Séamus Sweeney

Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda

Review of “Oestrogen Matters’ in the current TLS

In the current TLS I have a brief review of Avram Bluming and Carol Tavris’ book on HRT. The full text is available to subscribers; here is the first paragraph:

Few medical treatments have seen as stark a rise and fall as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). In the early 1940s, methods were developed to extract oestrogen from pregnant mares’ urine, and the resulting medication was named Premarin. Marketed from the 1950s for menopausal symptoms, HRT was catapulted into the public consciousness by the New York gynaecologist Robert Wilson’s bestseller Feminine Forever (1966), and made Ayerst Laboratories, who had developed Premarin and paid Wilson’s expenses for writing the book, extremely rich. HRT was hyped as a wonder drug adding years to life and life to years

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“the unfortunate matter of the suffix -anus”

I am pretty sure I have overshared from John Wright’s “The Naming of the Shrew”but ah sure one more for the road:

First, the unfortunate matter of the suffix -anus. In Latin nomenclature, it simply indicates position, connection or possession by, as in sylvanus (‘belonging to woods’), africanus (‘coming from Africa’) and alphonsianus (for Professor Alphonse Milne-Edwards). It has nothing to do with anything anatomical. The English name for the body part is from the Latin noun with the same meaning, itself a derivative of anulus or annulus – ‘a ring’. On the page, or if pronounced as in ‘pat’ or in ‘part’, the suffix is unremarkable; only when pronounced (properly, as it happens) with an ‘ay’, as in ‘pane’, does it become a source of infantile sniggering (for notes on pronunciation, see here). Taxonomists, wary of offending those they wish to honour, tend to avoid the suffix, if possible. But some names suffer more than others, and no doubt Milne-Edwards was delighted with his epithet. Professor Roy Watling, formerly of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, told me of the occasion he and his colleague Alex Smith wished to name a new species of mushroom in the genus Leccinum (a bolete). It was to honour the distinguished boletologist Walter Snell. Faced with the unthinkable snellianus, they settled on Leccinum snelli.

Other taxonomists have not been so considerate. The nineteenth-century botanist William Hemsley, for example, does not appear to have thought through his name for the bramble species Rubus cockburnianus, with which he wished to honour the Cockburn family. Rafinesque, although of French descent, lived and worked in the US, so he should have realised that his Soranus was open to misinterpretation.

More forgivable because of the language difference is Bugeranus, the generic name of B. carunculatus, the wattled crane, with which the German ornithologist Gloger presented Herr Buger. For temporal as well as language reasons, the nineteenth-century German botanist Karl Sigismund Kunth cannot be held responsible for the specific epithet of the invasive gamba grass Andropogon gayanus, with which he honoured the French botanist Claude Gay.

However, P. J. Hancox, writing in 1987, must be guilty as charged for giving us the improbable imperative therapsid genus Dolichuranus; that dolichos is Greek for ‘long’ does not forgive.

“Drunker than nine hundred dollars”

Recently I’ve been reading “The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest – The True Story of the 101st Airborne’s Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers” by Jake McNiece (with Richard Kilblane)

McNiece, who died aged 93 in 2013, was a member of The Filthy Thirteen, a WWII demolition unit which inspired The Dirty Dozen. The book is a highly entertainingly, rambunctious read. As they depart the stage of life, the Greatest Generation tend to get a stultifingly reverent press, so this is a necessary corrective.

In this extract – which gives a flavour of the book – there’s an expression for extreme drunkenness – “drunker than 900 dollars” – which was new on me:

I had a total exemption from the draft because I was a fireman but I began to feel uneasy about not offering my services, whatever they might be. So I went back to Ponca City, Oklahoma, to visit my mom and dad for a few days.

Then I got into some problems down there at the Blue Moon Tavern on South Avenue. I was out carousing around one Saturday night doing the town up in good shape and fashion. Of course, I was drunker than nine hundred dollars and looking for trouble.

There was one particular individual that I wanted to put the ugly on. Thad Tucker and I had always had lots of difficulties. Well, I wanted to whip him real good one more time, but I knew the minute that I stepped inside his joint he would call the cops.

So I got a friend of mine to go down with me in his good clothes. He owed Thad quite a bit of money. Well he went in with a cock-and-bull story that he had just married an Osage squaw and wanted to pay him off.

He asked Thad to come on out to the car a bit. He would give him a big shot of whiskey then pay him. Well, when Thad came clear out into the driveway, I walked up and went to work on him. I knocked him down and was putting the boots to him in that gravel driveway. I was so drunk that I lost my balance. When I lifted my foot to kick him, I kind of staggered back. He then jumped up and made a run for the front door of his joint.

When he did, I scooped up a big rock about the size of a baseball and threw it at him. I was still in good shape and could throw pretty straight. I hit him right in the back of the head and it just peeled his skin. It nearly scalped him. He went down but by then I could already hear sirens blowing all over the place. Squad cars were coming in from every direction. So I thought, “I’ve got to get out of here.” Then I took off and ran across the street.

This was back in 1942 and there were not many dwelling places on the north side of South Avenue. That was where the Hearst brothers had a big corral. So I made it over into that horse lot and tore out across the field. It had been raining. The mud and horse manure were just like soup, about ankle deep all over the place. In the dark I could just see the light-colored horses. While I ran I could miss the bays and the whites and the grays but I hit one of the black ones and tumbled down in that crap. I finally escaped out of there and went on home.

McNiece uses nine hundred dollars as an index of extreme drunkenness a few other times in the book. I can’t find other online usages. Any leads?

