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Nay, this persistent pluralization carries us often to the verge of nonsense. Garrick wrote, “ Heart of oak are our ships," meaning by heart of oak the choice timber of which the best ships are built. We continually misquote the line into the absurdity of “hearts of oak,” etc. Even Tennyson says, in his sonnet on Bonaparte,
He thought to quell the stubborn hearts of oak. But here there is probably a variant meaning. Hamlet declares of the man that is not passion's slave,
I will wear him
In my heart's core, even in my heart of heart,which is a fine phrase, and intelligible withal. Nowadays we insist on speak. ing of heart of hearts, as though each man carried a heart-system in his breast revolving around a common centre. But the cultivated minority have been forced to accede even in this instance to the majority. Thus, Keble says,
I, in my heart of hearts, would hear
What to her own she deigns to tell.
The word Behring Sea is a remarkable instance of how, in linguistic matters, wrong can become right if it be insisted upon long enough. Veit Bering is the way in which the first explorer of those waters spelled his name, but English-speaking people for some time spelled it indifferently Bering, Beering, or Behring, and finally settled down to the last-named form. That form, accordingly, was accepted almost everywhere until very recently, Biographical dictionaries, as well as geographies, gave Behring as the correct denomination of explorer and explored, and all the weight of the United States government was necessary to suppress the treasonable misspelling.
It is wonderful, however, what confusion prevails in our geographical no. menclature. There is no uniform rule for the spelling and pronunciation of non-English names. Accident, the whims of our geographers, and the per. sistent ignorance of the public at large are the determining factors. And a pretty mess they have made of it.
Sometimes we turn out an entirely new name, as Leghorn for Livorno, Venice for Venezia, Florence for Firenze, etc. Sometimes we keep the foreign spelling, but ignore the foreign pronunciation, as in Paris, Orleans, etc. Some. times we reject the foreign spelling, and attempt to give a phonetic equivalent for the pronunciation, as in those extraordinary bits of alphabetic acrobatism which have followed the recent discoveries in Africa. But our very worst confusions result from the fact that in former times French was the only foreign language which an educated Englishman was familiar with, and con. sequently he derived his knowledge of continental Europe through the French. It was only natural, therefore, that French names of places should creep into the English language.
Now, the French names themselves are the outcome of a noble Gallic struggle to master the foreign pronunciation, and then to put the pronunciation so mastered into phonetic form. Thus, Hague and Prague are the nearest French equivalents for the German sounds, which in German spelling are represented by Haag and Prag. But when Hague and Prague are incorporated into the English language they are pronounced as if they rhymed with plague, and then neither to the ear nor to the eye do they represent the German Haag and Prag.
It has often happened that English and American travellers have passed through Prag without knowing where they were. A Frenchman would recognize it by the pronunciation.
"I remember once meeting a compatriot,” says a writer in the Illustrated American, " in the capital of Bavaria. We call it Munich; the natives, you will remember, call it München
" What a wonderful town this is,' said Brother Jonathan ; "and to think that I never heard of München in my life! Why, it's not mentioned in any geography that ever I studied !'”
