I am shamelessly stealing Anatoly’s title for his post, which I will translate rather than paraphrase:
“In March of 1955 Nabokov corresponded with the editor of the New Yorker about the changes the editor wanted to make in the text of the third chapter of Pnin. In the mid-’50s the New Yorker published chapters of Pnin in the form of separate stories, or sketches. This letter concerned the third chapter; Nabokov wrote 36 points with his reaction to 36 proposed changes. In some places he agreed with the editor, in others he insisted on having it his own way. I especially liked one of his responses:”

34. This insertion is impossible. Nothing should be added here. I worked for a month on this passage.

As one of Anatoly’s readers said, it would be interesting to know which passage was under discussion. And another reader quoted from Wikipedia:

On hearing that Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein would try to cut Princess Mononoke to make it more marketable, one of Studio Ghibli’s producers sent an authentic katana with a simple message: “No cuts”.


  1. According to Thurber, that was typical of New Yorker (especially Harold Ross) changes: 90% should be ignored, but the others were pure gold, putting a finger on the place where something was genuinely confusing or confused.

  2. one of Studio Ghibli’s producers sent an authentic katana with a simple message: “No cuts”.
    I find an old-fashioned horse’s head is still the most effective with Hollywood types.

  3. danielsyrovy says

    Intriguing stuff. I tried to find out some more about the reference, so here’s what I have:
    Looking at Nabokov’s letter (March 5, 1955; in: Selected Letters, pp. 156-160) the last couple of answers to editorial remarks are quite obvious: “chapleted” (Nr. 32a) is on p. 354 in the LOA Edition, or, generally, Ch.3, 7, 3rd paragraph.
    The banners (33a) are mentioned at the bottom of the same page (par. 4). So far, so simple.
    Then it gets a bit trickier:
    “33b. Eliminate this ‘shown’, please.” refers either to “A flying ambulance was shown crossing a snowy range”, which is retained both in the book version and in the New Yorker April 23, 1955 (p.37, col. 3), or maybe to an edited doubling of the word (he talks about a movie, after all) somewhere else (and later!) in the text… which leaves comment 34 to likely refer to anything between “Kirghiz actors visited…” (p. 355; NY p.37) and the ending of the chapter, about a page later.
    Yet, Nabokov’s Nr 35 “No date, please!” implies a historical date, that must plausibly fit in, thus concerning either the abrupt change to Pnin’s dreams (the paragraphs from “In a haze of sunshine” onward; especially “A birthday party was in progress, and calm Stalin cast with a thud his ballot…”), or, more likely, the historical passages from that same Soviet movie.
    More generally speaking, I somehow doubt that Nabokov took a month to write that “haze of sunshine” bit, even though it is good prose. The passage from “Kirghiz actors” to “a picnic in the country” however, could well be what he was talking about. Of course, this doesn’t solve the problem as to what exactly Katharine White had suggested. (The New Yorker and LOA texts are in fact identical here.)
    Though inconclusive, I hope this may still be of some interest.

  4. It certainly is; many thanks!

  5. STET and PNIN are among the very few examples of C1-C2-V-C2 that I can think of. There’s the doctor-word STAT. Oh, and LVOV (or LVIV).

  6. More generally speaking, I somehow doubt that Nabokov took a month to write that “haze of sunshine” bit, even though it is good prose.
    I think that when he said that he meant that it was a month between the time he started and the time he finished, not that he spend all his time for a month on a few words. He says something similar about the Kasbeam barber in Lolita. Flaubert said stuff like that too, and I think it’s a cliche of the art novel biz. Probably Joyce too.
    But not Proust, they say.

  7. J. W. Brewer says

    BRER, as in Brer Rabbit, etc. If you’re willing to focus just on pronunciation as opposed to spelling, the IndEng CRORE. And some BrE exclamation that I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard anyone use is apparently most commonly spelled PHWOAR but also attested as PHROAR.

