Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Hinterland - get thee behind me
I was "shocked, shocked" (an Americanism) to read that the Italians are borrowing "the English word hinterland". Next they'll be borrowing the English word Schadenfreude, the English word Zeitgeist or the English word Weltschmerz. Even the English word frisson has a certain je ne sais quoi. Actually, I don't find the phrase je ne sais quoi very simpatico. It's rather staccato. And Heaven forbid the Italians borrow those last two words.
We got over it - profited from it - so can they. We "borrowed" words and incorporated them, with interest, into our wonderful language. So it is "not very wonderful," as Jane Austen said, that our language is so wonderful:
And while English can mostly take it, being famously flexible and receptive to linguistic imports, able to accommodate them better than languages with smaller lexicons, there are languages, such as French and Italian, where the over-borrowing is getting truly annoying.
And why does English have a big lexicon? Because it borrowed, shamelessly and joyfully. And adapted as it adopted. When English borrowed "mutton", that word did not replace "sheep"; it added a word for "sheep meat". We gave our new words a hearty welcome, which is rather different from a cordial reception.
If other languages can't adapt as they adopt, then perhaps they don't deserve to survive. Survival is of the fittest, that is, of the most fitting.
By the way, Jane Austen, perhaps aware that the word "wonderful" was changing in meaning from "strange" or "surprising" to "marvellous", used the word only in a negative construction. Language change begets tension and uncertainty. She could not have anticipated Fats Waller's "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful". Are we the worse for this change? Not at all. Was it resented at the time? Natch. "Darn tootin." What do you think?
Posted on 03/12/2008 5:56 PM by Mary Jackson
12 Mar 2008
To note, with studied irony, that one is "'shocked, shocked' (an Americanism) to read that the Italians are borrowing 'the English word hinterland.' Next they'll be borrowing the English word Schadenfreude, the English word Zeitgeist or the English word Weltschmerz" is to deliberately overlook, or not to have understood, an important point that was clearly made in the article in question: "When terms in one language respond to a felt linguistic need in other language, then they are most acceptable. But when such words come in merely as a matter of fashion, of being fashionable, or being too lazy to reject them even though one is or should be well aware that there already exist, in one's native tongue, perfectly good equivalents, it is another matter."
All three of her examples of borrowings in
English -- the German words Schadenfreude and Zeitgeist and Weltschmerz, are terms for which there is no exact pre-existing equivalent. in English. They filled, and still fill, a felt need. And the same applies to "poshlust'" and "cadeau de rupture" and "drucksache." But it does not apply to the appropriation of "hinterland" by speakers of Italian, because there is a perfectly good Italian word that means exactly the same thing -- the word "entroterra."
I have my own theory, an extra-linguistic theory, as to why that particular wored "hinterland" became adopted when it did into common Italian usage. It has to do with the Italian fascination with, and fashion for, Anglo-Saxon names for lines of clothing and shoes, and in particular, with the American maker of rugged outdoor boots that many Italian tourists were sure to buy on trips to America -- the New Hampshire manufacturer "Timberland" that, for a decade or so, was all the rage in Italy.
12 Mar 2008
The elephant in the room - and the point you have missed - is that "hinterland" is perceived as English. The Italians have adopted an English, not a German word. This can only have arisen in the context of a language like English, which adapts and adopts and is none the worse for it. The word was once German and is now English. Why can't it be Italian? Why can't the Italian word/phrase adapt - or the loanword - to give two meanings or registers?
We had a word "sheep". We adopted "mutton". We adapted it. Reason not the "felt need". Needs must. Sometimes the native word is displaced. Sometimes the foreign. And the language survives.
Have you any comments on "mutton" - dressed as lamb or not - or on "wonderful"? Or - my old time favourite - "realise". What have you to say about "realise"?
What have you to say about any of this?
Thought not. And if you think I'll ever let this go, you've got another think coming.
