painters paint, builders build and archers…

er, well, no, lisa, they don’t arch, they… er, practice archery.
is archery the art of making arches then, or of arching? well, not one would think, primarily. one’s intention would be, you are correct, i think, lisa, to forcefully project aimed arrows point first at the highest possible speed at a target in order, ideally, to pierce it. one would get around to observing that this involved making arches as a sort of secondary consideration, wouldn’t one?

so why call it archery and not bowery or arrowery, or bow-and-arrow-ery, or something like that? did archer come from arch or arch from archer? has archer got some other meaning besides the perfectly serviceable bowman (or bowperson, to update to gender inclusive language)? let’s investigate.

now in this flat expanse of mud i’ve just cleared with a few deft swishes of my tail, i’m going to draw with one of the tiny almost translucent fingers of one of the tiny hands on the end of one of my tiny front legs the letters that spell the word archer. ARCHER there, i’ve done it, in roman letters, not uncials, just to show you that i can.

look at it, get the feel of it, let it speak to your soul. then, i want you all to take out your favourite voice-recording device, plug in the mike, switch it on to record, press start and say it out loud. “archer”. then play it back to yourself a few times, listening carefully.

in past exercises of this sort i’ve asked you to pronounce the word under the lens (or under the eye of newt, as in this instance) in as many ways as you have ever heard it said, or can imagine that it could ever have been said. but this time, just say it once, casually, sneaking up on it, so to speak, in your own native or foreign (if english is not your native language) accent.

then, take out your favourite coloured pencil, crayon or texta, or just use your toe if you prefer, and write, in any alphabet known to have been in use by english-speaking populations when the word ‘archer’ was first coming into general use, phonetically – according to whatever phonetic values are known to or can reasonably be argued to have been represented by the letters of that alphabet – your representation of the sounds you hear yourself producing when you read it.
for example, if you pronounce the r in archer, your phonetic representation will include a sign or character for the sound r, but if you don’t, it won’t. if you represent the sound of the first vowel as a long u for umbrella, doubling it to show length, uu might be your symbol, or if you use a for aha instead with an h to show lengthening, you might use ah for the first vowel.

for vast numbers of literate english speakers, past, present and future, the lengthening of the a would be indicated by following it with an r.

no, phillipa, the phonetic alphabet won’t help you in this exercise – the writers of old, middle-aged and ancient texts didn’t use it – they spelt ‘phonetically’ as above or obeyed book-learned spelling rules that are now not easy to relate with any certainty to any actual, hands-on, down-and-dirty speech sounds, so it’s worse than over-kill. it supports some delusional historical linguistics without clarifying the real stuff.

within living memory, when phonic values of letters were taught to small children, they used to chant things like:
‘æ’ and a ‘rrrr’ make the ‘aah’ in ‘archer’. they’d have added moreover, with reference to the second syllable that ‘eh’ and a ‘r’ make the ‘ah’ in archer, having also noted that ‘k@’ and a ‘h@’ make the ‘tch@’ in archer (where @ = eu as in…er…, sometimes named schwa, but don’t squint too closely at the rationale of it – it’s an infant science, linguistics).

i should here remind you that, incarnating for the good of all beings (albeit most inconveniently) as a juvenile human in a rural south oz primary school (after two years of kindy) i, herman newt, have first-hand experience of this, indeed, i chanted along with the rest (and what a weird mob of kangaroos, sheep, red-back spiders, king brown snakes, newts, cuttlefish, kittens, puppies and tommy-the-toy-trucks we were – but that’s dreamtime stuff, y’know, and i only mention it to explain how a newt came to be chanting english-language phonetical propositions as a five-year-old human in one of the classrooms of a small rural school way out in the spinifex), and can assert that i, this wet little amphibian in mufti, would have been at the time struggling (and i add, winning the struggle) to get the letters to spell a word that would perhaps have been spelt more phonetically as ‘aacha’. but that’d make it look dutch and so in english, you have the option of using a line above the vowel to indicate lengthening, so it looks like this: ācha.

isn’t that gorgeous? – ācha

now this little exquisitude instantly sends the newt diving into the oh so intelligible murk of its database where, while it’s gone, i, blue-stocking the bard (bardly treated as i am still being on account of not seeing the value of using the international phonetic alphabet to minutely describe the phonic values of words whose pronunciation can only be guessed at) shall hum you a few bars of that hoary old ballad, ‘bold robin hood and the impertinent 21st century ballad-singer’, although i’d just like to mention that if this blog doesn’t support the æ and the ā symbols, you’d no doubt guess, wouldn’t you, what they were meant to be.
hmm mmmmm hm hmmmmmmm
hmmm hmmmmmm hmhmhm hmm
hmmm……… oh, look, the newt, it’s surfacing. i’ll get out of your way.

thank you, bluestocking!

yes, ācha.

most of you will easily recognize there, in the written form now under our newt’s-eye lens, the irish plural ending –acha, which as nobody any longer disputes at least not with any conviction, is a form of the english –age, which denotes a collective, as in baggage, rather than a plural. in irish now and perhaps but not necessarily in the past, the ch of –acha is pronounced as if spelt with a greek chi, (poor blogger can’t manage the font), that is, like the crunching of something crisp but juicy, an apple, or carrot(eh, what’s up, doc?), or something like that.

these irish ch’s tend to turn up in english as a sound like the tch in church. old irish chach (pronounced ‘tchutch’, with ‘u’ as in ‘uh huh’) is english church, for example, notwithstanding the DIL’s insistence on preserving as sacred the errors of past translators who thought it meant, aah, eeny meeny miney mo, not church, not each, but battle, at least wherever possible, twist the rest of the text as it might, thus sustaining the otherwise unsustainable notion that the irish always were ire-ish, i.e., warlike, and were therefore always at war, not pious, gentle people as they often are now, fond of their churches and reluctant to fight.

(it isn’t that i don’t know that, in hermeneutics which, for those of you who’ve just arrived, means the interpretation of texts, we’re all sometimes reduced to eeny-meemy-miney-mo-type lexicography sometimes, but it’s post-modern to admit it when we are, and not try to destroy all evidence of possible error by poisoning newts. i mean, stop the pollution of waterways and give us newts a chance!)

now in irish, much more than in english, there are many different ways to form a plural. as well as -acha, there is –anna, for example, an english variant of which is ‘any’, related, as you will instantly see, to the variant which occurs in english as ‘one’ and all its cognates in other languages. it’s also related to english and celtic articles an and na. there are other common plural endings as well, but we’ll focus on these two.

the early comparative philologists left us with a legacy of belief in a totally unbelievable tree of language which never did explain gendering of nouns or the varieties of ‘declensions’ of nouns within a language. you can go so far with such a model, even if you allow much pleaching due to intermarriage, conquest and other mergers, but after a while, there you are weaving baskets, probably with waves, and in the best(??!!) ‘academic’(???!!!!)tradition, there’s still a knock-out competition on to decide which theory is right.

last time i looked (and i’m a fastidious newt with a sensitive soul and easily shocked, so i don’t often), i noticed that they’d come up with an extraordinary way of managing the conflict: you acknowledge that the tree-form doesn’t work and declare the wave model therefore the ‘winner’, BUT, and i mean that cyril, so i’ll say it again with emphasis, BUT!!! all current historical linguistics including all the proto-indo-european root words, the gaulish ‘dictionary’, and much other equally dark and desperate lexicographical work on old texts of many languages, assumes a tree, and so we can’t just replace the tree model with a wave one even though as the winner of the power-struggle, it’s ‘right’, because bang would go the entire PIE, and along with it, most ancient history, and wasn’t it hard enough when prasto bit the dust?

