Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hebrew, Dutch, German, Greek

Mahendra Singh's ongoing Snark brings my attention to this Snarkly Carollian (Caroligian?) stanza:

"I said it in Hebrew — I said it in Dutch —
I said it in German and Greek:
But I wholly forgot (and it vexes me much)
That English is what you speak!"

Singh glosses: "Left alone in his splendidly impenetrable semiolinguistic Fortress of Solitude, the Baker is now free to concentrate his intellectual powers upon himself. Toying with the building-blocks of language and meaning, he will arrive at some sort of Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in It … eventually … "


The word it in Hebrew, Dutch, German and Greek respectively is: hu het es auto. If we shift to Latin, the language of learning most obviously missing from this list (the barrus in the conclavum), we get Hu. Het. es auto; which is to say Humanorum hetaeria es auto: 'you are yourself the brotherhood of all men.' Wise Bakerly words, clearly referential of the crew of which he is a part, as are we all.


Mahendra Singh said...

I could not have put it better myself! These encoded messages which you have so diligently teased out of the Carolingian Matrix seem to me to be Proof Positive that things are not what they seem.

When parsing the Snark, I always advise my acolyte(s) to discard the words and draw whatever is left over. But I see that you are well ahead of me!

The game is afoot!

vzjp said...

I have more than a passing interest in this topic, as the translator of the Czech version, in print.

I have a thought on another potentially latin-derived explanation, albeit referring to the First Fit.

There was also a Beaver, that paced on the deck,
Or would sit making lace in the bow:
And had often (the Bellman said) saved them from wreck,
Though none of the sailors knew how.

Thre latin for Beaver being Castor, I suspect casting-off had something to do with saving from wreck, and I can't help thinking that the making lace in the bow refers to the way the water reacts to a ship's bow slicing through it.

vzjp said...

P.S. The "casting off" or "casting-off" idea is supported by the way this term also applies to knitting, and lacemaking too (British usage)

So, the Beaver casting off is a robust interpretation.

Mahendra Singh said...

Casting off also is an old expression for calculating the size & leading of type for a given amount of copy.

Perhaps the Beaver is a latinate French-Canadian typesetter on her coffee break, since "lace" could also be "l'aise", that is, taking her pleasure or ease … the plot thickens!

Václav, could you direct me to an URL where your Snark is offered/shown? Just in passing, are the rights in Czech available?