Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ruminations of a Sickie

I've spent the last week or so with a cold that wouldn't go away. Monday I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with rhino-sinusitis. A nose and sinus infection, in other words. After three days of antibiotics, I'm better and ready to face the Illinois State students in their weekly exodus from Normal, Illinois. (At ISU the weekend seems to start on Thursday evening.) So, here are a few random facts and factoids:

I knew this already, but Michael D.C. Drout, in his course on CD, "A Way With Words III: Understanding grammar for Powerful Communication," reminded me of it. English used to have an additional two letters in its alphabet, for sounds we now write as th: the thorn (þ) and eth (ð). As the language changed, thorn was often written to look like the letter y. And after printing was invented, the type fonts imported from Italy or Germany had no thorn, so Y was the accepted substitute. Thus, "Ye Olde Tavern" is, in fact, "The Olde Tavern."

Also from Drout: A writing style popular in the Middle Ages made it difficult to distinguish the letter u from v or w, especially when written next to m or n. So scribes began to use the letter o in such words. Thus we have such words as money, honey, come, wonder, and love. Drout remarks that the cutesy way to spell love, "luv," was once the way it was spelled.

One more bit of wisdom from Drout: When I was a kid, I remember wondering why Captain Kangaroo mispronounced the word, "why" as "Y." I found out he really wasn't. As a guy from Babylon, New York, the Captain, Bob Keeshan, was saying it correctly. In the upper Midwest, we've held on to the earlier, aspirated pronunciation of "wh" as "hw."

President Barack Obama gave a wonderful speech Tuesday night, but his fact-checkers missed his line about the country that invented the automobile. That was Germany, not the United States.

The Moody Minstrel has a wonderful post about Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."

Gerry Rafferty, (1978 hit, "Baker Street"), who last August mysteriously disappeared from St. Thomas' Hospital in London, where he was being treated for a chronic liver condition, is apparently alive and well and living in Tuscany. I've noticed that his songs are being played more often on oldies radio stations. Maybe we can locate Christina "Licorice" McKechnie of the Incredible String Band, who's been missing since 1990. The ISB deserves some airplay. If you're out there, Licorice, I named the heroine of my work in progress (Helena McKechnie) at least partially after you. She's got your soft, sweet voice.

Finally, Peter of slow reads is, as usual, giving up blogging for Lent. This time he's announced it with a sonnet. I'll miss his posts. But his last few posts are worth reading and rereading. His blog is certainly worth revisiting during the next forty days.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm afraid if I gave up blogging for lent it would be seen as escaping a sacrifice.

Peter said...

I'm glad you're back to Normal, Steve.

So we can thank Germany for both our cars and the number of letters in our alphabet! And I had no idea how much typesetting and writing styles influenced our spelling.

Thank you, too, for your very kind mention of my blog!

Two Dishes said...

Related to the avoidance of 'Easter', I learned that Quakers, though pretty liberal, I think, in other things, avoid saying the (Norse) days of the week. They'll make plans, for example, to meet for lunch on Third Day and most barbers are closed on First Day. Here in NY there are a lot of Quakers still.

gnosticserenity said...

Hi Steve,
Þ may be left over from the Viking rule in England, actually. The third rune, Þurisaz, is pronounced thurisaz. In Norse mythology, Þurisaz refers to the giants in our lives which keep us from wondering off our path.

I hope you are feeling better.


steve on the slow train said...

Charles--One of Peter's regular readers suggested that we, not he are making the sacrifice. Peter actually sees it as part of his seasonal rhythm.

Peter--Thank you. I wasn't aware that it was typesetting that killed Þ until I did research for this post. According to Wikipedia,Þ printed as Y even made it into early editions of the King James Bible.

Two Dishes (this refers to a a comment on Peter's blog--click on the word "sonnet" at the end of my post)-- Thank you for visiting. That's interesting. In northern Indiana, we have a lot of Amish and Mennonites, but few Quakers. I'm guessing Saturday, named for the Roman god, is taboo as well. Do they still use "thee?" Since "you" is no longer an elevated form as it was in the 17th Century, the reason for it has ended.

Elaine--Wikipedia suggests the rune goes back to proto-Germanic. But I've never trusted reconstructed languages. You may be right about Þ being introduced by the Norse, though it's possible both peoples had the rune from proto-Germanic. Drout would probably know.

I've still got the cold, but I think the sinus infection is over. Thanks

Olivia said...

The Þ and ð have survived in Icelandic which is a fantastic language that my grandmother will now never teach me.

steve on the slow train said...

Olivia--you have an incredibly fascinating heritage--a Washingtonian by way of New York, London,and Houston. Parents from Guyana, or rather, British Guiana. And an Icelandic grandmother. I'm sorry she's no longer with us. I believe Iceland is the only place left where people don't have last names--just son or daughter of... Thanks for reminding us that there's still one language that uses Þ and ð.

Olivia said...

Oh, my mistake - she is still alive and as strong as a mountain goat at nearly 90.

But she has given up on me, not becauase I didn't try but she thought I'd suddenly know it all from her only trying twice!! Grrrr.

She started out as a -dottir but when they moved to the UK the kids became -son.

And I have to admit, I have lost touch with her since leaving London. Oh, you forgot the Greek bit :) She married a Greek Cypriot :)
Oh, and there's the French bit from royalists fleeing the Revolution.

It's confusing...

Tea N. Crumpet said...

At least he isn't Eastern Orthodox; he'd be giving up sex instead. ;P (I am EO and I am making this joke on myself!)

I had no idea about this in our language. I am copy & pasting this-- it's a fun factoid to post when I don't have a lot to say but want to let someone know I am thinking of them. (I'll put your name with it!)

Peter's blog is fascinating. You have some interesting people that you follow!

steve on the slow train said...

Olivia--"They seek him here, they seek him there..." Royalists from the French Revolution reminds me of "that demn'd elusive Pimpernell," who's of course, a fictional creation. Somehow we Americans were very lucky that our revolution was not self-destructive as was the one of 1789. Washington, thank heaven, was no Napoleon.

I'm glad your grandmother is still alive. But only a very few people can pick up a language--especially a highly inflected one--in two tries.

Tea--I was inspired to begin blogging by reading Beth Adams's the cassandra pages. (link on this blog), from which I discovered Peter, from which I discovered Patry Francis's simply wait, etc.

I think English is so successful because it's a polyglot language--originally West Germanic, but then changed by the North Germanic Vikings, the Norman French, Church Latin, etc, etc.