so we know that it’s wrong, but it sustains current dogmas upon which so many have built so much, in the way of theories, careers, ego-trips etc, so rather than go to all the trouble of revising it all from the ground up, we’ll keep doing it anyway and ridicule any other theory to death with scorn…

this newt declines to accompany them.

preferring instead the company of frogs, wyverns and other inspired visionaries.

in short ye who have noticed that an awful lot of marrying went on back then, and if you marry continually into your own clan, disaster tends to strike you fair in the gene pool; so when an already dangerously inbred man starts wanting a girl, he starts looking about for a girl just a bit less like the girl that married dear old dad, and marriages probably were made in emhain, or heathen, or edin or eden, or else arranged by taut old tarts and tyrants in all sorts of towers, tars, tour, tarots, turrets, tias, tuas, tewes and tiwas all over the planet. and they usually saved time, money and energy, and acres of achingly pure white, or scarlet, or purple linen, cotton or silk, by marrying them off a hundred or two or four or five couple at a ceremony after giving them a week or so to socialize (grab your partner here we go) – or not as the political climate of the time allowed.

there’s a gorgeous example in the story of the duke of warwick, when the king of england with all his retinue married the princess of france with all hers.

further input would come from the militia, armies sent to defend some far distant land,who were rewarded for service with land and grateful, enamoured wives when the war was over. the school systems and fosterage also mixed languages, and so did the customs of conquest and subjugation.

now if you can get either a tree or a wave out of all that i’ll go he! i mean there’s trees, waves, clouds, flowery meadows, oceans, rivers, bogs and thank gaia, lovely murky streams and ponds of the sort that newts delight in, geysers, volcanoes, glittering mica deserts, and oh my one and only indefinable undivided infinite, eternal god that has no face but all faces, no sex but all sexes, no shape but all shapes, no substance but all substances (aren’t we getting ‘ancient-celtic’?), sort of amenable to every possible sort of metaphor; and none of them fit perfectly.

not one. not even bubbles in a cauldron, desmond. not even dragons in full battle-rage.

but looking at language itself as revealed so imperfectly and so fragmentarily and fragmentedly through written texts and the oral traditions, it’s clear that some people who used –acha as a pluralizing ending fetched up cheek by jowl with others who used the ending ‘–anna’ (reduced, it seems, to ‘–ne’ in old english), and it would seem reasonable in referring to them to distinguish between them by calling the –acha-ans ‘achaäns’, or ‘achaeans’ for convenience, and the ‘-anna-ans’ as the annaäns or annaeans. (–an is of course another variant of the complex that the english word ‘any’ is a variant of.)

es, -s, -ith, -the, -adh and more are variants of an ancient es, and the ones who used it would be called ess-ans, (essene, if you spell -anna –ene) and those using a lisped variant would be athene, wouldn’t they?

-achaeans, they’re greeks, aren’t they? athens – that’s hellenic, isn’t it? well, spotted there, deborah, but no, not greek, and yes, hellenic, that is to say, hellish, or of hell. and where on the map do you find hells full of people speaking the languages whose ancient and aging texts have surfaced in the far west of europe? that’s right, wales. cornwall. england.

they tend to spell it heylin, or heyl or hel, hill, hol, hall or hull, or drop the h and spell it ell or el, as in eliseg, ellis, elys etc, and often it is obscured as part of another word, such as llanelli, or pwllheli, or minstrel (minster-hel). it’s a form of hill, and used to be a name for what is now called a hillfort.

helledh was a welsh princess. without the lisp, that’s a lot like hellas. helston is in cornwall, not far from st austell. eolas which is as near to hellas as you can get in irish, means knowledge or information. it turns us as ollamh in irish, meaning a highly educated person (hells were schools very often – refer rhonabwy at the house of heilyn in the welsh tale, the dream of rhonabwy.) ollamh is olaf in the north, and elf or aelf, in english. aelfred, aelfric, you know who i mean, and yes, that’s true, gerald, hellenes are hellenes and aelfs is elfs, and you have to draw the line somewhere, but where, i ask you? where?

nigel, put that comic away or i’ll confiscate it.

that’s right, celia, the –amh, reduced to an –f in english, is doing the work of an old ‘of’ word or ancestor of ‘of’. so yes, i suppose you could say that an elf, ollamh or alvin is a ‘scholar from hell’, but why would you bother????

to sum up, and i’m over my self-imposed thousand word limit by about one thousand one hundred words already, so i’d better be concise:

achaeans, athenians, essenes and the anaeid (id is a form of idh or ith, cognate with the modern english ‘(-e)s’ and denoted a plural or collective noun) were all exported to the east in the form of piles of books. oh, by their human manifestation of course!

but the main thrust is that the achaeans were archer-ans, taken to greece by the charming breton knight himself, and guess what, the ancient greek word for a bow is ‘toxa’, of two forearms’ length, no doubt, which is close enough to t-acha, allowing for a greek accent grappling with brythonic sounds and bewildered by the ‘the’. (they dispensed with the th in their own forms of the).

we’ll look closer at the athenians, who seemed to have colonized greece earlier on (unless the greeks sent atha-ans to briton and everyone’s forgotten about it), later.

and for homework, well, prep if you like, julia, i’d like you all to read once again tirant lo blanc, that bit where he does a convincing impersonation of alkibiades the general who married the king of greece’s daughter after defeating the persians for him, and marries carmesina, the king of greece’s daughter, after she’d handed him macedonia as a gift in order to make him a duke so that she didn’t have to marry a boring old general/captain, and besides, she was besotted with him, he was such a hunk, and besides, he helped her father to defeat the persians – perhaps he resembled george harrison of the beatles… or robin hood. or prince andrew in his youth.

then, in the remaining ten minutes write a twelve page essay on what is the relationship between the ancient greek word ‘damar’, a wife, and the cornish/english river ‘tamar’, (the t mutates easily to d in cornish) and the english, french and germanic words ‘dame’. (hint: start by leniting the ‘m’)

winter’s over (southern hemisphere here). sorry everyone, i dozed off – you know how it is for us newts when the temperature drops below tepid.

i know i’ve been nosing around in the affairs of fionn mac cumhaill far too much already, but i have one thing more to say of him before i slither off into some pristine new issues, all designed, marianne, to extend your understanding of the olden days when tomes were and common mortals thought runes were all magical; and it might just change the way you see old europe forever.

we think of fionn as irish because that’s where the texts about him are, although he was known to have connections with finland. naturally, the irish texts use irish spelling conventions to spell his name. what would it look like with english spelling conventions? either fin mac cuval or fin mac cuwal.

but wait – in both irish and english, u can represent the u for umbrella (not the northern ‘oombrella’), so two alternatives arise: fin mac caval and fin mac cawal.

but wait still further, eager earthlings, there’s another possibility. in irish dialects sometimes the second word in a two-word phrase in irish is lenited, softened, which is signalled in irish spelling conventions by an h following the softened vowel only in recent times. this is not usual these days in names after mac, but it’s a very changeable, loose feature and may have been common in the past.

all right, edmond, there’s no proof, but it’s more likely than you think because listen – if you don’t want to see a newt snarl, and very nastily at that, gills all a-bristle, listen, m’boy!

