Which Switch

Why didn’t George Orwell sort his relatives out? I don’t mean his family: I mean his pronouns. In The King’s English (1906), the Fowler brothers say this:

The few limitations on ‘that’ and ‘who’ about which every one is agreed all point to ‘that’ as the defining relative, ‘who’ or ‘which’ as the non-defining.

Here are some examples:

• The cat that sat on the mat ate a rat. (Defining)
• The cat, which is three, never sits on mats. (Non-defining)
• The cat that you see on the mat eats rats. (D)
• The cat, which you saw yesterday on a mat, eats rats. (N-D)
(The third example can also be written without an explicit relative: “The cat you see on the mat eats rats.”)

But Orwell doesn’t follow these simple rules consistently in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). In the opening chapter of the book, you can find many defining relatives using “which”:

• …one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move
• …a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron
• …an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall
• …the blue overalls which were the uniform of the party

But you can also find defining relatives using “that”:

• …his skin roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades and the cold of the winter that had just ended
• …there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere
• You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard (note implicit relative after “sound”)

Here Orwell uses “that” and “which” as defining relatives in the same sentence:

• Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.

I can’t see any clear reason for the alternation, but it would be interesting to analyse the sentences more carefully and see if it’s possible to discover what conditions his use now of “which”, now of “that”. When I looked at the same phenomenon in the work of Evelyn Waugh, I found that “that” seemed to occur more often when the noun was governed by a preposition. That may also apply to Orwell.

Now let’s move from a particular writer to something more general. It’s possible to use a modification of the rules given above. If the noun and its defining relative are separated by several other words, I sometimes prefer “which” to “that”. Here’s an example from Orwell:

• He had a trick of resettling his spectacles on his nose which was curiously disarming…

The noun is “trick”, not “his nose”, so “which” doesn’t seem so bad to me, because it helps to disassociate the relative from the nouns that separate it from its antecedent. In its non-defining form “which” has what might be called a disjunctive role, and the disjunctive association is still there when it’s used as a defining relative. That’s why “which” doesn’t seem right as a defining relative when its antecedent stands directly before it.

But the possessive of “his nose” also helps to dissociate the relative, so I would also be happy to use “that” in this particular case. In the other examples, “that” is the clear winner (except perhaps in “an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part…”).

Do many foreign learners of English feel the same way about “that”? I doubt it. It must often be difficult to separate the three meanings of “that”: the demonstrative pronoun, the defining relative, and the coordinator. Not many foreign speakers of English would understand this sentence easily:

• It’s confusing that that “that” that’s a relative pronoun is written in exactly the same way as that “that” that’s not.

If English had a governing academy, we might spell the three thats differently: that, thæt and thatt, for example. And if I had my way, we wouldn’t use a digraph for the dentals. That is, the opening sentence of Nineteen Eighty-Four would look like this:

• It was a bright cold day in April, and ðe clocks were striking Þirteen.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #50

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Life LocomotesRestless Creatures: The Story of Life in Ten Movements, Matt Wilkinson (Icon 2016)

Heart of the MotherJourney to the Centre of the Earth: A Scientific Exploration into the Heart of Our Planet, David Whitehouse (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2015)

LepidopterobibliophiliaBritish Butterflies: A History in Books, David Dunbar (The British Library 2012)

Minimal Manual – Georgisch Wörterbuch, Michael Jelden (Buske 2016)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Terminal Breach

It’s said that, if you hear “in terms of” 23 times in 23 hours on the 23rd of the month, the ghost of William Burroughs will appear and offer you a heroin enema.

I don’t know whether this is true.

Elsewhere other-engageable:

William S. Burroughs
Alan Moore, C.B.E.
Michael Moorcock
Will Self
Stewart Home
Cormac McCarthy
Dr Joan Jay Jefferson
Serpent’s Tail
Titans of Trangression

Bestia Bestialissima

Auberon Waugh called himself a “practitioner of the vituperative arts”. Perhaps it was a Catholic thing. And unless you know Latin, you won’t understand. Or you won’t understand as much as you might. I don’t know Latin well, but I can appreciate some of the wonderful vituperation in a book of Latin exorcisms I’ve found scanned at Google Books. The title alone is good: Flagellum Daemonum: Exorcismos Terribiles, Potentissimos et Efficaces, which means (I think) The Flail of Demons: Exorcisms Terrible, Most Potent and Effective. Or is the title Fustis Daemonum: Adiurationes Formidabiles, Potentissimas et Efficaces, meaning The Cudgel of Demons: Adjurations Formidable, Most Potent and Effective?

