July 05, 2006

Classical linguifying

Geoff Pullum asks "What's the earliest linguification anyone can find? What can we find that is dated before 1987?"

Some common figures of speech that may count in this search are quite old and still in common usage. One is the notion that reference to two things within some span -- a breath, a sentence, a letter, a day -- implies an equivalence of value, or a connection beyond what is actually asserted. This involves an equivocation between purely linguistic contiguity on one hand, and conceptual equivalence, similarity or connection on the other, so I think it should count as an example of what Geoff is looking for. It's easy to find these by searching for strings of the form "in the same X", for plausible values of X, and it happens that I collected some examples of this last year, for a post that never quite converged. If these examples are accepted, then we can easily take linguification back to the middle of the 18th century, while awaiting specimens from Cicero, the psalms, or Gilgamesh.

Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1741-1742) Vol. 4, letter XLIV:

And so much, my dear Miss Darnford, for your humble Servant; and for Mr. Williams's and Mr. Adams's matrimonial Prospects---And don't think me disrespectful, that I have mention'd my Polly's Affair in the same Letter with yours. For in High and Low, (I forget the Latin Phrase---I have not had a Lesson a long, long while, from my dear Tutor) Love is in all the same!

Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan, Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph (1761)

Would not this be a pretty conclusion of my adventures? No, no, Sir George, expect better things from thy friend. I hope my knight-errantry will not end so tragically. But hasten to make my peace with that gracious creature your sister: yet why do I name her and myself in the same sentence? She cares not for me, thinks not of me, or, if she does, it is with contempt. I said this before, and I must repeat it again; but tell her, what I have done was with a view to promote her happiness. Oh! may she be happy, whatever becomes of me.

Fanny Burney, Cecilia (1782), Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) vol. V, book IX, chap. III. "A Confabulation"

"A strange slighty character!" cried Mr. Monckton, "yet of uncommon capacity, and full of genius. Were he less imaginative, wild and eccentric, he has abilities for any station, and might fix and distinguish himself almost where-ever he pleased."

"I knew not," said Cecilia, "the full worth of steadiness and prudence till I knew this young man; for he has every thing else; talents the most striking, a love of virtue the most elevated, and manners the most pleasing; yet wanting steadiness and prudence, he can neither act with consistency nor prosper with continuance."

"He is well enough," said Lady Margaret, who had heard the whole argument in sullen taciturnity, "he is well enough, I say; and there comes no good from young women's being so difficult."

Cecilia, offended by a speech which implied a rude desire to dispose of her, went up stairs to her own room; and Mr. Monckton, always enraged when young men and Cecilia were alluded to in the same sentence, retired to his library.

Mrs. Rowson, The Inquisitor; or, Invisible Rambler, Volume 1 (1793)

The world talks much about honesty, but I cannot comprehend where it is to be found.---The trader will stand behind his counter, and ask you three shillings per yard for cloth more than it is worth, and if you are inexperienced, as it frequently happens in such cases, you pay him without hesitation---he knows he has imposed upon you, yet he will lay his hand upon his heart, and declare he is an honest man.--- The Courtier---Oh! quoth reflection, pray don't mention a courtier and honesty in the same breath.--- The women---how can you talk of their honesty, when you have so flagrant a proof to the contrary before you.-

Susan Ferrier, Marriage (1818) , VOL. III., CHAPTER XII.

[Lady Emily is reading from Shenstone's Pastoral]

"I have found out a gift for my fair,
I have found where the wood-pigeons breed."

"There's some sense in that," cried the Doctor, who had been listening with great weariness. "You may have a good pigeon pye, or un sauté de pigeons au sang, which is still better when well dressed."

"Shocking!" exclaimed Lady Emily; "to mention pigeon-pies in the same breath with nightingales and roses!"

Washington Irving, Bracebridge Hall; or, The Humorists. A Medley, by Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. [pseud], Volume 1 (1822)

He began to throw out hints about the importance of a man's settling himself in life before he grew old; he would look grave whenever the widow and matrimony were mentioned in the same sentence; and privately asked the opinion of the Squire and parson, about the prudence of marrying a widow with a rich jointure, but who had several children.

John Hamilton Reynolds, The Press. A Satire. (1822) PART I.

The first time that I read Barry Cornwall's Dramatic Scenes, appears like a delicious day-dream; one of those rosy moments which we occasionally enjoy amidst the thorny paths of life. Their author has certainly deteriorated since their publication. His Poems do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath, nor is it easy for me to conceive them the offspring of the same mind.

