Sunday, July 24, 2011

Catawampus indeed

While perusing their online thesaurus, I discovered on this list of 27 words once on the cutting edge of American slang, that in some cases have been (thankfully) long-since retired.

I find lists of these old words irresistible, but then again, I enjoy reading the dictionary... Some of the words listed arguably are more exiguous than anachronous, but that's a donnybrook for another day.

The First English Dictionary of Slang 1699 was recently reprinted by the folks at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University after they recently discovered they had still a copy of the over three hundred year-old book.

"Originally entitled A New Dictionary of Terms, Ancient and Modern, of the Canting Crew, its aim was to educate the polite London classes in ‘canting’ – the language of thieves and ruffians – should they be unlucky enough to wander into the ‘wrong’ parts of town.

With over 4,000 entries, the dictionary contains many words which are now part of everyday parlance, such as ‘Chitchat’ and ‘Eyesore’ as well as a great many which have become obsolete, such as the delightful ‘Dandyprat’ and ‘Fizzle’.Remarkably, this landmark of English from 1699 was compiled and published anonymously, by an author who has left us only his initials – ‘B.E. Gent [gentleman]’.

Playfully highlighting similarities and contrasts between words, B.E. includes entries ranging from rogues’ cant, through terms used by sailors, labourers, and those in domestic culture, to words and phrases used by the upper classes..."

Sample Entries
  • Anglers, c. Cheats, petty Thieves, who have a Stick with a hook at the end, with which they pluck things out of Windows, Grates, &c. also those that draw in People to be cheated.

  • Arsworm, a little diminutive Fellow.

  • Buffenapper, c. a Dog-stealer, that Trades in Setters, Hounds, Spaniels, Lap, and all sorts of Dogs, Selling them at a round Rate, and himself or Partner Stealing them away the first opportunity.

  • Bumfodder, what serves to wipe the Tail.

  • Bundletail, a short Fat or squat Lass.

  • Cackling-farts, c. Eggs.

  • Dandyprat, a little puny Fellow.

  • Farting-crackers, c. Breeches.

  • Fizzle, a little or low-sounding Fart.

  • Humptey-dumptey, Ale boild with Brandy.

  • Grumbletonians, Malecontents, out of Humour with the Government, for want of a Place, or having lost one.

  • Keeping Cully, one that Maintains a Mistress, and parts with his Money very generously to her.

  • Knock down, very strong Ale or Beer.

  • Lantern-jaw’d, a very lean, thin faced Fellow.

  • Mawdlin, weepingly Drunk.

  • Mopsie, a Dowdy, or Homely Woman

  • Muddled, half Drunk.

  • Mutton-in-long-coats, Women. A Leg of Mutton in a Silk-Stocking, a Woman’s Leg.

  • One of my Cosens, a Wench

  • Pharoah, very strong Mault-Drink.

  • Princock, a pert, forward Fellow

  • Provender, c. he from whom any Money is taken on the Highway.

  • Strum, c. a Periwig. Rum-Strum, c. a long Wig; also a handsom Wench, or Strumpet.

  • Urchin, a little sorry Fellow; also a Hedgehog.

  • Willing-Tit, a little Horse that Travels chearfully.

  • Alack, alas! A real wizard manifest!

    Wizards, The One Wiki to Rule Them All (fair use)

    No! not THAT sort of wizard...

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    A Rumely Oil Pull at a Middle-Aged Fair

    A 1926 Rumely Oil Pull, Model L, recently seen on the last day of Connecticut's North Stonington Fair in 2011.

    These machines are fairly rare today -- so many old tractors were sold for scrap to build Liberty Ships in the Second World War. Of the 4,855 Model L tractors built between 1924 and 1927, only 149 are known to exist today (about 3%). The story of the Rumely, like some of the other early internal-combustion engine tractors, has a storied past that dates back to before the Civil War.

    That story began in 1853 when German immigrant Meinrad Rumely opened a blacksmith shop in LaPorte, Indiana. The M. & J. Rumely Company went through several phases, mergers and buyouts all the while manufacturing agricultural equipment such as threshers and separators. In 1872 Rumely built its first steam engine, and in 1886 it rolled out its first steam tractor, which burned straw as fuel. Over the next decade Rumely expanded its line of steam traction machines, and in 1909 it tested its first kerosene-powered tractor, the "Kerosene Annie" under the direction of Meinrad's grandson, Edward A. Rumely, who wrote that year:

    MAN made his first step toward civilization when he took a crooked stick and began to till the soil, using first the force of his own muscles. Later he learned to apply the power of the animal to the work. Upon cultivating the soil, he became master of the plants and shaped them to serve his purposes. With the plow the savage life of the hunter and the nomad life of the herder gave way to that settled agriculture that now yields our food supply and upon which rests our modern civilization.

