Nabokov’s NY Times review (April 24, 1949) of Sartre’s Nausea (translated by Lloyd Alexander) is typically supercilious, pointing out some terrible translation flubs and then mocking the novel itself, but the first line contains a mystery:

Sartre’s name, I understand, is associated with a fashionable brand of cafe philosophy and since for every so-called “existentialist” one finds quite a few “suctorialists” (if I may coin a polite term), this made-in-England translation of Sartre’s first novel, “La Nausée” (published in Paris in 1938) should enjoy some success.

The word “suctorialist” apparently occurs only here, and it is presumably based on the adjective suctorial “adapted for sucking, especially : serving to draw up fluid or to adhere by suction” (New Latin suctorius, from Latin sugere), but I have no idea what the Great Man might have meant by it (I can hear Beavis and/or Butthead chortling “Sucks, man!” but that sense — “of people, objects, situations, to be worthless, contemptible, pointless, objectionable” — is dated by Green to 1963 and is thus after Vlad’s time even if it weren’t infra his dig). Any ideas?

By the way, when I was googling “suctorialist” I found this webpage with a section of user-created lists that contain the word “shippon,” including:

only nabokov

shippon, carpilastics, suctorialist, vendective, grimpen, woodwose, rizzom, stang, peba, versipal, nenuphar, kickshaw and 7 more…

Alas, that link throws a 404, so we’ll never know what the 7 more were.

Lagniappe: I just learned the great word mortsafe. Have a care for Burke and Hare!


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Suckers-up? I.e. for every actual existentialist there are several hangers on only interested because it’s fashionable?

    Wild guess 🙂

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    I would guess “lamprey-like, parasitic” (basically the same as Jen’s reading.)

  3. Wikipedia and Google Books point to suctorial as an established zoological term, which is perhaps how our lepidopterologist first came to know it. It often refers to the mouth organs of unpleasant parasitical creatures such as lampreys.

    Edited: So yeah, double jinx.

  4. Nenuphar ‘water lily’ comes from Persian and is quite pre-Nabokovian. Kickshaw is likewise obscure but old (and < quelque chose).

  5. OK, the collective wisdom of Jen, DE, and Y convinces me.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    Woodwose is actually in Chambers’ Dictionary. While I can’t exactly claim it as part of my active vocabulary, I knew what it meant (or guessed right, at any rate.)

    Wodwo (as in Ted Hughes’ book) seems to be a back-formation singular made from it, like “pea” or “cherry.”

  7. Does Nabokov mean “fellators”? We use that today to mean something like “mindless worshippers” (or make snarky remarks about knee-pads), but was that the case in 1949?

  8. Nausea (translated by Lloyd Alexander)

    … *that* Lloyd Alexander? Author of the Chronicles of Prydain? Wikipedia says yes, that Lloyd Alexander. His World War II service included work as a translator in Paris, and after the war he studied at the University of Paris and translated the poetry of Paul Éluard. Unexpected connection!

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    I had the same “surely not THAT Lloyd Alexander” reaction as ktschwarz, but by the time I had figured out that it was and thought that worth mentioning, it had been mentioned …

  10. OK, the collective wisdom of Jen, DE, and Y convinces me.

    Henceforth to be known by the epicene name “Jendey”.

  11. John Emerson says

    Loosely related : Veblen spoke of “gentility and political suction” as being the stock in trade of certain sorts of influential players (I think of David Brooks).

  12. I had two immediate responses after reading this, both related to fantasy writing. I suspect that almost any English-speaking fantasy fan of approximately my age would immediately notice the mention of Lloyd Alexander. To what has already been said, I should add that Nabokov’s “made-in-England” characterization is almost surely inaccurate. The only time Alexander lived in Britain was when he was deployed there prior to Overlord; and even then, he spent most of his posting in Wales (which he, of course, fell in love with). The work on translating Sartre was almost surely done in Paris (1944–1946) or Philadelphia (1946 onward).

    I also felt that woodwose was an uncommon word but one of impeccable pedigree. The OED defines it as:

    A wild man of the woods; a satyr, faun; a person dressed to represent such a being in a pageant,

    which sounds exactly right to me. However, it does label it as Obsolete (exc. Historical), which I am not so sure about. I think that if there were men living rough in the forests, with minimal to no outside contact, I think woodwose might still be an accurate (although probably derogatory) term for them. And now, having started thinking about this scenario, I cannot shake the idea of describing Ted Kaczynski as a modern-day woodwose.

    The word does not appear in writing until after the Normal conquest, but it can be found in some of the finest Middle English sources: the alliterative Morte Arthur (line 3817, where it is punned against “unwise”) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (line 721, during Gawain’s briefly described physical testing, as he travels the wild in search of the Green Knight). Wikipedia’s article on the “Wild Man” claims that, “ther shuln dwelle there ostricchis & wodewoosis,” appears in Isaiah 13:21 in the Wycliffe Bible; however, all the Wycliffe texts I can find online* have the verse as:

    But wielde beestis schulen reste there, and the housis of hem schulen be fillid with dragouns; and ostrichis schulen dwelle there, and heeri beestis schulen skippe there.

    (Yet it’s not inconceivable that a variant text does have woodwoses instead of hairy beasts.) Much later, Tolkien used just “woses” as a Westron word for the Drughu people. (The more commonly occurring “Drúadan” is a combination of the people’s endonym with the usual Sindarin –adan suffix.)

    * There are numerous Bible comparison sites that have a clearly modern edition erroneously labeled as Wycliffe’s. I have no idea why.

  13. The verse in Isaiah was discussed in the context of the ostrich*. The “dragouns” correspond to אֹחִים ’oħīm, plural of אֹחַ ’oaħ, probably ‘eagle owl’. The “heeri beestis”, plural of שָׂעִיר śā‘īr, evidently something hairy, from שֵׂעָר śē‘ār ‘hair’. The word is used for ‘he-goat’, but in this context it’s usually taken to mean some goat-like demon.

    The wodewoosis are from another version of the Wycliffe, see here at the beginning of the page. I think that might be one of the “later” group of versions of Wycliffe’s translations.

    *A large flightless bird of the levant and Africa which, oddly, has no taste for proselytizers.

  14. Surely is a somewhat better example of a contemporary woodwose than the Unabomber dude?

  15. All about the Wild Man. They were somewhere between human hermit and yeti.

  16. Le nénuphar is the normal French word for ‘water llily’.

  17. Grimpen mire is a well known UK placename. Everyone in Russia knows it.

    “As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor.”

  18. I have to wonder if Nabokov had in mind lampreys, of which those that suck on a host are indeed parasitic, or remoras, which are mutualistic.
    WikiP even says that remoras are also called suckerfish.

    Also WikiP:

    Although it was initially believed that remoras fed off particulate matter from the host’s meals, this has been shown to be false; in reality, their diets are composed primarily of host feces.


  19. At one point when the topic of the “hairy ones” in the bible came up, I had recently been reading Armand Leroi‘s Mutants, which has a chapter about hypertrichosis. Could there have been a clan of people with such a condition, living on the outskirts of society?

    Who knows?

  20. Cookiecutter sharks are particularly repulsive artists of the suctorial.

    When I read descriptions of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in the old days, when ships would be immobilized because the water was so packed with fish, I envision their seabed as a spectacular if lightless Garden of Eden, nourished by an endless downpour of fish shit, that was lost before any people could imagine setting eyes on it.

  21. Rizzom, also spelled rissom, is British dialectal meaning the head of grain, and metaphorically a small bit of something. It’s a Scandinavian borrowing and cognate with rice.

  22. In 1393, Charles VI of France and some of his courtiers appeared at a masquerade costumed as woodwoses. Their costumes, which were extremely flammable, accidentally caught fire and four of the lords died. This incident became known as the Bal des Ardents.

