October 28, 2005

Is splanchnic just another word for schmuck?

Over on the Logic and Language blog, my recent postings on "splanchnic" have elicited the quoting (by "logician") of a wonderful passage from Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated that allows us to connect words in "-nik" (which "splanchnic" is not, though Roz Chast chose to treat it as if it were) with the World Famous Eskimo Snowclone.  Here's the text, very lightly edited:

October 27, 2005

400 Words for Splanchnik

Arnold Zwicky over at languagelog has had a couple of posts about the word "splanchnik" recently...  and given languagelog's fondness for jokes about the Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax,...  I couldn't resist posting this excerpt from the novel I'm reading:

(Context: the Jewish-American hero-abroad is having a conversation with his Ukrainian guide. I've retained the non-standard layout of conversations from the original.)

"And I want to see what it's like now. I don't think there are any Jews left, but maybe there are. And the shtetls weren't only Jews, so there should be others to talk to." "The whats?" "Shtetls. A shtetl is like a village." "Why don't you merely dub it a village?" "It's a Jewish word." "A Jewish word?" "Yiddish, like schmuck." "What does it mean schmuck?" "Someone who does something that you don't agree with is a schmuck." "Teach me another." "Putz." "What does that mean?" "It's like schmuck." "Teach me another." ""Schmendrik." "What does that mean?" "It's also like schmuck." "Do you know any words that are not like schmuck?" He pondered for a moment. "Shalom," he said, "which is actually three words, but that's Hebrew, not Yiddish. Everything I can think of is basically schmuck. The Eskimos have 400 words for snow, and the Jews have 400 words for Schmuck." I wondered, what is an Eskimo? (p. 60 of Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer.)

Meanwhile, here in Palo Alto I had breakfast yesterday with Jane Robinson (the computational linguist) and Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky (the firewalls and systems administration guru) and the utterly adorable Opal Eleanor Armstrong Zwicky (the expert on language acquisition), during which Jane announced that she'd just learned a new word: yes, "splanchnic".  Elizabeth and I gaped at her for a moment (Opal wasn't paying attention, since she was busy exercising her recently developed ability to compose sentences of more than two words), and then I defined the word, to Jane's amazement.  How did I know that, she wanted to know.  We explained.

Have I mentioned that "splanchnic" is on the tip of everybody's tongue these days?  Hardly a day goes by...

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at October 28, 2005 07:05 PM