Sunday, July 21, 2013

Oaks, rocks, stumps and stocks - from Ba'al to Tolkien

Every once in a while I do a post on or concerning my beloved ancient Greece* or my equally beloved Tolkien**.

*(1/18/11, A Melian reasons to read Thucydides; 9/23/10, The Great Myths; 8/27/10, Greece - Ancient homeland of the gyro; 6/20/09, The Death of the West; 9/21/07, For language lovers only)

** (2/21/10, Would you just finish it already, JRRT - A trip through the Master's letters while he was writing LOTR (seemingly forever); 5/14/09, Fulfilling Edith Hamilton's prophecy: J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings; 4/10/08, The Greatest Epics Ever Made (in my humble opinion) and, 7/17/07, Will the real Tom Bombadil please stand up. Who or what is Tom Bombadil)
                                                 
This week, in my meanderings among some old languages, I struck on something that allows me to talk about both ancient Greece and Tolkien!, and my heart is racing like a Leprechaun who stumbles over an unprotected bowl of magically delicious Lucky Charms. Basically, it was just piecing together two chains of research, but I am not sure that it has been done before and that is always exciting.

It's also arguable that I am stretching to reach my point, but if so, no more than many professional linguists and other scholars I read do to reach theirs. They may be largely right about a number of things while guessing (sometimes wildly) about much on the outer reaches.  That's why their work is usually (should be) laden with words indicating they are speculating.

I am certainly not a linguist or philologist, though I love languages, particularly some dead ones. Admittedly, I barely understand the rudiments of their peculiar notations and methodology. I do know the difference between voiced and unvoiced and what sibilants and fricatives are, but to tell you the truth, I cannot maintain very much interest in it. But, I wade through enough sentences like - "The dissimilatory loss of the labialization in the environment of u . . . , common to all Greek dialects, is illustrated qoukoro - gwoulolos 'cowherd' ˂ *gwouqwolos, and kunaja = gunaia. . . " (from The Greek Language, an classic modern work on ancient Greek I partially understand; but, that's okay, because the classicist who recommended it feels the same way). There are times when the mist lifts and there is some clarity for me but other times I think it is not much different than arguments about where Rama lived or if the palace they uncovered near Jerusalem a few years ago was really King David's.

What I do immensely enjoy is finding connections between ancient and modern languages the way some people enjoy karaoke or ice fishing. It doesn't matter much that I could be wrong, of course, just as the linguists must be frequently wrong, but other than the powerful appeal to authority, who will say whether I am or not?

So much for the preface. Let me start with The Lord of the Rings, bounce over to Homer, wander around the middle east and then bring it back home to Tolkien like Louis Armstrong belting out "Hello, Dolly."

Tolkien scholarship and serious criticism is still growing as there are a number of professors who recognize his achievements were hardly limited to just writing a great story.  Tom Shippey who taught at Oxford at the end of Tolkien's time there and followed him in a Chair at Leeds University, seems to have no professional jealousy and has written several books celebrating and studying his predecessor's works.  I was reading his The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. TOLKIEN Created a New Mythology  a few years back in which there is a chapter entitled When All our Fathers Worshipped Stocks and Stones. It centers on a scene near the end of The Return of the King in which the ent ("giant" in Old English) Treebeard, the eldest living creature in Middle-Earth and half tree, says good-bye to the Elf Lords, Celeborn and Galadriel (by far the more important of the two).  Treebeard says, '"It is long, long since we met by stock or by stone. . . " 

Shippey goes on to explain "'by stock or by stone' is certainly a deliberate echo of the fourteenth-century poem Pearl, written by the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,* and probably the most powerful of all medieval elegies."

*Of which poem Tolkien's translation may still be the most famous, though that might be due to his more popular writings. He and his friend, E.V. Gordon (whose name I have seen spelled three ways) also came out with a scholarly edition in 1925, still relied on. Gordon, who died in the 1930s, also came out with a translation of Pearl to which edition Tolkien contributed. Tolkien's translations of these poems came out in 1975 when he was already famous for LOTR and The Hobbit. His translations of other works are still being released by his son, Christopher, now himself quite an elderly man.

