I’m still recovering from midday Christmas dinner, but I’ve regained enough energy to post about those of my gifts that might interest LH readers. Pride of place goes to a couple of brand-new reference works, The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 13th Edition and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. I own earlier editions of both, which have long been among my very favorite books; these updates are unbelievably gorgeous, superb products of the bookmaker’s art, and I will be spending a great deal of time poring over both of them. There is an overblown controversy over the atlas because a map apparently incorrectly shows the amount of loss of Greenland’s permanent ice cover since 1999, and what with all the uproar over global warming it got a lot of publicity. I’m not saying that’s insignificant, and the publisher should definitely be embarrassed, but some Amazon customers are saying idiotic things like “Sounds like a pretty big mistake. Wonder how many others have crept into this edition?” News flash: every reference book has errors, but the people at the Times Atlas have been doing this for a long time (my copy came with a gorgeous reproduction of the world map from the first, 1922, edition) and they know what they’re doing. Anyone who needs a high level of detail and can afford this magnificent atlas would be foolish to settle for a lesser one—unless, of course, they’re obsessed with Greenland’s ice cover, in which case they should probably get a more specialized work anyway.

This is my third AHD; I bought the first edition as soon as it came out (during my sophomore year of college), and I remember how thrilled I was with the smell (yes, I’m a book-sniffer), the illustrations, the etymologies, and above all the appendix of Indo-European roots with its introduction by Calvert Watkins, one of the two leading American specialists in the field (I studied with the other, Warren Cowgill). I read it to pieces, quite literally; by the time I reluctantly discarded it (during one of the four moves we’ve made in the last decade), the boards had long since separated from the pages, many of which had been reduced to scraps. I got the fourth edition at the Strand in NYC, and was delighted with the addition of an appendix of Semitic roots; ten years have passed since then, and the dictionary has added 10,000 new words and senses. In the Introduction they mention a number of them, including ghrelin, a hormone that promotes hunger and growth, notable because its discoverers named it after the Proto-Indo-European reconstructed root *ghrē ‘to grow’; it’s surely the only English word in part borrowed, rather than descended, from PIE. Some other words new in this edition I noticed flipping through are kalbi (also galbi), “A Korean dish consisting of marinated, grilled short ribs, often served wrapped in a lettuce leaf with rice and red bean paste” [Korean, rib, ribs < Middle Korean kari-spjə: kari, rib + spjə, bone]; khimar, “A long headscarf worn by Muslim women, typically gathered or fastened under the chin and covering the body to a variable length” [Arabic ḫimār, covering < ḫamara to cover, conceal; see ḫmr in App. II] (this is accompanied by a typically beautiful and informative photo); and Khitan, “A member of a Mongol people who established the Khitan Liao dynasty in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia in the 10th century” [Akin to Persian Khutan and Mandarin Qìdā (< Middle Chinese, khit tan), ultimately < the Khitan ethnic self-designation of unknown meaning]—this is also the source of Russian Китай ‘China.’

The other books are Lightning Rods, by Helen DeWitt (who gave me this?? it arrived in a box from Amazon with no indication of the sender!); The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English, by Rachel May; Snowdrops, by A. D. Miller (a thriller set in contemporary Moscow, from which I’ve already learned the word minigarch ‘a rich Russian, but one of lesser financial worth than the oligarchs’); and The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success, by Geoffrey Lewis, which has been enthusiastically recommended to me more than once and which I am very much looking forward to.

Other wonderful gifts are a set of eight movies by Hou Hsiao-hsien, a copy of Visconti’s great The Leopard (see this LH post), and jazz CDs by Michael Formanek (The Rub and Spare Change), Paul Motian (Lost In A Dream), Myra Melford (The Whole Tree Gone), and Miles Davis (Live in Europe 1967, the final testament of his great mid-’60s quintet). As always, I am deeply grateful for the generosity of family and friends, and among the latter I am pleased to count a number of long-time LH readers, some of whom I’ve met and others I hope someday to meet. My heartfelt thanks to all.