  8. Bathrobe says

    PHWOAR…that I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard anyone use
    I’m curious about this one. I know how I would pronounce it — a kind of contemptuous ‘What a load of rubbish!’ sound, starting with a strongly aspirated /p/, moving into a vowel that drifts from something like an /o/ into a prolonged schwa. That’s because it’s an expletive that I would use myself. But of course, with all of these attempts to represent non-linguistic sounds using the Latin alphabet, I’m never totally sure if I’m getting it right. (Look what happened to ‘tsk tsk’).

  9. Empty: When making such claims, beware the Unix weenie and his manxome CLI! Here are 179 words (some may not fit your unexpressed criteria):
    blab, blag, blah, blat, bleb, bled, blip, blob, bloc, blot, brad, brag, bran, bras, brat, bred, brig, brim, bris, clad, clam, clan, clap, clef, clem, clip, clod, clog, clop, clot, crab, crag, cram, crap, cred, crib, crop, drab, drag, dram, drat, dreg, drip, drop, flab, flag, flak, flam, flan, flap, flat, fled, flip, flit, flog, flop, frag, frap, frat, fret, frig, frog, from, glad, glam, glen, glib, glim, glob, glom, glop, grab, grad, gram, gran, grid, grig, grim, grin, grip, grit, grog, grot, kris, plan, plat, plod, plop, plot, pram, prat, prep, prig, prim, prod, prof, prom, prop, scab, scad, scam, scan, scar, scat, scop, scot, skat, skeg, skep, skid, skim, skin, skip, skis, skit, slab, slag, slam, slap, slat, sled, slid, slim, slip, slit, slob, slog, slop, slot, smog, snag, snap, snip, snit, snob, snog, snot, spam, span, spar, spas, spat, sped, spic, spin, spit, spiv, spot, stab, stag, star, stat, stem, step, stet, stir, stob, stop, swab, swag, swam, swan, swap, swat, swig, swim, swot, tram, trap, trek, trim, trip, trod, trot, twas, twat, twig, twin, twit.

  10. Bathrobe: “Phwoar” (spelling varies) is a sound made by an Englishman on seeing an attractive woman, or vice versa. It’s normally non-rhotic.

  11. Hrmp. I should have left out “blah”.

  12. Bathrobe says

    JC, thanks for reminding me. Yes, you’re right, that’s how it would be used, and it would indeed be non-rhotic. I’m not sure if my ‘dismissive’ usage would be pronounced the same way or not…

  13. Bathrobe says

    I think C2 refers to an identical vowel. Thus “from, glad, etc.” are out.

  14. Bathrobe says

    If you allow so-called long vowels, ‘stoat’ is one.

  15. JC: I tried to express my criteria: the second letter should be the same as the fourth.
    If some weenie wants to search for more examples, that’s fine with me. BRER is good. Also the name DROR.
    I’m not sure that I care about this. I was just making conversation. It is true that this superficial similarity between the words “stet” and “Pnin” struck me before I got as far as seeing what the post was really about.

  16. Bathrobe says

    “I was just making conversation.”
    NoSee earlier thread on thread drift (which I can’t find now).

  17. Bathrobe says

    That should have been:
    See earlier thread on thread drift. All is grist for the mill!

  18. @Ø: In my dialect “prayer” and “drawer” have that form, provided you treat R-colored vowels as vowel + consonantal-R. Also “state” and “stoat”, if you’re O.K. with diphthongs. (I see that Bathrobe has also suggested “stoat”.)
    I’m assuming that “flail” and “freer” are a bridge too far, though?

  19. To me, “freer” is “freeer” rewritten so as not to frighten anybody. “Drawer” sounds the same as “Dror” to me. “Prayer” is one of those words that makes me uncomfortable because I am not sure how I think I am supposed to say it. Anyway, I have been driven by spelling in this quest, so although I like “drawer” and I like “flail” very much, also the German word “pfiff”, I’m not accepting them. Nor Kipling’s ‘stute fish.