    So the term “woodwose” is still of use in describing historical events.

  23. Wikipedia:

    Fox Tor is a relatively minor tor on Dartmoor in the county of Devon, England. …

    About a kilometre north-east of the tor lies the swampy land known as Fox Tor Mires. This is said to have been the inspiration for the fictional Grimpen Mire in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This wide expanse of peat bog continues to be dangerous to walkers, especially after heavy rain.

    If A. Conan Doyle invented the name Grimpen, I congratulate him. It’s a very fine name.

    But, I found this:

    The OED defined a grimpen as “a marshy area.” (So a Grimpen Mire would therefore be “a marshy marsh” or “a boggy bog”).

    So, another version of the La Brea Tar Pits…

  24. @Owlmirror: True congenital hypertrichosis is astoundingly rare. So while cases of it may well have occasionally entered folklore, the number of sufferers must be minuscule compared to the number of people, in pre-modern times, who were simply forced by circumstances to live in the woods and did not trim their hair.

  25. PlasticPaddy says

    Re grimpen, I was immediately reminded of what we would call a “sucking bog” where the main or first element of grimpen would be grip or a Brythonic cognate to Irish greim (= grip). The use of words like grimpen and suctorial by N suggest a certain oral preoccupation, which is no doubt the subject of a distinguished dissertation.

  26. Kickshaw was first discussed on this blog exactly 17 years back.

    I read Nausea so long ago that I probably hadn’t heard Some of These Days then (but could have heard One of These Days) – no wonder I didn’t pay much attention to the song itself. Now I see how neatly Nabokov pricked Sartre: Roquentin thinks in stereotypes. Hearing what he perceives as yet another American “jazz” number, he automatically assumes the composer is Jewish and the singer is Black while in reality, it was likely the other way round (at which Nabokov only hints but transparently enough): Shelton Brooks was a Black Canadian by birth and Sophie Tucker came from an Ashkenazic family.

  27. The parasitic/hangers-on interpretation of suctorialist makes perfect sense to me, but for what it’s worth, I see that Nabokov uses “suctorial” in his commentary to Eugene Onegin in reference to an expression he’s translated as “swine drunk”: “Zyuza sounds as if it came directly from sus, Latin for ‘pig’, but is probably a product of suctorial onomatopoeia (cf. susurrus).” And butterflies have suctorial mouthparts, so he may be thinking more of lapping and swilling (cafe-like behavior, I guess) than latching on.

  28. My first thought was to wonder if it was some OCR error or typo for some pun on Sartre’s name like “sartorialists”, which would be almost equally baffling but…

    Behold the suctorial proboscis!

  29. Jen in Edinburgh says

    the epicene name

    I thought that epicene meant that you weren’t hairy, but now that I have actually looked it up I find it is much more complicated than that!

    I feel slightly weighed down by being one third of collective wisdom, so will gladly hand over to Johanna, whose theory sounds convincing to me 🙂

  30. Kickshaw was first discussed on this blog exactly 17 years back.


  31. This incident became known as the Bal des Ardents.

    An incident evidently known to Poe, cf. “Hop-Frog.”

  32. “Grimpen” was used by Nabokov in Pale Fire, where Hazel Shade is reading T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker,” which Nabokov doesn’t name.

  33. David Marjanović says

    Cookiecutter sharks aren’t suctorial, they’re sectorial.

    There are numerous Bible comparison sites that have a clearly modern edition erroneously labeled as Wycliffe’s. I have no idea why.

    There’s a publisher called Wycliffe Bible Publishers.

  34. Like Wycliffe, Webster’s isn’t trademarked. Some operator produced some years ago a whole bunch of dictionaries of smaller languages cribbed from other sources, and published them under the Webster name, selling them at high prices.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    Wycliffe Bible Publishers

    They’re specifically Bible translators (hence the name Wycliffe), and a sort of fraternal twin of SIL:

  36. At least two of the Bible comparison sites that I found had brief overviews for each of the versions of their sites, and those versions described the Wycliffe Middle English Version correctly. However, the version of the text they actually had in their databases was wrong (and seemingly the same wrong one in each cases; they probably all copied from each other). Maybe that came about from downloading a modern translation from Wycliffe Bible Publishers, but I actually doubt it. The text looked more like it may have been a Modern English translation based solely on Wycliffe’s Middle English, which the sites had sloppily mistaken for the original.

  37. J.W. Brewer says

    There’s a physical book you can buy that’s titled rather transparently “Wycliffe’s Bible: A Modern-Spelling Version of the 14th Century Middle English Translation.” I don’t know if that’s what those sites are using in online form, but it might be. Note fwiw that virtually all online versions (and almost all printed copies) of the King James Version are in a modernized spelling that finally stabilized/froze circa 1760 and is significantly different from the 1611 original. Someone reprinted within the last few decades a new edition with the 1611 spelling as kind of an oddity/novelty (I have a copy somewhere) and I believe it’s out there online somewhere. But you have to look for it kind of hard.

    Similarly, modern editions of the pre-KJV 16th-century translations (Tyndale et seq.) often have modernized spelling, just like modern editions of Shakespeare (but not Spenser, for some weird Spenserian reason) often do.

    You can I guess argue that because Middle English is substantially more different from our English than the Early Modern English of the Shakespeare/KJV era, modernizing the spelling is actually a worse idea for texts written in the former than in the latter, but I’m not sure everyone would agree.

  38. It seems it’s the early versions of the Wycliffe Bible that contain the “woodwoses” line. If you want to see it in an actual manuscript, check out Christ Church MS 145, page 223v, first line of the left column.

  39. That’s great. Gode blesse þe Ynternette!

  40. That’s a very nice manuscript!

  41. “Carpilastics” is evidently carpalistics, from Pnin. (If you’re going to make a list of obscure words, check your spelling carefully. Jeez.)

    Stang: “Olya stood leaning against the rear railing, gripping the black stang with a white, firm hand…” (The Gift)

    Rizzom: “He too had had just about his ‘last straw’ of champagne, namely four out of half a dozen bottles minus a rizzom (as we said at old Chose)…” (Ada)

  42. “He almost reached timberline but there the weather changed, a damp fog enveloped him, and he spent a couple of hours shivering all alone in a smelly shippon, waiting for the whirling mists to uncover the sun once more” (Transparent things). A shippon is a cowpen (cognate with shop).
    In Strong Opinions he parries Edmund Wilson’s criticism of his use of this (alongside a number of other rare words) in Onegin:

    In the same passage which both I and Mr. Wilson have translated, my “shippon” is as familiar to anyone who knows the English countryside as Mr. Wilson’s “byre” should be to a New England farmer. Both “shippon” and “byre” are unknown to pocket- dictionary readers; both are listed in the three-centimeter-thick Penguin (1965). But I prefer “shippon” for hlev because I see its shape as clearly as that of the Russian cow-house it resembles, but see only a Vermont barn when I try to visualize “byre”.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Auden, though extremely unlike Nabokov in other respects, had a similar love of obscure words for their pure poetry:

    You can see, then, why, between my Eden and his New Jerusalem, no treaty is negotiable.

    In my Eden a person who dislikes Bellini has the good manners not to get born: In his New Jerusalem a person who dislikes work will be very sorry he was born.

    In my Eden we have a few beam-engines, saddle-tank locomotives, overshot waterwheels and other beautiful pieces of obsolete machinery to play with: In his New Jerusalem even chefs will be cucumber-cool machine minders.

    In my Eden our only source of political news is gossip: In his New Jerusalem there will be a special daily in simplified spelling for non-verbal types.

