People have been sending me interesting links that I thought I’d pass on to y’all:

1) A Brief History of Blurbs, by Alan Levinovitz. You knew, of course, that the word blurb was coined in 1906 by Gelett Burgess, but did you know that quasi-blurbs (though not on the outside of books) can be traced back to ancient Rome and medieval Egypt, where authors and booksellers “were soliciting longer poems of praise (taqriz) from big-shot friends in the 1300s”? Read some truly loathsome examples of hyperbole, fakery, and shameless cronyism, and writhe in agony at the very idea of blaps and blovers.

2) If you read Russian, Mischa Gabowitsch has collected slogans of the current Russian demonstrations, at this blog, which features photos, links, and a corpus of hundreds of slogans in Russian and other languages, from Czech to Japanese. Mischa says, “It is part of a research project to document the role of the Internet in shaping the language of civil society in Russia.”

3) Avery Morrow has an very interesting page about “The Undecipherable Poem, No. 9 of the Manyoshu.” Not only has the poem never been deciphered, it’s omitted by all English translators; it’s not even in my heavy old 1940 Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai edition. I very much like the rendition “Wyrg gende acbire madentag wher myne Seko once stode, at the rootes of Itsukashi.” (Via the latest post at No-sword, about poem #1 of the Man’yōshū, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.)

4) Aspiring young translators will want to know about the fourth annual Rossica Young Translators Award, which “is open to anyone who will be 24 or younger on the deadline for submissions, which is 15 March 2012. Entrants are required to translate 1 of 3 extracts from recent Russian novels.” If you’re interested, go here and download the brochure containing the extracts and terms and conditions.


  1. Presumably no relation to Anthony Burgess who used a pen name to blurb his own work. I’ve misplaced the details, and so, it appears, has the internet.
    Then too, Donald Westlake blurbed one of his pseudonyms J. Morgan Cunningham, declaring “I wish I had written this book!” The blurb was about as serious as the book itself, a take off on the seventies era Arthur Hailey type novels (Hotel, Airport) entitled “Comfort Station”.
    Used copies of this throwaway classic go for four figures. Or rather, that’s the asking figure.

  2. Anthony Burgess was itself a pen name. I can’t remember all his names, either. According to Wikipedia he was born John Burgess Wilson.

  3. The report on #9 might give the impression that the lack of a good writing system is to blame for Man’yōshū complexity—that if only they had a simple, phonological writing, it would now be easy to read; the poor Japanese had to make do with the complex, alien Chinese writing. I just wanted to emphasize that the poor Japanese just loved the complex, alien Chinese writing. They were totally nuts over it. They took pride in convoluted ressonances, in background knowledge, in obscure references, in multiple layers of meaning.
    My favourite example (via Seeley) is #1321, which uses the two characters 大王 (big-king, daiou) to denote the pair of suffixes -tesi (two morphemes for past tense). At first look the choice of characters doesn’t make any sense semantically or phonetically, neither in Classical Chinese nor in Old Japanese. The rationale works like this:
    – The most celebrated calligrapher in Japan was Wáng Xīzhī 王羲之
    – Wáng had a son who was also a noted calligrapher, Wáng Xiànzhī 王獻之
    – Together they were known as The Two Wangs, with Xīzhī as the Greater Wang 大王 and Xiànzhī the Lesser Wang 小王 (puns not intended)
    – A calligrapher in that time in Japan was called a te-si, “hand master”
    – This word is homophonous with the inflected forms of past suffixes tu+kǐ = tesi
    – Therefore Great King 大王 = Wáng Xīzhī = calligrapher = tesi = suffixes for past.
    So, yeah. Heaven knows what kind of trickery they used in the undeciphered/disputed parts.
    (LaMarre makes the point that such character-play, wordplay, puns, acrostics, pivotwords &c. are not exceptions, aberrations or empty intellectual exercises, but are an integral part of this form of literature. To quote more examples from Seeley, at least three other poems use 羲之 for -tesi; #3330 uses 八十一 “81” for kuku (s“nine nines”) in kukuri “to tie up”, and so on.)

  4. Avery Morrow may have come out with the first formal essay in English to bring up the problem of No. 9., but it certainly would have helped if he had got himself a native speaker to assist.
    Google Translate’s version of the first sentence of the Mansion of Ghostly Characters is atrocious.
    活字中毒、読むものがないとやってられない、という意味で弱いことは言うまでもないが、 「文字それ自体」にも非常に弱い。
    It goes without saying that poison of the print will not do, if nobody reads it. The “character by itself” is exceedingly weak.
    My literal take on this is:
    “Addiction to the printed word, being the inability to go on without something to read, is quite clearly a weakness, but it extends to a great vulnerability to letters themselves.”
    I’m afraid I haven’t been able to do justice to it, but it leads naturally into a great fear of indecipherable words that the passage is talking about.
    The last paragraph contains this sentence:
    Since some hand has already written it, it is dreadful.
    What this actually means is that the fact that there is no way to even tackle (or touch) this is scary, (i.e., as explained, the total inability to make head or tail of it leads to fearful imaginings).
    Then there is this massive blooper:
    「なるほどねえ。それを踏まえて、サラちゃんは上の句の訳、どれが適 当だと思う?(・ω・)ノ」
    “Okay, I get it! So the poem is about you, Sara-chan? I do think it suits you! (・ω・)ノ”
    What this actually means is:
    “Oh I see. Based on that, which do you think is an appropriate translation of the first lines, Sara-chan?’
    While one can only commend Avery for tackling this and finding so much relevant material in an unknown language, his basic lack of knowledge of Japanese is itself pretty frightening!

  5. Actually, それを踏まえて doesn’t actually mean ‘based on that’. Here it probably means something like ‘given that’.

  6. I still like my ‘bibliobole’ better. (Pronounced with the stress on the first o, and the final e sounded, as in ‘hyperbole’.)

  7. Clearly a bibliobole is the trunk of a tree cut down to make pulp paper.

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