12 Mar 2008
I'd like to thank the talented Mr. Fitzgerald for having earlier posted "Tu Vuo Fa L' Americano", but alas, Ripley's been deleted Believe It Or Not! -at least as not found on my brief search. Perhaps it's just as well that most Italians no longer want so much to be like Americans (thus preserving the beautiful ideal of preserving the world's wonderful diversity), but it doesn't augur well for us or the ursus that, (in part the result of the "Sachs Treatment" covered by HF) that the great big Russian Bear is no longer inclined to sing "I want to be like you" ala the cartoon version of The Jungle Book.
Meanwhile, back at Rancho Americano, hordes of immigrants, both documented and illegal, have wiped out the middle-class existence of many U.S. slaughterhouse workers (hat tip to Roy Beck and his The Case Against Immigration) and dragged down relative pay levels, if not working conditions, to those which I assume are found in Upton Sinclair's jungle book.
13 Mar 2008
Those Darn Teutons!
Or: By The Hair of the Chinny-Chins-Chins of the Langobards
I recently read something somewhere (I'm not Mr. Memory) about a study of different gene markers in populations of northern and southern Italy; something about "founder effects." One should be careful not to attribute the superior economic performance of northern Italy to genetic differences given that it probably due at least in part to differences in culture, climate and geography.
While looking for a clip of Stan Laurel raising his hat while blowing on his thumb, I stumbled across this "Darn Tootin":
And this "Oh Cuckoo, Shall I call thee Stan?":
And maybe RB would get a kick of "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" ( I got one out of Al Capp's "Trail of the Lonesome Swine"):
The following is like (groan) pulling teeth, and vot's mit "Rosebud"?; Oliver Hardy was no Orson Welles (thank god), but Mary might like to critique the subtitles:
13 Mar 2008
God, Gog, Magog & Gic-Gog
Or: No Atrocity, No Tickee To Higher Education
Or: The Loki of the Irish
Or: Italian-American Ices & Vices
Thanks to having thumbed through (two elbows, but all thumbs) my dog-eared copy of The Europeans by John Geipel, I have a passing familiarity with such terms as (shudder) "contact vernacular", the speaking of which sounds like something the respective good mothers of say, a Patrick and a Sven, would punish by washing out the mouth of the little bog-trotter or berserker with soap, assuming that unlike the French of today, they had any over a thousand years ago. When mothers failed to do so, the kids would, unduly, and in due course, grow into unruly teenagers, heads filled with visions of strange Gods and gods and speaking in a Gic-Gog incomprehensible to their parents.
Mary stole some of my thunder (see Thor and boxer Ingemar Johansson's dental fricative-less "Toonder and lightning" punch) by beating me to the punch with mention of "loan words", but I bear (see berserkers) her no grudge (except in the clinches), because I'm an darn tootin American. We're both generous and forgiving, having forgiven gawd-knows how many hundreds of billions of Turd World (see the India Star) debt. We've forgiven your war debts and I withdraw my accusation that expat Hugh has a library with a "Lend-And-Release" program tainted by Moroccan cream. And, if memory serves (again, one from Fifth Column, Be), after the Boxer, or other brief rebellion, the U.S. used reparations from China to fund scholarships for Chinese students.
The incorporation of American loan words (see Lingua Franca) into the languages of France and Italy is a fait accompli. So, get over it, over there. It's a long way to Tipperary and Tuscany from Tipper Gore (see controversy over naughty lyrics). Think of it, if you must, as a "clever-clever" Beaver Cleaver "chilly" spoon-fed parfait accompli. And we won't even charge you interest, much less, ask for our loan words back.
But enough is Genug, as sayeth Krug and civilize 'em with a Krag; no more Mr. Nice to Nice(see France, don't see Paris) or Mr. Nice to Naples Guy (and don't even think of pronouncing him as a hard-case "Gee"), handing out loan words, chocolates and army boots to your mothers, Callooh, Callay, the Hell with Cathay, bother me some other day, Wogs begin at Calais, the Hell with your bon mots and snotty remarks, your Marks, Marx and Erich Maria Remarques; all quiet on the Western Front (see The Stranglers) -my derriere; we're not your stepping stones or Step 'n Fetchets; we're not your marks or pidgins, ya' know. Capiche?
And no back-talk. No hobble Ingles. Comprende?