Mar 272019

Today is the birthday (1745) of Lindley Murray, a North American born Quaker who moved to England where he became a writer and grammarian. Once in a while I feel a need to salute grammarians who, although sometimes overly pedantic, keep us within reasonable bounds. I have far too many friends and former students who decry precision in writing, and mostly I simply grin and bear it. But sometimes I rebel.

I expect the world has always been filled with people whose writing is poor and shallow, just as there are people who cannot draw or compose music. All of these skills require patience and dedication to master, and many (perhaps most) people have neither. Not a problem. I am not going to look down on someone who has no interest in painting, nor on someone who has no interest in writing. I do object, however, when all too frequently I am told by a terrible writer that writing well is a waste of time and effort. If you want to be ignored, dismissed, ridiculed or misunderstood, then by all means write with bad grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Above all, do not blame the language for your own inabilities. It can perform wonders, but you have to know what you are doing. It is not fair to say, as I have heard way too often, “If it could be written, I would not have to dance/play/paint . . . etc.” Idle rubbish. It is not language that is inadequate; it is either your education, or your lack of attention to the skills and subtleties of writing that is at fault. Murray wanted people to do better.

Lindley Murray was born at Harper Tavern in Pennsylvania. His father, Robert Murray, a member of an old Quaker family, was one of the leading New York merchants. Murray was the eldest of twelve children, all of whom he survived, although he was puny and delicate in childhood. When six years old, he was sent to school in Philadelphia, but soon left to accompany his parents to North Carolina, where they lived until 1753. They then moved to New York, where Murray was sent to a good school, but was put down as a ‘heedless boy’. At 14 years old he was placed in his father’s counting-house. In spite of endeavors to foster in him the commercial spirit, Murray’s interests were mainly concentrated in science and literature. He escaped to Burlington, New Jersey, entered a boarding-school, and started to study French. His retreat was discovered, he was brought back to New York, and allowed a private tutor. His father still wanted him to apply himself to commerce, but he stated arguments in favor of a literary profession so ably in writing that his father’s lawyer advised him to let him study law.

Four years later Murray was called to the bar, and practiced as counsel and attorney in the province of New York. At the age of 22 he married, and in 1770 went to England, but returned in 1771 to New York. Here his practice became both large and lucrative, in spite of his conscientious care to ‘discourage litigation, and to recommend a peaceable settlement of differences.’ On the outbreak of hostilities in the colonies America, Murray went with his wife to Long Island, where he spent four years fishing, sailing, and shooting. On the declaration of independence he returned to New York, and was so successful that he retired in 1783 to a mansion on the Hudson.

Because Murray’s health was failing, he decided to try the English climate (yes, you read that right). In 1784, he left North America and never returned. For the remainder of his life he lived in Holgate, near York, and for the last sixteen years of his life, his physical condition, likely the result of Post-Polio Syndrome, confined him to his house.

His library became noted for its theological and philological treasures. He studied botany, and his garden was said to exceed in variety the Royal Gardens at Kew. The summer house in which he wrote his grammars still remains. Murray’s first published work, The Power of Religion on the Mind,  (1787) went to 20 editions by 1842, and was twice translated into French. To the 8th edition (1795) was added ‘Extracts from the Writings of divers Eminent Men representing the Evils of Stage Plays, &c.,’ published separately 1789 and 1799.

His attention was then drawn to the lack of suitable lesson-books for a Friends’ school for girls in York, and in 1795 he published his English Grammar. The manuscript petition from the teachers requesting him to prepare it has been preserved. The work became rapidly popular; it went through 50 editions, was edited, abridged, simplified, and enlarged in England and the US, and for a long time was used in schools to the exclusion of all other grammar-books. In 1816, an edition corrected by the author was issued in 2 vols.  An ‘Abridgment’ of this version by Murray, issued two years later, went through more than 120 editions of ten thousand each. It was printed at the New England Institution for the Blind in embossed characters, Boston, 1835. English Exercises followed (1797), with A Key (27th ed. London, 1847), and both works were in great demand. Murray’s English Reader, Sequel, and Introduction, issued respectively 1799, 1800, and 1801 (31st edit. 1836), were equally successful, as well as the Lecteur Francais, 1802, and Introduction to the Lecteur Francais, 1807. An English Spelling Book, 1804, reached 44 editions, and was translated into Spanish (Cadiz, 1841). The 150,000th First Book for Children, with portrait and woodcuts, was issued in 1859. He died on 16 January 1826, aged 80.

