NABOKV-L post 0014313, Fri, 8 Dec 2006 07:33:27 EST

Subject
Re: zesty, bot, formulae, dichten
Date
Body

JF wrote:
Charles, I think you're right to change your views on "zesty". If it's not
ungracious of me to suggest a further change, the word doesn't sound
schoolgirlish to me in the least. I can't
offer either sound argument or clear evidence, but in my American experience
it's not a conversational word for anyone (except maybe in irony). I
associate it more with literature
and advertising--so you still might have grounds to dislike it.
My revision of my remarks on “zesty” was intended as a would-be gracious
concession in the interests of courteous debate. Questions of subjective taste,
however, are notoriously difficult to resolve, as numerous proverbs attest.
I was impressed by the immense collection of adjectives ending –y in Sherbo’
s English Poetic Diction. Although some of these poetic favourites, so
fashionable among poets in the 17th and 18th centuries, have entered the language,
many of them now strike me as irresistibly comic. My subjective opinion of “
zesty” is still that it is a fairly horrible word, one I would not use in any
verse composition of my own, and not one that I associate with literature,
although I wouldn’t be too surprised to find it in advertising, used of, say,
an after-shave, or one of those tingly-tasting sorts of sweets (candies). It
doesn’t sound schoolgirlish to Jerry, but, as he says, he is an American:
perhaps I should have said that to me it sounds rather like a humorous word used
by an English schoolgirl with semi-literary aspirations. The gulf between
European and American sensibilities seems to me daily to be growing wider than
the Atlantic. Earlier I suggested that American taste is democratic, whereas
European taste is elitist. But it is difficult to argue with those whose WMDs
exceed those of the rest of the world combined. Also, one remembers that VN
was writing verse composed by an American. I suppose that is one of the
reasons he is photographed with an enormous Webster’s open in front of him. An
unhappy image for anyone addicted to the OED.
And JF quoted:

--- Alexey Sklyarenko <skylark05@MAIL.RU> wrote:

A. Bouazza wrote:
>> Kinbote: camouflage or coincidence? Kinboot, -bute, -bot. A wergeld or
>> man-boot paid by a homicide to the kin of the person slain.

Co-incidentally, thumbing through Wright’s Obsolete & Provincial English,
1858, I chanced upon “bote”, where its 2nd definition (of 3) is given as “
help, remedy, salvation”. This confirms my note in my earlier post: The “bot(e)
” in “Kinbote” primarily means “remedy”. Specifically, it could mean “cure
”, eg of an illness; or “penance/penalty”; eg a fine for some breach of the
law. This, my instinctive understanding of the word’s meaning, derived from
Swedish “bota”, to cure; and “böta”, to pay a fine. In Anglo-Germanic
languages, the root appears to me also to have religious over- or undertones,
connected with saviour. Digging further, however, I found that in Wright the 8th
definition (of a total of 8) for “bot” was “a sword, a knife”. What a
maestro that Willy Shakespeare was; even though estimable authorities may opine
that “English poetry has few things better to offer than ‘Pale Fire’”, and “
VN's adjectival precision and aptness have no rival.” I wonder if VN ever
consulted Wright.
Piers Smith wrote:
Stan Kelly-Bootle <skb@BOOTLE.BIZ> wrote: >We are left to ponder WHY poetry
is so ‘memorable’ when each >unrolling word/phrase is presumably fresh,
cliché-free, and >unexpected — and therefore packed with ‘information’ -- and
>therefore more taxing to
memorize? Of course, one can mention >meter and rhyme as common mnemonic
aids.

Literary critics, not often statisticians, refer to this as
defamiliarisation (ostranenie). It is
precisely because a word/phrase is new that it is memorable. Nabokov's work,
as it were, makes Shklovsky (and Bakhtin) familiar.

Ancient poets, eg Homer, and less ancient ones, eg all Anglo-Saxons and
Norsemen, and, I daresay all poets of similar eras, as well as right up to the
end of the 18th century, were not in the least averse to employing
time-honoured poetic formulae: in fact, this made their works all the easier to
memorize. There is a standard lit-crit term for this: “oral-formulaic”. Metre,
rhyme, assonance, alliteration, rhythms, repetition, contrast and the rest were,
and are, absolutely standard aids for bards whose work is intended for oral
delivery. I suppose a shift in approach accompanied the advance of literacy,
so that poetry could be written as much for the eye as for the ear. But many,
many later poets still write for their readers to be able easily to retain
their words by heart. And the eye can’t easily retain, eg, e.e.cummings. Some
of his stuff, of course, is very memorable, but this doesn’t apply to his
orthographic frolics. Imho.
Jansy Mello wrote:
I'm sure both S K-B and CHW remembered that in German, a poet is a
"Dichter", while figuratively - and in Freud - "Verdichtung" indicates
"condensation": an air-tight compression to keeps a substance, an idea or an image alive
and fresh.
Actually, a few years ago I happened to note that “Koestler once remarked
that German dichten, to compose poetry, means ‘to compress, thicken, concentrate
’. [However] The verb presumably really means merely to speak, cf Latin dic
tare, dicere. Or does ‘dight’ connote ‘tight’?” Frankly, I think Koestler
was mistaken in his etymology, and that the resemblance of “dichten” to “
thicken” is accidental. Besides which, it only applies in modern German. Swedish
“dikta”, compose, bears little resemblance to Swedish “tjock”, thick or
fat.
Charles

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