Thursday, January 31, 2008



Radaratoo, radarate, radara, tadara, tandore. Lechlachananilimniichot. Raphèl mà amècche zabì almi. Cacaracamouchen.

To those examples of literary gibberish add another from Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book 2, Chapter 11 (tr. Louise and Aylmer Maude):
Sidorov, turning to the French, winked, and began to jabber meaningless sounds very fast: "Kari, mala, tafa, safi, muter, Kaská," he said, trying to give an expressive intonation to his voice.
There are more nonsense syllables ("Tafa-lafa") in Book 3, Chapter 13; cf. also Aylmer Maude's note in that chapter:
The word German (németz) in Russian means a "dumb man"—one who cannot speak so that we can understand him.
Related posts:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Quantum Est Quod Nescimus!

Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist's Year (July 18):
As I gaze down on this algae-bordered puddle, a kind of despair envelops me. What are the algae of the green border? I don't know. What are the little flies landing and taking off? I don't know. What are the small plants thrusting up through the water? I don't know. The vistas of my ignorance seem boundless. How much that I see I do not recognize; how much that I observe I do not understand! In this despairing and humbled mood, I traverse the meadows and return home. In the study of nature, we never exhaust the possibilities of an area; the area exhausts the possibilities in us.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Puck's Muck

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships took place here in St. Paul last week. It requires a special lexicon to keep track of all the fancy skating terminology — Axels, Choctaws, Lutzes, Mohawks, Salchows, Twizzles, etc. Here is a description of some old-fashioned moves, from what one might call the Transcendentalist school of ice skating:
One afternoon, Mr. Emerson and Mr. Thoreau went with him [Hawthorne] down the river. Henry Thoreau is an experienced skater, and was figuring dithyrambic dances and Bacchic leaps on the ice—very remarkable, but ugly, methought. Next him followed Mr. Hawthorne, who, wrapped in his cloak, moved like a self-impelled Greek statue, stately and grave. Mr. Emerson closed the line, evidently too weary to hold himself erect, pitching headforemost, half lying on the air.
Letter of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne to Mrs. Caleb Foote (Dec. 30, 1842).

The skating championship got me thinking about the spot where I used to skate as a child in Brewer, Maine. Puck's Muck, we called it. The older children sometimes built a fire nearby, a welcome way to warm frigid hands and feet after a few turns on the ice. I googled Puck's Muck and was sorry to find the following in an article by Nok-Noi Ricker, "Neighbors Oppose Proposed Business Park," Bangor Daily News (Dec. 20, 2007):
The residents along Parkway North just don't want things to change in their backyards, but a developer who has purchased about 11 acres of abutting land is moving forward with plans to build a five-unit business park.

Brewer lawyer Donald Brown and his wife, Terri, purchased the land, which is located just south of Parkway North and is known locally as "Puck's Muck."
The world could use more outdoor skating rinks, fewer business parks, methinks. The very expression "business park" is an ugly oxymoron, just as bad as "industrial park."

The American landscape artist Louis Rémy Mignot (1831-1870) studied in Holland under Andreas Schelfhout. To the Charleston, South Carolina native, ice skating must have been a novelty. Mignot painted this Winter Scene in Holland when he was a student:

Sunday, January 27, 2008



Henry David Thoreau, Journal (Jan. 25, 1852):
I am struck and attracted by the parallelism of the twigs of the hornbeam, fine parallelism.
I don't know any hornbeams in the neighborhood to examine, but pictures of hornbeam twigs I've looked at show that twigs growing out from a branch aren't necessarily parallel to each other. The American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) is different from the European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), but I suspect Thoreau may have been referring to the parallel lines formed by every other twig segment as shown in this photograph of a European hornbeam:

If you extend every other twig segment in your mind's eye, you can see parallel lines.

A common name for both species of hornbeam, American and European, is ironwood. Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of North American Trees (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007), p. 185, discusses the quality of the close-grained wood:
The name Hornbeam has reference to the extreme hardness of the wood — "horn" for toughness, and "beam," an old word for tree, comparable with the German Baum. "The Home Bound tree," wrote William Wood in New England's Prospects, "is a tough kinde of Wood that requires much paines in riving as is almost incredible, being the best to make bolles and dishes, not subject to crack or leake." Hornbeam has been utilized, too, for levers and handles of striking implements, but, as it cannot be obtained in large quantities from so small a tree, it is employed chiefly by local tool makers and does not figure as a wood of commerce. The hardwood lumberman thinks of this as a mere weed tree.
To the series of lamentations by English writers about the destruction of their favorite trees (William Cowper, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Clare, J.R.R. Tolkien), I'd like to add a letter by William Morris (1834-1896) to the Editor of the Daily Chronicle (April 23, 1895), pleading for the preservation of some threatened hornbeams:
I venture to ask you to allow me a few words on the subject of the present treatment of Epping Forest. I was born and bred in its neighbourhood (Walthamstow and Woodford), and when I was a boy and young man I knew it yard by yard from Wanstead to the Theydons, and from Hale End to the Fairlop Oak. In those days it had no worse foes than the gravel stealer and the rolling-fence maker, and was always interesting and often very beautiful. From what I can hear it is years since the greater part of it has been destroyed, and I fear, Sir, that in spite of your late optimistic note on the subject, what is left of it now runs the danger of further ruin.

The special character of it was derived from the fact that by far the greater part was a wood of hornbeams, a tree not common save in Essex and Herts. It was certainly the biggest hornbeam wood in these islands, and I suppose in the world. The said hornbeams were all pollards, being shrouded every four or six years, and were interspersed in many places with holly thickets, and the result was a very curious and characteristic wood, such as can be seen nowhere else. And I submit that no treatment of it can be tolerable which does not maintain this hornbeam wood intact.

But the hornbeam, though an interesting tree to an artist and reasonable person, is no favourite with the landscape gardener, and I very much fear that the intention of the authorities is to clear the forest of native trees, and to plant vile weeds like deodars and outlandish conifers instead. We are told that a committee of 'experts' has been formed to sit in judgment on Epping Forest; but, Sir, I decline to be gagged by the word 'expert,' and I call on the public generally to take the same position. An 'expert' may be a very dangerous person, because he is likely to narrow his views to the particular business (usually a commercial one) which he represents. In this case, for instance, we do not want to be under the thumb of either a wood bailiff whose business is to grow timber for the market, or of a botanist whose business is to collect specimens for a botanical garden; or of a landscape gardener whose business is to vulgarise a garden or landscape to the utmost extent that his patron's purse will allow of. What we want is reasonable men of real artistic taste to take into consideration what the essential needs of the case are, and to advise accordingly. Now it seems to me that the authorities who have Epping Forest in hand may have two intentions as to it. First, they may intend to landscape-garden it, or turn it into golf grounds (and I very much fear that even the latter nuisance may be in their minds); or second, they may really think it necessary (as you suggest) to thin the hornbeams, so as to give them a better chance of growing. The first alternative we Londoners should protest against to the utmost, for if it be carried out then Epping Forest is turned into a mere place of vulgarity, is destroyed in fact.

As to the second, to put our minds at rest, we ought to be assured that the cleared spaces would be planted again, and that almost wholly with hornbeam. And, further, the greatest possible care should be taken that not a single tree should be felled unless it is necessary for the growth of its fellows. Because, mind you, with comparatively small trees, the really beautiful effect of them can only be got by their standing as close together as the emergencies of growth will allow. We want a thicket, not a park, from Epping Forest.

In short, a great and practically irreparable mistake will be made if, under the shelter of the opinion of 'experts,' from mere carelessness and thoughtlessness, we let the matter slip out of the hands of the thoughtful part of the public; the essential character of one of the greatest ornaments of London will disappear, and no one will have even a sample left to show what the great north-eastern forest was like.

