6.0618 Rs: Constructions; Bulls; Proverbia Ancipitia (3/77)

Thu, 25 Mar 1993 17:25:59 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0618. Thursday, 25 Mar 1993.

(1) Date: Wed, 24 Mar 93 13:00:46 GMT (20 lines)
From: frsfwl <F.W.Langley@frd.hull.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: 6.0614 Rs: Illogical/negative expressions

(2) Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1993 10:32:24 +0800 (36 lines)
From: bwillis@uniwa.uwa.edu.au
Subject: Illogical constructions

(3) Date: Thu, 25 Mar 93 09:45:42 CST (21 lines)
From: "James Marchand" <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: proverbia ancipitia

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 93 13:00:46 GMT
From: frsfwl <F.W.Langley@frd.hull.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: 6.0614 Rs: Illogical/negative expressions

The English "Much good may it do you!" (which I've never heard used other
than sarcastically) is paralleled by the French "Grand bien vous fasse!",
which equally means the opposite of what it says.

As Alan Core says, French illustrates very clearly how a "positive" word
takes on a negative connotation. Apart from "pas", there were in Old
French a number of others used to emphasise the negative "ne", which could
stand perfectly well alone: "point", "mie" and "goutte", all of which
still survive as independent nouns (and, of course, "ne...point" is still
used as a negative). The process has gone so far that in spoken French the
"true" negative "pas" is frequently omitted: "je vois pas", "je vois rien".

The word "rien" preserved its true meaning ("thing") throughout the Old
French period, and has not entirely lost it: "mettez un rien d'ail dans
votre sauce", meaning "a hint", "a touch". What has changed, is that
"rien" has become a masculine noun, whereas in Old French it was feminine.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------45----
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1993 10:32:24 +0800
From: bwillis@uniwa.uwa.edu.au
Subject: Illogical constructions

"Much good may it do him" exists in French also, doesn't it: "Grand bien
lui fasse!" - with the same ironic force. Fascinating that Alan D Corre
should have heard it used without irony. Anybody else?

This one is perhaps not quite on the subject, but I can think of no better
place to talk about it:

In Australia it is becoming customary, especially among real estate people,
to talk about something happening "on site" - where idiomatic English would
say "on the site". And even on our excellent public radio, the ABC, they
constantly say that some artist will be playing "in concert" or "in
recital" when normal usage surely would be "at a concert", "at a recital".
The only explanation that I can find for this irritating aberration is that
there existed already homophonous expressions "on sight", "in concert"
which by their brevity commended themselves to the trendy ear, always alive
to opportunities for what Fowler calls "elegant variation", regardless of
the fact that these expressions referred to quite dfferent things. "In
recital" would simply have been calqued on "in concert" once it was
established with its new meaning.

"Playing violin/piano/saxophone" without the expected idiomatic "the" is
another recent usage that I find irritating, but a bit less so because it
can no doubt be traced back along a reasonably legitimate lineage through
American Yiddish to German.

>Brian Willis EMail bwillis@arts.uwa.edu.au
>Language Laboratory
>University of Western Australia Phone (09).380 3420.
>Nedlands 6009 AUSTRALIA Fax ..(09).380 1009

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------35----
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 93 09:45:42 CST
From: "James Marchand" <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: proverbia ancipitia

First on Irish bulls. The OED2 observes that the term bull in that meaning
was in use long before Irish was attached to it. They also point out that a
worthy by the name of Edgeworth wrote _Essay on Irish Bulls_ in 1802. These
and various other malapropisms get called congeries, litotes, etc.
But I am interested for the moment in other moutons. I am teaching a
class in how to translate, and I noticed to my horror that many of our
proverbs can be taken to recommend opposite actions. For this I coined the
term proverbia ancipitia (by which I do not mean two proverbs, but only one,
a proverbium anceps); I know someone must have noticed this before. An
example: A rolling stone gathers no moss. It is said in the old days that
this recommends staying at home, but my 20 or so students to a man (and
women) felt that it recommended keeping on the move. Another example of a
non proverbial nature: To take a dare. This used to mean to chicken out, as
in the old sneer: `Anyone who would take a dare would kill a dog and eat the
hair,' ergo is a low-life (but that is also anceps). All my students felt
that it mean to be bold and accept the challenge. Other examples?
Literature on the subject?