1) John Emerson sent me Interesting Schtoff from Google Books, a section of Steven K. Baum’s virtual cave. It’s a collection of links to old dictionaries, catalogs, and other reference books, not to mention unusual and humorous material. Baum says “Feel free to borrow any or all of this, with the understanding that an attribution will keep the karma dogs off your ass”; seems reasonable to me.

2) Laura Miller reviews Elif Batuman’s “hilarious and charming” The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them in a way that makes me want to read it; Lizok’s Bookshelf links to an equally laudatory NY Times review by Dwight Garner.

3) Ammon Shea reviews the Dictionary of Old English (DOE) being compiled at the University of Toronto in his quirky, occasionally irritating, but infectious way. And here’s the online home of the DOE itself. (Thanks, Paul!)


  1. For links to other reviews of Elif Batuman’s book see here:

  2. That review makes me want to preemptively hurl the book out the window. I mean, honestly, books about wild’n’crazy Russians and their unfathomable souls are just about at the pinnacle of poshlust.

  3. Speaking of poshlost’ – Russian speakers are in for 4 years of aggravation. I was listening to a sports show in Boston this morning where the discussion focused on the Olympics. The subject of the 2014 games came up and one sports jock said “in Sochee?” clearly unsure how to pronounce the name. “Soshee” replied the other jock with authority, and for the rest of the show “Soshee” it was. The trend of pronouncing any odd foreign word as if it were French continues. And I still get agita when people talk about the games in “Torino”. Best to avoid the media I guess.

  4. books about wild’n’crazy Russians and their unfathomable souls are just about at the pinnacle of poshlust.
    I didn’t get that sense from the review. It sounds like Batuman’s book is really about the wild and crazy life of being a comp lit grad student, with Russians just there as an occasional prop. At least she sounds a lot more fun than the Russian lit grad students I knew at Stanford – a depressing morose lot on the whole, and not in a “russkaya dusha” sort of way either. They just seemed like a group of hollow people who were getting PhDs only because they couldn’t imagine a life outside academia. At least Batuman seems to enjoy living.

  5. I agree with vanya; I don’t like stuff about wild’n’crazy Russians and their unfathomable souls either, but this doesn’t look like that to me.

  6. That review makes me want to preemptively hurl the book out the window.
    I see slawkenbergius’s point about the Salon review. Miller calls the book “hilarious and charming” and Garner, who I thought described a far more appealing book, calls it “funny and melancholy.”
    It was far sadder, though, to hear Vanya’s report on the pronunciation of Sochi!

  7. Yes, I sure hope they get that straightened out before the next Winter Olympics.

  8. Russians in general have unfathomable souls, but individual Russians can be completely fathomable. Fallacy of composition.

  9. bruessel says

    poshlust = a yearning for Victoria Beckham (sorry, couldn’t resist).

  10. If at least they’d call Sochi by its Ubykh name 🙁

  11. Sochi is apparently from Adyge Shacha, the name of one of the local tribes. Maybe they’ll have a Northwest Caucasian festival to accompany the opening ceremony, with Adyge, Shapsug, Kabardins, and Circassians doing dances celebrating their long war against Russian occupation! Hahaha, I slay me!

  12. mollymooly says

    ‘And I still get agita when people talk about the games in “Torino”.’
    The 2006 Olympics were in Turin in Ireland in 2006, and they’ve been in Turin in Ireland ever since.
    But the 1990 World Cup was usually in Italia Ninety, and moved to Italia Novanta if George Hamilton was in high spirits.

  13. I just finished this book. It’s not about Russian souls – it is about literature, and the weirdness of life. Much of the book is taking place in Samarkand. It is well worth reading, although I enjoyed the beginning part more than the end – the Babel chapter was especially good, I thought.
    This column in the Chronicle has an abridged excerpt, and will give you a good idea of the book’s tone and readability:

  14. Thanks, Renee, and it’s nice to see you around here again! (Renee was one of the very first commenters at LH; in fact, she was one of the people who nagged me to start the blog.)

  15. Yaaaay, Renee!

  16. Wow, people remember me! *snoopy dance*
    Thanks for your kind words, Steve! And hi, John!
    To Vanya: graduate school has an unfortunate tendency to suck the life out of you, so that the liveliest people start appearing hollow and morose. The job search is the worst part. You do revive after that, in my experience.

  17. marie-lucie says

    Renee, are you the person who was wondering how to teach languages to your still unborn child, a few years ago? That’s what got me involved with Language Hat. So thank you for nagging Mr Hat into it.

