Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026225, Fri, 12 Jun 2015 00:22:04 -0300

Poshlust, the VN-L Archives,and dictionaries
While I was exploring backronyms, I came across “posh” as the result of an acronym “Port Out, Starboard Home” [ Wiki: “Sometimes a backronym is so commonly heard that it is widely but incorrectly believed to have been used in the formation of the original word, and amounts to a <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_etymology> false etymology or an <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_legend> urban legend. Examples include <http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/posh> posh, an adjective describing stylish items or members of the upper class. A popular story derives the word as an acronym from "Port Out, Starboard Home", referring to first class cabins shaded from the sun on outbound voyages east and homeward heading voyages west. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backronym> [19] The word's actual etymology is unknown, but it may relate to <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_language> Romani påš xåra ("half-penny") or to Urdu safed-pōśh (one who wears "white robes"), a derogatory term for wealthy people.”], I was reminded of former discussions at the VN-L and decided to follow the threads about its real origins and how it comes up at the VN-L over the years.*[ Wiki: “Probably from earlier slang posh, halfpenny, money, dandy, from Romani (dialect of England) posh-hórri, halfpenny : posh, half (from Sanskrit pārśvam, region of the ribs, flank, side, from parśuḥ, rib) + hórra, hórri, penny.] <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/posh> http://www.thefreedictionary.com/posh


D.B.Johnson EDITORIAL NOTE. Wed 8 Nov 1995: “ Yesterday, November 7th, was, if memory serves, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the event that launched Nabokov's career as a truly cosmopolitan writer. Had it not been for that event, English would be poorer by several words--"poshlost" among them. Suellen Stringer-Hye culls the following tidbits from the a-waves:
"The two exchanges below took place on two different listserves during roughly the same period of time--the end of September and early November. They appear to be unrelated as there isn't any name duplication. Both discuss the definition and origin of the word poshlost. Disjointed and perhaps missing some related posts, they are nevertheless illustrative of Nabokov's influence on language and culture. The first is from bit.listserv.words-l Date: 1995/10/04
“The word is "poshlost." Don't know the origin. I remember when I was in college (what am I saying? No I don't. Well, large chunks of time are kinda unaccounted for...), some of my friends had this word on their wall, because they loved it so. I did, too. Below are the word and what is probably a gross bastardization of its meaning: poshlost -- preposterously overdone without self-knowledge or irony; comic, sad, and awful. It is Russian, and a noun, meaning something like corniness, kitsch, or vulgarity. I quote from a posting: just as 'vulgarity' historically refers to _vulgus_, or 'common population', so 'posholost' is connected with >'poshlye liudi', or 'common people'.” From the same posting, I gathered that it was probably Nabokov who made it popular in English. As an idea, it is the "bad taste" that, according to a common theory, spawns evil. The "without self-knowledge or irony" clause is no doubt connected to the BS American notion that crap which is acknowledged as such is not crap. (Or, for that matter, an asshole who admits to being an asshole is not really an asshole.)”
[rec.arts books:] “The word connotes osentatiousness, vulgarity, philistinism. If "posh" came from the Russian then the word is not much of a compliment! Perhaps there is some common root for the Russian and Romany, or perhaps it's merely a happy coincidence.” "Gosh, looks swank!" said my vulgar darling. -Vladimir Nabokov, "Lolita"

D.B. Johnson EDITORIAL NOTE. The "poshlost/poshlust" exchange seems a matter of eternal fascination. Both Tom Seidrid (USC) and Roy Johnson (UK) have pointed out the "traditional" etymology of POSH as indicated below. As the holder of a doctorate in Slavic linguistics, I am (foolheartedly without checking my etymological dictionary) prepared to say that there no connection whatsoever between the Russian "poshlost'" popularized bu Gogol and Nabokov and the Brit term POSH.
Tom Seidrid: posting was not found; Roy Johnson (In reply to your message dated Wednesday 8, November 1995) On the POSHLOST - POSH similarities, no such luck! POSH in English means "rich and upper class". Its origins lie in the colonial days of travelling by ship between the UK and the Far East. In order to avoid the heat o' the sun, those with the necessary funds could book "Port Out, Starboard Home."