Mr. Grant Allen has poured out the vials of his wrath with well-deserved and well-directed energy against the foolish grammatical nicety of pedants who are always correcting good, sound, idiomatic English into conformity with their own half-educated ideas of extreme accuracy; who would insist, like Mr. E. A. Freeman, upon restoring such words as triumph, ovation, deci. mate, to the strict etymological meaning that they bore in Roman military life, forgetting the natural and beautiful growth of metaphor, the extension of meaning, the exaggeration and metonymy that are familiar factors in the genesis of vocabulary; who would reject what Macaulay calls the low vul. garism of mutual friend, really a harmless colloquialism which the genius of Dickens has stamped forever upon the language, because they remember that the root of mutual in Latin implies reciprocal action ; who dispute against their opponent instead of with him, in ignorance of the fact that the word with means against in the early forms of the English language, and still retains that meaning in withstand, withhold, withdraw, and dozens of other instances ; who will not say “these sort of people are,” but “this sort of people is" (an impossible locution in speaking), not perceiving that popular instinct has rightly caught at the implied necessity for a plural subject to the really and essentially plural verb. As a reductio ad absurdum of their own argument, he cites the case of metropolis. Now, the superfine people object to calling London a metropolis, or even to the use of the ordinary phrases “Metropol. itan Police," " Metropolitan Board of Works," and so forth. According to these purists, Canterbury is really the metropolis of Southern England. And why? Because in later ecclesiastical Latin the Greek word metropolis meant the mother-city from whose bishopric other bishoprics derived their origin, “But,” says Mr. Allen, "if we are going to be so very classical and Hellenic as this, we might respond that by a still older Greek usage metropolis means the mother-state of a colony, and so that neither Canterbury nor London, but Sleswick-Holstein, is the original and only genuine metropolis of England. Is not this the very midsummer madness of purist affectation? The English language is the English language, and in that language metropolis, by long prescription, means the chief city or capital of a country.”
In fact, the role of Mrs. Partington is neither useful nor honorable. It is vain to attempt to beat back the Atlantic Ocean or to arrest the onward march of nations. The meaning which people choose to put upon words they have got to bear, and there's an end on't. And as with meanings, so with pronunciation. Poor old Samuel Rogers complained that con'template was bad enough, but balcony made him sick. That was only thirty-five years ago. To-day an outraged public sentiment would forbid him to contem'. plate the beauties of nature from his balco'ny.
Nevertheless, there are misuses of words which result from pure blunders, and while these are in the bud it is just as well to nip them, lesi they blossom out into flowers of rhetoric.
Let us make a note of some of the most flagrant examples while they are still treasonable and have not prospered so far as to be stamped with the approval of the sovereign people.
It is not too late to prevent people from “expecting” what they really only suspect, or from "predicating when they are predicting. Nor is it too late to warn them that they cannot make up for withdrawing a necessary u from bouquet by introducing an unnecessary and indeed harmful u into sobriquet ; and that a villain only becomes a renegade and an apostate by being converted into a villian. Yet these are errors of spelling, which would seem also to predicate (not predict) errors of pronunciation that are becoming strangely prevalent among people who appear otherwise well bred and well educated. It seems almost hopeless to warn the unwary against speaking of De Tocqueville and De Lamennais. That error, apparently, has come to stay. French people speak of M. de Tocqueville or l'Abbé de Lamennais, but when they drop the complimentary prefix it is always Tocqueville or La. mennais. Is it too nice a distinction for the general public to recognize that things are hung and criminals are hanged ? Macaulay informs us that though few people remember the rules which govern the use of will and shall, no educated Englishman misuses those words. Yet does it not seem that the educated men of our generation, in England and America alike, are unmindful of this distinction, and that a similar negligence is creeping into literature ? Is this the beginning of the end ? Must the rules which govern shall and will fall into the same disuse as other rules that have sought to impose upon the public a distinction too subtle to be apprehended readily and instinctively?
When will people stop speaking of the Russian Czar, or Tsar, as the modern fad dictates ? The title is not used now in Russia, for it means simply king. The Russian autocrat claims the higher title of Emperor. He is so styled by the educated among his subjects, while the peasantry call him Gossudar, or lord. Peter the Great made a determined diplomatic fight in order to obtain his recognition as Emperor, and this was at last conceded to him by the English, partly because for commercial purposes they wanted his alliance, and partly because some members of the Russian embassy in London had been imprisoned or otherwise maltreated, so that it was by way of compensation to make the concession Peter so much desired. If, however, we are unwilling to concede the higher dignity, why not call him simply king? We don't speak of the French Roi, of the Italian Re. Why, then, the Russian Czar or Tsar?
