Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Greek Freckles

In an earlier post, I wondered about the ancient Greek word for freckles and confessed my inability to understand a passage from Plutarch's Life of Sulla. Neil O'Sullivan comes to the rescue and informs me that there are at least two possible words for freckles in Greek, πέρκωμα (pérkōma) and ἔφηλις (éphēlis).

Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. πέρκωμα:
dusky spot on the face, Hsch. (pl.).
Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. ἔφηλις:
A. rivet, burr or clinch to secure a nail, Ph.Bel.63.50, IG11(2).165.13 (Delos, iii B.C.).
II. in pl., rough spots which stud the face (from ἧλος), or, acc. to others, freckles (from ἥλιος), Hp.Prorrh.2.23, Alim.20, Mul.2.215, Thphr.HP9.20.3, Sor.1.44 (sg.), etc.: acc. pl. ἐφήλεις Dsc.1.123.
As Neil points out, Greek éphēlis resembles Latin felix, thus giving rise to Plutarch's remark that "his surname was given him because of his complexion."


Fan Mail

I just received a postcard in the mail from Turkey, with handwriting suspiciously like this one. It says:
Dear Mr. Gilleland:

The Patriarch of Constantinople is a fan of your blog & is writing you in sincerest appreciation. Here is a picture of a mosaic from Byzantium for your enjoyment.
If both the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople have the same handwriting and appear to be the same person, does that mean the Great Schism is now ended?

I suspect that the person who mailed this postcard is the same wag who expressed his desire to form an organization named Opus Deae (i.e. Opus Veneris), to counteract Opus Dei.



Henry David Thoreau, Journals (October 26, 1858, recording a conversation with George Minott):
He says that some call the stake-driver "belcher-squelcher," and some "wollerkertoot." I used to call them "pump-er-gor΄." Some say "slug-toot."
This mystified me, until I realized that Thoreau and Minott were talking about a bird, a sort of heron, the American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), and not a device to pound fence posts into the ground.

Botaurus presumably comes from Latin bos (ox) and taurus (bull), and must refer to the bittern's booming call. Lentiginosus means freckled or spotted (Val. Max. 1.7.6 ext.: vir lentiginosi oris), from lentigo (freckles), itself from lens (lentil). English lens also comes from Latin lens, because the glass is lentil-shaped.

Woodhouse's English-Greek Dictionary and Edwards' English-Greek Lexicon don't give any ancient Greek equivalents for English freckles. Maybe no ancient Greeks had freckles. I don't have a Greek text of Plutarch's Life of Sulla, which mentions his unusual complexion (2.1., tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
His personal appearance, in general, is given by his statues; but the gleam of his gray eyes, which was terribly sharp and powerful, was rendered even more fearful by the complexion of his face. This was covered with coarse blotches of red, interspersed with white. For this reason, they say, his surname was given him because of his complexion, and it was in allusion to this that a scurrilous jester at Athens made the verse: "Sulla is a mulberry sprinkled o'er with meal."
This doesn't sound quite like freckles, and the dictator L. Cornelius Sulla Felix was a Roman, not a Greek. I don't understand "his surname was given him because of his complexion." The dictator is supposed to be the first to have the name Felix, but what do Felix or Sulla have to do with a spotty face? The name Sulla was already associated with the gens Cornelia before the time of the dictator. Mulberry (μόρον in Greek, morum in Latin) gives no help.

But back to bitterns. Bradford Torrey (who was later to edit Thoreau's journals) wrote an article, "The 'Booming' of the Bittern," The Auk: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology 6.1 (January 1889) 1-8.

Bitterns are said to be secretive and reclusive, and I don't think I've ever seen or heard one. They are also said to prefer beaver-created wetlands. A little corner of my woodlot in Maine is perennially wet and inhabited by beavers, although wetland seems a rather grandiose name for it.

Google returned no hits for wollerkertoot, a situation I hope this post will remedy.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006



William Hazlitt, On Wit and Humour:
In this sense Aesop was the greatest wit and moralist that ever lived. Ape and slave, he looked askance at human nature, and beheld its weaknesses and errors transferred to another species. Vice and virtue were to him as plain as any objects of sense. He saw in man a talking, absurd, obstinate, proud, angry animal; and clothed these abstractions with wings, or a beak, or tail, or claws, or long ears, as they appeared embodied in these hieroglyphics in the brute creation. His moral philosophy is natural history. He makes an ass bray wisdom, and a frog croak humanity. The store of moral truth, and the fund of invention in exhibiting it in eternal forms, palpable and intelligible, and delightful to children and grown persons, and to all ages and nations, are almost miraculous. The invention of a fable is to me the most enviable exertion of human genius: it is the discovering a truth to which there is no clue, and which, when once found out, can never be forgotten. I would rather have been the author of Aesop's Fables, than of Euclid's Elements!


Keep On the Sunny Side

William Hazlitt, On a Sun-Dial:
Horas non numero nisi serenas -- is the motto of a sun-dial near Venice. There is a softness and a harmony in the words and in the thought unparalleled. Of all conceits it is surely the most classical. 'I count only the hours that are serene.' What a bland and care-dispelling feeling! How the shadows seem to fade on the dial-plate as the sky lours, and time presents only a blank unless as its progress is marked by what is joyous, and all that is not happy sinks into oblivion! What a fine lesson is conveyed to the mind -- to take no note of time but by its benefits, to watch only for the smiles and neglect the frowns of fate, to compose our lives of bright and gentle moments, turning always to the sunny side of things, and letting the rest slip for our imaginations, unheeded or forgotten! How different from the common art of self-tormenting!

Monday, June 26, 2006



Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective writes about auto-antonyms. His English example is cleave, meaning both "separate" and "adhere." There are actually two different words spelled cleave in English, each with a different etymology. Posts at Balashon which might interest students of ancient Greek include those on the words bible and lishkah.

Anatoly Liberman, the Oxford Etymologist, has an interesting post on tautological compounds like henbane and ragamuffin and (easier to see) pathway. I just learned that Liberman is a resident not of Oxford, but of Minnesota. His article "Gone with the Wind: More Thoughts on Medieval Farting," Scandinavian Studies (1996), is on my list of things to read.

