On my last sabbatical (2002-03) I can't say I did much other than read some books and write some essays. One of the books I read was Graham Robb's biography of Arthur Rimbaud, patron saint of all teenage outsider writers, punk poets and literary misfits. And, of course, an exquisite poet whose work changed the course of French literature and modern poetry and poetics. I was captivated by the detail that, during their short sojourn in London, Verlaine and Rimbaud made word-lists of strange and piquant English words and idioms they found appealing or useful. Apparently Rimbaud continued this practice throughout his lifetime, varying the language of the lists as his geographic circumstances changed (dramatically) over time.
Online dictionaries and etymology databases have made it easy to compile such lists, with the added pleasure of the random unexpectedness of some of the words that turn up. The "ragman's roll" is the very item that Leo Spitzer related to "rigmarole" and "Rehoboam." And it's not, as I assumed, something that ragmen carry with them on their backs. According to wiki-p, it's "collection of instruments by which the nobility and gentry of Scotland subscribed allegiance to King Edward I of England, during the time between the Conference of Norham in May 1291 and the final award in favor of Baliol in November 1292; and again in 1296." By "instruments" is meant documents, it appears. And the etymology is unclear as well, though Leo Spitzer's (mentioned in an earlier blog entry) is generally taken seriously.
In these lists of words, depth is sometimes sacrificed for these rough-tumbling, tongue-twisting concatenations. Any one of them is the opening of a whole world of sentience and intellect, but the arrangement in algorithmic lists has its own glamor.
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