  18. Hmm, Marie-Lucie, I am not sure, but it is possible. In any case, the experiment failed miserably, although my son did find certain passages from the Poetic Edda calming when he was an infant.

  19. Torino: Yes, I am maliciously hoping that the next Olympics will be held in a place whose local name is really hard for an American to even come close to pronouncing correctly. What do we have to look forward to? I haven’t bothered to find out.
    Nagano was interesting from that point of view. Of course, there is no American name for Nagano distinct from the Japanese name (like “Turin”) so noone can be seriously faulted for trying to pronounce it á la Japanese. There is the automatic tendency to try for something Italianate — Na-GAH-no — when you see that name. I always assumed that the NAH-guh-no one kept hearing represented an overcompensation for that.

  20. I think that romance (French, Spanish or maybe Italian) is the default correction or overcorrection for American pronunciation of non-English words, unless they’re obviously German. German words are pronounced the way Nazis in the movies pronounce English.

  21. The Poetic Edda? Any particular translation that might be useful for a bedtime ritual? I would suppose not the Hávamál.

  22. The next (2014) winter Lympicks will – I am reliably assured by the Dutch media – be in “Sotsji”, so at least we won’t try to pronounce it in French.
    I’m not planning to pronounce it at all, though: without Bob de Jong, what’s the point?

  23. marie-lucie says

    In French, that city is called Sotchi, not Sochi.

  24. Nijma, I just used the original Old Norse (the Kuhn edition). Fáfnismal was a particular favorite. 🙂

  25. Yaaaay, Renee!
    I still find it unfathomable that WINTER Olympics should take place in the favourite (Russian) SUMMER resort of my childhood.

  26. Yes, I’ve been to Sochi, and it wouldn’t have struck me as a winter site. Great shashlyk up in the hills, though.

  27. This afternoon I was listening to National Public Radio and caught the end of a letter from a listener: he wrote to provide the correct pronunciation of Sochi. Let the games begin!

  28. marie-lucie says

    Is Sotchi like Vancouver, not mountainous itself but within commuting distance of fairly high mountains?

  29. Is Sotchi like Vancouver, not mountainous itself but within commuting distance of fairly high mountains?
    V printsipe. “In principle”, as they like to say in Russia. “Commuting distance” assumes the light rail and new roads get finished on schedule but geographically the Western Caucasus is fairly close to Sochi. It is also, according to Wikipedia, “the favorite skiing place of former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin, who can easily reach Krasnaya Polyana by helicopter from his country residence of Bocharov Ruchey.” So that’s nice.

  30. Has the winter Lympicks ever actually been where they said it’s been since the grand days of Garmisch-Partenkirchen?
    Obviously Ooshloo, Gran Turisno, Polygamy Lake and Vancouvereh are out; does anyone have a counter-example?

  31. Weren’t the Lillehammer games actually held mostly in Lillehammer? In the US they were/are always referred to as the Lillehammer games, never the “Oslo games”. Oslo probably has very low name recognition among Americans anyway.

  32. marie-lucie says

    For the Vancouver Olympics, most events took place in various places in Vancouver and its suburbs, but those requiring snow were held in Whistler, a ski station in the nearby mountains.

  33. Trond Engen says

    Weren’t the Lillehammer games actually held mostly in Lillehammer?

    Yes, they were marketed as “The Compact Games”. Everything was meant to happen within walking distance from Storgata (“Main Street”). In the end they had to make some concessions, though:
    The alpine skiing took place in Hafjell some 30 km up the valley, men’s downhill and super-G competitions in Kvitfjell even further north.
    The bobsleigh and luge stadium was built by the theme park Hunderfossen outside town.
    Icehockey was played in the neighbouring towns of Gjøvik and Hamar, and even in Oslo, as well as in Lillehammer. This gave more out of the investment in icehalls.
    The speedskating arena was built in Hamar, probably because it had a strong speedskating tradition and an active club that was experienced with international championships.
    The rest of the competitions and all official festivity took place in central Lillehammer, and all participants lived just outside the city center (in what was to become student housing for the Norwegian Media School. The media center became the school).
    All this from memory. Wikipedia is for cowards (unless when I need it).

  34. I’m looking forward to the Omaha Winter Olympics.

  35. My first college roommate used to have a “Ski North Dakota” poster with a tiny hill and a barbed wire fence at the bottom. She was the one with the case of Ripple in the bottom of her closet.

