NABOKV-L post 0014473, Fri, 22 Dec 2006 14:36:05 EST

Subject
Re: Bretwit
Date
Body

In a message dated 22/12/2006 19:15:44 GMT Standard Time,
chaiselongue@EARTHLINK.NET writes:

To Don from Carolyn,

You sent this to the list on Tue, 30 Apr 1996 14:56:13 -0700
From: Donald Barton Johnson
Subject: _Pale Fire_ puzzles


1. Is "Oswin Bretwit" in *Pale Fire,* whose name Kinbote at one point
glosses as Zemblan for "Chess Intelligence," meant to unscramble as:
"B [i.e., black] writes to win"?
I've puzzled over it before and this is the best I can come up with.


To a Swedish speaker, "Bretwit" suggests "board sense/knowledge/cunning".
Braedvett would mean this. Braede [bräde] is actually the name of a game, not
chess, played on a board. Vett is of course cognate with "wit", and close in
meaning to common sense, but fairly distant from the now more familiar
English wit, which has come to mean something clever or amusing. The older sense is
retained in eg "he doesn't have the wit to realise". Much of Zemblan seems
to me close to Swedish. How this comes about is a mystery to me, as I
understand VN never visited Sweden, although I believe his sister lived there.

The word also suggests to me the Anglo-Saxon title "Bretwalda", which at one
stage in Anglo-Saxon England was used, in a rather ill-defined way, to
designate the supreme wielder of power over the inhabitants of Britain: ie the
word might mean Briton-wielder, but also Broad-wielder; cf German "breit" and
"Gewalt".

Charles

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