Thursday, 19 August 2010

Savvy v. quaint

Last year, I didn't think much of the emerging use of "staycation" to describe spending your holidays at home or, at least in your own country, and thought that it might lose the Darwinian struggle with other, more colourful expressions. It looks as though I was wrong, at least in the short term, as "staycation" is one of the words that has successfully struggled to get into the latest edition of The Oxford Dictionary of English. Still, The Oxford Dictionary of English is really just a list of trending words, not to be confused with Oxford English Dictionary itself. If the phrase stays around for long enough to make the OED or another proper dictionary, that would be a surprise.

But enough of bang-up-to-date, with-it, savvy expressions. Sometimes language attains a certain strange music precisely because it's out of the loop. Here are a couple of examples, the first made quaintly compelling by the passage of time, the second by translation:

A thin and foolish woman believed she had accidentally swallowed a frog and that her thinness was due to the frog eating the food in her stomach. In order to dispel the illusion the doctor gave her an emetic and during the vomiting, he slipped a small frog into the basin. When the patient saw the frog her joy was great, but in a few minutes her depression returned: "Oh!" she exclaimed, "I am sure this frog has left some young ones in my stomach." The doctor looked wise, pulled out his magnifying glass, and after critically examining the frog said unto the patient, "Fear not: this frog has not left any froglets inside you. Behold, it is a male!" The patient was quite satisfied, became happy, and in a few months was plump again. She was not a naturalist, and therefore ignorant of the fact that it is due to tell the sex of frogs by mere inspection except at the breeding season. 

(from the transcript of a 1925 lecture entitled "The Psychology of Animals Swallowed Alive" by Sir John Bland-Sutton, via The Null Device - echoes of the old woman who swallowed a fly)

Present Animal : King Charles Spaniel

These are present animals donated by great leader kim jong il in Juche year 97(2008) on December the 3rd to the JungAng Zoo.

Spaniels live in many areas throughout England.

There legs are short, and they are covered with long black-yellow fur.

they have distinctive long fur on their ears, and also on their legs.

They are very gentle/kind and follow people well.

They live for 10-13 years, and grow up to 8kg in weight. 

(Translation by one Min-Taec Kim of the commentary to a North Korean documentary about spaniels, as posted in the comments section of the Blood and Treasure blogspot)