Saturday, January 26, 2008



Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (Part. I, Sect. I, Memb. I, Subs. 5):
In general, "as the heaven, so is our life, sometimes fair, sometimes overcast, tempestuous, and serene; as in a rose, flowers and prickles; in the year itself, a temperate summer sometimes, a hard winter, a drought, and then again pleasant showers: so is our life intermixed with joys, hopes, fears, sorrows, calumnies: Invicem cedunt dolor et voluptas," there is a succession of pleasure and pain.
————"medio de fonte leporum
Surgit amari aliquid, in ipsis floribus angat."
"Even in the midst of laughing there is sorrow," (as Solomon holds): even in the midst of all our feasting and jollity, as Austin infers in his Com. on the 41st Psalm, there is grief and discontent. Inter delicias semper aliquid saevi nos strangulat, for a pint of honey thou shalt here likely find a gallon of gall, for a dram of pleasure a pound of pain, for an inch of mirth an ell of moan; as ivy doth an oak, these miseries encompass our life. And it is most absurd and ridiculous for any mortal man to look for a perpetual tenure of happiness in his life. Nothing so prosperous and pleasant, but it hath some bitterness in it, some complaining, some grudging; it is all γλυκύπικρον, a mixed passion, and like a chequer table black and white: men, families, cities, have their falls and wanes; now trines, sextiles, then quartiles and oppositions.

Friday, January 25, 2008



Today is the birthday of Robert Burns, and the OED Online Word of the Day is a fitting one, haggis. The Nanny States of America forbids the importation of this delicacy.

Today is also the birthday of the Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898). I especially love his paintings of trees, with their intricate detail. There is a good selection for viewing at Olga's Gallery. Here is Shishkin's Winter:


More on Strictu Dictu

I expected An Odd Use of the Second Supine to be met with yawns and silence. But it provoked some emails.
Dear Michael,

I hope you're well! Thanks for your recent post on Maverick Philosopher's supination.

Looks like a contamination of "ADJ dictu" (are the ABL supines really only with ADJ's in "-ile"?) by "sensu stricto" 'in the strict sense'. If ABL supines freely occur with any ADJ, then it should be "strictum dictu", no?

My phonologist friend Kie Zuraw (UCLA) has worked on this sort of contamination and dubbed it "aggressive reduplication", such as in "sherbert" for "sherbet", "orangutang" for "orangutan", and "hari-kari" for "hara-kiri". (Cf. Aggressive Reduplication.)

Take care!

In response to Angelo's first question, I didn't mean to imply that all adjectives with dictu must end in -ile. The rarum in the title of Kroon's Glotta article is proper, as is strictum (in answer to Angelo's second question).

Another correspondent writes:
Nice piece on this Neo-Latin barbarism (or so I believe). Neither strictu nor stricte make any sense to me.

I can only surmise that after dictu had ceased to be sounded as a trochee, "strictu dictu" was heard as a "cool" pair of alliterative iambs.

That said, somebody will probably turn up "stricte dictu" in Juvenal and we will have to commit seppuku, which sounds like a good remedy for indigestion but really isn't.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


An Odd Use of the Second Supine

The Maverick Philosopher, 'I Don't Mind Losing':
In the middle paragraph I was quoting an actual person, whereas on the two other occasions I was not quoting, strictu dictu, but mentioning a sentence.
Unlike many people who use Latin phrases, the Maverick Philosopher actually understands Latin. But I'm puzzled by strictu dictu meaning "strictly speaking." He is not alone in using this phrase. It is possible to find other examples, even in printed books. The alternative stricte dictu seems slightly more common than strictu dictu, at least judging from a Google search. But I have trouble construing either strictu dictu or stricte dictu.

Dictu is a supine. Allen and Greenough, New Latin Grammar § 508, define a supine as "a verbal abstract of the fourth declension...having no distinction of tense or person, and limited to two uses." The two uses are:
  1. "The Supine in -um is used after verbs of motion to express purpose." (§ 509)
  2. "The Supine in is used with a few adjectives and with the nouns fās, nefās, and opus, to denote an action in reference to which the quality is asserted." (§ 510)
Clearly dictu by its form falls into the second category. It is a supine from the verb dicere ("say, tell, relate"). Adjectives used with dictu are often neuter adjectives of the third declension, e.g. horribile dictu ("horrible to relate"), mirabile dictu ("wonderful to relate"), difficile dictu ("difficult to relate"), etc.

How are we to understand strictu? I can think of the following types of Latin words that end in -u:So strictu doesn't appear to be a proper Latin word at all.

I'm baffled by strictu dictu, but what about stricte dictu? The perfect passive participle strictus, -a, -um (from stringere) can be used as an adjective meaning "strict," and the corresponding adverb stricte can mean "strictly." But can an adverb like stricte modify a verbal abstract, a supine, like dictu? I can't find such a usage discussed in books on Latin grammar, and so even stricte dictu seems odd to me, although not quite as odd as strictu dictu.

Strictu (if it existed) and stricte are not adjectives suitable for use with dictu, in contrast to difficile, horribile, and mirabile.

Maybe I'm just obtuse, but both strictu dictu and stricte dictu puzzle me. I can't find any classical or even medieval examples or analogues. If you correct me, please cite chapter and verse.

I do not have access to:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008



Fyodor Tyutchev (1803-1873), Silentium (tr. Vladimir Nabokov):
Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal
the way you dream, the things you feel.
Deep in your spirit let them rise
akin to stars in crystal skies
that set before the night is blurred:
delight in them and speak no word.

How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought once uttered is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.

Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard...
take in their song and speak no word.
Another translation, by Frank Jude:
Stay silent, out of sight and hide
your feelings and your dreams inside.
Within your soul's deep centre let
them silently rise, let them set
like stars in the night. Don't be heard.
Admire them. Don't say a word.

How can your heart itself express?
Can others understand or guess
exactly what life means to you?
A thought you've spoken is untrue.
You only cloud the streams you've stirred.
Be fed by them. Don't say a word.

Making living in yourself your goal.
There is a world within your soul
where mystery-magic thoughts abound.
By outer noise they will be drowned.
They'll scatter as day is bestirred.
Just heed their song. Don't say a word!
Yet another translation, by Anatoly Liberman:
Speak not, lie deep, do not reveal
Things that you wish or things you feel;
Within your soul's protected mine
Let them ascend and then decline
Like silent stars in heaven bleak:
Admire their sheen—but do not speak.

How can a heart be put in words?
By others—how can one be heard?
Will people know what you live by?
A thought expressed becomes a lie.
Don't muddy springs that are unique:
Drink from their depth—but do not speak.

Live only in yourself encased;
Your soul contains a world of chaste,
Mysterious thoughts, which outside noise
Robs of their magic and destroys;
The rays of morning make them weak—
Enjoy their song—but do not speak!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


A Very Valiant Trencherman

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. (August 5, 1763):
At supper this night he talked of good eating with uncommon satisfaction. 'Some people (said he,) have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat. For my part, I mind my belly very studiously, and very carefully; for I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else.'

He now appeared to me Jean Bull philosophe, and he was, for the moment, not only serious but vehement. Yet I have heard him, upon other occasions, talk with great contempt of people who were anxious to gratify their palates; and the 206th number of his Rambler is a masterly essay against gulosity. His practice, indeed, I must acknowledge, may be considered as casting the balance of his different opinions upon this subject; for I never knew any man who relished good eating more than he did.

