Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Times it is a-changing

Some time in early Spring 1966 The Times dropped a bombshell. Since the year dot (and in the case of The Times this is a pretty remote dot – 1785, says Wikipedia): in place of the classified ads that had previously appeared on the front page (Wikipedia says 'the front page featured' them FFS. But the point is that the front page was featureless) they were going to print news. What a thing for a newspaper!
<autobiographical_note date_range=1965-6>

This was about the time my big brother came home with a nylon-stringed guitar that had a broken back, repaired with a three-inch screw where the fretboard met the body. Above the octave, the strings were a good half-inch away from the frets.This meant that before a string met the fretboard it stretched; so the higher up the fretboard you played, the sharper the note became not so much the Well-tempered klavier – the Ill-tempered vihuela perhaps.
Took a bit of a liberty with the instrument there, but the consonance (all three vowels) was too good to miss. 
In the spare time that pubescent boys had in those pre-National-Curriculum days, I started to pick out tunes. Mick had borrowed a 'teach-yourself' LP (on the Argo label) which tied a particular style of accompaniment to one song: 'hammering on' – 'Trouble in Mind'; arpeggios – 'Black Girl'; 'clawhammer'  – 'There Were Three Bothers'; calypso – 'Dip and Fall Back' ...and so on.

When the news of The Times' concession to sensationalism hit, Bob Dylan was still in his protest phase. 'The times they are a-changin'' was in the Zeitgeist. And the title of this post 'came up' from the depths of my mind (and you might have detected, in that 'came up', my current interest in subvenire). But I hadn't got far enough in my guitar 'studies' (I could do a pretty impressive accompaniment to  'Trouble in Mind', but nothing else) to think of making that first line into a song. I squirrelled it away, and here it is at last.

Well,  John Walter who founded The Times on the 1 January 1785 as The Daily Universal Register, will be spinning in the family vaults (which his mortal remains have occupied since November 1812). This Saturday The Times had neither classified ads nor news on its front page, but a photograph taken on the occasion of a celebrity wedding. OMG or what? Murdoch hadn't forked out for the actual wedding photos, but the grubby intent was still there.

This calls to mind a scene from my as yet unpublished (as yet undone, except for a 30-odd page sample that I hawked around a few publishers in the late '70s) translation of Eça de Queiroz's Cartas da Inglaterra (a sort of Victorian Letters from America, but written by a London-based Portuguese diplomat and man of letters [no pun intended, and none taken I hope]). It was a breakfast scene, with a daughter doing her filial duty and saving Papa's eyes by reading from The Times over breakfast. But some filthy bounder, an infamous scoundrel of the first water (whatever that is), had breached 'The Thunderer''s Victorian firewall and somehow amended the proofs, substituting obscenities. When his daughter read the results of this cruel deception, Papa nearly choked on his kedgeree.  (I meant to quote this properly, but the translation, and indeed the text, is In a Box in the loft. Allegedly. Fingers crossed.)

My reaction on Saturday morning was similar. Well, all right, The Times did make a concession to the news of an insignificant little war somewhere East of Suez. But don't worry, there'll be no 'boots on the ground', only 'suits in the board-room'.

Or perhaps they could use pogo-sticks; no dusty boots then.

Update 2014.09.30.14:20 – Added this clue (not  relevant to anything in this post)

Evacuation without a breach of faith. (9)

Update 2014.10.01.14:30Esprit d'escalier, in blue.
Update 2014.10.01.14:20 – Encore plus, in maroon.
Update 2015.09.10.09:25 – Added PS
OK, time's up: DEFECTION

Update 2017.06.27.16 Removed old footer

Saturday, 27 September 2014

On the tip of his...you know, flappy thing

The morning after Ed Milliband's speech to the party conference, according to various BBC  news reports, a 'souvenir copy' was on sale to delegates (without a trace of irony). But this copy included the bit that Ed forgot, which makes the word souvenir ironic, given the meaning of the French se souvenir de... : M. Milliband ne s'est pas souvenu de mentionner l'éléphant dans la chambre.

This doesn't bother me unduly, although I'm sure the Tories will make it run and run – run it into the ground. No doubt they'll cite Freud or Schopenhauer or whatever unsuspecting academic they can dragoon into their shoddy mud-slinging offensive: 'He forgot it because it was a Freudian slip: he wanted everyone to forget it'. Well, what if he does value bedpans over the ...ahem bottom line? I'm not sure the memory lapse means he does, but good for him if he thinks compound fractures are more important than compound interest; give me a PM who values carers over bean-counters any day.

But where does souvenir come from? French of course, but where before that? Etymonline dates it to the 12th century.
1775, "a remembrance or memory," from French souvenir (12c.), from Old French noun use of souvenir (v.) "to remember, come to mind," from Latin subvenire "come to mind," from sub- "up from below" (see sub-) + venire "to come" (see venue). Meaning "token of remembrance, memento" is first recorded 1782.
But what happened in those nearly six centuries between 11?? and 1775?