Pearl  may be a powerful elegy but it is beyond my powers to read much of it as it deals with a father grieving the death of his daughter who in a dream meets her across a river he cannot cross (guess what that symbolizes). Call me a sissy, but I do not think I could read it without feeling more grief  than I am comfortable with, though my own daughter is alive and healthy. I can't even listen to that Eric Clapton song about his dead son, though I loved it before I realized what it was. I just avoid things like that.  

Where was I? Oh, In Middle (not Old) English, the Pearl poet has the father speak the following in words: "We meten so selden by stok other ston. . . " Or, in modern English - We meet so seldom by stock or stone (Gordon translation). Ironically, Tolkien, who later used the stock and stone alliteration for Treebeard, actually also translated the poem's line without it using not only the less poetic, but less accurate "We meet on our roads by chance so rare.") That is more interpretation than translation and often happens when translators want to avoid repeating others' work.

When All our Fathers Worshipped Stocks and Stones is a long meandering chapter (45 pages in my soft cover edition), and Professor Shippey has many points to address that do not concern me here.  But, he returns to this phrase "by stock and by stone" at the end of it, acknowledging Wordsworth's echoing of Pearl in his Lucy: "With rocks, and stones, and trees!" Shippey remarks, "He should have written 'stocks', not 'rocks'. But he preferred the alliteration on r (and the tautology)."

I initially thought how strange that Professor Shippey, a leading authority on English literature, should have gotten this wrong and Wordsworth, who he derides as "a linguistic critic of the most ignorant type" got it right. But, Shippey seemed to me, at least for a long time, to interpret "stocks" incorrectly, as is easy to do. It rhymes with, but does not mean "rocks." But, I will come back to this later.  Shippey also addresses John Milton's own homage in a sonnet with "When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones. . . ," which he used for the chapter title.

All I really care about addressing here is that "stock and stone" was a phrase in English used as early as the 14th century by the author of Pearl, by Milton in the 17th, and a derivative by Wordsworth in the 19th and perhaps last by Tolkien in the 20th (and perhaps really, really last by Shippey in discussing it in the 21st). What I want to address, and I think scholars might have missed, is that it probably goes back a lot further than that.

In fact, I am not sure that Tolkien,Wordsworth and Milton were necessarily paying homage to Pearl in using the phrase, because there are other sources. Tolkien, who translated it, most likely was, given his work on the poem. I am not sure about Wordworth but I'm even less sure that Milton was not just using a phrase he knew from life and his own reading. His time was  not so far removed from that of Pearl as the others and he may have actually have known and used the phrase "stocks and stones" (just as we know the phrase "that's the breaks," or a million others, but not necessarily from any particular source). 

From evidence I see, and I'll get to below, it is more than likely that this phrase goes back to the roots of the English language and well before that. In fact, it seems to me it arose before there was an English or German, even before ancient Greek, and though evidence will peter out in the depths of time (another example of a common phrase with which I am not paying homage to any author), but perhaps back thousands of years earlier to  the Proto Indo-European language speakers or near descendants. Follow. . . .

I don't know exactly when I read Shippey's book, but I think it was initially a hardcover from the library in 2003 or 2004. For me, "by stock and stone" was just a pleasant alliteration that stuck in my head for a few years upon reading his book. Though I had read the scene in LOTR way back in the early 80s, the phrase did not stick in my head then, if I had especially noticed it at all. I wasn't that interested in languages then, at least in the way I am now. The scene, however did stick in my head, as it represented to me what I think it did for Tolkien -- the dying of a mythologically rich and agrarian way of life and the advent of a more urban and technological one.

Jump ahead to this past week when I am looking at some lines from The Iliad in which Hektor is thinking about whether to fight Achilles or not (you probably know, but if you don't know, it doesn't end up well for him) which has been interpreted in the translation I use most, Prof. Murray's in the Loeb's Collection, this way: "In no wise may I now from oak-tree or from rock hold dalliance with him . . . ."  Professor Murray's translation is a little awkward in modern English, but it sounds much better than my own (below) as an English sentence. But, I can tell you he is not getting the words "may I" from the text, as the verb "to be" in Homer is in the third person present indicative ("he/she/it is"). "May I" would require the 1st person subjunctive and it is just not there in the Greek text. That the professor made this change is not an anomaly. Translators of ancient works who would like people to actually read their work take these liberties with their translations to give a better idea what they think the classic author meant and to make it more readable for us, and they don't explain the additions or subtractions.
My own translation is a little different because, not intending to publish, I prefer my Homer as literal as it can be made while still being understandable to us. I have: "By no means is it [possible] from oak tree or from stone to chat with him. . . ."  I know this just barely sounds like an English sentence, and, in fact, I have to add at least one word myself here - [possible] - which isn't in the text either, to make it more of an English sentence.