  36. Fáfnismal was a particular favorite.
    Thanks, it sounded counterintuitive at first, with all that dragon blood, but I’m starting to get into it.
    I like this part:

    þar er mér ulfs ván,
    er ek eyru sék

    meaning “There is ever a wolf | where his ears I spy.”
    Or in plain English, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”.

  37. marketed as “The Compact Games”. Everything was meant to happen within walking distance from Storgata (“Main Street”). In the end thay had to make some concessions, though
    Concessions? It’s sixty kilometres from Lillehammer to Hamar.
    The best thing about the olympics in Lillehammer, apart from Norway winning all the gold medals, was that they improved the roads from Oslo and made tunnels through the hills. It saves me hours.

  38. I appreciate the responses but srsly: “sure, apart from the stuff with snö and/or mountains”?
    I picked Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a reason, and that was the reason that I picked it.

  39. The Norwegians selfishly spent their money in a way which would be practical in the long term, instead of generously potlatching it the way decent nations, notably Canada/Quebec, do.
    Incidentally, in addition to being filthy with lapsed Norwegians, Minnesota has a slightly larger population than Norway and the same domestic product, thus being slightly but not very much poorer per capita. And we also do well in the Winter Olympics, for example gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, and we would have don better if Lindsey Van had been allowed to compete by the Olympic Taliban.

  40. Yes, but John Shuster didn’t do very well. We need to start looking outside Minnesota for our curling talent.

  41. My distant in-law (a sportswriter) taped every single curling match and step by step developed a black hatred for the American skip. But the new skip should be a Minnesotan, just a different one.
    My brother the Canadian cheered for Canada. He’s gone completely native and watches curling on TV.

  42. Trond Engen says

    Curling is a big TV sport in Norway. Well, every fourth year when the curling team suddenly rises to Olympic fame. When Norway reached the semi-finals this year NRK had to take out its ordinary program, in spite of sending 30 hours a day in two channels, and this was the result.
    (Photo: My wife. She’ll grow out of her shoes with the hit count on her Flickr account.)
    (The point is the name of the documentary it replaced.)
    (Oh, I see that she explained it in the subtext. Now, well.)

  43. The Norwegian curlers’ pants will not be forgotten.

  44. Since Mrs Trond is a maker of dollshouses, perhaps she can tell me why Et dukkehjem is translated as “A Dollshouse” and not “A Doll’s Home”. You may as well know I’m boycotting the play until this discrepancy is resolved to my satisfaction.

  45. James Joyce worshipped an entirely different Ibsen than the one I’ve read. I’ve decided that it was a youthful indiscretion. But you might as well continue the Ibsen boycott.
    Though actually, I plan to take a look at Peer Gynt one of these days, which may be less problematic.

  46. How do you feel about Grieg, John?

  47. Haven’t really looked into him. I should put him on my list.
    Much to his friends’ surprise, Bartok sort of liked Grieg. He explained that it was because he wasn’t German. Anti-Germanism was a big thing in music starting in 1880 or so, and that was a very good thing. The rule of the German common practice harmony teachers was finally broken. Musorgski and Satie were the heroes.

  48. Trond Engen says

    Since Mrs Trond is a maker of dollshouses
    A hobby miniaturist. We live in Ibsen’s hometown and her protagonists are named Helmer and Nora, and still she claims not to qualify as an Ibsen specialist. I keep telling her that she holds herself to far too high standards.
    So I’ll have a shot at it myself. I think I’ve seen ‘dukkehjem’ used in the meaning ‘dollshouse’ in older texts also outside of Ibsen’s play, so it may have been the regular word among the higher classes at the time. Or maybe ‘dukkehus’ was limited to genuinely houseshaped dollshouses, while ‘dukkehjem’ could be used even for furnished cages and cupboards? If that’s the case, the original translator had to choose between a literal and a symbolic meaning of the title. And of course he may also have thought the word had an unmarked literal meaning and made that common error of translation — failing to spot markedness. In which case your boycott can still be justified on extradramatic grounds.

  49. Trond Engen says

    I plan to take a look at Peer Gynt one of these days, which may be less problematic.
    Peer Gynt is great fun, at least when it’s allowed to break free from that dusty old tradition of declamatory stage performance. Our local public theater and the remarkably creative amateur theater in the next town have cooperated to make an all-evening all-around-the-area show of it a couple of times.

