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Those who know Swift’s book Gulliver’s Travels (1726) may perhaps smile at my ignorance. As a youngster, I never happened to read it. And as an adult I never considered reading it, thinking that it a children’s book. I was mistaken, of course. The book is a wickedly biting satire.

Swift invented names for the various creatures and places that Gulliver visited, and many of those names have become "words". This week we’ll look at those words, as well as a few other Swiftisms.

On his first voyage, Gulliver is blown off-course to the land of Lillliput,, much like our own lands but miniaturized. “The common size of the natives is somewhat under six inches high,” and “there is an exact proportion in all other animals, as well as plants and trees: for instance, the tallest horses and oxen are between four and five inches in height, the sheep an inch and half, more or less: their geese about the bigness of a sparrow.”

Lilliputian – very small in size; also, of trifling importance
[The term implies smaller than normal, I’d think. If something is expected to be small – a bacterium, for example – you wouldn’t call it Lilliputian.]
    [Italy’s government-by-coalition:] But he was only able to oust the centre-left because of the defection to his camp of two Lilliputian parties whose leaders will demand … the price of their support.
    – Guardian Unlimited, Jan. 26, 2008.

    Awkward lilliputian keys … make this $1199 mini-PC hard to use.
    – Washington Post, July 18, 2007
In a poem I recall (but cannot find), parodying Hiawatha, a women tells how she hates suburban cocktail-parties. She’d love to join the men’s conversations, which she finds substantive and interesting. Etiquette, however, dictates otherwise.
    But I’m stuck here with the ladies,
    Where the talk is all domestic
    And the drinks are Lilliputian.
 
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Speaking of trivia …

In politics, do you sometime feel that opponents are arguing over trivial matters? So too, the world of Lilliput was bitterly divided over the grave issue of whether one should crack an egg at its big end, or at its small end! (For a brief, witty account of that Big-endian/Little-endian violence, see Miss Manners, the noted etiquette advisor.)

Big-endian – a party in a long and vehement dispute over a trifling matter [his opponent is a Little-endian.]
    Different experts [on Shakespeare] give us different answers. The one that would interest us most would be Shakespeare’s – and, not surprisingly, there are Big-endians and Little-endians who claim to have got inside the dome-like head, and to know his thoughts.
    – E. A. J. Honigmann; Shakespeare: Seven Tragedies Revisited [etc.]

    [At] the University of Chicago, President Hutchins in 1934 proclaimed the primacy of ideas over facts and suggested that the social sciences surely, and the hard sciences probably, were far too innocent of ideas. The humanists applauded. The scientists were, to understate the matter, offended. The resulting rage between the big-endians and little-endians almost tore the place apart for the larger part of Hutchins' 20-year tenure.
    – Chicago Tribune, Aug 27, 1989 (ellipses omitted)
How sad that such useful terms have fallen into disuse. Doubtless you’ll display your erudition by dropping them into you own discussions of the US presidential campaign.

(There’s little danger of any confusion with the specialized meaning that these terms have in computer-programming!)
 
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In a computer game I sometimes play I gave two of the "tribes" the names of Big-enders and Little-enders.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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I had always wondered why an ex-girlfriend called me a Lilliputian, even though I was six-feet-tall.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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At least she didn't call you a little-ender.
 
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Or dead-ender.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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... or a pretender.
 
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With an extender.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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Gulliver’s first voyage gave us a term for “tiny; miniature”. His second gave us a term for “huge”.

Brobdingnagian – gigantic; immense; enormous
[Gulliver's second voyage leaves him shipwrecked in Brobdingnag, where everything is huge. A man was “as tall as an ordinary spire steeple, and took about ten yards at every stride,” and the 9-year-old girl who befriends Gulliver was “not above forty feet high, being little for her age”.]
    [on overeating:] Paul Rozin found that serving sizes in France are considerably smaller than they are in the United States. This matters because most people have what psychologists call a unit bias – we tend to believe that however big or small the portion served, that’s the proper amount to eat. Rozin also found that the French spend considerably more time enjoying their tiny servings than we do our Brobdingnagian ones.
    – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (ellipses omitted)
Bonus Term:
unit bias
– the tendency to think that a unit of some entity is the appropriate and optimal amount
 
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I had always wondered why an ex-girlfriend called me a Lilliputian, even though I was six-feet-tall.

