Saturday, 10 July 2010

Top lines from Chaucer No. 4

Gat-tothed was she, soothly for to seye.
Up-on an amblere esily she sat
Y-wimpled wel, and on hir heed an hat
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe;
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,
And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe.
In felawschip wel coude she laughe and carpe.
Of remedyes of love she knew perchaunce
For she coude of that art the olde daunce.

(She was gap-toothed, to tell the truth. She sat comfortably on a nag, well wimpled [i.e. her cheeks and neck veiled] and on her head a hat as broad as a buckler or a shield; a plaid around her wide hips, and on her feet a pair of sharp spurs. In company she could laugh and chatter. As it happened she knew all the old tricks for curing venereal diseases.)

This is Chaucer's Wife of Bath. (Isn't there a pub named after her in Canterbury or thereabouts?) She's next to last, just in front of the Pardoner, in the photo. She'd been married five times, and was looking for a sixth husband. We're not told if she found one among the other pilgrims on the road to Canterbury.

I've had this felt picture for years and years, and the colours are as fresh today as they were when it was made in the mid-50s. It hangs in my study. Each pilgim is faithfully depicted, so whoever designed it knew their Chaucer. I'm in two minds about it. I love Chaucer dearly (maybe you've picked this up already), but I'm not convinced that sewing patches of coloured felt on to a pre-outlined canvas backing is the best medium for expressing the exuberant, post-Black Death energy of 14th Century England. On the photo above there's a curious diagonal mark towards the foot, and if I enlarge it...

...clearly somebody else is drawn to the Canterbury Pilgrims too. I found him when I first entered my study yesterday morning. He appears to be aiming straight for the Wife of Bath. He's a lacewing. Isn't he handsome? He appeared yesterday morning. One of our high summer tasks is to open all the doors and windows at 4am. Cool air floods through the house until we shut everything and close the shutters at about 9 o'clock, trapping the dawn coolth for the rest of the day. Consequently any passing early lacewing finds open house here. As I see the fashion for posting insect studies has been established recently here, I wouldn't want to be found wanting.

Besides, we know what happens in popular mythology when princesses kiss frogs. Who knows, maybe in their mythology remarkable things happen when lacewings kiss wives of Bath. Moreover, our lacewing has since disappeared. Like the W. of B.'s other five husbands. H'm...

Incidentally, can you identify the pilgrims? 7 and 8 are, as mentioned, the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner. I have my own ideas about the others, but I'd be very glad to know what you think.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Brush up your Swedish: Lesson 23

With apologies to


STOP PRESS: Due to universal demand from Ikea staff among many others, I have much pleasure in appending a translation:

Bibbi Snurr: Lack, lack! Antilop kritter! Antilop kritter hopen salong!
(Look! Look! Antelope critter! Antelope critter hopping along!)

: Indeed, indeed? Where?

Bibbi Snurr: Leckman! Odda sydröd!
(Look, man! Other side [of the] road)

: Why, so there is. How most bizarre. And in Stockholm too, imagine! I thought they lived in Africa.

Bibbi Snurr: Besta kilim?
(Best to kill him?)

: Why, whatever for? Bit hard, isn't it?

Bibbi Snurr: Bigarrå effectiv?
([Would a] big arrow [be] effective?)

: I'm sure it would be.

Bibbi Snurr: Annons! Antilop kritter gormin ribba! Dång!
(Oh noes! Antelope critter's gone in [the] river! Dang!)

: They can swim, you know.

Bibbi Snurr: You aren't from round here, are you?
(Varför vill ni tala som Jeremias Paxman?)

(with acknowledgements to Geoff)

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Is your name Baboonio?

Is your name Baboonio?

by 'Nomenclator'

Were you teased horribly at school? Did your schoolfellows make ape-like grunting noises, shrieks and whimperings? Did they make jokes about bananas? Did they swing from branch to branch scratching their armpits, sticking out their lower jaws and going Hoo-hoo-hoo mockingly?

Never mind. Names will never hurt you. You have the last laugh. You see, you are a CLERICAL ERROR. Your name is really Bassoonio.

So, what happened?

Bassoonio and Saloonio are two characters in Shakespeare's New Wives For Old, the early comedy he never managed to finish nor in fact to start. Set in Renaissance Italy, Bassoonio and Saloonio are drunken, bawdy servants of Cosimo, Duke of Milan. They spend their time in bars and bordellos, wining and wenching. Their famous eructation contest is rudely broken up by the watch, led by Nogood, a leper, and Scrotumio, the Duke's wrinkled retainer.

When New Wives For Old came to be translated into German, the double S in Bassoonio was rendered by the German double S, called es-zett or scharfes S, which looks quite like our capital B.

Here's a row of them:

Please feel free to take one home with you if you would like to. HURRY while stocks last!

You see how it happened? Bassoonio = Baßoonio = Baboonio. Simple, really. And nothing to worry about. No need to trouble the deed poll office.

Why, if a Shakespearian pedigree wasn't enough, Coleridge mentions you as well in his famed Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If you remember, the Ancient Mariner could not expiate his sin of shooting an albatross until he had confessed all to a stranger, in this case a guest on his way to a wedding:

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

'The ship was cheer'd, the harbour clear'd,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came out upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—'
The Wedding Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud baboon.

Next week: 'Nomenclator' asks 'Is your name Fillyfod?' and explains the 18th Century ƒ.

Good morning.