The Worst There Is.

Back in January I posted about Dorothy Richardson and her sequence of semi-autobiographical novels; my wife and I are now up to Revolving Lights (#7), and for obvious reasons I have to quote the following passage from Chapter II (the first speaker is Miriam’s semi-boyfriend Michael Shatov; they are in a London café with two other Russians, the Lintoffs, in the years before WWI):

“Lintoff says that he understands not at all the speech of these young men who were only now here. I have not listened; but it was of course simply cockney. He declares that one man used repeatedly to the waiter making the bill, one expression, sounding to him like a mixture of Latin and Chinese—Ava-tse. I confess that after all these years it means to me absolutely nothing. Can you recognise it?”

She turned the words over in her mind, but could not translate them until she recalled the group of men and the probable voice. Then she recoiled. Lintoff and Michael did not know the horror they were handling with such light amusement.

“I know,” she said, “it’s appalling; fearful”—even to think the words degraded the whole spectacle of life, set all its objects within reach of the transforming power of unconscious distortion….

“Why fearful? It is just the speech of London. Certainly this tame boor was not swearing?” railed Michael. Lintoff’s smile was now all personal curiosity.

“It’s not Cockney. It’s the worst there is. London Essex. He meant I’ve; had; two; buns or something. Isn’t it perfectly awful?” Again the man appeared horribly before her, his world summarised in speech that must, did bring everything within it to the level of its baseness.

“Is it possible?” said Michael with an amused chuckle. Lintoff was murmuring the phrase that meant for him an excursion into the language of the people. He could not see its terrible menace. The uselessness of opposing it…. Revolutionaries would let all these people out to spread over everything…. But the people themselves would change? But it would be too late to save the language….

“English is being destroyed,” she proclaimed. “There is a relationship between sound and things…. If you heard a Canadian reading Tennyson…. ‘Come into the goiden, Mahd.’ But that’s different. And in parts of America a very beautiful rich free English is going on; more vivid than ours, and taking things in all the time. It is only in England that deformed speech is increasing—is being taught in schools. It shapes these people’s mouths and contracts their throats and makes them hard-eyed.”

“You have no ground whatever for these wild statements.”

“They are not wild; they are tame, when you really think of it.” Lintoff was watching tensely; deploring wasted emotion … probably.

On the one hand, since Miriam is based on Richardson herself, she presumably had felt such horror, but on the other hand, she’s presenting it in such an over-the-top fashion (and having it countered by Michael’s amused objections) that she seems to be distancing herself from it. At any rate, I have rarely seen such a fine specimen of outraged peevery.


  1. John Cowan says

    “Goiden”? Canadian? Do what?

  2. Yes, that’s odd; I have no idea whether it’s Miriam’s misunderstanding/misrepresentation or an actual phenomenon of some variety of Canadian speech that’s since died out.

  3. Ava-tse… He meant I’ve; had; two.

    Yes! Perfect. I’d never have had that insight, I love that she can hear tse for ‘two’. What an ear. And it’s interesting if that’s what was meant by a ‘London Essex’ accent a century ago. It reminds me of their two-syllable no that sometimes also occurs in Australian.

    Miriam’s misunderstanding/misrepresentation
    No, no, no. It’s an actual phenomenon of some variety of Canadian speech that’s since died out. This person knows what she’s doing.

  4. John Cowan says

    It’s very hard for me to swallow non-rhotic Canadian, even from a century ago. WP says: “Canadian English is entirely rhotic except for small isolated areas in southwestern New Brunswick, parts of Newfoundland, and the Lunenburg English variety spoken in Lunenburg and Shelburne Counties, Nova Scotia, which may be non-rhotic or variably rhotic.” At least the Lunenburg variety is thought to be the result of immigration from New England in the late 18C (not German, though it was settled by Germans, because German was still rhotic then).

  5. What kind of surname is Lintoff?

    Is it Jewish?

    Shatov, at least, is a rare, but quite transparent Russan surname (from verb meaning “to waver”).

    Taken straight from Dostoyevsky’s Demons, I presume.

    But I can’t even figure out from what word and in which language Lintoff is derived.

  6. @SFReader: Not a real name, so far as I can tell.

    “LintOff Paste is a paste for cats used to reduce formation of hairball in the digestive tract.

