Frequent commenter Paul T. sent me a Michael Weiss piece on Andrea Pitzer’s recent The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov, which presents what sounds to me like an unconvincing theory about Pale Fire, namely that it is “a sly commentary on the Cold War.” Of course I can’t really judge without reading the book, and the Weiss piece is very enjoyable reading itself; once again, however, I am prompted to post by a lovely typo, one I think Vladimir Vladimirovich himself would have enjoyed:

“I was at Georgetown School of Foreign Service during the last years of the Soviet Union’s existence,” Pitzer told me in a phone interview. “One of the things I studied was nuclear negotiations and treaties. Reading Pale Fire, I recognized the terms from that ear and thought perhaps the book was more of a Cold War novel than I realized. […].”


  1. The phrase donkey’s years ‘a long time ago’ apparently comes from a dialect in which ear and year are homophones.

  2. I saw the brilliant “automagically” recently.

  3. marie-lucie says

    I think ear here is a typo for era, not year.

  4. Yes, marie-lucie is certainly correct.

  5. Steve Reilly says

    He also writes “appendix” when he clearly means “index”. At least, I think of the two as being completely different. Does any think that an index can be called an appendix?.

  6. Theoretically, I guess, if the index was labeled an appendix in the Table of Contents, but I’ve never seen that and it’s certainly not the case here. Good catch!

  7. m-l: Ah, of course.
    dearieme: The Hacker’s Dictionary defines it thus:

    Automatically, but in a way that, for some reason (typically because it is too complicated, or too ugly, or perhaps even too trivial), the speaker doesn’t feel like explaining to you. See magic. “The C-INTERCAL compiler generates C, then automagically invokes cc(1) to produce an executable.”
    This term is quite old, going back at least to the mid-70s in [hacker] jargon and probably much earlier. The word ‘automagic’ occurred in advertising (for a shirt-ironing gadget) as far back as the late 1940s.

    Hacker here has the sense of someone who plays with computers, usually productively, rather than someone who attempts to break into them.

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