Friday, July 31, 2009

ineffable words

About a year ago Uglier Than a Monkey's Armpit, a book on untranslatable insults, put-downs and curses from around the world, was published in the UK. Author, according to the cover, Robert Vanderplank.

Nothing odd about that, except that the book had two authors, one of whom was Steve Dodson of Language Hat fame. (Note that it seems not to have occurred to OUP* that mentioning LH might actually bring hordes of readers clamouring for the book. Some believe in God without knowing whether one exists; some know the Internet exists without believing in it.)

Now a new version is upon us. The American edition of Uglier Than a Monkey's Armpit has come out, and, mirabile dictu, the name of Stephen Dodson appears on the cover. Sadly, the book does not include the introduction by Steve Dodson. (He has been told it will appear in the next printing.)

Mr Dodson would seem to have a disposition of unnerving saintliness. This is a man who could, if he so chose, vaporize his publishers with insults, put-downs and curses from around the world. His comments on the matter remind the reader of nothing so much as Superman in the guise of mild-mannered Clark Kent.
(The only reasonable inference is that the insults and put-downs are of such power they would destroy anyone on whom they were deployed.)

Of the UK edition, he merely commented that his own name appeared only in tiny print on the copyright page, and added

The US edition will feature my lively introduction, in which I quote Pushkin, Mark Liberman, and my nonagenarian mother-in-law; the editions available now carry an introduction by my coauthor, Robert Vanderplank.

before offering various attractive entries from the book.

Now that the US edition has come out, minus the promised lively introduction, he merely mentions its absence and comments that the packager, not Penguin, is to blame.

The reader who wants to know more about Pushkin, Mark Liberman and Dodson's nonagenarian mother would appear to have only one course of action: buy the book now, minus the introduction, in the hope that doing so will bring forward the reprint. He or she will, at any rate, be able to curse those responsible with rare cosmopolitanism.

[When I said "OUP" I meant, of course, "Boxtree". Boxtree, as UK publishers of the book, might reasonably have been expected to take into account LH's popular blog; since OUP did not publish the book, they presumably had no say in the matter. Vanderplank is director of the University of Oxford Language Centre, hence, probably, the careless blogger's muddle. Also I am in the middle of moving from one apartment to another. But as Mies said, Die Seele ist in den Details; it's bad to find one's Seele so threadbare.]


Nathaniel said...

I like how the editorial review on Amazon has this to say about Dodson:

"Stephen Dodson is a linguist, editor, and lover of language, as well as the creator of a popular website."

As if actually naming Language Hat outright would be unthinkable because then someone reading the review would leave Amazon and proceed immediately to Language Hat thereby forgetting to purchase the book thereby losing Amazon potential revenue.

Or maybe the person who works at Amazon was writing it up and remembered that Dodson was associated with some kind of popular website but couldn't remember what the name of the site was, and the person obviously didn't have the mental faculties to look it up.

J.K. Rowling is the author of a popular children's book series, though the name of the series seems to have eluded me at this very moment.

Language said...

Thanks for that; it's nice to see expressed on one's behalf the indignation one feels one must repress for the sake of one's gossamer possibility of further publication. One cursed very loudly when one opened the package containing one's author copy and saw the lack of one's introduction. One alarmed one's wife. But one soldiers on, hoping one's redeemer cometh in the shape of a new printing. In the meantime, I will be happy to send my intro as a Word document to any purchaser who wishes it. One does what one can.

Nathaniel said...

Just got my copy in the mail today. These insults are a riot. And it came just in time for the beginning of the fall semester too. I can't wait to try them out on education majors. ;)

Language said...

Glad you like it! And Ben Zimmer has posted the US intro here.