Sunday, April 15, 2007


Radaratoo, Radarate

James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (Sept. 22, 1773):
He said, he could never get the meaning of an Erse song explained to him. They told him, the chorus was generally unmeaning. 'I take it,' said he, 'Erse songs are like a song which I remember: it was composed in Queen Elizabeth's time, on the Earl of Essex; and the burthen was
"Radaratoo, radarate, radara tadara tandore."'
'But surely,' said Mr M'Queen, 'there were words to it, which had meaning.' JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, sir, I recollect a stanza, and you shall have it:
"O! then bespoke the prentices all,
Living in London, both proper and tall,
For Essex's sake they would fight all.
Radaratoo, radarate, radara, tadara, tandore."'
When Mr M'Queen began again to expatiate on the beauty of Ossian's poetry, Dr Johnson entered into no further controversy, but, with a pleasant smile, only cried, 'Ay, ay; Radaratoo, radarate.'
(Footnote omitted). Johnson's retort "Radaratoo, radarate" reminds me a bit of a passage from Chekhov's story The Two Volodyas:
"Here, you are a clever man, Volodya," said Sofya Lvovna. "Show me how to do what Olga has done. Of course, I am not a believer and should not go into a nunnery, but one can do something equivalent. Life isn't easy for me," she added after a brief pause. "Tell me what to do .... Tell me something I can believe in. Tell me something, if it's only one word."

"One word? By all means: tarara-boom-dee-ay."
I also recently encountered some nonsense syllables in Cato, On Agriculture 160 (tr. W.D. Hooper and H.B. Ash):
Any kind of dislocation may be cured by the following charm: Take a green reed four or five feet long and split it down the middle, and let two men hold it to your hips. Begin to chant: "motas uaeta daries dardares astataries dissunapiter" and continue until they meet. Brandish a knife over them, and when the reeds meet so that one touches the other, grasp with the hand and cut right and left. If the pieces are applied to the dislocation or the fracture, it will heal. And none the less chant every day, and, in the case of a dislocation, in this manner, if you wish: "huat haut haut istasis tarsis ardannabou dannaustra."
Nonsense syllables like this are of course common in magical charms, especially in ancient curse tablets and magical papyri. For more examples, see the notes by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III for a course on Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World (scroll down to EPHESIA GRAMMATA).

Related post: Gibberish.

Buce of Palookaville, author of Underbelly, adds ducdame from Shakespeare, As You Like It (Act 2, Scene 5):
If it do come to pass
That any man turn ass,
Leaving his wealth and ease,
A stubborn will to please,
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame:
Here shall he see
Gross fools as he,
An if he will come to me.
What's that 'ducdame'?
'Tis a Greek invocation, to call fools into a circle.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?