December 24, 2004

Living, staying, resting, standing, being

The stay/live thing that Geoff Pullum started has morphed into Bill Poser's allusion to "J'y suis, j'y reste" as uttered by the commander of the French forces in the Crimean War, and that's caused me to think of Martin Luther's famously recalcitrant "Hier stehe ich" at the Council of Worms.

Now I'm trying to find out just what Luther said. No question that the man was as stubbornly unmoving as a hunk of granite, but there's some question about what words he used.

Look, I had a Lutheran childhood, before I traded up to the Anglicans and then trucked on out of church affiliation entirely, and what I was taught as a kid was that Luther locked his legs, gritted his teeth, and defiantly intoned: "Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders" 'Here I stand/stay, I cannot do otherwise' (or something like that in English). But when I check sources, some of them quote it this way and some of them have Luther saying "Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders" 'Here I stand/stay and cannot do otherwise' -- a small difference, one of stylistic choice, but not literally identical to the version I was taught. Everyone seems to agree that he went on to finish with the dramatically pious "Gott helfe mir, Amen".

Lord knows what the man actually said. There were no council stenographers taking down the proceedings. What we have now is, apparently, recollections from years afterwards. You have to suspect that the text got polished up some in the intervening years.

In any case, there's that stand/stay business with the German verb stehen.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at December 24, 2004 09:44 PM