when c becomes ch in irish (pronounced like the german ch) it becomes tch, as in church, in english – and also in latin, or italian for example. in english spelling this is represented as ch or -tch. in italian through the ages, ch is spelt cc, cci, cce, che, or chi. (let me know if i’ve missed any, atilio).

italian? did i say italian? i did! i veritably did. because look: mac chumhaill could be spelt mac chiaval in italian, wouldn’t it. of course, the ai of the second syllable might mutate, especially seeing as it’s unstressed. what happens if it inclines towards an e, as some irish speakers might, in preparation for the slender ll.

it’d be mac chiavell, woon it? it would, and all you’d have to do would be close the gap between mac and chiavell and slap on a kind of one size fits all plural ending ‘i’ and there you have it, macchiavelli, the mac cumhaills when translated into italian.

so was niccolo fionn’s brother, son, or just another member of a large clan, or was he simply the conduit through whom the mac cumhaill family’s philosophy of government was saved for us all to admire? who knows? but surely anyone dealing with any texts concerning either the irish fionn mac cumhaill or the european niccolo macchiavelli ought to be aware of the connections, even if it is only to dismiss them. they are there and no honest newt could deny them!!!

for homework, long-suffering ones, think up seven things in support of the proposition that macchiavelli = the mac chumhaills, and three against. if you can’t think up three good reasons why not, you’re in good company, albeit finny (pardon the pun). you should have no difficulty thinking up dozens of good reasons why.

just a footnote: the text itself bears scrutiny. it’s one of the most bandied about and least understood texts. this prince is intent upon reducing violence by controlling rather murderous subjects. it’s a benign doctrine, but like any, susceptible of mischievous misinterpretation and misapplication.

well look, i’ve got worms to grub up and arthropods without common names to chase down, so have a nice weekend, and drive safely.

h. newt

all right, fellow newts, axolotls, mud-puppies and salamanders, i’ve been splodging about in the mud and stirring up the muck and what i haven’t found there is nobody’s business. but i specially wanted to bring up today was the rhonabwy issue, in which we question deeply the assumption that the romans civilised the celts by taking education to them.

the story briefly is as follows (but i recommend you read it for yourself, as i’m only giving it to you in a nutshell, and i do contend that they haven’t the foggiest notion how old the story is, and i lay pounds to sardines it’s pre-roman and you’ll see why as the tale unfolds):

madawg ruled powys, which annoyed his brother iorwerth, who flounced off in a fit of pique to ravage england. madawg sent men after him and among these was a lad named rhonabwy who, with a few companions went to the house of heilyn which was an ivied courtyard and house with cows and an old hag tending a smoky fire inside, and a yellow ox-skin on a platform at one end. other residents came and went.

the food was indifferent and the beds abysmal, and during the night rhonabwy gets up and goes to sleep on the ox-skin. this being a magic ox-skin, he dreamed of seeing and hearing and walking and talking with the great heroes of the past, all brought to life again for him by the magic of the ox-skin.

look there’s mobs more – it was a very intricate dream, and included descriptions of the colours and accoutrements of the heroes too rich in fine detail for anyone to remember unaided. but the bit i want to talk about is the bit in italics up there, in particular, this house of heilyn and what went on there.

but first, what possessed several members of a military unit with commands from the king to scamper off to spend a night there? well, you’ll be relieved to know that they didn’t. most of them weren’t even part of that outfit, in fact only rhonabwy was, and this fine upstanding welshmen slept with his comrades at arms just as you’d expect in true military style, whatever that was back then.

what we’re witnessing here is a device commonly used in very ancient tales (helping to confirm that it is very old) of announcing noble characters with a brief or lengthy aside on their lineage and/or up-bringing, or at least excerpts therefrom.

in those days, everyone expected it so it wasn’t necessary to give warning, but these days the bit that says:

these men were quartered in didlystwn… and one of their number was rhonabwy. rhonabwy and (friends) came to seek shelter at the house of heilyn…

would read:

these men were quartered in didlystwn… and one of their number was rhonabwy*. they sought iorwerth…

and so on to the end of the account of their search for iorwerth. but the rest of that is missing, as far as i know. only the bit in unannounced parentheses is left

so to reconstruct it, you have only that among the soldiers on a mission the outcome of which is not recorded, was a man named rhonabwy, of whom is remembered the following: that once (we’re not told when) with several companions he went to the house of heilyn.

heilyn isn’t a name, but means a hellene – no errol, not the greek sort; there were hellenes all over the world, like frogs round a pond, as they said themselves, and also in wales, and anyway, maybe this story didn’t originate in wales, it might have just fetched up there after wandering all over france, spane, denmark or anywhere, all the way to hell and back, (good lord, lad, there are helsinkis, helvetias, helgas and helmuts and some of them are places and some of them are people and think, boy, think girl, use your brains, you have perfectly good ones, you won’t wear them out by using them!!!!) – a person in charge of or associated with a hell, called a hall in english. this was an iron-age boarding school. that’s a bulky sentence, a bit run-on in places, but wrestle with it, earthlings, you’ll work it out.

how do i know that, elizabeth, that it was a boarding school? not hard! read the description of the food and conditions. awful food, dreadful beds, cows in the courtyard and slimy dung and cow-piss up to your ankles, and now and then someone wet the bed or worse and you had to put up with the stink till you could rub his face in it next morning, damn his eyes and a pox upon him!!!!! you’d expect to see molesworth himself there, and his brother, and fotheringham thomas and all.

get hermeneutic, ye swabs!

this particular heilyn was an elderly educated woman, in possession of a yellow ox-skin (parchment) book. rhonabwy did not lie down upon this book, he leaned over it; and he did not dream as one asleep, but as he learned to read over the course of the years of his boyhood education, he learned to picture in his mind as if in a dream the things described in the writing within it.

then follows snippets of what rhonabwy learnt from that book – just what the teller could recall of course – the details are missing, and rhonabwy is walking around within the landscape depicted in the book as if somewhere, and it’s not clear where, it is forgotten that it was a book, and the myth(take) arises that it was a dream magically produced by sleeping on the skin of an ox.

accounts of animal skins being consulted on matters of history and genealogy can be found in classical, biblical and celtic texts and histories, and all of them can be clearly seen to be accounts of ancient reading. and yes, even the romans could read and write. they make no secret of the fact that they employed celts to educate their youth.

á propos of which, let’s finish with a word from ms mólodji, our word-beast. etty, dear…?

oh, yes, ahem, thank you hermie.

edda. ode (remember to pronounce both syllables). –oides, idea. things like that – you’ll think of a few more i’m sure.

now here’s an interesting one: oideachas. it’s irish, and means education. i see traces of an old oide with the plural ending –acha attached, and then the –s added that makes it a noun.
now, if you took this wordto rome, how would they spell it? educas. well, no, EDUCAS, rather, because they used roman letters. not uncials (an + cials/cells/kells – the colonies of the celts).

but they would soon give it latin endings and it would become educare, which is the verb for to educate, and of course they’ve got it terribly confused with educere, which means to lead out or away, and have had to invent that terrible metaphor to explain it, when all they have to do is admit they got it, along with the thing it denotes, from the goidelics, although there’s no reason to assume they were living in ireland at the time…

tata, then!