Finally, Laura Gibbs at Bestiaria Latina Blog writes entertainingly about English words derived from the Greek word for rainbow.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Burning the Midnight Oil

Goethe, Römische Elegien, V (tr. A.S. Kline):

I feel I'm happily inspired now on Classical soil:
The Past and Present speak louder, more charmingly.
Here, as advised, I leaf through the works of the Ancients
With busy hands, and, each day, with fresh delight.
But at night Love keeps me busy another way:
I become half a scholar but twice as contented.
And am I not learning, studying the shape
Of her lovely breasts: her hips guiding my hand?
Then I know marble more: thinking, comparing,
See with a feeling eye: feel with a seeing hand.
If my darling is stealing the day's hours from me,
She gives me hours of night in compensation.
We're not always kissing: we often talk sense:
When she's asleep, I lie there filled with thought.
Often I've even made poetry there in her arms,
Counted hexameters gently there on my fingers
Over her body. She breathes in sweetest sleep,
And her breath burns down to my deepest heart.
Amor trims the lamp then and thinks of the times
When he did the same for his three poets of love.

Froh empfind ich mich nun auf klassischem Boden begeistert,
Vor- und Mitwelt spricht lauter und reizender mir.
Hier befolg ich den Rat, durchblättre die Werke der Alten
Mit geschäftiger Hand, täglich mit neuem Genuß.
Aber die Nächte hindurch hält Amor mich anders beschäftigt;
Werd ich auch halb nur gelehrt, bin ich doch doppelt beglückt.
Und belehr ich mich nicht, indem ich des lieblichen Busens
Formen spähe, die Hand leite die Hüften hinab?
Dann versteh ich den Marmor erst recht: ich denk und vergleiche,
Sehe mit fühlendem Aug, fühle mit sehender Hand.
Raubt die Liebste denn gleich mir einige Stunden des Tages,
Gibt sie Stunden der Nacht mir zur Entschädigung hin.
Wird doch nicht immer geküßt, es wird vernünftig gesprochen,
Überfällt sie der Schlaf, lieg ich und denke mir viel.
Oftmals hab ich auch schon in ihren Armen gedichtet
Und des Hexameters Maß leise mit fingernder Hand
Ihr auf den Rücken gezählt. Sie atmet in lieblichem Schlummer,
Und es durchglühet ihr Hauch mir bis ins Tiefste die Brust.
Amor schüret die Lamp' indes und gedenket der Zeiten,
Da er den nämlichen Dienst seinen Triumvirn getan.

In the third line, Goethe is probably recalling Horace's advice (Ars Poetica 268-269, tr. John Conington): "Make Greece your model when you write, / And turn her volumes over day and night" (vos exemplaria Graeca / nocturna versate manu, versate diurna). The "three poets of love" (seinen Triumvirn) in the last line are the Roman elegaic poets Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid.



Charles Péguy:
Homer is fresh this morning, and nothing is perhaps as stale as today's newspaper.

Homère est nouveau ce matin et rien n'est peut-être aussi vieux que le journal d'aujourd'hui.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Protecting Mankind

The Wit and Wisdom of the Rev. Sydney Smith (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1865), p. 343:
For God's sake, do not drag me into another war! I am worn down, and worn out, with crusading and defending Europe, and protecting mankind; I must think a little of myself. I am sorry for the Spaniards--I am sorry for the Greeks--I deplore the fate of the Jews; the people of the Sandwich Islands are groaning under the most detestable tyranny; Bagdad is oppressed--I do not like the present state of the Delta--Thibet is not comfortable. Am I to fight for all these people? The world is bursting with sin and sorrow. Am I to be champion of the Decalogue, and to be eternally raising fleets and armies to make all men good and happy?

Thursday, June 22, 2006


No More That They Can Do?

Luke 12.4:
Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
But they that kill the body in fact have much more that they can do after that. For one thing, they can mutilate the corpse, as Achilles tried to do to Hector's dead body in the penultimate book of the Iliad, by dragging it behind his chariot around Patroclus' tomb.

Or someone can deny burial to a corpse, as Creon decreed that no one was to bury Polyneices, in Sophocles' Antigone. Similarly, in Sophocles' Ajax, Menelaus and Agamemnon tried to prevent Teucer from burying Ajax.

In Plato's Laws, some types of criminals are denied burial, such as parricides and witches (9.873 B-C and 10.909 C, tr. A.E. Taylor):
If a man be found guilty of such homicide, that is, of slaying any of the aforesaid [father, mother, brother, child], the officers of the court with the magistrates shall put him to death and cast him out naked, outside the city at an appointed place where three ways meet. There, all the magistrates, in the name of the state, shall take each man his stone and cast it on the head of the corpse as in expiation for the state. The corpse shall then be carried to the frontier and cast out by legal sentence without sepulture.

At death he [the witch] shall be cast out beyond the borders without burial, and if any free citizen has a hand in his burial, he shall be liable to a prosecution for impiety at the suit of any who cares to take proceedings.
Even after burial, a corpse can be maltreated, as Cambyses insulted the corpse of Amasis (Herodotus 3.16.1, tr. George Rawlinson):
After this Cambyses left Memphis, and went to Sais, wishing to do that which he actually did on his arrival there. He entered the palace of Amasis, and straightway commanded that the body of the king should be brought forth from the sepulchre. When the attendants did according to his commandment, he further bade them scourge the body, and prick it with goads, and pluck the hair from it, and heap upon it all manner of insults.
Cf. Jeremiah 8.1-2:
At that time, saith the Lord, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of his princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves: And they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped: they shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth.
Disinterment is also a punishment in Plutarch's Life of Solon (12.3, tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
Myron of Phlya conducted the prosecution, and the family of Megacles was found guilty. Those who were alive were banished, and the bodies of the dead were dug up and cast forth beyond the borders of the country.
There is also a danger to corpses from witches, who exhume the bones of the dead to use as ingredients in their potions. See e.g. Horace, Satires 1.8.20-22 (tr. Christopher Smart, a statue of Priapus is speaking):
These I can not by any means destroy nor hinder, but that they will gather bones and noxious herbs, as soon as the fleeting moon has shown her beauteous face.
Only a few philosophers thought what happened to a corpse didn't matter, such as Epictetus (4.7.31-32, tr. W.A. Oldfather):
"But your head will be taken off." And does the tyrant's head always stay in its place, and the heads of you who obey him? "But you will be thrown out unburied." If the corpse is I, then I shall be thrown out; but if I am something different from the corpse, speak with more discrimination, as the fact is, and do not try to terrify me. These things are terrifying to children and to fools.
Anecdotes also survive about the philosophers Diogenes and Theodorus and their lack of concern about what would happen to their bodies after death.

