Language, please, people! with Lynn Gwyst.

look, fellow earthlings, i can see that you are trying, but there is not yet in existence a course in general linguistics, nor any textbook, nor information on-line that i can in good conscience refer you to in delivering my lectures. there is plenty out there, but it’s all very faulty, and before i can even start i’ll have to write my own and i’ll even let you have it for free.

no, seriously, i’ve looked at text-books, journal articles, websites and wikipedia, books for the intelligent lay-reader, the intros to language learning books and websites and truckloads more. i’m assuming that you, o venerated reader, have done as much or are doing so or intending to. perhaps you too have noticed or will notice and been or will be dismayed by the many quite big bits that don’t ring true in the works of even the most respected of linguists. i won’t name names. well, not too many, anyway. don’t want to embarrass anyone. or not too many, anyway. or anyway, i don’t want to embarrass them too much. and only the truly deserving… my blog will identify and examine the worst of these clangers and you’ll all be the better for it.

i won’t try here to entrance you too much with forays into the special branch of linguistics called prescriptive linguistics, though it is an adorable little foray if you get time for it. google it if you like. wikipedia sums it up for the uninitiated as satisfactorily as most introductory-level university text-books do, but with fewer errors, since anyone can hop in and correct wikipedia, with the consent of a jealously watching peer group, who are the more honest for not being paid for it.

most of us are well acquainted with the idea that the standardised, standardising varieties of language used by officialdoms, educational institutions and the mainstream mass media are usually based on the speech of a ruling elite,  the so-called dominant culture, and not intrinsically superior to any of the many other forms of the language. ‘i dun roow good in inglish’ among people who speak like that naturally is as good as ‘I did very well in English’, and a wi’u bi’ of a glo’u sto (little bit of a glottal stop) is not a feature of inferior speech. they are just different variations of the same language, samples from different parts of the melange. many children grow up speaking one form at home and learning the standard as a school language, never using it again after leaving school. they are no longer regarded as inferior because of it. which is a blessed relief, because you can’t just trash whole peoples after trampling their cultures to death. so heave a sigh. here goes.

linguistics for free radicals. (try not to mop me up).
spoken language consists of vocalisations associated with meaning. written language consists of marks on paper the shapes of which are intended to represent the sounds or units of meaning of spoken language.
spoken language attempts to represent meaning, each utterance using a sequence of vocalisations associated in the minds of speaker and listener with particular meanings such that communication can occur. we can tell each other what we think and feel, what we know and believe, what we want or need, fear or deplore etc. written language attempts to represent meaning, each mark or sequence of marks representing a sound or sequence of sounds evocative of associated meaning or… yes, hilda, did you have a question? no? a complaint? you already knew that? oh all right. you’ve all read widely on the subject and grasped the pith of that. good. but i’m not on about all that at the moment. i’m on about syllables.

because they are the smallest units of verbal meaning and since each syllable has a meaning we have to look at the language not just word by word, but syllable by syllable.
you can divide words into syllables according to the rules of syllabication:

  • a syllable has a single vowel sound. …
  • doubled consonants are split to make syllables. …
  • words with single consonants between vowels are divided before the consonant.

but this is not the best way for, say, etymological purposes. syllables all have their own meaning.

i remember reading years ago in one of those very numerous books on the subject of general linguistics about a language spoken in africa which had words of many syllables to the point of hysteria, and no not welsh, an obscure african one. i remember wondering what he meant? it was the language of an illiterate people, and without writing how can you decide where a word begins and ends? you can’t, in my opinion, but what do others think?

run means something. okay, having grasped that the second n is a mere spelling convention, and ok, running means something else. the run or runn- part still means what it most naturally means, but the ing part has its own meaning which is also consistent wherever it occurs. in it? it is. then whose decision is it that run(n) and ing are one word? dr johnson’s? oxford university’s? some ancient inventor of spaces between written ‘words’. yours? mine? seems so natural now, no one would ever want to change it, least of all me, because by now i am as enchanted by the way language is now as anyone. the multisyllabic word makes the rhythms and flows of our most beautiful poetry, musical prose and endearing conversation. but i suggest that for the purposes of linguistic analysis, each syllable is a word.
naturally during the course of time, some syllables become eroded. does not becomes doesn’t. i will becomes i’ll. and con (with/together) + vers (information/verse/teach)* + a(n)(the/a)  + ti (do) + on (ing) = together information the do ing = conversation.

heehee, i/m gonna use this!  believe me, it gets ex cit ing.












crucethur = torture-box???!!!!! wyverne cracks a wobbly.

