all right, here’s an example of how an etymology should be set out, and you can see that Herman isn’t doing that, so is Herman wrong?

fly (n.) O.E. fleoge, from P.Gmc. *fleugjon (cf. O.S. fleiga, O.N. fluga, M.Du. vlieghe, Ger. Fliege “fly); lit. “the flying (insect)” (cf. O.E. fleogende “flying”), from same source as fly (v.1).

let’s examine it bit by bit. i see ogma has entered, shuffled modestly in (or pasted in with that etymology) – would you like to take a seat, sir? we’re about to do some serious hermeneutic.

where does this come from? a website purporting to be official. what does that mean? for homework, i want two thousand words from each of you on the subject, with footnotes, bibliography and powerpoint presentation including maps, diagrams and at least one full page of links. try to avoid facile, obvious statements like ‘not god’.

what language is it in? academic english specific to the discipline of blah blah blah… we’re all au fait with the techniques and have done most of them in a flash, haven’t we?

there is an as yet unexplicated implication that a great deal of conscientious, professional study has led people of proven academic ability specific to this field to this theory, and that is has the approval of many others who have examined it and found it reasonable.

but question it anyway. peer review in science was subjected to peer review very publicly and spectacularly in the nineties and found wanting, to say the least. but then, you can’t trust peer review. and anyway, who gets to be a peer in the discipline of etymology? what are the criteria, what politics, what hegemonic biases, what sexisms, racisms, ageisms?

if i write an essay in which i reason like ‘they’ do, without worrying too much about who ‘they’ are, i get good marks, i get to do honours, and if i keep doing it, i get a ph.d, and then i’m one of them. but even then i have to agree a lot or try to float a theory of my dissenting own, ignominiously as most of ‘em float, even if they get published.

being too poor to read the latest stuff hot off the presses, i read a lot of proud (often excellent) stuff written in the radical sixties and seventies, launched with high hopes, and sunk into the morass never to have the acclaim that pinker, prettier than most, has, and several of them far more intelligent than the tedious old de saussure

but let’s get to grip with the text itself.
fly (n.) O.E. fleoge, from P.Gmc.

[this tells us that the noun fly came to current english from old english, which got it ‘from’ proto-germanic. on the basis of not who says it, earnestine, but what we know – and we wouldn’t attempt this without some background knowledge, linguistic, cultural, historical etc, though none of us is a full bottle, so to speak – is it likely to be true?

well, to my way of thinking, there were many languages besides those written in in england back then, before the normans, and many of them were closely related, and as cambridge university’s david crystal says, there were creoles and pidgins and ‘chuile shórt ann. furthermore there was a lot of borrowing between less closely related languages too. so there wasn’t really a single language called old english, only a collection of texts from several different languages, and a whole heap more spoken, unwritten, unrecorded language than you could fit into a whole wheelbarrow full of books.

here’s a dash of ageism, too – historical accounts ask us to see grown men and women interacting, intermarrying, vying for or cooperating in political, military, commercial, agricultural power etc, and a bustling busy church getting in everbody’s way, with all scholars either monks or lords or better.

but i see schools everywhere, in monasteries, and elsewhere, where children from different linguistic backgrounds made schoolyard creoles and then grew up to teach in them. sometimes a very few speakers would create languages of their own, as if say, an eton scholar were barely intelligible to a harrow one, and neither intelligible to the rest.

but fortunately, most would have been able to go home and forget their school languages, except when they wanted to impress, with those who remained as staff becoming increasingly elite, and so attracting more students from more influential backgrounds until the elite languages carried so much more prestige for being less like the others etc.

wherefore the written texts very seriously do not represent the common speech and there’s no reason given here, and none that i know of, what about you, marvin? to suppose that the word came to us from the written text when it probably had all sorts of variants in all the common tongues, except those that called them something else – and it’s just as likely, or more so, isn’t it, that the word came to us through, via or from one or more of these – is unrealistic.

now, old english, allowing that it came from old english but not necessarily, and even probably, not through the form recorded in the written text referred to (although how remiss of them; they haven’t mentioned its name) is said here to have got it from the proto-germanic, which of course, means the hypothetical parent language from which branched, according to current theory all the languages which are related to the language which the english, following the example of the romans, call german.

