This is a blog about language and literature. I’ve always been fascinated by words, by how words form sentences, and how sentences form poems and stories. The technical term for this fascination is philology—the love of language. Friedrich Nietzsche defined philology as the art of reading slowly—that’s where I got the title for this blog. In the section titled What is Philology? I discuss what I take to be the four major components of philology: historical linguistics, the editing of texts, the interpretation of language in context, and the interpretation of literature with special attention to language. I’m interested in all of these, and I will post blogs on all of them, but my own work lies primarily in the third and fourth areas.
I created this site as an invitation for anyone who has a passion for literature—readers and writers of all sorts. I would like to think of this blog as one part of a conversation among people who share an interest in the way language works and the way it turns into art. Please feel free to enter the conversation by dropping me a note with your reactions to my posts or with your own thoughts. I welcome your comments and suggestions.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Karen L. Hogan, who did all the hard work of designing and mounting this blog. Without her help it wouldn’t have happened.
My Most Recent Blog Posts
I. The ancient Greek word “spora” (σπορά) meant “seed”. The modern English word “spore” doesn’t quite mean “seed”, but it does mean one of the stages in the reproduction cycle of fungi, such as molds, yeast, or mushrooms, and of some non-flowering plants, such as ferns. The ancient Greek “sporadên” (σποράδην) means “spread or scattered … Continue reading Precious Bodily Fluids
English verbs (and verbs in some related languages) can be divided into two types. One type makes its past tense and past participle by adding a dental suffix, which is pronounced “d” (“I love, I loved, I have loved”) or “ed” (“I want, I wanted, I have wanted) or “t” (“I walk, I walked, I … Continue reading Think, Thank, Thunk
In a previous post (“Ships and Shirts”, posted 28 March 2022), I examined some words which have entered English at two (or more) different times. Both “ship” and “shirt” go back to Old English and derive, through regular laws of sound change, from words in Proto-Germanic; “skipper” and “skirt” also go back to Proto-Germanic, but … Continue reading Fragile Dishes
I was intending to write two or three more essays about etymological families, and I will get back to these soon, but I got sidetracked by Albert Camus’ great novel, La Peste—The Plague. I’ve read it a few times, and it always catches hold of me. I love Camus’ elegant style, and the story he … Continue reading The Beginning of the Plague
Words often belong to etymological families. Sometimes the family relationships are obvious, but sometimes they can be surprising. In this post I will talk about two etymological families, the ship family and the shirt family. A lot of the information here comes from a wonderful book edited by Calvert Watkins, The American Heritage Dictionary of … Continue reading Ships and Shirts
When I was in junior high school, I think it was grade eight, we had regular vocabulary drills. Our grammar book had a section on words that we should know; there was also a list of pairs and triples of words that could be easily confused. I remember just one of these pairs, which for … Continue reading Cynosure and Sinecure