  1. Bon Nadal, hat et al!
    Cowgill, eh? Any interesting stories to share?

  2. Someday you can buy me a drink and listen to all my grad school stories…

  3. I almost certainly would have availed myself ot the chance to take a class or two with Cowgill had he not died young – instead when I took Hist Ling as an undergrad (either just after his death or possibly the semester of his final illness – timeline of my college career a little blurry by now) the authorities had temporarily imported an adjunct to teach it, who was none other than the spouse of Calvert Watkins (Stephanie Jamison, subsequently at UCLA, who may have overlapped w/ Hat in grad school). Small world, etc. I did not at the time make the connection between her and that IE-root stuff in the AHD without which I well might not have been sitting in her class.
    Christmas book I received of possible interest to LH readers: Dwight Garner’s _Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements_.

  4. Stephanie Jamison! Sure, she got her Yale PhD in ’77, the year I gave up and settled for an MPhil. Glad she’s made a career of it, and Prof. Google tells me she’s working on a new English translation of the Rig Veda, which is pretty damn cool. (I can still recite “agním īḷe puróhitaṃ…”)

  5. —this is also the source of Russian Китай ‘China.’
    And presumably of Cathay.

  6. ¡Feliz Navidad!
    Un poco tarde lo mío… ¡Es que no saben lo que tarda en llegar una felicitación desde Buenos Aires hasta allá arriba! 😉

  7. I had the good fortune to win a copy of AHD5. It’s a beautiful book, and a welcome upgrade from my pocket 4th edition. Stephen Pinker has a good line in his essay on usage: “That is the dirty little secret of lexicography. There’s no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum.”

  8. Those of you who have not been privileged to see the pornographic spam (which Hat removed while I was writing this) have missed one of the funniest collocations of words ever to appear in the comments to this blog, which is a great pity. But due to its explicitly Oedipal content, I haven’t felt it right to preserve it here. I will email it to any connoisseur of such things on request.

  9. It was indeed very juicy, but I probably don’t need to read it again.

  10. I’m glad you like the new AHD, LH! Although working in the corporate environment of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was very difficult and frustrating, nevertheless I learned a great many things revising and writing the etymologies for the 5th edition. I can’t even begin to number my favorite new etymologies: abutilon, alfalfa, almanac, anaconda, ariary… Perhaps the most fun for me was “risk”, although “alfalfa” runs a close second. My favorite of the additions that my teacher Calvert Watkins and I made to the IE appendix is the root *oit-, a root newly discovered by Eva Tichy and all the more wonderful for expressing such a basic concept. The overhaul of the root *orbh- was also fun. Of those additions made to the Semitic appendix by my teacher John Huehnergard and me, perhaps my favorite is the etymology of the divine name יהוה at the root *hwy.

  11. Hey, thanks for a great comment!
    *runs off to look all those things up in the AHD*

  12. Ooh, *oit- is very nice indeed; it means ‘to take along, fetch’ and embraces Latin ūtī ‘to use’ and Greek ois-, future stem of pherein ‘to carry’, “abstracted from verbal adjective oistos, able to be borne, endurable, from earlier *oit-to-s, carried, by regular phonological change.” (N.b.: To historical linguists, “by regular phonological change” carries the same solemn persuasiveness as Jack Aubrey’s “by the immemorial customs of the service.”)

  13. And alfalfa is now derived, via Coptic and Aramaic, from Iranian *aspa- ‘horse’ (< PIE *ekwo-)! Wonderful!

  14. the same solemn persuasiveness as Jack Aubrey’s “by the immemorial customs of the service.”
    Yes, but on one occasion a certain admiral, fed up with being attempted to be persuaded, responded to this line with “Oh, fuck the immemorial custom of the service!”

  15. Yes, it’s in The Fortune of War; my wife and I just got to it the other night. In point of fact, the line (at least in our edition) is “Oh, f— the immemorial custom of the service!” I can never figure out why O’Brian sometimes spells out “fuck,” sometimes uses a dash, and sometimes (as here) uses “f—.”

  16. John Cowan says

    And now of course seven years later I have no idea what the Oedipal spam was. Eheu fugaces.

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