When at table, he was totally absorbed in the business of the moment; his looks seemed rivetted to his plate; nor would he, unless when in very high company, say one word, or even pay the least attention to what was said by others, till he had satisfied his appetite, which was so fierce, and indulged with such intenseness, that while in the act of eating, the veins of his forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible.
A friend sent me a postcard from Johnson's Gough Square house with part of this quotation, plus a caricature by Henry Bunbury of Boswell and Johnson eating at a chop house. Note how Johnson is "rivetted to his plate."

Bunbury's drawing, dated October 15, 1781, is supposed to be one of only a few caricatures of Johnson made in his lifetime. Figure 176 on p. 188 of Peter Hyland, The Herculaneum Pottery: Liverpool's Forgotten Glory (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005), shows a 19th century earthenware plate with Bunbury's drawing reproduced on it.

Related posts: See also Patrick Kurp's remarks on this passage from Boswell's biography of Johnson.

Monday, January 21, 2008



According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, our word wilderness comes from "Middle English wildernesse, Old English wildēornes, from wildēor," that is, wilde dēor, or "wild beast." The Old English word dēor survives in modern English deer and is also cognate with German Tier (animal). Although nowadays deer means almost exclusively a hoofed ruminant of the Bambi variety, we can see the wider meaning in Shakespeare's
But mice, and rats, and such small deer,
Have been Tom's food for many a year.
King Lear, 3.4.

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) was one of the foremost painters of America's wilderness, and it is fitting (from an etymological standpoint) that some of his paintings of wild scenes include deer. Looking at some of his paintings recently, I noticed deer in his Dogwood, Forest Sunrise, Mountain Lake, and (as one might expect from the name) Landscape with Deer After the Storm. I'm sure that more of his many landscapes feature deer as well. Here is Bierstadt's Forest Sunrise:

In The Conspiracy of Pontiac, Francis Parkman wrote:
To him who has once tasted the reckless independence, the haughty self-reliance, the sense of irresponsible freedom, which the forest life engenders, civilization thenceforth seems flat and stale. Its pleasures are insipid, its pursuits wearisome, its conventialities, duties, and mutual dependence alike tedious and disgusting. The entrapped wanderer grows fierce and restless, and pants for breathing-room. His path, it is true, was choked with difficulties, but his body and soul were hardened to meet them; it was beset with dangers, but these were the very spice of his life, gladdening his heart with exulting self-confidence, and sending the blood through his veins with a livelier current. The wilderness, rough, harsh, and inexorable, has charms more potent in their seductive influence than all the lures of luxury and sloth. And often he on whom it has cast its magic finds no heart to dissolve the spell, and remains a wanderer and an Ishmaelite to the hour of his death.
Within many a city dweller, I suspect, there is an entrapped wanderer panting for breathing room, and over such as these even a picture of the wilderness, like Bierstadt's Forest Sunrise, has power to cast a magic spell.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Sad Ravages in the Woods

It was a custom among the members of the poet William Wordsworth's family to name places after each other. Wordsworth's brother John was a sea captain. At home in Grasmere John Wordsworth was so fond of a grove of fir trees that it was called John's Grove. A path within the grove was so worn by John's footsteps that it was called John's Path. These names appear in the journal of Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William and John, e.g. "John's Grove" in 1801 (Nov. 12, Dec. 27) and 1802 (Jan. 26, Feb. 8, Feb. 23, April 29, May 26, June 2, June 13, June 23), and "John's Path" in entries for March 4 and June 13, 1802.

William Wordsworth alludes to this family custom in his series Poems on the Naming of Places. In number VI in the series he mentions John's Grove ("Upon a hill / At a short distance from my cottage, stands / A stately Fir-grove") and John's Path ("I found / A hoary pathway traced between the trees"). He describes how he realized that it was his brother's footsteps that had worn the path:
And with the sight of this same path—begun,
Begun and ended, in the shady grove,
Pleasant conviction flashed upon my mind
That, to this opportune recess allured,
He had surveyed it with a finer eye,
A heart more wakeful; and had worn the track
By pacing here, unwearied and alone,
In that habitual restlessness of foot
That haunts the Sailor measuring o'er and o'er
His short domain upon the vessel's deck,
While she pursues her course through the dreary sea.
Despite the possessive noun, the Wordsworths did not own John's Grove, and the owner of the property cut down the trees there. In a letter to Mary Wordsworth, John the irascible sea captain wrote, "I wish I had the monster that cut them down in my ship & I would give him a tight flogging."

In a journal entry (March 4, 1802), Dorothy Wordsworth wrote that woodcutters were "making sad ravages in the woods."

Bruce Crane, Old Woodlot

Related posts:



Anatoly Liberman, The Oddest English Spellings, or, The Future of Spelling Reform:
Our civilization has reached a stage at which together we are extremely powerful and in our individual capacities nearly helpless. We (that is, we as a body) can solve the most complicated mathematical problems, but our children no longer know the multiplication table. Since they can use a calculator to find out how much six times seven is, why bother? Also, WE can fly from New York to Stockholm in a few hours, but, when asked where Sweden is, thousands of people answer with a sigh that they did not take geography in high school: it must be somewhere up there on the map. There is no need to know anything: given the necessary software, clever machines will do all the work and leave us playing videogames and making virtual love. The worst anti-utopias did not predict such a separation between communal omniscience and personal ignorance, such a complete rift between collective wisdom and individual stultification.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Jabbernowl or Jobbernowl

Dear Mike,

W.C. Fields used "jabbernowl" in The Bank Dick.

"Don't be a luddy-duddy! Don't be a mooncalf! Don't be a jabbernowl! You're not one of those, are you?"

He's speaking to his future son-in-law Og Oggilby, played by Grady Sutton. When Fields hears Og's name for the first time he says, "Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub."


I can imagine only one possible source for a bubble in the bathtub that sounds like "Og Oggilby."


Fresyng Fell

Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) wrote an essay on Getting Up on Cold Mornings. In it he complained:
Some people say it is a very easy thing to get up of a cold morning. You have only, they tell you, to take the resolution; and the thing is done. This may be very true; just as a boy at school has only to take a flogging, and the thing is over.
This is a cold morning in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the temperature is -10 degrees. Of course it is no hardship to get up in a heated house. I keep the thermostat at a comfortable 62 degrees. These temperatures are in Fahrenheit.

But throughout most of human history it was very uncomfortable to get up in an unheated or poorly heated room in the dead of winter. Eric Thomson drew my attention to some literary descriptions of waking on a cold morning. The first is from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Passus IV 1-13, here in a translation and text from the edition of J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon, revised by Norman Davis (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967):
Now the New Year draws near, and the night passes,
the day takes over from the night, as God commands;
but fierce storms wakened from the world outside,
clouds bitterly threw the cold to the earth,
from the north with much bitterness, to torment the naked;
the snow, which nipped cruelly the wild creatures,
came shivering down very bitterly;
the wind blowing shrilly rushed from the high (ground),
and drove each valley full of very large (snow)drifts.
The man who lay in his bed listened very carefully,
although he locks his eyelids, he sleeps very little;
by each cock that crew he was reminded of the appointed day.
Before the day dawned, he quickly got up,
for there was light from a lamp which shone in his bedroom...

