4.1142 "Mother of ...": Final Installment (3/99)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 8 Mar 91 17:13:22 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1142. Friday, 8 Mar 1991.

(1) Date: Fri, 08 Mar 91 11:28 EST (18 lines)
From: "Jack M. Sasson" <JSASS@UNC>
Subject: Re: 4.1135 "Mother Of ..."

(2) Date: Fri, 8 Mar 91 08:54:35 +0100 (14 lines)
Subject: Mother of

(3) Date: Fri, 8 Mar 91 11:38:43 EST (67 lines)
From: markt@umd5.umd.edu (Mark Turner)
Subject: The End of Mother Of

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 08 Mar 91 11:28 EST
From: "Jack M. Sasson" <JSASS@UNC>
Subject: Re: 4.1135 "Mother Of ..."

Re: "Mother of battles."

The idiom intrigued me as I had never come accross it before. I had
assumed that the arabic was "'umm al-h(.)uru(-)b" the last word being
the plural of "h(.)arb" "battle," a feminine word. But when Saddam
Huseyn was on the tube recently I heard a portion of his speech before
it was blanked over with an english translation. He referred to "'umm
al-ma`rakat," the last word being the plural of another word for
battle, also fem. 'Umm is well known as a word by which to convey the
essence or origin of the next word attached to it (e.g. 'umm al kitab,
the first sura of the Qur'an.
I am now thinking that the locution 'umm al ma`rakat, itself unknown
to me from elsewhere, may actually be a peculiar survival in arabic
(through aramaic?) of a misunderstood "Armaggedon." But I am sure of
nothing yet. The above is for all its worth.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------28----
Date: Fri, 8 Mar 91 08:54:35 +0100
Subject: Mother of

Judy Koren's point that "mother of" in the collected rhetoric of SH is a
word-for-word rather than meaning-for-meaning translation fits in nicely
with something one could often observe back in the dear old days of the
cold war, namely the translating of Russian or Chinese phrases and
statements as literally as possible - possibly out of ineptitude, but I
think more likely as a deliberate technique in order to make them seem
ridiculous (or more ridiculous, according to taste). Presumably similar
techniques are/were applied in the other direction as well.

Timothy Reuter
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------76----
Date: Fri, 8 Mar 91 11:38:43 EST
From: markt@umd5.umd.edu (Mark Turner)
Subject: The End of Mother Of

The Washington Post for 28 February described the allied attack on
Kuwait as the "mother of all maneuvers" and General Norman Schwarzkopf's
report to the press as the "mother of all briefings." The New York
Times of 1 March printed on its Op-Ed page the "Mother of All Columns."

The popularity of the phrase has passed as quickly as the war. My
thanks to all those who sent interesting responses to my original
posting. One response was unpredictable. Charles Faulhaber objected
that "mother of all battles" is not a European coinage, but this is of
course obviously true: this metaphoric use of "mother" is clearly
strange in English. We can understand it, regard- less of what the
Arabic original might have been intended to mean, because we can draw
upon certain aspects of our com- monplace cultural concept of mother.
We are helped in this by the fact that "mother" is a relational noun,
indicating a status relative to other things. In this way, "mother of
all battles" can be taken as something like "a prince of a proposal."

Several scholars sent to me examples of the metaphoric uses of kinship
terms. "Mother of" has several deeply con- ventionalized metaphoric
uses in English, stretching straight back to Chaucer and earlier. Most
of these are common in at least the modern Romance languages, Latin, and
Greek. I thank those who reported to me metaphoric uses of mother in
other Indo-European languages. Some of the most common metaphoric uses
of kinship terms are

SIMILARITY ("Sparta in laws and institutions is the sister
of Crete," "Death is the brother of sleep.")

GROUP ("Brothers in soul!" [Wordsworth] "We are twin broth-
ers in this destiny!" [Keats])

INHERITANCE of both properties and beliefs ("They are vil-
laines, and the sonnes of darkness" [Shakespeare] "As a
child of the modern era, I believe that there are all
sorts of physical regularities [John Searle]),

COMPONENTS OR CONTENTS ("Daughters of Time, the hypocrite
days [Emerson])

ORDER AND SUCCESSION ("Darkness, lights elder brother"
[Donne], "Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty" [Words-

CAUSATION ("sickness, or their true mother, Age" [Donne])

PLACE AND TIME AS PARENT ("Babylon is the mother of harlots
and abominations")

extremely complex and rich metaphoric pattern. ("The
moon is the mother of pathos and pity," "Despair is the
mother of madness," "The true child of vanity is
violence" [dussebias men hubris tekos os etumos,

Analyses of these and hundreds of other attested kinship
metaphors can be found in DEATH IS THE MOTHER OF BEAUTY
(University of Chicago Press, 1987).