Edward Bulwer Lytton, Pelham (1828) vol. II. chapter XXVI:

[Clutterbuck is speaking]

"There is one thing, my Pelham, which has grieved me bitterly of late, and that is, that in the earnest attention which it is the---perhaps fastidious---custom of our University, to pay to the minutiæ of classic lore, I do now oftentimes lose the spirit and beauty of the general bearing; nay, I derive a far greater pleasure from the ingenious amendment of a perverted text, than from all the turn and thought of the sense itself: while I am straightening a crooked nail in the wine-cask, I suffer the wine to evaporate; but to this I am somewhat reconciled, when I reflect that it was also the misfortune of the great Porson, and the elaborate Parr, men with whom I blush to find myself included in the same sentence."

Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit

"Of all the ridiculous young fellows that ever I had to deal with," resumed Mrs. Todgers, "that is the most ridiculous and unreasonable. Mr. Jinkins is hard upon him sometimes, but not half as hard as he deserves. To mention such a gentleman as Mr. Jinkins, in the same breath with him---you know it's too much! and yet he's as jealous of him, bless you, as if he was his equal."

George Henry Borrow, Lavengro (1851) vol. I. chapter VI:

If I am here asked whether I understood anything of what I had got by heart, I reply---"Never mind, I understand it all now, and believe that no one ever yet got Lilly's Latin grammar by heart when young, who repented of the feat at a mature age."

And, when my father saw that I had accomplished my task, he opened his mouth, and said, "Truly, this is more than I expected. I did not think that there had been been so much in you, either of application or capacity; you have now learnt all that is necessary, if my friend Dr. B---'s opinion was sterling, as I have no doubt it was. You are still a child, however, and must yet go to school, in order that you may be kept out of evil company. Perhaps you may still contrive, now you have exhausted the barn, to pick up a grain or two in the barn-yard. You are still ignorant of figures, I believe, not that I would mention figures in the same day with Lilly's grammar."

William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis (1849) vol. II. chapter III. "Contains a Novel Incident"

"Not a bad speech, young one," Warrington said, "but that does not prevent all poets from being humbugs."

"What---Homer, Æschylus, Shakspeare and all?"

"Their names are not to be breathed in the same sentence with you pigmies," Mr. Warrington said; "there are men and men, sir."

"Well, Shakspeare was a man who wrote for money, just as you and I do," Pen answered, at which Warrington confounded his impudence, and resumed his pipe and his manuscript.

Charlotte Brontë, The Professor (1857) vol. II. chapter XXIV.

[Hundsden says]

"If Tell was like Wellington, he was an ass."

[Frances responds]

"Well, whenever you marry don't take a wife out of Switzerland; for if you begin blaspheming Helvetia, and cursing the cantons---above all, if you mention the word ass in the same breath with the name Tell (for ass is baudet, I know; though Monsieur is pleased to translate it esprit-fort) your mountain maid will some night smother her Breton-bretonnant, even as your own Shakspeare's Othello smothered Desdemona."

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Wives and Daughters (1866) vol. II. chapter XXVII. "Off with the Old Love, and On with the New.."

[Cynthia and Molly are discussing the departure of Cynthia's most recent beau.]

"I don't like people of deep feelings," said Cynthia, pouting. "They don't suit me. Why couldn't he let me go without this fuss? I'm not worth his caring for!"

"You've the happy gift of making people love you. Remember Mr. Preston,---he too wouldn't give up hope."

"Now I won't have you classing Roger Hamley and Mr. Preston together in the same sentence. One was as much too bad for me as the other is too good. Now I hope that man in the garden is the juste milieu,---I'm that myself, for I don't think I'm vicious, and I know I'm not virtuous."

Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's fan (1893) FIRST ACT:

I am not going to give you any details about her life. I tell you simply this---Mrs. Erlynne was once honoured, loved, respected. She was well born, she had position---she lost everything---threw it away, if you like. That makes it all the more bitter. Misfortunes one can endure--- they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one's own faults---ah!---there is the sting of life. It was twenty years ago, too. She was little more than a girl then. She had been a wife for even less time than you have.
I am not interested in her---and---you should not mention this woman and me in the same breath. It is an error of taste.

You can find your own modern examples from the web easily enough.

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 5, 2006 10:39 PM