From Heiton Buckley : the Top 8 Native Irish Plants That You Really Should Know

From the perhaps not entirely expected source of the website of Heiton Buckley builders’ providers, here is a rather humbling test of knowledge of native Irish planets. Below is the text – to get the answers you have follow the link:

Top 8 Native Irish Plants That You Really Should Know By Now

We all know our gorse bush from our holly bush but would you be able to spot any other of our many native Irish plants? If you want to impress any guests from abroad on a nature walk then you’d better brush up on your flora. We want to put you to the test with this list of 8 native Irish plants that we think you really should know by now. Answers are at the bottom, no peeking!

1) Often mistaken with Gorse but this pretty plant is softer to the touch and can be found on sandy soils. Only flowering in summer this plant will thrive in sunny conditions which is why it’s known as an invasive species in North America. Folklore says it’s smell is able to tame wild dogs and horses…

BroomImage Source

2) Mostly found in the North West of the country this plant sports creamy white flowers in spring and small dark cherries appearing briefly in late summer which the birds devour. Many years ago tying its strong-smelling bark to your door was said to ward off the plague.

Bird CherryImage Source

3) This native tree is famous for it’s whispering leaves that tremble and rustle in the wind. Legend has it that they tremble in shame as their wood was used to make the cross that Christ was crucified on. These trees thrive in wet areas such as beside lakes.





4) These beautiful flowers range from white to dark pink in colour and are typically found amongst roadside bushes. The subject of many a song or poem these flowers also produce rose hips in Autumn which traditionally were harvested to make syrup and wine.

Dog Rose

Image Source

5) This deciduous shrub is a very common plant found all over the country. It blooms white-cream flowers followed by clusters of dark berries. Though sometimes regarded as a pest both the flowers and berries can be used to make cordials, syrups, jams and wine.

Elder

Image Source

6) So colourful is this tree you’d be forgiven for thinking it belonged on a tropical island but actually its native to Ireland and not found in the UK. Mainly appearing in the southern counties the bright red fruit it bears are edible, but let’s just say they look a whole lot nicer than they taste.

Top 8 Native Irish Plants That You Really Should Know By Now

We all know our gorse bush from our holly bush but would you be able to spot any other of our many native Irish plants? If you want to impress any guests from abroad on a nature walk then you’d better brush up on your flora. We want to put you to the test with this list of 8 native Irish plants that we think you really should know by now. Answers are at the bottom, no peeking!

1) Often mistaken with Gorse but this pretty plant is softer to the touch and can be found on sandy soils. Only flowering in summer this plant will thrive in sunny conditions which is why it’s known as an invasive species in North America. Folklore says it’s smell is able to tame wild dogs and horses…

BroomImage Source

2) Mostly found in the North West of the country this plant sports creamy white flowers in spring and small dark cherries appearing briefly in late summer which the birds devour. Many years ago tying its strong-smelling bark to your door was said to ward off the plague.

Bird CherryImage Source

3) This native tree is famous for it’s whispering leaves that tremble and rustle in the wind. Legend has it that they tremble in shame as their wood was used to make the cross that Christ was crucified on. These trees thrive in wet areas such as beside lakes.

AspenImage Source

4) These beautiful flowers range from white to dark pink in colour and are typically found amongst roadside bushes. The subject of many a song or poem these flowers also produce rose hips in Autumn which traditionally were harvested to make syrup and wine.

Dog RoseImage Source

5) This deciduous shrub is a very common plant found all over the country. It blooms white-cream flowers followed by clusters of dark berries. Though sometimes regarded as a pest both the flowers and berries can be used to make cordials, syrups, jams and wine.

ElderImage Source

6) So colourful is this tree you’d be forgiven for thinking it belonged on a tropical island but actually its native to Ireland and not found in the UK. Mainly appearing in the southern counties the bright red fruit it bears are edible, but let’s just say they look a whole lot nicer than they taste.

Killarney_strawberry_treeImage Source

7) This tree is just too pretty to not include in this list. It’s often found lining quiet residential streets, it’s delicate pale pink petals scattering in the wind and densely covering the ground.

Wild Cherry TreeImage Source

8) This common flower can be spotted across our many marshes as it favours the boggy soil. It’s five petals are fringed or ragged at the ends and thus suited to windy weather.

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The perils of quoting out of context

The Samuel Johnson Soundbite Page is a trove of quotable bits from the Great Cham himself. I came across this post on the perils of taking quotes from Johnson’s Rasselas as being the thoughts of Johnson himself – they are spoken by characters and often the context modifies the sense considerably. For instance:

Out of their context, there are some quotes which sound like something wonderful for the bulletin board. For instance, one character (“the artist”) says “Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome.” In the novel this character proceeds to don a set of false wings and then belly flop into a lake; without the context you don’t know that very important “on the other hand.”

I’ve noticed something similar with Wilde: many of the most “Wildean” quotes are spoken by characters. “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it,” is not a statement by Oscar Wilde, but a statement by Wilde’s fictional creation Lord Henry. The same goes for much of the quotable Wilde. Of course, these quotes very much suit our contemporary image of Wilde. We tend to forget that he gave Dorian Gray a rather sticky end (I don’t recall what happened to Lord Henry).

Another example from the Rasselas page:

In another example where the lack of context can hurt the meaning, there is the frequently cited Imlac quote “Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed.” A fairly pessimistic sounding commentary on life. However, Imlac says this to dampen Rasselas’ envy of life in Europe, telling him that there is a basic consistency to the human condition all around the world. There is an important introductory sentence from Imlac, which is usually omitted. Imlac’s complete statement is as follows:

“The Europeans,” answered Imlac, “are less unhappy than we, but they are not happy. Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed.”