Now neʒez þe Nw Ʒere, and þe nyʒt passez,
Þe day dryuez to þe derk, as Dryʒtyn biddez;
Bot wylde wederez of þe worlde wakned þeroute,
Clowdes kesten kenly þe colde to þe erþe,
Wyth nyʒe innoghe of þe norþe, þe naked to tene;
Þe snawe snitered ful snart, þat snayped þe wylde;
Þe werbelande wynde wapped fro þe hyʒe,
And drof vche dale ful of dryftes ful grete.
Þe leude lystened ful wel þat leʒ in his bedde,
Þaʒ he lowkez his liddez, ful lyttel he slepes;
Bi vch kok þat crue he knwe wel þe steuen.
Deliuerly he dressed vp, er þe day sprenged,
For þere watz lyʒt of a laumpe þat lemed in his chambre...
The second passage is from another Gawain — Gavin Douglas (1475?-1522), The Proloug of the Sevynt Buke of Eneads, i.e. the prologue to his translation of the seventh book of Vergil's Aeneid, lines 124–144. I can't find a version in modern English, and my knowledge of Scots isn't sufficient for me to make an adequate one, so I'll quote the original followed by glosses (some contributed by Eric Thomson, some from the online Dictionary of the Scots Language, some my own guesses). Despite my ignorance of the language, even I can tell that this is splendid poetry, and I would love to hear it recited by someone familiar with the pronunciation.
124 Fast by my chalmyr, in heich wysnet treis,
125 The soir gled quhissilis lowd with mony a pew,
126 Quhar by the day was dawyn weil I knew;
127 Bad beit the fyre and the candill alyght,
128 Syne blessyt me, and in my wedis dyght;
129 A schot windo onschet, a litill on char,
130 Persavyt the mornyng bla, wan, and har,
131 Wyth clowdy gum and rak ourquhelmyt the ayr;
132 The sulye stythly hasart, rouch and hair,
133 Branchis bratlyng, hasart, and blaknyt schew the brays,
134 With hirstis harsk of waggand wyndill strays,
135 The dew-droppis congelit on stibbill and rynd,
136 And scharp hailstanys mortfundeit of kynd,
137 Hoppand on the thak, and on the causay by:
138 The schot I closit, and drew inwart in hy;
139 Chyvirrand for cald, the sesson was so snell,
140 Schupe with hayt flambe to fleym the fresyng fell.
141 And, as I bownyt me to the fire me by,
142 Baith up and downe the house I did aspy;
143 And seand Virgill on ane lettron stand,
144 To wryte onone I hynt my pen in hand...

124 fast = close; chalmyr = chamber, bedroom; heich wysnet treis = high wizened trees
125 soir gled = brown kite (bird); quhissilis lowd = whistles loud; mony a pew = many a cry
126 quhar by = whereby; dawyn = dawning; weil = well
127 bad beit the fire = ordered the fire stirred; candill alyght = candle lit
128 syne = next; blessyt me = blessed myself; wedis = weeds, clothes; dyght = dressed
129 a schot windo onschet = opened a hinged window; litill on char = little ajar
130 persavyt = perceived; bla = bleak; har = grey
131 gum and rak = mist and fog; ourquhelmyt = overwhelmed
132 sulye = soil; stythly hasart, rouch and hair = stiffly grey, rough, and hoary
133 bratlyng = rattling; hasart = grey; blaknyt = blackened; schew = show, appear; brays = braes, hillsides
134 hirstis harsk = harsh or rough ridges; waggand = moving to and fro; wyndill strays = withered stalks of grass
135 dew-droppis = dew-drops; congelit = congealed, frozen; stibbill = stubble; rynd = rime, hoar-frost
136 scharp hailstanys = sharp hailstones; mortfundeit of kynd = petrified by nature
137 hoppand = hopping, bouncing; thak = thatch; causay = causeway
138 schot = window; closit = closed; in hy = in haste
139 chyvirrand for cald = shivering for cold; sesson = season, time of year; snell = bitter, severe
140 schupe = arranged; hayt = haste; flambe = flame; fleym = expel; freysing fell = cruel cold
141 bownyt me = took myself; by = near
142 baith = both; aspy = look
143 seand = seeing; lettron = lectern
144 onone = at once; hynt = took

Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846-1902), And Dick the Shepherd Blows His Nail

The title of Brewtnall's painting is a quotation from Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost, Act V, Scene ii.

Friday, January 18, 2008


The Eloquence of Abuse

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk (May 27, 1830):
How rich the Aristophanic Greek is in the eloquence of abuse!—

Ὦ βδελυρὲ κἀναίσχυντε καὶ τολμηρὲ σὺ
καὶ μιαρὲ καὶ παμμίαρε καὶ μιαρώτατε.

We are not behindhand in English. Fancy my calling you, upon a fitting occasion,—Fool, sot, silly, simpleton, dunce, blockhead, jolterhead, clumsy-pate, dullard, ninny, nincompoop, lackwit, numskull, ass, owl, loggerhead, coxcomb, monkey, shallow-brain, addlehead, tony, zany, fop, fop-doodle; a maggot-pated, hare-brained, muddle-pated, muddle-headed, Jackanapes! Why, I could go on for a minute more!
I wish he had gone on for a minute more. Yesterday's A.Word.A.Day was a term of abuse new to me — jobbernowl, defined as "blockhead," and derived "from French jobard (stupid, gullible), from Old French jobe (stupid) + noll (top or crown of the head)."

The Greek quoted by Coleridge comes from Aristophanes' Frogs, lines 465-466. Here are some translations, first by Gilbert Murray:
Thou rash, impure, and most abandoned man,
Foul, inly foul, yea foulest upon earth.
Matthew Dillon:
O impious, daring, and most shameless wretch,
O villain, double villain, and arch-villain.
Jeffrey Henderson:
You loathesome, shameless, insolent scum you! Utter scum! Scum of the earth!
Related post: Odium and Insults.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Pleasing, Useful Studies

From John Pomfret (1667-1703), The Choice:
If heaven the grateful liberty would give
That I might choose my method how to live,
And all those hours propitious fate should lend,
In blissful ease and satisfaction spend:
Near some fair town I'd have a private seat,
Built uniform, not little, nor too great:
Better if on a rising ground it stood;
Fields on this side, on that a neighboring wood;
It should within no other things contain
But what were useful, necessary, plain:
Methinks 'tis nauseous, and I'd ne'er endure
The needless pomp of gaudy furniture.
A little garden, grateful to the eye,
And a cool rivulet run murmuring by,
On whose delicious banks a stately row
Of shady limes or sycamores should grow;
At the end of which a silent study placed
Should be with all the noblest authors graced:
Horace and Virgil, in whose mighty lines
Immortal wit and solid learning shines;
Sharp Juvenal, and amorous Ovid too,
Who all the turns of love's soft passion knew;
He that with judgment reads his charming lines,
In which strong art with stronger nature joins,
Must grant his fancy does the best excel,
His thoughts so tender and expressed so well;
With all those moderns, men of steady sense,
Esteemed for learning and for eloquence.
In some of these, as fancy should advise,
I'd always take my morning exercise:
For sure no minutes bring us more content
Than those in pleasing, useful studies spent.
In my "silent study," the books of Samuel Johnson would find a place of honor among "those moderns, men of steady sense, esteemed for learning and for eloquence." In his Lives of the Poets, Johnson devotes a page to Pomfret:
Of Mr. John Pomfret nothing is known but from a slight and confused account, prefixed to his poems by a nameless friend; who relates, that he was the son of the Rev. Mr. Pomfret, rector of Luton, in Bedfordshire; that he was bred at Cambridge, entered into orders, and was rector of Malden, in Bedfordshire, and might have risen in the church; but that, when he applied to Dr. Compton, bishop of London, for institution to a living of considerable value, to which he had been presented, he found a troublesome obstruction raised by a malicious interpretation of some passage in his Choice; from which it was inferred, that he considered happiness as more likely to be found in the company of a mistress than of a wife.

This reproach was easily obliterated; for it had happened to Pomfret, as to almost all other men who plan schemes of life; he had departed from his purpose, and was then married.

The malice of his enemies had, however, a very fatal consequence: the delay constrained his attendance in London, where he caught the smallpox, and died in 1703, in the thirty-sixth year of his age.

