Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Apr 23 02:15:33 UTC 2006

It seems to me that Paulson's analysis involving word-internal phonology is
unnecessary, if we can make the simplifying assumption that Rochester
maintained the the W-WH diistinction. The voiced -d of "united" is simply
unvoiced by the following voiceless [hw-] of "what." This allows us to
discard the action-at-distance hocus-pocus involving the unvoicing of
word-final -d by a preceding word-internal -t- followed by a -V- and does
away with the need to concern ourselves with the punctuation problem.


On 4/22/06, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: t--w'at?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 6:13 PM -0400 4/22/06, Wilson Gray wrote:
> >FWIW, I first heard "twat" as the punchline of a ca.1955 joke about an
> >airline stewardess who asked a passenger whether he would like some TWA
> tea.
> >In the '70's, a former president of the Linguistic Society of America
> >published a paper in which he tried to relate "twat" to "thwait" and
> >"thwite." In 1985, I mentioned to a friend that a woman friend had
> referred
> >to the girl friend that had recently dumped me as "a little twat." He was
> >shocked! shocked! that a woman would use such language.
> >
> >The OED Online says that it can be used to mean "buttocks" in the U.S.
> >That's news to me.
> >
> OK, with all these philological diversions I can no longer resist
> (although no doubt I should).  This is from a paper of mine (don't
> ask), referring  here to the Earl of Rochester, notorious Restoration
> rake, letch, and general ne'er-do-well, and his ode to Nothing:
> ==============
> Upon Nothing, Rochester's ode to the 'Great Negative' as
> only-begetter, is universally acclaimed as 'the strongest effort of
> his Muse' (Samuel Johnson, cited in Griffin 1973: 266), 'undoubtedly
> one of his darkest and finest poems' (Greene 1974: 117), a profound
> satire on the Genesis story of the creation ex nihilo, and more
> generally 'a devastating attack on revealed religion' (Paulson 1971:
> 118-21) , but Paulson chides the poem's otherwise perceptive
> commentators for overlooking the bawdy pun concealed within the
> second of the poem's seventeen stanzas.  The key line is reproduced
> here as it appears in the standard Bodleian Library text.
> Nothing! thou elder brother even to Shade:
> Thou hadst a being ere the world was made,
> And well fixed, art alone of ending not afraid.
> Ere Time and Place were, Time and Place were not,
> When primitive Nothing Something straight begot;
> Then all proceeded from the great united What.
>         Rochester [1674?]/Adlard 1974: 112-13
> But a reliable early manuscript punctuates the cosmogony somewhat
> differently:
> Then all proceeded from the great united-What?
>         Danielsson & Vieth 1967: 153
> Comments Paulson (1971: 119-20):
> When the line is spoken aloud the combination of final plosive
> consonants t and d in united cause the final d to be pronounced more
> like t...The final t sound in united becomes a part of the last word
> in the line producing t-W'at? (twat)...Rochester deliberately used
> the dash and question mark, I think, to inform the pun and emphasize
> the great question, giving the query... a pose of quizzically ironic,
> wide-eyed ignorance...Figuratively and literally, "the great
> united-What?" is the vagina and womb of Nothing, from which "all
> proceeded".
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