Much more could be said on this theme. There are many more passages like those cited above. There are lots of relevant ancient inscriptions, too, along the lines of Shakespeare's "curst be he that moves my bones."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Hypercritical Grammarians

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (January 2, 1859):
When I hear the hypercritical quarreling about grammar and style, the position of the particles, etc., etc., stretching or contracting every speaker to certain rules of theirs, -- Mr. Webster, perhaps, not having spoken according to Mr. Kirkham's rule, -- I see that they forget that the first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural, as much as the voice of a brute or an interjection: first of all, mother tongue; and last of all, artificial or father tongue. Essentially, your truest poetical sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb's bleat. The grammarian is often one who can neither cry nor laugh, yet thinks that he can express human emotions. So the posture-masters tell you how you shall walk, -- turning your toes out, perhaps, excessively, -- but so the beautiful walkers are not made.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


A Johnson Quotation?

I subscribe to A.Word.A.Day. As an added bonus, once a week there arrives in my inbox "A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages." AWADmail Issue 214 (June 18, 2006) ended with this quotation:
A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who, instead of aiming a single stone at an object, takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)
This set off my bullshit detector. After all, if there was ever "a man who uses a great many words to express his meaning," that man was Samuel Johnson.

I don't pretend to have read every word Johnson wrote, or every word his biographers record him as saying. Nevertheless, in the words I have read, I don't remember seeing this quotation. I was glad to see my skepticism reinforced at The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page: Apocrypha, compiled by Frank Lynch, who says:
Haven't found this one yet, but it's not encouraging. Searches on phrases like "great many words," "bad marksman," and "handful and throws" aren't showing any hits... In fact, the only place I can find him using the word "marksman" is as a word in his Dictionary; the quotations he uses to support his definition are completely different from this one. The phrase "single stone" also only appears in his Dictionary, but in completely different contexts.
For searching, Lynch uses "Primary Source Media's CD-ROM of Johnson's works (which also includes Boswell, Piozzi, Hawkins, Burney, Hill's 'Johnsonian Miscellanies,' O.M. Brack's 'Early Biographies,' et al -- it's extremely comprehensive)."

Most modern books on writing adopt as an article of faith what I call the brevity fetish, e.g. William Zinsser, On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction:
Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what — these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.
In a clever post, Bill Vallicella showed that Zinsser's own sentence could be reduced from 54 to 39 words with no change in meaning.

Some of my favorite authors are those who are anything but brief, whose writings are expansive and leisurely. Like Montaigne and Johnson.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Corpus Christi

George Santayana, Persons and Places, chap. 6 (Avila):
Was not this the festival of the summer solstice? Did not the summer sun and the June roses fill it with light and fragrance? Was not everybody happy and gaily dressed? Did not tapestries and damasks hang from the balconies, or where they were lacking, at least some gay coverlet or shawl or tablecloth? Did not gold thread and tinsel shine everywhere from vestments and banners? Were not the sun's rays doubly reflected from the golden monstrance that seemed to imitate them? And as the Host approached, borne high in a silver shrine amid lights and flowers, did not doves let loose from some window soar and circle in the upper air, while handfuls of rose-leaves fluttered down like snowflakes on the procession? And the Host itself, the mystic center of all this joy, what was it but the bread of life, white wheaten bread sublimated into the pure principle of eternal happiness?



Henry David Thoreau, Journals (August 9, 1858):
The editors of newspapers, the popular clergy, politicians and orators of the day and office-holders, though they may be thought to be of very different politics and religion, are essentially one and homogeneous, inasmuch as they are only the various ingredients of the froth which ever floats on the surface of society.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Differentiae Verborum

Robert Ogilvie's Horae Latinae. Studies in Synonyms and Syntax (London: Longman, Green, and Co., 1901) is a study of the distinctions between Latin synonyms. It tells you, for example, what the differences are between sperare and optare, iucundus and gratus, carere and egere. The book is the fruit of wide, independent reading of Latin literature, especially the chief prose authors (Caesar, Cicero, Sallust, Livy; to a lesser extent Seneca), and is useful for those interested in keeping alive the vanishing art of Latin prose composition.

It is out of print, of course, and the rare used copy is usually very expensive. It is one of those books I wish would show up in Project Gutenberg. Here is a sample from Horae Latinae, s.vv. drink and drunk:

Bibere, to drink, generally, whether to quench one's thirst, or in reference to customary moderate convivial drinking; potare, to drink to excess, to tipple.

Tus. 5,34 Darius in fuga, cum aquam turbidam bibisset, negavit se umquam bibisse iucundius.
Fin. 2,3 estne, inquam, sitienti in bibendo voluptas?
Verr. 1,26 fit sermo inter eos et invitatio, ut Graeco more biberetur.
Pl. Rud. 361 periit potando (he has drunk himself to death).
Phil. 2,27 totos dies potabatur.
Sall. C. 11 ibi primum insuevit exercitus populi Romani potare.

Potum, or potatum, is used instead of bibitum. He is going
to drink, poturus or potaturus est.


Ebrius, drunk, intoxicated. Ebriosus, addicted to drinking, drunken. A person may be "ebrius," drunk, on a particular occasion, without incurring the imputation of being "ebriosus," a drunkard.

Sen. Ep. 83 plurimum interesse concedes inter ebrium et ebriosum.
Mil. 24 servos Milonis apud se ebrios factos (had got drunk in his house).
Fam. 9,17,1 ex quo vel sobrio vel certe ex ebrio scire posses.
Deiot. 9 Deiotarum saltantem quisquam aut ebrium vidit umquam?
Fat. 5 hunc scribunt ipsius familiares ebriosum fuisse.