You can find, The English Reader: or, Pieces in Prose and Poetry, Selected from the Best Writers Designed to Assist Young Persons to Read with Propriety and Effect; to Improve Their Language and Sentiments; and to Inculcate Some of the Most Important Principles of Piety and Virtue. : With a Few Preliminary Observations on the Principles of Good Reading. (1799) here if you are interested: .

Mrs Beeton’s prose style would pass muster with Murray, and this segment speaks of another transplant from New York to England:

THE APPLE.—The most useful of all the British fruits is the apple, which is a native of Britain, and may be found in woods and hedges, in the form of the common wild crab, of which all our best apples are merely seminal varieties, produced by culture or particular circumstances. In most temperate climates it is very extensively cultivated, and in England, both as regards variety and quantity, it is excellent and abundant. Immense supplies are also imported from the United States and from France. The apples grown in the vicinity of New York are universally admitted to be the finest of any; but unless selected and packed with great care, they are apt to spoil before reaching England.


  1. INGREDIENTS.—6 apples, 3/4 lb. of suet-crust No. 1215, sugar to taste.

Mode.—Pare and take out the cores of the apples without dividing them; sweeten, and roll each apple in a piece of crust, made by recipe No. 1211; be particular that the paste is nicely joined; put the dumplings into floured cloths, tie them securely, and put them into boiling water. Keep them boiling from 1/2 to 3/4 hour; remove the cloths, and send them hot and quickly to table. Dumplings boiled in knitted cloths have a very pretty appearance when they come to table. The cloths should be made square, just large enough to hold one dumpling, and should be knitted in plain knitting, with very coarse cotton.

Time.—3/4 to 1 hour, or longer should the dumplings be very large.

Average cost, 11/2d. each.

Sufficient for 4 persons.

Seasonable from August to March, but flavourless after the end of January.

Oct 162017

Today is the birthday (1758) of Noah Webster Jr., whose name is synonymous with “dictionary” in the United States, and who was a significant force both in primary education and in the development of what is now called American English. Many of the spellings now current in the US came from Webster’s crusade to simplify the complexities of British orthography, and also to distance the US from British habits.

Webster was born in the Western Division of Hartford (which became West Hartford, Connecticut), to an established family. His father Noah Sr. (1722–1813) was a descendant of Connecticut Governor John Webster; his mother Mercy (Steele) Webster (1727–1794) was a descendant of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony. His father was primarily a farmer, though he was also deacon of the local Congregational church, captain of the town’s militia, and a founder of a local book society (a precursor to the public library). After US independence, he was appointed a justice of the peace.

Webster’s father never attended college, but he was intellectually curious and prized education. Webster’s mother spent long hours teaching her children spelling, mathematics, and music. At age 6, Webster began attending a dilapidated one-room primary school built by West Hartford’s Ecclesiastical Society. Years later, he described the teachers as the “dregs of humanity” and complained that the instruction was mainly in religion. Webster’s experiences there motivated him to improve the educational experience of future generations.

At age 14, his church pastor began tutoring him in Latin and Greek to prepare him for entering Yale College. Webster enrolled at Yale just before his 16th birthday, studying during his senior year with Ezra Stiles, Yale’s president. His 4 years at Yale overlapped the American Revolutionary War, and Webster served in the Connecticut Militia. His father had mortgaged the farm to send Webster to Yale, but he was now on his own and had nothing more to do with his family.

Webster lacked career plans after graduating from Yale in 1778, later writing that a liberal arts education “disqualifies a man for business.” He taught school briefly in Glastonbury, but the working conditions were harsh and the pay low. He quit to study law. While studying law under future U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, Webster also taught full-time in Hartford—which was grueling, and ultimately impossible to continue. He stopped studying law for a year and lapsed into a depression. But eventually he found another practicing attorney to tutor him. He completed his studies and passed the bar examination in 1781. He could not find work as a lawyer, but after receiving a master’s degree from Yale by giving an oral dissertation to the Yale graduating class, he opened a small private school in western Connecticut that was a success. Nevertheless, he soon closed it and left town, probably because of a failed romance.

Turning to literary work as a way to overcome his losses and channel his ambitions, he began writing a series of well-received articles for a prominent New England newspaper justifying and praising the Revolution and arguing that the separation from Britain had to be permanent. He then founded a private school catering to wealthy parents in Goshen, New York and, by 1785, he had written his Speller, a grammar book and a reader for elementary schools. Proceeds from continuing sales of the popular “Blue-Backed Speller” enabled Webster to spend many years working on his dictionary.

Webster saw his Speller and Dictionary as providing an intellectual foundation for American nationalism. As a teacher, he had come to dislike American elementary schools. They could be overcrowded, with up to 70 children of all ages crammed into one-room schoolhouses. They had poor, underpaid staff, no desks, and unsatisfactory textbooks that came from England. Webster thought that US students should learn from US books, so he began writing the three-volume compendium A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. The work consisted of a Speller (published in 1783), a Grammar (published in 1784), and a Reader (published in 1785). His goal was to provide a uniquely “American” approach to training children. His most important improvement, he claimed, was to rescue “our native tongue” from “the clamour of pedantry” that surrounded English grammar and pronunciation. He complained that the English language had been corrupted by the British aristocracy, which set its own standard for proper spelling and pronunciation. Webster rejected the notion that the study of Greek and Latin must precede the study of English grammar. The appropriate standard for the American language, argued Webster, was “the same republican principles as American civil and ecclesiastical constitutions.” This meant that the people-at-large must control the language; popular sovereignty in government must be accompanied by popular usage in language.

The Speller was arranged so that it was easy to teach to students, and it progressed by age. From his own experiences as a teacher, Webster thought that the Speller should be simple and give an orderly presentation of words and the rules of spelling and pronunciation. He believed that students learned most readily when he broke a complex problem into its component parts and had each pupil master one part before moving to the next. It has been argued that Webster anticipated some of the insights currently associated with Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, although his inspiration on the matter came from Rousseau. Webster argued that children pass through distinctive learning phases in which they master increasingly complex or abstract tasks. Therefore, teachers must not try to teach a 3 year old how to read, but start at age 5. He organized his Speller accordingly, beginning with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables, then simple words, then more complex words, then sentences.

The Speller was originally titled The First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language. Over the course of 385 editions in his lifetime, the title was changed in 1786 to The American Spelling Book, and again in 1829 to The Elementary Spelling Book. Most people called it the “Blue-Backed Speller” because of its blue cover and, for the next 100 years, Webster’s book taught children how to read, spell, and pronounce words. It was the most popular American book of its time; by 1837, it had sold 15 million copies, and 60 million by 1890—reaching the majority of young students in the nation’s first century. Its royalty of a half-cent per copy was enough to sustain Webster in his other projects. It also helped create the popular contests known as spelling bees.

Webster’s Speller was entirely secular by design, undoubtedly based on his dissatisfaction with his own schooling. There was no mention of God, the Bible, or sacred events. “Let sacred things be appropriated for sacred purposes,” he wrote. He was intensely religious, especially later in life, but sacred and secular were different realms for him.

Webster’s educational agenda concerned as much the creation of a unified American national culture that would stave off the decline of republican virtues and solidarity, as instilling good grammar and spelling. Following theorists such as Maupertuis, Michaelis, and Herder, Webster believed that a nation’s linguistic forms, and the thoughts correlated with them, shaped individuals’ behavior. Thus, the etymological clarification and reform of American English promised to improve citizens’ manners and thereby preserve republican purity and social stability. Lofty ideals !!

In 1806, Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. In 1807 Webster began compiling an expanded and fully comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language. It took 26 years to complete. Webster hoped to standardize US speech, since citizens in different parts of the country used different dialects and languages. Consequently they spelled, pronounced, and used English words differently.

Webster completed his dictionary during a year abroad in January 1825 in a boarding house in Cambridge in England. The book contained 70,000 words, of which 12,000 had never appeared in a published dictionary before. As a spelling reformer, Webster preferred spellings that matched pronunciation. The spellings that now are characteristic of American English did not originate with Webster, but he made them standard and his dictionary became the general arbiter in the US. For example, the middle of something could be the “center” or “centre” in English; Webster made the former his preferred spelling because it emphasized pronunciation over etymology (which he considered pedantically British). He was able to make headway by replacing /-our/ with /-or/ (e.g. “color” over “colour”) and eliminating some double consonants (e.g. “traveled” for “travelled”); but he found little success with more radical changes (e.g. “tung” for “tongue”); and no luck with getting rid of silent letters whatsoever.   He once complained:

There iz no alternativ. Every possible reezon that could ever be offered for altering the spelling of wurds, stil exists in full force; and if a gradual reform should not be made in our language, it wil proov that we are less under the influence of reezon than our ancestors.