    In my Eden each observes his compulsive rituals and superstitious tabus but we have no morals: In his New Jerusalem the temples will be empty but all will practise the rational virtues.

    One reason for his contempt is that I have only to close my eyes, cross the iron footbridge to the tow-path, take the barge through the short brick tunnel and

    there I stand in Eden again, welcomed back by the krumhorns, doppions, sordumes of jolly miners and a bob major from the Cathedral (romanesque) of St Sophie (Die Kalte):

    One reason for my alarm is that, when he closes his eyes, he arrives, not in New Jerusalem, but on some august day of outrage when hellikins cavort through ruined drawing-rooms and fish-wives intervene in the Chamber or

    some autumn night of delations and noyades when the unrepentant thieves (including me) are sequestered and those he hates shall hate themselves instead.

  44. my “shippon” is as familiar to anyone who knows the English countryside…

    Speaking as someone who grew up in the English countryside, I can only say nope, never heard of ‘shippon’

  45. Likewise, I wonder if anyone of your age who comes from rural New England has heard of “byre”.

  46. A few crude online tests (e.g. Google Ngrams or the OED frequency estimates) suggest that byre is (and probably always has been) two to three nepers more common than shippon. This accords with my personal impression that byre is an uncommon word today, but shippon is truly rare.

  47. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I know shippon, and think of it as English regional – something that would be fairly ordinary in certain places. (Really I mostly remember it because of England being a strange place where pigeons live in ducketts and cows in shippons, which both sound made for something else.)

    Byre is quite normal to me, though – it took me a while to think of another word for it (cowshed?).

    Of course, these days cows mostly live in great big places indistinguishable from other barns, and you’re more likely to come across a traditional byre as a holiday cottage…

  48. PlasticPaddy says

    Shippon corresponds to German Schuppen. But the other (short)i+p correspondences I can think of are to ü+pf in German. Maybe DM knows why this is.

  49. David Marjanović says

    In my Eden a person who dislikes Bellini has the good manners not to get born: In his New Jerusalem a person who dislikes work will be very sorry he was born.

    “If someone looks out the window in a John Ford movie, he’s looking into a bright future. If someone opens the window in one of my movies, he’s immediately shot dead.”
    – Sergio Leone, translated and half-remembered several times

    Maybe DM knows why this is.

    Wiktionary says Schuppen is a 16th-century loan (evidently etymologically nativized) from Middle Low German schoppe.

  50. John Emerson says

    IIRC byre is a rhymeword of a famous poem.

  51. David Eddyshaw says

    Gyre? (the ventriloquist version.)
    That poem doesn’t do rhymes as such, though. So probably not.

  52. I thought it might be Gray’s Elegy, but no: it’s got fire, lyre, requires, and (lazy!) fires, but no byre(s).

  53. David Eddyshaw says

    Apparently only I and Lewis Carroll pronounce “gyre” with /g/.

    Errare mehercle malo cum Platone …

  54. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry-Picking, maybe, although it doesn’t actually *rhyme*.

    We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
    But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
    A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

  55. «To “GYRE” is to go round and round like a gyroscope», according to Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty. So unless he pronounced “gyroscope” with /g/, probably not.

  56. Trond Engen says

    How can it be a byre when there’s no cellar?

  57. OED s.v. gyre, v.

    Pronunciation: /dʒʌɪə/
    3. intransitive. To turn round, revolve, whirl, gyrate.
    1598 B. Yong tr. J. de Montemayor Diana 10 When to the west the sunne begins to gyre.
    ?1606 M. Drayton Eglog ii, in Poemes sig. D2v Which from their proper orbes not goe, Whether they gyre swift or slowe.
    1814 R. Southey Roderick xii The eagle’s cry, her highest flight A speck scarce visible, gyred round and round.
    1871 ‘L. Carroll’ Through Looking-glass i. 21 ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
    1920 W. B. Yeats Demon & Beast in Coll. Poems (1950) 210 To watch a white gull take A bit of bread thrown up into the air; Now gyring down and perning there.
    1930 E. Pound Draft of XXX Cantos xxv. 114 Three lion cubs..which born at once began life and motion and to go gyring about their mother.
    1951 S. Spender World within World v. 283 The bomber was gyring and diving.

  58. The Pound passage in fuller form (from Canto XXV):

    the said lioness as is the nature of animals
    whelped per naturam three lion cubs vivos et pilosos
    living and hairy which born at once began life and motion
    and to go gyring about their mother throughout the
    aforesaid room as saw the aforesaid Lord Doge and as it
    were all the Venetians and other folk who were in
    Venice that day that concurred all for this as it were
    miraculous sight.

  59. Pound’s Latin source (Monumenti 10-11 [15 September 1316]):

    Que Leonissa pregnans portavit per circa tres menses, ut dicitur per illos qui illam viderunt assaliri, et in dicto millesimo et mense die Dominico, XII mensis Septembris, circa matutinum sancti Marci de mane, quasi jam facto die, dicta leonissa peperit per naturam, sicut animalia faciunt, tres leoninos vivos et pilosos, qui statim nati vivi inceperunt se movere, et ire circum circha matrem per ipsam cameram, sicut hoc viderunt Dominus Dux predictus, et quasi omnes de Venetiis et aliunde, qui dicta die erant Venetiis, qui concurrenrunt ad hoc videndum quasi miracolosum.

    So “gyre” is Pound’s choice to render “ire circum circha.”

  60. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Wikipedia on Jabberwocky:

    In the author’s note to the Christmas 1896 edition of Through the Looking-Glass Carroll writes, “The new words, in the poem Jabberwocky, have given rise to some differences of opinion as to their pronunciation, so it may be well to give instructions on that point also. Pronounce ‘slithy’ as if it were the two words, ‘sly, thee’: make the ‘g’ hard in ‘gyre’ and ‘gimble’: and pronounce ‘rath’ to rhyme with ‘bath’.”

  61. David Eddyshaw says

    So unless he pronounced “gyroscope” with /g/, probably not.

    [EDIT: Jen beat me to it]

  62. I have always sort of wondered whether between the time that Carroll wrote the first stanza of “Jabberwocky” in 1855 and when he had to explain the poem in Through the Looking Glass (about fifteen years later), he forgot that gyre was not a word he had invented.

  63. That makes more sense than anything else; I’ve always wondered about that.

  64. David Eddyshaw says

    It seems to me quite possible that Carroll would have pronounced “gyroscope” with /g/ too: compare “gynaecology”, which among UK doctors (at any rate) consistently has initial /g/.

    I was looking up Allen’s Vox Graeca to see if it shed any light on the traditional UK public-school pronunciation of such words (still reflected in e.g. “nous”, and “seismic”), but although it’s full of interesting stuff on the topic in general, it doesn’t seem to discuss the particular issue of gamma before front vowels (and y /aɪ/ specifically.)

  65. @David Eddyshaw: It is entirely possible the Carroll pronounced gyroscope* that way; in fact, it would make quite a bit of sense. However, my puzzlement about the situation was more based on the fact that Carroll seems to include gyre among “The new words, in the poem Jabberwocky.”

    * I don’t think anyone pronounces gyn[a]ecology with a soft g (/dʒ/), although it sounds like there is a good punch line that could be created out of such a pronunciation (This, in turn, reminds me of this sketch from Saturday Night Live this week.)

  66. I tried to find similar words pronounced with a /g/, and found the wonderful gytrash, northern dialect for ‘an apparition, spectre, ghost, generally taking the form of an animal’, used twice in Jane Eyre.

  67. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The dubious phonetic word search offered Argyll/argyle.

    There’s a local placename ‘Gyle’, too – I’m too used to that to see it as an odd pronunciation, but I suppose it is.

