Posts by Dr. Boli


The well-known portrait of Anthon by Mathew Brady.

The great classical scholar Charles Anthon had much to do with the high standards of learning in nineteenth-century American universities. His textbooks on the ancient languages were widely admired, and the proof of their utility may be found in the fact that many professors resented them for making the students’ work too easy. Dr. Anthon is also famous in Mormon lore as the Columbia professor who was shown a transcribed “Egyptian” inscription from the Golden Plates and pronounced it a hoax, which has been interpreted in Mormon history as “authenticating” it.

Once in a while, it is Dr. Boli’s privilege to make a original contribution of his own to scholarship. Today he is proud to announce the discovery of an original portrait from life of the great Dr. Anthon. It has lain undiscovered for a century and a half among the never-circulated books in a university library, but there is good evidence for its authenticity:

Here is the image in context, as it was found delineated on the dedication page of The Elements of Greek Grammar, by R. Valpy, with additions by C. Anthon:

What is our evidence that this is a portrait from life? The book was donated to the University of California in 1873; before that, it had formed part of the library of Dr. Francis Lieber, Professor of History and Law in Columbia College, New York. Since the volume itself is the 1847 edition of a very-often-reprinted work, and since it is the sort of book one would purchase as a student, but not as a professor of law and history (who presumably has already been through his first year of Greek), we may reasonably assume that it belonged to young Francis Lieber when he was a student at that same college, where he would have seen Dr. Anthon every day. The chain of evidence is strong. This is very probably Charles Anthon as he actually appeared to his students.


The German language went through a period of intense nativization, when Latinate words were ruthlessly expelled from the language, and German substitutes found, no matter how awkward. Many of us have forgotten that, in the nineteenth century, there was a fanatical group of scholars determined to return English to its Germanic purity as well:

Speechknowledge, or Philology, is one of the branches of Folkknowledge, or Ethnology. Folkknowledge shows us the several stocks to which mankind belong; Speechknowledge, their several ways of speech and the laws which these follow.

Note that, aside from the parenthetical explanations of the invented nativist terms, the only Latinate word in those two sentences is “several,” for which there is no good Germanic equivalent (“different” and “various” being Latin as well).

The movement to Germanicize English never succeeded, and one may well ask why German could do what English could not. Dr. Boli could think of several reasons:

1. Germans have always had a genius for ruthless expulsion.

2. English gave up blackletter type much earlier. German was regularly printed in Fraktur until Hitler’s minions decided that Fraktur was part of the Jewish conspiracy; but German printers had a tradition of putting all the Latinate terms in roman type, so that old German books look like they’ve come down with a bad case of the roman pox. The ugliness of the type was often mentioned by the nativist activists.

3. By the time English was having its own small nativist fad, it was a global language, and for the most part the fad was confined to England itself. In particular, there was a more or less unified English and American market for books and magazine articles. Standard German was mostly confined to one continuous area, most of which came under the control of an empire that was very much interested in establishing a native German culture. It is notable that dialects of German established elsewhere have proved very absorbent of foreign terms and resistant to nativism; witness Pennsylvania Dutch.

4. The English and American sense of humor must have had some influence. Germany made a national industry of its scholarship, and thus made scholars into authority figures. When that English passage quoted above was published in 1858, a large percentage of readers would have burst out into the same undignified derisive laughter that would greet the same passage today. As G. K. Chesterton said, “Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” Germany succumbed to that danger.

“Folklore,” a word invented by Germanicists in the middle 1800s, seems to be the one permanent contribution of the Germanicizing movement in English. It is a good addition to our language, because it is more general than the Latin “legend” or the Greek “myth.” It is also short and easy to read or say. But that the Germanicists utterly failed to introduce “speechknowledge” as a substitute for “philology” must be regarded as a triumph of the true genius of the English tongue.


