Anne O. Fisher has done a translation of Ilf and Petrov’s Zolotoi telyonok called The Little Golden Calf, and she was kind enough to send me a copy (even though I tried to dissuade her, telling her I was too busy reading other things!). I’ve been reading it to my wife in the evenings, and we’re enjoying it terrifically; the story is great, the translation is fluent and accurate, and best of all (from my admittedly peculiar point of view) it’s got all the apparatus you could want: over 300 endnotes explaining cultural references, an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, Fisher’s own foreword, a bibliography, an appendix explaining characters’ names, and (mirabile dictu) a bilingual appendix of phrases from the novel that have become popular among Russians. You can, of course, skip all that (I’m not burdening my wife with footnotes), but if you want to understand the book in its full cultural and historical context, this is an ideal version. Fisher is a scholar of Ilf and Petrov, and she is in the middle of working on a translation of I&P’s Dvenadtsat stulev (The twelve chairs), which should be equally good.

There’s a blog post by Anna Clark in which she reproduces a long and interesting letter from Fisher, and if you like tempests in teapots you can read the dustup between Fisher’s publishers Russian Life Books (1, 2) and Chad W. Post, who published a rival translation by Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson almost simultaneously at Open Letter Books (hopping-mad response). The more translations, the better, of course; I’m just glad to see the masters of Soviet satire getting something of their due.


  1. John Emerson says

    When you read a gift book that you said you didn’t have time for, you’re just emboldening them. You shouldn’t give in like that.

  2. Reading about the adventures of Ilf and Petrov in English translation leaves me with a mixed feeling. On the one hand, I understand how this is terribly interesting for anyone who is studying Soviet culture. The book is indeed revealing in many ways, and was so popular that references to it became a part of the language itself. On the other hand, the admirers of the book seem to forget something that it does not show: two talented provincial journalists making a name for themselves in the capital by ridiculing the downtrodden in a political system that was becoming more and more cruel every day. I don’t know if I am correct in noticing some similarity in style between I&P’s writings and the journalism of young Trotsky. What I think they have in common is a sincere nietzschean conviction that their talent, youth, vigor make them closer to the essence of life and gives them a natural right to ridicule those who couldn’t – or didn’t want to – join the “festival of life” (“праздник жизни”, words that they made an idiom). That having been said, the novels are genuinely funny, probably proving the thesis that fun is always made at someone’s expense.

  3. I’ve still never given up on Ceglowski and Gadjokov’s; it’s one of the things that made me fall in love with idlewords, and inspired my own quixotic translation aims.
    It’s still there.

  4. probably proving the thesis that fun is always made at someone’s expense.
    Yes, I’m afraid an excessive dedication to everyone being treated fairly and no one’s feelings being hurt tends to result in atrophy of the sense of humor. The best humor has always had a sharp edge—witness Richard Pryor. And don’t young people always think that “their talent, youth, vigor make them closer to the essence of life and give them a natural right to ridicule” pretty much everyone else?

  5. I’ve still never given up on Ceglowski and Gadjokov’s
    Huh, I’d forgotten all about that. I think it’s time to give up on it; it hasn’t been touched in five years, it looks like, and what’s there is all mossy and neglected. I note that in the first chapter the footnotes are very scanty, and they don’t even have one for Lieutenant Schmidt; what’s the point of putting a translation online, where you have all the room in the world, if you’re not going to provide more help than that?

  6. admirers of the book seem to forget something that it does not show: two talented provincial journalists making a name for themselves in the capital by ridiculing the downtrodden in a political system
    this is too sad a take on Ilf&Petrov – a good laugh is always a good laugh, irrespective of the political system.

  7. What a delight! Two publishers and two translators fighting over Ostap Bender. Ilf&Petrov must be laughing their pants off in their graves – just like Vorobianinov and Father Fyodor (two characters in the 12 Chairs) fighting over one of the chairs they grabbed.

  8. and I&P laugh most sarcastically at the different soviet uchrejdeniya first of all imho
    they are not mean for the sake of being mean
    such a great funny book, i started to read it again this morning, my bus rides are so much fun with the book

  9. John Emerson says

    Read’s post here is #3 on Google for “uchrejdeniya”, and the rest are all in Russian, so I have to ask what it means.

  10. Uchrezhdenie (учреждение), plural uchrezhdeniya (учреждения), means ‘establishment, institution,’ whether governmental or otherwise.

  11. is there no other way to render diminutive Russian suffixes (телёнок – -ок) into English except thru ‘little’? and the pun on the Biblical/Qurannical Golden Calf – телец-телёнок?

  12. What is the point of using “Qu” in spelling the name of that book in English ? “Qu” looks like a leftover from French orthography. But it would be an abused leftover, since French “Qu” is usually a consonant (cluster ?) “k(w)” without a vowel. There is a “u” in the Arabic pronunciation, I gather. So why not “Kur’an” ?

  13. komfo,amonan says

    In Arabic, ‘q’ represents a different phoneme than ‘k’. So it’s an easy way to make the distinction in the Romanization.
    What’s odder to me is the reference to the golden calf as ‘Qurannical’. One, because Muhammad just copied that story from the Bible a thousand or so years later, so who cares. And two, because the extra ‘n’ made me think of ‘tyrannical’ and laugh.

  14. John Emerson says

    The transliteration of Arabic is such an incredible mess that I think it’s at the “nothing is true — everything is permitted” stage, or at least as close as anything ever has been. Part of the problem is the attempt to treat Arabic as a single language (and the non-standardization of the various non-“classical” Arabic languages), part is the survival of archaic systems, part of it is transliteration via Russian, part of it is French-German-English differences.
    Chinese is bad enough, with about 6 systems floating around, but it’s moving rapidly toward standardization.
    Maybe I’m wrong. This is just my impression based on years of scattered reading.

  15. a good laugh is always a good laugh, irrespective of the political system
    Well, some political systems are very hard to ignore and tend to spoil the laugh. One can laugh at the pathetic clown still living in a past age, at the bureaucrat and the petit bourgeois, in their absurd egoism, hope, and despair, but only so long as one fails to notice the firing squad.

  16. So is it your contention that nobody should have written comedy during the Soviet era?

  17. Maybe I’m wrong.
    I fear so, in the sense that there’s a perfectly good standardized transliteration of Arabic. Obviously, not everyone chooses to use it, just as not everyone chooses to use the standard transliterations of other languages (cf. read’s quixotic versions of Russian words).

  18. John Emerson says

    Is there only one standardized transliteration, internationally recognized? Because it certainly doesn’t seem to be generally used, by contrast to pinyin which has replaced everything else completely enough that most of the others are vanishing except for the proper names naturalized into English or other Western languages (and old Sinological books)..
    And probably it shouldn’t be, if you’re dealing with Moroccan Arabic; even in Chinese, here use of Mandarin is enforced by law, this problem comes up.

