apple names and garden grammar

And the names these apples had! Names that reek of the American nineteenth century, its suspender-popping local boosterism, its shameless Barnum-and-Bailey hype, its quirky, un-focus-grouped individuality. There were the names that set out to describe, often with the help of a well-picked metaphor: the green-as-a-bottle Bottle Greening, the Sheepnose, the Oxheart, the Yellow Bellflower, the Black Gilliflower, the Twenty-Ounce Pippin. There were names that puffed with hometown pride, like the Westfield Seek-No-Further, the Hubbardston Nonesuch, the Rhode Island Greening, the Albemarle Pippin (though the very same pippin was known as Newtown nearer to Newtown, New York), the York Imperial, the Kentucky Red Streak, the Long Stem of Pennsylvania, the Ladies Favorite of Tennessee, the King of Tompkins County, the Peach of Kentucky, and the American Nonpareille. There were names that gave credit where credit was due (or so we assume): the Baldwin, the Macintosh, the Jonathan, McAfee’s Red, Norton’s Melon, Moyer’s Prize, Metzger’s Calville, Kirke’s Golden Reinette, Kelly’s White, and Walker’s Beauty. And then there were the names that denoted an apple’s specialty, like Wismer’s Dessert, Jacob’s Sweet Winter, the Early Harvest and Cider Apple, the Clothes-Yard Apple, the Bread and Cheese, Cornell’s Savewell and Putnam’s Savewell, Paradise Winter, Payne’s Late Keeper, and Hay’s Winter Wine.

Gardeners like me tend to think such choices are our sovereign prerogative: in the space of this garden, I tell myself, I alone determine which species will thrive and which will disappear. I’m in charge here, in other words, and behind me stand other humans still more in charge: the long chain of gardeners and botanists, plant breeders, and, these days, genetic engineers who “selected,” “developed,” or “bred” the particular potato that I decided to plant. Even our grammar makes the terms of this relationship perfectly clear: I choose the plants, I pull the weeds, I harvest the crops. We divide the world into subjects and objects, and here in the garden, as in nature generally, we humans are the subjects.

But that afternoon in the garden I found myself wondering: What if that grammar is all wrong?

понедельник начинается в субботу

This week, Timur had a French lesson in his new (Spanish) school. Among things he did not know was the names of days of the week, in either Spanish or French. A perfect excuse for me to create one more table! I also added here German words as Yuri is going to continue studying German in high school.

English German Finnish French Spanish Russian
Monday Montag maanantai lundi lunes понедельник
Tuesday Dienstag tiistai mardi martes вторник
Wednesday Mittwoch keskiviikko mercredi miércoles среда
Thursday Donnerstag torstai jeudi jueves четверг
Friday Freitag perjantai vendredi viernes пятница
Saturday Samstag lauantai samedi sábado суббота
Sunday Sonntag sunnuntai dimanche domingo воскресенье
day Tag päivä jour día день
week Woche viikko semaine semana неделя

In many European languages the names for Monday mean “moon day”. Germanic languages refer to Sunday as, well, “sun day” while Romance languages have “day of the Lord” (Latin dies Dominica) instead. Also, Tuesday through Friday in French and Spanish refer to the Roman gods Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus (but, strangely, not Saturn, which is still present in English Saturday); the same days in English correspond to the Norse deities Týr, Odin, Thor, and Freyia. Saturday is the day of rest: Samstag, samedi, sábado and суббота are all ultimately derived from Hebrew שבת shabbat.

Apart for суббота, Russian words do not follow this pattern. Воскресенье, from воскресение “resurrection” (of Christ), has replaced the older word for Sunday, неделя (from не делая, “not doing”, i.e. day of rest). (In modern Russian неделя only means “week”, but in Bulgarian this word kept the Sunday meaning as well.) Понедельник means a day after Sunday. Среда (from середа) stands for “middle” (of the week; cf. German Mittwoch). The names вторник, четверг and пятница mean “second”, “fourth” and “fifth”, respectively.

the magic of translation

«Ba-er-za-ke». Traduit en Chinois, le nom de l’auteur français formait un mot de quatre idéogrammes. Quelle magie que la traduction! Soudain, la lourdeur des deux premières syllabes, la résonance guerrière et agressive dotée de ringardise de ce nom disparaissaient. Ces quatre caractères, très élégants, dont chacun se composait de peu de traits, s’assemblaient pour former une beauté inhabituelle, de laquelle émanait une saveur exotique, sensuelle, généreuse comme le parfum envoûtant d’un alcool conservé depuis des siècles dans une cave.

Dai Sijie, Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse chinoise


‘Ba-er-zar-ke’. Translated into Chinese, the name of the French author comprised four ideograms. The magic of translation! The ponderousness of the two syllables as well as the belligerent, somewhat old-fashioned ring of the name were quite gone, now that the four characters — very elegant, each composed of just a few strokes — banded together to create an unusual beauty, redolent with an exotic fragrance as sensual as the perfume wreathing a wine stored for centuries in a cellar.