He published his poems in 1699; and has been always the favourite of that class of readers, who, without vanity or criticism, seek only their own amusement.

His Choice exhibits a system of life adapted to common notions, and equal to common expectations; such a state as affords plenty and tranquillity, without exclusion of intellectual pleasures. Perhaps no composition in our language has been oftener perused than Pomfret's Choice.

In his other poems there is an easy volubility; the pleasure of smooth metre is afforded to the ear, and the mind is not oppressed with ponderous, or entangled with intricate, sentiment. He pleases many; and he who pleases many must have some species of merit.
Related post: My Little Zoar.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Hog Reeves and Stone Boats

I finished reading Susan Allport, Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), and this is a continuation of my earlier notes to myself about the book.

See chapter 3 on town officials associated with stone walls, including fence viewers and pound keepers. There is a discussion of the Gunter's chain used by fence viewers on pp. 48-49. Another town official, not mentioned in the book, is the field driver, also known as the hog reeve, responsible for rounding up escaped livestock and taking them to the town pound. Apparently it was the custom in some towns to appoint newly married men as hog reeves. Ralph Waldo Emerson was once hog reeve of Concord. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the terms "field driver" and "hog reeve" are Americanisms. Robert Hendrickson, Yankee Talk: A Dictionary of New England Expressions (1996; rpt. Edison: Castle Books, 2002), has an entry for "field driver" but not for "hog reeve." I am indebted to Carl Young for this photograph of the town pound in Orrington, Maine:

Chapter 5 (Erratic Thoughts) discusses those idiots who think that Vikings, Irish monks, Phoenician sailors, or others built some of the stone walls of New England in pre-colonial times.

See p. 103 for some odd vocabulary associated with building stone walls (whoobies, shims, chinkers, chinks, chocks). On the same page is a delightful anecdote, whose source is apparently Haydn Pearson, "Stonewalls," Vermont Life (Spring 1948) 50:
In the late 1800s, when Haydn Pearson was a boy growing up in Vermont, he spent a summer helping an old wall builder build a wall of this type on a sidehill slope of a farmyard. "We had dug the trench deep and wide," Pearson remembered many years later. "Slowly the wall rose. The old man was very particular about each rock and chinking piece. To an impatient lad, the old craftsman was unconscionably slow. The idea of chinking rocks below the soil surface was particularly tiresome and irksome. 'Who's going to know if these are chinked or not' was a boy's question. The old man's astonishment was genuine as he peered over his spectacles. 'Why,' he said, 'I will—and so will you.'"
See p. 142 on 19th century migration from Vermont: "one-half of the native-born Vermonters had left the state by 1850."

On the advantage of a dry wall over a wet (mortared) wall, see the quotation on pp. 159-161: "A dry wall is a living wall. It moves and settles with the frosts. But if the frost gets to a mortared wall, it's going to crack and fall apart." The chapter on building a stone wall in Charles McRaven, Building With Stone (New York: Lippincott & Crowell, 1980; rpt. North Adams: Storey Books, 1989), pp. 57-63, discusses mortared walls only.

See Allport p. 163 on the Ribbonmen, an Irish secret society that destroyed hedges and stone walls of the English landlords. Alen MacWeeney and Richard Conniff, Ireland: Stone Walls & Fabled Landscapes (London: Frances Lincoln Ltd., 1998), appeared after the publication of Allport's book. There apparently are or were an astounding 240,000 miles of stone walls in Ireland, just a little less than the 252,539 miles of stone walls in New England and New York. On p. 175 of Sermons in Stone is an account of the contemporary problem of the theft of stones from dry walls. More colorful vocabulary on p. 177 (thrufters). Rules of thumb for wall building on p. 178, including:Pp. 180-183 deal with the possibility of dating stone walls by the spread of lichens on them.

Stone boats (sleds for hauling rocks) are mentioned on pp. 113 and 130. Synonyms for "stone boat" are "scoot" and "drogher": see John Gould, Maine Lingo (Camden: Down East Magazine, 1975), s.vv. On stone boats and stone wall building in general, see also John Burroughs, "A Walk in the Fields," published in his book Leaf and Tendril. Poems by Robert Frost on stone walls include "Mending Wall," "Of the Stones of the Place," and "A Star in a Stoneboat." A stone wall appears in the painting Autumn by Bruce Crane (1857-1937):

Related posts:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


A Painful Odor

Richard Ames, A Farewell to Wine. By a Quondam Friend to the Bottle, lines 62-63, in The Bacchanalian Sessions; or the Contention of Liquors: with A Farewell to Wine. By the Author of the Search after Claret, &c. To which is added A Satyrical Poem on one who had injur'd his Memory. By a Friend (London: Printed for E. Hawkins, 1693), p. 22:
Mark how it smells, methinks a real pain
Is by its odour thrown upon my brain.
This rhyming couplet could be aptly quoted in certain uncomfortable social situations, when other types of painful odors infect the atmosphere.


A Little Notebook

Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, chapter 46:
He did not yet know that the very worst way of getting hold of ideas is to go hunting expressly after them. The way to get them is to study something of which one is fond, and to note down whatever crosses one's mind in reference to it, either during study or relaxation, in a little note-book kept always in the waistcoat pocket.
Chapter 73:
The literary instinct may be known by a man's keeping a small note-book in his waistcoat pocket, into which he jots down anything that strikes him, or any good thing that he hears said, or a reference to any passage which he thinks will come in useful to him.


Few, One, or None Revisited

Thanks to Pierre Wechter, who drew my attention to two more parallels illustrating the theme Few, One, or None. The first parallel is from Montaigne, Essays 1.39 (On Solitude, tr. E.J. Trechmann), which recalls Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 7.10-11:
Remember the man who, when he was asked to what purpose he took so much pains in an art which would come to the knowledge of few persons, replied: Few will suffice me; one, nay, less than one will suffice me. He spoke truly. You and a companion are a sufficient stage for one another, or you for yourself. Let the people be to you one, and let one be to you a whole people.

Souvienne vous de celuy à qui, comme on demandast à quoy faire il se pénoit si fort en un art, qui ne pouvoit venir à la cognoissance de guiere de gens: J'en ay assez de peu, respondit-il, j'en ay assez d'un, j'en ay assez de pas un. Il disoit vray: vous et un compagnon estes assez suffisant theatre l'un à l'autre, ou vous à vous-mesmes. Que le peuple vous soit un, et un vous soit tout le peuple.
The second parallel is Heraclitus, fragment 49 Diels (tr. Wechter):
One is worth ten thousand to me, as long as he is outstandingly good.

εἶς ἐμοὶ μύριοι, ἐὰν ἄριστος ᾖ.
Cicero, Letters to Atticus 16.11.1, quotes part of this (εἶς ἐμοὶ μύριοι).

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Homo sapiens

In the biological scheme of things, our genus is Homo (man) and our species is sapiens (wise), an optimistic, if somewhat naive, description.

Taxonomist Gerd Heinrich, whose life's work was the classification of ichneumon wasps, wrote in a letter to his son on Easter morning, 1975, "Homo sapiens is certainly the greatest pest the earth has ever borne." See Bernd Heinrich, The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology (New York: Ecco, 2007), p. 419.

Ichneumon wasps, Gerd Heinrich's specialty, are parasites, and their habits greatly troubled theologians who wanted to see the hand of a benevolent God in the workings of nature. Stephen Jay Gould, Nonmoral Nature, quotes from a letter of Charles Darwin to Asa Gray written in 1860:
I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
One could combine phrases from Gerd Heinrich and Charles Darwin and say, "I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence in God's creation of Homo sapiens, the greatest pest the earth has ever borne."

Another entomologist, Edward O. Wilson, in his book The Future of Life (New York: Vintage Books, 2002), p. 94, called Homo sapiens "the serial killer of the biosphere."