it is true o earthlings that wyvern(e)s when their danders are up make loud explosive noises and kick up a hell of a stink. with herman’s kind permission as his guest blogger, i now consent to publish this long withheld letter about the a/s text, the peterborough chronicle.

this was written in answer to a series of emails i got from an oxford scholar who thought my writings ‘very intelligent’ and therefore to be silenced.  he said he felt that unintelligent people who might believe what i said needed to be protected by him, in big-brother fashion, from the ‘danger’ of believing me because i make sense, instead of believing the traditional academic stuff which doesn’t.  here’s my reply (careful, it is still sizzling in places), slightly edited for the sake of appropriateness:

okay, you’re alarmed at the things i’m saying and their implications concerning the ‘official’ teachings of the hegemonies you see yourself as representing (if i’ve understood you correctly), and you want to know what the feic i’m doing, and perhaps why, and while the task is daunting – it’s taken me years of dedicated study to arrive at my starting points, so i don’t see how i can get you there from yours in a page or two of terse text – i can isolate single issues and present them to you in the form of questions; and i’ll ask you to respond to them directly and simply without going off your face or clouding the issue in comicalisations.

after all, you’re getting paid to perform this service for the public – the producing of knowledge – and you owe it to us to deliver it in a true and  intelligible form.  my questions have regularly been answered with rudeness, intentional cruelties and puerile vilifications, as a result of which my originally high esteem for academica has plummeted and i scarcely expect to meet with real intelligence there at all.

you yourself got where you are by agreeing wholeheartedly with everything you were taught, or knowing the exact limits within which you must keep your disagreements.  my own education has been interrupted often by a series of ‘nervous breakdowns’ triggered by shock reactions as i discovered to what extent the academics are wrong, and to what extent they expect me to sacrifice my own intellectual integrity for high marks and the goodwill of my professors.  i’m not delusional. the academics are.

consider the following exerpts from the laud (peterborough) chronicle, taken from the passage beginning “me dide cnotted strenges abuton here haeued…” down to “…y aeure it was uuerse y uuerse.”  i found it in david crystal’s the cambridge encyclopedia of the english language, with his “word for word” translation, which seems to be in line with current opinion.

“me  dide  cnotted strenges abuton here hæued and uurythen it ðat it

“one placed knotted cords      about  their  head   and twisted    it that it

gæde  to þe hærnes. hi diden heom in quarterne þar nadres and

entered to the brains. they put  them  in cell where adders and

snakes and pades wæron inne and drapen heom swa.”

snakes and toads   were    in     and killed   them   so.”

my questions and comments are:

  1. why is ‘me’ not ‘i’?  isn’t it more likely to be ‘i’ than ‘one’. if not why not?
  2. according to the lexicon, ‘their’ is not ‘here’ it is ‘heore’ or ‘hiere’.  here is ‘her’. so ‘her’ could be either ‘here’ or ‘their’ allowing for dialect difference.
  3. why is  ‘hæued’ not ‘haved’, on its way to becoming ‘had’?  i know you’ll refer me to the lexicography which shows only that in some text or texts somewhere ‘heafod’ has been translated as ‘head’, but besides being tautological, this doesn’t in this instance convince.  ‘haved’ is as etymologically likely, even if the instances of ‘heafod’ were correctly translated.  furthermore it makes more sense: ‘i had done/contrived knotted strings about here’.
  4. how the feic do you get that ‘hærnes’ means ‘brains’?  every other word so far has been translated into a current english word which it closely resembles.  why suddenly reach for such a bizarre choice of a word here?  the method would not have the desired effect. wire might, but not string. why not ‘harness’?  ‘uurythen it ðat it gæde to þe hærnes’ can then be ‘twisted it to enable it to go onto the harness’.  nets or snares of knotted string, looped into the horse’s harness ready for use.
  5. crystal’s ‘cell’ is a too specific translation of a fairly general word. ‘quarterne’ is ‘quarters’ or ‘corners’ without any difficulty (and i’d just like to mention here that the ‘–ne’ is a plural ending which occurs also in irish as –anna, and is apparently not understood to be that in translations of a/s texts i’ve studied.)  in view of the context that emerges when you stop twisting it into insanity, ‘quarterne’ can be translated best as ‘corners’.  they put them (the nets) in corners.
  6. the adders and snakes and toads were in these quarters where the nets were set up. pad = paddock = toad.
  7. why such a remove from the verb ‘drapen’ as ‘to kill’, when it makes sound sense to translate it into a much nearer modern english word ‘to trap’?