  68. You can see, then, why, between my Eden and his New Jerusalem, no treaty is negotiable.

    That’s because this Jerusalem is no such thing: it is Newton’s Sleep. The true Jerusalem, the fourfold vision, is beyond Beulah/Eden.

    krumhorns, doppions, sordumes

    I knew what krumhorns are, but it would have been a lot easier to find the dope on the others if Auden had written doppioni, sordunes. The first can perhaps be accounted for by the rhythm, but the second has to be a typo or a PEBCAK (“problem exists between chair and keyboard”). To save anyone else the trouble, a doppione is a wind instrument with two tubes running down it rather than just one, and a sordune is a particular case of that, a bassoon with a double bore.


    O sages standing in God’s holy fire
    As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
    Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
    And be the singing-masters of my soul.
    Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal
    It knows not what it is; and gather me
    Into the artifice of eternity. — Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”, III

  69. Brett, in high school English I had a textbook called Thirty Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary, and I think it taught us that gynecology was to be pronounced with a gin, or djinn. But at that time the glaciers were just beginning to retreat from North America, so don’t hold me responsible for my memory. I see from Amazon that the book was first published in 1942, it’s still in print, and the current edition says guy.

  70. The Century Dictionary (1889) uses the dj- pronunciation for all gyn- words.

  71. Wikt gives /g/ as the main pronunciation for both BrE and AmE, and goes so far as to call the /dʒ/ pronunciation archaic. I asked Gale, as the local person most conversant with gynecologists, how she pronounced the word: she said it with /g/. “How about with /dʒ/?”, said I. “Nonsense,” she said. “That’s obviously what you call a doctor for giraffes.”

  72. It appears that my high school experience with gynecology has left its mark on my idiolect. Offhand I can’t remember ever having occasion to say the colloquial term “Ob-gyn,” but if I ever did I think I would have pronounced it obb djinn. But I’ve just listened to several American and British pronunciation guides online, and the speakers are unanimous in spelling the word out instead, letter by letter.

    But yes, John Cowan, I am archaic. A member of the high school class of 1958, I come haunting back to inform you that Pleasantville is non-fiction.

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    I think “Ob-gyn” is specifically American, though my contact with that specialty has been only spousal rather than professional for some decades now*; the Traditional British non-chlorinated equivalent is “Obs and Gynae**” (like “Fish and Chips”, “Bangers and Mash”, “Apples and Pears” etc.)

    * my (non-medic) wife claims that she knows more about it than I do, which may well be true. “Experience, though noon auctoritee Were in this world, were right ynogh for me …”

    ** with /g/

  74. “Obs and Gynae**”
    ** with /g/

    But is “Obs” with /z/ or /s/?

  75. David Eddyshaw says


    Anything else would be unBritish.

  76. John Emerson says

    In college psychology is Sike, sociology is so so Soshe, but political science can by either Polly Sigh or Pol Sigh.

  77. We said Polly Sigh in my chronotope.

  78. J.W. Brewer says

    I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say “Pol Sigh,” which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen. I can certainly imagine “Pol. Sci.” in print, but I would expect the missing syllable to be supplied if read aloud.

    Forty-or-so years ago (and perhaps still?) local slang at Dartmouth College deviated from national norms in various regards. E.g. if memory serves “Economics” was known as “Ecky” (that’s phonetic, not sure how it was spelled) rather than the standard “Econ.”

  79. At Cambridge in the 1970s, an optional course on the History and Philosophy of Science was derisively referred to (by science undergraduates who did not take it) as Hiss and Piss.

  80. I understand that sociology students are regionally divided between Soshe and Sock, but I am probably out of date or otherwise wrong.

    A member of the high school class of 1958

    Ah. I am merely a member of the birth class of 1958, and therefore a yunker around these-here parts.

  81. [collective cry:]

    Get off our lawn!

  82. David Eddyshaw says

    JC is welcome to use my lawn, so long as he tidies up afterwards and doesn’t play any of that horrid Beatnik music that the young people like these days.

  83. David Marjanović says

    Guy-necologist. *shaking head* I’d have classified that as the least likely option. It’s a neat inaptronym, though…

    JC is welcome to use my lawn, so long as he tidies up afterwards and doesn’t play any of that horrid Beatnik music that the young people like these days.

    Thread won.

  84. Andrej Bjelaković says

    I wonder who the youngest hattic is…

  85. Not me 🙂

  86. David Marjanović used to be quite young, but we’ve aged him.

  87. doesn’t play any of that horrid Beatnik music that the young people like these days

    It is the direct, if somewhat commercialized, descendant of the folk musics of the various ethnoi that constitute my country. Though it is true that I no longer remember how to sing “Men of Harlech” or “O’Donnell Abu” in the original Klingon, I can still sing them in English (using the Joseph Barnby lyrics for the former: “Men of Harlech! In the hollow” etc.) Today I learned that Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla, chief of security for Morgan Stanley’s office in the World Trade Center, sang it through a bullhorn in Cornish along with many similar patriotic marches in order to keep up morale as he safely evacuated 2700 employees, only to die trying to evacuate others, in the finest traditions of both the British Army and the U.S. Army (he had served with both). Rescorla was born in Hayle, but perhaps he sang in English with Cornish referents: the evidence is ambiguous.

    Though I do not go so far as Conrad, who despises all music from Mozart’s time onward, I will say that to my mind the European tradition pretty much went off the rails with Modernism, which discarded the good as boring and had to replace it with the bad. “No, gentlemen, even though it sounds wrong, it’s still wrong.” —Paul Hindemith, conducting a rehearsal of one of his own compositions

  88. Guy-necologist. *shaking head* I’d have classified that as the least likely option.

    Belatedly I recall “The Purloined Letter” and open the 2001 edition of The Oxford American Dictionary that’s been sitting on my desk all this time. It accepts either the g or the j. And so, bygeorge, complete with audio clips, does the current online OED.

  89. Lars Mathiesen says

    I think we scare the younkers away. You don’t have to be on the correct side of 50 to be here, but it helps.

  90. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Andrej seems to be beating me by a reasonable bit 🙂

  91. Hiss and Piss

    A perfect expression of the attitude of your typical science undergrad to the proposition that his (…) ideas have a history, or are ideas.

  92. David Marjanović says

    David Marjanović used to be quite young, but we’ve aged him.

    I still couldn’t afford a lawn, though. 🙂

  93. A perfect expression of the attitude of your typical science undergrad to the proposition that his (…) ideas have a history, or are ideas.

    Oh, I agree. Or at least, I agree now even if I didn’t agree then. Or at any rate, I half agree. I developed a great interest in hiss and wrote quite a bit on the subject. Still have trouble with piss, though.

  94. Lars Mathiesen says

    The lawn can be virtual, the damn kids still have to get off of it.

  95. Virtual lawns are environmentally preferable.

  96. I love the encounter with the Woses in LOTR, and even as a child I ADORED Ghan-buri-Ghan. And even now when I am acutely aware of the various racist tropes at play I love the way he refuses to be patronized, and repeatedly calls out Eomer for interrupting him and treating him like a child. And then on top of everything, he casually reveals that he is helping the Rohirrim even though they HUNT WILD MEN FOR SPORT. He may be only wearing a (groan) grass skirt but he is the only character who emerges from the ecounter with his dignity intact.

    I am such a sucker for any plot development that involves mysterious and unexpected forces of the past helping the protagonists in their hour of need.

    And also someone mentinoed it already, but the Bal des Ardants has rocketed to the top of my list of favourite historical events. Its incredible to me that it’s not better known.

  97. Lars Mathiesen says

    If I can even remember that far back, I don’t think I realized that the Woses were part of mankind when I read LOTR, I assumed they were of separate creation like the Dwarves. So any tropes in play went over my head. There was probably an appendix that explained it, but it didn’t take.