To the poet Robinson Jeffers, mankind was a "sick microbe" (De Rerum Virtute, V). Jeffers advised his sons to "be in nothing so moderate as in love of man" (Shine, Perishing Republic). Jeffers went on to say that love of man "is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught—they say—God, when he walked on earth."

Related posts:

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Piles of Books

Thomas Frognall Dibdin, Reminiscences of a Literary Life (1836), pp. 436-437 (on the book collection of the late Richard Heber):
I looked around me with amazement. I had never seen rooms, cupboards, passages, and corridors, so choked, so suffocated with books. Treble rows were here, double rows were there. Hundreds of slim quartos—several upon each other—were longitudinally placed over thin and stunted duodecimos, reaching from one extremity of a shelf to another. Up to the very ceiling the piles of volumes extended; while the floor was strewed with them, in loose and numerous heaps.
A contemporary American painter, Ephraim Rubenstein, specializes in depictions of piles of books. For a selection, see the gallery at the artist's web site (scroll to the right). William Chapman Sharpe, Still-Life Portraits: The Book-Filled Art of Ephraim Rubenstein, is a good introduction to the artist.

William Michael Harnett (1848-1892) also painted many piles of books. Here is his Music and Literature:

Related post: Bibliovoyeurism.


Few, One, or None

George Chapman, dedication of The Shadow of Night (1594) to Matthew Roydon:
I rest as resolute as Seneca, satisying myself if but a few, if one, or if none like it.
Chapman refers to a letter of Seneca to Lucilius on crowds. Here is the end of the letter (7.10-12, tr. Richard M. Gummere):
[10] In order, however, that I may not to-day have learned exclusively for myself, I shall share with you three excellent sayings, of the same general purport, which have come to my attention. This letter will give you one of them as payment of my debt; the other two you may accept as a contribution in advance. Democritus says [frg. 302a Diels-Kranz]: "One man means as much to me as a multitude, and a multitude only as much as one man."

[11] The following also was nobly spoken by someone or other, for it is doubtful who the author was; they asked him what was the object of all this study applied to an art that would reach but very few. He replied: "I am content with few, content with one, content with none at all." The third saying-and a noteworthy one, too-is by Epicurus [frg. 208 Usener], written to one of the partners of his studies: "I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other."

[12] Lay these words to heart, Lucilius, that you may scorn the pleasure which comes from the applause of the majority. Many men praise you; but have you any reason for being pleased with yourself, if you are a person whom the many can understand? Your good qualities should face inwards.

[10] Sed ne soli mihi hodie didicerim, communicabo tecum quae occurrunt mihi egregie dicta circa eundem fere sensum tria, ex quibus unum haec epistula in debitum solvet, duo in antecessum accipe. Democritus ait, 'unus mihi pro populo est, et populus pro uno'.

[11] Bene et ille, quisquis fuit - ambigitur enim de auctore -, cum quaereretur ab illo quo tanta diligentia artis spectaret ad paucissimos perventurae, 'satis sunt' inquit 'mihi pauci, satis est unus, satis est nullus'. Egregie hoc tertium Epicurus, cum uni ex consortibus studiorum suorum scriberet: 'haec' inquit 'ego non multis, sed tibi; satis enim magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus'.

[12] Ista, mi Lucili, condenda in animum sunt, ut contemnas voluptatem ex plurium assensione venientem. Multi te laudant: ecquid habes cur placeas tibi, si is es quem intellegant multi? introrsus bona tua spectent.
Hermann Usener in his Epicurea (p. 163) gives no other source for Epicurus' fragment 208 than this letter of Seneca. I don't have access to Diels-Kranz to check on Democritus' fragment 302a, but there is a similar remark in some verses quoted by Diogenes Laertius 9.16 about Heraclitus (tr. R.D. Hicks = Palatine Anthology 7.128):
Heraclitus am I. Why do you drag me up and down, ye illiterate? It was not for you I toiled, but for such as understand me. One man in my sight is a match for thirty thousand, but the countless hosts do not make a single one. This I proclaim, yea in the halls of Persephone.

Ἡράκλειτος ἐγώ· τί μ' ἄνω κάτω ἕλκετ' ἄμουσοι;
  οὐχ ὑμῖν ἐπόνουν, τοῖς δ' ἔμ' ἐπισταμένοις.
εἷς ἐμοὶ ἄνθρωπος τρισμύριοι, οἱ δ' ἀνάριθμοι
  οὐδείς. ταῦτ' αὐδῶ καὶ παρὰ Φερσεφόνῃ.
George Chapman again, as the motto to Ovid's Banquet of Sense (1595), abridges Persius: "Quis leget haec? Nemo Hercule Nemo, vel duo vel nemo."

This is Persius 1.2-3 (tr. John Conington):
Friend. Whom do you expect to read you?
P. 'Was your question meant for me ? Nobody, I assure you.'
F. Nobody?
P. 'Well—one or two at most.'

'quis leget haec?' min tu istud ais? nemo hercule. 'nemo?'
vel duo vel nemo.
Horace too (Satires 1.10.74) is "satisfied with a few readers" (contentus paucis lectoribus). Arthur Palmer in his commentary ad loc. cites Milton, Paradise Lost 7.30: "still govern thou my song, / Urania, and fit audience find though few."

Related posts:

Thursday, January 10, 2008


A Mere Plague and Torment

Andrew Lang, Adventures Among Books:
As to Greek, for years it seemed a mere vacuous terror; one invented for one's self all the current arguments against "compulsory Greek." What was the use of it, who ever spoke in it, who could find any sense in it, or any interest? A language with such cruel superfluities as a middle voice and a dual; a language whose verbs were so fantastically irregular, looked like a barbaric survival, a mere plague and torment. So one thought till Homer was opened before us.


Salve for the Worst Wounds

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Musketaquid:
The polite found me impolite; the great
Would mortify me, but in vain:
I am a willow of the wilderness,
Loving the wind that bent me. All my hurts
My garden-spade can heal. A woodland walk,
A wild rose, or rock-loving columbine,
Salve my worst wounds, and leave no cicatrice.
Related posts:

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


The Book of Nature

John Burroughs, The Art of Seeing Things:
The book of nature is like a page written over or printed upon with different-sized characters and in many different languages, interlined and crosslined, and with a great variety of marginal notes and references. There is coarse print and fine print; there are obscure signs and hieroglyphics. We all read the large type more or less appreciatively, but only the students and lovers of nature read the fine lines and the footnotes. It is a book which he reads best who goes most slowly or even tarries long by the way. He who runs may read some things. We may take in the general features of sky, plain, and river from the express train, but only the pedestrian, the saunterer, with eyes in his head and love in his heart, turns every leaf and peruses every line. One man sees only the migrating waterfowls and the larger birds of the air; another sees the passing kinglets and hurrying warblers as well. For my part, my delight is to linger long over each page of this marvelous record, and to dwell fondly upon its most obscure text.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Solitude and Society

Samuel Johnson, The Idler 32 (Saturday, November 25, 1758):
Many have no happier moments than those that they pass in solitude, abandoned to their own imagination, which sometimes puts sceptres in their hands or mitres on their heads, shifts the scene of pleasure with endless variety, bids all the forms of beauty sparkle before them, and gluts them with every change of visionary luxury.

It is easy in these semi-slumbers to collect all the possibilities of happiness, to alter the course of the Sun, to bring back the past, and anticipate the future, to unite all the beauties of all seasons, and all the blessings of all climates, to receive and bestow felicity, and forget that misery is the lot of man. All this is a voluntary dream, a temporary recession from the realities of life to airy fictions; and habitual subjection of reason to fancy.