Though it now has an honored place in the history of American English, Webster’s first dictionary sold only 2,500 copies. He was forced to mortgage his home to develop a second edition, and his life from then on was plagued with debt. The work was so poorly received at first because Webster, as was his wont in everyday life, managed to annoy everyone. Culturally conservative Jeffersonian Federalists (whom he allied with much of the time) denounced the work as radical—too inclusive in its lexicon and even bordering on vulgar, while his old foes, the Republicans, attacked the man, labeling him mad for such an undertaking. Even before he published the dictionary they called him “a pusillanimous, half-begotten, self-dubbed patriot,” “an incurable lunatic,” and “a deceitful newsmonger … Pedagogue and Quack.” But even Federalist rivals called him “a toad in the service of sans-cullottism,” “a prostitute wretch,” “a great fool, and a barefaced liar,” “a spiteful viper,” and “a maniacal pedant.” He certainly knew how to get up people’s noses.

On the other side of the coin, Emily Dickinson saw the 1844 Webster’s as essential reading. She once commented that the “Lexicon” was her “only companion” for years. As it happens, Webster was one of the founders of Amherst college along with Dickinson’s grandfather, and she went to college with Webster’s granddaughter.  Webster’s dictionaries helped redefine US national identity in an era of extreme cultural flexibility. Webster himself saw the dictionaries as a nationalizing device to separate the US from Britain, calling his project a “federal language” endeavor, with competing forces towards regularity on the one hand and innovation on the other.

American Cookery The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, and Vegetables etc (1796) by Amelia Simmons is a good source for a recipe for today’s anniversary because it was the first cookbook published in the US that deals with specifically American cooking, and because it was published in Hartford, Connecticut, Webster’s home town. Webster kept a daily diary but he does not mention food much. However, he does give this entry:

1784, September 29. Rode to West Division with Mrs. Fish to buy peaches. Returned and had dinner at Mr. Pratt’s. We ate Sea-Turtle.

I don’t know how the turtle was cooked, nor do I want to cook one myself, but here’s a recipe from Simmons.

To Dress a Turtle.

Fill a boiler or kettle, with a quantity of water sufficient to scald the callapach and Callapee, the fins, &c. and about 9 o’clock hang up your Turtle by the hind fins, cut of the head and save the blood, take a sharp pointed knife and separate the callapach from the callapee, or the back from the belly part, down to the shoulders, so as to come at the entrails which take out, and clean them, as you would those of any other animal, and throw them into a tub of clean water, taking great care not to break the gall, but to cut it off from the liver and throw it away, then separate each distinctly and put the guts into another vessel, open them with a small pen-knife end to end, wash them clean, and draw them through a woolen cloth, in warm water, to clear away the slime and then put them in clean cold water till they are used with the other part of the entrails, which must be cut up small to be mixed in the baking dishes with the meat; this done, separate the back and belly pieces, entirely cutting away the fore fins by the upper joint, which scald; peal off the loose skin and cut them into small pieces, laying them by themselves, either in another vessel, or on the table, ready to be seasoned; then cut off the meat from the belly part, and clean the back from the lungs, kidneys, &c. and that meat cut into pieces as small as a walnut, laying it likewise by itself; after this you are to scald the back, and belly pieces, pulling off the shell from the back, and the yellow skin from the belly, when all will be white and clean, and with the kitchen cleaver cut those up likewise into pieces about the bigness or breadth of a card; put those pieces into clean cold water, wash them and place them in a heap on the table, so that each part may lay by itself; the meat being thus prepared and laid separate for seasoning; mix two third parts of salt or rather more, and one third part of cyanne pepper, black pepper, and a nutmeg, and mace pounded fine, and mixt all together; the quantity, to be proportioned to the size of the Turtle, so that in each dish there may be about three spoonfuls of seasoning to every twelve pound of meat; your meat being thus seasoned, get some sweet herbs, such as thyme, savory, &c. let them be dryed an rub’d fine, and having provided some deep dishes to bake it in, which should be of the common brown ware, put in the coarsest part of the meat, put a quarter pound of butter at the bottom of each dish, and then put some of each of the several parcels of meat, so that the dishes may be all alike and have equal portions of the different parts of the Turtle, and between each laying of meat strew a little of the mixture of sweet herbs, fill your dishes within an inch an half, or two inches of the top; boil the blood of the Turtle, and put into it, then lay on forcemeat balls made of veal, highly seasoned with the same seasoning as the Turtle; put in each dish a gill of Madeira Wine, and as much water as it will conveniently hold, then break over it five or six eggs to keep the meat from scorching at the top, and over that shake a handful of shread parsley, to make it look green, when done put your dishes into an oven made hot enough to bake bread, and in an hour and half, or two hours (according to the size of the dishes) it will be sufficiently done.