The “ Emperor of Germany,” also, is diplomatically wrong, although no doubt William II. would be glad to take that title. “German Emperor" is the correct locution. Frederick Barbarossa and his line were indeed Emperors of Germany. But in 1871 the other German states were much too jealous of the Prussians to restore the old empire for the benefit of the Prussian king. Instead, they raised up a new empire, and gave its head a new title, as a standing memorial of the various forces that brought it into being. The Emperor himself must furnish us with an instance of another frequent error. In a speech made in 1890 he described Frederick the Great as his “ ancestor," thereby committing the same mistake as did Queen Victoria when she talked to Macaulay of “my ancestor, James II.," and the historian reminded her majesty that James II. was merely her “predecessor." The Emperor on another occasion has referred to Frederick as “my relative," a sufficiently absurd manner of describing a man who has been in his grave for more than a century.
Why will people persist in saying Henri Taine ? The name of the brilliant Frenchman is Hippolyte, not Henry. Perhaps the great stupid public has somehow mixed him up with Heinrich Heine.
A still more persistent error is that which turns Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam and Viscount St. Albans, into Lord Bacon. Properly speaking, he might be called Lord Verulam, or Lord St. Albans, but he is no more Lord Bacon than Lord Beaconsfield was Lord Disraeli. It is true that a reason for thus miscaliing him has been found in the disgrace which deprived him of the Great Seal and banished him from the House of Peers. Having nothing but the barren titles, being nobody save Francis Bacon, ex-Lord-Chancellor, and a nominal viscount without any of the privileges of rank, Lord Bacon became a sort of courtesy title. It was natural to call him by the name he had made great, and to style him "Lord" as an ex-Chancellor, rather than to speak of him by the titles he had disgraced, and which were virtually set aside. So he was first Lord-Chancellor Bacon, then Lord Bacon.
For a great number of years English people, even historians of repute, insisted on talking of Admiral Van Tromp, meaning the great Dutch admiral who almost brought his fleet into London. Van Tromp is no more known in the Netherlands than Von Gladstone in England, or Von Blaine in America. His name was Tromp, and is so engraved on his tombstone. The “Encyclopædia Britannica" in its ninth edition set the right fashion almost for the first time, correcting its own error in the eighth, and it is to be hoped that Van Tromp has now disappeared forever.
A curious but common error is exemplified in the following toast, volunteered in honor of Aaron Burr at the Boston banquet of Federal chieftains, April 24, 1804: “Aaron's rod: may it blossom in New York, and may Fed. eralists be still and applaud while the great serpent swallows the less !" The symposiarch had forgotten that the rod which blossomed in the Biblical story was not the same with the rod that swallowed serpents. The latter was really the rod of Moses wielded by Aaron for miraculous purposes as the vicegerent or “prophet" of his brother. The former was one of the twelve rods selected to be representative of the twelve tribes of Israel, with the understanding that the high-priesthood should belong to him whose rod was found to have blossomed overnight after they had all been placed in the “ Tabernacle of the Congregation." To make the test perfectly fair, Moses was commanded to write Aaron's name on “the rod of Levi.”
A little attention to lines of latitude would probably diminish the almost irresistible tendency of some tourists to write of the Azores, for instance, as " these southern islands” and “this southern clime." The Azores are not so very much nearer to the equator than is the city of New York. Such remarkable statements as that of a recent purveyor of fine writing, that the mountain-peaks which inspired his eloquence “almost touched the zenith," cannot be classed among the blunders here recorded, but deserve to rank among specimens of “English as she is wrote.” But it is certain that a little brushing up of elementary information would save many writers from appearing to improve upon nature, though their pages would thereby be deprived of an element of unconscious humor which now and then provokes a smile.
Has the term “a pair of balances" come to stay? One would fain hope not. It is a pure absurdity. The very word balance means a pair of scales (from bis, “two,” and lanx, “a pan or scale"). Yet the solecism is found in Tyndale's rendering of Revelation vi. 5, and in all subsequent versions, with the exception of the Douay, until the revision of 1881 restored the word “balance,” which had been used in Wiclif's translation. The expression "a pair of balances” must have come in vogue between the time of Wiclif and that of Tyndale.