    Composition: malt, sugar cane molasses, soybean oil, dextrose monohydrate, fish oil
    Analytical constituents: Crude protein 0,6%, Oils and crude fats 26%, Crude ash 2%, Crude fibre 0%”

  7. John Cowan says

    Lintow is a known name among Americans, and I suppose it is Polish. If some Lintows went to Russia and became Линтов, they’d be romanized as Lintoff in the early 20C. Where’s that tree-hugger when we need him?

  8. Town of Linthe in Brandenburg (near Potsdam) was called Lintow.

    Cute result of long coexistence of Slavic and German populations

  9. If it’s a Polish surname, well, big parts of Poland, including Warsaw, were Russian before WW I, i.e. at the time the scene takes place.
    In any case, a Google search finds a couple of people named Линтов with Russian first namens like Andrey, Dmitriy, and profiles on VKontakte, so it’s certainly not a made-up name.
    (The search also brought up a village called Линты in Sverdlovsk Oblast’, which could be a possible source of the family name.)

  10. David Marjanović says

    It’s not Cockney. It’s the worst there is. London Essex. He meant I’ve; had; two;

    Ah, so the copy of the High German consonant shift isn’t just limited to Liverp[ɸ]ool and, as I learned today, North Wales.

    was called Lintow

    …but that dates from before the spread of final devoicing in Slavic. The many surnames and placenames in -ow in northeastern Germany are pronounced with -/oː/ today. Two places close to here are Teltow /ˈteːltoː/ and Treptow /ˈtreːptoː/.

  11. AJP Crown says

    Dom Mintoff was the PM of Malta for years. I’m not sure where his name comes from, nor his wife’s. She was Moyra De Vere [sic] Bentinck, most probably not actually related to the Duke of Portland, as she claimed, if only because her mother was a landlady who rented rooms to Oxford students during the couple of years Mintoff was studying there. Their daughter Yana became a Socialist Worker and in 1978 she tried to blow up the House of Commons using manure as the explosive.

    She married David P. Bland in 1991.[3] Her children are Cetta S. Mainwaring and Daniel X. Mainwaring. After the couple separated, Mintoff formed a relationship with a younger man from Romania, Ghoerghe Popa. On 24 October 2016, Popa became suspicious that she may have been dating another man, which led to a fight involving knives at the family residence in Tarxien. Her son, Daniel Mainwaring, intervened to stop the fight from escalating. As Mintoff and her son went to seek medical attention, Popa allegedly set the house on fire which lead to severe structural damage to the property. The 39-year-old Romanian was found in the vicinity, after a manhunt, soaked in blood.

  12. She should have stayed with the Bland guy 😉

  13. Mintoff

    Sounds Bulgarian

  14. Popa

    There is that Balkan joke about Macedonian lawyer who changed his surname to fit shifting political loyalties – from Popovsky to Popov, Popovic, Popenko, Popesku, Popu-ogly, Papadopoulos, Papenstein and even von Papen.

    I can’t figure out irredentism of what nation Popa would support?

  15. I find it hard to see how you get ‘I had two’ from ‘Ava-tse’. ‘Ts’ might be aspirated ‘t’, I guess, but the rest?

    “They are not wild; they are tame” is a great line. Perfectly logical and in accordance with the way ‘wild’ and ‘tame’ can be used about statements, but somehow an unidiomatic riposte.

  16. Lars (the original one) says

    @David, you want assibilated t’s, come to Copenhagen my boy.

  17. PlasticPaddy says

    Ava = I have had (I > Ah, silent h twice and silent D at end)

  18. David Marjanović says

    using manure as the explosive


    @David, you want assibilated t’s, come to Copenhagen my boy.

    I knew that. But there it’s just the /t/ so far. Have the /p/ and the /k/ followed suit in “London Essex”?

  19. AJP Crown says

    Sounds Bulgarian

    Saying its origin is Arab this bloke tells us (in his next-to-last paragraph) Mintuf was a 15C name in Malta & Gozo. Others claim that until the 20C Mintoff is a name found only in Yorkshire; that would be because they only googled the spelling, presumably. Either way nothing to do with Lintoff, though Flintoff & Lintott are both claimed by Yorkshire on name-origin sites.