    Also the Danish Royal coat of arms still has wild men as supporters. 16th century my foot.

  98. John Cowan says

    Wodwo (as in Ted Hughes’ book) seems to be a back-formation singular made from it, like “pea” or “cherry.”

    True, but matters are not so simple. As Tolkien was apparently the first to point out, the appearance of wodwos in line 721 of Sir Gawain must be either a scribal or an authorial error. The line is “sumwhyle wyth wodwos þat woned [lived] in þe knarrez” [crags, twisted rocks], where the word is certainly plural given its parallelism with wormez, wolues, bullez, berez, borez and etaynz (trolls, as in the Ettenmoors north of the Road where Bilbo’s trolls came from) in adjacent lines, the creatures that Gawain battles with on his way from Camelot to the Green Chapel.

    But this can’t be right, as wodwos is regularly < the OE compound wudu-wāsa ‘man of the woods’, which is singular. So someone in the transmission chain wrote wodwos instead of wodwosen. And once that has happened, wodwo is the obvious (but false) singular.

    However, [the OED] does label [woodwose] as Obsolete (exc. Historical), which I am not so sure about

    Well, it also says “Obsolete” about demerlayk ‘magic, practice of occult art, jugglery’, and quite rightly so in 1895. And the word remained obsolete until Tolkien revived it with a bang in 1954: “Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion!”

  99. @John Cowan: Presumably inspired by Tolkien, C. S. Lewis also used the variant name “Ettinsmoor” for the home of the giants to the north of Narnia in The Silver Chair. I’m pretty sure this is actually the only reference to the word ettin in the the whole series, which makes some sense, since it reserves that name (cognate to eater) for the only evil man-eating giants the main characters ever encounter.

    Interestingly, although characters in Lewis’s novels (especially humans from Earth, but also some folk from Narnia) tend to presume that giants will follow typical fairy story form and be man-eating ogres, in most cases the giants are not. In fact, only the giants of the Ettinsmoor region (including the more “civilized” group at Harfang) are man eaters. Other giants (who are not actually that numerous, since they tend to be encountered singly, rather than in groups like the man eaters) are much friendlier. The first giant in the series, Rumblebuffin, is friendly and reliable; and when Susan expresses some fear about freeing him (he having been turned to stone), Aslan feigns ignorance about the reason for her trepidation. The next giant, Wimbleweather, is equally friendly (although not nearly as competent as Rumblebuffin). The greatest of all giants is Time, who is asleep in The Silver Chair and plays a critical role in the end of the world in The Last Battle, and he is a dutiful servant of Aslan’s purpose.*

    In fact, the only other possible evil giant character, apart from one ones in the first half of The Silver Chair, is Jadis the White Witch. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Beavers claim that she is part giant, but that background is not really consistent with her role as a Satanic archetype later in the book, nor with her later origin story in The Magician’s Nephew (not that her roles in those two books are exactly consonant either).

    On a separate note: Besides dwimmerlaik, the OED labeled dweomercraeft as obsolete in 1897, and there is not even an entry for the root dweomer. However, assuming that all these words were indeed long vanished, the latter two were also resurrected in the twentieth century, apparently by E. Gary Gygax for use in Dungeons & Dragons (and a lot of current uses of both dweomercraft and dweomer are still related to fantasy gaming). Wiktionary says the root is from Proto-Germanic *dwemrą (“vapour, smoke, apparition”), and ultimately Proto-Indo-European *dʰūw– (“to smoke, raise dust”), but Gygax offered a fanciful (although seemingly sincerely believed) etymology that traced dweomer to Norse dvergmal, meaning “dwarf talk.”

    * Father Time is a mysterious character. He was a great king on the surface world at some point in the Narnian past. Would that then be a past before time itself? (Lewis did not seem to worry about the question.) It is also unclear whether Time was the ruler responsible for the epitaph left engraved in the ruined giant city:

    Though under earth and throneless now I be,
    Yet, while I lived, all earth was under me.

    (Note the ambiguity of “under earth” here. The most obvious reading is that it refers to death, but Time is also underground, asleep but alive.) Finally, Lewis teases in The Silver Chair that Time will have a different name when he awakens at the end of the the world; however, when that comes to pass in The Last Battle, there is no indication what the new name is.

  100. John Cowan says

    Eternity, perhaps.

  101. Trond Engen says

    John C.: etaynz (trolls, as in the Ettenmoors north of the Road where Bilbo’s trolls came from)

    Brett: Presumably inspired by Tolkien, C. S. Lewis also used the variant name “Ettinsmoor” for the home of the giants to the north of Narnia in The Silver Chair. I’m pretty sure this is actually the only reference to the word ettin in the the whole series, which makes some sense, since it reserves that name (cognate to eater) for the only evil man-eating giants the main characters ever encounter.

    Interesting. I didn’t know there was a cognate of ON jǫtunn with short e. Bjorvand & Lindeman list eoten as the Old English form. The short vowels of etten- can probably be explained by the compound. Does ettenmoor go far back? ON of course had Jǫtunheimr, the land of giants. But i>etayn looks weird.

    The standard etymology is “eater”, but not necessarily in the meaning “consumer”. B&L say that there’s little evidence for eating as a characteristic feature, and prefer “harm, cause pain”, a metaphoric extension that can be traced back to PIE.

  102. PlasticPaddy says

    The Russian jad “poison” is given several possible etymologies in Vasmer. The eating one is motivated by potio > poison. But your figurative sense of “cause harm” would make more sense here.
    I think it would be nice to derive German jäten from “use prehistoric weed-killer” but the original onset here is g.

  103. Trond Engen says

    Is there an etymology for jad that would work in a folk etymology to give Jadwiga?

    One thing that’s eating me about the inherited metaphor is that there’s no other evidence that it was ever used independently in Germanic. Could a nomen agentis “harmer” be coined without also invoking “eater”? If not, then the latter meaning must (also) have been intended.

  104. I believe my first exposure to the word ettin was in “The Red Ettin” in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Books. When I later read LotR I wondered whether ent was connected to ettin.

  105. PlasticPaddy says

    Here are the relevant parts of the Vasmer entry:

    Стар. этимология считает исходным *ēdu- и сближает это слово с и.-е. *еd- (см. еда́, ем), ср. лит. ė̃dis «еда, пища», др.-исл. át ср. р. «кушанье», норв.-датск. ааt «приманка для хищников» (Фальк — Торп 9).

    So root *edu- /*ed- with cognates in lithuanian, old-Icelandic and Norwegian Danish “food”, “prey” (I thought German Aas was “scavenger food” but OK, aat must be predator food = German Beute ????–it may also be that the Russian word includes scavengers).

    Другие ученые считают исходным *oid- и сравнивают это слово с греч. οἶδος «опухоль», οἰδάω «распухаю», д.-в.-н. еiʒ «нарыв» или др.-исл. eitr ср. р. «яд, гнев», д.-в.-н. еitаr «гной», лтш. idrа «гнилая сердцевина дерева» (Фик, KZ 21, 5; И. Шмидт, Verw. 41; Педерсен, KZ 38, 312; IF 5, 43; Траутман, ВSW 2 и сл.; Бецценбергер, ВВ 27, 172; Торп 2).

    So root *oid with cognates in Greek, Gothic, Old Icelandic, Latvian “pus, poison, abscess, swelling”

    Менее вероятно толкование слав. jadъ как сложения *ē и *dō, т. е. якобы «то, что дано, принято» (Коржинек, LF 57, 8 и сл.; 61, 53; ZfslPh 13, 416).

    So less believably *e + *do = “that which is administered/taken”

    Следует считаться с возможностью, что и.-е. *ēdu и *oid- совпали в слав.; см. Бернекер I, 272. см. также ядь. [См. еще Мошинский, JР, 37, 1957, стр. 295.