The Cavalry of Woe

Emily Dickinson:
To fight aloud is very brave,
But gallanter, I know,
Who charge within the bosom,
The cavalry of woe.

Who win, and nations do not see,
Who fall, and none observe,
Whose dying eyes no country
Regards with patriot love.

We trust, in plumed procession,
For such the angels go,
Rank after rank, with even feet
And uniforms of snow.

Friday, June 16, 2006


The Dog and His Reflection

Aesop, Fable 185 Chambry (tr. Olivia and Robert Temple):
A dog was crossing a river holding a piece of meat in its mouth. Catching sight of his reflection in the water, he believed that it was another dog who was holding a bigger piece of meat. So, dropping his own piece, he leaped into the water to take the piece from the other dog. But the result was that he ended up with neither piece -- one didn't even exist and the other was swept away by the current. This fable applies to the covetous.

Κύων κρέας ἔχουσα ποταμὸν διέβαινε· θεασαμένη δὲ τὴν ἑαυτῆς σκιὰν κατὰ τοῦ ὕδατος, ὑπέλαβεν ἑτέραν κύνα εἶναι μεῖζον κρέας ἔχουσαν. Διόπερ ἀφεῖσα τὸ ἴδιον ὥρμησεν ὡς τὸ ἐκείνης ἀφαιρησομένη. Συνέβη δὲ αὐτῇ ἀμφοτέρων στερηθῆναι, τοῦ μὲν μὴ ἐφικομένῃ, διότι οὐδὲ ἦν, τοῦ δὲ, ὅτι ὑπὸ τοῦ ποταμοῦ παρεσύρη. Πρὸς ἄνδρα πλεονέκτην ὁ λόγος εὔκαιρος.
For a list of adaptations and translations of this fable, see here. Jonathan Swift's translation of this fable into Latin could be added to the list:
Ore cibum portans catulus dum spectat in undis,
Apparet liquido praedae melioris imago:
Dum speciosa diu damna admiratur, et altè
Ad latices inhiat, cadit imo vortice praeceps
Ore cibus, nec non simulacrum corripit unà.
Occupat ille avidus deceptis faucibus umbram;
Illudit species, ac dentibus aëra mordet.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


The Unclaimed Dead

Dave Haxton at MacRaven links to a horror story about families in Ohio who refuse to claim bodies from funeral homes, because they don't want to pay the costs of burial.

In a more civilized time and place (ancient Athens), there was a law regulating this sort of thing, quoted by Demosthenes 43.57-58 (tr. A.T. Murray):
And when persons die in the demes and no one takes them up for burial, let the Demarch give notice to the relatives to take them up and bury them, and to purify the deme on the day on which each of them dies. In the case of slaves he shall give notice to their masters, and in the case of freemen to those possessing their property; and if the deceased had no property, the Demarch shall give notice to the relatives of the deceased. And if, after the Demarch shall have given notice, the relatives do not take up the body, the Demarch shall contract for the taking up and burial of the body, and for the purification of the deme on the same day at the lowest possible cost. And if he shall not so contract, he shall be bound to pay a thousand drachmae into the public treasury. And whatsoever he shall expend, he shall exact double the amount from those liable; and if he does not exact it he shall himself be under obligation to repay it to the demesmen.



George Santayana, Persons and Places, chap. X:
In solitude it is possible to love mankind; in the world, for one who knows the world, there can be nothing but secret or open war.


Oldest Book

William Annis and others are blogging about their oldest books. My oldest classics book is Caji Silii Italici Punicorum libri septemdecim ad optimas editiones collati. Praemittitur notitia literaria. Studiis Societatis Bipontinae. Editio accurata (Biponti: Ex Typographia Societatis, MDCCLXXXIV). That's Silius Italicus' Punica (Zweibrücken, 1784). According to Wikipedia, "At the ducal printing office at Zweibrücken the fine edition of the classics known as the Bipontine Editions was published (1799 sqq.)." I think that's a mistake for 1779.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Bumf Again

The erudite E.J. Moncada writes:
Re: your BUMF, 6/11/06, I was not able to recall anything in Swift dealing with the subject matter, but perhaps something from his friend Pope can make up for it:
Verses to be prefixed before B. Linton's New Miscellany

...Their books are useful to a few,
A scholar or a wit or two;
Lintot's for general use are fit,
For some folks read, but all folks sh___.
And Robert Burton in his Democritus to the Reader (Anat. Mel.) writes about the profusion of printed matter: non tam refertae bibliothecae quam cloacae and also adds Martial's (XII, lxi, seemingly a recollection of Catullus 36. 1, but used differently) Scribunt carmina quae legunt cacantes.

And to continue this specialized attack on "carmina," Magister Bernhard Federleser says in his letter to Magister Ortwin Gratius, "ego bene merdarem in vestram poetriam" (Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, Pt. I, iii.)

To return to the Catullan expression/idea, we find no less a one than John Milton in his Second Defense addressing his adversary More (Alexander): "tuam ergo tam bellam pro nostro populo oratiunculam, ne charta omnino pereat, in Annales Volusi suadeo inseres."

Later, S.T. Coleridge, in speaking of Warton’s edition of Milton's Minor Poems, says "The paper seems too bad for such respectable publishers as the Robinsons who did not deal in this charta cacatilis (sic)."

Not directly associated with topic, I thought this might be of interest to you, a remark by Norman Shapiro (Verbatim 18 (2) 1991) about how the French demonstrate a readiness to create words from letter abbreviations, "...the word pécu 'toilet paper' (from PQ, itself a punnish abbreviation of papier cul which has also come to mean a pompous piece of writing, with the corresponding verb, pécufier)."

Monday, June 12, 2006


A Plea for the Classics

Eugene Field, A Plea for the Classics:
A Boston gentleman declares,
  By all the gods above, below,
That our degenerate sons and heirs
  Must let their Greek and Latin go!
Forbid, O Fate, we loud implore,
  A dispensation harsh as that;
What! wipe away the sweets of yore;
  The dear "Amo, amas, amat"?

The sweetest hour the student knows
  Is not when poring over French,
Or twisted in Teutonic throes,
  Upon a hard collegiate bench;
'T is when on roots and kais and gars
  He feeds his soul and feels it glow,
Or when his mind transcends the stars
  With "Zoa mou, sas agapo"!