    Strangely enough, this work of plowing with which man began his systematic labor remains today still his severest toil. For man, as well as animals on the farm, the dusty and monotonous work of plowing is the hardest drudgery. Think of the power required to pull a plow only the distance across the room, and then of the eight miles of furrow travel in every acre of land. To plow a square mile one man and two or three horses must walk 5,200 miles each. It is easier and the distance less to walk around the earth at the equator than to follow a plow turning a tract of five square miles. To plow three townships the plowman must walk as far as from the earth to the moon and back again and sixty thousand miles farther. Ten horse power hours are needed to turn an acre of land, and to plow one half the area of the United States nine billion four hundred and fifty-four million seven hundred and thirty-six thousand (9,454,736,000) horse power hours are required...

    --Edward A. Rumely, Toiling and tilling the soil, a 1909 Rumely oil-pull tractor sales brochure

    The early steam and kerosene tractors (circa 1870-1920) were very large machines. Only the wealthiest farmers could afford them, and often a single steam tractor would be used to do work on a number of farms in its vicinity. But in the 1920s Rumely (and a number of other tractor manufacturers, such as Ford) redesigned some of its machines and made them smaller and lighter, like the Model L pictured here. These tractors were designed and priced to replace the single team of horses found on a small farm. The University of Nebraska Tractor Test reported that in the Model L drawbar horsepower test the Model L generated around 18 to 19 HP.

    These Model L Oil Pulls were some of the last tractors made by Rumely. Better designs from their competitors and the Great Depression unfortunately conspired against the Advance-Rumely Company, as the company was known by then, and it was bought out by Allis-Chalmers in 1931. [Thanks to David Parfitt and Chris and Rod Epping for a refresher on Rumely's history]

    Any of these old tractors are a favorite at steam and antique tractor shows. We were fortunate enough to see this one running later in the day, though we missed it being started up, which is always an adventure to watch. One of the fascinating things about all these old machines is the low RPM of the engine, which idle at less than 200 rpm.

    Few people today would even know how to start one of these tractors--the "key" would certainly never fit in your pocket, though it would have been near impossible to misplace!
    Starting a Rumely

    Some start these tractors by simply grabbing or the flywheel or pushing on it with their feet and giving it a good spin. Don't try this at home folks.
    Starting a Rumely II

    No power-steering on these either.
    Larger "Prairie" machines

    Ever wonder why the flywheels were left exposed? Before the days of the PTO (power take-off), the pulleys powered belt-driven threshers, saw mills, and other machinery.
    Threshing Demonstration

    The North Stonington Fair, always held in the second week of July, is a particular favorite because it is the first major fair of the season -- the next major Connecticut fair will not be until the end of August. The North Stonington Fair holds its antique tractor pull on Sunday starting around noon (the pull for newer models and modified tractors is on Thursday, the first night of the fair). Though the Rumely didn't compete (metal-wheeled tractors aren't allowed), there were a number of pre-1955 John Deeres, Olivers, Farmalls, Allis-Chalmers, Fords and even a Canadian Cockshutt (see below) pulling several times their weight in cement blocks. In the end, a pull of only a few inches decided the winner.

    The fair itself is not among the older fairs in Connecticut; the 2011 fair was the 47th edition, putting this particular fair squarely in so-called middle age.

    Because 47 is not old.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Digital Sculpture and brilliant old Laocoön

    One of the ways that increased computing power is being put to good use is in the analysis and three-dimensional reconstruction of ancient art. The Digital Sculpture Project is an excellent example of the current interface between technology and history. The mission of the Digital Sculpture Project is
    devoted to studying ways in which 3D digital technologies can be applied to the capture, representation and interpretation of sculpture from all periods and cultures. Up to now, 3D technologies have been used in fruitful ways to represent geometrically simple artifacts such as pottery or larger-scale structures such as buildings and entire cities. With some notable exceptions, sculpture has been neglected by digital humanists. The Digital Sculpture Project will fill this gap by focusing on the following issues:

  • 3D data capture and documentation
  • Digital restoration
  • Digital tools for the processing and analysis of digitized sculpture, including colorization
  • Analysis of earlier forms of sculptural reproduction, particularly the cast
  • The site offers a depth of information about the classical sculpture in its "collection," such as the Laocoön statue group (arguably one of the most dynamic examples of Hellenistic Art) and a reconstruction of the lost portrait sculpture of Greek philosopher Epicurus among others. It explains the history of the art as well as the debates concerning restoration. But probably the coolest thing about the site is a 3-D rendering tool (requires Java and a software installation) to view the sculptures in the round, and quicktime movies that allow one to look at various interpretations of the sculpture in three dimensions. For instance, was the left arm extended heroically, or bent at the elbow? That is often hard to say, since most Greek and Roman sculptures are broken into pieces when discovered and they are often missing their hands, arms and heads.

