miðvikudagur, desember 13, 2006


Veiztu hvé ráða skal?


Do you know how to read, how to interpret? Included might be the idea of interpreting without overinterpreting, reading without drifting into oflestur, 'overreading.'

(And all this aside from the possibility of reading ráða as 'to advise,' compare OE rede as in Æþelrad unrede, the ill-advised rather than the unready. His advisors did not know hvé ráða skulu and left him at the mercy of the Danes.)

But Icelandic overreading is not ofráð. Ofráð had meant 'to great a task,' with the sense of ráð as 'plan,' I suppose because a plan is something advisable. These days I expect ofráð is one of those words that prompt Icelanders to reach for the dictionary for guidance (ráð?) on how to interpret the text.

No, overreading is oflestur from lesa, 'to read.' I cannot remember the etymology of lesa, but I seem to recall that it came in with letters on vellum, latin learning. Ráða is very old and has had to do with runes and perhaps with rubbing red pigment into the lines. Perhaps attaching of- to ráða in the reading sense would have resulting in rubbing the carven signs into illegibility? And damaged runes are a notoriously powerful inspiration to oflestur and, indeed, mislestur.


Oflestur is a fine word. It reminds me of a fine English word, the wonderful adverb lest. Uniquely, I believe, lest still demands the subjunctive. Thus:
She wrote with care lest she be misinterpreted.
Or the only slightly less archaic
She worried lest someone should read too much into her words.
I always prefer the former construction to the latter; in this way I cultivate my grammatical atavism. I will ever rush to the defense of the embattled English subjunctive. You may know others like me. We know we are engaged in a hopeless battle. We enjoy the exercise, even though some of us accept that language changes, that change is not bad, and that reversing the direction of that change is a task too great even for the most dedicated grammatical Tories.


There is no connection between Icel. oflestur and Eng. lest unless you make one yourself.

Engin ummæli:

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