* of rhonabwy it was recorded he as a lad and (friends) went to the house of heilyn…and the whole rest of the surviving tale all the way to when he woke up.

good morning everyone. i’d like you to take out your mabinogion and find the dream of rhonabwy. my 1976 penguin by jeffrey gantz may be slightly aged, but is as good as any and it has an interesting little introduction to the dream of rhonabwy, which gives us a little bit of context.

now i chat now and then with other newts, salamanders, tadpoles and toads, and occasionally chew the fat with a stickleback, minnow or other queer fish, and i’m startled now and again to be reminded that the consensus of earthling opinion concerning the celts is that they were illiterate except that the irish used the ogham for carving names on stone, and perhaps some druids may have written some little things down in perhaps greek, but heavens, no idea where they are now…

mr gantz is a very fine scholar i’m sure, and conscientious with it, but he isn’t always scrupulous about giving references, nevertheless when he says that madawg son of maredudd is a genuine historical figure, i do believe him, because if he weren’t he would not have been mentioned in a welsh historical text, and here he is, mentioned in the dream of rhonabwy. and when he says he died in 1159, and his brother iorwerth a few years later i wouldn’t question it. but i would question two or three other small points: which madawg, which iorwerth, whose 1159, and what are you calling a ‘brother’?

you see, madawg is the same as mad-og; and mad means path and og means scholar and often juvenile scholar, and many thousands of young og scholars and old boys would have identified as madog, or madawg, or however else you’d like to spell it, over a period of praps many centuries. they didn’t give their personal names back then. it’d be like admitting in front of all the blokes that your mother called you ‘schnooksy’.

iorwerth, or various spellings thereof, means ireland, although its etymology shows it once meant ore-selling, and there was and still is enough of that in wales without going to ireland for it.

no word is more bandied about metaphorically, poetically, falsely and sometimes simplistically sincerely than the word brother. cuchullain called his adversary in any battle his brother, his equal, worthy to be honoured, a fellow warrior on the path of war; and scholars still want to believe he killed his own mother’s son in a single exceptional heart-wrenchingly poignant battle, so as not to reveal his impeccable and respectable code of honour because they still want him misrepresented as a barbaric uncivilised killer with blood-thirsty attitudes, who was subject to insane battle rages. also, monks call each other brothers. so in ancient texts all such details are under cautious, scrupulous doubt.

not least, whose dates. there have been many calendars in use over the centuries, and before the (sometimes only partial) roman catholicisation of the celts the gregorian one was unknown. take a look at all the other calendars known to have been in use throughout the world before the gregorian one began to prevail. many of them had starting points much earlier than 0 bc. did the welsh have their own calendar before the romans imposed theirs? did they wistfully wait for someone else to come and tell them what year it was? phillip? don’t know? moira? dai? yes, egbert? yes you are perfectly correct – and stand back, i’m about to lurch into capitOls – the correct answer is

NOBODY KNOWS!!!!!!!!!!

take a moment to recover from that before you read on: take a deep breath, stretch, get your bearings, that’s right. cause there’s another just like the othery coming. here it is:

how old is this text, the dream of rhonabwy, ye little blessed ones, o hermeneutical earthlings wherever you may be? arnie? jennifer? that’s right, jennifer, just as you say:


anyway, let’s get into the text, although there is one thing i’d like to just praps mention… although jeffrey has been very discreet, there is a well, rude part in it. so while you’re reading it through, which is what i’m asking you to do for your homework, if you are under thirteen and unaccompanied by a responsible adult, when you get to the words ‘after that a wind and rainstorm arose,’ shut your eyes at once. then opening them just the teeniest bit, no peeking now, just skip the next clause of that sentence and start again at ‘and then with the restlessness of their journey…’

it’s an abysmal translation, really…

we newts are cross-disciplinarian, aware that our discourse is but one thread of a densely woven fabric, and aware too of the value of being aware of what’s going on in the surrounding threads. so now and then, there’ll be guest scholars to deepen and widen our senses of our contexts. today we have, ta da, ta dah…

word gizzards, with ms etty mology
good day,

i’ve dissected so many words it just isn’t funny.

i’ve mounted them on polyporous pith, with silvered pins stuck right through them and detailed notes in indelible ink on tiny card micro-pinned to each one – thousands of ’em, all regimented into phyla, orders, families, genera and species.

i’ve got dozens pickled in 70% alcohol, more pressed between the pages of books and not a few thinly sectioned and dyed with strange effects on microscope slides. been doing it for years. know all about ‘em, and i’m willing to share my encyclopedic knowledge and day to day findings with the rest of you.

but first it’s only natural that you would want to know a little bit about me. i’m thin, sharp, and nasty. i wear nasty coloured knitted things, no stockings and flat shoes. i wear my hair in a nasty tight little knot on top of my hard, pointy little head, and i eat children with a knife and fork after roasting them with the flames of my nostrils. go away, timmy!

in a word, i’m grimm, and my spirit guides are grimm and my work is grimm and my findings are a grimm as all get out.

here are my observations concerning words i encounter as i learn the languages i scrutinise to tousle etymology from. to understand me you have to

1. set aside what you or anyone else already believes

2. take a deep breath

3. read a statement – any you encounter in any text explaining the origins of or history of or derivations of words. mine or yours or anyone’s. make sure you understand just what it means.

4. apply a veracity rating to the statement according to whatever critically considered and frequently revisited and updated criteria you consider most relevant (not necessarily what it says in some book). is it factual and if so is it true? is it an opinion and if so is it supported by your own knowledge, or are reasons and are those reasons sound, unsound, not enough to go on…

5. compare with accepted dogmas, and prevailing academic opinions, as to all these points of veracity. be scrupulously fair or have bad dreams for a week or until you repent. snark. snark.

6. say in as many different accents as you can manage all words in quotation marks. really push the envelope there, exaggerate. satirical, mocking, comic, whatever, all the way to the very outer limits of possibility. e.g., sheep can be anything from ship, shoop, shuwp to shape, shipe and shoipe. savour each one. who would say it like that? can you locate a particular pronunciation with a particular region, dialect, ethnic group, school? refer to your OED where it says there’s only one or at most two pronunciations for each word – the one (or ones) native to a few of the politically dominant ethnic minorities and people under their influence. apply a veracity rating to that, earthling. is it true? obviously not. is it an opinion? yes. supported by argument? no. it is therefore not an academically acceptable statement. oxford scholars don’t know, they’re just making mis-educated guesses grossly impaired by outmoded traditions. you can make better ones from your own bases, and i’m showing you how to beginning building one.

7. consider deeply the letters. remember that ‘u’ can be for ‘ah’ for ‘umbrella’, oo for oops, oo for oolong, eu, y, v and even f, schwa, or ‘yoo’ for ‘universe’. remember that every establishment had its own spelling conventions and often their own alphabets. we see a diversity of similar scripts mostly mutually intelligible but no doubt getting dicey as geographical and cultural distance increased, across britain and ireland. then as now it is reasonable to assume that some spelt phonetically, or mixed more than one style inconsistently, while others used traditional spellings that no longer reflected current pronunciations. remember that most of what was written was lost, and the few texts we have preserved are not very likely to be typical, but rather exceptional, and that texts often fetch up far from their point of production with nothing to explain where they’re from. some texts in languages that resemble german more than english, given that the two languages have influenced each other greatly, are quite as likely to have been been written in germany as in britain. anyway, the whole area is a mess and needs revision. they’re not doing it so i will.

8. repeat for all lines.

