Sunday, 24 January 2016

Shameless plug

A choral singer knows he's getting on when, as for me this term, the next concert includes three choral pieces all of which he's sung before with another choir or choirs.

The first is Vivaldi's Gloria, which I've sung twice before, once with Reading Haydn Choir about 20 years ago, and once when I was driving my son to a concert arranged by a fellow barbershop singer (who was choir master at his local church). As I knew the piece, I became a singing chauffeur.

The other two pieces involve a setting of Psalm 110, once entirely (Handel's Dixit Dominus) and once as one of several texts in Mozart's Vesperae Solennes de Confessore. When I first sang the Handel, at the first rehearsal, somebody asked me what the opening words of Dixit Dominus meant. One word in the opening sentence was new to me, so I could only say 'The lord said to my lord "Sit on my right, until I do something jolly unpleasant to your enemies."'

The unknown word  was scabellum* – a footstool. The something jolly unpleasant was turning them into footstools (although I imagine there was an element of metaphor here  – I don't think trans-substantiation was involved).

The word 'until' seems a bit odd. Does the first lord – the speaker – mean that  the second lord can only occupy the favoured position until the enemies turn up and suffer enscabellation – thereafter to sit somewhere else (on the enemies, perhaps)? But donec, when followed by a subjunctive, usually does mean until. The bible translations listed here all use until or till, with a small handful of exceptions. Only two translate it as while, in which case donec would usually be followed by an indicative (not ponam but pono). Food for thought. But not today – I'm neglecting the cricket.

Suffice it ...
I refer readers to an old discussion,, in the UsingEnglish forum, where I explained: 
The fossilized phrase 'Suffice it to say' means 'let it be sufficient to say'; a more modern idiom is 'Enough said' - but, unlike 'suffice it to say', this follows the thing said: 'I shouldn't have done it. I'm sorry. Enough said'.

You'll have noticed that I keep saying 'Suffice it to say'. This uses the subjunctive, which is hardly used in informal British English. And as both 'it' and 'to' are unstressed in that phrase, they are easily heard as a single /t/ followed by a schwa - particularly by habitual non-users of the subjunctive. This form [HD clarification: the ITless form] is widely used, and has become almost as common as the fuller form: BNC has 53 instances of 'suffice to say' and 88 of 'suffice it to say'.

In COCA, on the other hand, which is based on N. American usage, has [HD correction: 'there are' (I may have meant háy)] 376 (377 if you include 'sufficeit to say', of which there is a single instance which I found by accident ), and only 97 of  'suffice to say'. And that balance makes sense, considering the relative strength of the subjunctive in American English. 
Anyway, I'm an IT-man. 

... to say that you should put Saturday 2nd April, 2016 at 7.30pm in your diary. (More details of the concert here.)

Tales from the word-face

My android system's latest exploit in the matter of spelling corrections involve a Character Entity expressed in the Named Entity Syntax (and if you really want to know what all that means, pick the bones out of this).  My HTML code makes occasional use of &nbsp; – a non-breaking space (for use when you want to keep a space between two words but keep them on the same line).

If I used it often enough I'd tell the spell-checker to add it to my dictionary. But for now, whenever it sees "nbsp" it asks me if I'd prefer to use "tbsp", which sounds like the sort of Character Entity that'd come in useful for writers of recipe books.


PS Another clue:
Landlubbers' haven in heavy swell (in case of bowel-movement) (5)

Update 2016.01.27.12:15 – Added PPS

I've been thinking about the until/while problem mentioned in the fifth para. To recap: the Latin text has Donec ponam  (="until I put"), not Donec pono (="while I put"). "Until I put" involves the first 'Lord' (the speaker) in some rather strange reasoning, making the sitting at the right hand only a temporary (pre-enscabellatory) position – which I suppose I should gloss as meaning lasting only until the end of the turning-into-a-footstool [sorry about these unfeeling neologisms, but scabellum is too good a word not to have any derivatives in English]). So why is ponam not pono – unless, of course, St Jerome (or one of his predecessors) got it wrong (when translating from David's [or someone's – Wikipedia has a rather ominous  "although his authorship is not accepted by modern Bible scholars"] Hebrew)?

It would take a Hebrew scholar to take this further (and I'm working on that), but I suspect that Hebrew has a way of expressing temporal and/or conditional relations in a way that does not fit in with the Latin way – so that neither "until" nor "while" really does the job. Hmmm...

Update 2016.01.27.15:05 – esprit d'escalier in blue.

Update 2016.02.05.10:15 – Added PPPS


When, in last night's rehearsal, we broached (and on occasion breached) the Magnificat, I was reminded of last summer's post, My soul doth magnify the problem – particularly this bit:
...the words of the Magnificat reminded me of a confusion that keeps cropping up in the life of a choral singer. In the text that that link points to you'll see in the third line of the Latin exultavit, translated in the English as "hath rejoiced". But later on the word exaltavit appears, translated in the English as "hath exalted". 
Italianate pronunciation of Latin now gets involved. Listen to this YouTube clip; the relevant word starts occurring from about 30 seconds in, and is repeated as often as Vivaldi chooses. When this vowel (not unlike the English /ʌ/ phoneme – the one that occurs in, for example, "exulted", although it is closer to [ɑ] {Update note: this is an IPA transcription})  – is heard by a strictly Anglophone ear, confusion arises.... 
 Last summer's post   
Update 2016.02.06.16:40 – Added P⁴S
P⁴S Another clue:

Surfeit of promissory notes – hateful (6)

Update 2016.02.10.09:15 – Added concert poster.

Update 2016.03.24.14:40 – Added footnote, and crossword solutions.

* By chance, flicking through a dictionary looking for something else (the kind of serendipitous Aha-provoking discovery that doesn't happen with an online dictionary – excepting artificial things like Word-of-the-day), I found that Spanish (and indeed Catalan, Provençal, Italian, French etc, I've since determined [courtesy of the wonderful Meyer-Lübcke – which I've mentioned before] all have similar words) has the word escabelo. Spanish also has a quite charming metaphorical use for escabelo (which is, on weekdays, "a little stool"); in its Sunday best, figurative, use it is a "stepping stone". Life really is just one digression after another.

Solutions: BELOW and ODIOUS.

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