  20. But you allowed proper nouns, right? So, Knin and Skok.

  21. Yes, I had to allow proper nouns, because of Pnin.

  22. empty: I like “flail” very much, also the German word “pfiff”
    1. Dünnpfiff [the trots]
    2. pfiffig [as applied to person or artefact: clever, ingenious]
    3. Pfiffikus [an artful, inventive person]
    4. Pfifferling [chanterelle]

  23. Ø: To me, “freer” is “freeer” rewritten so as not to frighten anybody.
    Yes, well said. I realise I hate this arbitrary two-letter cutoff. I’m casting it away, and already I feel much freeer. Are there any English words that ought to have a run of four or more of the same letter consecutively?

  24. That’s the spirit ! The recent German “spelling reform” allows three consonants in a row, which the old system forbade. That’s one of the few sensible things about that reform. fetttriefend [dripping with grease] is now OK, as is Missstimmung [an irritated mood] (stress on first syllable). Whereas Miss Stimmung (stress on “Stimm-“) would be a woman who can get everybody into good spirits.

  25. Almost English. I think it’s eſſſſe, but the BL didn’t do 42a.

  26. Abroad-friendly edition confirming that.

  27. There’s nothing to stop one disregarding the spelling reform, is there? I’d imagined it as something that would affect how schoolchildren will be taught to spell rather than an offence that could put you away for many, many years; but there is that law against taking showers after kl.22:00, so who knows?
    Are you allowed to write, say, “Mißstimmung”?

  28. There’s nothing to stop one disregarding the spelling reform, is there?
    I flout it. So does Sloterdijk, and all the right people.
    Are you allowed to write, say, “Mißstimmung”?
    No, neither on the old nor the new system. It’s a visual aesthetics thing for which I know no rational explanation. I go along with it, but fretfully.

  29. As usual I have no idea how you managed that, M. The typed version spells it as plain “esssse”.

  30. Ok, Stu. I shall flout it too.

  31. The nowadays uncommon German word Esse, meaning a chimney, flue or smokestack, is related to Asche [ashes]. Duden gives the etymology as “mhd. asche, ahd. asca”.

  32. but there is that law against taking showers after kl.22:00, so who knows?
    I don’t know whether there was ever an official German law, but in the ’70s penny-pinching, bossy landladies were the law. You weren’t supposed to go out to the landing loo in the middle of the night, either, because it might wake the landlord. That’s when I learned to pee in the washbasin in my room. I think someone actually had to give me this idea – as a well-brought-up American, I didn’t think of it myself.

  33. Sorry, I didn’t perceive the criticality of the repeated C2. In that case, stet and stat are the only survivors of my list above. But to Bathrobe’s stoat I add stout. Finally, drear is clearly monosyllabic (for rhotic speakers), whereas briar/brier, crier/cryer, drier/dryer, friar, pryer (one who pries), prior, trier/tryer, truer are mono- or disyllabic depending on context.

  34. I think I got the idea that it was against the law to take a shower after 22 Uhr from Calvin Trillin, and I’d say he’s a fairly reliable source. However, I can’t remember the details of the piece anymore.
    I recently stayed in a house that had a washbasin in the bedroom. I find that an odd idea, rather like having a highly patterned carpet in bars to hide stains and litter.

  35. A fairly reliable source, given a fairly idiosyncratic reading of “fairly”.

  36. I recently stayed in a house that had a washbasin in the bedroom. I find that an odd idea
    How so ? It’s merely a connected-to-the-water-mains version of the old freestanding washbasin and pitcher on the chest of drawers. To ablute the extremities every morning used to be sufficient preparation for social intercourse. Since 1963, people want to take a shower instead, in case the opportunity arises during the day to get laid.

  37. G. the location of fixtures tells you a lot. I’ve recently been looking at houses in England (for my mother) and they all have the clothes washer in the kitchen, next to the dishwasher. I’ve lived out of England for long enough to find that most peculiar. I don’t want Omo in my condiments, but Brits apparently find it a small price for being able to run all their water lines into just one (1) room. Those handbasins in the bedroom make me think I ought to be washing my smalls and hanging them up overnight to drip dry. (“Smalls” are not what you might think. They are of course underwear.)

  38. Crown: “Smalls” are not what you might think.
    I’m glad you explained that. I at first thought it was a typo for “smells”, removing which is what those washbasins are good for.
    Brits apparently find it a small price for being able to run all their water lines into just one (1) room.
    Is that because of the expense of installing extra water lines in old houses ?