Michael Juliar (17 Nov 1995) Re: the etymology of posh - The 'port out, starboard home' origin for posh is the pop etymological origin of the word. No modern etymologist or dictionary accepts it today. The usual dictionary entry is <origin unknown>.

A decade later: JM: “Julian Barnes, who mentions it [ POSH: "Port Out Starboard Home" ], warns us that "false etimologies may be more informative than the true ones" when he adds that this interpretation of "posh" is incorrect ( he quotes The Oxford English Dictionay reference to George Chowdharay-Best in the Mariner's Mirror).”

For the bibliography: Orbis Litterarum Volume 59 Issue 5 (Page 341-365), October 2004 has an article on Nabokov. The abstract goes like this: "Poshlust and High Art: A Reading of Nabokov's Aesthetics" by Ole Nyegaard - This is a study of the philistine - or the poshlyak- in Nabokov's fiction with focus on Lolita. The concept of poshlost and philistinism holds a special position in his novels and essays. The Russian tradition from which Nabokov drew for his version of the concept is outlined and then compared with other related terms, in order to define it more sharply. The aim is to analyze how Nabokov deploys the concept, not so much as a cultural concept but more as a literary device and finally what this reveals about Nabokov's aesthetics. The journals hompage can be found at: <http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0105-7510> http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0105-7510

J.Twiggs, Dec. 19, 2006 : […] Aunt Maud--who is revealed to be, like Nabokov himself, a connoisseur of poshlust. This is clear from the fact that the zipper and underwear ads in Maud's scrapbook are of the same general kind as the sample that appears in another of VN's major statements on poshlust, the "Philistines and Philistinism" chapter of Lectures on Russian Literature, under the very wonderful label "Adoration of Spoons." Kinbote, of course, views these ads through the eyes of a randy homosexual [...] <https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind0904&L=NABOKV-L&E=quoted-printable&P=1031317&B=------%3D_NextPart_000_002A_01C9C26F.16A5E8E0&T=text%2Fplain;%20charset=iso-8859-1&header=1> https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind0904&L=NABOKV-L&E=quoted-printable&P=1031317&B=------%3D_NextPart_000_002A_01C9C26F.16A5E8E0&T=text%2Fplain;%20charset=iso-8859-1&header=1

EDITORIAL NOTE 26 Apr 2011 [Query from a List member. SES] “ I don't know whether asking such question here is appropriate, but here I go: What could be an antonym of poshlost? In Russian especially, but could be a word play mixing several languages, with consideration of etymology perhaps. (Poshlost coming from "common people" in Russian?)”

A.Sklyarenko: <https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A2=nabokv-l;47fb41d9.0612> https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A2=nabokv-l;47fb41d9.0612 “A good example of poshlust found in Gorki's "Man" (Chelovek): "Faith (Vera) with her dark eyes looks into his [Man's] rebellious face and awaits when she can calmly embrace him..." (zhdiot ego v svoi spokoinye ob'iatiia, can not translate the phrase's ending adequately). A little further into Gorki's piece, Poshlost' is called "daughter of the vile Boredom" that in turn is called "daughter of Idleness." Poshlost' is thus a grand-daughter of Idleness (Len').

