09 October, 2007


Friends, apologies for my recent silence. I have been a little lacking in inspiration of late, and I would not want to bore you with banalities. True, I do have a post's worth of material on the Great Books, but I'm not ready to fashion it quite yet. Last week I began my doctoral sojourn at the Warburg Institute, and have spent the first days in a state of rapturous excitement. Do you know, there are people there to whom one can actually talk about Brunetto Latini, or illuminated Aristotle opuscula, or Walter Pater, or Renaissance geomancy? It seems hard to fathom without choking up in delight.

I was sitting in the Institute's rather crepuscular library yesterday, reading a Montaigne essay. ('Of Coaches', one of his more rambling ventures.) The sheer thrill of the Institute had not yet worn off, and so I found my eyes distracted by shelves and shelves of neighbouring possibilities. I got down on my hands and knees and peered at the linguistics section. From the lowest shelf I plucked the Variorum edition of Yakov Malkiel's collected papers. I opened it at random and immediately my attention alighted upon this passage—from the 1948 essay ‘Italian guazzo and its Hispanic and Gallo-Romance Cognates’:

Guachapear, basically ‘to strike and stir up stagnant water with the feet’ (its second component is reminiscent of apear), has been known since Covarrubias to apply to the rattling of a poorly adjusted iron plate, e.g. a horseshoe. The Academy Dictionary of 1936 records the further meaning of ‘doing something hastily and crudely’; perhaps the compilers had in mind two passages of La Picara Justina in which the word had been interpreted by the editor of the text, J. Puyol y Alonso, signifying ‘to write in a slipshod fashion.’ Guachapear has also been identified at widely scattered points of Seneca’s former colonial empires. In Honduras, guachapeado is a ‘sickly old man’; in Chile, the verb stands for ‘stealing trash just for fun’; along Colombia’s Atlantic coast, it means ‘to clear the ground (superficially) of brambles and bushes.’ It would seem that the idea of inadequacy, of “things done by halves,” which pervades the derivative meanings of guachapear, goes back ultimately to the image of muddiness and thus fits again into the general configuration of the AQUATIO family.
Have you ever seen such a sublimely broad and elaborate range of meanings?


Anonymous said...

Conrad, do you know Ian Jackson's brilliant mock-homage to Malkiel, Teach Yourself Malkielese in 90 Minutes? Highly recommended.

Conrad H. Roth said...

No, and the BL doesn't seem to hold it. Do you have a copy?

John Emerson said...

The Chinese for "half-assed" is "ma-ma hu-hu" = horse-horse tiger-tiger. Reduplication is commonly used for a variety of effects, tending to imply familiarity, affection, condescension, etc.

Anonymous said...

"After a long day of superficially clearing the ground of brambles and bushes, his profession, the sickly old man sat by the pond, hastily writing couplets and doublets of slipshod poetry, his hobby, while stirring the pond's stagnant water with his feet. Soon the sun would be down, and the sickly old man would troll the back-streets, eyes sharp to the shadows, stealing trash for fun. This was his joy and his passion, for his name was Guachapear!"

No need for apologies C, just glad to hear you are engaged. Here's hoping you come across a book which actually drops you to your knees and leaves you weeping there on the library floor.

John Cowan said...

John E, it's true that the word is spelled "horse-horse-tiger-tiger", but that's probably a false etymology, like "east-west" for dong1xi1 'thing'. Old polysyllabic morphemes don't fit into the Chinese writing system, and are often punned upon like this.

As for a "sublimely broad and elaborate range of meanings", Conrad, beware. Go read "Mohawk Philosophy Lessons" on Mohawk ka'nikonriio versus English stand.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Aww, Cowan, that's low. I know McWhorter's piece. But the comparison is false: firstly, I have not made any claims about philosophy or 'world-view'. And secondly, 'guachapear' is hardly the same sort of semantic range as 'stand'. Yes, both are broad--and 'stand' is much broader--but the latter is not nearly so elaborate--which is why I italicised that word--by which I mean its senses are abstract and general, not concrete and extremely specific, as here.

Malkiel may be wrong, of course. I can't say for sure on the matter.

Jaime: I might have something.

Anonymous said...

Well, old C, congratulations, and bully for you. It answers your philosophical problem, perhaps, concerning academia: it exists so that one could discuss Walter Pater with someone.

Languagehat said...

Cur, g. curtha and cuirthe, m. - act of putting, sending, sowing, raining, discussing, burying, vomiting, hammering into the ground, throwing through the air, rejecting, shooting, the setting or clamp in a rick of turf, selling, addressing, the crown of cast iron buttons which have been made bright by contact with cliff faces, the stench of congealing badgers suet, the luminence of glue-lice, a noise made in a house by an unauthorised person, a heron's boil, a leprachauns denture, a sheep biscuit, the act of inflating hare's offal with a bicycle pump, a leak in a spirit level, the whine of a sewage farm windmill, a corncrakes clapper, the scum on the eye of a senile ram, a dustmans dumpling, a beetles faggot, the act of loading every rift with ore, a dumb man's curse, a blasket, a 'kur', a fiddlers occupational disease, a fairy godmothers father, a hawks vertigo, the art of predicting past events, a wooden coat, a custard-mincer, a blue-bottles 'farm', a gravy flask, a timber-mine, a toy craw, a porridge mill, a fair day donnybrook with nothing barred, a stoats stomach-pump, a broken-

zmjezhd said...

Conrad, you might try Michael Hackenberg, bookseller. It was from him I got my copy of the Malkielese primer. He bought most of Malkiel's library, too, though most of it is sold by now.

John Emerson said...

John Cowan: sure, but the binome is long lost. I have no idea where the word came from, or from what language. I doubt that it is an ancient or archaic binome. To most and maybe all Chinese it's horse-horse tiger-tiger, a Chinese reduplicative.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Ah yes, Flann O'Brien. Very good.

G: I think the thrill's worn off by now.

Phanero Noemikon said...

eel labor ate(n)

see taotie see gorgon


Billy Corgan

Go/At(en Song Medusign