So that’s why I get taken for German so often when in Germany! I had no idea that my number-gesturing was not Anglo-Saxon. Evidently this is yet another Welsh Substratum thing.

  4. @David E: “we must be charitable…”

    ‘In no other way,’ adds the severe Le Fournier, ‘can one explain so regrettable a lapse.’ [Flann O’Brian]

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    This is Laura Bohannan’s (deservedly) much-cited article:

    https://www.naturalhistorymag.com/picks-from-the-past/12476/shakespeare-in-the-bush

  6. though whether that refers to Diane Keaton’s character or Woody Allen’s is unclear.

    No, it isn’t. “Der Stadtneurotiker” can only refer to Allen’s character. I never understood why the movie (like many others) had to be retitled.

  7. For one thing, Annie (unlike Alvy Singer) is explicitly not from the city.

  8. This is Laura Bohannan’s (deservedly) much-cited article
    I remember reading it before, and I think it was discussed or mentioned here at the hattery?

  9. What a memory! JC linked it here, back in 2008.

  10. David Marjanović says

    I never understood why the movie (like many others) had to be retitled.

    “Had to” is extremely charitable of you. Giving movies wholly new German titles, even if those titles are actually in English, is a self-sustaining tradition that has no need of justification anymore.

    So that’s why I get taken for German so often when in Germany! I had no idea that my number-gesturing was not Anglo-Saxon. Evidently this is yet another Welsh Substratum thing.

    One wonders how old such things really are. If it goes back to Proto-Celtic, it can easily be part of the Gaulish-ish substratum in High German.

  11. “A language,” as Noam Chomsky observed, “is not just words. It’s a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is.”

    This doesn’t sound like something that would come from a guy who posited a universal grammar. More like a watered-down Heidegger, as in “the house of Being,” creating a dwelling site or abode in which humans and all things can be.

  12. John Emerson says

    Common on people! Whorf!

  13. I had read that article by Laura Bohannan before, and upon perusing it again, I was even more struck the second time by how strange I found her idea that the plot of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was grounded in human cultural universals. While it may be true that the quality of the play’s blank verse is enough to make it a pinnacle of world literature (qua literature), the actual story is heavily freighted with very particular cultural assumptions. Perhaps I have the unusual advantage of remembering fairly clearly how I first encountered Hamlet and its storyline; I recall being quite puzzled by several elements that are integral to the plot: personal responsibility for vengeance, non-primogeniture in monarchial inheritance,* attitudes toward insanity, divine salvation through confession and prayer, etc. These are not a parts of my culture; they are foreign elements that I had to be taught about. They may be familiar now, from my knowledge of Hamlet, as well as other cultural and literary sources, but it would certainly never occur to me to think they were universal.

    * I remember when I was even younger (probably four), discussing Robin Hood with my father. My father pointed out that while Prince John is typically portrayed as a usurper in Robin Hood stories (especially those written for kids), he did eventually become king in his own right.** This puzzled me briefly, since I don’t think that I had previously considered the possibility of kingship descending in any fashion except from father to eldest son.*** When I expressed this puzzlement, my father said that descent between brothers was the obvious and natural way that it should work in that situation, and I immediately saw the sense in that. After all, who else but the next oldest brother should become king if the previous king died childless?

    However, about fifteen years later, it occurred to me that the scenario I had assumed (Richard I dying childless) was not the one that had actually existed. Richard had at least one natural but illegitimate son, Philip of Cognac. (I had first become aware of Philip’s existence from another of Shakespeare’s plays, The Life and Death of King John.) So there were actually already a lot more cultural assumptions tied up in the idea that John inheriting the throne from his brother Richard was natural and inevitable. To be fair to my father, I don’t know whether he remembered that Richard actually had a living illegitimate son at the time of Richard’s death in 1199. But of course, Philip of Cognac was not really the only complication. Even if we set aside the illegitimate sons of the Angevin monarchs (which beside Philip included Henry II’s eldest son, Geoffrey—who was archbishop of York and had been Lord Chancellor for the last eight years of his father’s reign), there was another issue. The brother born between Richard and John, Geoffrey of Brittany,**** had a posthumous son; and while Arthur I of Brittany was John’s captive for most of his short life and so was never a serious claimant to the English crown, his mere existence further serves to point out how many unstated assumptions there are in evaluating John’s ascension as obvious and inevitable.

    ** I always liked that Roger Lancelyn Green’s book of Robin Hood stories does not end with King Richard’s return. (I shouldn’t say “homecoming,” since England was certainly never Richard’s home.) After several years of relative peace, the story picks up again when John becomes king and finally gets to exact his revenge against Robert of Locksley.

