14 January 2010

Long Live Television

As a paedagogue - it is a glib profession - I used glibly to ridicule 'mongrel' words, partly Greek (for example) and partly Latin. I remember pontificating to my IV Latin Set 1 (the only Lower School teaching I condescended to do in my grander latter decades) on the iniquities of "Television". "It should", I cheerfully asserted, "have been either Proculvision or Teleopsis". (Quick as a whatsit, a perky little Hebrew chappie from the ghettoes of Hove raised his hand: "Father, I shall always say Proculopsis". Needless to say, three years later he was snaffled up by Balliol.) "Homophobia", of course, had me in paroxysms of fury.

Now I've got my comeuppance. I've just been browsing, in the Classics department of Blackwell's, through a new book on the Greek of the Papyri. One of the collected papers surveys mixed-race words; and, apparently, there were an awful lot of them. hyponotarios; vexillophoros; protopatrikios; architabullarios; you name it. A sugkellios was apparently a monk who shared your cella -; that sounds like a slanggy short-cut, even nearly two millennia later, doesn't it? And there were plenty of Latin words in composition with with the Greek apo-, meaning an ex-. So I suppose I should start describing myself as an apopaidagogos. Perhaps even apoanglicanus.

A perennial disease of language is to forget that some word already embraces a particular notion and to add that notion anew and superfluously, thereby creating a dittography in sense (e.g. people forget that 'return' means 'go back' and so they add another lexical ingredient to convey the sense of 'back' and say 'he returned back to London'; or they 'reiterate again'). We get that in the papyri in coinages like sugkollegas.

Perhaps the people who did the Vatican Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis should have been more sympathetic towards the possibility of this sort of flexibility. I find it a diappointing book; too often it provides, not a deft one-word coinage but a cumbersome periphrasis ("machina quae does-something-or-other"). Just as, I feel, it is misguided for those concerned with the wordbag of 'Celtic' languages to feel they have to coin authentically 'Celtic' terms instead of just going-with-the-flow and adjusting appropriately the orthography of 'international' neologisms. That is what Middle Cornish unashamedly did, as anyone who peruses the Ordinalia or the Tregear Homilies will witness.

Vivat igitur Televisio.


Gengulphus said...

Vivat igitur Televisio.

I suspect that this particular mongrel is older than we imagine. Certainly St Lydwina of Schiedam is recorded as having this unexpectedly modern-sounding facility as early as the C15th.

Sir Watkin said...

A certain type of Saxon will allege that Welsh isn't a "real" language because it doesn't have any words for modern things, and all it does is respell "English" words according to Welsh orthography. (A gross exaggeration of course.) He usually shuts up, however, when it's pointed out to him that the neologisms in question generally are no more English than they are Welsh ....

First Apostle said...


GOR said...

I don’t know who at the Vatican compiled the Lexicon (Reggie Foster was probably involved, one suspects), but I expect there was not a little Italian influence as well. The ‘machina quae…’ would appear to hark back to Italian where - among other things - a typewriter is still a ‘macchina da scrivere’.

However Dante would probably roll his eyes to find that 'shopping' which was always 'fare le spese' has now become 'fare lo shopping'

Years ago in Ireland when Irish was still a required subject in primary and secondary schools our English teacher took great delight in poking fun at the lacunae in Irish for modern terms. His favorite target was ‘bosca ceoil’ (music box) for an accordion.

As to the ‘perennial disease’: here in the US restaurant staffs invariably fall into this when it comes to something that is ‘au jus’. You will usually be asked if you want it with au jus…!

johnf said...

I like Fr Foster's Latin for a zip fastener. something like...

'occlusorium fulminium'

But didn't Bd John XXIII once bless a helicopter with

'Benedico hoc helicopterum'

but surely helicopter is natrally 3rd declension.

Anonymous said...

Ubi, O ubi, est mea sub-ubi?

Which only makes sense in American English, I think. Anyway, I thought S. Clare invented the TV.

johnf said...

To follow on from Fr LR, I have found this poetic fragment from somewhere.

Hic ore dic ore doc
De mosa rana uber de cloaca
De cloaca astra umquam; et Danarum
Hic ore dic ore doc

In which the poet orders the reader to say it from the mouth, and tell it by mouth (i.e. shouting?), that the River Meuse has somehow become a sewer and giving rise to a frog fish with breasts (a warning about industrial pollution?); but there is a way from the sewer to the stars at any time according to the Greeks (arguing the need for green policies? - Oscar Wilde may have stolen this quote)

Gengulphus said...

johnf said...

Hic ore dic ore doc
De mosa rana uber de cloaca etc.

I am fascinated to note that some echoes of this moving fragment appear to have been preserved in a well-known mediæval French lyric:

Et qui rit des curés d'Oc?
De Meuse raines, houp! de cloques.
De quelles loques ce turque coin.
Et ne d'anes ni rennes,
Ecuries des curés d'Oc.

johnf said...


Yes it's amazing how such wisdom can cross boundaries of time and space!

Gwig Loes said...

But I do rather like the word Pellwolok for a (Cornish) television set. It has a certain ring about it.

Lord Palmerston said...

As a former comprehensive school boy, I unfortunately have no knowledge of the classics, but why would 'homophobia' leave you in paroxysms of fury? Both parts of the word are from the Greek.

Sir Watkin said...

Lord Palmerston,

Different reason for fury.

"Homophobia" isn't a hybrid (as you rightly observe), but it's annoying for a different reason: viz. it doesn't mean what it's supposed to.

It ought to mean something like "fear of those who are like oneself". So a homophobic Methodist would be one who feared other Methodists; a homophobic homosexual would be one who feared other homosexuals, but a homophobic heterosexual would be one who feared heterosexuals.

"Homophobia" only makes sense if you assume "homo-" is short for "homosexual" (ironic, as the slang abbreviation "homo" is now taboo).

But I suppose one can understand why the etymologically correct *"homosexualiphobic" never caught on ....

A second objection is the use of "-phobic" to refer to (perceived) disapproval. By adopting the term one is implicitly accepting the argument that such disapproval is necessarily the result of irrational fears lurking within the psyche, etc. etc.

Lord Palmerston said...

Thank you for clarifying, Sir Watkin. That makes sense now.