Jul 262017

Dr. Esperanto’s International Language, usually referred to as Unua Libro (First Book), was first published on this this date in 1887 in Russian. It was the first publication to describe Esperanto, then called the International Language (Esperanto: Internacia Lingvo). It was first published in Warsaw by Polish oculist Ludvic Lazarus Zamenhof. Over the next few years editions were published in Polish, Russian, Hebrew, French, German, and English. This booklet included the Lord’s Prayer, some Bible verses, a letter, poetry, the 16 rules of grammar and 900 roots of vocabulary. In the book Zamenhof declared, “an international language, like a national one, is common property” and renounced all rights to the language, effectively putting it into the public domain. Zamenhof signed the work as “Doktoro Esperanto” (Doctor One-Who-Hopes). Those who learned the new language began to call it “Esperanto” after Zamenhof’s pen name, and Esperanto soon became the official name of the language.

The first English edition, entitled Dr Esperanto’s International Tongue, was translated by Julian Steinhaus. When Richard H. Geoghegan pointed out that Steinhaus’s translation was in very poor English throughout, Zamenhof destroyed his remaining copies and engaged Geoghegan to produce a fresh translation. In 1905, Zamenhof re-published the 16 rules of grammar, in combination with a dictionary and a collection of exercises, in a work entitled Fundamento de Esperanto (Foundation of Esperanto).

I can understand why Zamenhof got the idea to create a universal language (just about), but I vehemently disapprove for a host of reasons. Perhaps of greatest importance is that language and culture are so deeply entwined that they cannot, nor should, be separated. The English language, for example, contains embedded in it all the history of English-speaking peoples along with their poetry, drama, and prose, their loves, fears, and joys, and all there is that makes them who they are. Language is identity. Furthermore, every language can be broken down into dialects which root segments of the larger language family in local culture. Standardizing languages so that all speakers use one dialect (typically the dialect of the rich and powerful) is an act of tyranny that robs local populations of their specialness. Standardizing ALL languages to one, single, global language may not be as tyrannical, but it is still a horrible idea. Would you like to selectively hybridize all animals and all plants so that you have one (highly nutritious) meat and one vegetable? We should revel in linguistic diversity, not eliminate it.

I understand Zamenhof’s motives. He was born and grew up in a part of Poland where there were 4 languages used – Polish, German, Yiddish, and Russian. There were deep divisions between the 4 communities and Zamenhof thought that if they all had a common language they would get along better. He wrote:

The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Białystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist; I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews and so on. This was always a great torment to my infant mind, although many people may smile at such an ‘anguish for the world’ in a child. Since at that time I thought that ‘grown-ups’ were omnipotent, so I often said to myself that when I grew up I would certainly destroy this evil.

He’s right that the division of people into groups who look upon each other as enemies is evil, but this state of affairs is not created by language nor will speaking a common language remove it. A modern anthropologist could have set him straight and saved him a lot of trouble.

Zamenhof equally believed that it was possible to create a language that was easy to learn by simplifying the grammar and the vocabulary. This agenda is misguided in a host of ways, although I applaud his invention of a phonetic alphabet for Esperanto. Literacy in Europe was greatly enhanced in certain regions when spelling and pronunciation were standardized by academies. English missed the boat in this regard, and it’s too late now to change it. But even here there are problems. The Esperanto alphabet could be used for English without too much hardship I suppose, but do you really want Russians, Israelis, Arabs, and Koreans to give up their alphabets? Korean Hangul is Korea’s pride. They even have a special day set aside to honor its invention. Serbs and Croats speak dialects of the same language, but Croats use the Roman alphabet and Serbs use Cyrillic and are fiercely defensive of their separate systems, and don’t want to give them up because they represent the differences between the two peoples.  When you get into systems of writing that are not alphabetic or even syllabic, such as Chinese characters, things get even more complex. You can write Chinese in an alphabetic system called Pinyin, and all Chinese speakers can read Pinyin. But it is rarely used by native speakers.  They prefer using Chinese characters because the characters themselves contain layered meanings which get destroyed by using Pinyin.

Esperanto should be classified as an Indo-European language, and, as such, its supposed simplicity is limited to people who speak Indo-European languages, and make it much harder for speakers from other language families. For example, Esperanto uses plurals for nouns (and adjectives), but many non-Indo-European languages do not. My Mandarin Chinese teacher once asked me what the point of plurals was. Mandarin does not use them. He asked me once, “Why say ‘one dog, two dogs’ when ‘one dog, two dog’ is perfectly understandable?” The phonology, grammar, vocabulary, and semantics are based on the Indo-European languages spoken in Europe. The sound inventory is essentially Slavic, as is much of the semantics, whereas the vocabulary derives primarily from the Romance languages, with a lesser contribution from Germanic languages and minor contributions from Slavic languages and Greek. Pragmatics and other aspects of the language not specified by Zamenhof’s original documents were influenced by the native languages of early authors, primarily Russian, Polish, German, and French.