Vituperation from the Flagellum Daemonum (1644)

Vituperation from the Flagellum Daemonum (1644)

Either way, one of the exorcisms contains a good list of curses directed at the Devil. He’s called Bestia Omnium Bestiarum Bestialissima, meaning “Beast of All Beasts the Most Beastly”. Beside that, there are Dux Hæreticorum and Lupus Rapacissimus, “Duke of Heretics” and “Most Rapacious Wolf”. There’s an odd Sus Macra, Famelica, et Immundissima, which means something like “Scrawny, Famished and Most Filthy Hog”. Lovecraft would have liked Nefandissimus Susurrator, “Most Unspeakable Whisperer”, and Draco Iniquissimus, “Most Iniquitous Dragon”.

Pessimus Dux Tenebrarum is “Most Evil Duke of Darkness” and Janua et Vorago Inferni is “Door and Abyss of Hell”. Seminator Zizaniarum, meaning “Sower of Tares”, refers to Matthew xiii, 25: “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.” And those are only a few of the curses poured on the Devil’s head. I’ve turned the full list into plain text. As it says in the book that originally led me to the Flagellum Daemonum, “The following is a specimen of one of these vituperative addresses”:

Audi igitur insensate, false, reprobe, et iniquissime Spiritus. Inimice fidei. Adversarie generis humani. Mortis adductor. Vitæ raptor. Justitiæ declinator. Malorum radix. Fomes vitiorum. Seductor hominum. Proditor gentium. Incitator invidiæ. Origo aravitiæ. Causa discordiæ. Excitator malorum. Dæmonum magister. Miserrima Creature. Tentator Homininum. Deceptor malorum Angelorum. Fallax animarum. Dux Hæreticorum. Pater Mendacii. Fatue Bestialis. Tui creatoris Inimicus. Insipiens ebriose. Inique et iniquorum caput. Prædo infernalis. Serpens iniquissime. Lupe rapacissime. Sus macra, famelica, et immundissima. Bestia eruginosa. Bestia scabiosa. Bestia truculentissima. Bestia crudelis. Bestia cruenta. Bestia omnium Bestiarum Bestialissima. Ejecte de Paradise. De gratiâ Dei. De Cœli fastigio. De loco inerrabili. De Societate et consortia Angelorum. Immundissime Spiritus Initium omnium malorum. Trangressor bonæ vitæ. Veritatis et Justitiæ persecutor. Auctor fornicationum. Seminator zizaniarum. Dissipator pacis. Latro discordiæ. Pessime dux tenebrarum. Mortis inventor. Janua et vorago Inferni. Crudelis devorator animarum omniumque malorum causa. Malignissime Dæmon. Spurcissime Spiritus. Nefandissime susurrator. Nequissima Creatura. Vilissime apostata. Scelestissima latro. Impiissima bestia infernalis. Superbissime et ingratissime Spiritus. Iniquissime refuga. Tyranne, Omni bono vacue. Plene omni dolo et fallaciâ. Hominum exterminator. Derisio totius Angelicæ Naturæ. Maledicte Satana a Deo. Excommunicate a totâ cœlesti curiâ. Blaspheme Dei et omnium Sanctorum. Damnate a Deo atque Damnande. Spiritus Acherontine. Spiritus Tartaree. Fili Perditionis. Fili maledictionis æternæ. Rebellis Dei et totius cœlestis curiæ. Serpens crudelissime. Draco iniquissime. Creatura damnata, reprobata et maledicta a Deo in æternum ob superbiam nequitiam tuam.

The first line, Audi igitur insensate, false, reprobe, et iniquissime Spiritus means something like “Hear, then, Senseless, False, Reprobate and Most Iniquitous Spirit”. Then the Devil is called Inimicus Fidei, “Enemy of the Faith”, Adversarius Generis Humani, “Adversary of the Human Race”, Mortis Adductor, “Dragger to Death”, and Vitæ Raptor, “Snatcher of Life”. Then the vituperation really begins.