Others are afraid to be alone, and amuse themselves by a perpetual succession of companions: but the difference is not great; in solitude we have our dreams to ourselves, and in company we agree to dream in concert. The end sought in both is forgetfulness of ourselves.

Monday, January 07, 2008



According to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, the poet Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) coined the word Waldeinsamkeit. It occurs in a song from Tieck's story Der Blonde Eckbert:
Forest solitude
Delights me
Tomorrow and today alike,
For all eternity.
Oh how forest solitude
pleases me.

Die mich erfreut,
So morgen wie heut
In ewger Zeit,
O wie mich freut
I translated Waldeinsamkeit as "forest solitude," but it is almost untranslatable. Ralph Waldo Emerson did not translate it when he used it as the title of one of his poems, and Judith Weir, in the libretto to her opera Blond Eckbert based on Tieck, also left it untranslated:
I feel alright;
Alone in the wood,
Things go as they should.
All day and all night:
The first element of the compound Waldeinsamkeit is Wald (woods, forest, cf. English wold).

Ein in German is the indefinite article (a, an) and also the number one.

According to Karl A. Schmidt, Easy Ways to Enlarge Your German Vocabulary (New York: Dover, 1974), p. 69,
-sam is related to English -some as in lonesome. It is usually attached to verb stems and indicates a capability of performing the action implied in the verb, or an inclination to do so.
Schmidt's examples include bedeutsam (from bedeuten = mean, signify) meaning significant and schweigsam (from schweigen = be silent) meaning taciturn. But it can also be attached to non-verb stems, such as langsam (slow) and einsam ("one-some" or lonesome). Other English words with the suffix -some are burdensome, fulsome, handsome, lissome, wholesome, winsome, etc.

Schmidt (p. 53) groups the suffixes -heit, -igkeit, and -keit together. Joined with adjectives, these suffixes form abstract nouns of the feminine gender. Schmidt (p. 54) says that -keit is etymologically equal to -ig plus -heit and forms abstract nouns from adjectives ending in -ig, -lich, -bar, and -sam. His examples include Traurigkeit (sadness) from the adjective traurig (sad) and Einsamkeit (loneliness) from the adjective einsam (lonesome). Similarly the English suffix -ness makes abstract nouns from adjectives, as greatness from great, kindness from kind, and righteousness from righteous.

Putting the four elements Wald, ein, -sam, and -keit together, we get Waldeinsamkeit = "forest solitude."

Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), Pool in the Woods

Sunday, January 06, 2008



George Eliot, Middlemarch (Book 1, Chapter 11):
"So it seems, my love, for you have as good as refused the pick of them; and if there's better to be had, I'm sure there's no girl better deserves it."

"Excuse me, mamma—I wish you would not say, 'the pick of them.'"

"Why, what else are they?"

"I mean, mamma, it is rather a vulgar expression."

"Very likely, my dear; I never was a good speaker. What should I say?"

"The best of them."

"Why, that seems just as plain and common. If I had had time to think, I should have said, 'the most superior young men.' But with your education you must know."

"What must Rosy know, mother?" said Mr. Fred, who had slid in unobserved through the half-open door while the ladies were bending over their work, and now going up to the fire stood with his back towards it, warming the soles of his slippers.

"Whether it's right to say 'superior young men,'" said Mrs. Vincy, ringing the bell.

"Oh, there are so many superior teas and sugars now. Superior is getting to be shopkeepers' slang."

"Are you beginning to dislike slang, then?" said Rosamond, with mild gravity.

"Only the wrong sort. All choice of words is slang. It marks a class."

"There is correct English: that is not slang."

"I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets."

"You will say anything, Fred, to gain your point."

"Well, tell me whether it is slang or poetry to call an ox a leg-plaiter."

"Of course you can call it poetry if you like."

"Aha, Miss Rosy, you don't know Homer from slang. I shall invent a new game; I shall write bits of slang and poetry on slips, and give them to you to separate."
Later in the same chapter, Fred gives his definition of prig:
"But now, tell us exactly what sort of man he is."

"Oh, tallish, dark, clever—talks well—rather a prig, I think."

"I never can make out what you mean by a prig," said Rosamond.

"A fellow who wants to show that he has opinions."

"Why, my dear, doctors must have opinions," said Mrs. Vincy. "What are they there for else?"

"Yes, mother, the opinions they are paid for. But a prig is a fellow who is always making you a present of his opinions."
Ouch! In Book 2, Chapter 21 of Middlemarch another character is described as
...this dried-up pedant, this elaborator of small explanations about as important as the surplus stock of false antiquities kept in a vendor's back chamber...
Ouch again! This is hitting uncomfortably close to home. Nevertheless, I will pedantically elaborate a small explanation about Fred's term "leg-plaiter."

Fred is likely referring to Greek εἰλίπους (eilipous), which occurs in both the Iliad (6.424, 9.466, 15.547, 16.488, 21.448, 23.166) and the Odyssey (1.92, 4.320, 8.60, 9.46). Liddell & Scott define it as "rolling in their gait, in Hom. (only in dat. and acc. pl., Il.6.424, 9.466) as epith. of oxen, which bring round their hind legs with a circling or rolling motion." Liddell & Scott derive the compound from εἴλω (eilō = wind, revolve) and πούς (pous = foot).

For a learned discussion of εἰλίπους see Liliane Bodson, "Un trait d'anatomie fonctionelle dans l'épopée homérique: le pas de Bos taurus (LINNÉ, 1758)," Revue de Paléobiologie volume spécial 10 (Dec. 2005) 243-257 (.pdf format). The English abstract states:
The compound adjective eilipous is evidenced in HOMER'S Iliad (6 occurrences) and Odyssey (4 occurrences). It qualifies the cattle specifically with respect to their feet (pous: foot). The linguistic and semantic characteristics of this adjective have been much disputed by modern commentators and translators, most of them referring it either to the cattle's rolling or shambling gait or to their so-called crooked or bent feet. The present day knowledge of bovine motion confirms the ancient Greeks' interpretation of eilipous as describing both the arc drawn by all cattle's, yet typically milking cows' rear feet at every step and some sort of spiral-like line resulting from the sequence of these steps.
According to Liddell & Scott, the adjective εἰλίπους is also used "of women, having a rolling gait." This characteristic is endlessly fascinating to the male of the species, and Aristotle has even written a treatise on the subject, entitled Posterior Analytics.

(I owe the Aristotle joke to William Vallicella.)

Saturday, January 05, 2008



The Greek suffix -ίδης (-idēs), when combined with a proper name, forms a patronymic, e.g.All of these forms appear in Homer, and later Greek poets follow him. Choices for translators are limited. When Ἀτρείδης, say, occurs in Greek, it can be rendered as "son of Atreus" or "Atreus' son," paraphrased as Agamemnon, or simply transliterated as Atreidēs.

Some English names are patronymics as well. Johnson, for example, is "John's son." My father's first name was Vernon, so I could possibly be called Vernonson.

Frederick M. Combellack translated the Greek poet Quintus Smyrnaeus in a book with the title The War at Troy: What Homer Didn't Tell, by Quintus of Smyrna (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968; rpt. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996). In his translation Combellack adopted a unique way of translating Greek patronymics:To my mind, this is an unhappy experiment which should not be repeated. I do a double take every time I read one of these weird forms in Combellack's translation. It is just as odd as writing Samuel Johnidēs instead of Samuel Johnson.

Friday, January 04, 2008


After the Iowa Caucuses

James Hayford, Two-Party System:
Republicans or Democrats
Stealing your homes or herds?