if you can answer each question plainly and calmly, please do, but if you can’t, or choose not to, preferring cutisms and comicalisations instead, don’t expect me to be impressed. (well, now he’d been very rude, explaining by way of apology that he was drunk at the time. he so often was.)

here’s my fairly literal proto-translation:

‘i haved did knotted strings here(abouts) and twisted it that it goed to the harness.  they did them (set them up) in corners where adders and snakes and toads were in, and trapped them so.’

now that’s sound gardening practice, and it clears up a nastily suppurating myth and gives us a glimpse of some real history – history so beautiful it glows.

here’s some more, in fact the very next few lines:

‘sume hi diden in crucethur, ðat is in an ceste þat was scort and nareu and undep, and dide scærpe stanes þerinne and þrengde thær-inne ðat him bræcon alle þe limes.’

the usual translation:

‘some they put into a torture-box, that is, in a chest that was short and narrow and shallow and they put sharp stones therein and pressed the man therein so that they broke all the limbs.’

(now this torture technique is also unlikely:  there are more effective ways of breaking limbs and this method would do all sorts of worse damage to skulls and ribs before it even touched the limbs.  face and belly and other soft body parts would also be much more noticeably damaged too. but close scrutiny shows very obvious ambiguities that are not and should be addressed in this kind of translation.)

my questions and comments:

  1. ‘crucethur’ occurs only this once in the whole of the surviving ‘old english’ literature. it’s only translatable as a torturebox if ‘þe man’ in this sentence is in the accusative case and not nominative. nothing distinguishes the two.  nothing tells us which is denoted by the word order of the sentence.  if it’s nominative, the ‘man’ does the pressing and the ‘crucethur’, which remains an untranslated word denoting an unidentified object or substance,  is pressed.  all other words have been translated by the nearest-sounding english word, so why go wild after this one.  lisping is common, although rarely discussed, but here’s a fine example of it.  –ur is a plural ending.  cruceth is crocus.  they were a major industry worldwide in the past as now, grown for their saffron dyes and as garden ornamentals.  so this important information about how they lived back then is lost to a macabre mistranslation of a key text.
  2. we have no dimensions for the box (ceste)– perhaps it was quite small- smaller than a breadbox. .
  3. limes’ is the object of the verb pressed (þrengde). the meaning of ‘limes’? well, not limbs, limes. that is, loams. loam is tilthy, cloddy garden soil, with good structure. a shallow box, a layer of gravel, crumbled lumps of loam, and crocuses. we’re looking at a propogation ‘flat’, as gardeners would call it, perhaps lined with half an inch of sharp gravel to ensure fast drainage with loam, lumps of (limey) earth, broken up or ‘crumbled’ to a medium tilth and pressed firmly over it to a depth of a couple of inches.  this would be as good a propagator today as it evidently was back then for forcing bulbs in, but still as useless for breaking people’s limbs in as they would have been back then.

so here’s my smoothish translation:

‘some, they put in crocuses, that is, in a box that was short and narrow and not deep, and put sharp stones therein: and pressed therein, (such) that they broke up all the loams/limes/lumps.’

once again, we’re seeing sane, sensible people doing sane, sensible things.

without going into details, here’s the rest of my translation of that excerpt, and when you’ve read it you’ll see why i’m not lusting after qualification in old and/or middle english from any university that flaps in my face the lexicon that lists crucethur as torturebox and hærnes as brains.  and why i haven’t much respect for the qualification when someone else waves it at me as if it means something other than that they’re committed to the back-teeth to entrenched falsehood with an obtuseness whose only virtue is that it keeps them on the right side of the shonky hegemonic pale. thank woden i’m beyond it!

the rest – proto:

‘in many of the castles were loaf and grain, which were rations that (for) two or three men . had to bring enough one.

that (item shown to interviewer and described here, but not named)  was so made, that is fastened to a beam and fixed a sharp iron, about the man’s trod (see oed : a trodden area surrounding a house) and halls (house), that they might not no-way-wards neither sit, nor lie nor sleep, but all that iron barred.  (in other words an iron-spike-tipped picket fence to keep out vagrants).

many dozen, they (the dusen) trapped with hunger. (being hungry, resorted to trapping small game?)

i neither know nor i cannot tell all the wonders nor all the pains (care, painstaking work) that they the workmen did on this land, and that lasted the 19 winters while stephne was king, and after, it was worse and worse. ‘

the whole excerpt in tidy fluent english:

‘i used to do knotted stringwork hereabouts, and twisted it in such a way that it could be attached to the harness. they set them up in corners where there were adders and snakes and toads and so trapped them.

some put in crocuses: that is, in a short, narrow box, not deep; and put sharp stones in them and packed (clods of) loam in such that they broke them (up).

in many of the castles there was bread and grain that were rations: each one was to bring enough for two or three men.

that (un-named thing) was made like that to be fastened to a pole, and set the sharp iron about a man’s house and yard, so that nowhere could anyone get through, not to sit or lie or sleep, but all that iron was withstanding.[i]

many people went trapping if hungry.

i don’t know and can’t tell all the wonder nor all the pains that the workmen took on this land, and that lasted the 19 winters while stephen was king. And after it was worse and worse.’