9. review the logic.

10. take three deep breaths.

e.g. ‘taobh’ is irish for ‘side’.

1. set aside pre-existing belief

2. breathe

3. read the statement: ‘taobh’ is irish for ‘side’

4. verify

• fact ( yes, it’s in the dictionary, and many native speakers can confirm it. )
• probability: (n.a.)
• possible: high? medium? low? (n.a.)
• opinion: well-supported? feebly supported? unsupported?

5. compare with accepted dogma (dogma means teaching).
• concur? ( yes )
• veracity rating on accepted dogma. ( high – can be verified)

6. say it in all funny foreign and fantastic accents, out loud, if possible into a microphone and play back, listening intently, noting which ones sound like other words in the same or other languages with similar or different meanings are pronounced.

7. spell all these pronunciations in as many different ways as you can think of, noting any which are now or ever were in use, and what other pronunciations the same spellings might have.

8. get it in context, and work through the contexts in the same way. get quick at it, a few seconds very effective thought, stash it away in your personal cranial database.

9. review it’s logic (not poss. if it’s the first line. you need to look at the logical connections between each line and all others in a paragraph, and so on up, and then let you mind travel along all logical threads to acquaint yourself thoroughly with the whole array of possibilities, ramifications, implications and so on, so that when you come to selecting the likeliest of hypotheses to follow up – and it’s very unwise to ignore any that can be sustained logically, especially when you ignore them in favour of hypotheses that can’t, like the academics do, irresponsible cads they are, and like i never would ).

10. take three deep breaths and check to see if you’ve turned into a newt yet or not. if you have, be grateful, you have evolved in a positive way. if not, keep paddling.

here’s the second statement and the third:

‘tu’ is cornish for side.

cornish ‘tu’ is related to the irish ‘taobh’

i’ll leave you to try those ten steps to more realistic etymology, and for extras, you can tousle out (explicate) some of the implications, subjecting each step of each logical sequence of thought to the ten tests, with reference to all the other similar words discovered in steps six and seven, after each one of them has been subjected to the same ten tests and supplementary logisticative procedures.

if after having done so you’re still believing that sound etymological processes have gone into the lexicography of old and middle irish, cornish and the so-called anglo-saxon texts, i’ll cast spells on you… really nasty ones involving toads.

thank you ms mology. you’ve certainly given us a lot to think about…


ancient tomes and rosetta stones

hmm hmm. i’d like to speak to you today of bloody horse skins and steaming bull-feasts, golden calves and burning bushes, yellow calfskins and chinese girl’s backs and other dream-fetchers, or books as they’re called these days.

now people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and point taken, edgar, soft, squidgy-toed entities only a cm or so tall, however long they might be should probably take your sound advice to avoid stepping on the toes of steel-capped leather-booted giants everybody is using for transport these days, though the great god pan alone knows what they think their destination might be – they’ve left it up to the giants and the giants don’t even know who they are, because they’re all dead long ago. be that as it may, class, i have my quibbles when it comes to the ‘dreams’ of the ancients and i’d like us to have a little look at one or p’raps two.

let’s invoke merlyn. i’m sure he’s got other things to do, but he might be persuaded to trickle some insight-stimulating nwyfre into our midst for the good of all beings. eus kres, old man, beloved of all? kres. well, nearly. as much as kres ever gets this far from a cricket pitch, and well, since we’re here, what a strange test we’ve just had and the ashes in our keeping again, where it seems they think they belong – light laughter, with a fastish-fading tightish smile from merlyn, who’s been, i trow, subdued since the last match, along with the rest of the poms. hahaha.

elaine, dear, a propos of your enquiry, there’s a case in point. see how kresek has been taken into the beatnik (bennik = blessed) jargon and anglicised as the nearest plausible english phonetic equivalent to obtain a decidedly ‘strange’ meaning. it’s a feature of translation that you sometimes encounter affecting, as here, key words and concepts. kres = craze = highly desirable: it’s crazy man, i.e., coll, (or kell, or school), spelled cool these days and meaning just beaut.

but the subject you’ll remember is books.

if you look at the establishment dogma we’re handed out and persecuted for rejecting or daring to refute, there weren’t any really. when the ancient hebrews needed the best advice they could get for their favourite or eldest son’s future they used to consult burning bushes. when they doubted the qualifications of a leadership claiming to be tuned infallibly to the vaporous wesen, they made golden statues of calves to replace them. our culture is based upon their wisdom, so it’s nice to know that bushes can still burn, although there’s no-one alive today who i’d trust to interpret, and that statue-making of animals and all sorts in everything from plasticine to pure gold is still a vital pass-time for millions, a hobby for thousands and a livelihood for hundreds of people in any sample of population of a reasonable size.

(no wendy, newts do not make statues of anything much, although we have our ways with mud – reuzegezellig it is too!!!!!)

the point is, human, that taken all together there are some very good reasons for suspecting every consulted thing in ancient texts of being a book or a school or other institution which kept annals, pedigrees and other kinds of history, science and philosophy in treasured books, while every act of recording is translated as writing.

the process is often described: an animal or several hundred or thousand are killed. hermeneuts are always pretending they know the various precise meanings of all the words they encounter that probably mean kill and often use the word sacrifice whenever it gets religious, or rather whenever they’re too scared to say what it really means.

there’s so much evidence of books, tomes and parchments, writing and reading, education and communication by the written word in those texts and they seem to me to be doing everything in their power to pretend there just wasn’t any. perhaps this is because they want to believe that the texts they’ve got are new and fresh and original, not too tricky to date, and they want it to reflect racist roman propaganda to the effect that there was no literature except greek and egyptian which they couldn’t really hide before they came and educated the barbarians, and they do this by refusing to acknowledge the vast piles of evidence of widespread developed taken-for-granted generalised literacy among the majority of pre-roman peoples.

the references to massive, house to captive house, methodically thorough booksearchings and book burnings, aside (see don quixote for some gloriously telling examples), they seem to want us to think that the scarcity, fragmentariness and poor condition of the pitiful few survivals of pre-roman literature reflects their pre-roman condition. to keep up this pretence you have to translate them wrongly, and that ensures that the translations make no sense or nonsense or at the very best bizarre sense that fully justifies not only the destruction of the culture concerned, but its continued subjection to the authority of… of whom, precisely, i often wonder…

you’re wondering about the golden calf? words for yellow and golden and tan etc tend to be easy to mistake for one another even when they are clearly defined. in my own vocabulary, i’d use all those words to denote the same colour in different situations. but it beautifully suggests the colour of parchment, don’t you think, and the best parchment is made from the skin of young animals, while it is still very supple and pliable and still very thin. you can refer here to rhonabwy’s yellow calf skin upon which he ‘dreams’ – dreams are almost always readings – and to prophecy, dreams, or consultation involving animal skins that cause clairvoyant dreams all the way back to joseph in his tartan kilt in the land of egypt. the buggers were up to their elbows in books, poring over tomes, ruining their eyesight in doing so and saving up all their dinerii shekels and pingines to have their young hopefuls taught to do the same.

the burning bush? there are many word pairs in extant languages whose ancestors probably contributed to the hebrew’s texts either directly or in translation (they were always translating each others texts, wives’ texts in particular into the language of their husbands, and much of the populace of the middle east seems to have been goidelic ((galilee for example and galatea)) though brythonic and hellenic speakers were also there) which mean either bush or book depending on which language you’re thinking in. tom/tome and buch/bush are two.

