sunnudagur, september 30, 2007


Night driving southward again, about to climb the long, barely-tipped slope from the lake. Music is still resounding in my head, and the conductor still jumps and gesticulates in my mind's eye, but I am almost sleepy.

But no coffee for me, thank you. I'll have a chocolate bar instead, one of those with the shredded coconut center. Its surface is chalky with cocoa butter -- god knows how long it's languished in that gas station. That's hardly the point. Under the pitiable chocolate is the white I am looking for. It is so sweet in my mouth that it is cold, and now I am alert again with sugar flashing through my brain.

laugardagur, september 22, 2007


Can this be right? I've seen this derivation before, sic (or sick, which I would never have written myself) from seek. The idea is logical-seeming enough: that in saying sic 'em you are exhorting your dog to seek him. I should be satisfied - no? - seeing as English seek comes in large degree from ON sækja, but I think this is folk etymology.

My instinct is to spell it sic, past tense sicced, not sick and sicked. Seek him sounds reasonable to me until I remember that one also sics a dog on someone, and that seems more of a stretch as an extended use of seek. Though I know that verbs may slide back and forth between strong and weak forms, I am also troubled that sækja and its derivative seek are strong - sótt, sought - while sic is weak.

I think the single c is etymologically correct. There is what must be an Icelandic cognate: siga. It is weak: siga, sigaði. It means "to sic," i.e., to set (e.g., a dog) on someone, as in siga hundum á einhvern. Orðabók Menningarsjóðs glosses it with etja, to whet or encourage. Older uses include siga mönnum saman, which is something like "to whip people up into a group," and siga einhvern upp, "to whip someone up," "excite someone."

It's an old word. Óláfr Tryggvason sends his hound Vígi after Þórir hjörtr by means of this verb. Cleasby and Vigfusson cite it in other texts, glossing it as to excite dogs by shouting 'rrrr!'

Perhaps I am both wrong and right, and siga is also from sækja -- I have ordered Alexander Jóhannesson's dictionary to find out -- but sic must be related to siga.

Addendum 28. júlí 2008: Wm W. Heist agrees with me in American Speech 42.1 (1967): 65-69.

þriðjudagur, september 18, 2007

lost dogs

The etymology of the word dog is completely unknown and famously so. The word shark is similarly mysterious. There are several species of small shark known as dogfish, which is apparently attested as early as 1475. Another word for dogfish in British English is huss --origin unknown.

sunnudagur, september 16, 2007


I had only ever known about Laika. I had always felt sorry for her. Today, for some reason, I felt awful. I tried to imagine that she'd died of cold or of CO2 poisoning, just gotten sleepier and sleepier until she set her head down on her paws and drifted off. That wouldn't have been so bad, I thought, but the launch must have been terrifying.

I hadn't known there had been more:


Only Pchelka and Mushka did not survive their mission.

fimmtudagur, september 13, 2007


Apparently, the scapegoat is a translation error. We may blame Tyndale, who (Douglas Harper informs us) rendered caper emissarius thusly in 1530. Others may blame Luther, who gave us der ledige Bock, or Symmachus, who offered tragos aperkhomenos. All of them, however, would blame Jerome, for it is Jerome who misread azazel, a demon, as ez ozel, "goat that departs."

It's a reasonable error. Who could blame him, really? I'm sure the handwriting was awful and the lighting worse. Is it such a tragic mistake?

Blame Jerome anyway. He will only blame someone else.

fimmtudagur, september 06, 2007


The extraordinary thing about Jón Indíafari may not be that he sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to Madagascar and India but that he sailed back. He had even gone as a free man --unlike Ólafur Egilsson, abducted by Algerians and taken to Barbary in chains. Jón went freely and returned freely.

þriðjudagur, september 04, 2007


There is a moth the size of my thumb clinging to the screen. I have, it is true, small hands, but he is still a large moth.

He might be a Corn Earworm Moth. If so, then he (or his kin) is a likely contributor to the thinness of the chowder I made yesterday. I had set aside five ears of corn. I was looking forward to scraping the knife judderingly down their lengths and seeing the kernels pop off onto the cutting board (and some, inevitably, onto the floor). But the tapered end of each was either dried or rotten, dessicated or worm-eaten. There were, at least, kernels enough left for me that I did not have to give up the soup entirely.

I should be irritated. I could flick my index finger with my thumb against his underside where he hangs by his hooked feet on the screen and launch him indecorously into the dark, but I do not. He is so delicately furry that I can feel no rancor towards him.

mánudagur, september 03, 2007


  • white
  • cream
  • gold
  • red
  • black
  • brindle
  • sable
  • fawn
  • apricot
  • blue
  • silver
  • mahogany
  • brown

sunnudagur, september 02, 2007

takk fyrir síðast

Last year she was driving, passing crows and barking dogs. The sun set and nameless planets turned overhead. All things were lonely -- lonelier, in fact, because not entirely alone. Shadowy canine forms kept pace with the car long after the sound of barking ceased. Every few miles the headlights skimming the gravel shoulder would catch something: a little still clump of feathers, maybe. Dim figures flashed by at the side of the road, beyond the sweep of light. Hitchhikers? Ghosts?

She stayed awake at the wheel, but dreams came to her anyway. The air above seemed as black as coal still in the mine and as heavy. The pedal under her steady foot felt like the pedal of a bellows; she could force air over the tiny fire by pressing down through resistance as satisfying as the firmness of fruit under a good knife, the taut skin of a berry between your teeth. She drove on like this until she got where she had been going, lay down there to sleep, dreamed herself below the sea with her hair in the cold current. Later she woke, achy and new-aware of the strangeness of everything.

And then it was autumn.
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