The Nick Lezard controversy... new developments
18 minutes ago
German grammarians, we’ve seen, divided Germanic verbs into two classes. The weak verbs submitted tamely to the handout of a dental suffix for the past tense: English whine, whined; German weinen, weinte; English kiss, kissed; German kuessen, kuesste. But the strong verbs took their own past tenses, darn it, by altering an internal vowel according to certain expected patterns.
Back in Old English days, we had seven classes of strong verbs, divided by the characteristic vowels. Not that the English thought of them that way; it’s just how a series of sound changes over many centuries affected different verbs, depending on the vowel in the root, and sometimes on the following consonant:
Class 1: ride, rode, ridden
Class 2: fly, flew, flown
Class 3: drink, drank, drunk
Class 4: steal, stole, stolen
Class 5: see, saw, seen
Class 6: shake, shook, shaken
Class 7: fall, fell, fallen
Well, it’s been a long while since Beowulf slew the dragon, and a lot of these verbs have gone a-wandering from one class into another, and some grew so lazy they lost their old forms and became weak: help, delve, tow. Some are weak most of the time but still strong in the participle: strew, strewed, strewn. Others even now can’t make up their minds what they are: cleaved, clove? Yet the movement hasn’t gone all in one direction. Some weak verbs snuck behind the barn and started lifting linguistic weights, getting strong by analogy: dove, strove, hidden.
If the strong had stayed strong and consistent, we’d be hearing sentences like these:
The committee determined that the student had been holpen by his friend.
David slang the stone that slew the foreskinned oaf.
We looked everywhere, but the car keys were lorn.
“I can rin a mile in four-ten!” boasted Jimmy.
The hunter then took his knife and slot the deer in two.
“The umps missed this one, I’m afraid – he slode in around the tag!”
And this, from a strong verb we no longer have, though we have another word for the idea:
I never agreed to go – I was twung!
This too, from another strong verb that has died the death, and for this one we have no replacement at all:
There he was, all presentable: his ears washed, his chin shaved, and his nose snitten.
Amazing, that we can understand a word we’ve never heard, for an action we’ve never had a word to name?
Word of the Day: island
English spelling, we know, is tricky, the bane of youngsters and an object of wondering confusion for people who speak German (in which every word is pronounced exactly as it is spelled) and Italian (in which every word is also spelled exactly as it is pronounced). French spelling is, of course, even more bizarre than English, in that the French are allowed to pronounce final consonants only once a week, on Tuesday, and all diphthongs collapse to eau whenever the word in question is the object of a preposition or a dinner order on the Seine.
I’m not an advocate of spelling reform, though, as Noah Webster was, because quite often our odd spellings preserve the precious history of a word, or help to relate that word to others wherein the spelling is more regular. Thus we see the connection between debt and debit, and we owe that b in debt to the pedants of the Renaissance, who reinserted it after it had vanished – for our word comes not directly from Latin but from French, and they’d already lost the sound. Chaucer has it spelled dette. Same thing for our word doubt: we got it from the French, and the b had already been lost; in Chaucer it is doute. But the Renaissance pedants drug it back in, so now we see the relationship between doubt, from French, and indubitable, straight from Latin.
The trouble is that sometimes the pedants got things wrong. That’s the case with our word island. Most people would suppose that island is related to isle, or that isle is just a fancy abbreviation for island. It isn’t so. The words are entirely unrelated.
The word isle comes to us from the medieval French. They were in the process of losing the sound of the s; it is now marked by a circumflex accent, to denote where an s used to be but i’n’t anymore: ile. That word is descended from Latin insula (cf. English insulate). In Italian the n was absorbed into the s, which remained: isola (cf. English isolate). My own name, which ought to be Isolano,
islander, is in the same group.
But the Anglo Saxon word for that crop of land surrounded by water was simply ea. That’s all. When that word grew hard to understand – when the diphthong collapsed into a single vowel – English speakers felt the need to clarify. So an island was called an ea-lond, or, in some dialects, an i-lond, an island-land, so to speak. That explains why in some Middle English texts we see the word ilond or iland. That’s how it ought to be spelled. But the Renaissance pedants guessed – wrongly – that the word was related to insula, and stuck the silent consonant where no consonant, silent or not, had ever been.
