Jul 122021

Today is the birthday (1895) of Richard Buckminster Fuller, who styled himself R. Buckminster Fuller but preferred to be called Bucky, which I will here. He was, without doubt, the quirkiest individual I have ever come across and it is my great misfortune never to have met him, although I did have some dealings with his daughter, Allegra, who has been hailed in circles that focus on the ethnography of dance – my specialty. I’ll let that connexion lie – it was disturbingly fraught – and concentrate, instead, on Bucky’s eccentricities.

Bucky himself recounted how 1927 was a pivotal year of his life. His daughter Alexandra had died in 1922 of complications from polio and spinal meningitis just before her fourth birthday. Bucky dwelt on his daughter’s death, suspecting that it was connected with the Fullers’ damp and drafty living conditions. This provided motivation for his involvement in Stockade Building Systems, a business which aimed to provide affordable, efficient housing. In 1927, at age 32, Bucky lost his job as president of Stockade. The Fuller family had no savings, and the birth of their daughter Allegra in 1927 added to the financial burdens. Fuller drank heavily and reflected upon the solution to his family’s struggles on long walks around Chicago. During the autumn of 1927, Bucky contemplated suicide by drowning in Lake Michigan, so that his family could benefit from a life insurance payment. Bucky said that he had experienced a profound incident which would provide direction and purpose for his life. He felt as though he were suspended several feet above the ground enclosed in a white sphere of light. A voice spoke directly to Fuller, and declared:

From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought. You think the truth. You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to the Universe. Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.

Bucky often talked about how this experience led to a profound re-examination of his life. He ultimately chose to embark on “an experiment, to find what a single individual could contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.” Later commentators have doubted the authenticity of this experience, but I see no reason to doubt it.  The human mind is capable of extraordinary things.  He did achieve great things and his ideas did benefit humanity.

He appears to have re-invented the geodesic dome, with which his name is most closely associated, and he did popularize its use in architecture. It had originally been created, built and awarded a German patent on June 19, 1925 by Dr. Walther Bauersfeld. Bucky was awarded the United States patent in 1954, and his patent application made no mention of Bauersfeld’s self-supporting dome built 26 years prior. One of his early models was first constructed in 1945 at Bennington College in Vermont, where he lectured often. Although Bauersfeild’s dome could support a full skin of concrete it was not until 1949 that Fuller erected a geodesic dome building that could sustain its own weight with no practical limits. It was 4.3 meters (14 feet) in diameter and constructed of aluminum aircraft tubing and a vinyl-plastic skin, in the form of an icosahedron. The U.S. government recognized the importance of this work, and employed his firm Geodesics, Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina to make small domes for the Marines. Within a few years, there were thousands of such domes around the world.

Bucky was a Unitarian, like his grandfather Arthur Buckminster Fuller who was a Unitarian minister. He was also an early environmental activist, aware of the Earth’s finite resources, and promoted a principle he termed “ephemeralization,” which, according to futurist and Fuller disciple Stewart Brand, was defined as “doing more with less.” Resources and waste from crude, inefficient products could be recycled into making more valuable products, thus increasing the efficiency of the entire process. Fuller also coined the word synergetics, a catch-all term used broadly for communicating experiences using geometric concepts, and more specifically, the empirical study of systems in transformation; his focus was on total system behavior unpredicted by the behavior of any isolated components.

Though Bucky was concerned about sustainability and human survival under the existing socio-economic system, he remained optimistic about humanity’s future. Defining “wealth” in terms of knowledge, as the “technological ability to protect, nurture, support, and accommodate all growth needs of life,” his analysis of the condition of “Spaceship Earth” caused him to conclude that at a certain time during the 1970s, humanity had attained an unprecedented state. He was convinced that the accumulation of relevant knowledge, combined with the quantities of major recyclable resources that had already been extracted from the earth, had attained a critical level, such that competition for necessities had become unnecessary. Cooperation had become the optimum survival strategy. He declared: “selfishness is unnecessary and hence-forth unrationalizable … War is obsolete.” He criticized previous utopian schemes as too exclusive, and thought this was a major source of their failure. To work, he thought that a utopia needed to include everyone. In his 1970 book I Seem To Be a Verb, he wrote: “I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe.”

