Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pg. 69: "That's Amore!"

Erin McKean, aka "America's Lexicographical Sweetheart" and "the queen and rock star among lexicographers," is the Editor in Chief of Oxford's American Dictionaries. She is also the author of Weird and Wonderful Words, Totally Weird and Wonderful Words, and the just-released That's Amore!: The Language of Love for Lovers of Language.

Here's what she said about page 69 of the new book:
On page 69 of That's Amore: The Language of Love for Lovers of Language (that particular swapalicious rhetorical device there in the title is chiasmus, by the way) you would find terms about the pain of love and rejection, including the Russian “mne tak sladok tvoy plen” (‘your prison is so sweet’) and the Swahili “ndegewangu karuka mtini” (‘my bird flew off the tree’).

What you won’t find (because I purposefully left it out) is any explicit notion that because Language X uses particular words to talk about love, that this says anything really meaningful about the people who speak Language X or their culture. I think it’s enough just to be introduced to these lovely words, phrases, and metaphors from other languages—why spoil it by trying to make them into something supposedly telling or significant?

I think people who try to make every foreign phrase into a long discussion about how “They” think differently (certainly not like us) are exactly the same people who ruin perfectly good novels by insisting everything in them has to be a symbol for something or other. (Usually something disturbing.) Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a word is just lovely to hear or fun to understand, and not the banner-carrier of an entire culture.

I wish you’d asked about page 96 instead (although I understand 96 isn’t as funny a number). That page has one of my favorite Yorkshire phrases on it, which describes folks who’ve gotten married: “They’ve tied a knot with their tongue that they cannot untie with their teeth.”
Thanks to Erin for the input.

Erin's favorite word is erinaceous. I smiled upon learning this tidbit because I'd just read the entry in That's Amore! for the Italian "scopare"[skoh-PAH-ray]:
Unsurprisingly, in Italian there are several different ways to get across the idea of sex, and, as in English, the euphemisms have various degrees of offensiveness. To scopare means to 'to sweep' (the broom is implied in the verb and associated with another tool). Trombare, 'to play the trumpet,' is another, and ciulare, 'to swipe,' is a third. An especially impolite version is abbiamo trombato come ricci: where the English do this "like rabbits/bunnies," the Italian animal is the hedgehog--making one think that the passion must be more intense to overcome that animal's natural defenses.
Watch the video of Erin telling the people at Google about the ten things she wishes people knew about dictionaries.

Last year she told the New York Times that she wanted to be a dictionary editor "since she was 8 and read an article about the legendary lexicographer Robert Burchfield, who oversaw the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary."

"So You Want to be a Lexicographer?," by Erin McKean.

Learn more about McKean's Law. (William Safire, I'm looking at you.)

Have a glimpse at Erin's office walls, and check out this list of favorite books.

Last spring she did a guest-blogging gig at Powell's.

Visit Dictionary Evangelist, one of Erin's blogs.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Michael Lowenthal, Charity Girl
Niraj Kapur, Heaven's Delight
Keith Dixon, The Art of Losing
David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old
Mary Sharratt, The Vanishing Point
David Fulmer, The Dying Crapshooter's Blues
Anya Ulinich, Petropolis
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization
Olen Steinhauer, Liberation Movements
Andrei Markovits, Uncouth Nation
Julie Kistler, Scandal
Robert Ward, Four Kinds of Rain
Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist
William Landay, The Strangler
Kate Holden, In My Skin
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue