Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0017385, Mon, 24 Nov 2008 09:30:20 -0500

Re: Browning's Skoramis--addendum
Dear Stan,
I appreciate your erudition and wit regarding the skoramis reference. I think, however, that you may have misread my previous posts, since it was not I but A. Bouzza who used the word "rare," and the part about Aristophanes was a quote from Brian Boyd's LoA endnotes.


Matt: I do feel that you are overlooking some basic linguistic “truths.” Take first the notion that “skoramis” is a “rare” word, based on your earlier observation that it occurs only once in Greek literature, namely a play by Aristophanes. Well now ... (1) relatively little survives of classical Greek writings, so care is needed in making such judgments (2) Rare is not the same as obscure/arcane. The noun “dog” is more common than the noun “platypus” simply because there’s more canines around than platypi! (3) given that we have this single usage, the object referenced by “skoramis” is subject to some contextual guesswork. Apparently, Browning and other translators settled for some type of bedroom toilet artifact -- what we moderns would euphemistically call a “chamber-pot” or “commode” -- or more bluntly, “piss-pot.” As a guide to the dangers of assigning “rarity” by word-count, not one of these three words occur in the whole of Shakespeare! (“Piss” alone occurs 11 times.)

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