  19. There’s more than one Arabic transliteration scheme, especially if you read some of the older Arabists, plus students tend to make up their own system based on other languages they’ve studied, since it isn’t taught in a standard Arabic class. But native speakers of Arabic use a form of LEET/text language like 3 for ع on the forums.

  20. So is it your contention that nobody should have written comedy during the Soviet era?
    Not at all, and I regret having come across as saying that. Nor was there any moral judgement, nor am I ashamed of having enjoyed I&P when I read them for the first couple of times. I was just writing of how humor directed by unabashed main stream at pathetic marginals can become much less funny when one stops ignoring what that main stream really was; after that, the fun is never going to be quite the same.
    Oh, and I can’t but marvel at the achievements of the translators that are doing a great job in any case.

  21. i don’t know, the marginals, as maxim says, described in the book all sound very funny, human and sympathetic, the children of Leutenant Schmidt, for example
    even description of the soviet ispolkom sounds like critical of the new system compared to the tzarskie prisutsvennue as if the present time in the book is something absurd and the olden times were the real life like feeling
    i don’t know maybe that’s just my perception, but i don’t see any propagandism of all new soviet things in there, everything is so funnily satirized, it’s like even wonder maybe that they were not persecuted by the new regime and because the book is so true it gained so much popularity and love of the masses, perhaps
    a jadnost’, tuneyadstvo, jul’nichestvo, koryst’ they are all laughable during any regime
    sorry, i write Russian words as they are b/c can’t recall their English counterparts, except greed maybe

  22. read, can you write the Russian words in Russian alphabet? Then someone can translate with google and know what you are saying.

  23. царские присутственные, жадность, тунеядство, жульничество, корысть
    heh, google translates them – royal attendance, greed, parasitism, cheating, greed
    and i think the translations are wrong for these Russian words, except again greed
    i should look them up properly and write them myself, too tired, sorry, maybe tomorrow

  24. read, no that’s good, it gives some idea, and of course the Russian speakers can understand it. It’s always interesting to see how the words are pronounced, but the meaning is the important thing–we only know words like glastnost and nyet and pravda.

  25. I think Maxim actually makes a good point. Yes, Ilf & Petrov were masterful writers and very funny. But when you step back and really think about whom they’re laughing at and why, it can be a little disturbing. Yes, humor has a sharp edge, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of the weak. The best and sharpest humor is usually outsiders mocking the powerful – Richard Pryor would be an example of that stream. In Russian satirical literature that’s what Voinovich or Bulgakov do. Ilf & Petrov do at times veer into that PJ O’Rourke style “let’s mock the losers” frat humor. I don’t want to overstate it because I agree that I&P do usually give even the “losers” a real sense of humanity. But for all that I appreciate and enjoy Ilf & Petrov, I’ve never really “loved” their books the way a lot of Russians do, or the way I love Bulgakov or Yerofeyev. The reason is because down deep I share some of that same discomfort Maxim has.

  26. maxim, vanya,
    Chekhov never satirised stalins and putins of his time. Do you feel as awkward reading him as you say you do when you read poor old Ilf and Petrov? NB: this is a non-argumentative light-hearted comment

  27. never read PJ O’Rourke, so i wouldn’t know
    i would compare I&P with Gogol and Mark Twain, people say Mark Twain’s books racist, i never could see how, he couldn’t be that, i would find the politically correctly reading readers of his books more racist than he was
    though it could be i’ve read only the simplified, corrected, censored versions of his books too
    the same misunderstanding/misreading is occuring in the case of I&P imo, they, i perceive, were promoting only the basic human decency, poryadochnost’, not the soc reality they were living in, very new and absurd for them too i guess

  28. …and Nureyev played in Balanchine’s (Moliere’s) Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme – was he mocking the weak and the outsiders or the aristocratic pretensions of the new Soviet nomenklatura (or any of the nouveau riche)? Are you saying you empathise with the plumber who makes six times more than the teacher or the nurse? NB: this is a non-argumentative light-hearted comment

  29. Sashura – Chekhov never mocked anyone. That’s the difference between a humanist writer who satirizes and the type of comedian who will mock the weak to gain favor with his readers/listeners. I&P are not that type of comic either, but their writing has just the faintest whiff of that Soviet contempt for history’s losers that would soon become very ugly. And I’ll grant that could be me projecting history backward onto I&P in an unfair way.
    Also, just for the light hearted fun of raising the political stakes – I’d argue there was no one in the ancien regime quite on the moral level of a Stalin or Putin, certainly not Nicholas II. (For that matter even during NEP there was really no Soviet leader as destructive as Stalin or venal as Putin, Dzhugashvili having not really yet become “Stalin” in the full sense of the word).

  30. I&P imo, they, i perceive, were promoting only the basic human decency, poryadochnost’, not the soc reality they were living in
    hear, hear,
    Read, you read it right. If you don’t see Citizen Koreiko in B.Madoff, check your eyesight.
    (sorry, again, NB: this is a non-argumentative light-hearted comment)
    poryadochnost’ – decency

  31. Vanya, remembering our last argument, I don’t want to set any traps – I sincerely think you are wrong. Ilf and Petrov are NOT mocking the ‘weak’, they are ADMIRING the energy and inventiveness of the common (Koreiko? Ellochka? Koreiko?). And that’s the great фига в кармане (hidden message) in the two novels. I have often thought of myself as a drop-out from the Great Soviet debate, still going on, and, as such, I have often marvelled why ‘normal’ people admired the Bender novel so much while genuine Soviet accolytes either detested it or simply failed to understand the pull of Ostap’s humour.

  32. I agree with Sashura—I’m as allergic to Communism as anyone (incidentally, one of the minor things I have against Lenin and his little gang of Bolsheviks is that they ruined the good name of “soviet,” much as the Nazis ruined the swastika), but I just can’t see I&P as running dogs of the regime. Like Zoshchenko, they’re finding humor in the world around them and sharing it with everyone else, and that’s always a good thing.
    As Sashura says, if they were really being nasty to the common people, I don’t think the common people would have embraced them so unreservedly. People aren’t that stupid.

  33. and, in a different vein, I find Ellochka the Maneater, whose vocabulary consisted of just 30 words, an extremely helpful (and sexy) companion to any teacher who struggles to encourage their students to master a new language – thirty to cover the whole range of emotions and relations. It really works.
    And our beloved Marie-Lucie would be happy to know that the original idea of the Bender novels goes back to Alexaner Dumas the Father, I hope.