Hi! I’m Mrs. Phelps, of Mrs. Phelps’ Domestic Helps, the widely syndicated advice column for homemakers, here to brighten your life with a great big heaping helping of helpful hints. You remember—you won a visit from me in that contest in Happy Happy Home, the happy happy magazine for happy happy homemakers. By the way, you could get rid of the squeak on that door with only a little WD-40 and an ordinary mascara brush. Don’t thank me—that’s what I’m here for. Do you get tired of this doormat slipping around like that? Just a little bit of chewing gum at each corner can fix it. Put another wad in the center to be extra secure. I must say, you have a lovely living room. Did you know that you can get rid of those ugly fingerprints on the wall with a simple mixture of chlorine bleach and sulfuric acid? Be sure to wear your gloves, ha ha! So this is your desk. When my desk gets to be a mess like this, I carefully sort everything into stacks, label the stacks, tie them up with good butcher’s twine, then pile them in the fireplace and toss in a lighted match. It’s a great way to keep warm on those long winter nights! And did you know you could get those ugly, crusty old bloodstains off your letter opener with nothing more than a can of ordinary paint stripper? Be careful where you’re pointing that, ha ha! If you want to make the sharp end perfectly safe, just pound it about two inches (or five centimeters) into the desk with an ordinary household hammer. You see, the way you’re waving it around now, you could hurt somebody, and we wouldn’t want that to….


In his recent article about finding Shakespeare in Pennsylvania Dutch, Dr. Boli speculated on an alternate universe in which the Articles of Confederation failed and Pennsylvania Dutch had become the official language of the independent Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Then he was foolish enough to add,

We have just described the least successful alternate-history novel ever. Although, curiously enough, in an alternate universe where everyone is thoroughly sick of reading about alternate universes in which the Nazis won the Second World War, that book is a big seller.

A distinguished novelist who has left occasional comments here for many years replied,

That was my novella, “The Forest of Time” (Analog, Jun 87)

—which, of course, was enough to make Dr. Boli ashamed of himself, because artistically the novella is not unsuccessful at all. It is quite good, and it does indeed take place in a world where the Articles of Confederation failed and Pennsylvania Dutch has become the official language of the independent Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The only criticism that might be ventured against the story is that it needs more Nazis.


It is a principle of all large collections of books that you can find anything as long as you are not looking for it. As example and sufficient proof of the principle, here is Shakespeare in Pennsylvania Dutch:

Gloster. — Now is der winter fun unser unru
Glorreich g’maucht by der sun fun Yorrick;
Un all de wulka os ivver unserm house waura.
Sin deef in de sæ ni fergrawa.…

Was anyone looking for that? No; but once it is found (in “Rauch’s Pennsylvania Dutch Hand-Book,” published in 1879), it becomes clear that it needed to be found.

In an alternate universe where the Articles of Confederation failed, and the English colonies became a string of independent republics along the Atlantic, Pennsylvania Dutch occupies almost exactly the same place in Pennsylvania that Afrikaans occupies in South Africa. We have just described the least successful alternate-history novel ever. Although, curiously enough, in an alternate universe where everyone is thoroughly sick of reading about alternate universes in which the Nazis won the Second World War, that book is a big seller.


From the Wikipedia article on “Elf”:

From a scientific viewpoint, elves are not considered objectively real.[2]

2. Hall (2007), pp. 8–9, 168–69.

One likes to imagine this very careful wording and accompanying citation as the result of a three-month edit war which finally sent a Wikipedian looking for a reliable up-to-date reference that explicitly stated that elves are not real and explained exactly what was meant by “not real.”


It came up in a French news story: “Un quart d’heure de gloire warholien” (“A Warholian fifteen minutes of fame”). It seems perfect for dropping into casual conversation: “He will enjoy his quart d’heure de gloire warholien, and then we shall have done with him.” This will baffle your acquaintances and make them think of you as a pompous twit, which will spare you the necessity of any further conversation with them.

The phrase is also often translated “quart d’heure de célébrité,” as in “‘À l’avenir chacun connaîtra son quart d’heure de célébrité’ prévenait Andy Warhol en 1968” (from the France culture site).