According to Etymonline the story is ... linear: Latin subvenire → Old French noun → French (and thence, presumably, English). What I need to do is explain why I'm not satisfied by Etymonline's simple story.

I have mentioned before a book that really is magisterial – and I'm using the word not in the review writer's coded sense of 'having more than a thousand pages, so not recommended for the beach'. I, as regular readers will know, tend to attach sometimes undue significance to origins. And the origin of magisterial is the Latin magister [='master']. The book is a masterpiece. (There's scope for a digression on 'masterpiece', but I have to check a few facts before I put finger to keyboard.)

The entry for subvenire extends from the foot of the last column on p. 632 to the top of the first on p. 623, but by the magic of digital prestidigit... (no, that doesn't work...) anyway, I've spliced it here:

See quote in situ here, on pages 632-3
The fact that it spans 2 pages, and that subvenire has two meanings, and that the page-break comes at the end of "1." – at least, after the Provençal example there's only bibliographical stuff – led me initially to think that mainstream French was just out of the picture entirely.

The two meanings are (1) 'give assistance' (which presumably explains our 'subvention'), and (2) 'recollect'. My old Latin dictionary (mentioned here) gives some help on what is on the face of it a rather strange derivation: why 'under' (sub) and why 'come' (venire)? It defines it as 'come to mind'. And the sub idea? Watchers of quiz shows will be familar with the  idea of someone recalling something they didn't expect to know: 'Where did you dredge that up from?' asks the host. We're still left with the oddness of the pairing of those two meanings, but each one makes sense.

Anyway, it is only the 'come to the aid of' sense that passed French by. It spawned words in Italian, Afrikaans,(Doh! The abbreviation "afrz" means Alt Französisch, of course)  and Provençal, but not French. (I've never heard Afrikaans being called a Romance language – I guess Meyer-Lübke just had the bit between his teeth).

The other meaning had offspring in Italian, French, and Provençal. (And if Afrikaans qualifies for mention in connection with the first meaning, I must admit to feeling a little hard done by that English doesn't get a mention in connection with the second meaning, for 'souvenir'.)


PS Crumbly story about tax rebate. (7)
Update 2014.12.10.15:15 – The answer to that PS (it took me a while to re-solve it myself): FRIABLE
Update 2015.05.20.15:25 –  Shamefaced correction, in an appropriate colour.

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  over 46,200 views  and over 6,225 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,300 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Respighi and the Doppler Effect

This morning on Radio 3 I caught a snatch of Respighi's Pines of Rome, specifically the fourth movement, Pini della Via Appia, which according to the presenter depicts Roman legionaries marching to (or from?) Rome. From the sound of it, my feeling is that they were probably marching back to Rome after one of their less successful campaigns; the 'marching' ostinato sounds to me rather disgruntled. (And, if the word's new to you, think of the English cognate obstinate  – it's a stubbornly repetitive bass line [well, usually bass; there may be exceptions – in matters musical I'm a dilettante {delighting in it}, rather than a cognoscento {knowing about it}]).

Which leads me, more or  less seamlessly, on to Italian words in music – not a boring list (that's what Wikipedia's for), just a few that have piqued my interest.
<digression theme="pique">
I wonder if pique has anything to do with pizzicato...? That'll have to remain FFS as they say in the OSI world: 'For Further Study', though it would,  if true,  exemplify the tendency of Italian loans and derivations dealing with the arts, while Spanish loans and derivations tend to deal with the more immediate and physical; picante is the Spanish word I'm thinking of, obviously connected with pique.

On the other hand, Ital... no, no time for even-handedness now.
Italian words and music go together, though 'Italian' is a concept that post-dates a lot of music we listen to.
<autobiographical_note date_range="1999-2002" theme="Italian">
A good few years ago, I sang (not with my present choir) Howard Blake's Song of St Francis. The setting was mid-late 20th century, but the text was by St Francis of Assisi, written in whatever Italic dialect he spoke – Umbrian of the 13th century, probably.  But saying it was written in that dialect is an oversimplification. Vulgar Latin had various different substrates – whatever medium of spoken communication underlay it – throughout Romania (in the historical sense of 'that part of the world that was directly influenced by the Romans'). St Francis may have thought (if he thought about it at all) he was writing Latin. Strongly influenced as his life was by Latin texts, it is probably a rather Latinate form of his dialect.

Anyway, speculation like that is something I left behind 40-odd years ago. The point is that during rehearsals people asked now and then about the text – sometimes 'in the original', sometimes 'in the Italian' sometimes 'in the Latin'. And after a while, knowing that I knew a bit about languages, they asked me  'What is it, Bob?' But my answer left a lot to be desired. It wasn't 'Latin'; it wasn't (just) Umbrian; it certainly wasn't Italian – a language that wouldn't be codified for several centuries.