  34. they ruined the good name of “soviet,”
    yeah, but it lives on in the hated British Council (soviet) tax and all the bureaucracy associated with the French ‘conseil’ power. Perhaps German and Polish comrades would add?

  35. As you know, of course, the original soviets (in 1905 SPb) had nothing to do with any government but were spontaneous organizations of working people trying to provide for each other’s families in a time of government repression, which is dear to my anarchist heart. The Bolsheviks cynically co-opted them and turned them into meaningless organs of their massive bureaucracy, and named their empire after them to boot.

  36. but I just can’t see I&P as running dogs of the regime.
    How comes it that Russian and Chinese Communist rhetoric has always been heavily laden with stock phrases like “running dogs” ? Must some of the blame be laid at the door of unimaginative English translators ? What the hell are “running dogs”, anyway ? Stray dogs ? I bet it’s not dog races that are meant here.
    I have recently been indulging myself in a spot of impotent fuming about the similar expression “vested interests”. This turned up in an official Chinese statement (in English translation, natch) on Google’s decision not to accept “self-censorship”, but instead hie it to Hongkong. What the hell is a “vested interest” ? Does someone have a “vested interest” in something when his interest in it is due to his social and economic position, i.e. is a class interest ? I suppose the charge merely amounts to “well, he would act that way, wouldn’t he, since he’s a bourgeois-capitalist bank director ?”.
    Communist rhetoric is so ritualistic that I wonder whether its attraction for many people, in many countries, lies in the Sprachritual itself. It contains no surprises, it always promotes the same familiar picture of the world, in the same familiar words. Much like organized religion.
    Goebbels had a completely different approach, more zippy. He was uppers for the people, whereas Communist propagandists are downers for the people.
    Here’s something from the WiPe that I bet many folks don’t know (I didn’t, though I read Juliette once). I mean the bit in bold type:

    “Religion is the opiate of the people” is one of the most frequently quoted statements of Karl Marx. It was translated from the German original, “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes” and is often referred to as “religion is the opiate of the masses.” The quotation originates from the introduction of his 1843 work Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which was subsequently released one year later in Marx’s own journal Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, a collaboration with Arnold Ruge. The phrase “This opium you feed your people” appears in 1797 in Marquis de Sade’s text L’Histoire de Juliette.

    I remember that when I was learning German in the early 70’s, I had a strong sense that the language patterns in East German newspapers and radio were very different from those in West Germany, in ways that I couldn’t satisfactorily describe or imitate. They stuck in my craw. My German was not that good at the time, so I took the for me unusual decision to wait and see. Sure enough, several years later my German was such that I found myself vindicated. The East German stuff was clearly produced by vested interests, namely those of bourgeois-communist bunk-o-crats.

  37. Of running dogtrinary bunk-o-crats.

  38. The WiPe article I linked above says this: “The sense in which the metaphor “opiate” is used has been interpreted in several ways,..:”. It goes on to list five interpretations.
    The one I am familiar with in my German ambience is not listed there. In the West, during the 19th century, opium was an expensive, fashionable drug for litterati and society folks. So what Marx said should nowadays be rendered: “Religion is the cocaine of the people”.
    Don’t ask why the article insists of translating the German Opium as “opiate”. Opium is opium, Schluß aus. Whoever contributed “opiate” must have just read Chemistry for Dummies.

  39. I just can’t see I&P as running dogs of the regime
    With all due respect, you and Sashura are attacking a straw man. That is not all what Maxim and I are arguing, not in the slightest. I agree on the surface I&P’s novels are not pro-Soviet, and one layer down they reveal themselves to be actively anti-Soviet novels in many ways. It’s the layer below that where I find the problem – the authors seem, to me, to share that condescending, even unconscious arrogance of youth that would probably be far less problematic in a society where the youth were not encouraged to turn on their elders and traditions in very nasty ways. “Admiring the energy of the common” is a problematic attitude (in the US as well where expertise is always suspect and the “plain old common sense” is the highest value). The “common” in the NEP period and the “weak” were not necessarily synonyms, Sashura. I don’t find the slightest hint of that attitude in Bulgakov. Maybe I simply prefer authors like Nabokov and Bulgakov who are frankly elitist. I find the defensiveness a little surprising as well – I LIKE Ilf & Petrov a great deal, I think anyone who has not read I&P should run out now and do so and I’m certain their life will be richer for the experience, I just don’t love them unconditionally. I’m not sure how that turns me into someone accusing I&P of being Soviet stooges. And we still haven’t gotten into the vicious debate of whether Zakharov’s filmed version is better than Gaidai’s…

  40. marie-lucie says

    our beloved Marie-Lucie would be happy to know that the original idea of the Bender novels goes back to Alexaner Dumas the Father, I hope.
    Thank you, darling Sashura.
    Alas, my Russian is not up to the challenge of even finding out the reference to Alexandre Dumas – perhaps I will look again when I have more time (I can read the characters, though not very fast, so I could probably find the name, but probably not understand what the text says about him). All this discussion makes me feel like acquiring some of the Bender novels in both Russian and English (or French) versions in order to practice reading Russian.
    Grumbly: The phrase “This opium you feed your people” appears in 1797 in Marquis de Sade’s text L’Histoire de Juliette.
    So Marx read Sade! Hm.
    i am glad you pointed out the significance of “opium” as a class marker, like “cocaine” today. Understanding this context makes the sentence much more vivid. “Opiate”, which is basically what I had understood (and so did the teachers and other commenters who mentioned the sentence, even when keeping the word “opium”), does miss the point.

  41. Like Zoshchenko, they’re finding humor in the world around them and sharing it with everyone else, and that’s always a good thing… if they were really being nasty to the common people, I don’t think the common people would have embraced them so unreservedly. People aren’t that stupid.
    Well, I think we have several layers of misunderstanding here. First of all, being on the side of the angels in the USSR of I&P was not, necessarily, being on the side of the common people, just like, a little later, this was to be the case in Germany. Nuances aside, the regime was committing most of its crimes in the name of the “common people”, and a lot of the people were willing to go along, and a lot of educated people were fascinated with power and violence of it all (Isaac Babel is the best example that comes to mind). Without trying to take this too far, I would still say that flattering the “common people” was one of the ways to appeal to the authorities, too.And the majority of I&P’s targets are not “common”, at least not in the Soviet propaganda sense of the word.
    Another thing is that, to me, I&P come across as sincere, gifted, Nietzschean success-worshippers, despising and ridiculing everybody who — by choice or handicap — was left on the roadside, looking at the shining motorcade passing them by (one of the key scenes in “Calf”). What they ridiccule are not just common human flaws. They definitely create an image of “real people” doing “real things” in the “big world” (the authors, the authorities, and, presumably, the good reader being “real”; there is a rather long key passage about that making it very explicit). “Real” people are being distracted and, at times, endangered by assorted clowns and crooks, and bureaucratic fools, too. A “purge” (not the big Stalin’s purge, but some early prototype actually mentioned in “Calf” by that name) is due, and will no doubt rid us of the lowlife, some of it camouflaged as supporters of the new order; they won’t fool us for long: their days are counted.
    Am I reading things into I&P? Perhaps; I was just writing about my personal impression. There is, however, some evidence that I&P were very sensitive to the Party politics of the day, and, for example, specifically included hints to the then well known Stalin-Trotsky polemics on foreign policy into the first novel (or so I am being told by foot-notes in my edition of the “Calf”). On explicit advice of Kataev, they were trying to better their chances of success by indirectly supporting Stalin (instead of quoting, I did some cursory googling and it turned up this:
    Again, I am not trying to make villains of I&P. There is much more to be said for them, too, and the books are a must-read regardless. I am just saying that there are hard-to-ignore things about them that spoil the fun somewhat.
    P.S. Sashura, please consider this a non-argumentative light-hearted comment 🙂

  42. vanya, maxim: Your latest comments make a lot of sense, and I assure you my “running dogs” remark was deliberately over-the-top, designed to spur (non-argumentative light-hearted) discussion! I agree that they show the arrogance of youth and the caution of writers who didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the censors; I guess those things just don’t bother me the way they do you guys.

  43. How comes it that Russian and Chinese Communist rhetoric has always been heavily laden with stock phrases like “running dogs” ?
    My personal hypothesis is that Communism, being a kind of cercular
    religion, tends to conserve in its texts and obligatory formulas the
    theatrical rhetoric of 19th century politics where it originated.

  44. John Emerson says

    Some communist terminology has been translated through several language before it reaches the reader. German Russian English used to be common, I think, or sometimes maybe French German Russian English.
    It’s not quite the same, but the I&P discussion reminds me of my misfortune in learning things about Evelyn Waugh the person before I had read any of his books. If I’d read his books first, I’d probably love them and try to ignore his beastliness.
    Several Scandinavians I know have exactly this problem with Hamsun.

  45. You’re comparing Hamsun with Evelyn Waugh? Waugh was socially conservative and long-term severely depressed (in my opinion)– if he were alive today, a dose of SSRIs and he’s be as right as rain–Hamsun, on the other hand, was a nazi.

  46. running dogs of the regime
    it used to be a common expression in commmunist propaganda to describe someone used as a tool by capitalist-imperialist circles. In Russian it’s цепной пёс (tsepnoy pyos – literally chain dog).
    In Orwell’s Animal Farm Napoleon secretly raises two puppies to become his vicious police.

  47. “Religion is the opiate of the people” is one of the most frequently quoted statements of Karl Marx.
    And it’s one of the best known expressions from the 12 Chairs: “Почём опиум для народа?” (How much for the opium for the people?) Ostap shouts at Father Feyodor, who also chases the chairs.

  48. (Not that SSRIs are a cure for conservatism, unfortunately).

  49. the reference to Alexandre Dumas
    Valentin Katayev, Petrov’s brother and patron of Ilfe&Petrov, says that he was so overwhelmed with plots in the 20s he decided to off-load some of them onto Petrov and Ilf. This came to him, he says, when he read that Dumas the Father had used helpers to write his numerous adventure novels.

  50. vanya, maxim: Your latest comments make a lot of sense
    I take your points too, Vanya and Maxim, – without entirely agreeing though. I also think there is a bit of post-Soviet grief in what you read into Ilf and Petrov.

  51. opium was an expensive, fashionable drug for litterati and society folks
    Maybe not exclusively, though. Having read Silas Marner recently, I just now remembered that the mother of what’s-her-name was described as being addicted to opium.
    She died in the snow, having lost consciousness due to a last-minute hit after a bout of turkey. What’s-her-name, a child of 4 or 6, wandered through the snow to Silas’ hut. Take it from there, George !

  52. AJP: You mean you’d have preferred Waugh at peace?
    (Apologies to anyone reading this in a rhotic accent for whom the appalling pun doesn’t work)

  53. No. Nowadays I agree with the Nobel committee: forget the Martin Amises and Philip Roths, I’m searching for a good writer from another continent. Sort of a third-world Waugh.

  54. marie-lucie says

    Alexandre Dumas the Father
    Alexandre Dumas Père and Fils are the equivalents of English A.D. Sr and Jr respectively. A.D. the Father has a religious flavour which is quite absent from the French designation.
    It is true that AD Sr had a literary workshop (almost a “sweatshop”) analogous to the workshops of famous painters in Renaissance Italy and similar great ages of painting, where the great man would provide the inspiration and initial sketches, with minor details to be worked on by less talented or experienced journeymen, while the great man supervised the whole thing and added the masterful touches. The “foreman” of AD’s set-up was a researcher who would read through historical works, looking for plausible scenarios for novels, which he then discussed with AD. But I think that everyone agrees that AD added the overall inspiration and the spark of genius without which such a set-up might have churned out boring works pour faire bouillir la marmite (pot-boilers).
    A few years ago I read an interesting book called Les Trois Dumas. which covers not only the well-known father and son but the grandfather, and even the nasty great-grandfather, a French planter. Part of the interest of the book is that it provides a clue to the origin of the name “Monte-Cristo” and the implacable acts of revenge which cause the ruin of the culprits years after their crimes, in Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.

  55. What’s the meaning of marmite in French, m-l?

  56. John Emerson says

    Dumas and Gerard de Nerval collaborated a couple of times, at least. Dumas put his name on the commercially viable novel and let Nerval take credit for the play that flopped.
    In his wonderful book “Filles de Feu”, Nerval included two stories which were basically plagiarizations via free translation. He’d also publish the same piece as many as four times in four different publications, or chop out part of one piece and insert it into something he was working on. The concept of authorship was still being developed.

  57. The concept of authorship was still being developed.
    Oh, come now, Nerval was way too late for that. He was just a slyboots.
    What’s the meaning of marmite in French
    It’s a cooking pot. It has an interesting etymology; it’s from Old French marmite ‘hypocritical’ (referring to the hidden contents of the lidded pot), itself from marmotter ‘to mutter’ + mite ‘cat.’ Or so says Oxford.

  58. mite ‘cat.’
    You learned that from me recently:

    Grumbly: Dynamite is a *tiny* dyna. Note the “-mite” suffix, as in widow’s mite and catamite.
    Hat: So a catamite is a tiny cat? Live and learn.

    Talk about Nerval being a slyboots !

