Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Pyramids or Don't Spellcheck This Post

I know I said I wouldn't actually write a review of any of the Terry Pratchett books I'm reading lately, and I'm still not going to - but in his last few books I've noticed his tendency to use language that's beyond my ken. For a short while, I felt that perhaps that English degree and post-grad writing degree had been largely pointless, but then I began to do some research on the latest of the most currently confusing passage I'd read, from Pyramids.

Pratchett writes of the assassins in the assassins' guild, "...and were expected to dance well, and because well-cut black silk and long legs attracted a certain type of older woman, they'd whirled the night away through baubons, galliards and slow-stepping pavonines..." I understand "and" and "legs", but "baubons", "galliards" and "pavonines" are completely unfamiliar. So I went to the web. Galliards and pavonines were immediately forthcoming.
pav·o·nine adj.
Of or resembling a peacock.
Resembling a peacock's tail in color, design, or iridescence.

gal·liard n.
A spirited dance popular in France in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The triple-time music for this dance.
adj. Archaic Spirited; lively; gay.
But "baubon" was problematically elusive. The online dictionaries returned nothing and most of the Google hits fell into three distinct categories (I don't guarantee work-safety):
  1. Dildo-related: "The Greeks also had specific words for a dildo (olisbos or baubon)."
  2. Some sort of weird-ass collie (like the dog) porn: as in Nataline. Smooth and Rough Collies. Photoalbum. Paimio.
  3. Italian on Italian (.it) sites I just simply don't understand, but which is probably related to #1.

Then I decided to concatenate "baubon" with the other dance-related words, and when I added "galliard", I got a hit referencing The Oxter English Dictionary. Wondering if I mistyped Oxford and have perhaps never heard of it? Apparently neither has anyone else who might write a review of it for Amazon - but I'm willing to bet 4:1 that Terry Pratchett has a copy of this "Uncommon Words Used By Uncommonly Good Writers" sitting on his shelf at home and that it possibly doesn't even come with a definition for "baubon", just a note that if you're referring to a dance, you should use the words "galliard", "baubon" and "pavonine". I had a professor once who told me good writers have good tools and this seems to be an exceptional case where you can actually trace specific writing back to the specific tool. Not that I'm calling Terry Pratchett a tool - I like his writing, and the new words he teaches me, even when I can't find them on the web.


klund said...

Whenever I read your posts, I realize that I don't think enough.

Anonymous said...

You read weird books.