I Have a Threem

And now I have another. My first “threem”, or “three-M”, for this bijou bloguette was the alliterative three-word Latin phrase Mathematica Magistra Mundi, meaning “Mathematics Mistress of the World”. I also use it in the form Mathematica Machina Mundi, which has a variety of translations. In both Latin phrases, the words have five, three and two syllables, respectively. That’s the first three prime numbers in reverse and also part of the Fibonacci sequence in reverse.

You can find the same alliteration in languages derived from Latin, like the French La Mathématique, Maîtresse du Monde, but you don’t get the same syllable-count. So how likely was it that everything – the same alliteration and the same syllable-count – would appear in a language unrelated to Latin? But it does. Here’s a Georgian translation of the threem:

მათემატიკა მსოფლიოს მეფე

Matemat’ik’a Msoplios Mepe

“Mathematics the World’s King”

Msoplios isn’t a typo: Georgian is famous for its exotic consonant clusters and მს- / ms- isn’t a particularly unusual example. But it’s one I particularly like.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #47

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

The Sting’s the Thing – A Sting in the Tale, Dave Goulson (Jonathan Cape 2013)

Two Heads, Two TonguesExcuse my French! Fluent Français without the Faux Pas, Rachel Best and Jean-Christophe Van Waes (Kyle Books 2013)

Marred MoonVoid Moon, Michael Connelly (2000)

’Vile VibesIn Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile, Dan Davies (Quercus 2014)

One-Stop Chop-ShopToxic Trannies from Kastration Kamp 23: A Sinister Symposium of Academic Assholes Shamelessly Shmoog the Filthiest Films in Cess-Cinema, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers, Dr Samuel P. Salatta, et al (TransToxic Texts 2016)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #46

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Machina MundiThe Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution, David Wootton (Allen Lane 2015)

Wandering WondersPlankton: Wonders of the Drifting World, Christian Sardet (The University of Chicago Press 2015)

Love BuzzA Buzz in the Meadow, Dave Goulson (Jonathan Cape 2014)

Quake’s ProgressThe Million Death Quake: The Science of Predicting Earth’s Deadliest Natural Disaster, Roger Musson (Palgrave Macmillan 2012)

Sin after CinGargoyle Girls from Beelzebub’s Ballsack: The Sickest, Sleaziest, Splanchnophagousest Slimefests in Scum Cinema, Dr Joan Jay Jefferson (TransToxic Texts 2016)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #45

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Plants on PaperDrawing and Painting Plants, Christina Brodie (A & C Black 2006)

LewminiferousGuide to Garden Wildlife, Richard Lewington (British Wildlife Publishing 2008)

Old GoldPuskás: Madrid, the Magyars and the Amazing Adventures of the World’s Greatest Goalscorer, György Szöllős (Freight Books 2015)

Rosetta RokRok 1984, George Orwell (MUZA SA, Warszawa 2001)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Don’t Do Dot…

It’s a mistake to think that Guardianese, the optimal dialect of keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community, mandates optionizing on a permanent basis for the pretentious and polysyllabic. Yes, Guardianistas are addicted to phrases like “in terms of” and “prior to”, but they also like urgently throbbing monosyllables like “key”, “core” and “spike”.

These are unnatural words, taken from headlines, not from normal English. They reveal an important truth: simplicity can be pretentious too. The two aspects of Guardianese come together in phrases like “key indicator” and “core metric”. I would say that “vital sign” and “important statistic” are better and more natural English, but you can’t tell that by counting syllables.

And sometimes Guardianese doesn’t use any syllables at all…  Guardianistas also like the stylistic trick of trailing dots. I find it cheap and irritating, so I’m glad that one of my favourite writers thought the same long ago. In his essay “Stories I Have Tried to Write”, M.R. James (1862-1936) said this:

In parenthesis, many common objects may be made the vehicles of retribution, and where retribution is not called for, of malice. Be careful how you handle the packet you pick up in the carriage-drive, particularly if it contains nail parings and hair. Do not, in any case, bring it into the house. It may not be alone… (Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more……) (“Stories I Have Tried To Write”, 1929)

In short: Don’t do dot…

Elsewhere other-engageable:

Titus Graun
Reds under the Thread

Terminal Teraticity…

Americotrop-ism: n. literally, a tendency or habit of moving towards America; hence, a tendency or habit of adopting American culture, vocabulary and usage when one is not oneself American. | -ist, -ic(al) [Americ(a) + -o- + tropism, on the analogy of phototropism, chemotropism, geotropism, etc]

• “The Guardian-reading community displays a marked Americotropism.”