  39. Well, I’m not sure ‘smalls’ is a very appropriate term. Too small and I’d have trouble fitting it all in.

  40. Is that because of the expense of installing extra water lines in old houses ?
    Running water, especially drainage, can be expensive of course. But now I remember that even when I was a child the washing machine was in the kitchen. There was also a wooden drying rack hung from the ceiling and lowered by means of a pulley. To evacuate the dirty water the washer had a rubber hose was popped into the kitchen sink. That house was built in the thirties, so the British tradition of washing in the kitchen must go way back to the days of servants, predating the “live-in kitchen” – or “living kitchen” as they are often called (following from “living room”, possibly).
    I think “smalls” includes socks.

  41. Wiki says that “smalls” is an informal euphemism for “undergarments”. What would be a formal euphemism for “undergarments”?

  42. It probably depends on the circles you move in, but it may include the word “apparel”.

  43. “Undergarments”, like “dripclothes”, is already a euphemism for “adult diapers” – or not ?

  44. Yes, I like “dripping under-apparel” as a formal euphemism.

  45. Smalls is, I think short for the lovely 18th-century term small-clothes, meaning knee-breeches.

  46. John Cowan says

    Another dictionary search for C1C2VC2 came up with Shah on the spelling side.

  47. John Cowan says

    Also the cultural capital of Western Ukraine, Lviv/Lvov/Łwow.

  48. Stu Clayton says

    Already mentioned by empty 8 years ago.

  49. SFReader says

    Knin – capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina in 1991-1995.

  50. For nonrhotics START and perhaps CZARS

  51. AJP Crown says

    Already mentioned by empty

    Except for Łwow, which (because Polish Ł is the same as an English W in its pronunciation) is nearly C1-C1-V-C1 . That the W is like an English V is the only way this collection of letters can even be pronounced (by me). I think the place is actually Lwów in Polish, so perhaps the Ł is supposed to be pronounced in some other way than our W. I don’t know where Łwow is the name (nothing shows up when I google it).

  52. PlasticPaddy says

    A polish king named town for his son Lw (I suppose this is same as Lev in Russian) so Lwów. See

  53. SFReader says

    And New Orleans was named after an American prince, I suppose.

  54. PlasticPaddy says

    Presumably the town or settlement had a name before, but it was not Lviv. This is the case for Dublin where the preceding settlement was called Baile Átha Clíath but the Viking walled town was called Dyflin (also a Gaelic name but the Vikings were too busy to give it a Viking name).

  55. Stu Clayton says

    I don’t know where Łwow is the name (nothing shows up when I google it).

    I get over 5 million hits, using Chrome. Admittedly Google seems to have allowed L to stand in for Ł. The German and English WiPe articles don’t trouble themselves at all about Ł. I mean, for English and German speakers there are limits to how far one is prepared to go, right ? PC (Polish Correctness) has had its day.

    Maybe you should add German, French, Spanish to the languages in which your browser will show hits (instead of filtering them out).

  56. SFReader says

    I guess I have to be more blunt and less sarcastic.

    King Daniil Romanovich of Galicia was Ruthenian prince, not Polish. And his son Lev Danilovich also was Ruthenian and not Polish.

    It’s true that the dynasty of Daniil Romanovich died out in 14th century and his kingdom was absorbed by Poland and city of Lvov was Polish for the next four centuries (and after 140 years break became Polish again for another twenty years).

    But it doesn’t make Daniil or Lev Polish kings.

    Just like Duke of Orleans was not American prince only because the city named after him became American a century later.

  57. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry. I just realised this myself. So did name change from Lviv to Lwów when Kingdom became Poland-Ruthenia or at some later time or was it always written Lwow, i.e., what was original recorded name in Ruthenian records?

  58. SFReader says

    In 13th century Galician-Volhynian chronicle, it was first recorded as Lvov.

    Lwów is Polish spelling, Lviv is modern Ukrainian.