So give our bright, ambitious boys
   An inkling of these pleasures, too --
A little smattering of the joys
  Their dead and buried fathers knew;
And let them sing -- while glorying that
  Their sires so sang, long years ago --
The songs "Amo, amas, amat,"
  And "Zoa mou, sas agapo"!
  1. Amo, amas, amat = the Latin conjugation "I love, you love, he/she loves"
  2. kai, gar = common Greek words meaning "and" and "for"
  3. Zoa mou, sas agapo = a fragment of Greek meaning "My life, I love thee"

Neil O'Sullivan writes:
Field had some Latin, but it looks like not much Greek. Why else would he have thought that a scrap of Byron's bad modern Greek was actually something ancient?
E.J. Moncada identifies the source of the Greek as Byron's Maid of Athens.


Odium Philologicum

Chris Weimer at Thoughts on Antiquity, in a post on Elitism, Dilettantism, and Hypocrisy, summarizes a recent biblioblogontroversy. Here are the main events:
  1. James D. Tabor writes a book entitled Jesus Dynasty.
  2. Michael Turton writes a negative review of Tabor's book.
  3. Jim West attacks Turton as a dilettante unqualified to review Tabor's work.
  4. Turton deletes his review, apologizes to Tabor, and shuts down his own blog.
  5. Various other bloggers weigh in.
I have nothing to add to my earlier remarks on academic credentials. But I recently read some sensible comments on the subject by Michael Drout, in a post entitled Who is Really a Scholar, which bear repeating:
And it is important that we in academia continually remind ourselves that it is the work not the credential or the institution that really matters.


The Most Fortunate

Sophocles, fragment 410 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
No one is without troubles, and he who has the least is the most fortunate.

ἄμοχθος γὰρ οὐδεὶς· ὁ δ᾽ ἥκιστ᾽ ἔχων

Sunday, June 11, 2006



The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that bumf, also spelled bumph, is short for bum-fodder, and defines it as "toilet-paper; hence, paper (esp. with contemptuous implication), documents collectively." OED s.v. bum defines bum-fodder as "worthless literature" and refers to Latin anitergium.

Anitergium, presumably from anus (arse) and tergeo (wipe), apparently does not occur in classical Latin. Du Cange, Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae Latinitatis, says it is a made-up word:
vox ficta, ut facitergium, cujus notio satis patet. Petrus Damiani lib. I. Epist. 9. Materias congerebat, quibus ad requisita naturae necessaria Fratribus anitergia ministraret.
Holbrook Jackson, Anatomy of Bibliomania, Part XIX (The Misfortune of Books), III (Neglect and Misusage), discusses the use of books as toilet-paper:
But abuse more direct and deliberate has been as common in most times, from their use as packing or tinder to the indignity of sanitary necessity, for although Gargantua discommends paper, and books as such are not named in his famous torcheculatif,2 their use in this wise is historically established and has become a byword in French coprology. Avisez-y, doctes: parce que souvent d'espice, ou des mouchoirs du cul.3 There are those also, as that old English aphorist,4 who go so far as to class the writer of abundance of Books with the begetter of abundance of Children, as a Benefactor of the Publick, because he furnishes it with Bumfodder and Soldiers. I must perforce be indefinite in such a record, so shall only add one instance in which Carew Hazlitt tells us that not so long since a copy of Caxton's Recuyell of the Hystoryes of Troye was found hanging up in a water-closet at Harrogate, sold to a dealer in Manchester for thirty pounds.5 Many times rashly and unadvisedly are good books destined to an indignity which might be deemed infamous and ridiculous for even a newspaper, and if I were disposed to enlarge this theme, here might easily be recalled many unsavoury tales from our own early literature, and I would go on with it, but as Grangousier advised Gargantua, it is a dull theme, so to wander on would be no joke, the curious in such business may look for more in Thomas Dekker, his Gul's Horn-Booke, Dryden's Mac Flecknoe, Swift, etc.

2 Rabelais. I, xiii. 3Beroalde de Verville, Le Moyen de Parvenir. xvi. 4Laconics, or New Maxims. (1701) 118. 5 Book-Collecting. (1904) 124.
Because I am "curious in such business" and "disposed to enlarge this theme," which is far from "dull" to me, I've tried to track down the passages mentioned by Jackson. I had no luck with Swift, but here are Dekker and Dryden.

Thomas Dekker, Gull's Horn-Book, chapter 5:
You shall sharpen the wits of all the eating gallants about you, and do them great pleasure to ask what pamphlets or poems a man might think fittest to wipe his tail with.
John Dryden, Mac Flecknoe, lines 100-101:
From dusty shops neglected authors come,
Martyrs of Pies, and Reliques of the Bum.
In addition, here is a passage from John Oldham, A Satyr. The Person of Spencer is brought in, Dissuading the Author from the Study of Poetry, and shewing how little it is esteem'd and encourag'd in this present Age:
Then who'll not laugh to see th' immortal Name
To vile Mundungus made a Martyr flame?
And all thy deathless Monuments of Wit,
Wipe Porters Tails, or mount in Paper-Kite?
For more on this subject, see here.

Friday, June 09, 2006



Donald R. Howard, Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World (1987; rpt. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1989), p. 32:
Where once Classics was the essence of a university education, it is now a specialized eccentricity, like playing the krummhorn.



John Burroughs, The Secret of Happiness:
Few persons realize how much of their happiness, such as it is, is dependent upon their work, upon the fact that they are kept busy and not left to feed upon themselves. Happiness comes most to persons who seek her least, and think least about her. It is not an object to be sought; it is a state to be induced. It must follow and not lead. It must overtake you, and not you overtake it. How important is health to happiness, yet the best promoter of health is something to do.

Blessed is the man who has some congenial work, some occupation in which he can put his heart, and which affords a complete outlet to all the forces there are in him.