  50. Skien:
    Wikipedia The Old Norse form of the name was Skiða (from the word skiða which means “straight plank”), and the town is probably named after a brook (with a straight run) with this name.
    So that’s where “ski” comes from. And you live in Telemark.

  51. You might like Grieg. I much prefer him to Ibsen & Munch. Of course many people think Munch is overrated as a composer.

  52. The Lundby link reminds me that Norwegian authors seemed to all have extravagant hair.

  53. Trond Engen says

    I remember from a chapter of Grieg’s autobiography (or some such) I read in school that he was discovered in his early youth by Ole Bull, international superstar and family friend, whose American adventures might be just in John’s gate (but are sadly in need of a Wikipedia entry).
    [Our host may consider to close down this thread too. I’ve done my best to keep my comments on topic, but it’s becoming obvious that I’m running out of even remotely interesting links.]

  54. Trond Engen says

    Skiða (from the word skiða which means “straight plank”),
    It all comes down to skis, doesn’t it? I briefly thought of adding the town’s name to the pool when discussing the gender of skis the other day, but found out that it would just be confusing. But I’ll grab the chance now.
    The meaning “straight plank” is from an older meaning “(something) split”. There are derivatives from the same root meaning “border”. Skei (another word without a -d) means both “spoon” and “road following a property line” (the latter early also “racetrack”).
    and the town is probably named after a brook (with a straight run) with this name
    Rather after the river itself if anyone asks me. I find it telling that it has no “real” name except Skienselva. The name would have stuck by talking about the marketplace í Skiðann, similar to how the province name Trondheim became the name of its only city.
    There are at least two ways that the river could have been named Skiða:
    1. For someone entering from the fjord, passing a wide estuary where Porsgrunn is now and turning left, the river would have been following a remarkably straight run, with its increasingly steep eastern bank cut as with the strike of an axe, ending abruptly where the town were to be founded, with a row of low waterfalls coming in from the west at a 90­° angle. (This straight run has been less straight for a few centuries since a massive landlide on its western bank sweeped across the river.) The problem I see with this derivation is that the name wasn’t obvious for the seafarer until well after he’d entered the river. Unless it originally denoted the sound further out at the fjord’s mouth.
    2. I’ve also thought that it may stem from the meaning “borderline”. There are some evidence, including Ottar’s Voyage, of an ancient distinction between a western Norway proper and an eastern Viken, at times a Danish province, around Oslofjorden, and the border must have been drawn somewhere around here. But this is speculation.

  55. Thanks, Trond.

  56. Jenny Lind and the northern march of civilization. Even the Norse are civilized now!

  57. Trond Engen says

    One eviden, some evidence.

  58. Trond Engen says

    This newspaper article takes Jenny Lind’s career as an example of the northerly march of “civilization” from the Italian dominance of the Renaissance-era to the inevitable modern ascension of England, France, Germany, Denmark, Holland, and finally, with Lind and others, Sweden.
    Hint: finally

  59. Voltaire wrote about Karl XII of Sweden as though he were a savage. Voltaire’s portrait is inaccurate, but when you consider that Karl hunted bears with a spear because shooting them would be less exciting, you can understand Voltaire’s motivation at least.
    Queen Christina also hunted bears, but I don’t know what method she used.

  60. Trond Engen says

    Oh, and thanks for the New York Herald article. Ah, the days before biased media.

  61. Re: hunting bears.
    The discussion of old school museums in A.J.P. Crowe, M.D.’s office reminded me of reading the seminal Die Kunst- und Wunderkammern der Spätrenaissance in Google Books.
    It has many gems, like Bär aus „Pisam” (fn. says Bär mit Flinte aus dem XVI. Jahrhundert). Is that still there in the KHM, I wonder.
    The internet should have a site for collecting WTF book illustrations from Google Books. Maybe it does and I’ve not yet encountered it. Another good one from the other day is this.

  62. I expect you know PT Barnum’s mermaid.

  63. And then there was P.T. Barnum’s Cardiff Giant, a plaster copy of the “real” Cardiff Giant, supposedly a petrified man (but in fact carved out of gypsum). Barnum’s fake fake giant outdrew the real fake giant when they went on display in neighboring New York City locations. The latter was “discovered” in Cardiff, N.Y.

  64. My wife and I just watched the American Experience documentary on Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It or Not; he was both utterly ordinary (in fact, kind of goofy) and deeply weird, and he had a version of Barnum’s museum called the Odditorium (which apparently still exists).

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