Diction-Police! Don’t Archaize or Neologize!

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights 11.7

One Should Avoid Very Archaic Words That Have Become Antiquated and Fallen Out of Use

“Using words that are obsolete and worn down seems as affected as using uncustomary or new ones of harsh or unpleasant character. Personally, I find more annoying and offensive those words that are new, unknown, or previously unheard rather than those that are merely colloquial and vulgar. I do insist, however, that phrases seem new when they are unused and abandoned, even if they are really ancient. In truth, it is a common vice of learning late in life, what the Greeks call opsimathia, when there’s something you’ve never said and of which you were ignorant for a while, which, once you have begun to understand it, you manage to work it into any place or into any matter you’re discussing.

For example, at Rome we met an experienced man famous for his work as a public defender who had achieved a rapid and incomplete education. When he was speaking to the prefect of the city and wanted to say that a certain many lived on poor and miserable food—he ate bread made of bran and drank old, spoiled wine—he said “this Roman knight eats apluda and drinks flocces.” Everyone who was there looked at one another, at first rather severely and with confused, inquiring faces wondering what either word meant: then, as if he had spoken in Etruscan or Gallic, they all laughed together. That man had read that ancient farmers had called grain apluda—the word is used by Plautus in a comedy called Astraba, if that is a Plautine comedy. Similarly, “flocces” in ancient usage indicated the lees of a vine pressed from grapes, like the fruit from olives, a thing he read in Caecilius’ Polumeni. And he had saved these two words for decorating a speech!”

 

Verbis antiquissimis relictisque iam et desitis minime utendum.

Verbis uti aut nimis obsoletis exculcatisque aut insolentibus novitatisque durae et inlepidae par esse delictum videtur. Sed molestius equidem culpatiusque esse arbitror verba nova, incognita, inaudita dicere quam involgata et sordentia. Nova autem videri dico etiam ea, quae sunt inusitata et desita, tametsi sunt vetusta. Est adeo id vitium plerumque serae eruditionis, quam Graeci opsimathian appellant, ut, quod numquam didiceris, diu ignoraveris, cum id scire aliquando coeperis, magni facias quo in loco cumque et quacumque in re dicere. Veluti Romae nobis praesentibus vetus celebratusque homo in causis, sed repentina et quasi tumultuaria doctrina praeditus, cum apud praefectum urbi verba faceret et dicere vellet inopi quendam miseroque victu vivere et furfureum panem esitare vinumque eructum et fetidum potare, “hic” inquit “eques Romanus apludam edit et flocces bibit”.

Aspexerunt omnes, qui aderant, alius alium, primo tristiores turbato et requirente voltu, quidnam illud utriusque verbi foret; post deinde, quasi nescio quid Tusce aut Gallice dixisset, universi riserunt. Legerat autem ille “apludam” veteres rusticos frumenti furfurem dixisse idque a Plauto in comoedia, si ea Plauti est, quae Astraba inscripta est, positum esse. Item “flocces” audierat prisca voce significare vini faecem e vinaceis expressam, sicuti fraces oleis, idque aput Caecilium in Poltimenis legerat, eaque sibi duo verba ad orationum ornamenta servaverat.

Image result for medieval manuscript lexicography
Cod. Guelf. 956 Helmst., 221v

Pickpockets of Words

Quintilian, 8.3 (29-31)

“Sallust is assailed by an epigram of no less repute: “Crispus, pickpocket of the words of Ancient Cato / and architect of Jugurtha’s history”. This is a pitifully minor concern—for it is easy for anyone and really poor because the composer will not fit words to facts but will introduce unrelated facts when the words are easier to use.

Neologism, as I said in the first book, is more a custom of the Greeks who are not reluctant to change words for certain sounds and feelings with a liberty little different from when early human beings first gave names to things. Our rare attempts in compounding or deriving new words have rarely been welcomed as sufficient.”

Nec minus noto Sallustius epigrammate incessitur et verba antiqui multum furate Catonis,: Crispe, Iugurthinae conditor historiae.

Odiosa cura: nam et cuilibet facilis et hoc pessima, quod eius studiosus non verba rebus aptabit, sed res extrinsecus arcesset quibus haec verba conveniant. Fingere, ut primo libro dixi, Graecis magis concessum est, qui sonis etiam quibusdam et adfectibus non dubitaverunt nomina aptare, non alia libertate quam qua illi primi homines rebus appellationes dederunt. Nostri aut in iungendo aut in derivando paulum aliquid ausi vix in hoc satis recipiuntur.

Image result for medieval manuscript thief
 British Library MS Additional 49622 fol. 153r

Tawdry Tuesday: A Careful Choice of Words (NSFW)

Priapea 28

May I die, Priapus, if I am not ashamed
To use obscene words and nasty names
But when you, a god, has cast shame down
And show your balls out shaking around
Then a cock must be a cock and a cunt the same.

Obscenis, peream, Priape, si non
uti me pudet improbisque verbis.
sed cum tu posito deus pudore
ostendas mihi coleos patentes,
cum cunno mihi mentula est vocanda

Image result for medieval manuscript priapus
An apocryphal origin for the term ‘money shot’.

On Reading without Prior Convictions

Aristotle, Poetics 1461a31

“Whenever some word seems to mean something opposite to what it means, it is best to examine how many things this might mean in the place is used. For instance, “by which the bronze spear was held”—someone might figure the best way by considering in how many ways is it possible to be hindered. This approach is opposite to what Glaukon says, that some people accept a position illogically and then make arguments based on their prior convictions and then, should anything seem to contradict them, they find fault with the poet because he meant something opposite to what they thought. The matter of Ikarios is an instance of this. For people suppose that he was Lakonian, so it is strange that Telemachus does not meet him when he goes to Sparta. But perhaps it is instead as the Kephallenians claim. For they say that Odysseus married one of their people and that his name was Ikadios not Ikarios. That the issue comes from a mistake is probable. Generally, impossible details should be credited to poetic character, to fashioning a better tale, or to keeping with popular belief. Poetic license should make something plausible but impossible more acceptable than something implausible yet possible.”