  59. So Marmelite is a small marmel?

  60. komfo,amonan says

    Alexandre Dumas Père and Fils are the equivalents of English A.D. Sr and Jr respectively.
    And yet in English, if I am not mistaken, usage of the French terminology in these two cases is much more common.

  61. So “A.D.” means “After Dad”, and “B.C.” means “Before Christo” ?

  62. Thanks, Language. Marmite is a dark brown English spread named after a French pot with hidden contents. Yum.

  63. marie-lucie says

    He’d also publish the same piece as many as four times in four different publications
    He is not the only one to have hit on this manner of making his name known. You would think that in the modern world this would be harder to achieve without being detected, but apparently not.

  64. marie-lucie says

    la marmite
    This is a large, fairly high cooking pot, with a lid, typically used for making soup, the cheapest of cooked dishes. The poorest people need to have a pot of it simmering over the fire even if there is nothing else to eat in the house.

  65. Marmite–the Australian version seems to be “Vegemite”. “Marmelite” doesn’t google well, but seems to turn up in forums about New Zealand, where it is used interchangeably with “Marmite”–a variation in pronunciation?
    Honey 6, Marmite 1.

  66. John Emerson says

    Does marmite “hypocrite” have a broader meaning of anyone who pretends to be what he is not, or or hides his real nature or purposes? Because in my English translation of “The Toilers of the Sea” Victor Hugo calls the octopus a hypocrite, which doesn’t sound right at all, and the French version I found is abridged.
    And actually, does the French “hypocrite” have a broader meaning than the Englsih? Because to me a hypocrite is only someone who ostentatiously pretends to be good but in fact is not.

  67. marie-lucie says

    I had never heard of marmite meaning anything else than the soup pot. A meaning “hypocrite” for this word may be very archaic. The derivative marmiton is an old-fashioned word for an apprentice cook.
    I don’t think that “hypocrite” means different things in French and English (except that in French it is both a noun and an adjective). I have not read that Hugo book, but maybe he learned (or imagined) interesting things about octopus behaviour.

  68. tiny cat
    tiny is one of those words for which only implausible etymologies have been proposed.

  69. Note that I said Old French marmite ‘hypocritical.’ Old French is old.

  70. John Emerson says

    M-L, in Victor Hugo “hypocrite” seems to mean “a predator who lies in wait” or “someone who disguises himself for nefarious purposes”. In English it means only “someone who claims virtues he doesn’t have” or “someone who blames others for something he does himself”. For example, in Hugo a disguised spy is a hypocrite.
    Whether this is idiosyncratic to Hugo or not, I don’t know. He uses the word five times in “Toilers of the Sea” and many times elsewhere; it seems to be a theme of his.

  71. Victor Hugo: try this one (tr. Hapgood). The guy definitely had a thing about the octopus, and it wasn’t just about finding a tentacle or two in his soup, either. “The tiger can only devour you; the octopus, oh, horror! breathes you in.” On p. 158 it resembles “a closed umbrella without a handle”, on p. 160 it isn’t just looking for a snack, it hates, it’s hostile, also it hides, it condenses itself, it confounds itself with the shadow, it looks like a rag, a ripple of the waves, it resembles everything except something living, and then we find out it is a hypocrite. It has hidden, even its eyes look like the water, and now, in love, it sneaks up and attacks with its slimy shapelessness and the terrible sucking apparatus of its “cupping glasses” and turns you into one big hickey.
    The hydra reference though I don’t get. “Hydra” also made an appearance in The Thread That Wouldn’t Die, and here it is again.

  72. marie-lucie says

    It seems that Hugo was obsessed with the outlandish appearance of the octopus and the horrendous fate awaiting a person caught by a giant octopus. The octopus is a “hypocrite” because it seems to be resting quietly in its hiding hole but in fact it is planning a murderous attack. This is consistent with the usual meaning of “hypocrite”: someone who conceals their real nature and intentions.
    “Cupping glasses”: une ventouse is both an octopus’ “sucker” and a “cupping glass”, but a French person reading the original sentence would probably not think of the latter meaning.

  73. FWIW, GoogleBooks has Les travailleurs de la mer, “Toilers of the Sea” in French, but unfortunately also abridged; here is the corresponding chapter. It doesn’t appear to have the “hypocrite” reference, but maybe someone with better French can shed more light on that. The original chapter breaks are supposed to be designated by stars. A search for “marmite” turns up one instance.
    Wikipedia tells us the novel is credited with introducing the Guernesiais word for octopus pieuvre into the French language (standard French for octopus is poulpe) although the book uses both–at least the abridged version does. Also that the octopus/squid was at the time considered to be a mythical creature in Paris and the book sparked squid craze–squid dishes and exhibitions, squid parties and even squid HATS.

  74. John Emerson says

    I’ve gone further in the book, and hypocrisy is a major theme. One of the main characters in the book is a well respected man who plans to betray everyone he knows, steal everything he can, and join a robber band. He is, ironically, eaten by the hypocritical octopus, who’s pretending to be a piece of rock. Even the sea is described as a hypocrite, since it can drown someone on a sunny day and still have a bright smiling appearance.
    I do believe that the French word has a broader meaning than the English, though. To my ear, anyway, a hypocrite is defined by the comination of ostentations goodness and self-righteousness, and secret evil — blaming others for soething you do yourself. A mere dissembler or secret fraud or disguised evildoer wouldn’t count.

  75. How’s this?

  76. “Cupping glasses”: une ventouse is both an octopus’ “sucker” and a “cupping glass”, but a French person reading the original sentence would probably not think of the latter meaning.
    Wouldn’t “suction cup” be the right translation of “la ventouse” in this context? Because, I think, Hugo meant the suction cups (or sucker disks?) that the tentacles of an octopus are studded with.
    Otherwise, irrational fear – or frightful depiction – of sea cephalopods are not exactly rare, are they? I vaguely remember that Jules Verne in one of his books had one attacking Capt. Nemo’s ship or some such, I think.

  77. I agree with JE that the usual meaning of “hypocrite” in English is narrower. Maybe it has narrowed over time.
    Here are illustrations of the squid attack on the Nautilus.

  78. How’s this?
    How did he do that?

    La pieuvre, c’est l’hypocrite. On n’y fait pas attention; brusquement, elle s’ouvre.

  79. John Emerson says

    Thanks, guys, I’m still working on the hypocrite octopus. I’m having Nijma’s same problem — Toilers of the Sea in English adn French is all on the internet, but sometimes it’s vol. 1, sometimes vol. 2, sometimes abridged, and sometimes complete and likewise for translations. And versions are not clearly labelled.
    Hypocrisy in the French sense is a big theme in the book, so it’s a kind of irony when the hypocritical villain is eaten by the hypocritical octopus.
    Best so far: “The hypocrite is the hermaphrodite of evil”. I read Les Miz as a kid and Hugo’s over-the-topness seemed normal, bur after almost 50 years he seems strange in a partly god way, like a kind of moralistic surrealism.