  59. I don’t know where Łwow is the name

    It isn’t, it’s a plain old typo.

  60. AJP Crown says

    Stu: Maybe you should add German, French, Spanish to the languages in which your browser will show hits (instead of filtering them out).

    In Google Search, I’ve got “Any” (their word, I would have preferred “Every”) language for searches, but someplace else on Google Search I’ve listed Eng, Fr, Norsk, Deutsch, Russian and “Latin (Vatican City)” as “languages I understand” (sort of, a little bit). As usual I don’t understand how it’s resolved, in other words, because the instructions are ambiguous.

    Language: Łwow is a plain old typo
    Thank you. That’s good to know.

  61. Stu Clayton says

    Isn’t it clever of Google to correct misspellings ! Word neighborhood metric magic. But that is also what makes autocorrect so stubborn. It treats valid words it doesn’t know as misspellings.

  62. John Cowan says

    Make a typo, spawn a thread!

  63. AJP Crown says

    Ok, but how does one make a typo in English using the letter Ł?

  64. The same way one makes a typo like habañero: ignorance + pretension.

  65. John Cowan says

    Ignorance I will concede, but not pretension; more like false analogy.

  66. Depends on the typist, of course. I went for the more effective snark.

  67. Oh, and looking back I see it was originally your typo! Sorry, I just assumed it was picked up behind the barn. I hope it goes without saying I would never accuse you of pretension.

  68. John Cowan says

    No worries. But even habañero, I think, is not pretentious; what other term would you use? It’s a misspelling based on analogy.

  69. Well, “pretension” is probably the wrong word: I was trying to sum up the “this is a furrin word, that furrin language has this furrin letter, so let’s stick one of those suckers in there!” phenomenon.

  70. Stu Clayton says

    Blue Öyster Cult etc. Spelling for effect. Gutgemeinte Effekthascherei.

    Pretension is an extreme form, possibly not that common. Usually they mean well.

  71. Spın̈al Tap.

  72. Stu Clayton says

    Amerika. You might call that bös gemeinte Effekthascherei. Spite spelling. Donald Whump.

  73. John Cowan says

    I still think habañero is best explained by analogy with jalapeño.

  74. Stu Clayton says

    Both are hot,
    The latter not
    So much.

  75. My wife and kids like watching old episodes of The Great British Baking Show. I join them sometimes, and there was one where they were baking empanadas. I don’t remember how they spelled it on recipe listings or title cards, but all four hosts (the show has way too many “presenters,” to use the British term)—as well as most or all of the competitors—pronounced the name as if it had a ñ. From the consistency of the pronunciation, I concluded that either: 1) the erroneous pronunciation was nigh universal in Britain; or 2) the producers had mandated the pronunciation, either unaware or not caring that it was wrong.

    There just seems to be a widespread belief in the English-speaking world that that is how n sounds are supposed to pronounced in Spanish, regardless of what the spelling is. This is presumably tied to—not not quite the same as—a belief that the letter n in Spanish words should always be written ñ.

  76. David Marjanović says

    See also: native speakers of German hypercorrecting v to w in English, and reading c in Slavic-looking names as č.

  77. January First-of-May says

    See also: native speakers of German hypercorrecting v to w in English

    Not only German, but also Russian, as in Chekov’s infamous “nuclear wessels”.

    (Fun fact: the military base in Alameda where Chekov was looking for the nuclear wessels is the exact same place as the abandoned military base in Alameda that the Mythbusters used for their more destructive experiments.)

  78. The “Star Trek Adventure” show that ran at Universal Studios in the 1980s took child and adult volunteers from the audience to be filmed on stage, then inter-cut them with footage from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with new narrations by William Shatner. I got to play the Enterprise helmsman when we visited the park. Most the cast’s lines would end up being inaudible, but there are a few that were important to the story line and got reliably recorded. The cue card for the key line about picking up a Klingon wessel had it spelled “wessel”; and the staff member who pretended to be the director (the real direction and rehearsal for the audience volunteers was all done beforehand) also discussed the “Russian accent” pronunciation on stage with the actor in Chekov’s chair.

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