i’ve got reasons i can’t go into here, it’s almost time for my slot with axel lottle where we do really exquisite things together in the murk to make it more intelligible and yielding of its meanings, for preferring to think that the old hebrews having married some proto-irish colleens, their descendents inherited translations of some now lost, very ancient proto-irish texts and some dickhead ((related to dichet(al) perhaps, and meaning something like deep-thinker and certainly not obscene)) mistranslated a phrase which meant ‘illuminated/illustrated tome’ as burning bush. tom is irish for bush or shrub.

note tomahawk here, girls and boys, for when we glance at the possibility that the irish really did sail to america and go native, because it will do you good to see in this native american work the elements tom and hawk. tom is bush, and hawk is hack, or hacker, the thing you hack with see hacha, axe and saxe. a tomahawk is a small axe for cutting bushes with. you’d need something bigger for a tree – that’s how to check to see that the meaning fits. snug as a foot in a moccasin. goes right up to the saxons that etymology does and helps us to distinguish them from the sasanas, with whom they are currently incorrectly confounded by most scholars who haven’t been paying attention to moi. they’re almost certainly more to do with slate rooves than battle-axes, although they no doubt used those too.

and the chinese girl’s back? well, you can imagine for yourself what kind of text the sort of nitwit who does this sort of thing
was working with here: there’s the scene, some events of great significance have taken place and it’s hard to make out exactly what but what fun if it’s the one where they all hate each other, so they read it as a vengeful resentment that makes them record it as is proved by their method of recording it: they inscribe the text on the girl’s back with a knife, cutting each letter deeply enough into the skin to leave permanent scars which will be legible for as long as she lives.

well, maybe it was someone else’s back – perhaps an old sheep’s after the sheep had finished with it, and maybe it was written on with ink in the ordinary way, and maybe we’re not dealing with glorious vengefulness – a very suspect trait, in a culture in need of careful correction – but only with an honest intention of preserving in the ordinary way the details of events they felt were worthy of remembrance, and maybe there wasn’t any offence given or taken at all.

hermeneutics is like that.

now before you go, o golden ones of wisdom and truth, consider this: the first thing anyone could think of doing with the rosetta stone once they’d found it and polished it all up clean was to brush ink on it and press paper against it and lift off the paper and while still wet, press it against another piece of paper, and do that several times and distribute the copies to interested persons, rewetting the stone when it got dry and washing it carefully clean when they’d finished work for the day.

my question, and i want three thousand words from each of you, with footnotes and bibliography extra, illustrations fine, powerpoint presentation welcome, on whether or not you think the egyptians were too stupid to think of that and give arguments to support your opinion and evidence to support your arguments and i’ll see you down the slushpond after for a drink or a wallow in the mud. entitle your essay: was the rosetta stone once part of a printing press?

happy solstice

herman newt.

we newts understand nothing half so well as puddles. puddles are what remain when ponds evaporate. they are the result of the uneven distribution of mud, which results in little hills and valleys forming. water seeks its own level and fills valleys while leaving hills high and dry. first you have a pond. then as that evaporates you have small islands appearing above the water level. as the water level drops further the islands get bigger, and then several may become connected by an increasingly continuous stretch of highish ground between them. eventually the proportion of water to land does a reverse – first there’s more water than land, then more land than water. soon only very low areas still contain water.

any hermeneut must be exquisitely aware that metaphors are always a calculated shift away from reality and conclusions drawn from studies made through them must be drawn very carefully with this in mind. any lens distorts. a metaphor’s distortions must be carefully observed and accounted for. then and only then, metaphors are very useful lenses. this puddle metaphor can be profitably brought to bear on the geographical distribution of any old or ancient culture. high ground surrounding a puddle and islands within it represent locations that are less easily retained by the culture concerned than that represented by low soggy ground, pools and puddles. pools and puddles represent homelands, colonies and such.

it also applies to our beliefs, derived from texts, archaeological traces and legends and folk traditions, about the geographical distribution of cultures. concerning the ancient past, we have plenty of belief, precious little hard factual data. so we’re necessarily constrained to work with belief. when a belief contributes to the basis of a major conjectural construct, it gets called ‘a hypothesis’. ‘an hypothesis’ if you are american, or if your speech is influenced by american speech.

now i’m thinking of fionn mac cumhaill, the irish legendary hero. it’s usually pronounced mc cool these days. famed for his thumb-sucking to procure hallucinatory experiences upon the basis of which he prophecied, fionn was a warrior. what else he was is immaterial. the fact is he is known in ireland from some rather old texts which are only of real interest to historians, linguists and celtic revivalists, and to hermeneuts and faerie folk too ethereal to see.

not many would dispute though that, once upon a time, at least someone thought it was pronounced mac cumhaill. that’s using irish spelling conventions, but using current english ones, it would have been spelt mc cuwal, and only the irish would have worried about the slenderisation of the final ll. slender or broad, ll is ll to a pom. or an ozzie, and i daresay a yank. (i use these national nick-names with affection in every instance and am amazed to be told that anyone ever used any of them any other way. i’ve only ever heard them used with neutrality or affection, so that’s how i’m continuing to use them.)

but that hasn’t really satisfied, has it? you’d want to know how the u is pronounced, u for uh huh or oo for oops, or both. both are possible in irish as well as english, depending in both languages on which word this particular specimen of an u occurs in and where you live. but does it matter? cah-well or coo-well. or in irish also caw-well.

it could be any of these and because it is in the nature of speech to vary with location, and references to fionn mac cumhaill must have been made by all sorts of people in all sorts of places, all three were probably in use at some time or another in the pre-renaissance and renaissance periods, and a whole lot of other spellings and pronunciations not recorded in writing as well.

one good bet, because it happens so often in so many other words, is that, like the ll, the mh was sometimes slender and sometimes broad; i.e., sometimes a v and sometimes a w. but poms, yanks, ozzies, kiwis and other users of english would notice the v/w difference, while the –ill/ -all difference, which the irish make much of, would elude them.

so someone at least somewhere would have pronounced that surname ‘mc or mac caval or cuval’.

now wise and wonder-working witches have always been at play with the eyes of newts, always including a good handful in their alarmingest cauldrons, and muttering such spells as would mutate a whole oceanful of newts (if newts could live in oceans) with particular reference to their eyes, with the result that newts’ eyes have some seriously admirable abilities not found in the eyes of lesser beings. they can see round corners, through drifts of densely matted twigs, up twisty apertures in banks and through quite meaningful depths of gravelly murk and slimy silt. nobody knows better than an amphibian how to identify and compensate for incidental or regular distortions.

now this here newt espies not just one ‘caval’ here but a whole ‘cavalry’ and dares to set this against several decades of etymological research and rashly opine that caval means horse and that this is so even when you spell it cumhaill, and find it along with sheep, cows and linen sheets in a list of old irish units of currency, and even when you put a mac in front of it and find it storied and gloried as an irish legenedary hero.

and merely noting here (and then dodging to evade hurled rotten fruit, addled eggs and other unspeakabilia from the academics whose dog-gone, ox-dreaming reasoning has brought them to other conclusions) that mac didn’t originally mean son of but something forgotten from which words meaning son (of), worker (with), student (of), soldier (for) etc, are derived. but i believe it orignated as something close to ‘work’ via mutation of the initial sound of a word ancestral to both work and make. both share a common ancestor with fac- the latin stem of words to do with making and doing. add in the vik or viking there, but don’t pick at it now, sandra, or it’ll go off in your face! believe me, it will! just keep it in your heart.