    So some mixing of roots *edu and *oid.

  106. David Marjanović says

    I thought German Aas was “scavenger food”

    It is: “carrion”. But it must have been generically “food” at some point. Also, äsen “to browse”.

    So root *oid with cognates in Greek, Gothic, Old Icelandic, Latvian “pus, poison, abscess, swelling”

    Eiter “pus” survives; д.-в.-н. = OHG.

  107. Stu Clayton says

    Also, äsen “to browse”.

    “Graze” is the more common term, I think, for what anglophone ruminants do. At any rate it’s less apt to surprise. Cows rarely have an internet connection.

    weiden is what Kühe do here when they’re offline. Äsen is hunter jargon, according to Duden (I knew the word, but thought it was out of common use).

  108. PlasticPaddy says

    Thanks for corrections. For some unknown reason, I thought v was for vostochnii (“Eastern”) ????. I blame the vaccine I had this afternoon.

  109. Stu Clayton says

    Wait, does “graze” imply “nibble greens on the ground”, whereas “browse” implies “nibble greens above the ground” ? If so, then äsen is indeed “browse without an internet connection”, as DM almost wrote.

  110. David Marjanović says


    Yes. It’s hunter and ecologist jargon, so this was an example of nerdview.

    Yay, vaccine!

  111. Trond Engen says

    B&L says eiter is from PGmc *aitra- n., one of several derivations from a root *ait- “puss(?)”. and ultimately Indo-European *h2ey-d- “swell”. Greek oid- is explained as analogical wih other ablauting paradigms.

    It strikes me that if we separate the meaning “poison” from the physiological meaning, we could compare it to Greek ainumai “I take” and the Germanic “owe” word, PGmc.*aih- : *aig- < PIE **h2/3ey-ḱ- The latter is a preterito-presentic verb, so the meaning must have been “to have taken”.

    That might suggest that poison is “that which is taken”, but I can’t figure out the derivational mechanism of *aitra-, so it’s no really worth much,

  112. Stu Clayton says

    That might suggest that poison is “that which is taken”

    Historically, poison is that which is given. Poisson is that which is caught.

  113. David Marjanović says

    “Pus” from “swell” makes more sense… of course that would mean the meaning broadened to “poison” in OHG and then contracted again.

    Also, Eiter is masculine, despite the fact that Euter “udder” is neuter.

  114. Trond Engen says

    I should warn that “puss” and “swell” are my glossings from the examples in B&L.

  115. @Trond Engen: The main old English form was indeed “eoten,” which is well known because it appears frequently in Beowulf, in reference to Grendel and other monsters. I have myself wondered about the vowel change. There are a lot of early spelling variants attested, many seemingly reflecting Norse and Celtic influences, but by late middle English, the use short vowel seems to be overwhelming; my best guess (but it’s just a guess), is that it could be a Scottish form. In any case, ettin[s]moor shows no evidence of being older than the twentieth century, and so it appears to have been coined among the Inklings. Ent was also a development of Tolkien’s, taken from the Old English variant “ent” or “eont” (again attested with both vowels).

    The OED entry (apparently not updated since 1891) lists ettin as obsolete, but that was wrong even at the time of publication. As Kieth Ivey notes, “The Red Etin” was published in The Blue Fairy Book in 1889, and although the last instance found by the nineteenth-century OED editors was in 1613 (and in a parody of chivalric romances, The Knight of Burning Pestle), there are sporadic references to ettins throughout the subsequent centuries, indicating that the word never went entirely out of use.

    The OED did find this interesting appearance of the word in the late fourteenth century, in a Lollard sermon: “No man is an etene to fede him þus bodili of Crist.” This certainly appears to indicate that the (or a) meaning at the time was “ogre,” “man-eater.” Whatever the word’s connotations in earlier Germanic, its form seems to have interpreted at that time as signifying “devourer.”

  116. Trond Engen says

    @Brett: Not only “devourer” but “devourer of human flesh”. And if the meaning was man-eater by then, it is likely to have been there the whole time. Also, B&L’s assertion that there’s little evidence for eating as a characteristic feature is not very well founded. At least a couple of the lesser sagas tell of encounters with man-eating jǫtuns.

  117. So Oedi-pus is doubly purulent.

  118. the youngest hattic

    I don’t know how high or low the competition is exactly, nor would I have any idea about most other more sporadic commentators, but for a data point I’m going in the second half of my 30s (probably above median for the relatively junior position of a PhD student; but I do get the impression it’s clearly under the Hattics median).

  119. They called him “The Kid”.

  120. As I get older, it becomes less and less commonly an issue, but I can be distinctly uncomfortable with students who are older than I am. I don’t think I show it, but I always feel a little unsure how to interact with them. I’m in my mid-forties now, but when I was a starting professor at age thirty,* it was fairly common to meet students older than myself, especially graduate students. It happens less now, but it still occurs. One of the graduate students working for me now is about seventy. He had a whole career at Merck, then decided to finish a Ph. D. in physics after he retired. I have had several other students of about my own age or older in class in the last few years. It’s probably good that I didn’t start teaching classes that all rhe grad students had to take until I’d been a professor for five or six years.

    * The (wonderful) administrative coordinator for the department has a momentary freakout when I arrived on campus to start working. She was also thirty, and it was the first time she had been the same age as a professor. It probably did not help that I looked even younger. (One of the reasons I promptly grew a beard was that I got sick of being hassled about using the faculty and staff parking lots.)

  121. January First-of-May says

    but for a data point I’m going in the second half of my 30s

    I’m technically still in my 20s, and when I started commenting on LH (in February or March 2016, forgot the exact date), I was “only” 24.
    I’ve been sporadically active on Language Log for many years prior to that, however, and had I happened to click different links while in there I could probably have easily discovered LH while still a teenager.

  122. Brett, I’d guess the issue of the older student matters only as a matter of personal comfort level in most science teaching (except, maybe, for gerontology?), but in the humanities it should be taken into pedagogical account. When I taught King Lear, for instance, I used to say to the class — and mean! — “The older you get, the harder this play will be on you, because you’ll have had some practical experience with its subject matter and it won’t have been fun. I’ve read and seen it so many times that I’m immune, but you probably aren’t. So if you’re over thirty and you haven’t read King Lear before and you’re having trouble, talk to me and we’ll find you something else to read. And if you’re over forty, I don’t want you to read it. Please don’t. It will only hurt you, and there won’t be any compensation.”*

    On the other hand, the last time I taught Ulysses, one girl in the class didn’t get the joke about the score of “Love’s Old Sweet Song” marked ritirando at the end instead of ritardando, even after I translated ritirando for the class. So I got to tell her, speaking as Age to Youth, “You know how your mother tells you, ‘Wait till you’re married’? Your mother is right. Wait till you’re married.”

    * The obligatory Brett footnote will mention Johnson’s point that of course Nahum Tate’s adaptation with the surprise happy ending doesn’t hold up if you think about it, but it’s morally better for us humans and Shakespeare is morally worse.

  123. @Jonathan Morse: The “history” of the artificial happy ending of P. D. Q. Bach’s half-act opera The Stoned Guest* may be heard here.

    * The title is a parody of Puskin’s play The Stone Guest (itself adapted into an opera by the otherwise largely forgotten Alexander Dargomyzhsky). However, listening to the album The Wurst of P. D. Q. Bach as a kid, it was hard to distinguish “stoned”** from “stone” in Will Jordan’s spot-on impression of Milton Cross. So I was somewhat surprised to later learn that The Stone Guest was a real work.

    ** Note this, like Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, is early 1970s work that uses “stoned” to mean simply “drunk.”

  124. Footnote to the footnotes, Brett: Wikipedia Dom Juan, with the M. The full title is Dom Juan ou le festin de pierre.

  125. PlasticPaddy says

    It’s just a story????. And “morally better” is something which I don’t look for in works of fiction and their authors. If your students wanted a “lesson” from Lear, you could have tried “Life’s a Bitch and then you Die”.

  126. And if you’re over forty, I don’t want you to read it. Please don’t. It will only hurt you, and there won’t be any compensation.

    This is truly bizarre, and I hope it’s a joke.

  127. David Marjanović says

    I’m in the same room as not just any Shakespeare, but The Oxford Shakespeare, bought for 12s and given as a gift in 1964. Sure enough, on p. 908 beginneth King Lear. I began to read…

    …and got bored. On the last page, rocks fall, nearly everybody dies. I’ll read the rest later.

  128. About “It’s just a story,” PP, compare the record scene in Diner: “What are you getting so crazy about? It’s only music. It’s not that big a deal.” Or you could just give Johnson a hearing:

    “A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life: but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a play worse; or, that if other excellencies are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.

    “In the present case the public has decided. Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, I might relate, I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia’s death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.”

    LH in Tunbridge Wells, were you about to add something more?

    As a general point: after all, most readers will allow themselves to be moved by a newspaper article. About that artform they wouldn’t dream of saying “It’s just a story.” If the story they’re crying over happens to be printed on big sheets of newsprint, they’ll trust it with their souls, for good or ill.

    But if they then don’t trust their souls to King Lear, they’re Mopsas. Remember Mopsa in The Winter’s Tale? She’s the one who says, “I love a ballad in print, a-life, for then we are sure they are true.”

  129. David Eddyshaw says

    King Lear is notable above all for its considerable ophthalmological interest (Act 3, Scene 7.) The scene also features corky arms, whatever they may be. Context suggests that they proved insufficiently corky in the event.

  130. I wish I remembered the details, but: back in the day, some student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem enrolled in a class. It had an attendance requirement, but the student did not attend any of the classes. The professor had, unusually, attained his position while still in his twenties. The student needed the professor’s signature toward the end of the term (or was it an oral exam of some sort?) and came to the professor’s house for that purpose (which was not remarkable then). When the professor opened the door, the student asked, “Is your dad home?” (Cue sad trombone.)

  131. With regretful etiquette, one more about Plastic Paddy’s take on King Lear, “It’s just a story”:

    At an airport, a plane taxis to a stop and a head of state deplanes. He gets into a car and motorcades into the city. There he enters a hotel.

    That’s an accurately described scene from a documentary film. It’s just a movie, right?

    Not really. The movie is Triumph of the Will. Watch that wordless opening scene and see if it doesn’t make you want to be a Nazi. That’s why the German government still treats it as dangerous. In the way of bibliography, consider Susan Sontag’s essay “Fascinating Fascism.”

    And consider too the terrible fate of Tolstoy. Shakespeare’s brother in art, he dared to strike at King Lear and met a King Lear end at the stationmaster’s house. But Shakespeare can help you understand.

  132. PlasticPaddy says

    There are at least two issues here:
    1. Misuse (even when this is the artist’s intended use) of artistic talent or works for political ends
    Although you seem to share Herr Goebbels’ attitude that a film (he said this about “Potemkin”) can cause the viewer to commit to a political ideology, t would be more sceptical about this (in fact for Goebbels this may have been just part of his creation of a Feindbild, like the similar Cold War trope of Soviet mind control). For me the concern is more what measures are appropriate for the State to prevent open recruitment and fundraising by subversives and safeguard vulnerable minorities from hate attacks.
    2. Altering artworks before presenting them:
    Cordelia is in a tradition of heroines who are caught up in conflicts because they have an uncompromising belief in absolute justice or sense of duty/loyalty. Shakepeare seems to have an interest in exploring this theme elsewhere, e.g., in the figure of Portia in The Merchant of Venice. The latter play is a comedy, but in tragedies these heroines die. Since Shakespeare was known to alter his plays in production, it would be interesting to know if there is a recorded production where the death of Cordelia is excised

  133. “Although you seem to share Herr Goebbels’ attitude that a film (he said this about “Potemkin”) can cause the viewer to commit to a political ideology . . .”

    It’s a pretty standard attitude about the arts. If you were familiar with my recent blogposts about Roy Stryker and the Farm Security Administration photographers, you’d have seen it in the service of the New Deal. Or consider the bishops in Browning’s “Fra Lippo Lippi” who wish Fra Lippo would paint like Fra Angelico. Or hey, there’s Georg Lukács. Or hey, there’s Plato.

    “Since Shakespeare was known to alter his plays in production, it would be interesting to know if there is a recorded production where the death of Cordelia is excised.”

    Dear Professor Morse, I am interested in learning this. Please answer my question at a length of five pages with at least three footnotes, and keep in mind that I have to turn in the assignment on Friday.

    But oh yes, “Herr Goebbels,” with the deliciously ironic “Herr.” Let’s talk again next year, when you’re a junior. Okay, tenderfoot?

  134. PlasticPaddy says

    If you are one of those experts that is annoyed or distracted by “difficult but comparatively useless or naive” questions, I am sorry to have “raised the hare” of whether the excision of Cordelia’s death from productions of Lear was also done earlier than Johnson’s time.
    Regarding Herr Goebbels, it is true that I have suppressed his Dr. title, but I feel (morally) certain that the University which granted the title would be happy to rescind it, if this has not already been done.
    There are “pretty standard attitudes” about media power and influence, which I would take with a grain of salt (apart from “copycat” suicides, murders or crimes, which I think have been sufficiently substantiated).
    Thank you for taking me for a young person, I try to preserve a youthful veneer, which ordinarily does not fool anyone.

  135. But oh yes, “Herr Goebbels,” with the deliciously ironic “Herr.” Let’s talk again next year, when you’re a junior. Okay, tenderfoot?

    You really need to dial back this attitude.

  136. Oh well. My 1997 edition of The Riverside Shakespeare refers to the anonymous 16th-century play King Leir as “the most important single source of King Lear” and adds, “The greatest difference [between the plays] is that Leir and Cordella [sic] in the old play survive and live happily.” Knowing that, however, what do we know? Some works of art remain beyond our comprehension, and what people would like to think of as answers to questions about them (the real author of the plays! the code messages hidden in the text! what Stephen Potter one-uppingly called the sources of the sources!) are still only signs of their power over us.

    And now I seem to have done somebody’s homework for him once again. And yes, some works of art are not for the old, just as some are not for the young.

  137. In your unhumble opinion.

  138. David Eddyshaw says

    some works of art are not for the old, just as some are not for the young

    Some works of art are not for anybody.

    (Damian Hirst …)

    Well, perhaps this is overstating the case. Such “works of art” function as a store of “value” for hedge funds. So they do have a niche.

    I seem to have done somebody’s homework for him

    I would be delighted to do someone’s homework for him, but I lost the ability about the time my children did their A-levels. Eheu fugaces …

  139. J.W. Brewer says

    I admit to some uncertainty as to what age ranges should be either encouraged to listen to, or discouraged from listening to, “2-4-2 Fox Trot (the Lear Jet Song)” if they have not listened to it previously. I guess “all should be encouraged” and “all should be discouraged” are also possibilities.

  140. Stu Clayton says

    some works of art are not for the old, just as some are not for the young

    This is true for many values of “works of art”. For example, beef jerky is not amenable to mastication by decayed teeth.

  141. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah, si jeunesse savait …

  142. @JWB: Although I have a soft spot for the Byrds, I must say I wasn’t exactly blown away by that particular piece (which I didn’t know previously).
    In any case, encouraging younger generations to listen to music you think they should know is usually a mug’s game. The best you can hope for is that they stumble across it by accident.