    As I’m sure you know animal manure is 5% nitrogen, so that’s got something to do with it, but they don’t leave her recipe in the Wiki article. I’m more interested in which animals, and whether manure was also utilised as fragmentation (the splat factor).

  20. Lars (the original one) says

    You basically pour diesel over fertilizer, and boom. Cf McVey. But manure as shovelled is too wet, use proper store-boughten chemical fertilizer. And it’s not really the nitrogen that supplies the explosivity, it just gingerly holds onto the real culprit — stoichiometrically the ammonium nitrate molecule is one nitrogen molecule and two of water plus an excess oxygen atom (20 percent by weight) and diesel + oxygen makes the bang.

    Also ‘blow up’ is a tendentious description, ‘splat’ would indeed be better:

    On 6 July 1978 [Yana] Mintoff took part in a demonstration in the UK House of Commons; in a protest against the presence of UK troops in Northern Ireland, three bags of horse manure were hurled from the public gallery during a debate on Scottish devolution; John Mcsherry and Mintoff were arrested and she was later fined.

  21. David Marjanović says

    You basically pour diesel over fertilizer, and boom.

    Sure, I just don’t expect there to be that much ammonium nitrate, or nitrate generally, in manure. Especially not horse manure.

  22. Lars (the original one) says

    That’s what I was trying to say. The nitrogen is mostly found as ammonia (from urea) and a bit in organic compounds — so no significant oxidizer effect. But then Mintoff’s manure didn’t blow up anything, at least that’s not how I read the quote I quoted.

  23. AJP Crown says

    Oh so it wasn’t a bomb at all.

    three bags of horse manure were hurled
    Horse- is much more genteel than cow- or dog- though of course ‘hurled’ has an additional sense of ‘threw up,’ in the United States.

  24. Only among a certain segment of the population. That sense occurs to me only when prompted; I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually use it.

  25. Miriam is the most appalling snob. And she’s also emotionally hyper-sensitive – getting pleasure or pain (sometimes literal horror) from what appears to a modern reader to be at most mildly amusing or annoying.

    To be fair, in her day members of a certain social class went out of their way to cultivate snobbery. Virginia Woolf was a notorious snob, as were the Bloomsbury set generally.

  26. Yes, it was a general thing in those circles; I don’t think we can blame Miriam in particular. But it is quite off-putting. I hope she improves over the course of the novels!

  27. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually use it
    That’s good to know. I wonder which segment does.

    Yes, Virginia Woolf was a snob. Most middle- & upper-class people in Europe and no doubt in the States too were then, and we mustn’t confuse our own moral code & righteousness with theirs. What’s peculiar in her case is who she was snobbish about – Joyce, for example – and what’s remarkable about the Bloomsbury group is the taboos they did break, not the ones they didn’t.

  28. John Cowan says
  29. Honestly, I find Miriam’s snobbery touching. It’s like a suit of armor. It protects her from the despair that her circumstances might otherwise lead her to.

  30. @Bathrobe, I think the mention of Chinese suggests that “tse” is meant to be prounounced something like [tsɯ] or [tsɨ̞].

  31. “I’m going to hurl” is as common as “I’m going to throw up” in my SE US experience. Only medical types would say vomit.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Does nobody say puke? That seems to be the most common word on teh intarwebz.

    Thackeray’s taxonomy of snobs.

    “A Court in Germany ordered that access to certain items in the Project Gutenberg collection are blocked from Germany. Project Gutenberg believes the Court has no jurisdiction over the matter, but until the issue is resolved, it will comply.”

  33. I say puke and barf.

  34. Stu Clayton says

    There’s upchuck. I’m not sure that was ever in wide use.

    A big pet food chain here carries a product for dogs called Barf. I think they meant Bark.

    Fun fact: 50 years ago a dog was a wau-wau in childspeak, and still is in Donald Duck comix. But now even toddlers say bau-wau when they see Sparky. It must be due to English movies seen by their parents, like the wonderful Bolt (including three pigeons as New York Hollywood agents, voiced by Travolta).

  35. I always assumed that fertilizer bombs were made with pure NH4NO3. It’s fine till you jar it badly. The worst industrial accident in history occurred in Germany in the 20s, when a big vat of ammonium nitrate got damp and turned into a rock, which they dealt with (“Hey, it’s just fertilizer”) by blasting it.