    *** At the end of The Saga of Erik the Viking (the beautifully illustrated book, not the later movie Terry Jones***** made; the two stories have nothing in common except for the encounter with the sea dragon), Erik and his now-grown son****** foil Death by pointing out that when Death comes to claim a man, a son will always be ready to take his place. By the time I read this, the fallacy of this argument was quite plain. However, I have never been sure whether I think the characters’ overly simplistic notion actually improved the story by giving it a more authentic folktale atmosphere.

    **** Geoffrey of Brittany is my favorite character in The Lion in Winter.

    ***** The book jacket had pictures of Jones and the illustrator Michael Foreman. Foreman’s photograph was unremarkable, but the picture of Jones caught him—appropriately for a former Python—in mid-sneeze.

    ****** Even in elementary school, I recognized the appearance of Erik’s son—grown to manhood since the ship Golden Dragon had set sail—joining his father as they face down the one last peril Erik still has to overcome now that he has reached his home shore, as an obvious allusion to Telemachus.

  14. The Chomsky quote seems to be from the 2011 documentary “We still live here – Âs Nutayuneân” on the Wampanoag language revival. See also his 2011 City of Sidney Peace Prize lecture ( A language is more than just sounds and words. It is the repository of culture, history, traditions, the entire rich texture of human life and society.)

  15. associatively the dog does not mean the same thing to someone who is English, French, or Chinese.

    Nonsense. English and French cultures are far closer than either want to accept. It is probably more accurate that „Dog“ carries different associations along class and ethnic divides.

  16. Is it then not the case that for many Chinese, regardless of class and ethnos, “dog food” might have different associations than it does for many Europeans and Americans ? The chengyu is “smart dog no dinner”, as I recall.

  17. David Marjanović says

    The claim is about English and French cultures, not Chinese.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    @sh:

    Well found!

    Perhaps Political Chomsky is not a follower of Linguistic Chomsky. (I’ve never quite seen how they coexist. One of them may be from a parallel universe. On the whole, I agree with Political Chomsky, though he has an unfortunate way of expressing his opinions that makes you want to disagree with him even when he’s right. Like Tony Blair …)

  19. what David Eddyshaw just said.

  20. January First-of-May says

    Nonsense. English and French cultures are far closer than either want to accept. It is probably more accurate that „Dog“ carries different associations along class and ethnic divides.

    Well, for starters they’d need to make sure that the French word that corresponds to dog is chien and not dogue

    Russian, meanwhile, has two different words, пёс and собака, possibly with subtly different connotations, not counting the French (and/or German) borrowing дог.

    Perhaps Political Chomsky is not a follower of Linguistic Chomsky. […] On the whole, I agree with Political Chomsky

    “Noam Chomsky should stick to politics, Roger Penrose should stick to interior decorating, and Andrew Lloyd Webber should stick to the ceiling if hurled aloft with sufficient force.” – JBR IMO

  21. Dogs, in all cultures, bark somewhere in the distance.

  22. David Marjanović says

    I’ve been beaten to Opinion 04!

    the French (and/or German) borrowing дог

    I’m sure that’s from French and only French, because the German version has a feminizing -e (die Dogge) that would most likely show up as -a in Russian.

    (How that happened in German is beyond me. Der Hund is male until proven otherwise.)

  23. “…objections and interpolations wholly outside her frame of reference.” In Averroës’s Search, a short story by Borges, the eminent philosopher struggles and fails to understand the meaning of theater even after watching boys play-act a public Muslim prayer in the yard.

    “Perhaps Political Chomsky is not a follower of Linguistic Chomsky.” In the Soviet Union, Chomsky’s criticism of the West was welcome but his linguistics was not. According to one person familiar with the story, the Russian spelling of Chomsky’s name reflected this bifurcation. Linguistic Chomsky’s name was transcribed Наум Хомский (“Naum Khomsky”), which de-Americanized it and emphasized his Russian-Jewish roots. Political Chomsky was Ноам Чомски – the first name transliterated and the last name spelled phonetically. This guy sounded like a real American to the Russian ear.

  24. Ha! That’s great, if true.

  25. “My affair* with Annie” in Israel, by the way.

    * Maybe “romance”? It’s a little gray-areaish, the word roman.

  26. Stu Clayton: Is it then not the case that for many Chinese, regardless of class and ethnos, “dog food” might have different associations than it does for many Europeans and Americans ? The chengyu is “smart dog no dinner”, as I recall.