Esperanto words are mostly derived by stringing together roots, grammatical endings, and at times prefixes and suffixes. This process is regular, so that people can create new words as they speak and be understood. Compound words are formed with a modifier-first, head-final order, as in English (compare “birdsong” and “songbird,” and Esperanto, birdokanto and kantobirdo). Speakers may optionally insert an o between the words in a compound noun if placing them together directly without the o would make the resulting word hard to say or understand.

The different parts of speech are marked by their own suffixes: all common nouns end in -o, all adjectives in -a, all derived adverbs in -e, and all verbs in one of six tense and mood suffixes, such as the present tense -as. Nouns and adjectives have two cases: nominative for grammatical subjects and in general, and accusative for direct objects and (after a preposition) to indicate direction of movement.

Singular nouns used as grammatical subjects end in -o, plural subject nouns in -oj (pronounced [oi̯] like English “oy”). Singular direct object forms end in -on, and plural direct objects with the combination -ojn ([oi̯n]; rhymes with “coin”): -o- indicates that the word is a noun, -j- indicates the plural, and -n indicates the accusative (direct object) case. Adjectives agree with their nouns; their endings are singular subject -a ([a]; rhymes with “ha!”), plural subject -aj ([ai̯], pronounced “eye”), singular object -an, and plural object -ajn ([ai̯n]; rhymes with “fine”).

The six verb inflections consist of three tenses and three moods. They are present tense -as, future tense -os, past tense -is, infinitive mood -i, conditional mood -us, and jussive mood -u (used for wishes and commands). Verbs are not marked for person or number. Thus, kanti means “to sing”, mi kantas means “I sing”, vi kantas means “you sing”, and ili kantas means “they sing.”

To give you the “flavor” of Esperanto, in a figurative as well as a literal sense, here’s a recipe in Esperanto taken from this site — If you are at all conversant with Romance or Slavic languages you’ll get the drift.  My Google translator will help you if you are stuck.  It’s basically eggplant Parmesan.  Full pictures can be found here —


Parmigiana estas tre bongusta itala plado simila al lasanjoj, sed kun tranĉaĵoj de panumita melongeno anstataŭ pastaĵoj. Ĝi ne estas tre malfacila, sed la preparado povas esti sufiĉe longa (ĝis du horoj). Eblas panumi la melongenon, konservi ĝin en fridujo kaj daŭrigi la preparadon poste.

Ingrediencoj por 8 personoj (konvertilo)

Por fritado:

1,5 aŭ 2 kg da melongenoj aŭ celeria tubero (prefere havu tro multe ol ne sufiĉe)
Raspita pano
2 ovoj

Por la saŭco:

1 L da tomata saŭco
1 cepo
Iom da olivoleo (aŭ alia oleo)


250 g da fromaĝo (eblas uzi ekzemple mocarelon kun parmezano; en la fotoj ni uzis oštiepok, slovakan ŝafan fromaĝon)

Salo, se vi ne uzas tre salan fromaĝon


Paŝo 1 Tranĉu la cepon en etajn pecojn kaj metu ilin en poton kun oleo.

Paŝo 2 Kiam la cepoj flaviĝas, aldonu la tomatan saŭcon. Lasu la saŭcon kuiriĝi sur malforta fajro dum duonhoro (aŭ dum vi faros la ceteron de la recepto).

Paŝo 3 Senŝeligu kaj tranĉu la celerion aŭ melongenon en maldikajn tranĉaĵojn (1 cm aŭ malpli).

Paŝo 4 Ĉar celerio estas iom malmola, ni metis ĝin en bolantan akvon dum kelkaj minutoj (sufiĉe por moligi ĝin, sed ne tro longe por ne forigi la guston). Kun melongenoj tio ne necesas.

Paŝo 5 Preparu la lokon por panumado: en profundan teleron miksu la du ovojn (eblas aldoni iom da lakto por havi pli da likvaĵo). Metu sur du aliajn telerojn farunon kaj panerojn. Varmigu en pato sufiĉe multe da oleo, por povi komplete mergi la legomtranĉaĵojn.

Paŝo 6 Por ĉiu peco de legomo: metu ĝin en farunon, poste en ovaĵon, poste en panerojn. Ili devas esti bone kovritaj ambaŭflanke.

Paŝo 7 Fritu la panumitajn legompecojn en oleo.

Paŝo 8 Kovru la fundon de plado per iom da tomata saŭco. Poste faru tavolon da legomaj tranĉaĵoj. Ne lasu tro grandajn truojn inter la pecoj, bezonkaze vi povas tranĉi ilin.

