Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Apr 23 20:31:48 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.

Beautiful, Wilson.  If I ever actually publish my paper (which is not
about the Earl of Rochester as such), I'll definitely adopt your
quite plausible analysis.  If only I had a better feel for
phonological processes I might have come up with something along
those lines--but then I keep forgetting that Rochester (like my wife,
but unlike me, and possibly unlike Paulson) would have distinguished
"(-t +)what" from "(-t +)watt".  Speaking of which, I just realized
that the British jocular "wot" spelling is probably intended to
signify the voicing of the initial glide.


>On 4/22/06, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  -----------------------
>>  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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