My mistake. Brobdingnagian, that's the word she used.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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A piece of trivial information that I have inexplicably retained after many many years is that the correct name is Brobdingrag. From the Letter to the Reader:

quote:
Indeed I must confess, that as to the people of Lilliput, Brobdingrag (for so the word should have been spelt, and not erroneously Brobdingnag)
 
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It ain't necessarily so, Valentine. Yes, that's what Swift claimed later, but can you trust him? OED isn't buying it.
    Swift subsequently wrote a mock letter from ‘Captain Gulliver’ to his cousin Sympson (purporting to be dated 27 April 1727, but first published in Dublin ed. 1735), complaining that Brobdingnag had been erroneously printed for Brobdingrag; but this was only a feint to mystify the public by a pretended solicitude for minute accuracy. The early editions have all Brobdingnag.
 
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Of course all the early editons have Brobdingnag. If they had gotten it right, there wouldn't have been the need to point out a typo.

The OED may be a great source for most purposes, but if we can't believe Gulliver himself, who can we believe? He's the only one who was actually there.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Valentine,
 
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Why does today’s word fit our ‘Gulliver’ theme? Simply because it was first used in a 1796 take-off of Swift’s work, entitled A Modern Gulliver’s Travels. It’s not common word, but interestingly, in the past decade or so it has been used much more than in the previous two centuries combined.

senectitude – old age; elderliness
[from the same root as senile and senior]
    There are several questions that remain answered as I approach senectitude. Senectitude is 20 years older than you are, no matter how old you are.
    – Reporter-Times (Martinsville, IN), Aug. 12, 2008

    … his fortune is made back on earth giving television testimonials for laxatives, rheumatism medicaments, diapers and walkers. If those images are unsettling, please to remember the old saw that senectitude is not for the faint of heart.
    – Nicholas von Hoffman, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 17, 1998
 
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Seeing "senectitude," "senile" and "senior" reminds me that there is a female equivalent -- anile.

When women begin to show signs of aging, we might then refer to anectitude...


RJA
 
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The feminine version of Latin senectitudo (senex 'old man', senectus 'aged, old', and senectus 'old age') is anilitas (anus 'old woman; hag' and anilis 'of an old woman'). English anility is rare, but it already exists.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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But I though RA's point was that if senectitude/senility exist, so might anectitude/anility.
 
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But I though RA's point was that if senectitude/senility exist, so might anectitude/anility.

I see. But there is no word *anex 'old, aged; old woman' in Latin. Latin senectitudo was coined in the Middle Ages as an augmentative of senectus 'aged, old' + -tudo, -tudinis, abstract nominal suffix added to adjective, cf. English -th as in width. So, I could see anilitude. Of course, using whichever form that suits one's fancy is valid and grows the language.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Gulliver meets the Laputans and their subject peoples, who are ridiculously impractical and always lost in thought. [My personal favorite. For those who wish, I’ve put some amusing Swift excerpts below.]

Laputan – absurdly impractical or visionary, especially to the neglect of more useful activity
    [defending Paris against siege:]
    Inventions and ideas poured into the Government by the hundred. … One suggested the poisoning of the river Seine where it left Paris; another the ‘decomposition’ of the air surrounding the Prussians; another the loosing of all the more ferocious beasts from the zoo – so that the enemy would be poisoned, asphyxiated, or devoured. [etc.] … The Paris Press was particularly susceptible to the most Laputan projects, and a great clamour was aroused in the papers.
    – Sir Alistair Horne, The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71

    [a critique of art-critics:]
    … a solemn Laputan game whose object is to ratify the countercultural status of a given artist and thereby justify his (or her) prompt entry into the cultural pantheon.
    – Time Magazine, May 31, 1999
 
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“It seems the minds of these people are so taken up with intense speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend to the discourses of others, without being roused. Persons who are able to afford it always keep a flapper, gently to strike the mouth of him who is to speak, and the right ear of him or them to whom the speaker addresses himself. This flapper is likewise employed diligently to attend his master in his walks, and upon occasion to give him a soft flap on his eyes; because he is always so wrapped up in cogitation, that he is in manifest danger of falling down every precipice, and bouncing his head against every post.

Such men make inattentive husbands, so it’s naturally that their wives “are exceedingly fond of strangers.” The ladies can indulge, “for the mistress and lover may proceed to the greatest familiarities before his face, if he be without his flapper at his side.”

University researchers pursue wild projects. One “has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.” Another seeks “to reduce human excrement to its original food”. [Interesting recycling!]. “I saw another at work to calcine ice into gunpowder. There was a most ingenious architect, who had contrived a new method for building houses, by beginning at the roof, and working downward to the foundation.”