  80. marie-lucie says

    I tried to follow the link to Les travailleurs de la mer. but it does not seem possible to search inside the books presented.
    The classic hypocrite in French literature is Molière’s Tartuffe, who makes a display of excessive religiosity and prudishness while plotting to cheat his gullible admirer and his family of their money (among other things), so cleverly that only the timely intervention of the king saves the family from utter ruin.
    pieuvre vs poulpe: la pieuvre is now the normal word in French, le poulpe may be more restricted in use. According to the Petit Robert, la pieuvre is a large poulpe.
    Some Norman words related to the sea replaced words used on other coasts (eg on the Atlantic) with the custom of sea-bathing on the Norman coast, the closest to Paris, starting in the 19th century. Among these are also le crabe instead of le chancre and la vague (wave) instead of la lame (still used, but with a slightly different meaning); le chancre and la lame are still the normal words in Acadian French. (Another reason to adopt le crabe instead of le chancre was that the second word also refers to a malignant lesion, especially one caused by syphilis).

  81. marie-lucie says

    Wouldn’t “suction cup” be the right translation of “la ventouse” in this context?
    I couldn’t remember “suction cup” and used the translator’s “cupping glasses”, which refers to the same thing. I don’t think you could say “suction cup” in referring to the octopus’s “suckers”. “Suction” should be somewhere in the sentence though. “Ventouse” means both, but “cupping glasses” is out of place as it is too specific and cannot refer to a body part. .

  82. The English version I linked to and the French version McMM linked to should both be complete and unabridged.That’s not what it says in the dropdown “contents” menu, but both have the same opening paragraph and the same ending.

  83. I would say that “suction cup” is current AmE and would easily come to mind in seeking a name for an octopus’s suckers, whereas “cupping glass” is an outmoded and largely unknown medical term.

  84. m-l, Yes the books are searchable; there is a box to the left of the text with a “go” button next to it. Here is a search in the French version for “la lame”.

  85. From Graham Robb’s biography of Hugo:
    Pieuvre, now in common use, is Hugo’s form of the old Norman/Channel Islands word for ‘octopus’ (puerve); it also meant ‘prostitute’ – a meaning it recovered almost immediately in modern French.”
    Robb translates ventouse as ‘sucker’. He describes how Alexandre Dumas defended Hugo against hostile critics in Napoleon III’s France. “[Dumas] issued invitations to a pieuvre-tasting party, which was far harder for the Government to ban than a Shakespeare party. The question was pieuvre frite or pieuvre au gratin?”.

  86. Robb on Hugo’s quirky use of English in the novel:
    “The other main criticism, interestingly, stung Hugo to the quick and is even now one of his chief claims to infamy in the English-speaking world. Misled by his source, Hugo had devoted a chapter to [the hero of the novel] Gilliat’s ‘bug-pipe’. ‘A u for an a!’ he commented later. ‘Albion threw up its hands in horror…A good many newspapers devoted editorials to the scandal.’
    “To Hugo, this seemed particularly discourteous. He had dedicated his novel to the island of Guernsey. He even allowed England to have the first word: ‘La Christmas de 182..’. ‘Bug-pipe’ however was only one of several Hugoisms. Captain Clubin was greeted after a lengthy absence with a hearty ‘Good bye, Captain!’. A cliff in Scotland was identified as la Première des Quatre (the Firth of Forth). There was also something the English call a ‘dick’ (dyke).”

  87. John Emerson says

    Hugo was tremendously wordy and one version I found was abridged on a piecemeal basis just to make it shorter while keep the action.
    There must be a definite North sea / Mediterranean split regarding cephalopods, because the Mediterranean peoples have been familiar with them all along, as food and otherwise. The North Sea and English Channel are generally more hostile places than the Mediterranean, too, so people are less likely to spend time in places where they are. Thus this episode also whould show that there’s a north/south split in France, with a strong northern dominance in literature.
    Maybe with “hypocrite” Moliere’s character came to define the word in English, whereas Moliere’s hypocrite was just one of the types of hypocrite for the French. The word seems to have come into English pretty early from French, but perhaps it only came into common use via Moliere. In any case, to my ear saying that an octopus lying in wait is a hypocrite is a bold figure of speech at best, if noth simply an error.

  88. McMM
    = the Hungarian spelling.
    Something quite similar to “hypocrite”, at Poemas del rio Wang (comments):

    concerning depression…In the Middle Ages it was called “torpedo”, and the family of electric rays was given the name “Torpedo” exactly because they were believed to cause the same paralytic state. At least this is what 16th-century dictionaries say.)

  89. I well remember Kirk Douglas fighting off the squid in the film of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, it was hilarious.
    BTW, none of the Google Books links really work for me, they just show the title of the book and the indication “No preview available”.

  90. Bruessel, they don’t work for any of us in Europe. You have to do what Dr Keyhole recommended, and use a US proxy server:
    1. Go to the page with the list of proxies. 

    2. Pick one of the US proxies, in our case, let’s say,
    3. Enter the URL of my link above where it say “Enter the URL address”

    4. Click “Surf Now!”
    That gives a version of the Google page where you can read the book or download it as a PDF.
    Posted by Aidan Kehoe at October 23, 2009 02:05 PM

  91. Hey, that works. Thanks a lot, AJP.

  92. I’ve had a look in my copy of Les Travailleurs de la mer (it’s my favourite Hugo novel) and it seems from the context that what Hugo means by the pieuvre‘s “hypocrisy” is its use of camouflage: “La pieuvre en chasse ou au guet, se dérobe; elle se rapetisse, elle se condense; elle se réduit à la plus simple expression. Elle se confond avec le pénombre. Elle a l’air d’un pli de la vague. Elle ressemble à tout, excepté à quelque chose de vivant.
    “La pieuvre, c’est l’hypocrite. On n’y fait pas attention; brusquement, elle s’ouvre.”

  93. John Emerson says

    I’ve been looking around, and apparently in French “hypocrisy” means “pretending to be someone or something else”, where in English it’s more like “pretending to be a good person while actually being a bad person” and especially “doing things oneself that you blame others for doing.” The French meaning is inclusive of this. But we wouldn’t describe a thief who wore a disguise as a hypocrite, or a disguised octopus waiting to capture its prey, or an ocean wave which drowned someone on a beautiful sunny day and then pretended that nothing had happened.

