Saturday, August 18, 2007

Finding Myself Lost in Translation...

(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm in the middle of writing another paper, rushing to finish it before the semester's onset some two weeks from now. Perhaps a few readers interested in archaic English words will find the following two paragraphs worth their time:
While I was still in high school, my grandmother once showed me an article in the Arkansas Gazette claiming that some hillbilly folks in the isolated Boston Mountain region of the Ozarks still spoke Elizabethan English. I imagined them speaking like characters in a Shakespearean play or even like the Lord himself in the King James Bible. That did not seem too improbable to me, for on Sundays, I heard unlettered hillbillies pray spontaneously in the sacred tongue of King James, and get it grammatically correct! I have come to doubt, however, that anybody in the Ozarks was speaking Elizabethan English and using "thee" and "thou" in their day-to-day lives. Probably, the Boston Mountain folks were simply using a somewhat more archaic Ozark dialect than the rest of us hillbillies. The Gazette was likely doing what many newspapers do with their reports of scholarly findings. They were getting it somewhat wrong. But they were right that much of the vocabulary was archaic, for the well-known folklorist Vance Randolph had been publishing on this phenomenon since the 1920s. In the article "Dialectical Survivals in the Ozarks: III. Archaic Vocabulary," published in the journal American Speech in 1930, Randolph and Patti Sankee noted a large number of words used by Ozark hillbillies in archaic senses. They tell us that:
Only the other day one of our neighbors remarked that he admired a flood which had ruined his crops -- meaning simply that it astonished or surprised him. (Randolph and Sankee, American Speech, Volume 5, Number 5, June 1930, p. 424)
Randolph and Sankee go on to note that tourists would smile at such expressions but that "Milton and his contemporaries used the word in exactly the same sense," and they cite Paradise Lost 2.678ff, the passage wherein Satan, confronted by his equal in power, Death, shows no fear but does show surprise: "Th' undaunted Fiend what this might be admir'd, / Admir'd, not fear'd." I never noticed this archaic sense of "admire" in my dealings with Ozark kith and kin, nor did I ever hear "bore" used in the sense of "to insult," and I had (oddly enough) forgotten hearing "disremember" for "to forget" until reminded by this article (Randolph and Sankee, 425), but I do recall hearing "argufy" for "argue" (Randolph and Sankee, 424) and "ruinate" for "ruin" (Randolph and Sankee, 428), and many a time, I have heard "puny" in the sense of "sickly" (Randolph and Sankee, 426-427), and I have also heard "pinnywinkle" but had no idea what it was until reading Randolph and Sankee's article, which informs me that it refers to a freshwater snail and that the word goes back to the Old English word "pine-winkle" (Randolph and Sankee, 427), this very old word having somehow survived attraction from the far more commonly used "periwinkle" to this very day. The Oxford English Dictionary tends to confirm this, noting that the dialect form "pennywinkle" perhaps stems from the Old English "pinewincle" (OED Compact Edition, Volume 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 2136).

In fact, the OED does rather more than this, albeit rather obliquely. It uses the dialect form "pennywinkle" to infer the probable form of the original Old English word. Here is the OED entry for periwinkle:
Known in this form only from 16th c.; but OE had in the same sense a word variously read (in pl.) pinewinclan and winewinclan (owing to confusion of the letters p and p = w). The MSS. favor the latter, which may however be a scribal error, as pinewincle would explain the 16th c. literary, and mod. dial. forms. (OED Compact Edition, Volume 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 2136)
Allow me to clarify this point. The standard form for this word meaning "fresh-water snail" is periwinkle. This has been the form since the 16th century, when the word with this meaning first appears in manuscripts. Of course the other word periwinkle, meaning the flower of the genus Vinca, goes back to about 1000 but has a different etymology and is irrelevant for our present investigation, aside from the possibility that the word for the flower influenced the spelling of the word for the snail (OED Compact Edition, Volume 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 2136). Be that as it may, the word pennywinkle is extant in the Ozark dialect of English even today, and its continued existence in dialects of English is used to infer that pinewinclan was perhaps the original Old English form despite the somewhat stronger Old English manuscript evidence for winewinclan.
These two paragraphs are from the middle of a paper that I'm trying to keep short because it's intended for use as a presentation this fall at a Medieval and Early Modern English conference on translation, which also explains the obsession with archaic words.