Paŝo 9 Kovru tion per tomata saŭco. La frititaĵoj devas esti bone kovritaj, sed ne naĝi en tomata saŭco. Ne hezitu ŝmiri per kulero. Aldonu pinĉaĵon da salo, se vi ne uzas tre salan fromaĝon.

Paŝo 10 Aldonu tavolon da fromaĝo (depende de la fromaĝo, ĝi estu raspita aŭ maldike tranĉita).

Paŝo 11 Rekomencu la paŝojn 8 ĝis 10 por fari 3 aŭ 4 etaĝojn, depende de la kvanto da ingrediencoj.

Paŝo 12 Enfornigu por 20 aŭ 25 minutoj.

Oct 142015


Today is the birthday (1894) of Edward Estlin Cummings, usually going by his middle name, Estlin, but quite often referred to in lowercase letters without punctuation as e e cummings. This usage mimics the style of his poetry, but was mostly something others did. The use of lowercase for his initials was popularized in part by the title of some books, particularly in the 1960s, printing his name in lower case on the cover and spine. In the preface to E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer by Norman Friedman, critic Harry T. Moore notes, “He [Cummings] had his name put legally into lower case, and in his later books the titles and his name were always in lower case.” According to Cummings’s widow, however, this is incorrect. She wrote to Friedman: “You should not have allowed H. Moore to make such a stupid & childish statement about Cummings & his signature.” On February 27, 1951, Cummings wrote to his French translator D. Jon Grossman that he preferred the use of upper case for the particular edition they were working on. Cummings himself occasionally used lower case initials when he signed, but normally he used upper case.

Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a professor at Harvard University and later the nationally known minister of Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He exhibited transcendental leanings his entire life. As he grew older, Cummings moved more toward an “I, Thou” relationship with God. His journals are replete with references to “le bon Dieu,” as well as prayers for inspiration in his poetry and artwork (such as “Bon Dieu! may I some day do something truly great. amen.”). Cummings “also prayed for strength to be his essential self (‘may I be I is the only prayer—not may I be great or good or beautiful or wise or strong’), and for relief of spirit in times of depression (‘almighty God! I thank thee for my soul; & may I never die spiritually into a mere mind through disease of loneliness’).”


Cummings wanted to be a poet from childhood and wrote poetry daily from 8, exploring assorted forms. He went to Harvard and developed an interest in modern poetry which ignored conventional grammar and syntax, aiming for a dynamic use of language. Upon graduating, he worked for a book dealer.

In 1917, with the First World War ongoing in Europe, Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with his college friend John Dos Passos. Due to an administrative mix-up, Cummings was not assigned to an ambulance unit for five weeks, during which time he stayed in Paris. He fell in love with the city, to which he would return throughout his life. During their service in the ambulance corps, they sent letters home that drew the attention of the military censors, and were known to prefer the company of French soldiers over fellow ambulance drivers. The two openly expressed anti-war views; Cummings spoke of his lack of hatred for the Germans. On September 21, 1917, just five months after his belated assignment, he and a friend, William Slater Brown, were arrested by the French military on suspicion of espionage and undesirable activities. They were held for 3½ months in a military detention camp at the Dépôt de Triage, in La Ferté-Macé, Orne, Normandy.

They were imprisoned with other detainees in a large room. Cummings’ father failed to obtain his son’s release through diplomatic channels and in December 1917 wrote a letter to President Wilson. Cummings was released on December 19, 1917, and Brown was released two months later. Cummings used his prison experience as the basis for his novel, The Enormous Room (1922), about which F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Of all the work by young men who have sprung up since 1920 one book survives—The Enormous Room by e e cummings… Those few who cause books to live have not been able to endure the thought of its mortality.”


Cummings returned to the United States on New Year’s Day 1918. Later in 1918 he was drafted into the army. He served in the 12th Division at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, until November 1918. Cummings returned to Paris in 1921 and remained there for two years before returning to New York. His collection Tulips and Chimneys came in 1923 and his inventive use of grammar and syntax is evident. The book was heavily cut by his editor. XLI Poems, was then published in 1925. With these collections Cummings made his reputation as an avant garde poet.

During the rest of the 1920s and 1930s Cummings returned to Paris a number of times, and traveled throughout Europe, meeting, among others, Pablo Picasso. In 1931 Cummings traveled to the Soviet Union, recounting his experiences in Eimi, published two years later. During these years Cummings also traveled to Northern Africa and Mexico and worked as an essayist and portrait artist for Vanity Fair magazine (1924–1927).