  36. Fertilizer bombs are ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil (or diesel fuel). They are not particularly powerful by mass, but they are easy to ignite (thanks to the fuel oil) and can be made quite large. After Timothy McVeigh, who made the truck bomb of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, was caught, there was some delving into his army service records, to see if he had explosives training. Within a day or two, the military made an official pronouncement about the matter, the main substance of which was: No, so far as we can tell, McVeigh never had any specific explosive training; and even if he had, it would have been irrelevant, since the U. S. Army does not teach people to make bombs out of fertilizer and fuel oil.

  37. AJP Crown says

    a product for dogs called Barf. I think they meant Bark.
    For my daughter’s enormous borzoi we have to buy plastic tubes of Skandinavian dog food aptly named Vom.

    the wonderful Bolt (including three pigeons…
    Thanks. I’ll check it out.

  38. David Marjanović says

    But now even toddlers say bau-wau when they see Sparky.


  39. a product for dogs called Barf. I think they meant Bark.

    No, as I recently learned, it stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. I think the silly name was intentional, although here in Italy it also looked like a mistake to me at first.

  40. Lars (the original one) says

    @Rodger C — pure ammonium nitrate will detonate if you kick it hard enough, but those extra 6 percent of fuel oil adds about 180% in energy release and 40% in detonation velocity, and is a little easier to set off. The discerning terrorist insists on ANFO for their IED.

  41. AJP Crown says

    Is there an advantage for terrorists in their using diesel rather than petrol? Diesel’s cheaper but it’s also much more polluting. Can’t chemical companies retard the explosiveness of ammonium nitrate by sprinkling some additional chemical into the fertiliser?

  42. Lars (the original one) says

    Chemically there is not much of a difference, but fuel oil is less challenging to store. It would be so embarrassing to have your van go up in a small fireball when the petrol fumes ignite in the middle of traffic, instead of a big one at the place you intend to flatten. I’m sure petrol would work just fine if you prepare your mix immediately before detonation, but you might want some time to get away. And fuel oil is often cheaper.

    Since the point of ammonium nitrate qua fertilizer is the nitrogen and the nitrate ion’s oxidizing ability is irrelevant, agricultural use of nitrate fertilizers is simply being discouraged and urea / ammonia compounds promoted. (Calcium or potassium nitrate will also explode when mixed with hydrocarbons, so they are being banned too).

  43. AJP Crown says

    So many Hat commenters have a natural science or technology background. Forgetting the “Humanities” for a sec. I’d have expected a much higher proportion of people from the Arts reading a blog about Language.

  44. Language is a Science! Or at least the National Science Foundation thought so when they gave me a scholarship.

  45. AJP Crown says

    I didn’t say scientists shouldn’t be interested. But if Language is a science, it’s got to be an art too otherwise the categorisation is so compromised it’s meaningless. I’m wondering why more arts types don’t contribute; writers, actors, historians, visual artists, that kind of thing.

  46. Lars, thanks. When I said “pure NH4NO3” I wasn’t thinking about the fuel oil, but just “not cowshit.”

    AJP Crown: Ammonium nitrate is just inherently unstable because it has nitrogen in both ions, and nitrogen bonds wonkily, because odd number (5) of outer-shell electrons.

  47. David Marjanović says

    Not so much – it’s that the N₂ molecule is so stable = energetically so favored that almost any way to get there releases a lot of energy; plus, it’s a gas, so getting there from a solid increases the entropy a lot. And the trick with ammonium nitrate is that if you shake it up enough, you get N₂, 2 H₂O – and half an O₂ molecule left over, so it can burn stuff and release even more energy and create even more gas (more H₂O and CO₂ in this case).

  48. Stu Clayton says

    @Biscia: that makes good sense ! The sign hangs over a deep freezer containing raw bits of animal. I would never buy frozen stuff for the dog, no telling where it came from or what state it was in when frozen. We give him food appropriate for people when it’s wet. Otherwise he loves dried chicken necks.

  49. @David Marjanović: I have always been impressed that nitrogen fixing is so hard that Fritz Haber won the Nobel Prize in chemistry just for developing a “brute force” method of doing it. He put molecular hydrogen and nitrogen together in a pressure vessel (along with an iron catalyst, which was genuinely a nontrivial discovery) and cooked it at high temperatures for a long time to produce ammonia. Getting it to work on an industrial scale was one of the achievements that later also won Carl Bosch a Nobel Prize.