Now, back to writing this paper...

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At 1:25 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

Nice post. I look back on my childhood in nowhere Maine and the advent of television and mass media, it seems that maybe our language is losing a little bit of it's flavor. Thanks for reminding us and as always your writing is "wicked good."

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, BoHink, glad that you find my writing "maliciously marvelous."

Oops, my bad! I believe that your phrase was "wicked good."

By the way, is that a British English expression?

Maine, eh? You may be the first person from Maine that I've had any contact with. One of the few, anyway.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:41 PM, Blogger A.H. said...

Now, periwinkle. I have never heard this used to describe a "fresh water" snail. A periwinkle, in the UK, has always been a salt-water snail.

Are Randolph and Sankee right in their translation of "admired" as "shocked" in relation to Milton? The verb, in book 2, implies observed without fear. Isn't this one of Milton's latinate phrases, insisting that Satan "looked at" with fascination.

I do enjoy your periwinkling through the English language--you are a great rock-pooler/beachcomber.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, I was also 'surprised' by Randolph and Sankee's reading of Milton, but after inspecting the text closely, I suspect that they're correct.

Originally, I read Milton's words as warning us that though we might admire Satan's dauntless courage, we should not fear it, but after reading Randolph and Sankee, I'm persuaded that we should read Satan as being astonished but uncowed at seeing "Death" striding towards him.

I don't rule out that Milton might have worked in a Fishean double-meaning...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think the "admire" as assessed might be correct in that a cousin once commented, "you admired?"

In that instance a young boy had come in close proximity to a snake and had jumped "higher'n a squirrel's nest." The boy thought the cousin implied the snake was admiring him. The boy upon some time, extended, thinks perhaps the snake did not admire him.

Just a thought, and having linked to your processes via gypsy, I realize I go into any conflict; terribly underarmed.


At 1:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK. It does sound as though the boy were surprised (rather than, say, fascinated) by the snake. Also Fowler has "admired" in his footnote to Milton's PL, as does the online Milton text of PL that I've often cited in my blog.

But I wouldn't exclude other possible meanings. I admire them all.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I'll just conclude that "admire" is one of the few words that (and I pray Eshuneutics will not disagree too heartily) is at once simple in meaning and yet "very loaded."

I do admire what I've read on Eshuneutics' site. Both for process and for insight, I'll not disagree. "Admire" in all its' connotations. But I must be in class shortly. Snoozy farewells to all.


At 3:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Don't fall asleep and thereby admire the teacher.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:23 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

First "wicked good" is a Maine-ism much like "to muckle on to" to grab strongly as in "That boy done did try to get away but I muckled on to him." As I mentioned most of the flavor seems to have gone away.

I looked all over the net for a reference as to how admire was used when I was a boy in Maine but unfortunately the "folks" that spoke like that don't seem spend much time on the net.

When I was but a callow youth in Maine, it wasn't uncommon to hear someone say "I admire that he done his best." As in I believe strongly that...

Regardless I admire that your writings provoke thoughtful discourse.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

BoHink, when I was a kid in the Ozarks, people used to say "I'm right proud," when they meant something like "I'm so glad for you."

It wasn't pride at all but something more like humility.

I guess that we understand each other -- despite being from Maine and from the Ozarks -- because we've been assimilated to standard English. Still, some spice is gone.

Something lost, something gained...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prof. Jeffery, the frequency of your blogging coupled with my recent internet neglect causes a rather large gap. Or should I say, in my Gaspesie anglophone dialect, "Yer some fast wit' yer postin'! I git right frustrated keepin' up!"

Small, isolated, loyalist communites are rare in the mostly rural, francophone, Quebec wilderness, but it makes for some interesting speech.

At 5:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lexiphanic, it's interesting that these isolated dialects of English have a lot in common.

I've posted still more on Ozark dialect today (August 23, 2007).

Jeffery Hodges

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