Thursday, October 22, 2009

Partly-pooper

I recently discovered the 17th-century English writer and churchman Thomas Fuller (here are some of his witticisms and aphorisms).

The first collection of his sermons was published in 1640 under the title Joseph's Party-Coloured Coat, which I am now reading. In the Wikipedia article (from the EB 1911), the title was given as Joseph's Partly-Coloured Coat. I corrected it there as a "minor change", giving as reason "corrected partly-coloured to party-coloured in title of book by Fuller". Of course before doing this I had checked the title in an edition scanned into Google.

One Adam Bishop (user page) has now reverted my correction. I wonder why? Was it to restore the mistake from the original EB article (assuming it was there)? Was it because his intuitions about the correctness of a bit of old-timey English prevailed over knowledge of it?

An unread speaker of contemporary English might well think: "party-coloured doesn't make sense, a party doesn't have a colour, it must be 'partly-coloured'". This would reveal not only ignorance of the word parti-coloured (in today's spelling), but also of the biblical story of Joseph's coat, which in the KJV is a "coat of many colours". "Partly coloured" doesn't even make much sense, apart from being wrong in the context of Joseph's coat. If anything, the coat was "completely coloured". That would be true even if it had been of only one colour.

I added an external link to Joseph's Party-Coloured Coat in the Wikipedia article, undid Bishop's reversion, and am waiting for the next episode. Is it often this hard to correct such a simple mistake in a Wikipedia article, against the opposition of people who work by intuition? All Bishop would have had to do was to check a library, or find a scanned edition of the book, as I did. If he wasn't working by intuition, what was he working by?

I see that "partly-coloured" has started propagating in search results, sites that apparently contain cut-and-paste sections of the Wikipedia article with the typo. Compare the results of searching for "Thomas Fuller" and "partly-coloured", with those of searching for "Thomas Fuller" and "party-coloured".

One of the biggest problems with the Wikipedia approach is that mistakes spread before they can be corrected, if they ever are corrected.

21 comments:

AJP Crown said...

I suppose it could be partly-coloured if it had started life as natural wool colour or camelhair, say, and had been hand-coloured with dyes later, but only in part.

Or if there were a colour named 'Partly'.

Stuart said...

If wishes were horses
Then beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches
I'd wear one by my side.

AJP Crown said...

I can't imagine wearing a turnip, it would be awfully annoying in bed, for instance.

Stuart said...

Yes, but you would be able to tell the time without having to get up. Is that nothing? I would agree, however, that a head of lettuce would make an awful mess, and probably stain the sheets.

marie-lucie said...

But some watches are onions (at least they are, or were, in French).

AJP Crown said...

I give up, m-l. What do you mean?

AJP Crown said...

Besides, I can already tell the time without getting up. It's one of the advantages of sleeping with the dogs.

Stuart said...

As I vaguely remember, oignon was a slang word for a kind of big, fat, rounded waistcoat (?) watch that was in fashion at one point - in France, I guess, maybe the 19th century?

Stuart said...

To be honest, I originally didn't know either what marie-lucie meant by oignon. Your question started me thinking about it.

AJP CROWN said...

Oh, yes! Look. How lovely.

Stuart said...

That's probably not a fob watch, then, which I find means one that fits into a waistcoat pocket, and can be fastened to the end of a chain. For the oignon, you would need a basket. And for the basket you would need a basket case.

AJP CROWN said...

Basket case is an odd expression, why put a basket in a case? Or is it a case made of basketwork? Or a basket made by caseworkers.

empty said...

basket case

AJP CROWN said...

Thanks, that's interesting. What would we do without Wiki, an IKEA for the mind.

Anonymous said...

And nobody mentioned that there ARE watches (pocket, fob) which are referred to as "turnips"? My failing brain suggests maybe a character in an E. Nesbit book might have one...I'll look. Or was it just too obvious to mention?

Anonymous said...

http://richardlangworth.com/2009/08/the-turnip-churchills-breguet-pocket-watch/
for a start.
(It's really me, Catanea; but I can't find my password, or something.)

Stuart said...

Hi Catanea ! Thanks for the link. Churchill's watch doesn't look much like a turnip to me, though. Crown's link (above) is to a watch which has been opened up, so that it takes up nearly a spherical volume (with lots of empty space), and to that extent looks like a turnip.

Crown's link doesn't work anymore, however. You now land on a "page not found" page of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. However, by entering "oignon" in the search box, you get to the original photograph.

Stuart said...

Who is E. Nesbit ?

Terry said...

Who is E. Nesbit?

Errr … you ARE joking?

Here's an excellent account of her worth by Gore Vidal, with which I agree utterly – the Arden/Harding books are indeed her finest. It's also fascinating to read Vidal's piece, talking about how Nesbit was not as popular in the US as in the UK, because American librarians rejected stories about magic, with 40-plus years of hindsight, and post-Hary Potter.

Stuart said...

Why should I have heard of Nesbit ? Gorey himself in his article adduces circumstances to help account for "the poverty of our society's intellectual life ... directly due to the sort of books children are encouraged to read" in 1964, such as

Apparently, the librarians who dominate the "juvenile market" tend to be brisk tweedy ladies whose interests are mechanical rather than imaginative. Never so happy as when changing a fan belt, they quite naturally want to communicate their joy in practical matters to the young. The result has been a depressing literature of how-to-do things while works of invention are sternly rejected as not "practical" or "useful." Even the Oz books which had such a powerful influence on three generations of Americans are put to one side in certain libraries, and the children are discouraged from reading them because none of the things described in those books could ever have happened.

Not many years before 1964, I grew up in El Paso reading the Oz books which we had at home. My sister, that grasping creature, keeps a firm hold on them to this day, just beyond my reach. To be fair, I must admit that from what she salvaged from the house when our parents divorced, and moved into their stubborn and sullen retirements respectively, she did send me our Junior Classics series and the fat Webster's Unabridged.

Clearly I'm going to have to get one of Nesbit's books.

Terry said...

Sorry, Stuart, that was rude of me … hmmm, I don't know whether you can come at E. Nesbit for the first time in any state other than as a bright nine-year-old (which is, I bet, how Mr Vidal first met her), so I wouldn't know which book to recommend to you, unless you're good at channeling bright nine-year-olds: but Five Children and It is probably a good introduction.