Tuesday, July 7, 2009

All shall be well

Here is another mention loop.

After all the nerve-wracking business of "Language Hat: The Movie" and "Hat Audio: Barchester Towers", I thought of mailing Crown an encouraging word. The phrase "all shall be well, and all shall be well" occurred to me. Where did it come from? Ah, Julian of Norwich (beware the electronic harmonium in your ears when the page has loaded), a 14th century English mystic. A woman called Julian?! But wait: "Little is known of her life aside from her writings. Even her name is uncertain, the name 'Julian' coming from the Church of St Julian in Norwich, where she was an anchoress". I found the phrase in the Revelations of Divine Love:
It is sooth [95] that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well.
[95] i.e. truth, an actual reality. See lxxxii.
I wondered about this gloss on sooth as "actual reality", because of soothfastly, For I saw soothly in our Lord's teaching etc. elsewhere in the text. [Mental note: why does truth = "actual reality" seem crazy to me? Because I think of truth exclusively as contrasted with falsity, i.e. as belonging to propositional logic. That other truth, being contrasted with illusion, I call "reality". Oops - I'm smack-dab in the middle of Begriffsgeschichte].

So, I checked the OED. Under "say", at 11 a., I found "sooth to say" as expected. Then my eye caught this at 11b. "not to say", a loop-back to Barchester Towers:
Trollope Barchester T. xliv, ‘Am not I [growing old], my dear?’ ‘No, papa, not old—not to say old’.


empty said...

There is also "not as who should say", used in (nearly?) the same sense as "not to say". Examples of "as who should say" and its kin are in OED at "who" 7.b.

empty said...

I just learned from the OED that the word "truthiness" was around long before Stephen Colbert coined it. Or maybe (as maybe with "Ms") it shouldn't count as the same word if it is independently invented a second time with a slightly different significance.

Stuart said...

"Independently invented" implies "has a different origin", and so in a sense already "not the same". You seem to be considering the introduction of a definition of "same word" based on that, i.e. a rule (among others) to regulate the use of the expression "same word". An "independently invented" word would then unsurprisingly, per definitionem, imply "doesn't count as the same".

But that doesn't help us with the evidential questions, which I take it are at least as important as definitions. How did Colbert in fact arrive at "truthiness"? Shouldn't we try to find out more about this, and not "just speculate", if we are trying to discover origins? In this blog, I can at least speculate about alternatives.

Did Colbert add "ness" to "truth", with a euphonic "i" in between - one of the standard ways of making a noun for "the state of having X" from a noun "X"? I suppose that's what you're thinking of as an "independent invention". Or did Colbert browse the OED at the same location as you, and fasten on the word "truthiness" as a nice addition to his show? "Truthiness" found in this way
would be "independently invented" - the original inventors of "truthiness" could not have found it in the OED, since the OED didn't exist then. And yet Colbert's "truthiness", in this scenario, would have to count as the same word as the one found in the OED.

Or are words "found in the OED" not the same as the original words, but tokens or fossil records of the original words? This is all beginning to sound like a Borges story, for instance Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius: I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia.

I tend to get fidgety at such-like lucubrations about language, even when they flow out of my own keyboard. That's because I haven't considered these matters seriously enough, and am not really a language buff. I once read excerpts from Cantor's correspondence with various theologians and philosophers about the notion of "absolute infinity", prior to the appearance of the Beiträge zur Begründung der transfiniten Mengenlehre. Surprisingly for me, one could see he was trying to clarify things for himself, and was not at all dismissive of what they said. But with the Beiträge he made a clean break. He gave us a break, but at a cost. We live in a post-Cantor world, where it's now all too easy to be dismissive. That makes it hard to understand the world before Cantor.

empty said...

I was thinking of a different Borges story. Someone writes a "Don Quixote" which is word for word the same as the original, but which differs markedly from the original in that it was written by someone for whom the original was a fact of life.

Stuart said...

Yes, Pierre Menard Author of the Quixote was what I had in mind but couldn't remember the title of. The Uqbar story came up at Hat this year.

I saw Borges briefly in the 60's, at some small literary event. He was very old and completely blind by then, of course. The event had been organized I think by either the Dept. of Classics or English at UT Austin, where I was doing mathematics and ancient Greek.

Stuart said...

That remark of Hilbert: "No one shall drive us from the paradise which Cantor has created for us" raises, in a novel way, the old question of what that other place is that is not paradise - where all those other people suddenly appear who are not mentioned in the creation story. Hilbert's remark seems to imply that that place would come after Canto's paradise. But without Cantor we would be back to square one, and so in the pre-Cantor place.

The pre-Cantor place, as I said in another comment here, is hard to get back to, even in imagination. Driven out of the Cantor paradise, we would at least have a remembrance of what we had lost, namely transfinite arithmetic. The paradise story can be taken as a metaphor for expulsion from a place we happen to have been happy in because we don't know how we got there in the first instance. For lack of something to compare it with, if nothing else. Sloterdijk wrote something to the effect (it's not his original idea, I think) that perhaps we could not be as we are, if we could remember being born. One could say that Hilbert, in his remark, seems to have forgotten his mathematical existence before the Beiträge were published. If we could never forget anything, we would go crazy - the subject of another Borges story.