  143. Stu Clayton says

    Ah, si jeunesse savait…

    “I’ll show you the ropes if you keep them taut”.

  144. J.W. Brewer says

    @Hans: I perhaps failed to make explicit my conjecture about the possible indirect influence of the anonymous 16th-century _King Leir_ on that particular piece of the Byrds’ repertoire. Now, even the most acclaimed musicians tend to have bodies of work that are hit and miss and tend to include some arguably-failed experiments and you-really-had-to-be-there period pieces. That can perhaps help you see through the mystification in other genres of Bardolatry-type cults in which someone like Shakespeare is presented as a superhuman demiurge who never produced anything that wasn’t the best of the best.

  145. David Eddyshaw says

    Ahem. Titus Andronicus. Ahem.

  146. Stu Clayton says

    At least it has

    # But, soft! methinks I do digress too much #

    That may have been entirely unremarkable at the time, but it has become a stock expression – perhaps only because “but soft!” amused the schoolboy mind 200 years on.

  147. David Marjanović says

    The Comedy of Errors. A story about identical twins who used to live apart and end up being confused, and there’s a singular their in it. Fine. But identical twins with the same name? Was he even trying?

    That may have been entirely unremarkable at the time

    Judging from sanft & sacht(e), the cognates of soft, I’m sure it was.

  148. @JWB: I’m actually on a kind of project, reading or re-reading all of Shakespeare’s plays. There’s a lot of weak plays among the comedies. I haven’t reached Lear yet (the edition I’m reading is Comedies – Historical Plays – Tragedies), but I remember being impressed by it when I first read it 40 years ago, so I hope it holds up on re-reading.

  149. But identical twins with the same name? Was he even trying?

    It’s Plautus’s fault.

  150. David Marjanović says


    But Plautus included a backstory that explains the identical names.

  151. Rodger C says

    Darrell and his other brother Darrell.

  152. I just remembered that the Diana Wynne Jones’s short story “Little Dot” (available online if you search for it) features a location called Ettmoor—although, being a story by Diana Wynne Jones, the whole fantasy setting is rather peculiar, and the story is too short to give any indication where that name originated.

  153. David Eddyshaw says

    But identical twins with the same name?

    To avoid confusion, obviously.

    The sagas sometimes mention sets of brothers all with the same name. I imagine that in a society where fostering was usual this was actually much less awkward than one might think.

    Roman sisters all had the same name, formally, at any rate.

  154. Apparently, the description of the death of William Rufus in the Chronicon ex chronicis (authored by Florence of Worcester and/or John of Worcester, at Worcester Priory) refers to the New Forest by a genitive form of the Jutish tribal name: “Ytene.” The Chronicon ex chronicis appears to have been commissioned by Wulfstan, the local bishop—who was already the last surviving Anglo-Saxon bishop in England by 1075. So the document may have had a distinctly Anglo-Saxon(-Jutish) cultural slant, even though it was not completed by John of Worcester until around 1140, decades after Wulfstan’s death. However, I have seen suggestions that the “Ytene” name, to the extent that it persisted in Middle English, became confused with a form of ettin or jotun—an eggcorn association of the forest name with monsters.

  155. krumhorns, doppions, sordumes

    It’s hyphenated “krum-horns” in all printed editions even where it doesn’t fall at a linebreak, for the I-spell-it-my-way trifecta.

    I knew what krumhorns are, but it would have been a lot easier to find the dope on the others if

    … you’d used the OED’s Quick Search box, which will tell you that, speaking of trifecta, the same quote appears under all three words (fair enough, might as well treat them equally). But peculiarly, Burchfield entered sordume and sordun as separate headwords. WTF. A spelling error doesn’t create a different word!

    A note in the W. H. Auden Society Newsletter explains where he got these words:

    In “Vespers”, written in 1954, Auden imagines himself closing his eyes and returning to his fantasy Eden, “welcomed back by the krum-horns, doppions, sordumes of jolly miners”. In Later Auden I footnoted these instruments as some of the ones that Auden would have heard at the concerts of the New York Pro Musica, the early music group that he had begun to work with a few months earlier. While the group did indeed play those instruments and many others, Auden probably also remembered a passage in a book that he had reviewed shortly after it was published in 1952, Paul Hindemith’s A Composer’s World. (The review appeared in the New York Times Book Review on 24 February 1952.) In the chapter titled “Some Thoughts on Instruments”, Hindemith wrote: “Dulcians and bassoons cover the whole range of the tone system; so do the softer shawms and bombards, the schyari and bassanelli, the sordunes and doppioni. Krummhorns (cromorni) with the capsuled mouthpieces and restricted range come in at least five different sizes . . .” (p. 181). Auden’s spellings differ from Hindemith’s and may perhaps be closer to those used by the New York Pro Musica.

    That last sentence sounds a bit desperate in trying to find a way to make Auden not responsible for a trivial mistake. Sorry, that doesn’t fly, everybody else writing about early music spells it with an n.

    I guess nobody during Auden’s lifetime was interested enough in this poem to ask him, “Hey, did you mean to spell that with an m?” I like to think he would have appreciated the correction, or at least the close reading.

  156. A spelling error doesn’t create a different word!

    It does if you’re a Famous Author™! I trust the OED has finally gotten beyond that rote deference by now.

  157. Yeah, like Eliot’s opherion for orpharion, entered by Burchfield as a separate headword (and it wasn’t even *published* by Eliot; it’s in the posthumously published drafts of The Waste Land). For more examples, see The Life of Words on “Juvescence” and other poetical “Errors”.

    I hate this because one of the major functions of the OED is to collect spelling variants of the same word, and when they split out one spelling just because a Famous Author used it, that means the citation is absent from the main entry (this is worse in the online format, where every headword has its own web page; at least in the print edition, sordume was alphabetically next to sordun). As it stands, readers looking up sordun aren’t informed that it was exposed to a wider, non-music-specialist audience through Auden, and readers looking up orpharion aren’t informed that Eliot had heard of it and considered using it. Those citations belong together with the standardly-spelled ones, in their historical context. Let readers looking up Auden’s obscure words use the search box. IMNSHO.

    I don’t think the current edition would create opherion as a new entry, but unfortunately they didn’t take the opportunity in the revision to do the right thing and fold it into orpharion.

  158. January First-of-May says

    By the way, when I was googling “suctorialist” I found this webpage with a section of user-created lists that contain the word “shippon,” including:

    only nabokov

    shippon, carpilastics, suctorialist, vendective, grimpen, woodwose, rizzom, stang, peba, versipal, nenuphar, kickshaw and 7 more…

    Alas, that link throws a 404, so we’ll never know what the 7 more were.

    When I look at this webpage now, I get this:

    “only nabokov

    tiddle, mousepit, nymphet, stillicide, thumbkin, iridule, morrowsky, shippon, carpilastics, suctorialist, vendective, stang and 7 more…”

    The first 7 words in the new list are not in the old list, and between that and the remaining “7 more” it’s at least plausible that those are in fact the 7 words missing in the old list. It’s either that or these 7 are newly added while exactly 7 others were removed, but that seems unlikely. The link still 404s.

    [EDIT: this 2012 snapshot has the same list as the version I quote except for the last word, which rather suggests the option that those are in fact different reorderings of the same listing. So I guess now we probably do have the complete list.]

  159. but it’s morally better for us humans and Shakespeare is morally worse

    Mr. Morse, I wonder if you think that Mr. Sophocles’s Antigone is morally worse for us than some other artist’s Antigone who either beats down Creon by moral force or manages not to hang herself on being buried alive.

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