Aug 22 2017

Politics and the Language of Soccer/Football

Texas wildflowers

Politics and the Language of Soccer/Football

From “What sets Germany’s ‘liberal’ FDP apart” at Deutsche Welle news on August 11, 2017:

While both German liberals and US libertarians want a smaller state, most FDP members reject the notion they are libertarians because the term is often associated with radically anti-government views. “I don’t bend down to American terminology, it is not historically adequate,” Paque said. “Just like I don’t call football ‘soccer’ just because Americans call it that.”

Compare George Orwell (1903-1950):

Did I understand the political situation in England? Oh, of course, of course. I mentioned the names of various Ministers, and made some contemptuous remarks about the Labour Party. And what about Le Sport? Could I do articles on Le Sport? (Football and Socialism have some mysterious connexion on the Continent.)

Down and Out in Paris and London. 1930. Berkeley Medallion Edition. September 1967. Ch. VIII, p. 37.


Jul 25 2017

How Much was a Plum Worth in the Middle Ages? Reading Richard Rolle

Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

So a while back I was reading The Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and his School (1932) by Raymond Wilson Chambers (1874–1942), a friend of Tolkien’s, and came across this intriguing passage concerning someone I’d never hear of before, the medieval mystic Richard Rolle (1290/1300–1349):

Rolle’s date, his style and his popularity give him a supreme place in the history of English prose. In English or in Latin he was, during the latter half of the Fourteenth Century and the whole of the Fifteenth, probably the most widely read in England of all English writers. Investigation of English wills and of documents bearing on the ownership of books seems to show a dozen owners of manuscripts of Rolle for one or two of the Canterbury Tales. Such devotional books were likely to be worn to bits, and not to come down to posterity at all: yet Miss Allen has examined between four and five hundred of them, in Latin or in English, scattered through the libraries of Europe and America. [1]

And later I learned from an article by Margaret Deanesly (1885–1977):

Among English books, those of Richard Rolle seem to have been most frequent—partly because his glossed English psalter was the only biblical book which the laity might use without license.[2]

So in light of the life-long quest to understand the Middle Ages I undertook several years ago, I recently decided to read some Richard Rolle. Hence I found Richard Rolle: Prose and Verse (1988) edited by S. J. Ogilvie-Thomson for the Early English Text Society.

I must say I found very little “mysticism” in Rolle. His religion seems pretty plain, ordinary, and orthodox, even when compared to a non-radical like Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758),[3] but maybe that’s what made Rolle so popular.

Now it’s been a while since I dove into Middle English, and it took some slow adjusting (is his surname pronounced like rôle, or does it rhyme with Raleigh?), but I found a few gems by Rolle such as:

þe fyre of his loue lyght oure hert, and þe swetnesse of his grace be our comfort and our solace in wel and in woo. [4]

[the fire of His love light our hearts, and the sweetness of His grace be our comfort and our solace in well and in woe.]

Elsewhere Rolle writes that “loue is hard as helle.” [5]

But I was especially struck by his strange comparison of apples to castles:

Bot sum men þat loueth nat wisely, like to children þat loueth more an appille þan a castelle. So doth many; þay gvf þe ioy of heuyn for a litel delite of har fleisshe, þat is noght worth a ploumbe. [6]

[But some men that loveth not wisely, like to children that loveth more an apple than a castle. So doth many; they give the joy of heaven for a little delight of her flesh, that is not worth a plum.]

Just how old is the metaphor and phrase “not worth a plum?” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, both “plum” and “worth” are very old words, even within Old English. Google Book’s Ngram viewer finds the phrase extremely rare before 1800, [7] peaking at about 1837 and slowly decreasing since then.

And are (or were) plumbs worth less than apples? Were they worth less because they bruise more easily?

Plums and pennies #books

A post shared by Christopher Landrum (@bookbread2) on



[1] Chambers, R. W. The Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and his School. An extract from the introduction to Nicholas Harpsfield’s Life of Thomas More edited by E. V. Hitchcock and R. W. Chambers. EETS: Oxford UP. 1932. 1957. p. ci.

[2] Deanesly, Margaret. “Vernacular Books in England in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries.” Modern Language Review. Vol. 15. No. 4. (October 1920.) 349–58 at 352.

[3] Rolle doesn’t dig too deep into epistemology and ontology as Edwards occasionally does:

BEING. It seems strange sometimes to me, that there should be Being from all Eternity; and I am ready to say, What need was there than anything should be? I should then ask myself, Whether it seems strange that there should be either Something, or Nothing? If so, it is not strange that there BE; for that necessity of there being Something, or Nothing, implies it. (Jonathan Edwards: Basic Writings. Edited by Ola Elizabeth Winslow. NY: Signet Classic. 1966. pp. 45–46)

[4] Rolle, Richard. Richard Rolle: Prose and Verse. Edited by S. J. Ogilvie-Thomson. Oxford UP. EETS. No. 293. 1988. “The Form of Living” 5.

[5] Rolle, “Lyrics” i, 43.

[6] Rolle, “The Form of Living” 22.

[7] Under its entry for “nose” the Oxford English Dictionary quotes from Frances Burney’s (1752–1840) novel Ceclilia, or, Memoirs of an Heiress (1782): “Bad way too,” cried Briggs, “never get on with it, never see beyond your nose; won’t be worth a plum while your head wags!” (V, ix, 67).

