Toward A Grammatology of Morals (Or, Let’s Pick a Format!)
September 25, 2007
There’s a scene in Ernest Hemingway’s sublimely bizarre though not bizarrely sublime, “To Have and Have Not” (Which I find to be a wonderful infinitive construction, Mr. Chairman–what of it!) wherein a university professor ensconced in a local (he appears to have been there just long enough for it to have become local) watering hole engages in a game of etymologies with the roughneck pubians.
“That’s all you guys ever talk about. The old rale. What difference does the old rale make?”…
“What’s the old rale?” Professor MacWalsey asked the man next to him at the bar. The man told him.
“I wonder what the derivation is,” Professor MacWalsey said...
“Why do they call it the old rale?” the Vet next to Professor MacWalsey asked another…
Nobody seemed to know but all enjoyed the atmosphere of serious philological discussion.
First, in honour of Hem, the word “ral(e)” comes to us from Newfoundland. Outside of the teeming masses of bored refuges seeking the bright lights and devilish fun of Nunavut, the word “ral(e)” is surely the first thing ever to emerge from Newfoundland. Rale is most likely derived from the Irish raille trickster, profligate. The word means, “rogue, ruffian, or troublemaker.” Ruffian, by the way, is not one of the oddest spelled words in the English language. Though it would appear to come from the word, “rough,” that is sadly a folk etymology. Ruffian is most likely derived from the old French rufyen or a later romance form. Also notable, given the Romance origin, is the now obsolete (e.g. preferred in these here parts) meaning of the term, “A protector or confederate of courtesans.” In other words, even if the pimp doesn’t beat you up he’s still a ruffian.
All blogging aside, tonight’s post is really intended as a poll of our readers. I enjoy focusing the majority of my energies into words. I think that English has lost much of its beauty over the years and we should all do our part to bring it back. I love finding verb forms of nouns that don’t deserve them. Perhaps most importantly, I think they’re great places to start a digression. Somewhere along the way, however, I started to think that our readers preferred other types of columns to the word posts. I’m sort of at a loss as to what to do. I now realize that the only way I will post consistently is if I have a regular angle. Is wordblogging an acceptable beat? I’d like to think that even if you don’t usually like discussing language, that the atmosphere of philological discourse is entertaining, especially when handled with the whim, whit, and whimsy that we at YS pride ourselves on occasionally providing. If not words, what would you prefer? Transit news? Reviews of classic skinema? Hockey coverage? Dutch ____?
I’d really like to hear from the readers on this. Audience is really the only reason to blog.