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Archive for December, 2003

Nice German Dictionary

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

I found a nice online German dictionary for the cockamamie attempt at German below, and wanted to point it out.

A knave, a rascal…

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

I got spam today defaming some German chap and his business. It sez: “Microsale SC KG, Ltd, Germany is a knave company and Uwe Schmidt is a big knave!”

Now it’s obviously pretty funny that someone these days would call someone a “knave”. The author of this sentence is apparently not a native English speaker – the archaic choice of vocabulary and the infelicitous (at best) use of “knave” as an attributive adjective in “knave company” (instead of the more natural “knavish”) are both giveaways.

I have various reasons for believing the author is German. Which makes this all the juicier a mistake, since in German “der Knabe” is “boy”, not “knave”. The author must have been proud of themself for their fine-tuned sense of vocabulary in knowing that English “knave” doesn’t mean “boy” (leastwise, not anymore it doesn’t). “‘Knave’ ist nicht “Knabe”! Das ist gut, ja, “knave” ist sehr gut, sehr Englisch. Der falsch Freund betr

The Possum’s Laying on the Wild Bananas

Tuesday, December 16th, 2003

A particular Carter Family song has come on the work jukebox and caught my attention twice in the past week or so. It seemed as though Sara were singing “The possum’s laying on the wild banana”. That’s my kind of lyrics!

However, I’ve looked it up now. Although those are the right lyrics, I can’t love this song: here are all the words.

A Hen in the Hand

Friday, December 12th, 2003

The OED defines hendiadys with admirable adroitness dexterity: “A figure of speech in which a single complex idea is expressed by two words connected by a conjunction; e.g. by two substantives with and instead of an adjective and substantive.” In 1589, one Puttenham called it in English the “Figure of Twynnes”, but this phrase has most decidedly not caught on.

An English hendiadys given in OED is “On iron and bit he champt” to mean “he champed on the iron bit”.

And a strange Latin use of this figure, from the Tractatus Garsiae: “Si volueritis et audieritis Vrbanum, bona terrae comedetis” – “If ye will listen to Urban, ye shall eat the goods of the earth” but literally “If you are willing and listen”. Or in this couplet from Ovid, Amores 1.ii.41-42:

ipse ego segnis eram discinctaque in otia natus;
  mollierant animos lectus et umbra meos;

[I myself was slack, born in billowy leisure;
  My shady bed had softened my spirits; -d]

But literally it’s “bed and shade”. That’s hendiadys for ya! (By the way, kids, y’all remember otium?)

I’ve had a hard time remembering this useful and agreeable word, but I bet it’ll stay in my mind now. Perhaps some etymological explication of this word would prove agreeable here:

The first syllable, hen, is Greek for “one”. And the second, di means “two”. Easy to remember the figure of twins by onesies and twosies! We needn’t, of course, memorize either hen or di, since we have them in cognates. Think of “hendecasyllabic” and it should be pretty obvious what hen is. Likewise if we think about “dichotomy” there is no trouble in remembering di. Just don’t confuse this di with the thoroughgoing (but transgressive!) dia which we see in words such as “diagonal”, “dielectric” and “diachronic”.

Now and Hen

Tuesday, December 9th, 2003

English has a nifty system of correlative adverbs for place and time. Let’s make a table! Note the alternation of wh, th and h.

Interrogative Far Deixis Near Deixis
Location where there here
Goal of Motion whither thither hither
Origin of Motion whence thence hence
Time when then now

But what is that at the lower right? A blemish, a weed in our garden! By analogy, we would expect the word “hen” instead of “now” in that slot. And to make our fantasy come alive, here it is, temporal “hen” in use:

Holofernes: Sirrah, what have we to lunch to-day?
Famelicus: Cornish hen.
Holofernes: Hem. And hunger’st?
Famelicus: Most hungrily.
Holofernes: Well, well. We’ll to table by and by.
Famelicus: Would it were hen!

Well, as we all know, desire for regular language bespeaks a soggy, funless nature. I would venture to guess that Famelicus is only saying “hen” because that rule-bound pedant Holofernes taught him to. Holofernes is not cool like the rest of us! I think the Ol’ Dirty Bastard said it best: “Ooh baby I like it raw.” Perhaps he was subtly mocking Holofernes, referring to this very feature of English?

Latin has some similar stuff: “unde” is whence, “inde” is thence, and that i/u interchange occurs in some other pairs of words. Keep reading uncle Desultor, and I’ll tell you all about it when I find out more.

Science over Sciolism

Monday, December 8th, 2003

Language Log is a weblog on linguistics, largely. Run by a set of pretty hip scientists. Most excellent philosophical. For those of you who like such things, here’s a bit of Oxen explicated.

Laurel and Hardy

Monday, December 8th, 2003

I saw “Sons of the Desert” last night — the first Laurel & Hardy I’ve seen since I was a little kid. Loved it. A couple random notes:

When Stan and Ollie are going to sleep in Ollie’s makeshift bed in the scary attic, Stan says they’re just like “Two peas in a pot”, and is corrected by Ollie with some annoyance. Later, Ollie’s wife (I couldn’t get her name) refers to Stan and Ollie with some annoyance as being like two peas in a pot, and is corrected by Stan.

This is a pretty uncommon variant of “two peas in a pod” on Google. The faux old-school “two pease in a pot” is unattested there, but when you think about it that makes perfect sense, since pease (pisum sativum) is not countable and peas (pisum sativum) are. Likewise “two peas in a cod” is unattested. Which is just as well; it definitely sounds a bit racy…

Ollie’s wife uses “infer” for “imply”. As in, “do you mean to infer that I…” This in 1933.

Stan and Ollie, when alone together, refer to their wives collectively as “the wives”.

Stan and Ollie both refer to Stan & Betty’s house as “Betty’s house”. This demonstrates what we know all too well from the rest of the film: poor Stan very much does not wear the pants.

John Kerry is a Real Man!

Sunday, December 7th, 2003

Or, well, at least he swears .

But I’m afraid you’re going to have to cuss much, much worse than that to get my vote, Mr. Kerry. Market testing has shown that “motherfucker” is an especial hit with youth vote like me. Say something really fucking scurrilous, OK?

This all reminds me of a lovely argument someone made (maybe Gary Wills in NYRB?), that Clinton could’ve saved himself a heap of trouble by swearing more. That instead of saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” he should’ve said “I didn’t fuck her”. It would’ve been gorgeous. Frank language for a frank national discussion.

There’s certainly no question that cussing from power can be heavy shit. A reminder to others of their station. I seem to recall reading that Stalin swore something terrible. And check out Lord St Vincent in Post Captain below, putting Jack Aubrey in his place. By way of background, Jack’d captured the Spanish Cacafuego, a big-ass fire-shitting brawler of a ship compared to Jack’s eighteen-gun sloop, and expected a promotion for it:

‘The Cacafuego was a thirty-two gun xebec-frigate, my Lord.’

‘She was a privateer, sir.’

‘Only by a damned lawyer’s quibble,’ said Jack, his voice rising.

‘What the fucking hell is this language to me, sir? Do you know who you are talking to, sir? Do you know where you are?’

‘I beg your pardon, my Lord.’

Lovely Weekend

Sunday, December 7th, 2003

Entirely lovely for many reasons, including a fully functional kitchen door.

People in Mass. have a hard time dealing with snow. Almost nobody here shovels their sidewalks. People shovel snow into each other’s driveways and onto each other’s cars. It’s almost funny. But my purpose is darker today…

Once they’ve shoveled out a spot for their car, people here will leave some piece of furniture in the spot when they drive away, to keep others from parking in “their” spot. I regard the shoddy shoveling with amused condescension — after all, it doesn’t snow here that much and practice makes perfect — but this curb-furniture thing is morally appalling to me. That shit is not how we do it where I come from, let me tell you!

I do try to respect the local customs. But I can’t stop the ninja fantasies of dressing all in white, making my rounds of the neighborhood at night. Scattering those chairs, tossing those tables, exultantly heaving away the bad selfish vibes. An apostle of midwestern virtue to the Bostonians, Jesus knocking over the money-changers’ tables in the temple. Except camouflaged, and at night, so nobody beats me up.