Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I was amused but unaccountably struck by Peter’s portrayal during this exchange with Kem of the unbidden appearance, within words, of the letter h, as superstitious. Kem felt that there must be “some wheird phonesthetic explanation of h-insertions”. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and I probably need others to back me up on this one, or I need to get the doc to up my meds, but it’s clear that there can in some instances be more here than meets the eye. Can it be that the ‘umble h provides some breath in the heart of words, and thus, a touch of the holy? Don’t take my word for it – there’s a wonderful essay of the role of the letter h in Moby Dick, linked here. An off-the-wall must-read for word nuts. The first paragraph conflates the title Moby-Dick with dictionary.
The idea is that it’s not coincidence that the main characters are Ishmael, Ahab and the White Whale – lots of heavy breathing in there. Here it is worth quoting the essayist (whose name does not appear in this excerpt) verbatim:
The quotation from Hakluyt [in the opening chapter of the book] under “Etymology” calls attention to “the letter H [in ‘whale’], which alone maketh up the signification of the word … ” (xv). Then follows a list of “whale” in various languages, the first in Hebrew, the second in Greek. The editors of the NN Moby-Dick contend that Melville made a mistake in transcribing these words, and therefore correct his “errors” to accord with his source. (4) But other explanations about Melville’s so-called errors have recently been proliferating in the pages of the Melville Society Extracts. In both the Hebrew and the Greek words for whale, Melville’s mistake was the addition or substitution of an equivalent H. Dorothee Metlitzki writes about how “visibly important” is the letter H in Melville’s “conscious or unconscious” misreading of Hebrew and Greek words for the whale. She sees the “open secret” of Melville’s imported H as a “hieroglyphic” reduction of YAHWEH, the “ineffable name of God.”
This idea also shows up in Edward Taylor’s Christographia, a collection of fourteen sermons, delivered from 1701 to 1703 (link to pertinent quotation):
the fulness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily, i, e, essentially and according to the Subsistence, it is united to the Flesh and in some Sense Ensomatized, So that the Whord that is in its own Nature incorporeall, is in a sense become Corporated; yet not included, but as the Primogeneall Light of the Sun in the body of the Sun dwelling [somatikos] bodily, and in a Sense made Corporeal of incorporeall, yet that light that dwells in the Sun itselfe, is not there Shut up: but poures itself, everywhere….
So that is part of why snipes make a whisp.