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The danger of amateur linguistics (Scaligero’s Gypsy dictionary)…

July 12, 2013


That braggart, that arrogant and foul-mouthed reactionary Italian scholar Giulio Cesare Scaligero (1484 – 1558), Erasmus’s enemy (I translated part of his grotesquely violent attack against Erasmus –Oratio pro Cicerone- in the volume Poetica Renasterii / The Poetics of the Renaissance, Bucharest, 1984), that Scaligero published as an annex to the De Literis et Lingua Getarum sive Gothorum (the first publication of Wulfilla’s Bible in the Gothic language, edited by Bonaventura Vulcanius (actually called vulgarly De Smet, as he hailed from Bruges) the first short dictionary of the Gypsy language:

Index Vocabulorum Linguae Nubianorum Erronum quos Itali Cingaros appellant (Nubiani, because it was of course thought that the Cingari came from Egypt).

Here, among other correct words and expressions one suddenly finds the vocable kascht, rendered by the garlicky Scaliger into Latin as: tu bibis, you drink.

What?!!… Kascht means simply wood!… Kascht is not a verb, it is the dead wood one gathers in the forrest for burning. If Scaligero had been less arrogant, hasty and sure of himself he would have realized that all the other forms of the verb to drink were constructed on a totally different root: piassa, we drink, piela he drinks, piana I drink etc… How could possibly you drink be kascht?!… Then again all verbal forms of the second person in Gypsy always end in -s, as he himself had seen for all the other verbs: kares, you do; janes, you know; jas, you go…

Then we realize, as any good cultural detective should do, that Scaligero, since he lived most of his life in France, must have gathered his dictionary among the Gypsies living there. So, when he did it, in a piecemeal manner, maybe by drinking with them, he must have asked words at random, dotting them hastily, and when he asked “how do you say you drink”, or comment dites-vous “tu bois”? the Gypsy informant must have understood “du bois”… so he simply said : kascht.

… and our half-baked philologist wrote it down for posterity… How many more errors from classical philologists do we still take for granted?


From → Paraphernalia

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