    I had not known until just now that Bosch was one of the founders of and the chief technical officer of I. G. Farben—a company mostly known in the English-speaking world for its close collaboration with the Nazi regime. With its nitrogen-fixing technology, the firm produced much of the Wehrmacht’s explosives, and more infamously, a great deal of poison gas. Bosch was anti-Nazi and was gradually forced out of the company, apparently dying, depressed and alcoholic, in 1940, well before which time I. G. Farben had fallen completely under the control of enthusiastic Nazi proponents.

  50. John Cowan says

    Haber’s experimental process produced a whole 125 ml/hour, so scaling that up, especially in 1910 when modern chemical engineering hardly existed, was quite the feat really. And chemists had been trying to use “brute force” throughout most of the 19C without success. N2 is really very stable.

  51. David Marjanović says

    Yeah, the iron catalyst is precisely not brute force… relatively speaking.

  52. Lars (the original one) says

    Haber actually used osmium for the catalyst, it was a BASF scientist (not Bosch himself) who found the iron catalyst (which probably was needed to make an industrial scale process possible, along with other inventions).

    Note that this happened about 15 years before BASF merged into IG Farben in 1925. And that was before the Nazis became prominent, so Carl Bosch would have needed a crystal ball to know that his company would be taken over and become part of a war effort he opposed 15 years on. (Though of course BASF earned lots of money from WWI where their ammonia was mainly used for military explosives).

  53. Lars (the original one) says

    English WP just says that “Carl Bosch built the first industrial plant for the Haber-Bosch process” (paraphrasing) –but German WP makes it clear that it was the management of BASF who tasked (beauftragte) him with doing so, and he didn’t become chairman of the BASF board (Vorstandsvorsitzender) until 1919.

    And it also looks like he quite liked being part of the Nazi’s military-industrial complex, but was opposed to their ideas about Jews and Aryans. Which goes a long way to explain how he could remain as chairman of IG Farben until 1935.

  54. There were, of course, millions of Germans who were fully supportive of the Nazis’ conservatism and militarism, but not so happy about the totalitarianism.

  55. Stu Clayton says

    A now familiar predicament in the Land of the Free.

  56. Lars (the original one) says

    Re brute force — there was a mention on WP of an earlier BASF attempt at industrial production of ammonia using an electric arc. It worked, but yield was too low.

    That reminds me of an experimental process to make diesel fuel out of air that I read about a few years ago: Use sunlight and a big mirror to heat the air enough to convert some carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide (and oxygen). Pipe over a platinum catalyst and hydrocarbons ensue (cleaving oxygen from water vapour too) . Yield was up to .17 of a percent or some similar not-quite-proof of concept number. (Don’t ask me what that was a percentage of, though). The thing that struck me is that this is almost exactly the reverse of the coking process used in old-style gas works. What goes around, comes around.

  57. As PlasticPaddy says, but the “d” isn’t really silent; rather, it is not released before the “t” is articulated.

    In universe, the only evidence that the Londoner said “I’ve had two…” is Miriam’s fancy. Perhaps it was “I’ve had to…”? In that case, this “had” is the auxiliary verb, so the “d” is devoiced to [t]. This fits Michael’s account better.

  58. PlasticPaddy says

    So, rosie, would you say Ava (e)nough or Avad enough☺? I think there are Dublin accents with Oyva (the oy here is more like the ai sound in aisle) enough.

  59. What Rosie says. Which fits with the pronunciation of “to” which is evolving from “too” to the more common “tu” in the UK.

  60. To me BASF will always be the manufacturer of highly superior audio and video tape, both reel-to-reel and cassettes. Apparently they developed oxide-coated plastic tape in 1934 to replace both wire (too low-fidelity) and paper tape with oxide on it (too fragile) which had been used for ad hoc recording since about 1925, displacing wax cylinders (both low-fidelity and fragile). When I did a bunch of audio recording as a child, and much later when I time-shifted TV broadcasts extensively using a VCR, I always bought BASF if I could. In particular, their 8-hour and 10-hour videocassettes, which had the same external size as standard 6-hour tape, were excellent for the purpose: the tape was much thinner, but still very strong.

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