There are good reasons the phrase Homer (presuming, as always, there was such a person) wrote or sang doesn't translate neatly into English. Homeric Greek is a language which is a hybrid of Greek dialects. Likely no one spoke it like that outside of Epic poetry, though they could recognize it and were not unlikely familiar with the different dialects, which were not particularly diverse. It is a poem in which meter is more important than complete sentences. Also, ancient (and modern) Greek doesn't have the same emphasis on some types of words we find very helpful, like pronouns and prepositions, and are often just built into their own words. The words change (inflexion) as their context changes. We do this a little with verbs but not with nouns except to make plurals. But, those comments apply to much of Homeric Greek (some of it does actually translate smoothly into English, especially if you ignore word order). In this case, "from oak (tree) and from stone (or rock)" is also an expression and not meant to be taken literally.  

I am not guessing that it was an expression. I know it is in so far as we can know anything. Professor Murray himself notes as follows in a footnote: "This phrase . . . recurs a number of times in Greek literature, and appears to be a quotation from an old folk-tale dealing with the origin of mankind from trees or stones."

But it was precisely as an expression - from oak or from stone (I'm going to use oak and stone rather than tree and rock for obvious reasons hereafter) that it fired a synapse in my brain.  I knew where I had seen something like it before and went straight to my second hand soft-cover copy of Shippey to re-read the chapter about "stocks and stones." I can't say I had anything more than an intuition when I started, but it ripened quickly into something else.  

Having read Shippey I had a suspicion he had missed something and also that "stock or stone" could be related to the ancient Greek "oak and stone" even if they no longer meant the same thing.  I went online and directly looked up the Greek phrase concerning oak trees and stones and like words. I was immediately rewarded by a paper by a Harvard philologist, A. S. W. Forte, from the Center on Hellenic Studies on the exact phrase entitled Speech from Tree and Rock: Recovery of a Bronze Age Metaphor. Without boring you to Homeric tears here's generally what I learned from him:

- The phrase in ancient Greek is attested to not only in The Iliad, but also in The Odyssey, in Hesiod (the other great poet from the pre-classical Greek Epic poetry era) and even Plato. That is the hat trick, if there ever was one in ancient literature.

- The phrase includes the idea of speech coming from oak and rock and is a metaphor for thunder and lightning, but representing divine speech (oracular or prophetic) and generative (origins of man) power. That conclusion is based on evidence to long to go into here. It seemed plausible to me.

- There is also similar phraseology and symbolism dating back to 13th century B.C. Ugaritic Ba'al cycle found at Ras Shamra (modern day northern Syria - the city was once known as Ugarit, the discovery of which is one of the greatest in 20th century archaeology but which there is also not room to go into here) and also a picture on a seal from the 18th century, also from northern Syria, which strongly resembles a pictogram of the same phrase. I should mention here that it is commonly accepted that Ba'al has many characteristics in common with the Greek Zeus, including being the thunderer and there is almost certainly a transference of myth from one to the other because of the proximity of the area known as the Levant to the Mediterranean. Zeus' special tree was, in fact, the oak.

- Forte sees "a clear inherited ideological system that persists from the Bronze-Age through Homer and Hesiod."

- He further speculates that particularly the visual evidence from Northern Syria suggests that the origins of this phrase, "speech from tree and/or rock," may be lurking in cultic practice of the early 3rd millennium BCE (I do not see how he can, on the evidence, bring it back further than early 2nd millennium, but this is the point where I feel he becomes way too speculative).

- He acknowledges that there is no way to tell what access writers/poets like Homer, Hesiod or Plato had to the earlier metaphoric meaning of the phrase or precisely what it meant at any given time. He uses English examples of "by hook or by crook," "to make ends meet" and "the proof is in the pudding" to explain that we can't be sure what they meant to any one at any given time. But, he adds, what he is certain of is that the phrase lasted basically intact for 1500 years (circa 18th c., B.C., through roughly 400 B.C., in Plato, which is more like 1400 years, but who's counting?)