and no, simon, we’re not dealing with PIE yet. we’re not that far back in time by a long shot, and neither is almost anyone, as you soon shall see.

i just want to share with you my newt’s-eye view of fionn mac cumhaill’s surname, because i’ve got one or two shocks for you faoi. well, i mean i’ve had one or two shocks faoi. faoi is one of my favourite irish words. it means all sorts of things, but here it means ‘concerning it’.

for now, note the horse theme. caval belongs to that whole array that opens out nicely and means horse or other large herbivorous mammal. i’ll just list them; you’ll know how to imagine their distributions through time and space on a map of the world, stopping when knowledge becomes hypothesis, because the PIE hypotheses can’t be trusted and we have to revise our sense of how language correlated to location in the olden days of elves and withces and cavaliers called fionn mac cumhaill.

here’s a partial list to get you started: caval, cheval, capall, cob, camel, gimel, gavar, chevr(on), capri, gabhair…

for homework, class, i want you to add at least a dozen more to the list, and write, say or just think750-850 words on the implications of this list with reference to the main means of conveyance of the scandinavian god thor, bearing in mind that he was a biggish chap and goats are tough but not that tough, and there were lots of little closely related but divergent cultures merging in marriage and working together exchanging words and modifying ways of using them.

that might get a lot of otherwise useful souls out of their goat carts and into some more appropriate conveyance!!!!!

blessed be, humans

herman newt.

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.

look, all you people on the edge of your seats keen to understand about the dums and dees of tweedle, it really is time to get serious about hermeneutics and discuss just what it means.

and perhaps after all it’s time for me to throw off my newt suit and admit that i really have got a secret identity, yes folks, it’s me, the wyverne. Herman Newt is really me after all.

secondly, i have to either explain why i don’t use conventional academic terminologies much, and set out my etymologies with formal exactness in order to reference them to existing work, or start doing so, which is reasonable; and so i’ll do the former.

ten years ago, i was doing an arts degree at deakin university, australia’s foremost distance education provider, and a very reputable university in its own right. i was doing very well and had won recognition for my ‘academic excellence’. i was doing a double major in literary studies and cultural studies (both very strong on postmodernism) and was finding my way towards specialisation in ‘myth and legend and the oral traditions’ in one and ‘hermeneutics, the interpretation of (sacred) texts’ in the other. i had studied the philosophy of knowledge and power, freudian psychology, and comparative religion in support of these two majors, and i’d learnt the art/science of critique from second wave feminism as an extracurricula in my first bash at a university education (in latin and greek at the university of adelaide) when i was in my late teens and early twenties, practiced it diligently through all through the years of my maturation, and refreshed it with a dip into third wave feminism at first year level at deakin.

between my first and second attempts at university education i read intensely on a wide range of subjects from science to linguistics, devoured skeet’s dictionary of indo-european root-words and subsequently satisfied myself that it was self-indulgent fantasy supported mostly by bombast and the power high-up academics have to crush their critics, and still i’m fond of it. i was since my teens a fervid reader of etymologies and prone to get lost for hours in dictionaries which i had opened to look up a word i’d long forgotten about, reading etymology after etymology, lapping ‘em up like lollies, noting with keen attention those that appeared to me to be wrong, bent around politics, twisted round ecclesiastic or hagiographic fibs, or just inadequately researched, and so i brought all this to bear on everything i read. that’s three decades of it a decade ago, so it’s four decades’ worth now.

the climax came when all of these disciplines converged in 1997, when as a deakin undergraduate with lots of nice high distinctions behind me and confident of more to come, i undertook close analyses of the oresteia, gawain and the tain bo cuailgne in the same semester as a study of hermeneutical techniques from ancient to post-modern as applied or applicable to jewish, islamic, hindu, christian and buddhist sacred texts. in all innocence, expecting praise, i whipped out my lens of feminist-style critique, which examines texts critically for political, racist, sexist, religious, and personal bias; not fearing to psychoanalyse, and i added my own psychological slant of recognising, as freud did, that everyone has a neurosis, mental health consisting of the successful management of it; and also that that is best accessed through buddhist notions of samsara, of which all texts will bear evidence of cultural and authorial management or mis-management.

what happened next was okay as far as the t/ain went. cuchullain and emer are old friends of mine. i draw great inspiration from them both. i wrote my first essay of the semester on gawain and got a high distinction for it, (i have to boast sometimes to compensate for not getting the degree,
for here i faltered and finally fell,
withdrew with weeping, sadly i succumbed,

i mean, i’m about to explain why i quit without completing the semester).

even before my gawain essay came back (with a high distinction as it turned out) i got stuck into aeschylus, hoeing right in with a knife and fork, doing all the right things as i’d learned from feminists and was cottoning onto from a brief round with communications studies at first year level, and was now getting helped to from ‘hermeneutics across cultures’, and i found to my horror that what happened when i did all that did not tally at all with what apparently was and still is current belief about aeschylus, homer, cassandra or the greeks. in fact it clashed horribly.

reader, i flipped. the wyverne withered to a skinny wet lizard, and laid a single egg, in which the illustrious Herman Newt was conceived.

at the time, to anyone who wanted an excuse, i mumbled something about massively catastrophic paradigm shifts, crippling arrays of non sequiturs, and a so-called ‘scientific revolution’ looming paralysingly on my horizon with the awful threat that i would be the only person in the world having this particular one and would therefore never be able to pass another essay without lying. cuchullain would despise me. emer would refuse to teach me featherstitch.

i spent a few weeks gibbering in corners and when the gibbering had passed from excited, rapid and febrile to disconsolate and murmurous, and had almost stopped, i took up irish, cornish, ancient greek, latin, spanish and dutch, brushed up my french, toyed with my little bit of german and practiced my few sentences of serbian with my serbian best friend the son of satan. ya mislim da mosemo. mi smo bili ovde sinoch. ya sam bog. all those things serbs say.

i’ll soon be moving on to welsh, polish, icelandic, finnish, sanskrit, hebrew and russian, two to three years of each. as even the sorcerer, de saussure said, ‘learn languages’. later i’ll do cheroke, basque, arabic, moroccan, igbo and ngaranjeri. or along those lines. i have to fit danish in somewhere, and fairly soon, i think! my day is divided into six or seven lesson times so that it’s no harder than the matriculation year at high school, with the added lightener that it’s done for love.

anyway, that was because it had become clear to me that one has to do one’s own translations – you can’t let all that stuff hang on the hermeneutical decisions of a very few who died long ago, without ever reading bilimoria on truth and transcendence, bell hooks on permeant racism in earnestly idealistic discourse dominated yes dominated, sister! by white middle class, educated women, or the wyverne on hermeneutics (modest blush).

i mean what hit me, what floored me, what threw me clean off my perilous seat, o loved ones, most cherished, was that cassandra was caesa(r) an dra, whose plural even in greek would be – if provided with 2nd declension case endings and let’s do it, hey, just to make ourselves gibber, just to see the embryonic herman newt quiver in his egg – would be draoi, the irish word for druid – and if she, ha ha, is a druid (apart from that she’s no sexy spear prize – their education was so long they were elderly before they got to be druids) well, shit, so is julius caesar isn’t he? (caesar is pronounced kaess-ar, not seesa, benjamin, and don’t carve things on your desk with your compass please – it isn’t smart – caes rhymes with mass. caesars were cathars who couldn’t say th, not roman emperors, except when a cathar was a roman emperor. but the romans were terrible fibbers, so don’t believe a word they say.)

