Beware of the dog

John Cowan cowan at
Thu Feb 6 13:10:34 CET 2003

Mark Crispin scripsit:

> Nonsense.  It is an intentional insult, and it has historical precedent.

"You may be right at that."
        --H.L. Mencken

> During World War II, Italy was commonly pronounced "Eye-tally" and Italian
> was pronounced "Eye-tal-ian".  This usage was uncommon prior to the war;
> and vanished totally after the war.

As a matter of fact, my father (1904-1998) said "Eye-tal-ian" throughout
his life.

> It amuses many of us enormously to see "Eye-Rack" being used to an Iraqi
> official's face without him having a clue that he's being mocked.

What on earth makes you think he wouldn't have a clue?

> It is true that the first usage of "Eye-tal-ian" predates World War II and
> was probably out of ignorance, but that was British ignorance, not
> American ignorance.  It was used in Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore".


First of all, that version has four syllables, since it is sung to four notes.
And it was intended to be funny, along with "Rooshian", "Prooshian", etc.

        You can always tell the Irish,
        You can always tell the Dutch,
        You can always tell a Yankee,
        But you cannot tell him much.

> Gilbert and Sullivan also made mention in "The Mikado" to "the idiot who
> praises/with enthusiastic tone/every century but this/and every country
> but his own."

I leave it to the citizens of other countries (the free ones, at least)
to criticize their own people for their absurdities.

> Perhaps John Clews has been to a few more Gilbert and Sullivan operettas
> than John Cowan,

Doubt it.  I've seen 'em all and can sing (I can't whistle for genetic reasons)
all the tunes from that infernal nuisance _Pinafore_, plus _Mikado_,
_Patience_, and selected airs from the others.  Except _Thespis_.  Never
could manage that one, somehow.

> since Mr. Clews got it right.

Mr. Clews said nothing about insults (that was your idea alone) but
merely that Eye-rack grates on English sensibilities, quite justly.

> "Eye-Rack" is a product of
> the current climate, and will disappear totally after its resolution.  It
> is a legitimate sound-change.

What you expose here is your abysmal ignorance of what sound changes are,
and how they differ from language games.

> And I apologize to Mr. Cowan for rubbing his face in it in this email, but

Apology not accepted.  In the words of the great Eyetalian,

Francesco venne poi, com' io fu' morto,
   per me; ma un d'i neri cherubini
   li disse: ``Non portar: non mi far torto.

Venir se ne dee giu` tra ' miei meschini
   perche' diede 'l consiglio frodolente,
   dal quale in qua stato li sono a' crini;

ch'assolver non si puo` chi non si pente,
   ne' pentere e volere insieme puossi
   per la contradizion che nol consente".
        --_Inf._ xxvii:112-120

Which may be rendered thus:

St. Francis came, when I was dead,
   for me; but one of the Black Cherubs
   said to him: "Don't take him, I'll not be cheated.

He comes with me to become one of my slaves
   because he gave [the Pope] fraudulent counsel,
   I've had him on my list since then.

For whoever does not repent cannot be absolved [by the same Pope, in advance],
   nor can the will [to sin] and repentance exist together,
   being disallowed by the contradiction."

> I was personally offended by his "ignorant American" bullsh-t.  If Mr.
> Cowan wants to kiss up to foreigners, that's his business, but he should
> not insult his fellow countrymen in the process.

"An insult, like a drink, affects one only if accepted."
        --Robert A. Heinlein


You might want to consider taking Linguistics 454 and learning something.

> Science does not emerge from voting, party politics, or public debate.

Too right.  Including historical linguistics.

There is / One art                      John Cowan <jcowan at>
No more / No less             
To do / All things            
With art- / Lessness                     -- Piet Hein

More information about the Ietf-languages mailing list