but the germans call it deutsch. the french call it allemand, and the cornish agree it is almeynek, though the irish are willing enough to call it gearmainis. so there are immediately problems with this.

the ger- is always thought to be from words that look like ger, and have meanings clustering around the idea of sharpness, being a k-form of spear, and the man is of course man, and germans are spearmen, primitive, warlike and brave.

but whoa there, neddy. there are a lot more instances of ger meaning a fortified city or town, a garden, a guarded area, or the seat of some ruler. you can find their names in all sorts of old texts, but they’re with us still so let’s interrogate a few of the survivors.

there are gardens for example. den is cornish for man or person, related to irish duine, dane and all those. their range has shrunk and become localised geographically to denmark, but they were arguably the biblical house of dan, but it’s not worth anyone’s career to say so – thank iuno/iona, whose verse/gwers it is, i haven’t got a career. where a fortified place was called a gar/ger or similar, that of the danes was called a garden.

there must have been many of them throughout england, and no prizes for guessing what they were doing in them. you know that passage that starts

“hwaet we gardena in gear-dagum theod cyninga thrym gefrunon hudha, aethelingas ellen frem edon.”?

well, whatever established opinion might say it means, imo it really means:

“what we gardeners in the harrowed field cunningly trimly pruned have, educated lads all from edon…”

there, i’ve distinguished the ger, gar or gor – dons, danes, dens or duns, duines or doones from the gerMANs (and all their variants, of course). the word occurs as gor, car, ker, jer, cathair, etc all over the early map. i think judging by it’s range (it’s pretty close to world wide if you include oz ngarandjeri, and others, and native american cherokee, and others) it probably denotes an early language, and along with it a whole culture with its own teaching and philosophy of life, but the area was colonised by a rapidly diversifying array of others simultaneously, so we’re not looking for an empire yet.

danes, we’ve seen, garden, and if danes gardened in england, garraí means field in irish and what is bulgaria’s most famous export but rose perfume from its glorious gardens. it’s fruit gardens are wonderful too.

but not all danes/dens/dons/duines are gardeners and not all gers are gardens. cor-inthos (cathair iontas) means house of wonders in a language which when spoken phonetically is so like modern irish with its archaic spelling that you’d have to be phobic or something to miss it. but i’m told -inthos is non-indo-european so i’ll just gnaw a toenail until i feel better and then go on.

ger means fortified place. man means mine. ok that’s not proved, except that the -man part appends as readily to alla, and what’s allah doing in pre-roman europe but mining. there are plenty of allusions to turks in europe even in roman writings. turks probably are torcs, or a ‘celtic’ nobility along with the damhs, or david, davies or devas. and who married maebd (try supplying hs there, where the irish wouldn’t have shown lenition because they knew it was there: maebhdh – there y’are: maverth! close as you could get to mothers, but don’t assume yet that it was gender specific – think of mathiolo, mathgen, matholwch.

so ger mania are ger people who are not necessarily an ethnicity. now who are the dutch/deutsch? a related race? where are they? are they teutonic? does the d harden to become t? does the t soften to become d? what evidence is there for either? an essay on it class to be handed in by alban eiler – 3,500 words and yes, dianne you can use crayons to colour in your maps.

just before the bell rings, ogma has a question. when i say pinker do i mean more reddish white, or more marxist, and what has this to do with english-speaking pale-complexioned north americans’ little fingers?


good question. i suppose you’re acquainted with the experiments that demonstrate that enraged juvenile delinquents become tranquil and tend to fall asleep quickly if placed in cells painted bubblegum pink? and you will have observed the exquisite pinky-redness of the feathery gills of albino axolotls. but at this stage, without further research, i don’t think it’s possible to know quite why gaia trickled her most celebrated linguistical soul stuff to us via a man whose surname means both more whitey-red, and more communist, no. i’ll think about it. thank you.

and ooh look, we’ve got to get through all this:

*fleugjon (cf. O.S. fleiga, O.N. fluga, M.Du. vlieghe, Ger. Fliege “fly); lit. “the flying (insect)” (cf. O.E. fleogende “flying”), from same source as fly (v.1).

before we can proceed, and we’re already 500 words over the limit.


so next time, back to tweedle dee and tweedle dum, and the truth behind the story of the rattle.

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