As soon teach cats
Not to catch birds—

Although most birds are not
As a rule so easily caught.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


The Blue Wood-Louse

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Winter, from the song-cycle The Window; or, The Song of the Wrens:
The frost is here,
And fuel is dear,
And woods are sear,
And fires burn clear,
And frost is here
And has bitten the heel of the going year.

Bite, frost, bite!
You roll up away from the light
The blue wood-louse, and the plump dormouse,
And the bees are still'd, and the flies are kill'd,
And you bite far into the heart of the house,
But not into mine.

Bite, frost, bite!
The woods are all the searer,
The fuel is all the dearer,
The fires are all the clearer,
My spring is all the nearer,
You have bitten into the heart of the earth,
But not into mine.
The wood-louse isn't blue with cold or from Seasonal Affective Disorder; it's blue because it's infected with an Iridovirus:

Photo courtesy of Marc Kummel.


One of My Wishes

Robert Frost, Into My Own:
One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as 'twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e'er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

Caspar David Friedrich, Early Snow

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Egg on Face

Professor David Whitehead writes:
The pun is terrible but the piece, as always, a delight -- so excuse me if I seize upon one small point. Your readers will think you are saying that Aeneas Tacticus himself had the Themiscyra incident in mind. That cannot be, as he was writing in the mid 4th century BC (when already, therefore, such use of 'wasps and bees' had occurred).
If I may paraphrase Holley Bishop:
Every day I am humbled, educated, and inspired to learn and know more, and every day I realize how much I don't know.


Dislike of Nature

Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying:
CYRIL (coming in through the open window from the terrace). My dear Vivian, don't coop yourself up all day in the library. It is a perfectly lovely afternoon. The air is exquisite. There is a mist upon the woods, like the purple bloom upon a plum. Let us go and lie on the grass and smoke cigarettes and enjoy Nature.

VIVIAN. Enjoy Nature! I am glad to say that I have entirely lost that faculty. People tell us that Art makes us love Nature more than we loved her before; that it reveals her secrets to us; and that after a careful study of Corot and Constable we see things in her that had escaped our observation. My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature's lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out. When I look at a landscape I cannot help seeing all its defects. It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.

CYRIL. Well, you need not look at the landscape. You can lie on the grass and smoke and talk.

VIVIAN. But Nature is so uncomfortable. Grass is hard and lumpy and damp, and full of dreadful black insects. Why, even Morris's poorest workman could make you a more comfortable seat than the whole of Nature can. Nature pales before the furniture of 'the street which from Oxford has borrowed its name,' as the poet you love so much once vilely phrased it. I don't complain. If Nature had been comfortable, mankind would never have invented architecture, and I prefer houses to the open air. In a house we all feel of the proper proportions. Everything is subordinated to us, fashioned for our use and our pleasure. Egotism itself, which is so necessary to a proper sense of human dignity, is entirely the result of indoor life. Out of doors one becomes abstract and impersonal. One's individuality absolutely leaves one. And then Nature is so indifferent, so unappreciative. Whenever I am walking in the park here, I always feel that I am no more to her than the cattle that browse on the slope, or the burdock that blooms in the ditch.
Related post: The City versus the Country.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Beeological Warfare

I just finished reading Holley Bishop's very interesting Robbing the Bees (New York: Free Press, 2005). On pp. 152-153 she discusses the use of bees as weapons in classical antiquity. Some of Bishop's references are easy to track down. One is Herodian 3.9.5 (tr. Edward C. Echols):
The Hatrenians fought back bravely; pouring down a steady stream of stones and arrows, they did considerable damage to the army of Severus. Making clay pots, they filled them with winged insects, little poisonous flying creatures. When these were hurled down on the besiegers, the insects fell into the Romans' eyes and on all the unprotected parts of their bodies; digging in before they were noticed, they bit and stung the soldiers.
Note that Herodian doesn't actually mention bees here.

Another reference is to Aeneas Tacticus 37.3 (tr. Brian Campbell):
And if at any point the tunnel comes into the ditch, throw the wood and the shavings there and set fire to them. Then cover the rest of the ditch so that the smoke penetrates the tunnel and injures those inside. Indeed it is possible that the smoke will kill many. Some have even released wasps and bees into the opening and caused distress to those in the tunnel.
The "some" mentioned by Aeneas Tacticus are the inhabitants of Themiscyra, who were besieged by Lucullus in 72 B.C. [Correction here.] See Appian, Mithridatic War 11.78 (tr. Horace White):
The besiegers of this place brought up towers, built mounds, and dug tunnels so large that subterranean battles could be fought in them. The inhabitants cut openings into these tunnels from above and thrust bears and other wild animals and swarms of bees into them against the workers.
But one of Bishop's references is more elusive (p. 153):
For naval battles, the Romans developed special shipboard swarm catapults. They raised bees and kept them in lightweight, fragile earthen hives for the sole purpose of lobbing them onto enemy ships. Angry bees would so unnerve the opposing sailors that they often jumped overboard to escape.
It is not difficult to find secondary sources which make similar assertions, e.g. Rick Beyer, The Greatest War Stories Never Told (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), p. 37:
The Romans made such frequent use of beehives in their catapults that some historians feel it contributed to a massive decline in the European bee population during the latter stages of the Roman Empire.
But where is the ancient evidence? Beyer on p. 203 cites his sources, two of which are articles in Gleanings in Bee Culture unavailable to me: John T. Ambrose, "Bees in Warfare" (Nov. 1973) and Roger Morse, "Bees Go to War" (Oct. 1955). Beyer also cites a web page by Conrad Bérubé, "War and Bees: Military Applications of Apiculture," which I find here. Bérubé states:
The Romans, for instance, having prudently learned not to exact a tax of honey in Asia Minor also learned, in the great Roman tradition of imitation and innovation, to use bees in the wars they waged. They were less deceptive in this than the Heptakometes, however, and instead of employing the subterfuge of poisoned honey they simply sent beehives catapulting into the ranks or fortifications of their enemies. The unleashed fury of the bees, enraged when their hives were smashed, is credited with being the decisive stroke of more than one battle. Turn-about being fair play the Dacians, of what is today Romania, defeated the armored legions of Rome, at least temporarily, with their own salvo of skeps [7].
A skep is a beehive. Bérubé's footnote 7, alas, refers only to yet another secondary source, C. Krochmal and A. Krochmal, "Beekeeping in Romania," American Bee Journal 122.5 (1982) 345-346, also unavailable to me.

Perhaps there are ancient references to catapulted beehives, but in a quick search I haven't found any. Adrienne Mayor's Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs (New York: Overlook Press, 2003) might be one place to look, but its pages are invisible in Google Books.

I noticed a few minor mistakes in Bishop's book. On p. 238 she calls Herodotus a "Roman historian" (he was Greek and never mentioned Rome), and on p. 239 she calls Vitruvius a Greek (he was a Roman). On p. 247 she mistakenly dates Varro to the first century (should be the first century B.C.). On p. 214 she writes:
Discussing the best domestic arrangement for bees, Columella wrote in the first century that "It is expedient for the apiary to be under the master's eye." In ancient Greece and Rome, the master was often a male slave known as the melitore.
So far as I know, there is no such word as melitore in classical Greek or Latin.

But these are quibbles. I find Bishop's candid admission that she doesn't "know it all" refreshing (p. 323):
Every year I am humbled, educated, and inspired to learn and know more, and every year I realize how much I don't know....Though I have been keeping bees for years and have researched and written about them for thousands of hours, I still consider myself a beginner.
Bishop's main informant, beekeeper Donald Smiley, has much the same to say (p. 66):
[T]here's always more to learn. Not a year goes by that I don't see something different, learn something different. I never get tired of this.
Smiley (pp. 41-43) and Bishop (p. 282) both admit to some embarrassing mistakes when they first started keeping bees.

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