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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.



Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Etymology of a Mighty Wind

In the 1990s I was one of many who worked on an ongoing etymological research project at the University of Minnesota, with the goal of compiling sufficient sources to create An Encyclopedic Dictionary of English Etymology, the brainchild of this man, Prof. Anatoly Liberman. The project is still not completed, but in checking up on him I stumbled onto this amusing article, which should give a new meaning to peer-review:

Liberman, A. (1996). Gone with the wind: more thoughts on medieval farting. Scandinavian Studies, 68(1).

Even if Pambarskelfir did not originally mean `farter', this is how the scribe of Morkinskinna and his source seem to have understood it, a circumstance more important than the etymology and early history of pomb. But possibly they understood the nickname correctly. A big fart was associated with great strength. Witches in folktales farted to raise a storm. [I did not know that!] Conversely, the inability to break wind with a loud noise marked one off as a weakling. Porr was so frightened while sitting in a giant's glove, on his way to Utgarda-Lokis's that, according to Odinn's taunt (Harbardzliod 26/8), he dared hniosa ne fisa `neither sneeze nor fart.' The most offensive word is fisa `make a weak fart'; consequently, it was much better to be a fretr `farter' and even a meinfretr `poisonous farter, stinker' than a fiss. German Pimpf `little (inexpenrienced) boy' is someone who cannot produce a good manly Pumpf `fart.' Its English cognate pimp designates a provider of prostitutes (which is a later meaning) and a boy who does menial jobs at a logging camp, carries water and washes dishes; a helper in a mine, etc. The Germanic root *pimp / *pamp / *pump means `swell' and, like pomb, refers to a distended belly: cf. the English verb pamper `stuff with food' overfeed,' hence `overindulge' (Liberman 1992: 71-80). Einarr might once have broken wind while drawing the bow and acquired his nickname Pambarskelfir, `superfarter' as it were, a nickname of which anyone could have been proud. He hardly became a Pambarskelfir a few days before his death, and if, as some scholars think, his bow had been called pomb, this circumstance would have been known to the saga writers.

Too funny. It should be noted that Prof. Liberman starts off his article with a plea for "an exchange of opinions on published materials [that would make] even otherwise unreadable journals worth opening, while SS, a good and solid periodical, would enhance its value by promoting informal dialogue."

(P.S. Note to an absolute fucking moron out there: the Elvis Museum "I've found my calling" post was a joke. As in ha ha. Bye, now.)

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