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Old 02-17-2009   #11
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

Quote Originally Posted by Daisy View Post
From El or the Last Book (1973), by Edmond Jabès (trans. Rosmarie Waldrop)

All other life ceases in the life put into words.
This line stopped me in my tracks. How true. Thank you, Nicole.

"What does it mean to be alive except to court disaster and suffering at every moment?"

Tibet: Carnivals?
Ligotti: Ceremonies for initiating children into the cult of the sinister.
Tibet: Gas stations?
Ligotti: Nothing to say about gas stations as such, although I've always responded to the smell of gasoline as if it were a kind of perfume.
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Old 02-23-2009   #12
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

From Part III, Chapter V of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), by Jonathan Swift

[The author permitted to see the Grand Academy of Lagado . . . The arts wherein the professors employ themselves.]

We next went to the school of languages, where three professors sat in consultation upon improving that of their own country.

The first project was to shorten discourse by cutting poly-syllables into one, and leaving out verbs and participles, because in reality all things imaginable are but nouns.

The other was a scheme for entirely abolishing all words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great advantage in point of health as well as brevity. For it is plain, that every word we speak is in some degree a diminution of our lungs by corrosion, and consequently contributes to the shortening of our lives.
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Old 02-23-2009   #13
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

Nu is şeo leore forleten, and şet folc is forloren.
Nu beoş oşre leoden şeo lærş ure folc,
And feole of şen lorşeines losiæş and şet folc forş mid.

[Now that teaching is forsaken, and the people are lost.
Now there is another people that teaches our folk,
And many of our teachers are dead, and our people with them.]

(lines from The First Worcester Fragment [11th c.; this portion a lament over the loss/transition of knowledge/language in post-Norman Conquest England] quoted in Seth Lerer: Inventing English, A Portable History of the Language)
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Old 02-24-2009   #14
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

Passage No. 26 from Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (1951), by Theodor Adorno, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott

English spoken.—In my childhood, some elderly English ladies with whom my parents kept up relations often gave me books as presents: richly illustrated works for the young, also a small green bible bound in morocco leather. All were in the language of the donors: whether I could read it none of them paused to reflect. The peculiar inaccessibility of the books, with their glaring pictures, titles and vignettes, and their indecipherable text, filled me with the belief that in general objects of this kind were not books at all, but advertisements, perhaps for machines like those my uncle produced in his London factory. Since I came to live in Anglo-Saxon countries and to understand English, this awareness has not been dispelled but strengthened. There is a song by Brahms, to a poem by Heyse, with the lines: O Herzeleid, du Ewigkeit! / Selbander nur ist Seligkeit. In the most widely used American edition this is rendered as “O misery, eternity! / But two in one were ecstasy.” The archaic, passionate nouns of the original have been turned into catchwords for a hit song, designed to boost it. Illuminated in the neon-light switched on by these words, culture displays its character as advertising.
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Old 02-24-2009   #15
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

Passage No. 27 from Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (1951), by Theodor Adorno, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott

On parle français.—How intimately sex and language are intertwined can be seen by reading pornography in a foreign language. When de Sade is read in the original no dictionary is needed. The most recondite expressions for the indecent, knowledge of which no school, no parental home, no literary experience transmits, are understood instinctively, just as in childhood the most tangential utterances and observations concerning the sexual crystallize into a true representation. It is as if the imprisoned passions, called by their name in these expressions, burst through the ramparts of blind language as through those of their own repression, and forced their way irresistibly into the innermost cell of meaning, which resembles them.
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Old 02-24-2009   #16
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

Quote Originally Posted by Daisy View Post
Passage No. 27 from Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (1951), by Theodor Adorno, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott

On parle français.—How intimately sex and language are intertwined can be seen by reading pornography in a foreign language. When de Sade is read in the original no dictionary is needed. The most recondite expressions for the indecent, knowledge of which no school, no parental home, no literary experience transmits, are understood instinctively, just as in childhood the most tangential utterances and observations concerning the sexual crystallize into a true representation. It is as if the imprisoned passions, called by their name in these expressions, burst through the ramparts of blind language as through those of their own repression, and forced their way irresistibly into the innermost cell of meaning, which resembles them.
I wonder whether that's actually true. It could easily be tested. Just set de Sade in the original before someone who doesn't read French (such as me) and see whether that person can understand it.