His use of language was idiosyncratic and imaginative.  Bucky Fuller spoke and wrote in a unique style and said it was important to describe the world as accurately as possible. He often created long run-on sentences and used unusual compound words (omniwell-informed, intertransformative, omni-interaccommodative, omniself-regenerative) as well as other single words he invented (which give my spell-checker a headache). His style of speech was characterized by progressively rapid and breathless delivery and rambling digressions of thought, which he described as “thinking out loud.” My students will attest that I can relate well to this style. He used the word Universe without the definite or indefinite articles (the or a) and always capitalized the word. He wrote, “by Universe I mean: the aggregate of all humanity’s consciously apprehended and communicated (to self or others) Experiences.”

The words “down” and “up”, according to Fuller, are awkward in that they refer to a planar concept of direction inconsistent with human experience. The words “in” and “out” should be used instead, he argued, because they better describe an object’s relation to a gravitational center, the Earth. “I suggest to audiences that they say, ‘I’m going “outstairs” and “instairs.”‘ At first that sounds strange to them; They all laugh about it. But if they try saying in and out for a few days in fun, they find themselves beginning to realize that they are indeed going inward and outward in respect to the center of Earth, which is our Spaceship Earth. And for the first time they begin to feel real ‘reality.'”

“World-around” is a term coined by Fuller to replace “worldwide”. The general belief in a flat Earth died out in classical antiquity (except with the lunatic fringe), so using “wide” is an anachronism when referring to the surface of the Earth—a spheroidal surface has area and encloses a volume but has no width. Fuller held that unthinking use of obsolete scientific terms detracts from and misleads intuition. Other neologisms collectively invented by the Fuller family, according to Allegra Fuller Snyder, are the terms “sunsight” and “sunclipse”, replacing “sunrise” and “sunset” to overturn the geocentric bias of most pre-Copernican celestial mechanics.

Bucky also invented the word “livingry,” as opposed to weaponry (or “killingry”), to mean that which is in support of all human, plant, and Earth life. “The architectural profession—civil, naval, aeronautical, and astronautical—has always been the place where the most competent thinking is conducted regarding livingry, as opposed to weaponry.” As well as contributing significantly to the development of tensegrity technology, he invented the term “tensegrity”, a portmanteau of “tensional”and “integrity.” “Tensegrity describes a structural-relationship principle in which structural shape is guaranteed by the finitely closed, comprehensively continuous, tensional behaviors of the system and not by the discontinuous and exclusively local compressional member behaviors. Tensegrity provides the ability to yield increasingly without ultimately breaking or coming asunder.”

Bucky also helped to popularize the concept of Spaceship Earth: “The most important fact about Spaceship Earth: an instruction manual didn’t come with it.” In the preface for his “cosmic fairy tale” Tetrascroll: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Fuller stated that his distinctive speaking style grew out of years of embellishing the classic tale for the benefit of his daughter, allowing him to explore both his new theories and how to present them. The Tetrascroll narrative was eventually transcribed onto a set of tetrahedral lithographs (hence the name), as well as being published as a traditional book.

We cannot speak about Bucky’s books without mentioning a cookbook written for him: Synergetic Stew — Explorations in Dymaxion Dining. It was originally presented to him as a gift on his 86th birthday, in 1982, by the staff of the Fuller Institute in Philadelphia. It’s not the sort of cookbook you’d buy — then or now — for the recipes, unless you’re desperate for dated instructions for shrimp salad or chocolate mousse. Synergetic Stew is instead a document of a magical, idiosyncratic life with contributions by a rainbow of celebrities.  It has been re-issued and you can find it in various places.  Here’s a sample:

(click to enlarge)

Otherwise, Bucky lived on gallons of strong black tea, steak, spinach, and Jell-o.

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 — http://apetito.ikso.net 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 — http://apetito.ikso.net/recepto/parmigiana


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.

Jan 042016


Today is the birthday (1785) of Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm, German philologist, jurist, and folklorist. He is known as the discoverer of Grimm’s law in linguistics, the co-author with his brother Wilhelm of the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, the author of Deutsche Mythologie and, more popularly, as one of the Brothers Grimm and the editor of what is known in English as Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Jacob was born in Hanau, in Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel). His father was a lawyer, but he died while Jacob was a child, and his mother was left with few means. His mother’s sister was lady of the chamber to the Landgravine of Hesse, and she helped to support and educate the family. Jacob was sent to the public school at Kassel in 1798 with his younger brother Wilhelm (born on 24 February 1786).

