Saturday, January 9, 2016

The "new" learning of the elderly

The pleasure of finally learning things that might have been learned more than a half century ago 
Eastern Hercules Beetle.  About two inches long.  Photo, Atlanta GA, courtesy dp.

The Stag Beetle, Bill Welch says (Naturally blog, for 21 January, 2015, 3rd and 4th images) is one of the largest in England, but Denise's Eastern Hercules, truly nearly the width of her palm, is bigger.  Yet they look related.  The Stag, Wiki says, is limited to SE England, and the Hercules to the SE of the USA.  Both of them, new to me (and my ignorance of beetles is almost perfect) delighted me.  The largest flying cockroaches here are about as large, but they lack great structure and the ease of handling (they are really ugly!) of these rare beetles and of scaraboids in general.

I greatly enjoy reading E. F. Benson (Mapp and Lucia), but besides his wonderful general intelligence, his writing is enlivened by the kind of general interest and knowledge of all sorts that, generally, only leisure can enable, ideally (as in his case) by the kind of adolescent education that the best schools provided (he was born in 1867 and at the usual age was sent to Marlborough College, the model for that in his novel David Blaize, which is purely and devotedly Late Victorian), and as wonderful a source as can be imagined for college cricket and for all the other interests and activities of that life, not least carefully noted nature walks.  I cannot express my debt to Bill Welch's blog, Naturally, for its devotion (amateur in the truest and best sense) to the insects and plants in particular and his photographs.  I  have learned that the most serious shortcoming of my almost George Gissing-like adolescence, which helped form me and gave me strength and some kinds of discrimination,, is exactly the converse of what E. F. Benson's provided (and then some).  Likewise, my young friend Denise is a far better observer than I am.  Indeed, if it weren't for its probable limited expectancy, being old is so good that I'd love to be old forever.  For the moment, may I just recommend to everyone reading E. F. Benson.  Also, the Naturally blog.  It is unlimitedly worthwhile.  As an example, the Link that I gave was to the use of Comtois horses, which look almost like the oldest French cave drawings of Palaeolithic horses.  Be that as it may, this blog post on coppicing led me to look up Comtois horses in another treasure of the present decades, Wikipedia, by means of which I spent a whole afternoon studying the training of these strong and calm, beautifully stocky and short (only 14 or 15 hands) working horses and the man who trains them.  Well, I can't do that with the Hercules Beetle, though I learned that Denise had handled and watched it for quite a while before releasing it.  Yet I wouldn't have got her to show me the photo that she took if I had not learned of stag beetles from Bill Welch's post and, reading E F Benson, been instantly interested in the boy, David,  in the early chapters of Benson's novel, when David was still a school boy.  By the way, never mind what journalistic reviews say about this novel.  And don't smirk at the idealism of its last chapter, either.  (I am still searching for my photo of a bright green emerging cicada which, to my delight, chanced on my rear screen door, attached itself, and was still emerging when I came out in the morning; its wings were as lovely as any dragon fly's).  Just read both the blog and E. F. Benson.
It was on July 10, 1912 that with a tiny camera, awaking to something utterly surprising and lovely, this cicada, still damp and green, just emerged from its puppa, having chosen my rear screendoor as an ideal place to attach itself.  Later that day the cicada had departed, but the shell stuck to the screen for a couple of months.  Of course, the source for such fairy wings must have been dragonflies, but I must admit that I hadn't realized them before: here they became real to me.  
Anyway, in the middle of one of those cricket games in David Blaize (if anyone can tell me where to read up on the rules and scoring of cricket I shall be most grateful), twice in one page, and only that once, I came across a surprising word, google.  This, in fact, may be its first appearance, a vernacular word, such as players themselves come up with (cf. dribble in basketball, about the same age and of the same kind, alluding to a particular kind of movement of a ball or puck--any relation at all in vernacular usage to puckishness or mischievousness?).  Actually, the US OED that comes on my iMac says
  1. googly |ˈgo͞oglē|

  • noun ( pl. googlies ) Cricket
    a ball bowled with a deceptive bounce.
    ORIGIN early 20th cent.: of unknown origin. 
And the dolls whose eyes' irises go off to the side, to look askance,  of course, were called googly-eyed.  You see them commonly on Antiques Roadshow.  They, too, dated from the turn of the last century and the eyes were made to go off to the side.  The 10th edition of the Webster's Collegiate no longer has the word, though it was listed simply (as in the OED) in the 1956 edition of the Collegiate from my undergraduate days.  It was the two-volume 'Shorter' OED that first put me onto this line of thought.

And what does that prove?  Nothing at all.  Dribble, goggle, google, wobble, and the like, I think, are words that can happen more than once, and Google's own account of its name, from a child's coming up with googul for the prodigious quantity requiring place-markers all the way across a page, need not be related except that these are just the kind of words that are unknown in origin precisely because they are not pedantic but, on the contrary, part of the essential remnants of baby talk.  Yet the sense of going awry runs through all our pre-Google usages, and it is also far earlier (cited as in print in 1904).  It matters, however, only as it mattered to Partridge.  Words just do matter.

As so often, it was in Eric Partridge that I found a citation ; he was interested in such things:
Origins: A Short Dictionary of Modern English, Macmillan, 2nd edition, 1959, s.v. jig, 7.