i mean, ‘she’ was probably a wizened little old man about four feet tall with a shiny bald domed forehead fringed with lots of fluffy white hair and a big white beard and long lovely moustaches and i’m sorry he had to die that way – i really am.

there’s a lot of gender confusion caused by grammatical gender or something that sounds like it being mistaken for actual gender. e.g., for years i gave poor old mircea eliade a mental sex-change purely on the basis of the final letter of his first name – it wasn’t till i read the small print, all that waffle on the back cover and the forewards by prominent anthropologists that i discovered he was a man and gave him back his dick and balls. i daresay he’s grateful, though he might have benefitted from the shamanic experience of it. they did things like that a lot. so perhaps he was a she.

so the whole scenario shifts. troy was celtic. so aeneas is celtic. you remember all you who did latin, how he scarpered when troy fell with his grandad anchises on his shoulders. but it wasn’t the whole man. ‘anchises’ is irish for ‘the basket’ for feic’s sake. it had his ancestor’s bones in it. the skulls. the skulls. the sacred bones of the ancestors. skulls and long bones. jolly old rogers. skulls. ostoun. ho stone, the stone, the bone.

so rome is celtic. is rome celtic?

a year’s long radical revision would arrive at where rome is celtic.

i mean hermeneutics begins by asking all the questions and while underlining the ones that get answered, ‘i don’t know’, bravely faces those that get answered, well, that, but no it wouldn’t be that, no one else thinks it’s that, mumble, murble, gibber gibber.

look that’s way over me thousand words – i’ll slither back into my other identity now and see you all later.

and sorry to shock you all, i’m not really a nice slimy newt, i’m really only a tacky little wyverne in greeny-gold lamé after all.

dum dee dame di damh

we’ve managed to bail up dum and s/he’s consented to be interviewed.

first of all there are two ways of arriving at dum if you’re an evoluting syllable:

(1) via dun which belongs to a complex including the english –don, -den, -dene, town, dane, and -ton, etc., and the irish duine (person), the cornish den (man, person) and (mumble muffle humble mumble – i haven’t learnt any welsh yet so what the hell do i think i’m doing saying anything about it at all) probably something or other in (keh! keh!) welsh, too (heh! heh!), and it may have become the dum of dumfries and dumbarton, both in scotland, one on the clyde and the other on the nith, to accommodate the following labial, although god knows why it would – it didn’t in dunbar, dunblane, or dunfermline; or

(2) via a common ancestor with the english dame meaning a ((once noble)) woman, the irish damh (and we’re north enough for goidelic gaelic to have had a spear in this cauldron) meaning a noble person or a stag, and the ancienter tome which my cherished copy of the shorter ogsfort dictionary – gasp, sorry, i did mean to ay ox ford ha ha, of course there’s an ox-ford there, isn’t there. wouldn’t not be, would there? deirim é, no! oxen everywhere, i’m sure. i mean if i were alive in the olden days and i wanted to refer to the biggest and most famous education centre in my world, well i’d just refer to a nearby feature like the place where the oxen could drag their drays across the river, i would, i mean even then it wouldn’t have been worth one’s career (and, heh heh, i use the term loosely, nay, hilariously) to mention ogs as if anything so unbritish, so, well, goidelic, could have been happening that close to l’ógres, (the og-eries) would it, and rightly so, for who would let anything as fork-bearded and bandy-legged put little golden crowns on the heads of sweet little english children? no! never! there were never any ogres in l’ogres! and no, wouldn’t of been a fort, feic, no!, forts are ancient and ‘we’ KNOW the date of the establishment of oxford, don’t ‘we’? much later, wasn’t it, i mean before the romans, there wasn’t even roads, let alone education (now will you let me off the rack, torturer? o thank you, thank you, and yes, i’ll remember that in future, it just really was an ox ford, and yes, i must remember to put off indefinitely that search i keep trying unsuccessfully online for an actual photo of the very ford referred to.)

(psst, if anyone is actually reading this blog, any help with this search would be much appreciated. fair dinkum, i’m sure they’ve got themselves covered, but where can i find a map showing the exact or most likely location of, or a photograph of this famous ford?)

sorry, everyone, i had to step outside for a moment. where were we? oh yes, dum.

now without getting to intimate with each one of them, i’ll run past you a quick list of words and bits of words that you might like to consider as possible cognates, derivatives, ancestors, or near rellies of dum. tome, domesday, doom, etym, thomas, thames, times, tem(ple), tim(othy), tam(sin), dam(son) dem(oiselle), team, dam, dumb, dump and through damh, dauph(in), daphne, dove, duffer, duff, dubh, daves, deves, devon, david, davies, davis, devil, dover, ooh and there’s mobs more, but as you can see you do have to leave england, because it’s ‘ancient and cold’ and yea verily, noble as all get out!

yet here we are in good ol’ england, witnessing their marriage with england’s tweed trade (which was world-famous before julius even thought of incarnating as a cathar – pronounced caes-ar where th’s are too hard for you – let alone a roman), perhaps even the mass-marriage of all of the lasses eligible to be brides of one with all the likely lads of the other. tweed-all to dum.

(did i mention dumnorix?)

now glancing over that list and taking off the fleeting impressions that arise, pressing them firmly between pages of a book and mounting them on clean white card-board, you get a sense of a very ancient people going back to where dome still equalled home, which was possibly in the steppes somewhere, where nomads used to use mammoth tusks, but hey, there’re other ways of building domes – look at that of st peters, or the modified domes of the islamic mosques, and besides, tombs are probably in there somewhere, and so tomb-dome-home builders, who stored their written history in thick, sheep-skin parchment books of great weight of which the doomsday book is a surviving example (or do we all have to pretend all the data’s in for that one and there’s no need to revise it? domes de is more likely to mean tomes doers and i could prove it with reference to the anglo-saxon rune poem, but (keh, keh) it’s probably not worth my career…

they are right into literacy, education and so on, so we know they’re post roman, because the romans introduced literacy to the britons when prasto took the toga, didn’t they. umm, look, thames means tomes. st thomas, dame schools, temples, all mean literacy, and what’s more, mighty intense population monitoring. we’ll not ask here what boots it that my dame hath a lame tame crane, but flick an eyelash at it if you like and it’ll do you no harm. she was a neat, figure, bonneted, booted and buckled, and mostly not a horsewoman – she got about not much and on foot. perhaps she was forthright, if not quite a tomboi. and look, she would beg to differ with me concerning the etymology of the word dee. for although there is no doubt that dee was a very inferior creature at the time of the quarrel, it is as true that he had become so, having come from as noble a lineage as her own (poor dumb thomas and simple tom agreed, and she would and they would never marry into any lineage that was not worthy), for te, tea and dee, and yea the de of domes de too are all forms of tow(er), also spelt tiw, or tiw(as), and all ultimately from dor, terr, and the like. that’s such a biggy, i’ll leave it for now. but you’ve met the dame, and she’ll explain to us next time about tweedle’s specific dum and perhaps we’ll have a peep into the tower, tiw, terr complex, because, don’t choke on your egg n-óg, gilbert, but i think there we’ll find god.