I'm going to suggest that the life of this phrase lasted much, much longer, in fact, right up until Tolkien in the 1940s and even arguably to Shippey in 2003, though the meaning has been mostly changed through time and language except in one startling modern example.

But, if you are careful readers, you are going to say, hold on, hold on -- why are you suggesting that Ugaritic/Greek expression concerning an oak tree and stone is like the English language stock and stone? Aren't they only vaguely similar, but different, things?

Actually, no. They are virtually the same thing, and this is not speculative at all. If you remember, Shippey stated that Wordsworth (that supposedly ignorant literary critic) should have written "With stocks, and stones, and trees!" instead of "With rocks, and stones, and trees!" meaning that he thought "stocks" was the proper substitute for "rocks," in order to emulate Pearl. In Shippey's whole chapter there is nothing to suggest anything but that he believes this. I have to say I was a little surprised that he appeared not to have known that the correct meaning of "stoc" or "stock" is  "a stock, stem, trunk, block, stick" as given in A Compendious Anglo-Saxon and English Dictionary which I would be stunned if Shippey did not own, given his job. You could also look in the Oxford English Dictionary and probably most any other comprehensive dictionaries or online ones that you choose. Basically stock means stump, and certainly not rocks. So, Wordsworth was right. His use of both "rocks" and "stones" was merely poetic (like my attempt in the title to this post) and in the same phrase he had as well "trees" - close enough to a tree stump. And, in the same vein, the author of Pearl meant "by tree stump and stone." In any event, I later realized, reading the quotes from his chapter again, that Shippey understood perfectly well - of course he did.

Properly translated, the difference between the Old and Middle English "by stock and stone" and the ancient use of "of tree and of stone" dating as far back as the early second millennium B.C. is virtually obliterated.

It would be more exciting if the stumps meant were oaks, but that is not clear. In Homer, we know.  Drus means oak tree and can also represent a tree in general. What about in Britain? We do know from Pliny believed that Drus is likely the stem of Druid, the Celtic priesthood, adding the Greek suffix -id(es) to get Druid. But, whether that is correct or not, it is still not clear what kind of trees the author of Pearl or Milton, Wordsworth and Tolkien were referring to or whether there is any meaning similar in their phrase to that found in the ancient Greek or Ugaritic. I would not expect there would be given the time and geographic span that exists. It is remarkable enough that the phrase is still being used, even if only by poets.

In Pearl the expression doesn't appear to be about a generative myth, thunder and lightning or prophecy. Maybe not, but there is no doubt that it still possesses some relationship to the phantasmagorical world, as the father has woken in a fantasy setting set upon the border of heaven. It is a religious poem which also concerns, at least tangentially, prophecy, though referring to Christ. I find no reference in the poems to oak trees specifically.

Milton's Poem, On the Late Massacre in Piedmont, which treats the expression as a reference to an archaic time "when all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones" seems quite likely to bear some relationship to Druid priests worshipping Oak Trees and stones. This matches the little we know about Druids, who are associated with not only oak trees, but stones - such as at Stonehenge, particularly in Milton's time (though, there is no real evidence that they had anything to do with it). Milton was not a stranger to the notion of druid priests and I have found he has mentioned them in at least one poem.

From another blogspot blog, Logismoi, essentially an Orthodox Christian commentary, but extremely rich in language discussion, I find yet another stock and stone reference, this one from a 13th century Snorri Sturluson saga, Heimskringla, which has St. Olaf preach that the gold and ornaments should be given to wives and daughters and never again hung upon stocks (trees) and stones. Snorri seems not to use it as a metaphor there at all, but rather in a straightforward fashion. The blog author (a deacon and Christian school teacher named Aaron Taylor) ponders whether the phrase goes back to Proto-Germanic poetic tradition, but does not seem aware of the even deeper Indo-European roots.