A man does not want much time to think about himself. Too much thought of the past and its shadows overwhelms; too much thought of the present dissipates; too much thought of the future unsettles.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Classical Allusions in The Secret Agent

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, chap. 8:
His jovial purple cheeks bristled with white hairs; and like Virgil's Silenus, who, his face smeared with the juice of berries, discoursed of Olympian Gods to the innocent shepherds of Sicily, he talked to Stevie of domestic matters and the affairs of men whose sufferings are great and immortality by no means assured.
This is an allusion to Vergil, Eclogues 6.13-26 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Proceed, Pierian maids! The lads Chromis and Mnasyllos saw Silenus lying asleep in a cave, his veins swollen, as ever, with the wine of yesterday. Hard by lay the garlands, just fallen from his head, and his heavy tankard was hanging by its well-worn handle. Falling on him — for oft the aged one had cheated both of a promised song — they cast him into fetters made from his own garlands. Aegle joins their company and seconds the timid pair — Aegle, fairest of the Naiads — and, as now his eyes open, paints his face and brows with crimson mulberries. Smiling at the trick, he cries: "Why fetter me? Loose me, lads; enough that you have shown your power. Hear the songs you crave; you shall have your songs, she another kind of reward."
Most of the rest of the eclogue is devoted to the songs of Silenus.

Chap. 9:
And across the length of the table covered with brown oil-cloth Winnie, his wife, talked evenly at him the wifely talk, as artfully adapted, no doubt, to the circumstances of this return as the talk of Penelope to the return of the wandering Odysseus. Mrs Verloc, however, had done no weaving during her husband's absence.
This is an allusion to Homer's Odyssey, especially 2.89-110 (tr. Samuel Butler):
For it is now the third year and the fourth will soon pass, since she has been deceiving the hearts of the Achaeans in their breasts. To all she offers hopes, and has promises for each man, sending them messages, but her mind is set on other things. And she devised in her heart this guileful thing also: she set up in her halls a great web, and fell to weaving — fine of thread was the web and very wide; and straightway she spoke among us: "Young men, my wooers, since goodly Odysseus is dead, be patient, though eager for my marriage, until I finish this robe — I would not that my spinning should come to naught — a shroud for the lord Laertes, against the time when the fell fate of grievous death shall strike him down; lest any of the Achaean women in the land should be wroth with me, if he, who had won great possessions, were to lie without a shroud." So she spoke, and our proud hearts consented. Then day by day she would weave at the great web, but by night would unravel it, when she had let place torches by her. Thus for three years she by her craft kept the Achaeans from knowing, and beguiled them; but when the fourth year came as the seasons rolled on, even then one of her women who knew all told us, and we caught her unravelling the splendid web. So she finished it against her will, perforce.

Chap. 9:
He turned away his heavy eyes, saying huskily: "Well, let him come along, then," and relapsed into the clutches of black care, that perhaps prefers to sit behind a horseman, but knows also how to tread close on the heels of people not sufficiently well off to keep horses — like Mr Verloc, for instance.
This is an allusion to Horace, Odes 3.1.38-40 (tr. Christopher Smart):
Nor does gloomy [atra = black] care depart from the brazen-beaked galley, and she mounts [sedet = sits] behind the horseman.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Nothing New Under the Sun

Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium. Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements (1957; rpt. New York: Harper, 1961), pp. 318-319:
For what the propheta offered to his followers was not simply a chance to improve their lot and to escape from pressing anxieties — it was also, above all, the prospect of carrying out a divinely ordained mission of stupendous, unique importance. This phantasy quickly came to enthrall them in their turn. And what followed then was the formation of a group of a peculiar kind, a true prototype of a modern totalitarian party: a restlessly dynamic and utterly ruthless group which, obsessed by the apocalyptic phantasy and filled with the conviction of its own infallibility, set itself infinitely above the rest of humanity and recognised no claims save that of its own supposed mission. And finally this group might — though it did not always — succeed in imposing its leadership on the great mass of the disoriented, the perplexed and the frightened.

A boundless, millennial promise made with boundless, prophet-like conviction to a number of rootless and desperate men in the midst of a society where traditional norms and relationships are disintegrating — here, it would seem, lay the source of that peculiar subterranean fascism which subsisted as a perpetual menace to the structure of medieval society. It may be suggested that here, too, lies the source of the giant fanaticisms which in our day have convulsed the world.


In Tempus Old

The following poem appears in Susan Paxson, A Handbook for Latin Clubs (Boston: D.C. Heath & Company, 1916), with this introductory remark: "The Journal of Education commends this ingenious poem, written in seven languages — English, French, German, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Italian — as one of the best specimens of Macaronic verse in existence, and worthy of preservation by all collectors."
In tempus old a hero lived,
  Qui loved puellas deux;
He no pouvait pas quite to say
  Which one amabat mieux.
Dit-il lui-meme un beau matin,
  "Non possum both avoir,
Sed si address Amanda Ann,
  Then Kate y yo have war.
Amanda habet argent coin,
  Sed Kate has aureas curls;
Et both sunt very agathae
  Et quite formosae girls."
Enfin the joven anthropos,
  Philoun the duo maids,
Resolved proponere ad Kate
  Devant cet evening's shades,
Procedens then to Kate's domo,
  Il trouve Amanda there,
Kai quite forgot his late resolves,
  Both sunt so goodly fair,
Sed smiling on the new tapis,
  Between puellas twain,
Coepit to tell suo love a Kate
  Dans un poetique strain.
Mais, glancing ever et anon
  At fair Amanda's eyes,
Illae non possunt dicere
  Pro which he meant his sighs.
Each virgo heard the demi-vow,
  Con cheeks as rouge as wine,
Ed offering, each, a milk-white hand,
  Both whispered, "Ich bin dein."
No author is named. Tony Augarde, The Oxford Book of Word Games (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984; rpt. 1986), pp. 182-183, prints the first four lines and says they were "quoted in W.T. Dobson's Poetical Ingenuities (1882)." Several possible corrections come to mind, but I've left the poem as I found it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Dalrymple Watch

Essays by Theodore Dalrymple in the New English Review:


Many Other Things

John 21.25:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

Ἔστιν δὲ καὶ ἄλλα πολλὰ ἃ ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, ἅτινα ἐὰν γράφηται καθ᾽ ἕν, οὐδ᾽ αὐτὸν οἶμαι τὸν κόσμον χωρῆσαι τὰ γραφόμενα βιβλία.
Diogenes Laertius 6.69 (on Diogenes the Cynic, tr. R.D. Hicks):
Many other sayings are attributed to him, which it would take long to enumerate.