    In English, “dog food” often has the connotation of being messy: He made a dog’s dinner of it.

    Whereas, in the US at least, “cat food” (despite my childhood associations with the Cat’s Meat Man in Dr. Doolittle–a familiar sight in 19th century London) usually refers to politicians who are trying to reduce benefits to seniors, i.e., forcing them to live on cat food. So terms like the Cat Food Caucus.

    My wife feeds our cats on organic ground beef, so that wouldn’t be so bad, although I would prefer it cooked.

  27. PlasticPaddy says

    @dm
    I am not sure if this is relevant to German Dogge, but here from DWDS “Socke”:
    “Anfangs wird im Dt. übereinstimmend mit dem Lat. das maskuline Genus bewahrt; aus dem Plural (ahd. socka, mhd. socke) entwickelt sich jedoch bereits im Frühnhd. (16. Jh.) die feminine Form Socke (Plur. Socken)”
    Maybe not relevant because a pair of socks is more natural than a pair of great Danes😊. Maybe relevant because if the word was borrowed as *doga or *dogge, the mechanism for sex change would be the same😊.

  28. David Marjanović says

    Well, the plural Socken conceals if the singular is Socken m. (which is what Hans and I use) or Socke f.; that doesn’t work for Great Danes.

  29. The singular form without “-n” is required in a political context: Adorno war eine linke Socke.

  30. Well, the plural Socken conceals if the singular is Socken m. (which is what Hans and I use) or Socke f.
    Sorry to disappoint DM, but its female die Socke for me, even in non-political contexts.
    Edit: Thinking about it some more, male der Socken doesn’t sound wrong to me, and I may have used it previously. Can’t really say when I switched over. Curious.

  31. I associate der Socken with southern German and Austrian practice. Duden sez yeah to that.

  32. Der Socken sounds weird to me. Socken is almost (but not quite) a plurale tantum, but if you do need the singular, it’s always die Socke.

    As for Dogge: the etymological dictionaries all agree it’s a 16th century loan from English, originally Dock(m.) or Docke (f.). The forms Dogg or Dogge were introduced in the 17th century, apparently under Low German (Pfeifer) or Dutch (Kluge/Seebold) influence.

  33. The story of the Tiv Hamlet re-telling is very funny, but I must agree I’m surprised that anyone would choose Hamlet as a Shakespeare play for a wide audience. Hamlet is confusing at the best of times. I would have chosen Romeo and Juliet or something like that for a wider appeal. (Romeo and Juliet was the most teached Shakespeare play when I was in school, in any rate.)

    I’m sad the tradition of re-titling movies is getting more and more rare in my country. It’s great fun to see the old translations. Some of them quite clever, some quite uncomprehensible. The newer tradition of keeping the English language title is less fun. Re-titling movies is almost an art form in itself.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    I think the basic confusion was in supposing that because Hamlet deals with themes of universal significance to all human beings, the particular presentation and personification of those issues by Shakespeare would naturally also be largely culturally universal.

    I suspect that a similar trap lurks for Bible translators, a fact which would be more evident if evangelisation had not so often gone hand in hand with cultural obliteration instead of proper communication.

    (Like the man said, “If I was going to Cork, I wouldn’t be starting from here.”)

  35. David Marjanović says

    originally Dock(m.) or Docke (f.).

    …Ah.

    Socken is almost (but not quite) a plurale tantum

    Also interesting – it’s not for me.

    (And I don’t think I had encountered the political use.)

  36. (And I don’t think I had encountered the political use.)
    The term was very prominent in German politics in the late 90s / early 2000s, mostly used by the Union against the Left party, and there was earlier use against wrt the SPD. It has fallen somewhat out of use since then.

  37. Corneille in the bush

    Not as elaborate as Laura Bohannan’s story, but still …

    Some years ago I read a true story by a French woman teaching French literature in francophone Africa (a French colony at the time). Some of her students were quite a bit older than their counterparts in France would have been in each grade. At one point they were studying Corneille’s well-known play Le Cid, based on a Spanish historical tradition.

    Rodrigue, the future Cid, is about to be engaged to Chimène, the daughter of a high noble. Everything would be developing as it should, but Chimène’s father insults Rodrigue’s older father (also a high dignitary) by slapping his face. Rodrigue’s fillial duty is to avenge his old father by killing the agressor in a duel. But how can he kill his beloved’s father, thus losing her for ever? One of the best-known poems in classical French literature is Rodrigue’s pathetic soliloquy as he considers his options, each one worse than the other. Finally duty wins over love, and Rodrigue kills the governor, becoming a criminal. But as Moorish invaders are threatening the city, he is asked to take command of its defences, and manages to repel the attack. A grateful city decides to forgive him for the death of his father’s agressor, and Chimène also forgives him for having done his filial duty.

