Crystals' Words on Words (was: linguisticians)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Mar 6 02:59:10 UTC 2001

At 10:24 AM -0500 3/6/01, Fred Shapiro wrote:
>On Tue, 6 Mar 2001, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>  I didn't find any egregious errors in the ms., but I did note several
>>  of my favorite quotes missing--I don't know if they snuck them into
>>  the published (cis-Atlantic) version, or if they ignored my comments
>>  and just reprinted the Penguin version.
>If you want to share your favorite quotes that are missing, I'd love to
>hear about them.
Here are the relevant paragraphs from my reader's report.

        In terms of inclusiveness, my first impression is that
virtually every quote that ought to be included was included.  I
began by checking for some of my favorites, lines I've used as
epigraphs or as mots in class lectures-Max Weinreich's observation
that a language is a dialect with an army and navy, T. S. Eliot's on
the interminable wrestle with words and meanings, Whitman's boast
that he contradicts himself and contains multitudes, Humpty Dumpty on
the meaning of words (a favorite citation of lawyers as well as
linguists) and a couple of lines from Shakespeare-and they were all
right where they should be.  But when I continued, I began to notice
some odd gaps and what I would consider lapses, although it occurs to
me that probably no such compilation will be complete, any more than
(say) a particular version of Bartlett's or competing general
compilations of quotations will be.  I will give a couple of examples
of these lapses by way of illustration.
        John Stuart Mill's observation that "the structure of every
sentence is a lesson in logic", which I have used as the epigraph of
my home page on the Web, is curiously absent, although a related
quote from Churchill ("I got into my bones the essential structure of
the ordinary British sentence-which is a wonderful thing") is
present.  The Crystals include an excellent line of Horace's, of
which I am quite fond, in both the Latin ("Brevis esse
laboro/Obscurus fio") and English ("I struggle to be brief, I become
obscure"), situating it in their useful "Saying just enough" section,
but the equally apropos comments by Aristotle and by the rhetorician
Quintilian (both of whom are generously excerpted elsewhere in the
volume) are missing:

If it is prolix, it will not be clear, nor if it is too brief.  It is
plain that the middle way is appropriate..., saying just enough to
make the facts plain.
                (Aristotle, Rhetoric, 3.12-3.16)

Personally, when I use the term brevity [brevitas], I mean not saying
less, but not saying more than the occasion demands.
                (Quintilian, Institutio Oratio, IV.ii.41-43)

This led me to wonder whether the Crystals at times may have relied
too heavily on Bartlett's, where one will find the Churchill but not
the Mill, and the Horace but not the Quintilian or Aristotle lines.
I also missed this wonderful line from the otherwise well-represented
Dr. Johnson:

Words being arbitrary must owe their power to association, and have
the influence, and that only, which custom has given them.  Language
is the dress of thought.        (Samuel Johnson, Life of Cowley)

Under the category of Translation, I didn't find the classic Synge
line "A translation is no translationŠunless it will give you the
music of a poem along with the words of it" (also missing from the
same source, Playboy of the Western World, is the interesting claim
that "There is no language like the Irish for soothing and
quieting"), and while I successfully located the much-quoted Italian
proverb ("Traduttore, traditore") in 13:47, the Crystals inexplicably
present it only in English ("Translators, traitors"), where the pun
that animates it is gone.  I don't believe I've ever seen this quoted
in English, only in Italian.  Another curious lapse is Saussure's
dictum that a language is "un système où tout se tient."  Again, this
is virtually always cited in French (and frequently so), but it
appears in the Crystals' compilation in the almost unrecognizable and
far less memorable English rendering: "language is a system of
interdependent terms" (16:60).   I find it surprising that a
linguist, encyclopedist and popularizer as sophisticated and
accomplished as David Crystal (I confess I'm not previously familiar
with Hilary Crystal's work) would have the tin ear to represent these
lines only in translation, where they lose much of their effect.
        This being said, I am happy to report that to the best of my
ability to check, the citations for the quotes that do appear are
accurate and complete, and I am quite willing to concede that my
quibbles on which quotations are (and are not) included and how they
are presented are matters on which reasonable linguists can and
almost certainly will differ.

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