Shortly afterwards, the same choir sang from Verdi's Nabucco. OK, by now it can be called 'Italian'. But that doesn't mean it's the sort of Italian you'll find in Parliamo Italiano
The word for 'where' has a chequered history in the Romance Languages. Simply put (which is all I'm up to) it is derived from UBI [='where'] or UNDE [='where from']with or without an initial DE. So French  comes from UBI, Italian dove comes from DE + UBI and Spanish is 'etymologically pleonastic' when it asks  'Where are you from?'; '¿De dónde eres?' starts with  DE DE UNDE, meaning 'from[from[from where]]]'. To flesh out the Iberian picture, confirming the preference for derivation from UNDE, Portuguese has onde and Catalan has on.

In his text for Va pensiero, Verdi (or his librettist if he had one ...?) does not use dove, in
Ove olezzano tepide e molli 
L'aure dolci del suolo natal
(something like that – it's a while since I sang it... Yes, here it is:

) the ove shows that at one stage some Italic dialects followed the French path, without an initial d. And what in modern Italian would be aire is aure (reminiscent, to me, of the two possible forms in Portuguese of the word derived from CAUSA(M): Fr. chose, Italian and Spanish cosa, but Portuguese [modern Continental Portuguese, that is] either coisa or cousa  – to be filed under Interesting but irrelevant I suspect). And as for olezzare, my Italian dictionary (admittedly not the most scholarly of tomes) does not recognize it at all.
It's fine. Lousy dictionary.
Oops. Tempus has fugitted, in the immortal words of my old maths master. I'll get on to those musical terms in an update.



But I can't leave you guessing about Doppler. I thought, when I first heard that Respighi piece – in a realization a bit like Bob Peck's in Jurassic Park, when he thinks he's hunting a velociraptor but there are actually two, hunting him, and his last words are 'Clever girl' – that the ostinato bass mimicked the Doppler Effect by falling in pitch at the high point of the crescendo, to mark the arrival in the foreground of the marching soldiers. But I checked on YouTube, and I was wrong. Pity.

Update 2014.09.11.09:20  – Added red bits.

Update 2014.09.14.21:45  – Added this update, [a few more thoughts about musical terminology.]

It was my mentor Joe Cremona (mentioned in several of my other posts – see the word  cloud on the right)  who pointed out that Italian native speakers pronounce mezzo with the voiced affricate /ʣ/ and prezzo with the unvoiced affricate /ʦ/ without – for the most part – knowing the reason: that the one with voicing is derived from MEDIU(M) and the one without voicing from PRETIU(M). Yet I've never heard a mezzo-soprano called (in English) a /meʣəʊ/. Of course I'm not saying the English pronunciation 'should' have the /ʣ/;  it's just interesting that it doesn't.
Just thought: I wonder if it‘s because in the word soprano (apart from the sonorants) all the consonants are unvoiced, which favours the voiceless pronunnciation of mezzo. The same, incidentally, to mezzo-forte and mezzo-piano.
Another double letter in musical terminology forms one of a pair of similar-looking little notes, distinguished only by a "/" through one of them: the appoggiatura and the acciacatura. In the second of these, the "i" softens the "c", so that the word has five syllables: [a'ʧakatura]. Again, the only pronunciation I have heard (admittedly rarely) is [aki.aka'tura]; and again I'm not suggesting that anyone 'should' do anything.

The appoggiatura 'leans on' or 'presses on' the note it precedes; (Mozart was a great fan). Meanwhile, the acciacatura is a sort of sneeze squashed in before the note it precedes. And music theoreticians about to raise an eyebrow at that sneeze metaphor will be interested – though possibly not convinced – by my mnemonic for remembering which is which: acciacatura/atchoo.
And, incidentally, no less an authority than Gyles Brandreth claimed on the radio a few weeks ago that 'atishoo' is derived from à tes souhaits, which takes the biscuit, I suspect, in the too-good-to-be-true department. I must look into it, but it smacks to me of folk etymology.

I imagine the Italian appoggiare is cognate with the French appuyer. But the Spanish ignores the double p and has just apoyar. Another musical double letter, attacca(r), has lost the second double letter in the French attaquer. But Spanish dispenses with both: atacar.
<digression theme ="Spanish and double consonants">
In fact, Spanish and  double stops don't mix. Which leads some people to say Spanish has no double consonants. Au contraire. 'But the dog...' leads to the most obvious counter-example: pero el perro...  

I am on shakier ground when I point to ll and even shakier with ñ. What Spanish seems to have done is this: take double consonants and give them independence as new autonomous letters. Children's alphabet blocks in Spain have both l and ll. And students using Spanish dictionaries are often confounded by the  fact that llama doesn't fall after liar and before lobo; ll is a whole 'nother letter.

The ñ really is a new letter (in that it's a different shape from nn). But that is where it came from – the manuscript convention that saves ink, space, and effort by writing nn as ñ. A lady in Portuguese is donna; in Spanish it's doña.
But where was I? (Late for my 8 o'clock, that's where.)

Update 2014.09.25.12:15 – Updated footer

Update 2015.05.12.14:15 – Added musical illustration

Update 2017.05.04.17:55 – Added inline PS, in blue.