In 1802, Jacob went to the University of Marburg where he studied law, a profession for which he had been destined by his father. Wilhelm joined him at Marburg a year later, having just recovered from a long and severe illness, and likewise began the study of law.


In 1808, soon after the death of his mother, Jacob was appointed superintendent of the private library of Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, into which Hesse-Kassel had been incorporated by Napoleon. Bonaparte also later appointed him an auditor to the state council. His salary was about 4000 francs per annum and his official duties were hardly more than nominal. After the expulsion of Bonaparte and the reinstatement of an elector, Grimm was appointed Secretary of Legation in 1813, accompanying the Hessian minister to the headquarters of the allied army. In 1814, he was sent to Paris to demand restitution of books carried off by the French, and he also attended the Congress of Vienna as Secretary of Legation, 1814–1815. Upon his return from Vienna, he was sent to Paris a second time to secure book restitutions. Meanwhile, Wilhelm had received an appointment to the Kassel library, and Jacob was made second librarian under Volkel in 1816. Upon the death of Volkel in 1828, the brothers expected to be advanced to the first and second librarianships respectively, and were dissatisfied when the first place was given to Rommel, the keeper of the archives. Consequently, they moved the following year to Göttingen, where Jacob received the appointment of professor and librarian, and Wilhelm that of under-librarian. Jacob lectured on legal antiquities, historical grammar, literary history, and diplomatics, explained Old German poems, and commented on the Germania of Tacitus.

During this period, Jacob is described as small and lively in figure, with a harsh voice, speaking a broad Hessian dialect. His powerful memory enabled him to dispense with the lecture notes on which most German professors relied and spoke extemporaneously, referring only occasionally to a few names and dates written on a slip of paper. He was not a good lecturer, however, and regretted taking up teaching so late in life (43 years old). Although he had an excellent grasp of his subject matter he had difficulty putting it into suitable language for a student audience.

The purely scientific side of Grimm’s character developed slowly. He felt the need of definite principles of etymology without being able to discover them, and, indeed, even in the first edition of his grammar (1819) he often seemed to be groping in the dark. As early as 1815 August Wilhelm von Schlegel reviewing the Altdeutsche Wälder (a periodical published by the two brothers) very severely, condemning the lawless etymological combinations it contained, and insisting on the necessity of strict philological method and a fundamental investigation of the laws of language, especially in the correspondence of sounds. This criticism is said to have had a considerable influence on the direction of Jacob’s studies.

Jacob’s scientific character is notable for its combination of breadth and unity. His work on the history, language, traditions, mythology, laws and literature of Germanic peoples all stem from a central preoccupation with devising a cohesive sense of German identity.

Of all of Jacob’s more general works the boldest and most far-reaching was Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (History of the German Language). The subject of the work is the history hidden in the words of the German language.To this end he laboriously collected scattered words and allusions found in classical literature, and endeavored to determine the relationship between the German language and those of the Getae, Thracians, Scythians, and many other nations whose languages were at the time known only through doubtfully identified, often extremely corrupted remains preserved by Greek and Latin authors. Grimm’s results have been greatly amplified and modified by the wider range of comparison and improved methods of investigation that now characterize linguistics, but his book’s influence has been profound.


Jacob’s Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar) was the outcome of his purely philological work. The labors of past generations from the humanists onwards resulted in an enormous collection of materials in the form of text editions, dictionaries, and grammars, although most of it was uncritical and unreliable. Some work had even been done in the way of comparison and determination of general laws, and the concept of a comparative Germanic grammar had been clearly grasped by George Hickes by the beginning of the 18th century in his Thesaurus. Ten Kate in the Netherlands had also made valuable contributions to the history and comparison of Germanic languages. en Grimm did not initially intend to include all the Germanic languages in his Grammar, but he soon found that Old High German required speculations on Gothic, and that the later stages of German could not be understood without the help of other West Germanic varieties including English, and the rich literature of Scandinavia. The first edition of the first part of the Grammar, which appeared in 1819 treated the inflections of all these languages. It included a general introduction in which he vindicated the importance of an historical study of the German language against the a priori, quasi-philosophical methods then in vogue.