Other scholarly mistakes: whole, whore, delight, comptroller, prothonotary, align, could, foreign, limb, climb, rhyme.
In the 16th century, Jesuit missionaries from Portugal and Spain brought violas da gamba and other instruments to Japan to accompany the singing of masses in their newly founded churches. By the middle of the century the missions were becoming well established. Perhaps to show proof of their success, or, as a way to raise European support for missions in the East, the Jesuits appointed four young Japanese converts to go Europe and meet the Pope.
In 1582, the envoy of these four young men, known as the Tensho boys, set off from Nagasaki travelling first to Portugal and then to Spain. Travel records show that the boys were given royal treatment during their journey, and that along the way, they enjoyed many splendid concerts in European courts and churches.
Agree with Furious Ferret. Most men just aren’t very attractive. They don’t look attractive or act/behave attractive. It used to be 50 or 60 years ago that a lawyer with beachfront property would have no trouble attracting a woman. Those days are over. He has to have something else — good looks, great personality, Game.
SD is right too: when you’re in your 20s and working on getting a law degree and you’re young and trying to establish a practice, you don’t have time to work on game or make yourself attractive as a husband. It used to be that young women were trained (or their dads helped them) to find men with potential, and they married early to those men. Women don’t do that anymore for a number of reasons; They want to date and have sex with who they want. Women have their own money and jobs and places and took control over mate selection from fathers and authority figures. The churches as institutions ceded control to individual women in the interest of “progress” and “compassion” and “fairness”. Divorce laws make it much, much easier for women to leave a marriage in which her only reason for wanting to end the marriage is “unhappiness” or “we’ve grown apart”. Because “irreconcilable differences/irretrievable breakdown” is really just lawyerspeak for “I don’t wanna be married anymore to him/her”.
Now, you’re unattractive and don’t get noticed because at 21 there’s not all that much that distinguishes you. You have no money, no job and no place of your own. Worse, you have no confidence because no one taught you how to “stride through the world without apology or excuse” because you have inherent worth as a man. You have no dominance or dominant personality because you have no authority over anything. You can’t make any decisions on your own at work; you have to ask for permission to wipe your own ass.
Your own church is against you: You’re told constantly you need to be kinder, gentler, more in touch with your feelings and emotions. You’re told nothing about what really attracts women. You’re browbeaten every other Sunday about how wonderful and caring women are and how boorish, crude and terrible you and your dad are. Then you’re told you’re going to hell if you don’t marry a nice girl from your church to avoid being “unequally yoked”. Then you’re told to “man up and marry the slut!”
The Coptic Church matters because it is the West's last link with an earlier form of Christianity, and with a tradition of eremitical life that has all but disappeared from the modern world. It matters also because it reminds us of what Egypt means to us as a repository of all that the West holds dear in terms of thought, culture and the civilizing process itself. The Copts are descendents of the original Egyptians, and share their grave and stable approach to governance and belief. Furthermore, they continue to act as a restraining influence upon the passionate and often disruptive forces that are currently abroad in the streets of Cairo today.
On Brad’s more important point, the problem of western expansion, I’d like to simply encourage him in further beating up on Thomas Jefferson–always a good thing, and particularly appropriate in this instance. It probably was inevitable that Americans would settle the bulk of habitable North America. From their beginnings, Americans have been a restless people perhaps too enamored of adventure and material self-betterment. Our national character is not perfect, but it is a thing we must recognize. However, that this expansion was made far more harmful to America and Americans as well as the peoples who “got in our way,” is beyond question. Old fashioned greed, being a part of our fallen nature, is to be expected, but was made far worse by a combination of racism and power. When our thug-in-chief at the time, Andrew Jackson, decided that peaceful, law-abiding Cherokee, living in European-style settlements, were to be removed with deadly force because their land was too valuable to let them keep, we saw the worst in America come forth. Most westward expansion was far more morally ambiguous than this, with blame and praise earned on both sides, but expansion was almost always made worse by a progressive drive on the part of the government.