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Archive for October, 2003

Old News is Good News

Friday, October 31st, 2003

This 1938 article from the Manchester Guardian is fun.


Friday, October 31st, 2003

Peter Abelard sez of Heloise: “Que cum per faciem non esset infima, per habundantiam litterarum erat suprema.” [She was hot, and also supreme in abundance of letters.  -d]

I find his misspelling “habundantiam” interesting. It pretty much means that he’s no longer seeing the metaphor in the verb abundare – since unda means wave, this verb is literally something like “overflow” – the image, to me, is of waves spilling out. But nobody spells ab, “from”, as hab, not even Abelard. So it looks to me like he’s probably not hip to the metaphor.

Hidden metaphors like this were so cool to me when I was first learning Spanish. They say “sobrevenir” for “overcome”. How crazy is that?!

And it’s not just word-to-word correspondences like that – where Latin has the verb convenire, the source of our “convenient”, we use the expression “everything’s coming together nicely” and the like.

Some might say this sort of thing hints at universal structures in the human mind. Others might excoriate them for drawing such broad conclusions based on only a few Indo-European languages. The former parties would no doubt agree that to be a problem, and would then have to look into the current research, or learn more languages, or both.

Now let’s all think about the metaphor in “inundate”!

Crenellations & Crenulations

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

I just recently learned that crenellations and crenulations aren’t the same thing! I used to think there was only one word there.

They both come from the same base word, crena, the basic meaning of which is “indentation” or “notch”. In the case of crenellation, a fortifications word, this means a notch which provides an archer with shelter and a clear line of fire, like you see on castle-tops. Here, courtesy of M. Larousse, is part of a château, with some créneaux labeled:

(By the way, look below the créneaux — you gotta admit “meurtrière” is a pretty bad-ass name for an architectural feature!)

Crenulation, on the other hand, is from “crenula”, a diminutive of crena. So it’s the word for things like scalloped seashell edges, with little notches or worn patches.

Google image search gives a nice sense of crenellation. Also crenulated and crenulation. It’s interesting that “crenulation” mainly picks up the geological sense in this search, while “crenulated” seems to pick up the biological sense more.

Triumph of the Will

Monday, October 20th, 2003

In which Desultor hazardeth his Anonymity

Last night I figured out how to overcome a galling shortcoming of mine: my lousy fives in handwriting. Everyone is always complaining about them, and how they can’t tell them from esses. I realized last night that this is because I have been using the same stroke to make a 5 as to make an S, vainly trying to make the five’s corners pointy and sometimes adding a hideous reinforcement line when they’re not pointy enough. This lousy practice leads me to the lousy practice of trying to differentiate my esses by making them wicked ultra dumb and stupid looking, with extra curlicues and whatever.

The year 1550 in the sample below shows one frightful five and one even worse one, which was so crummy I tried to reinforce it with a top line. This attempt at beautification was, like all of its predecessors, an abject and ugly failure.

But I have learned! The trick to making good fives is using two strokes of the pen, like so:

I was so psyched at my new trick that I exuberantly filled half a sheet with practice fives. Here’s a sample. See if you can spot the (unusually adequate) old school five hiding in the crowd!

I am going to seriously rethink my lower case a and d now; everyone’s always drilling on them too. Who knows where the power of multiple penstrokes will take me!


Monday, October 20th, 2003

Disaggregation is an unlovely word. I suggest the more proper, elegant and beautiful “abgregation”. O (thou sayest) wherefore? Well “aggregation”, of course, is “ad” [into] + “greg” [herd]. We get egregious [apart from the common herd] from the same root, and gregarious [herdy]…

Anyways why pile on the prefixes? Just replace “ad” with “ab” and you get the notion of unbundling. This usage is smiled upon by no less an authority than Bailey, tho admittedly the OED rather superciliously claims that abgregation was “App. never used”.

Me ‘n Jim

Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

Medieval Prof. today described Gotescalc as “refractory but brilliant.”

Refractory is a word George Eliot uses more often than most. I first learned it from her. Another author who has a favorite fancy word for “stubborn” is Ayn Rand, with all her godawful “intransigent” manly heroes.

Anyways “refractory” reminded me of a list I made, of words I looked up from “Daniel Deronda” where the passage in Deronda itself provided an illustrative quotation in OED. This is pretty much for my own reference, pagination is from my Everyman’s ed’n…

polk (p.124)
‘I shall only dance in the quadrille. I told Mr. Clintock so. I shall not waltz or polk with any one.’
burnous (p. 131)
It was hardly a bow that Gwendolen gave — rather, it was the slightest forward sweep of the head away from the physiognomy that inclined itself towards her, and she immediately moved towards her seat, saying, ‘I want to put on my burnous.’ No sooner had she reached it, than Mr. Lush was there, and had the burnous in his hand: to annoy this supercilious young lady, he would incur the offence of forestalling Grandcourt; and, holding up the garment close to Gwendolen, he said, ‘Pray, permit me?’ But she, wheeling away from him as if he had been a muddy hound, glided on to the ottoman, saying, ‘No, thank you.’
marplot (p. 416)
‘But what is the use of my taking the vows and settling everything as it should be, if that marplot Hans comes and upsets it all?’ [hurray! -d.]
fat (p. 464)
‘It’s a great bore being dragged about in this way, and no cigar,’ said Grandcourt.

‘I thought you would like it.’

‘Like it? — one eternal chatter. And encouraging those ugly girls — inviting one to meet such monsters. How that fat Deronda can bear looking at her —’

‘Why do you call him a fat? Do you object to him so much?’

‘Object? no. What do I care about his being a fat? It’s of no consequence to me. I’ll invite him to Diplow again if you like.

caliginosity (p. 512)
‘I am not going to say anything to her unless I felt sure of the answer. I dare not ask the oracles: I prefer a cheerful caliginosity, as Sir Thomas Browne might say.
gawky (p. 647)
‘Nothing makes a woman more of a gawky than looking out after people and showing tempers in public. A woman ought to have fine manners. Else it’s intolerable to appear with her.’

Gwendolen made the expected application, and she was not without alarm at the notion of being a gawky.

stive (p. 747)
‘I shall go out in a boat, as I used to do, and manage it myself. One can get rid of a few hours every day in that way, instead of stiving in a damnable hotel.’

More Latin

Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

And in the acquisitions department, I’ve taken some of my bloggercon overtime, which I had strictly earmarked for moving expenses, and misappropriated a chunk of it towards some Latin books.

Allen & Greenough
19c grammar. Updated several times, most recently a year or two ago. Pretty standard for classicists, seemingly — often cited.
Smith’s English-Latin Dictionary
Reprinted by the good folks at Bolchazy-Carducci, from the 1870 edition. For when I want to make snarky little asides lingua latina.
Woodcock’s Syntax
A pleasurable foray into syntax. My medieval prof. kept talking about how awesome Woodcock is. So I’m all, hmm, maybe Woodcock is the thing for me! And sure enough, I am definitely a Woodcock fan so far. If I finish it it’ll be the second book of this sort I’ve read, after “The Latin Sexual Vocabulary”.

Semester so far

Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

Sometime in the past week or so, a transition happened. I now feel like I can read Latin, more or less. I think it was a matter of having a few homework assignments in a row where I could figure out most of what was being said without a dictionary or recourse to grammar clues. I’m pretty psyched, because I’ve already taken two semesters and wasn’t particularly able to read — I was getting worried.

I don’t know exactly where this will go. Apart from Ovid, I haven’t fallen in love with any Latin authors. Some of the medieval authors we’re reading are appallingly tedious, like John Scottus Erigeunus (John the Irishman from Ireland). “Quod si aliqua eum [sc. deum] causa compelleret ad faciendum, ea merito maior meliorque eo crederetur; ac per hoc ipsa, non ipse, summa omnium causa desuque coleretur.” [If something could whup God it’d be God. -d.]

Oh snap! You tell ’em, John! Definitiones tuas pugionibus similes e vagina educ!

There are some divinity students in the class, who got wonderfully hot and bothered about all this double predestination stuff. Me, I can live without the philosophy; I want stories about unicorns and shit.

I guess I should read more Ovid when I get a chance.

O Tempora!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

A bit of Big Lebowski with my morning coffee. Comedy Central cut not only the swears, but the Jesus in his entirety. Poor John Turturro!

Oh and Schwarzenegger won. Why not the clown? If you’re tired of politicians you see as fungible, the clown can seem refreshing.

The first conversation I heard this morning was someone recounting a joke from “Judge Dredd”. The punchline being that A.S. is president in the future.

O Mores!

Law Perfesser Talk

Tuesday, October 7th, 2003

Law profs seem to be into the word “fungible”. I first heard it used aloud by one here about a year ago. I have a vivid visual memory of where I was – holy shit! someone said that out loud! y’all folks is fancy here! better look that one up!

I was chitchatting with another professor just now as I finished fixing her computer (hello Welchia my old friend). She told me she’s been using the machine in class for the first time this year; powerpoint presentations and whatnot. I asked her how the kids were liking it — she said they liked it, but she was a bit put off by their eyes being glued to the screen. That it felt like they weren’t paying attention to her anymore. “I could take my shirt off and nobody would notice! It makes me feel kind of fungible.”

Maybe they pick it up in contract law or something? Ah, OED sez it “belongs to Civil Law and to the general theory of Jurisprudence”.