But, as far as English goes, Logismoi is a treasure trove for "stock" references. In a follow up post on 8/14/2009, assisted by some knowledgeable commenters, he notes uses in Chaucer from Troilus and Chryseyde ("by stokkes and by stones), from a 13th century Brut (Brutus) by Lazamon ("Mid Stocken & mid stanen. . ." - "With stockes and with stones. . .") and from an OED reference, to Reson and Sensuallyte by a John Lydgate in 1407 ("As deffe as stok or ston." "As deaf as stock or stone"). As with his other post, none of it concerns other than English references.

But, I've saved the best for last. It was hard for me to believe, once I saw the connection, that Tolkien's giant Tree-man, Treebeard, did not also mean tree stump when he used the word "stock" to the departing Elves. But, I am now sure, for reasons you will see below, we can know that this is precisely what Tolkien meant.

In fact, not only did he use the phrase to mean the same thing as Homer and others before and after him did, but, oddly, the clearest connection to the metaphoric meaning of the phrase as used in ancient Greece and northern Syria (according to Forte) and modern times is found in this very scene with Treebeard saying good-bye to the elves.

Thanks to Logismoi, I can be sure that Tolkien, unlike Shippey, knew precisely what "stock" meant when he used it in LOTR, for a very knowledgeable commenter pointed out that in Tolkien/Gorden's 1925 edition of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the word "stubbe" is given as "stock, stump" and in Tolkien's Middle English Vocabulary (1922), he gives "stok(ke)" itself as "stem, tree-trunk." Of course, few people loved trees and languages like Tolkien, so it is no surprise he would know. In any event, all doubt as to his meaning is erased.

I can't say that I know that Treebeard would have meant an oak tree stump by using the word "stock" though. The Encyclopedia of Arda, a fairly standard online Tolkien reference site states that oaks are "[o]ne of the commonest trees in Middle-earth, found throughout its forests," but I do not know if that is so and don't remember any specific reference to oaks myself in Tolkien's Middle-Earth save for a very important one - the chief of the dwarves who accompanied Bilbo was named Thorin Oakenshield (it was figurative, as he once used an oak branch as a shield). Hence, we can at least know that oak trees existed in Tolkien's literary world (meant by him to be old Europe).  

But, there are also much more clearer metaphorical elements found in this scene which precisely relate to those found in Forte's paper. First, in Middle-Earth, Treebeard is an ent, that is, a tree-man. Ents were conscious and could actually speak, bringing us directly back to the Ugaritic and Greek mythic metaphoric meaning of trees speaking. We should also remember that the entire Tolkien creation is based upon an initial (Bible inspired) creation myth and generative myths about all of Middle-Earth's  man-like creatures (the Elves and Treebeard being first to be animated among them) found in his Silmarillion. The meeting of the elves and Treebeard for the last time in Middle-Earth is a very meaningful and poignant one and precisely why Tolkien has it happen. The idea of prophecy also plays a small role in this parting scene as Galadriel, perhaps the most oracular character in Tolkien's entire corpus, actually prophesizes in this very scene when she predicts that they will all meet again when the lands under the wave rise.

Thus, remarkably, and if coincidental, even more remarkably, all the elements of the phrases' likely meaning as posited by Forte are found here in the very scene in which Tolkien uses the phrase excepting that of thunder and lightning. It seems too detailed to be fortuitous. Thus, I believe, when Treebeard used in he pretty much meant exactly what Homer and the even earlier Syrians meant.

I cannot be sure that Tolkien, who studied Greek and Latin when young, was thinking about the meaning of the phrase in Greek (of which, he noted in a letter late in life, he forgotten much) when he wrote the scene or that he was even conscious of a connection. I have generally found precious little reference to the ancient Greek language in Tolkien's world (two names associated with the wizards appear to be based upon ancient Greek but I'll save those for another day). But I do not need to mount evidence that the Indo-European origins of English from multiple entry points - German, French, Latin, and Greek is more than sufficient to suggest that someone so deeply learned in language, literature and culture as Tolkien (and I should add here for anyone who doesn't know that he was a renowned philologist, linguist and literary expert long before he was a famous writer) would at least unconsciously absorb such connections and meanings better than most; maybe virtually anyone else. You would think this would be as far as I could take it.