    The students were assigned homework about the meaning of the play. One of them, a recently married 20-year-old, summarized it as il faut faire ses devoirs (here = doing one’s homework) avant de faire l’amour (= before making love).

  38. (Correction: Rodrigue’s father’s agressor is not the governor, but all the major characters are high nobility).

  39. That’s a great play and a great soliloquy (“Percé jusques au fond du coeur …”); you can see the whole scene here (the soliloquy starts around 10:20). I had to memorize it in high school and can still remember chunks of it after over fifty years.

  40. Here’s a calmer reading (no video, just a still background).

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    The student’s interpretation would seem to be both a perfectly valid practical application of Corneille’s overarching moral, and also very sound advice. The reverse order is likely to lead to disappointing performance all round.

  42. D.E. The funny part is the second-language student’s confusion of the two meanings of “devoir”: “moral duty” and (especially in the plural) “homework”. No matter how good the practical advice given by the student, it is not quite what Corneille intended.

  43. @m-l: What the student intended to write was probably il faut faire son devoir avant de faire l’amour, right ? He would gave gotten an even bigger laff with il faut faire ses besoins…

    Surely all of these admonitions are good advice.

  44. Kate Bunting says

    As a British English speaker, I was at first completely baffled by your description of the Anglo-Saxon gesture for ‘three’. Only on the third reading did it dawn on me that you did indeed mean the gesture I had in mind.

    I do know what the ‘pinky’ is (though that word mystified me when I first came across it) – it was the different sense of ‘through’ that was the problem.

  45. David Eddyshaw says

    Surely all of these admonitions are good advice.

    Indeed. And to think that there are those who claim that the classics are no longer relevant!

  46. David Marjanović says

    I was explicitly taught through for ranges (because German doesn’t do anything analogous).

    pinky

    What do you say instead?

  47. Apparently “little finger.” OED s.v. pinkie, adj. and n. (updated June 2006):

    2. colloquial (originally Scottish). The little finger. Also (occasionally): the little toe.

    1808 J. Jamieson Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang. Pinkie, the little finger; a term mostly used by children, or in talking to them.
    1828 D. M. Moir Life Mansie Wauch i. 12 His pinkie was hacked off by a dragoon.
    1898 J. Paton Castlebraes ix. 297 Raither..than lift yae wee pinkie tae save that Deevilish man.
    1935 J. Corrie Income 11 Then the pinkie took sair, and puir Sandy was left wi’ a fit without ony taes.
    1948 Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch 15 Mar. 17/4 I grip the ball with my thumb and pinky.
    1965 E. Tunis Colonial Craftsmen vi. 140 Even the most elegant lady poured tea or coffee from her cup into her saucer to cool and then, with delicately extended pinkie, drank it from the saucer.
    1973 J. Marks Mick Jagger (1974) 11 As for Mick, he splashes on some fragrance and checks his eyeliner with his pinkie.
    2002 A. Phillips Prague vii. 323 He brushed the wax crumbs away with speedy sweeps of his right pinkie.

    I hadn’t realized it was originally Scottish.

  48. The origin of pinkie was discussed here not long ago. (Start there, but also scroll down or search to get to more comments starting April 12, 2021.)

  49. I had (of course) forgotten about that. I’ve added the OED etymology (executive summary: “Origin uncertain”) as a comment there.

  50. His pinkie was hacked off by a dragoon.

    Nate Mooney as Pinky Stein, a Shadow who hid Kira from Division and the Triads. His nickname is derived from his missing pinky finger.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Push_(2009_film)#Cast

  51. Stu: He would gave gotten an even bigger laff with il faut faire ses besoins…

    He certainly could not have used your phrase in the context, and I doubt that his purpose was to be funny. “Homework” usually means les devoirs (in the plural, since there is usually more than one assignment), while (moral or legal) “duty” is le devoir (which can also refer to a single school assignment). Whether singular or plural, in both contexts it is the object of the verb faire. I don’t think that the student in question (well-known to the teacher, as she indicated in her tale)) was aware of the possible ambiguity of devoir(s), since he would have encountered the word a lot more often in the familiar context of school assignments than the culturally alien one of medieval chivalry.

  52. David Marjanović says

    Apparently “little finger.”

