The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Some fun from an unlikely place

Here's a treat for all three of you: an uncharacteristically (for me) bawdy post.

I am currently reading Derek Attridge's Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce (not related to my classes: I really should read first what I have to). Today I was reading his chapter on Saussure (for those who don't know, he's the influential early 20th century linguist whose work ultimately spawned structuralism, post-structuralism, and semiotics). Part of the chapter involves Attridge's problematizing of etymology (which is based in part on the work of earlier critics).

I was reading this chapter when I came across a translated phrase that had me rolling in the aisles. Attridge tells us that Saussure was against folk etymology, which he saw was responsible for "mangling" words. He describes this phenomenon using the phrase "des coq a l'ane," which is a French idiom meaning an arbitrary change of direction. I knew that this phrase literally means "from the rooster to the donkey," but Attridge, whether consciously or not, translates it literally as "from cock to ass." I'm still wondering whether Attridge threw this in as a joke; there are safer ways of translating it!


Blogger Dr J said...

I'm certain he intended it. Attridge did some well-known work on puns & punning, esp in re Joyce's Wake. DA has a terrific line about puns that's worth taking to heart (or mind, or whatever suits your fancy), that a pun is an "ambiguity unashamed of itself, and this is what makes it a scandal and not just an inconvenience."

BTW, speaking of the scandalous: you can find the Wordsworth Wilmot for less than $5 CDN if you look hard enough. Imperfect, of course, but definitely finance-friendly.

2:49 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

I remember the Wordsworth editions (i have a few, and they were bargains). Sadly, most are out of print now, and if you do find one, it'll be more expensive. I found a bookseller in the UK who was selling said edition for about 5 bucks CDN, but that doesn't include shipping.

I'm quite happy with my scholarly, hardcover edition for 20 CAN, plus I supported a local bookshop I respect. From what I'm told, it's a bit of a collector item: no used bookseller has the hardcover of 1968 (which is what i have).

3:48 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


If that is funny, you need to be laid.


5:48 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

Either that or you need a sense of humour, whichever. But I'll take the lay :)

7:42 p.m.  

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