ἀναφέρεται δὲ καὶ ἄλλα εἰς αὐτόν, ἃ μακρὸν ἂν εἴη καταλέγειν πολλὰ ὄντα.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Between the Pages of Books

The always interesting Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence has an especially interesting post on The Things You Find in Books!

Because almost all the books I buy are used, I sometimes find objects in them. Never any money, alas, but also never any cigarette butts. The fragrance of a previous owner's pipe tobacco perfumes the pages of some of my books. In older books I not infrequently find pressed flowers or tree leaves, which I leave undisturbed. Once in a while I find letters, including some letters to and from Ben Ames Williams (1889-1953) in a translation of Victor Hugo's book on Shakespeare, and recently a very moving billet-doux, which it would be too voyeuristic to quote.

I share Patrick's dislike for marginalia and underlining in books. I erased notes and underscores by the late Gordon Messing in my secondhand copy of Jasper Griffin's Homer on Life and Death. Despite Messing's stature as a scholar, there was nothing in the notes worth keeping. At least Messing's notes were in pencil, although they were on virtually every page.

I'm not a violent man by nature, but I could throttle the swine who disfigure library books with their inane scribbles. The inventor of yellow markers, too, deserves a place in the lowest circle of the bibliomaniac's hell.

I'm more indulgent towards the owner's name inside the front cover. My copy of J.D. Duff's commentary on Juvenal is inscribed:
Austin M. Thomas
Treborth Hall Farm
Bangor, N.W.
The rest of the book is in pristine condition.

Occasionally I make light pencil marks in the books I own, a tick in the margin next to something interesting, or a list of page numbers inside the back cover. If my books survive my death (rather than ending up in a landfill), it will be an easy matter for the next owner to get rid of my pencil marks.

I was also interested to learn that Patrick has "backup" copies of works like Tristram Shandy. I have three copies of the "little Liddell," one for the study, one for the bedroom, and one for the living room. I need only one more, for the bathroom. Even if I don't need a duplicate of a favorite book, I sometimes buy one anyway if the price is right. I figure I can give it a good home, where it will be appreciated and well cared for.



Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, III: Schopenhauer as Educator, § 5 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
There are spirits all around us, every moment of our life wants to say something to us, but we refuse to listen to these spirit-voices. We are afraid that when we are alone and quiet something will be whispered into our ear, and so we hate quietness and deafen ourselves with sociability.

Es geht geisterhaft um uns zu, jeder Augenblick des Lebens will uns etwas sagen, aber wir wollen diese Geisterstimme nicht hören. Wir fürchten uns, wenn wir allein und stille sind, dass uns etwas in das Ohr geraunt werde, und so hassen wir die Stille und betäuben uns durch Geselligkeit.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, IV: Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, § 5 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Alone with themselves! — the idea of this makes modern souls quake, it is their kind of terror and fear of ghosts.

Mit sich selber! — dieser Gedanke schüttelt die modernen Seelen, das ist ihre Angst und Gespensterfurcht.



Terry Lindvall, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), p. 216, discussing names suited to occupations in Prince Caspian:
A deadly dull Telmarine academic author is named Pulverulentus Siccus, a sly Latin equivalent of the words dust, slow, and dry.
So far as I know, the suffix -lentus in pulverulentus has nothing to do with the adjective lentus (pliant, flexible; slow, sluggish). See Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar, § 245:
Adjectives meaning full of, prone to, are formed from noun-stems with the suffixes — -ōsus, -lēns, -lentus.
Examples from which English words are derived include corpulentus, crapulentus, fraudulentus, opulentus, somnulentus, truculentus, and turbulentus.

Pulverulentus Siccus, author of Grammatical garden or the Arbour of Accidence pleasantlie open'd to Tender Wits, is a sly Latin equivalent of Dr. Jonas Dryasdust, the fictitious character to whom Sir Walter Scott dedicated some of his novels.

Dryasdust would be a good name for a pedantic, nit-picking blog (like this one).

Sunday, June 04, 2006



Gypsy Scholar muses on plagiarism, which reminds me of an episode from my past.

I was accused of cheating during my freshman year of college, in a music appreciation class, one of those classes with hundreds of students. The instructor, for an examination question, played a piece of music we had not studied, and asked us to write about it.

The music was the second movement of Brahms' fourth symphony. This symphony was one of a few recordings I happened to own. I had listened to it dozens of times, until I knew it almost by heart.

In my answer to the examination question I identified the piece of music, mentioned that the melody was written in the Phrygian mode, and repeated some other things I remembered from the record jacket.

Everyone else except me got a graded examination back. I got a summons to see the instructor, who accused me of having hired someone else (a music major presumably) to take the examination in my place.

The instructor was skeptical of my explanation and made me write another examination in his office, under his watchful eye.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


To the Grim Ferry All Must Go

When he was a schoolboy at Malvern College, C.S. Lewis wrote 'Carpe Diem' after Horace, based not on Horace's Ode 1.11, where the phrase carpe diem appears, but on Horace's Ode 2.3. Here are Lewis' poem, Horace's Latin, and finally another English version by John Addington Symonds.

C.S. Lewis:
When, in haughty exultation, thou durst laugh in
    Fortune's face,
Or when thou hast sunk down weary, trampled in
    The ceaseless race,

Dellius, think on this I pray thee — but the
    Twinkling of an eye,
May endure thy pain or pleasure; for thou knowest
    Thou shalt die,

Whether on some breeze-kissed upland, with a
    Flask of mellow wine,
Thou hast all the world forgotten, stretched be-
    Neath the friendly pine,

Or, in foolish toil consuming all the springtime
    Of thy life,
Thou hast worked for useless silver and endured
    The bitter strife,

Still unchanged thy doom remaineth. Thou art
    Set towards thy goal,
Out into the empty breezes soon shall flicker
    Forth thy soul.

Here then by the plashing streamlet fill the
    Tinkling glass I pray,
Bring the short lived rosy garlands, and be
    Happy — FOR TODAY.