In the 1930s Samuel Aiwaz Jacobs was Cummings’ publisher; he had started the Golden Eagle Press after working as a typographer and publisher. In 1952, his alma mater, Harvard University awarded Cummings an honorary chair as a guest professor. The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures he gave in 1952 and 1955 were later collected as i: six nonlectures.


Cummings spent the last decade of his life traveling, fulfilling speaking engagements, and spending time at his summer home, Joy Farm, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. He died of a stroke on September 3, 1962, at the age of 67 in North Conway, New Hampshire at the Memorial Hospital. His cremated remains were buried in Lot 748 Althaeas Path, in Section 6, Forest Hills Cemetery and Crematory in Boston. In 1969, his third wife, model and photographer Marion Morehouse Cummings, died and was buried in an adjoining plot.


I’ve been a huge fan of Cummings’ poetry since the age of 15 when my English teacher, John Pearce, who was enormously influential on me ( ), introduced my class to “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” I can’t honestly say I grasped much about the poem then, but it sowed a seed. For many years I kept a complete anthology of his poems on my nightstand, and frequently dipped into it for old favorites or new finds. His style, marked by a disregard for grammar and syntax, is immediately recognizable. This is the first stanza of a well-known favorite:

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

Cummings’ father was killed in a tragic car accident which Cummings grieved dreadfully, and this poem is his eulogy. There is no mistaking Cummings’ style here – especially the odd pairings of images and the seemingly meaningless phrases created by lack of grammar (e.g. “sames of am”), which freak out my word processor more than when I write in Spanish. Once in a while I’ll read an “interpretation” of one of his poems and am instantly horrified by the attempt to pin his poetry down. You can’t. I do the same when somebody tries to “explain” a painting or a piece of music. The meanings are ineffable. I just let his words wash over me in waves of feeling. When I mention Cummings to friends, they more often than not have a favorite to tell me about; it touches them in ways that cannot be articulated. Many people (especially students) try to imitate him, but it is useless. His poems are unique. Of course, they are not all pearls, but that may be, in part, because some do not speak to my own life experiences.

Here is the last stanza of “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond”

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

I would not dream of trying to “explain” such a poem. It simply resonates with me and my feelings.

Despite Cummings’s familiarity with avant-garde styles, much of his work is quite traditional. Many of his poems are sonnets, often with a modern twist, and he occasionally made use of the blues form and acrostics. Many of his most striking poems do not involve any typographical or punctuation innovations at all, but purely syntactic ones.

Cummings, who was also a painter, understood the importance of presentation, and used typography to “paint a picture” with some of his poems. This one is a classic:


I could tell you what critics have said about this poem, but I’m not going to. It should be easy enough to pull your own meanings out of it without my help. If you want a little help try writing it out horizontally:

l (a leaf falls) oneliness

The seeds of Cummings’ unconventional style appear well established even in his earliest work. At age six, he wrote to his father:


It’s amazing to me that a 6 year old could write this. His affection for his father is palpable.


I could use the fact of his confinement in Normany in La Ferté-Macé as an excuse to write about a culinary specialty of the town – tripe fertoise – but I’ll spare you. Maybe one day I’ll recount the story of my pilgrimage to La Ferté-Macé. For now I turn to another famed Cummings poem, “as freedom is a breakfastfood.” This reminds me of discussions I have had over the years with people over the notion of “breakfast food.” Different cultures and different times have their own ideas of what you should eat for breakfast. I’ve mention the full English breakfast many times. Here’s an image to make the mouth water.


Many Western cultures see eggs as the quintessential “breakfast food” whether fried, scrambled, poached, or in an omelet. But this is mere habit. In Yunnan my students tell me that noodles in broth is classic breakfast food.  They would NEVER eat rice for breakfast — unthinkable. And so it goes. In London workers at all-night markets have steak, chips (fries), and a pint of beer for breakfast (then go to bed). My father told me when I was young that when he was a Royal Navy officer the crew ate what they felt like eating. I firmly remember his image of eating curry for breakfast. Sounded good to me at the time, and still does.

In accord with my general philosophy about eating, I eat what I want when I want. I don’t have set meal times, and I don’t have set foods for set times. In fact it’s clear that in the Western world breakfast is a popular dish all day.  Many road joints offer “breakfast all day.” I once saw a sign that read “breakfast at any time” and I was tempted to order “poached eggs on toast in the Renaissance.” Yeah, I’m a smart ass. But you get the idea. Put something together like a Cummings poem. It doesn’t matter if it breaks “the rules,” in the same way that he broke the rules of grammar and syntax. Just have at it, and be happy.