[i] This item suggests that this is a transcript from an interview, with the interrogator asking about objects that were actually there.

the rudest word of all isn’t very. by lynne gwyst.

a ‘count’ is a ‘conte’ is a ‘cunt’, i.e., a petty aristocrat or someone behaving like one – overbearingly, arrogantly and contemptuously.

a ‘cunt’ can also mean the pubic mound of a human female (not the canal as some have suggested – read on for an explanation) .

what we have here is a pair of homonyms, the same word with two or more different meanings. other examples are ‘bear’ (animal) and ‘bear’ (carry), and ‘fine’ (okay), ‘fine’ (thin and delicate), fine (high quality) and ‘fine’(penalise or a penalty). so cunt (unpleasant man) and cunt (a woman’s pubic mound) are homonyms.

both are related to gaulish forms of the modern irish ceann, from old irish words like cenn, cend, cion, et al., meaning a head, or cairn, and to English forms such as cone, or count (from the practice of piling up stones or other tokens as counters to represent livestock, sheaves etc) which occur as mutated p-forms such as mount, mound, amount, and is not particularly obscene.

this explains why in Australia at least the epithet ‘cunt’ refers to a bullying man, not to a bullying woman, although this seems to be changing and yeah, why not. in America it refers in a sexist way to a woman as a sex object, so it seems the other homonym is intended.

the examination of very rude words goes beyond linguistics, touching on sociology, psychology, interpersonal politics and more not the less sensitive for being subtle. but when it comes to ‘rude’ words, the cultural neurosis surrounding them having been instilled in early childhood when impressioning tends to be deep and enduring, the obscenification seems almost natural until you focus on it from the perspectives accessible to mature adults.

not every culture obscenifies a person’s sexual parts or excretoria. relaxed adult nudity is still common worldwide in cultures where the erotica is healthy and natural. obscenity, like other taboos, is culture specific. I’m assuming my readers are able to transcend the neurosis, and that the need for the de-obscenification of the so-called ‘rude’ words of so-called ‘refined’ English will be as clear and obvious to them as it is to me.

we’ve seen how the irish ‘feic’ meaning ‘see’ or ‘look’ was mistaken for the English word fuck, and anglicised as such. ‘fuck’ had begun life as a euphemism for rut or root (e-rot-i-ca), derived from harmless english forms of words preserved in latin as facere, to make, do, or work.

work, make, fuck or fac-, fake, wake, walk, fashion, and many more are all related forms, showing common initial letter mutations of the sort that are still preserved in welsh cornish and breton.

as you probably know I don’t believe in the antiquity of latin. we have no accurate dates for stone monuments. the earliest recorded efforts to derive a chronology for our oldest latin texts were part of a renaissance, based on fanatical religious, racist and political positions inherited from the middle ages, exaggerated by the outrages of the collapsing power structures of the period leading up to the renaissance, and distorted through the warped and delusional lenses of reconstructionists hell bent on channelling god, a claim some ecclesiasts still make for st matthew, st mark, st luke and st john, none of whom can possibly have lived more than a thousand or so years ago (but that’s beyond the scope of this essay).

latin was a school language in England for a long time, and derives much more from English than is usually observed. textbooks are still working on the belief that the besotted reconstructionists propagated, by malicious force it must be admitted, that fictitious chronology the textbooks still use, based on a roman/norman-flattering assumption that latin is more perfect, godly, and therefore nearer to the garden of eden when god spoke to adam, and is therefore nearly as old as the world itself, minus a few days for the creation…

there’s no real support for the claim. latin came into being as a school language when the norman/roman invasion of Britain, when the romans and the multilingual british nations intermarried.

dates are notoriously elusive as before the widespread use of the Gregorian calendar which was only introduced as late as 1582, different schools, towers, stores, businesses, families, farms, councils, monasteries, etc, in the same county might use quite different calendars, having no notion of synchronising theirs with that of another school or other schools that began on completely different dates. and even after the introduction of the Gregorian calendar it was a long time before the confusion caused by its introduction, and the perfectly justifiable resentment of it was sufficiently subdued to permit reliable chronologies to be compiled.

so what I’m saying is that it is more likely that the latin verb facere is derived from a cornovian word pronounced like fuck, and related to similar sounding words in the other spoken but not much written languages of Britain at the time of the latin speaking schools of tudor england. whether the initial letter mutations of the times were regularised or not as they sometimes now are at least in textbooks or within literate dialects, forms such as wake (hereward the worker) muck (mucking around, mucking things up) viking (working), make, bake, fake and (yipe) work, etc, would have been contemporaneous, mixing as freely as people do and as mindlessly mutating, following instincts beyond our understanding.

cornovian is latin for kernow – an(y), and means corn-all-s because the ‘any’ has become a plural ending. the corn, which may also be spelt kern, is itself a plural of ker which is a collapsed form of cather, and is related to words meaning chair or city of the cathers, and meaning a fortified town, but now perhaps already practically synonymous with the grain growing people of Britain before the normans/romans came, when many different languages were spoken in Britain and the languages of the schools, churches and universities, to say nothing of the merchants and seafarers were not always confined to geographic locations. perhaps they weren’t the only ones and perhaps cornovia was not only growing corn, but much becomes clear if british medieval history if we realise that that is what cornovia means.

anyway, back to the topic. it’s in these kinds of contexts, where the languages are all mixing that we find words proliferating from one language to another changing meaning slightly as they go. how did a count/cunt/conte get to be called that?

think of words like country, meaning the land. think of a country. a country is an area represented to the officialdoms of the aristoctracy by an officially appointed count. a caint is a language in irish. it’s pronounced cunt unless you’re trying to avoid it for prudish reasons.

so perhaps during the pacification of british minorities by the normans/romans, we have the small langauges of the illiterate majority represented by linguists called counts, meaning languages and by transference, linguists. these were used to communicate from the hated officialdoms, which they had to flatter in order to prosper and so were hated in their turn, and so their name has come down to us in its present form, only to clash resoundingly with an incidental homonym of the most screechingly sensitive kind. lawkes a mighty and all the poor hanged man said was ‘kill the cunts’ (guild the counts)… 

there now there aren’t any truly rude words are there?

rude words, rude thoughts and references to very rude behaviour

euphemisms are like a disease, like lesions, or running sores. take sex for example. when I first learnt the word it had only one clearly-defined meaning: sex is whether you are a boy or girl. everyone is one or the other or some variation upon the theme, so everyone has sex – all the time. foetuses, newborn babies, children adults, old people, all have femininity or masculinity or some mixture of the two continuously. it isn’t something that comes and goes.

Everyone has sex 24/7 from birth to death.

that wasn’t too difficult to understand.

then in the 60s they started to use the word sex to mean fucking. that meant you could no longer use sex to mean whether male or female or some variant, without invoking the too-rude idea of fucking. so, when sex contaminated itself in replacing the now too-rude fuck, it became now too rude for m/f/other, and in the latish seventies some people started calling it gender. 3rd wave feminists seemed responsible.

up until then, gender was a grammatical term, with only incidental reference to sex. close relations of the word gender include kind (meaning sort or type) and genus. nouns, adjectives and articles can be masculine, feminine, neuter, common etc. now it also refers to what shape wee wee you’ve got, so soon it will be so contaminated with evocations of rude thoughts that we’ll have to replace it. but what with? how about manner of personhood, or beasthood to include all animals, or beinghood to accommodate all species? we could abbreviate it to mop or mob. what mop are you, male or female? who do prefer to have gender with, same or opposite or both or neither? that way we’ve done away with both sex and fuck, or only very rude people would say them. but gender would soon be contaminated too. the only way to stop it is to recognise the fear of mentioning fucking as a cultural disease and relieve us of it. it pullulates through our language like ulcerations in flesh, like a bad case of linguistic clap. dab on the Dettol. sex isn’t dirty.

poor fuck – it is itself a contaminated old euphemism derived from a variant of medieval words like make, work, fake, the latin facere (pronounced fuckery) and of course, viking, mac(k), mucker, and wake, the last three all meaning worker. was it replacing another word too rude and direct to say? rut or root perhaps? or was rut without a name because no-one had thought to give it one?

my guess is that the word it replaces died of disgustingness imputed by people who were sick in their own reproductive fuckery, sickened perhaps by the waves of syphilis and gonorrhoea going through during the medieval period. not physically sick, mentally sick. some euphemisms are symptoms of mental illness, part of a cultural neurosis. we should get over it.