    No greater authority than Michelangelo entered into the argument over how to put the pieces of the Laocoön group back together. Even then the argument wasn't settled until the last bit of Laocoön's original right arm was identified as such in the 1960s and finally attached correctly...

    There is also a library of articles here and entire books for perusing, on esoteric subjects such as casting and statue restoration, available for anyone seeking an in-depth learning experience into the discovery and rebuilding of classical artworks. The Digital Sculpture Project offers a virtual field trip to an Italian museum, so long as your video card is up to the task of rendering the 3-D imagery.

    And what of Laocoön? He was Troy's priest of Poseidon in Homer's Iliad (or of Neptune, in Virgil's retelling) who attempted to warn the Trojans to beware of Greeks bearing gifts to absolutely do not, DO NOT! bring the wooden horse into Troy, the one left behind by Odysseus &c.

    Thereupon Athena (or Apollo, depending on the version of the story) first blinded him to shut him up (didn't work--eyes gone, mouth still works). Then they had Laocoön and his two sons strangled by an enormous snake which takes him out for good (see image above).

    Later that night, the Trojans may have had second thoughts about ignoring old Laocoön's advice...

    According to John P. Lynch, there are significant and important differences between Homer and Virgil's retelling of the incident:
    Aeneid 2 is for the most part a book of action, telling the whole story of the rapid series of events that led to Troy's final destruction. Aeneas' narrative of these events is fast-paced, almost breathless; it has the flavour and emotional intensity of an eye-witness account rather than a retelling of a past experience. But it is noteworthy that Aeneas begins the story very slowly, by recounting in detail an exchange of speeches between Laocoon and Sinon (40—198). A quick summary of Trojan reactions to the horse might have sufficed for Aeneas' purposes. Virgil's model, Demodokos' song in Homer's Odyssey, treats the debate over the Trojan horse by simply summarizing the three positions taken (Od. 8. 499—513). When Odysseus asked the bard Demodokos to sing the story of the wooden horse (487 ff.), there is no suggestion, either in the wording of Odysseus' request or in the summary of Demodokos' response, of a pivotal debate between Laocoon and Sinon; in Homer's version of the story the major debate was internal to the Trojans and took place after the wooden horse was brought into the city. Why did Virgil have Aeneas linger over the exact words of Laocoön and Sinon? What, beyond a report of causes and events, is suggested by the speeches of Laocoön and Sinon? It would seem that the personalities and oratorical styles of these two men, not just their viewpoints in debate or their roles in the story, are important for the reader to understand.

    Ah, the joys of peeling back the layers of meaning in Virgil!

    Then there is 3240 Laocoon, an asteroid aptly classified as a Jupiter Trojan, discovered November 7, 1978 at the Mount Palomar Observatory.

    Small chance of this Laocoön striking back at his old Greek foes. Who mourns for Adonais, indeed?


    Monday, July 18, 2011

    The Hue and Cry, and the evil Consequences of Tumultuous Assemblies

    Here is the etymology and some history about the "Hue and Cry," one of many pre-modern institutions that was carried across the colonial Atlantic and became part of Rhode Island's pre-industrial culture, an era where the common folk were expected literally to help police their own communities (thanks going to Michael Quinion's World Wide Words for that brilliant explanation).

    Beginning in 1728 constables were designated the local Rhode Island officials responsible for raising the "Hue and Cry" and leading the chase after robbers "caught in the act." Raising the Hue and Cry not only might lead to the apprehension of the criminal, but it also indemnified the town for the money and property stolen. As long as the constables had made an effort, the town was off the hook for the resident's loss.

    Watching the apprehension of a robber under the Hue and Cry would probably look to us more like a mob or a riot. Bear in mind this was an era long before professional police forces or even uniforms existed, any casual observer unacquainted with the participants involved would have been hard put to even identify the constables in charge from the rest of the posse.

    There was plenty of incentive to evade capture. Robbers "lawfully convicted" (no vigilante justice under the statute) were punished with the "Pains of Death." By the 1767 revision of laws the list of officials that could raise the Hue and Cry also included county sheriffs, their deputies and town sergeants.

    "Tumultuous" is another term not used often today in the legal sense; today law enforcement would probably use the word disorderly instead. In 1798, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed An Act to prevent Routs, Riots and tumultuous Assemblies, and the evil Consequences thereof. Constables (and town sergeants) were among those empowered to organize against riotous and unruly crowds, defined by law as "12 or more men armed with weapons or any number of people 30 or more tumultuously assembled" (with whatever behavior tumultuous was, being left up to the discretion of the officers, apparently). Constables could order such a crowd "to disperse and seize anyone that does not" and if any rioters were killed in the ensuing melee, "said Justices, Sheriffs, Town Sergeants, Constables, and their assistants shall be held guiltless." [RI Laws 1798: 582]