Apr 4 2016

Interesting Reads Over the Weekend

bookbread athens

  • “If American Jews and Israel Are Drifting Apart, What’s the Reason?” by Elliot Abrams. Mosaic Magazine.


  • “Language Leakage: An Interview with Sarah Thomason: the linguist discusses how technology shapes culture and culture shapes words.” by Ryan Bradley. The Paris Review.


  • “Vanishing Languages, Reincarnated as Music.” by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim.  New York Times.


  • “Nights of Terror, Days of Weird: [Review of Yours in Haste and Adoration: Selected Letters of Terry Southern.” by Will Stephenson. Oxford American.

Oct 12 2010

VIDEO – Which kinds of German works make it into English? (Deutche Welle)

Multimedia – DW-WORLD.DE.

Aug 20 2010

New Zealand Lecturer identifies “new” Chaucer works (Sydney Morning Herald)

New Zealand lecturer identifies new Chaucer works.

Aug 7 2010

Words rejected by the Oxford English Dictionary (Hindustan Times)

Words rejected by the Oxford English Dictionary uncovered – Hindustan Times.

Mar 5 2010

Readers re-Joyce: Finnegan brought right back to life (Irish Independent)

Readers re-Joyce: Finnegan brought right back to life – Books, Entertainment –

Mar 3 2010

“Typeface” Creates a Typeface From Your Face Type (Gizmodo)

“Typeface” Creates a Typeface From Your Face Type – typeface – Gizmodo.

Jan 26 2010

To Love or Loathe when Learning a Language?

Steve Kaufmann at The Linguist thinks all you need is love when learning a language:

Language learning is like falling in love. In fact you have to be in love to learn a language well. I mean in love with the language. You have to have a love affair with the language. You do not have to marry the language. You can have an affair and then move on to another language after a period of time. But while you are learning the language you have to be in love with it. And you will learn faster if you are faithful to the language while you are studying it.

So Kaufmann decides that “language learning is like falling in love,” but why is a second language so difficult to learn? Lee M. Hollander, translator of the Poetic Edda (1962), once claimed that “language study will be its own reward.”[1]

An aesthetic rule to cull from Kaufmann’s quote might be that learning a human language requires nearly as much devotion as loving a human being.  For curiosity’s sake, one might emend First Corinthians 1:5–8 to read:

[Language] suffers long and is kind; [language] does not envy; [language] does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [Language] never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

But can one hate a language and use that hatred as a medium to learn what is despised?

Hatred requires a bit of obsession. (It is an occasional ingredient in erudition.) And although one can cite that scene in The House of Garibaldi Street (1975)—where immediately after capture Adolf Eichmann begins reciting the Torah in the original Hebrew to his Mossad apprehenders—Bookbread has yet to come across an example of a person loathing a language in order to learn it. Perhaps that’s why Kaufmann’s analogy seems so appealing:

Just as when you are in love, you want to and need to spend as much time as possible with the object of your love. You want to hear its voice and read its thoughts. You want to learn more about it, the many words and phrases that it uses to express itself. You think of the language wherever you are. You start to observe the object of your love closely. You notice all the little things it does, you become familiar with its peculiar behaviour patterns. You breathe it. You hear its voice. You feel it. You get to know it better and better, naturally.

Meanwhile, some officials involved with the European Union might not hate the English language, but they definitely aren’t in love with it:

“After the enlargement of 2004, we have seen a clear trend to privilege English-mother tongue officials in the press room, with the risk of preferring language criteria in the selection of spokespersons rather than competence or communication skills,” said Lorenzo Consoli, president of the International Press Association (IPA/API).

“The linguistic predominance of English can have cultural and political impacts,” he added, explaining that “cultural pluralism is at risk” if the trend is not reversed.

While over at Atticus Bookstore and Cafe (which stands near some new educational start-up called “Yale”) folks might not necessarily love or hate the English language, but they certainly want it put in its proper place:

Atticus Bookstore and Cafe recently issued a policy stating that English should be the only language spoken on the floor and behind the counter. “Spanish is allowed in the prep area, the dishwasher area and the lower level. Let’s make our customers feel welcome and comfortable,” the policy states, according to New Haven Workers Association, a group of activists who said employees gave them a copy….

Employers are allowed to enact an English-only policy if it is needed to promote the safe or efficient operation of their business, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Examples include communications with customers, co-workers or supervisors who only speak English, emergency situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety and cooperative work assignments in which a common language is needed to promote efficiency.

Hollander seems to have arrived at a sensible solution long before the current calamity of European unification and coffee shops in Connecticut:

Who would dare to insist that German or French or Spanish will be more important for world intercommunication than, say, Chinese or Japanese or Russian? But, since real mastery of any one of these requires long years of arduous study, and since even language people are beginning to realize that a great many more things clamor for our study and training that did yesterday, we may well throw up our hands in dismay and turn to a synthetic language or to Simplified English for practical usefulness and easier mastery for the average individual.[2]

[1] Hollander, Lee M. “Some Reflections on Language Training.” The German Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Mar., 1940), pp. 75.
[2] Ibid. pp. 72.