Jacob is recognized for proposing Grimm’s law, an analysis of the Germanic Sound Shift, which was first casually observed by the Danish philologist Rasmus Christian Rask. Grimm’s law was the first non-trivial systematic sound change to be discovered. Grimm’s Law, also known as the ‘Rask-Grimm Rule’, is the first law in linguistics concerning a non-trivial sound change. It was a turning point in the development of linguistics, allowing the introduction of a rigorous methodology to historic linguistic research. It concerns the correspondence of consonants in the older Indo-European and Low Saxon and High German languages, and was first fully stated by Grimm in the second edition of the first part of his Grammar.

If you are not into linguistics you can skip this bit. I have added links to some of the key concepts as an aid if you need it. Grimm’s law consists of three parts which form consecutive phases in the sense of a chain shift. The phases are usually constructed as follows:

  1. Proto-Indo-European voiceless stops change into voiceless fricatives.
  2. Proto-Indo-European voiced stops become voiceless stops.
  3. Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirated stops become voiced stops or fricatives (as allophones).

This chain shift can be abstractly represented as:

  • bʰ > b > p > ɸ
  • dʰ > d > t > θ
  • gʰ > g > k > x
  • gʷʰ > gʷ > kʷ > xʷ

The Grimms’ monumental dictionary of the German Language, the Deutsches Wörterbuch, was started in 1838 and first published in 1854. The brothers anticipated it would take 10 years and encompass some 6-7 volumes. However, it was undertaken on so large a scale as to make it impossible for them to complete it. The dictionary, as far as it was worked on by the Grimms themselves, has been described as a collection of disconnected antiquarian essays of high value. It was finally finished by subsequent scholars in 1961 and supplemented in 1971. At 33 volumes with around 330,000 headwords, it remains a standard work of reference to the present day, although it is currently undergoing substantial revision.


Both Grimms were attracted by all national poetry, whether in the form of epics, ballads or popular tales. They published In 1816–1818 a collection of legends culled from diverse sources, the two-volume Deutsche Sagen (German Legends). At the same time they collected all the folktales they could find, partly from the mouths of the people, partly from manuscripts and books, and published in 1812–1815 the first edition of those Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), which has carried the name of the brothers Grimm into every household of the western world. The first edition of Jacob’s Deutsche Mythologie (German Mythology) appeared in 1835. This work attempted to trace the mythology and superstitions of the old Teutons back to the earliest direct evidence, thence following their evolution to modern-day popular traditions, tales, and expressions. This is an exemplar of the trend in 19th century folklore to pull voluminous data together into a grand unified vision of history and culture – long since abandoned in favor detailed studies of local cultures (but still attractive to amateurs such as Joseph Campbell).

I don’t know the precise percentage of the Grimms’ tales that came to them orally, but it is important to note that they were not faithful to the original wording of the tales whether they came to them orally or in writing. Nor were they faithful to story elements. The 1st edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen was the least edited, but still contains stories rewritten by the Grimms. By later editions the tales had been further rewritten to expunge what the Grimms considered morally suspect themes. For example, in the originals of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel it was the biological mothers who wanted their offspring dead (Snow White’s mother wanted her lungs and liver returned to her so that she could eat them). Being contrary to Germanic ideals of the sanctity and purity of motherhood, the mothers in these tales were changed to wicked stepmothers. In the original of Rapunzel her “merry time” with the prince got her pregnant.


Jacob and Wilhelm were not fascists but they were ardent nationalists, and their researches were used by the likes of Hitler to promote German supremacy and domination. Many of you will know from previous posts that I consider nationalism to be one of the great scourges of humanity. In the Grimms’ day, culturally similar Germanic peoples were spread over numerous states and empires. The ideal of a unified German state resonated through the 19th century following the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, and led ultimately to the rise of Hitler and fascism in the 1930s. I don’t lay the precise politics and history of German nationalism at the Grimms’ door, but they played a big part in it all.

I could give you a distinctively Germanic recipe, but why bolster nationalism? Here’s a Bulgarian recipe for Салата Снежанка, translated as “Snow White salad.” It’s not really a reference to the tale, just an indication of its whiteness. But let’s not quibble; Snow White got her name because her skin was as white as snow (just in case you need a racist element !!). All it really consists of is cucumbers and nuts in yoghurt flavored with dill. You barely need a recipe. I prepare something similar – raita – when I make really hot curries.


Snow White Salad


2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
2 cups whole-milk yoghurt
½ cup walnuts, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
fresh dill, finely chopped
olive oil


Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl except for the dill, oil, and salt. Everything should be thoroughly mixed. Then add the remaining three to suit your tastes and mix well. Chill for several hours before serving.