Thursday, July 06, 2017
ψοφῶ 'die.' The regular Modern Greek word for 'die' is ἀπέθανα in the aorist, with a new analogical present ἀποθαίνω or πεθαίνω in place of the ancient ἀποθνήσκω. But ψοφῶ, in ancient Greek meaning 'make an inarticulate noise,' came to be used colloquially in the sense of 'die,' especially of animals or of men dying miserably, as from starvation. This use is attested for the twelfth century at least (Prodromus, I, 317, ψόφουν ἐκ τὴν πεῖναν 'I was dying of hunger'), and is doubtless much earlier.
Koraes, Atakta, I, 264 ff., connected this use with the noise made by the body falling in death, comparing the Homeric use of δουπέω to denote the dull thud of the corpse, e.g., δεδουπότος Οἰδιπόδαο 'when Oedipus had fallen.' But it is rather the inarticulate gasp of death that furnishes the transition, for which the closest parallel is the slang croak in the sense of 'die.' Compare also the use in the sense of 'die,' and with the same application and tone as ψοφῶ, of Fr. crever and Ital. crepare, whence NHG. krepieren. While this use may of course be derived from the usual meaning of the French and Italian verbs, namely 'burst,' it more probably represents an old colloquial expression which, like croak, grew out of the notion of noise that was dominant in the Latin verb (crepare 'crack, creak, rattle,' etc.).
A friend pointed out that Buck was born in Orland, Maine, not far from where I grew up. The article on Buck by William M. Calder III in Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists, ed. Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994), pp. 70-72, calls Buck's Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin "a book of numbing dullness" and says, "He was a soporific lecturer and an uninspiring teacher."
George S. Lane, "Carl Darling Buck," Language 31.2 (April-June, 1955) 181-189 (at 181-182):
To the end of his days, in spite of his long sojourn in the Middle West, he remained a 'Maine man'. When he walked down to his classes at the University of Chicago on a bad, snowy day, with his fur cap, his long, black, fur-lined greatcoat, and his high galoshes, he looked like any sturdy Maine citizen on his way to the general store or going about his daily routine.Id. (at 185):
Buck was never a popular teacher, never what would be now considered a 'good' teacher by the criteria of the Colleges of Education. He probably never had enough undergraduate students at any one time to have made a student evaluation possible. If he had been graded by such students, I shudder to think of his score. Buck was a scholar's teacher: if you were not interested in his subject, you had better study something else; if you were not prepared, you had better go back and get your preparation.Id. (at 187):
A man more modest of his own accomplishments has rarely lived. A short time before his death he was asked by a visiting scholar, who had come to honor him, how it felt to be the greatest living authority in a field (the reference was to the Greek dialects), and what one might prescribe, as it were, as the pattern to be followed to reach this eminence. Buck's lips parted in a slight smile: 'Just outlive all the rest,' he said.