  94. Hugo’s just using “hypocrite” in the broader sense of a “dissembler”, which I suppose is close to the word’s origin as the Greek for “an actor” (ὑποκρίτης).
    Probably the most famous use of the word in 19th-century French literature is Baudelaire’s “Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!”, which seems closer to the narrower, “English” sense of the term.

  95. John Emerson says

    I’m still working on this. One complication is that the word is a Greek word with its own meaning, but seems to have been most used in a Biblical context to translate Hebrew or Aramaic words with meanings quite different than those of the Greek word.

  96. John, if I saw an octopus wearing a disguise, the first words out of my mouth would be “You hypocrite!”

  97. What is it, a fancy dress? What’s he going as: a squid?

  98. marie-lucie says

    JE: in French “hypocrisy” means “pretending to be someone or something else”, where in English it’s more like “pretending to be a good person while actually being a bad person” and especially “doing things oneself that you blame others for doing.” The French meaning is inclusive of this. But we wouldn’t describe a thief who wore a disguise as a hypocrite.

    Neither would I. To my mind, the French meaning of hypocrisie does NOT include “disguising oneself as someone else”, or “impersonating another person” or even, for instance, “pretending to be a rich aristocrat while actually being a penniless commoner”, but, as in English, “pretending to be a good person while actually being a bad person”, and especially doing it ostentatiously. It is about the moral deficiency of the person, not about specific acts.
    Victor Hugo may have gone a bit far in applying the word to an animal such as the octopus. Hypocrite is not what would come to the mind of most French speakers in this context, but it refers to the misleadingly torpid appearance of the resting octopus, which hides its ability to strike unexpectedly and with deadly results.

  99. misleadingly torpid appearance
    depression…In the Middle Ages it was called “torpedo”, and the family of electric rays was given the name
    Funny coincidence, both of these words turning up here.

  100. What’s he going as: a squid?
    “She”, yes? Isn’t that what “elle” means?
    I’m not the only one to pick on on the sexual imagery of the octopus description–in searching google books for the complete text, I came across several snippets of literary criticism that went on about it and how Hugo had made it clear he was “writing as a virgin” (!?). One writer even saw a religious theme.

  101. I’m not the only one to pick on on the sexual imagery of the octopus
    Google “tentacle erotica” if you dare.

  102. I cannot think of the phrase “polymorphous perversity” without imagining something like a cephalopod.

  103. John Emerson says

    M-L, one of my theories is that Victor Hugo was just being extravagent, as he often is.

  104. marie-lucie says

    JE, yes, that’s the idea.
    I finally managed to open a view of the crucial pages on la pieuvre (I am not sure how and could not do it again, in spite of MMcM and Nijma’s helpful hints), and it is obvious that Hugo was piling it on thick in order to emphasize the horrified curiosity which this extraordinary creature inspired in him. Other snippets from other authors linking the animal with hypocrisy probably derived directly from Hugo’s work.

  105. I am not sure how and could not do it again
    Here is what I have figured out so far. Beside the thumbnail of the book, there is a link for “overview” where you can either download the book or click the “read this book” button, which takes you to the first page. Below that is a link for “read” which also takes you to the title page. Once on the title page you can scroll through the pages using the scroll bar on the right or turn pages using the arrows on top. There is a also a “contents” dropdown menu that can speed you to particular pages, but in this case it only goes a little more than a hundred pages into a five-hundred-some page book. So using MMcM’s information, I have found the page where “the monster” chapter begins and used three words I know are on that page to create a search that leads uniquely to that page.
    So here is the beginning of the LE MONSTRE chapter in French and here is the beginnning of the THE MONSTER chapter in English.
    if you dare
    *wipes coffee off of computer screen*

  106. Oh, for the French version, just click on the page number and you’ll be able to scroll through the book normally.

  107. French Wikisource has the entire book in French. This is the chapter ‘Le Monstre’.

  108. Looks like they’ve messed up Hugo’s paragraphing but the words are certainly there.

  109. An English translation of the whole (?) book here. The relevant chapter (“The Monster”) is here (scroll down). Looks like they’ve translated pieuvre as “devil-fish”.

  110. According to wiki, devilfish can mean a particular kind of (American) octopus, or a kind of eagle ray, or the huge manta ray.
    A ray is a whole other monster of the deep, not a mollusk of course but a (non-bony) fish, closer kin to AJP’s torpedo (and for that matter to AJP) than to any octopus.
    The professional baseball team in St Petersburg, Florida, founded in the 1990s, was/were called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Later the name was changed to Tampa Bay Rays. The team has done much better since the name change.

  111. They should become the Tampa Bay Octopus. They’d terrify their opponents.

  112. They should become the Tampa Bay Octopus. They’d terrify their opponents.
    No, Tampa Bay Cthulhu. Get all Lovecraft on them. That’d do the trick.

  113. Tampa Bay Octopi?
    I see the devilfish is “crafty” rather than a hypocrite. It makes use of its eight “fuelers” to crawl upon the bed of the sea.

  114. Tampa Bay Octopi?
    But then they’d have to put up with endless pedantry about how that’s not the correct plural. See the discussion at the end of this LH thread.

  115. John Emerson says

    I know a lot more about the history of the word “hypocrite” now, but really I’ve just gone the long way around the barn to discover that Hugo writes very vividly and oddly. it’s funny, but I could have read the book at face value when I was a kid because it’s in many ways pulp fiction, but now it seems weird. Besides “Le Monstre”
    I’ve written up part of this.Here is my octopus series, on Hugo, Erasmus, and Cao Cang (Ts’ao Ts’ang).
    I’ve also found a complete internet version and will link to it a little later. Below I’ve put his big hypocrisy chapter — hypocrisy is a theme of the booka nd the octopus and ocean just get dragged in.
    I:6:6: Le Timoniere Ivre: Un intérieur d’abime éclairé (p. 232)
    (English translation of chapter)

  116. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere a torpedo, in Norwegian, is a hit… person, a hired killer.

  117. Les Travailleurs de la mer is a wonderful book. It has a lot of similarities with Moby Dick. It’s very digressive, “wordy” and strange and both La Pieuvre and Melville’s whale are something more than your average scary sea monster. The half-dozen or so pages Graham Robb devotes to Les Travailleurs in his biography are a good introduction. He notes that the only two available English versions are defective and bowdlerised. I also remember Simon Schama talking about the scene with La Pieuvre on a BBC TV programme ages ago (it’s one of his favourite books).

  118. John Emerson says

    The translations I’ve looked at describe the pieuvre as hypocritical, but doesn’t let Hugo describe the ocean wave as hypocritical. But it’s so vivid. The sea hides its “coups”. “Hides its blows”, translation, but I’m wondering whether it doesn’t mean something like “hides its masterstrokes” or “hides its triumphs”. While the the drowned men sinks out of sight the sea never stops smiling at you.