But at least one notion may be viable. It’s proposed “to tax those qualities for which men chiefly value themselves; the rate according to the degrees of excelling; the decision whereof should be left entirely to their own breast.” In others, a tax on sex. “The highest tax was upon men who are the greatest favourites of the other sex, and the assessments, according to the number and nature of the favours they have received; for which, they are allowed to be their own vouchers.” Would any man admit that he owed but little tax? Wink
 
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In others, a tax on sex.

Or a license for licentious behavior?
 
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... not tonight, Dear. I left my license in my other pants.
 
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Would it be like the DMV, where you register it and have it inspected every few years?


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Nollidj is power.
 
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a tax on sex
Of course, syntax is a fine topic for this board.
 
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syntax

It's only a sin if you do it right.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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In his final voyage Gulliver visits a land where the dominant creatures are intelligent horses, wise and calm, and the humanoids are inferior. (Sort of a “Planet of the Apes.) The latter are “the most unteachable of all animals: their capacity never reaching higher than to draw or carry burdens.” In temperament they have “a perverse, restive disposition”, and “they are cunning, malicious, treacherous, and revengeful.” These brutish humanoids are called Yahoos, coining today’s word.

yahoo – a boorish, crass, or stupid person
Multiple short quotes show that it’s not quite as bad as the Yahoos in Swift.
  • It wouldn't be the first time some yahoo had called in a false alarm.
  • She just ups and decides to marry this paint-and-body yahoo.
  • Mr. Vice President, with all due respect, we are not at war, not yet, not unless you and the president listen to the yahoos," warned the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
  • All of the yahoos standing behind her were going to have to take her orders, do what she said, when she said it. Oh, yeah!

    [from Ridley Pearson, Killer View; Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees; Joel C. Rosenberg, The Last Jihad; and Fern Michaels, Collateral Damage; ellipses omitted]
 
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Where is the sin in sincere? Where is the good in goodbye? Where is the Hell in Hello, dear?
 
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quote:
Originally posted by shufitz:
quote:
a tax on sex
Of course, syntax is a fine topic for this board.
A syntax? I think not. I'd think a sex-tax on men is an in-come tax. Wink
 
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I've always loved the word yahoo; I think it's because my sweet dad always used it. I have found that few people know what it means.
 
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Our final term of this theme is from Swift, but not from his Gulliver’s Travels. It’s from his poem titled On Poetry (1733).
    So, naturalists observe, a flea
    Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
    And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
    And so proceed ad infinitum..
    Thus every poet in his kind
    Is bit by him that comes behind.
ad infinitum – endlessly; forever
[Latin, ‘to infinity’]
 
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I note that there are two recognized pronunciations for yahoo. Both yah-hoo and yay-hoo seem to be correct. Is there any way of knowing which pronunciation Swift intended?


Myth Jellies
Cerebroplegia--the cure is within our grasp
 
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Both yah-hoo and yay-hoo seem to be correct.

I've only ever heard yah-hoo, and as that's the way it's spelt, I would think that's the way Swift meant it to be pronounced.


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Surely not the end of Swift's invention!

One last term - "Struldbrug," for a race where no one ever dies.

Ponder the consequences of immortality without eternal youth -- they simply grow ever more desiccated.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Struldbrug

PS: Did Swift in fact invent "mob" or merely popularize it?


RJA
 
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as that's the way it's spelt

and as we all know, English words are always pronounced the way they are spelled.
 
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Did Swift in fact invent "mob" or merely popularize it?

If he did, it was entirely by accident and totally against his will.

"Mob" comes from the Latin mobile vulgus, meaning something like "the moving common people" or "common herd". Towards the end of the seventeenth century it had been shortened to "mob".

Writing in The Tatler in 1710, Swift wrote, “I have done my utmost for some Years past, to stop the Progress of Mob … but have been plainly born down by Numbers, and betrayed by those who promised to assist me.”

His Canute act failed, despite support from luminaries such as Joseph Addison.


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That would be the same Joseph Addison responsible for one of my favourite quotes (I had it written on the front of some of my schoolbooks)

"Thus I live in the world rather as a Spectator of mankind, than as one of the species"
 
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Quite probably, although it doesn't appear in this list of his quotes.

He also co-founded The Spectator magazine, which fits in with the quote.


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It does in this one though.
 
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