δεῖ δὲ καὶ ὅταν ὄνομά τι ὑπεναντίωμά τι δοκῇ σημαίνειν, ἐπισκοπεῖν ποσαχῶς ἂν σημήνειε τοῦτο ἐν τῷ εἰρημένῳ, οἷον τῷ “τῇ ῥ’ ἔσχετο χάλκεον ἔγχος” τὸ ταύτῃ κωλυθῆναι ποσαχῶς ἐνδέχεται, ὡδὶ ἢ ὡδί, ὡς μάλιστ’ ἄν τις ὑπολάβοι· κατὰ τὴν καταντικρὺ ἢ ὡς Γλαύκων λέγει, ὅτι ἔνιοι ἀλόγως προϋπολαμβάνουσί τι καὶ αὐτοὶ καταψηφισάμενοι συλλογίζονται, καὶ ὡς εἰρηκότος ὅ τι δοκεῖ ἐπιτιμῶσιν, ἂν ὑπεναντίον ᾖ τῇ αὑτῶν οἰήσει. τοῦτο δὲ πέπονθε τὰ περὶ ᾿Ικάριον. οἴονται γὰρ αὐτὸν Λάκωνα εἶναι· ἄτοπον οὖν τὸ μὴ ἐντυχεῖν τὸν Τηλέμαχον αὐτῷ εἰς Λακεδαίμονα ἐλθόντα. τὸ δ’ ἴσως ἔχει ὥσπερ οἱ Κεφαλλῆνές φασι· παρ’ αὑτῶν γὰρ γῆμαι λέγουσι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα καὶ εἶναι ᾿Ικάδιον ἀλλ’ οὐκ ᾿Ικάριον· δι’ ἁμάρτημα δὲ τὸ πρόβλημα †εἰκός ἐστιν†. ὅλως δὲ τὸ ἀδύνατον μὲν πρὸς τὴν ποίησιν ἢ πρὸς τὸ βέλτιον ἢ πρὸς τὴν δόξαν δεῖ ἀνάγειν. πρός τε γὰρ τὴν ποίησιν αἱρετώτερον πιθανὸν ἀδύνατον ἢ ἀπίθανον καὶ δυνατόν·

 

 

Diction-Police! Don’t Archaize or Neologize!

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights 11.7

One Should Avoid Very Archaic Words That Have Become Antiquated and Fallen Out of Use

“Using words that are obsolete and worn down seems as affected as using uncustomary or new ones of harsh or unpleasant character. Personally, I find more annoying and offensive those words that are new, unknown, or previously unheard rather than those that are merely colloquial and vulgar. I do insist, however, that phrases seem new when they are unused and abandoned, even if they are really ancient. In truth, it is a common vice of learning late in life, what the Greeks call opsimathia, when there’s something you’ve never said and of which you were ignorant for a while, which, once you have begun to understand it, you manage to work it into any place or into any matter you’re discussing.

For example, at Rome we met an experienced man famous for his work as a public defender who had achieved a rapid and incomplete education. When he was speaking to the prefect of the city and wanted to say that a certain many lived on poor and miserable food—he ate bread made of bran and drank old, spoiled wine—he said “this Roman knight eats apluda and drinks flocces.” Everyone who was there looked at one another, at first rather severely and with confused, inquiring faces wondering what either word meant: then, as if he had spoken in Etruscan or Gallic, they all laughed together. That man had read that ancient farmers had called grain apluda—the word is used by Plautus in a comedy called Astraba, if that is a Plautine comedy. Similarly, “flocces” in ancient usage indicated the lees of a vine pressed from grapes, like the fruit from olives, a thing he read in Caecilius’ Polumeni. And he had saved these two words for decorating a speech!”

7 Verbis antiquissimis relictisque iam et desitis minime utendum.

1 Verbis uti aut nimis obsoletis exculcatisque aut insolentibus novitatisque durae et inlepidae par esse delictum videtur. Sed molestius equidem culpatiusque esse arbitror verba nova, incognita, inaudita dicere quam involgata et sordentia. 2 Nova autem videri dico etiam ea, quae sunt inusitata et desita, tametsi sunt vetusta. 3 Est adeo id vitium plerumque serae eruditionis, quam Graeci opsimathian appellant, ut, quod numquam didiceris, diu ignoraveris, cum id scire aliquando coeperis, magni facias quo in loco cumque et quacumque in re dicere. Veluti Romae nobis praesentibus vetus celebratusque homo in causis, sed repentina et quasi tumultuaria doctrina praeditus, cum apud praefectum urbi verba faceret et dicere vellet inopi quendam miseroque victu vivere et furfureum panem esitare vinumque eructum et fetidum potare, “hic” inquit “eques Romanus apludam edit et flocces bibit”. 4 Aspexerunt omnes, qui aderant, alius alium, primo tristiores turbato et requirente voltu, quidnam illud utriusque verbi foret; post deinde, quasi nescio quid Tusce aut Gallice dixisset, universi riserunt. 5 Legerat autem ille “apludam” veteres rusticos frumenti furfurem dixisse idque a Plauto in comoedia, si ea Plauti est, quae Astraba inscripta est, positum esse. 6 Item “flocces” audierat prisca voce significare vini faecem e vinaceis expressam, sicuti fraces oleis, idque aput Caecilium in Poltimenis legerat, eaque sibi duo verba ad orationum ornamenta servaverat. 7