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Old 03-02-2009   #17
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

From John Clute's The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror

FUSTIAN

It is never Fustian the first time around; Fustian when found is always a cover. Fustian -- the word originally designated a kind of coarse, leaden-coloured cloth used for blankets and other coverings -- now normally describes "inflated, turgid, or inappropriately lofty language; speech or writing" of this sort; bombast (definition quoted from the Oxford English Dictionary). The double meaning of the word neatly encompasses its application to horror texts, where it is best used for language draped over subject matters fatal to approach, like the dark ecstasies of DUENDE*, subject matters often described, fulsomely, as unsayable (words like "infinity," unnamable," "maddening" cluster in the purpler passages of the mode). As an index of fatal belatedness, as a manifestation of language patently external to mysteries no longer addressable in our mortal tongues, Fustian may be, of course, a carefully deliberated effort; as (we must presume) it is in the works of H. P. Lovecraft, where Fustian almost always drapes material whose retrieval into language would constitute a highly dangerous awakening of the past; in Lovecraft, and in much modern Horror, Fustian could be described as a ceremental language: it is a cloaking of that which is dead. Fustian comes after; it is a language or cerement whose inauthenticity stands glaringly in contrast to the truths it rouses through the act of injurious cloaking. In so far as it parodies the struggle of language to illumine the world, Fustian is a form of parody.

-------------

* From another entry in Clute's lexicon:

DUENDE

A term used frequently by the Spanish poet and playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca (1898 - 1936), to characterize the mysterious dark thanatopic creative impulse that coerced or inspired him into his greatest poetry, an inner compulsion calling upon its victim or worshipper or embodier to reach towards ecstatic extremities in life and art.
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Old 03-10-2009   #18
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

From Considerations Concerning the First Formation of Language (1761), by Adam Smith

When mankind first began to attempt to express their ideas by writing, every character represented a whole word. But the number of words being almost infinite, the memory found itself quite loaded and oppressed by the multitude of characters which it was obliged to retain. Necessity taught them, therefore, to divide words into their elements, and to invent characters which should represent, not the words themselves, but the elements of which they were composed. In consequence of this invention, every particular word came to be represented, not by one character, but by a multitude of characters; and the expression of it in writing became much more intricate and complex than before. But though particular words were thus represented by a greater number of characters, the whole Language was expressed by a much smaller, and about four and twenty letters were found capable of supplying the place of that immense multitude of characters, which were requisite before. In the same manner, in the beginnings of Language, men seem to have attempted to express every particular event, which they had occasion to take notice of, by a particular word, which expressed at once the whole of that event. But as the number of words must, in this case, have become really infinite, in consequence of the really infinite variety of events, men found themselves partly compelled by necessity, and partly conducted by nature, to divide every event into what may be called its metaphysical elements, and to institute words, which should denote not so much the events, as the elements of which they were composed. The expression of every particular event became in this manner more intricate and complex, but the whole system of the Language became more coherent, more connected, more easily retained and comprehended.
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Old 03-10-2009   #19
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

Adam Smith seems to have been wrong in almost everything he said on the origins of language and writing.

"When mankind first began to attempt to express their ideas by writing, every character represented a whole word." -- As far as I am aware, writing never passed through this stage. Of course, some characters represent a whole word, and in English two of them still do. But I think it is characteristic of writing that words are often, even usually, made up by a combination of characters.

In fairness, Adam Smith was writing at a time when the pre-alphabetic scripts of Egypt and Western Asia could not (yet) be read.

"...the whole Language was expressed by a much smaller, and about four and twenty letters were found capable of supplying the place of that immense multitude of characters, which were requisite before." -- Here, Adam Smith is certainly correct. Perhaps the only correct assertion in the whole passage.

"In the same manner, in the beginnings of Language, men seem to have attempted to express every particular event, which they had occasion to take notice of, by a particular word, which expressed at once the whole of that event." -- There is, of course, no record of the beginnings of language. But this assertion seems enormously improbable. It is characteristic of language that it may supply an all but infinite range of meanings by means of combining words. It is, in other words, the interplay of vocabulary and grammar. And that involves words with meanings that can be transferred from event to event.

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Old 04-13-2009   #20
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Re: Passages on Language and Etymology

From “Milton” (1779), one of the Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets by Samuel Johnson

Through all [Milton’s] greater works there prevails a uniform peculiarity of diction, a mode and cast of expression which bears little resemblance to that of any former writer, and which is so far removed from common use that an unlearned reader when he first opens his book finds himself surprised by a new language.


This novelty has been, by those who can find nothing wrong in Milton, imputed to his laborious endeavours after words suitable to the grandeur of his ideas. “Our language,” says Addison, “sank under him.” But the truth is, that both in prose and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedantic principle. He was desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all his prose is discovered and condemned, for there judgment operates freely, neither softened by the beauty nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts; but such is the power of his poetry that his call is obeyed without resistance, the reader feels himself in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind, and criticism sinks in admiration.

Milton's style was not modified by his subject; what is shown with greater extent in Paradise Lost may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets: the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last, may be said what Jonson says of Spenser, that “he wrote no language,” but has formed what Butler calls a “Babylonish dialect,” in itself harsh and barbarous, but made by exalted genius and extensive learning the vehicle of so much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in its deformity.

Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety; he was master of his language in its full extent, and has selected the melodious words with such diligence that from his book alone the Art of English Poetry might be learned.
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