March 03, 2004

Expression's vast varieties

Here's a late 18th-century snowclone, exactly of the original "words for snow" genre. Samuel Bishop, Epigram CCLXXVI (published posthumously in 1796).


In Araby, learned linguists say,
So copious is the vulgar phrase,
That speech at pleasure can display
The lion's name five hundred ways.

But while thus, column after column,
Expression's vast varieties fall,
These, though enough to fill a volume,
Mean but one lion after all.

Or else perhaps, with evident cause
A doubt might rise, which most would scare ye?
The lion's titles?---or his claws?
The desart?---or the Dictionary?

As far as I can tell from the Arabic dictionaries available to me, the basic claim about the number of words for "lion" is false.

I'm reluctant to suspect Bishop of originality here. Can anyone supply an earlier example of this trope?

Posted by Mark Liberman at March 3, 2004 10:36 AM