But it's not. I find one piece of evidence in Tolkien that is rather startling. It is a comparison of the phrase in Tolkien and Homer that makes me wonder whether he was in fact doing more homage to The Iliad than Pearl. Here is how Tolkien has Treebeard speak followed by how Homer has Hektor speak:
Treebeard     [preposition][noun - tree stump][conjunction][repeat preposition][noun - stone]

Hektor          [preposition][noun - (oak) tree ][conjunction][repeat preposition][noun - stone]
Tolkien and Homer both do this (there are slight differences - they use different prepositions and Homer uses a negative conjunction). The author of Pearl, Milton, Wordsworth and the others I cite above do not use this formula. Coincidence? I doubt it. Homer we know was composing according to a meter and this phrase worked. Tolkien also was extremely sensitive to meter and rhythm, but it was never the same meter as Homer used. Why then the same rhythm used her as in Homer? Why the same parts of speech in the same order. Nor is this type of analysis outside of the normal bounds of linguistic analysis. In fact, Forte makes much the same type of comparison between Homer and Hesiod, who were much closer together in time and shared a writing heritage. So, yes, if it is a coincidence, it is an astonishing one.

Let me wrap this up, as promised, like Louis Armstrong belting out Hello, Dolly. You can argue that there are lots of loose ends here and no doubt. But I suggest that the connection I make here between "stock and stone" in Tolkien and "oak and stone" in Homer is far less than much other etymology I have read by the most credentialed of linguists (in fact, it is less attenuated than many scientific theories like evolution). I rely on Forte's connection of Indo-European language references to this phrase (tree and stone, stump and rock, stock and stone, whatever) in both ancient Greek and back to 18th century B.C. northern Syria and though he does not concentrate much upon it, the connection of Zeus (in some aspects of him related to Ba'al) with oak trees. He brings it through Plato in the early fourth century, B.C., thus for some 1400 years.  We can see frequent use of the phrase "stock and stone" in middle and even modern English and know that "stoc" or "stock" actually means tree stump such thus stock and stone is essentially the same phrase as the "tree and rock" expression used by Homer and Hesiod and it seems a thousand years or more before them 18th century, B.C. in Syria. You can of course also argue that a tree stump is too far from a tree. I would say not. Words very often over time come to have a more or less general meaning. Just as an example, words for hand (in Greek - Cheir-) can mean arm.  
It would have seemed that the English version of the phrase was often/generally used literally or descriptively and not metaphorically with regard to thunder and lightning, prophecy and generative myths manner in which Forte suggests the ancients used it. But, again, remarkably, in Tolkien, we see virtually all the ancient metaphorical elements in place. More, I think he borrowed as much or more from Homer than Pearl in using the phrase. He's dead, so I can't ask him about it.

Like Forte, I can't say clearly this commonality is as a result of the phrase spreading from Greece (maybe through Latin or other language) to medieval England or whether it was a Proto-Indo-European phrase that descended through Proto-Germanic or other channels to Old English/Anglo-Saxon. That would take a lot more research and takes me far outside of my language boundaries. I came to the game late in life and I'm just not going to learn German (though once I tinkered with it) and its predecessors unless I'm alive in 2045 when they begin downloading brains into new bodies, in which case, I may have the time.

Of course, whether the combination phrase extends even further to the very beginnings of the Proto-Indo-European language as Forte suggest we have no real evidence because they had no written language. More pictographic evidence would be more likely, but probably less certain than written. It might seem likely to him and I don't intuitively disagree (after all, one would think that for a pre-historical people, things like rocks and tree stumps would have some importance). But, there is evidence and there is speculation, and this would be crossing the line for me.

But 3900 years is enough to ring my language bells. Hello, Dolly!

3 comments:

  1. It is now official. You are the KING OF GEEK. While it is fun to read you when you go off on a linguistic point you are taken with, it is without doubt, the nerdiest of experiences. Please don't wear white sox with black shoes. We have to hold on to some sliver of self respect.
    By the by, your conclusions sound reasonable to me. I don't think you are stretching very much to connect the dots.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, I know I am a nerd and a geek. What's funny to me is that I also know that you get giddy at the thought of T.S. Eliot lighting a pipe and used to play in a fantasy baseball league. Nerd up, Poindexter. Need I tell everyone the Field of Dreams story I was saving for my memoirs?

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  3. Hmmm? Ingrid. A language lover or a spammer that forgot to leave her website?

    ReplyDelete

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .