July 07, 2006

So ignorant, as that they know not the name of a rope

[Or was that "the name of a trope"? We still have no examples of linguifying from Cicero, or the psalms, or Gilgamesh, but a note from Bruce Rusk, reproduced below, takes the practice back to the 17th century, and lends it the authority of John Dryden, Sir Walter Raleigh, and William Shakespeare. Further poking around research in a similar vein takes us back to 1581. Here's Bruce's note:]

This is Dryden’s translation of a passage from Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, published in 1700. Note line 1500:

1496    'So keep me from the Vengance of thy Darts,
1497    'Which Niobe's devoted Issue felt,
1498    'When hissing thro' the Skies the feather'd Deaths were dealt:
1499    'As I desire to live a Virgin-Life,

1500    'Nor
know the Name of Mother, or of Wife.

Compare Chaucer’s original:

            Ful many a yeer, and woost what I desire,
            As keep me fro thy vengeaunce and thyn ire,
1445    That Attheon aboughte cruelly.
            Chaste goddesse, wel wostow that I
            Desire to ben a mayden al my lyf,
            Ne nevere wol I be no love ne wyf.
            I am, thow woost, yet of thy compaignye,
1450    A mayde, and love huntynge and venerye,
            And for to walken in the wodes wilde,
            And noght to ben a wyf, and be with childe.

A previously unlinguified claim has been linguified (becoming plainly false, just like the supposed “forgetting” of word pronunciations).

There are many earlier examples of linguification:

Léonard de Marandé, The iudgment of humane actions a most learned, & excellent treatise of morrall philosophie, which fights agaynst vanytie, & conduceth to the fyndinge out of true and perfect felicytie. Written in French by Monsieur Leonard Marrande and Englished by Iohn Reynolds   London : Imprinted by A. Mathewes for Nicholas Bourne, at ye Royall Exchange, (1629).

It is true, Choler hath power and predominancy ouer all men; that there are many people who haue not yet approoued the stings of ambitio, who know not the name of Couetousnesse, and yet there are none who haue not felt the effect of Choler.

And a fine one from Sir Walter Raleigh:

Sir Walter Rawleighs judicious and select essayes and observations upon the first invention of shipping, invasive war, the Navy Royal and sea-service : with his apologie for his voyage to Guiana (1667).

For many of those poore Fishermen and Idlers, that are co~monly presented to his Majesties Ships,are so ignorant in Sea-service, as that they know not the name of a Rope, and therefore insufficient for such labour.

Looking at similar phrases on the LION and EEBO databases, there seems to be a burst around 1700, but this could just be the bias of the sources.

E.g., Mr. (Thomas) Dilke, d. ca. 1698, The Lover's Luck (1696):

Thus free from all Cares of Taxes and Wars,
   We know not the Name of Dull Sorrow;
Ev'ry Purse is our Prey, which we spend in a Day,
   And the Devil take Care for to morrow.

And finally Shakespeare himself -- Coriolanus, Act III, Scene I (1608):<

His nature is too noble for the World:
He would not flatter Neptune for his Trident,
Or Ioue, for's power to Thunder: his Heart's his Mouth:
What his Brest forges, that his Tongue must vent,
And being angry, does forget that euer
He heard the Name of Death.

I’d bet classicists will find much earlier examples in other languages

[Above is a guest post by Bruce Rusk.]

I should add, ahead of our many alert readers, that Sir Walter may have been complaining about literal and consequential ignorance of the many specific and detailed rope-names required to follow orders on a sailing ship. And perhaps Dryden's speaker intends "know the name of __" in the sense of "know what it's like to have someone call me by the name of __". In any case, here's a clearly non-literal example of name-forgetting that takes us back to 1581:

A caueat for Parsons Hovvlet concerning his vntimely flighte, and seriching in the cleare day lighte of the Gospell, necessarie for him and all the rest of that darke broode, and vncleane cage of papistes, vvho vvith their vntimely bookes, seeke the discredite of the trueth, and the disquiet of this Church of England. VVritten by Iohn Fielde, student in Diuinitie. (1581)

Such enemies to God are these papists, that they subuert al religion, teaching for doctrin the vnsauory precepts & traditions of men, they mingle their lead vvith the Lords gold, and fill his haruest full of darnel They breake, as you haue heard, al the commandements of God, to maintein their own waies, and stop from vs the springes of the vvater of life, that vve might drink of their puddles. For their own dreams they make vs forget the name of our God, and leade vs from that simplicitye that is in Christ Iesus, They are vnthankfull vvretches for al Gods benefits, and to say grace vvith them, vnlesse it bee after some mumbling sorte in an vnknovven tong, eyther before meate or after, is a note of a ranke Heretique.

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 7, 2006 08:16 AM