Aequam memento rebus in arduis
servare mentem, non secus in bonis
    ab insolenti temperatam
    laetitia, moriture Delli,

seu maestus omni tempore vixeris
seu te in remoto gramine per dies
    festos reclinatum bearis
    interiore nota Falerni.

Quo pinus ingens albaque populus
umbram hospitalem consociare amant
    ramis? Quid obliquo laborat
    lympha fugax trepidare rivo?

Huc vina et unguenta et nimium brevis
flores amoenae ferre iube rosae,
    dum res et aetas et Sororum
    fila trium patiuntur atra.

Cedes coemptis saltibus et domo
villaque, flavus quam Tiberis lavit,
    cedes, et exstructis in altum
    divitiis potietur heres.

Divesne prisco natus ab Inacho
nil interest an pauper et infima
    de gente sub divo moreris,
    victima nil miserantis Orci;

omnes eodem cogimur, omnium
versatur urna serius ocius
    sors exitura et nos in aeternum
    exilium impositura cumbae.

John Addington Symonds:
In trouble keep your courage high
    And calm, but yet in happier fate
    Be not with rapture too elate —
For one day, Dellius, you must die.

Whether through dreary days you pine,
    Or on the far sequestered grass
    Luxurious holidays you pass
Quaffing your old Falernian wine:

I know the spot — by poplar pale
    And lofty pines a friendly shade
    With intertwining branches made;
And hard by struggles through the vale

The winding water: — there we'll set
    Wines and rich perfumes; boys shall bring
    Roses, too briefly blossoming;
While youth and Fortune smile, while yet

Their dark threads spin the sisters three.
    Ah me! your parks, your pleasant home
    Washed by the Tiber's tawny foam
You'll leave; and all your wealth shall be

But for your heir. If rich and one
    Of Inachus' old line and name,
    Or poor and basest born, the same
Your doom to Orcus pitying none.

To the grim ferry all must go;
    Our lots are cast into one urn,
    And soon or late comes out our turn
For endless banishment below.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


A Bathroom Word

Anatoly Liberman, the Oxford Etymologist, writes:
There can be no doubt about the origin of ka-ka, poop, and a good many similar bathroom words.
I have often pondered the linguistic origin of ka-ka, which I spell caca. This was the word for excrement that we used in our family when I was a lad. It also meant anything dirty or filthy, not to be put in the mouth. My mother's native language was French, although we spoke English at home, and I suspect she was the one who introduced this word into our family circle.

This suspicion of French origin was reinforced on my one and only trip to France, where caca was almost the first French word I heard, in the mouth of a little boy on the train from Luxembourg to France, who asked his mother if he could faire caca. Louis Chaffurin, Dictionnaire Français-Anglais (Paris: Larousse, 1928), defines caca thus:
Excrement, dirt; faire caca, to go to stool.
The little boy was asking his mother if he had her permission to go to stool.

A brief digression on stool. The Online Etymology Dictionary (s.v.) says:
O.E. stol "seat for one person," from P.Gmc. *stolaz (cf. O.Fris. stol, O.N. stoll, O.H.G. stuol, Ger. Stuhl "seat," Goth. stols "high seat, throne"), from PIE *sta-lo-, locative of base *sta- "to stand" (cf. Lith. pa-stolas "stand," O.C.S. stolu "stool;" see stet). Originally used of thrones (cf. cynestol "royal seat, throne"); change of meaning began with adoption of chair from Fr., which relegated stool to small seats without arms or backs, then "privy" (1410) and thence to "bowel movement" (1533).
In English, cucking stools are "chairs formerly used for the punishment of scolds, witches, prostitutes and dishonest tradesmen." Cucking is from a Middle English word cognate with caca, viz. cukken = defecate.

One dishonest tradesman I would like to see sentenced to the cucking stool is Ken Lay, former CEO of Enron and now convicted felon. There is a little-known connection between Enron and the by-products of human digestion. Enron originated with the merger of InterNorth of Omaha and Houston Natural Gas in 1986. The first choice for the corporate name was Enteron, until someone looked in the dictionary and realized that enteron means "alimentary canal, digestive tract," perhaps not the best name for a company selling natural gas.

Another English word possibly cognate with caca is poppycock, about which the Online Etymology Dictionary says:
1865, probably from Du. dialect pappekak, from M.Du. pappe "soft dung" (see pap) + kak "dung," from L. cacare "to excrete."
When I learned Latin, I discovered to my delight that the verb meaning "to defecate" was cacō, cacāre, and wondered if there was any etymological connection to caca. Apparently there is. J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), has an appendix on the Vocabulary Relating to Bodily Functions (pp. 231-250). One of the bodily functions discussed is defecation (pp. 231-244) and one of the vocabulary items under defecation is cacō and its derivatives (pp. 231-233). Adams says (p. 232):
Caco survives in all of the Romance languages.
J. Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, s.v. kakka- (p. 521), refers not only to Latin cacō, but also to related words in Armenian, Greek, Middle Irish, Welsh, Breton, Cornish, Russian, and New High German. The Greek words appear, as we would expect, in Aristophanes:It is both funny and touching to consider that this homely word has been passed on from mother (traditionally the toilet trainer) to child for millennia, ever since the days of proto-Indo-European.

Dennis Mangan writes:
The Aztec word for "cocoa" was "cacahuatl". Apparently the Spaniards were impressed by the correspondence between the word and cocoa's appearance, which so resembles "caca".
John Gould, Europe on Saturday Night: The Farmer and His Wife Take a Tour (Camden: Down East Books, 1968), p. 99, writing about the Danube River, says:
It flows on and on with romance and traffic, accumulating waltzes and kuck as it goes.
Kuck doesn't appear in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979). In Maine, I have heard people refer to the equipment used to clean septic tanks as the kucka-sucka.

The first two entries under the letter c in Bosworth and Toller's An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (1898) are these:
cac, es; m? Dung, excrement; stercus, foria, merda, Som. Ben. Lye. [Plat. kak, kakk: Dut. kak, m: Kil. kack: Ger. kack, m: Dan. kag, m. f: Grk. κάκκη: Lat. cacare: Grk. κακκάω.]

cac-hús, es; n. A privy; latrina, Som. Ben. Lye. [Kil. kack-huys.]

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