    Ah, like in German, then.

  53. I didn’t realize pinkie used to be regional, either. The OED’s label as “originally Scottish” implies that it’s no longer so limited, though from Kate Bunting’s comment, it sounds like it’s still not as common in England. It was also already in the US in the 1800s, though the OED’s quotes don’t show it: the 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms by John Russell Bartlett says it was common “in New York, especially among small children” and attributes it to Dutch. (Synchronicity with THE FATE OF DUTCH IN AMERICA!)

    DARE (vol. P-Sk, 2002) in its entry on pinkie doesn’t restrict it regionally within the US, but cites a 1955 article from American Speech, On the Geographical Distribution of ‘Pinkie’, which reports:

    This word comes every now and then over the air waves from New York City and vicinity … in the metropolitan newspapers and magazines, and in plays on Broadway. … The assumption of these users of the word in the New York area seems to be that pinkie is known the length and breadth of the land; and, indeed, there is little in our leading dictionaries to the contrary.

    My own investigations, however—so far as they have gone—reveal vast stretches of the continent in which pinkie ‘little finger’ is known to very few. It has a considerable degree of currency in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and it seems to be known in some parts of upper New York State as well as in the Hudson River region; but to the west and south of New York State there are few areas, with the exception of central and northern Michigan, where it passes current. To all but one of the Canadians I have questioned, the word is unknown.

    In the Dutch language is found the word pinkje (pinkie) ‘little finger,’ and one is tempted, in view of Dutch influence in the Hudson River valley and in Michigan, to put the American word down as a direct borrowing from that language. But according to the OED, pinkie also occurs colloquially in the speech of the British Isles—chiefly in Scotland—and could thus have been imported into America by English-speaking immigrants as well as by the Dutch. Possibly the sporadic occurrences of the word in areas west and south of New York State which are free of Dutch influence [here he lists a dozen states] may be accounted for in this way, especially since the British word has the general sense of anything small as well as the specific sense of little finger, and at least half of the speakers just enumerated applied the word to either fingers or toes, usually an infant’s, and showed no inclination to limit its use to the little finger.

    Fascinating to see how a word could be carried into American English by two separate parallel streams. And I don’t understand why the OED casts doubt on Dutch as the source. The origin *within Dutch* is unknown, yes, but it’s documented in early modern Dutch, and the geographical trail looks pretty persuasive for entering American and Scottish English from Dutch, and then also American via Scottish.

  54. Never heard of Stu’s proverb. I googled ‘”smart dog no dinner” chinese’, and got three results only:

    1. 6 days ago — The chengyu is “smart dog no dinner”, as I recall. David Marjanović says … The claim is about English and French cultures, not Chinese.

    2. Asian teen sex training! Get third night free. Alternatively just get hooked into the frog umbrella! Teen threesome public sex scene ever on the flaming!

    3. Chinese military headline generator. Rape of a serpent through and justify that. Mensa leden in de stand! (502) 522-3031 Free follow award.

    Google outdoes itself.

  55. Chinese military headline generator.
    Makes sense.

  56. JERRY: Well, obviously, we all know each other very well, (Elaine slightly laughs) I’m sure that we’ll all feel comfortable within the confines of the honor system.

    KRAMER: Alright. (Holds out his pinkie at the center of the table)

    (Jerry, Elaine, and George all hook their pinkies onto his, in a ‘pinkie promise’, they all pull their hand away, yelling out “Yeah!”)

    https://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheContest.htm

    PS @juha: <3 Push

  57. John Emerson says

    When I was young we had “little finger” and “pinkie” both , and I remember feeling that “pinkie” was a cute name for a cute thing, like baby talk.

  58. Never heard of Stu’s proverb. I googled ‘”smart dog no dinner” chinese’

    Well, it was a chengstu, aka Dad-joke. I borrowed the escape theme from “smart rabbit three holes”.

    Of course I shouldn’t be funnin’ around in re Chinese cuisine. Bad me. Actually it was Sparky’s idea.

  59. You dip so much as a pinkie back into this pond, you may find something

    John Wick: Chapter 2
    https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/d465b31c-b643-4cd0-bbff-23520a18df9e

  60. January First-of-May says

    hook their pinkies onto his, in a ‘pinkie promise’

    As it happens, in Russia, essentially the same gesture symbolizes a truce after an argument. Мирись, мирись, мирись, и больше не дерись!

    Supposedly it used to mean about the same thing in the USA as well, but then people started taking it a lot more seriously for some reason.

  61. David Eddyshaw says

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