<https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind1002&L=NABOKV-L&E=quoted-printable&P=1703655&B=--_59ec902e-b9a9-4e9a-bef6-1ae78e546d9e_&T=text%2Fhtml;%20charset=Windows-1252> https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind1002&L=NABOKV-L&E=quoted-printable&P=1703655&B=--_59ec902e-b9a9-4e9a-bef6-1ae78e546d9e_&T=text%2Fhtml;%20charset=Windows-1252 indicating <http://www.bibliographing.com/2010/02/17/nikolai-gogol-by-vladimir-nabokov/> http://www.bibliographing.com/2010/02/17/nikolai-gogol-by-vladimir-nabokov/ : “This sort of thing gives me a lot of discomfort. First, I abase myself before true genius. And I also note that Nabokov has an enormous amount of that self-confidence that comes seemingly so easily to men (whom I’m not intimidated by, but cannot mimic) and the upper classes (whom I am intimidated by, despite my best efforts). And so much of Nabokov’s particular critique in this case revolves around a concept tied very closely to class issues: the idea of poshlost’ (or, here, poshlust). Poshlust is one of these untranslatable concepts and important to Gogol’s work. Some English words in the nearby semantic space include “cheap, sham, common, smutty, pink-and-blue, high falutin’, in bad taste…inferior, sorry, trashy, scurvy, tawdry, gimcrack.” In the realm of literature, poshlust does not apply to actual trash, but to “the best sellers, the ’stirring, profound and beautiful’ novels; it is these ‘elevated and powerful’ books.” In other words, any amount of your average, garden-variety “literary fiction.” And the real damnation of it all: The dreadful thing about poshlust is that one finds it so difficult to explain to people why a particular book which seems chock-full of noble emotion and compassion, and can hold the reader’s attention ‘on a theme far removed from the discordant events of the day’ is far, far worse than the kind of literature which everybody admits is cheap. So what is poshlust but tawdry, bourgeois taste, and who can be the arbiter of real taste other than someone very much like a Vladimir Nabokov?[ ]

2015 Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poshlost:
Poshlost or Poshlost' - (Russian: по́шлость) is a Russian word for a particular negative human character trait or man-made thing or idea. There is no single English translation[ ]Vladimir Nabokov made it more widely known in his book on Gogol, where he romanized it as "poshlust" (punningly: "posh" + "lust"). Poshlust, Nabokov explained, "is not only the obviously trashy but mainly the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive. A list of literary characters personifying poshlust will include... Polonius and the royal pair in Hamlet, Rodolphe and Homais from Madame Bovary, Laevsky in Chekhov's 'The Duel', Joyce's Marion [Molly] Bloom, young Bloch in Search of Lost Time, Maupassant's 'Bel Ami', Anna Karenina's husband, and Berg in War and Peace" (Nabokov 1944, p. 70. Brackets added.). Nabokov (1973) also listed :Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic and dishonest pseudo-literature—these are obvious examples. Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, overconcern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know[ ]. Nabokov often targeted poshlost in his own work; the Alexandrov definition above refers to the character of M'sieur Pierre in Invitation to a Beheading [ ].’


D.B. Johnson mentioned how V.Nabokov enriched the English language with words such as “poshlust.” There are other words: “ As a writer, Mr. Nabokov travels with a dictionary, and his companion on a recent holiday in the south of Portugal was the 1970 edition of "Webster's Collegiate Dictionary." About it, he has some complaints. Although it includes the word "quassia" as derived from "Quassi," an 18th-century Surinam slave who discovered that the bitter drug made from the shrub was a remedy for fever, "none of my own coinages or reapplication appears in this lexicon—neither 'iridule' (a mother-of-pearl cloudlet in "Pale Fire," nor 'nymphet' (a 'perverse young girl,' according to another edition), nor 'racemosa' (a kind of bird cherry), nor several other prosodic terms such as 'scud' and 'tilt.'" (Alden Whitman, 1971) https://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/02/lifetimes/nab-v-newnovel.html I wonder if iridule or prosodic scud and tilt have finally gained admission.


*I wish I could offer a better selection of postings at the VN-L archives. Unfortunately sometimes I get entries with no dates or with no names. I tried to order the entries as well as I could but, for those who are curious about this line of conjectures, opinions and discoveries, I recommend that they access the VN-L directly.

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