  119. Small correction of the title cited by JE (I hope you don’t mind): it should be:
    Le timonier ivre et le capitaine sobre: Un intérieur d’abîme, éclairé.

  120. it’s in many ways pulp fiction
    endless pedantry about how that’s not the correct plural
    Octopus would be a fine name for a team. Singular or collective names are the fashion: the Jazz, the Heat.
    By the way, it seems that the purist refers to the eight appendages of the octopus as arms. Not “tentacles”, a word which is reserved for two of the ten appendages of the squid. Perhaps instead of “purist” I should say “octopedant”.

  121. marie-lucie says

    The sea hides its “coups”. “Hides its blows”, translation, but I’m wondering whether it doesn’t mean something like “hides its masterstrokes” or “hides its triumphs”.
    English translators tend to mindlessly render the French coup as “blow”. This is a gross oversimplification. Coup has a much wider application than “blow”: it refers to any sudden act which could be considered violent (concretely or abstractly), from a kick (un coup de pied) to a change of regime (un coup d’état), including other activities which are sometimes benign (un coup de main may be “a helpful hand” or “an attack causing bodily harm”), or exploits which may be criminal or just “horsing around”, from the point of view of the perpetrator or the victim (Ça m’a fait un coup ‘it [eg the bad news, the sudden sight] gave me a start, it affected me strongly’). Any good dictionary has dozens of examples of the use of coup. The octopus, apparently quiet or sleepy in its hidey hole, is actually preparing a coup – an ambush or a sneaky attack (which may or may not be successful). Similarly, the sea hides its own murderous proclivities and activities (I think “masterstrokes” and “triumphs”, while not far from the mark, are too positive here – sneakiness is part of the preparation of a coup as well as of the subsequent cover-up).
    Some years ago the French film title Les 400 coups was literally translated as “The 400 blows”, which has no connotations relating the title to the happenings in the film. Faire les 400 coups, often applied to the activities of adolescent boys (such as the main character int he film), means about the same as “getting into scrapes” or “raising Cain”.

  122. John Emerson says

    Thanks, M-L. I was pretty sure “blows” was wrong, and by and large I’m unimpressed with the 2 translations I’ve looked at.

  123. What is the plural of “jazz”? Jazzes?

  124. Not exactly. From the Wiki article:
    The Utah Jazz is a professional basketball team […] They are currently members of the Northwest Division of […] The franchise began in 1974 as the New Orleans Jazz, […]
    The Jazz were one of the most unsuccessful teams […] They would not […]
    The real question is what’s the singular? What is a member of the team called when the team’s name is not plural. A member of the Rays is a Ray, a member of the Cowboys is a Cowboy.
    What else could a member of the Jazz could be but a Jazz? But I’m not sure. If so, then yes, two of them are probably Jazzes.
    We have a similar difficulty with the Boston Red Sox, whose team name is a plural of sorts. It just feels wrong to call a man a sock, or even a pair of socks.

  125. If you transferred from the Minnesota Twins you could become a pair of Socks.
    I’m sure Nij knows a song by Leonard Cohen called, I think, Jazz Police, where he calls them “jazzers”.

  126. “Jazz” is a non-count noun, or as some like to say, a “mass noun”. As a former Twins fan, I have to say we never refer to any of the Chicago White Sox as a pair.
    I never heard “Jazz Police” before but here is a commentary. It’s one of the least popular Cohen songs. Apparently it grew out of an artistic dispute within Cohen’s band. Musicians were inserting jazz elements while improvising, hence the line “Jazzer, drop your axe, it’s Jazz police!”, meaning drop your musical instrument.

  127. As a former Twins fan, I have to say we never refer to any of the Chicago White Sox as a pair.
    Uh, do you mean that former Twins fans never refer to members of the White Sox in that way? Well, anyway, I was just kidding.
    Does one refer to a member of the Oakland Athletics (formerly the Kansas City Athletics, formerly the Philadelphia Athletics) as an Athletic?

  128. The case of rock bands (in the broad sense) offers parallels. Ringo was a Beatle, Jagger was a Stone, and I suppose each of Diana Ross’s backup singers was a Supreme, but for the most part one has to say “member of” because the band’s name is not a plural. And one has no trouble doing so, because the band name is not a mass noun either. But there are a few tricky cases (Eagles, Foo Fighters) where it’s a plural without article …

  129. It’s not “The” Eagles? I never knew that.
    I’ve never liked that Jazz Police song, actually I find it bloody irritating. How can he write:

    Jazz Police are paid by J. Paul Getty,
    Jazzers paid by J. Paul Getty II.

    in a song? I always thought it was “too”, not “II”. What’s the good of song lyrics that only work when you see them written down?
    If you go to Oakland As games, are you an Athletic(s) supporter?

  130. It’s not “The” Eagles? I never knew that.
    I heard once that it was just Eagles. I could be wrong. And anyway if enough people get it wrong, maybe it’s right.
    Oh, then there’s a group called “They Might be Giants”, named after a third-rate sci-fi film or something. Not even a noun phrase. What is a member of that group called?
    I suspect that people in Oakland are a little tired of the ‘supporters’ joke, but that’s not our problem, is it?

  131. “They Might Be Giants” is not a third-rate sci-fi film. It stars George C. Scott as a man who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes and Joanne Woodward as his psychiatrist, Dr. Mildred Watson, who is won over by him and helps him to try and find his Moriarty. It was nominated for a BAFTA film award and has glowing reviews on IMDB.

  132. It’s not “The” Eagles? I never knew that.
    If you go by the album covers Ø seems to be correct. I never knew that either since popular usage seems to favor “The” Eagles by a considerable margin. There are also two greatest hits albums – one entitled “The Very Best of the Eagles” and another entitled “The Very Best of Eagles” so apparently even the record companies get confused.

  133. I don’t think that late 60s thing with no article really worked. Later there was a group called The The, but I never knew how to pronounce it, and that can’t be good.

  134. In Ill Bethisad, the most famous of all pop groups is called NoMoreEagleZ. The Fan Four’s hits included the singles “Far From The S.N.O.R.”[*] and “Blueberry Fields”, the album Mote It Be, the film Dirigible of Gold (including the well-known songs “Nemo Man,” “Jenny In The Sky” and “Sergeant Major’s Broken Hearts Club Band”), and the rock operas Timmy and Gethsemane Rock. They even tried, but failed, to obtain the rights to The Lord of the Rings.

    [*] The S.N.O.R. was the Союз Народного Обновления России, the White political party that ruled Russia with an iron fist from 1923 to 1991.

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