A very common mistake is made in the use of the word "edition.” Thus, popular novelists frequently describe their heroine as reading a complete edition of “Longfellow's Poems.” But no single heroine, nay, not half a dozen Samsons, could hold a complete edition of anybody's poems. The word needed is “copy.” An edition of a book means all the copies printed from a set of type at the same time.
Another term the novelists delight in is the bar sinister. There is no such term in heraldry. Indeed, the very name involves an absurd contradiction in terms. Bend sinister is more plausible. Yet there are heralds who insist that no sign for illegitimacy was ever known to their science.
Tiad in a nutshell (L. “Ilias in nuce"), a proverbial phrase for anything infinitesimally small. According to the elder Pliny, there existed in his day a copy of Homer's “Iliad” which some indefatigable trifler had copied in such minute characters that the whole manuscript could be enclosed in a nutshell. But history fails to say whether it was a filbert- or a walnut-shell, which, of course, would make some difference. P. D. Huet, the learned Bishop of Avranches, in his “ De Rebus ad eum pertinentibus” (1718), p. 297, assures us that he at one time looked upon this as a fiction, but that further examination proved it to be at least a possibility. In the presence of several gentlemen he demonstrated that it was feasible to write seven thousand five hundred verses on a piece of vellum ten inches in length and eight in width. Thus the two sides would contain fifteen thousand verses, the total number in the “Iliad.” If the vellum were pliant and firm, it could then easily be folded up and enclosed in the shell of a large walnut. Professor Schrieber, a German inventor of a stereographic process, in order to offset this wonder, transcribed both the “Iliad" and the “Odyssey” into so small a compass that both books complete could be hidden in the shell of an English walnut. Books have been printed the size of a postage-stamp, and only recently a volume was sold measuring eleven-sixteenths of an inch by half an inch, containing six portraits of the Czar and other celebrities. An Oriental scribe once wrote in letters of gold a poem of eight lines, the whole of which he enclosed within a grain of allspice and sent as a present to the Shah of Persia. But the untutored monarch showed small appreciation of the gift. Indeed, it is even said that he threw the penman into prison, where he languished several months until released through the influence of the American consul. In 1883 a Jewish penman at Vienna, Austria, wrote four hundred letters on a common-sized grain of wheat. He sent it to the emperor, who had failed to sign a bill to allow the Jew to become a clerk in some one of the royal departments, giving as a reason that it was absolutely necessary to have an uncommonly good penman in that department. After finishing the cereal wonder and despatching it to his majesty, the Jew picked up a common visiting-card and wrote on the edge a prayer for the imperial family.
In the year 1881 the Chicago Inter-Ocean made mention of a gentleman who had written the entire first chapter of the Gospel of St. John on the back of a postal card. That little notice, innocent as it was, caused the editor several sleepless nights.
Within the next three days postal cards and slips of paper with minute specimens of penmanship began to pour in from all directions. Among the hundreds of samples submitted for inspection, the editor acknowledged that the greatest curiosity was a postal card from John J. Taylor, of Streator, Illinois, upon which were written four thousand one hundred words in legible characters, the whole embracing the first, second, and third chapters of St. John, and nineteen verses of the fourth chapter of the same, and also the sixth and seventh chapters of St. Matthew, besides having nine words, in which mistakes occurred, crossed out.
All of this wonderful production, which would make three columns of the Inter-Ocean set in minion type, could be plainly read with the naked eye. Since that period, however, Mr. Taylor's record has been frequently eclipsed. Harper's Young People records that Joseph English, of Boston, Massachusetts, wrote with a pen an entire speech containing four thousand one hundred and sixty-two words on a postal card. On another postal card William A. Bowers, of Boston, wrote eight chapters of the Bible which contained two hundred and one verses, or five thousand two hundred and thirty-eight words; while W. Frank Hunter, of Topeka, Kansas, succeeded in writing the fifth, sixth,