Wiktionary, via Sean Palmer on IRC

[...]Wiktionary, a collaborative project to produce a free multilingual dictionary in every language, with definitions, etymologies, pronunciations and quotations. Wiktionary is the lexical companion to the open-content encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org). In the English edition, started on December 12, 2002, we are now working on 68055 entries."

Around the time this reference came up, we were discussing the various senses of the word "shibboleth", and on a lark, I checked the Wiktionary. It nails it nicely:


  1. A word which was made the criterion by which to distinguish the Ephraimites from the Gileadites. The Ephraimites, not being able to pronounce sh, called the word sibboleth. See Judges xii.
  2. Also in an extended sense: the criterion, test, watchword, or password of a party used to distinguish membership.
  3. A slogan, jargon word, or catchphrase closely associated with a particular group and not used very much, or at all, outside of it. Can also apply to ideas, customs, and uses of language.
  4. A common belief or usage that is questionable or incorrect; truism, platitude.

It's really wonderful to discover gems from the amazing world of on-line collaboration. Wiktionary doesn't yet have as much mind share as Wikipedia, but I suspect it shall as time goes on, and this will make it better in some ways, and worse in others.

I do hope it evolves some means of exporting/querying though XML or RDF, similar to WordNet. See:

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Frères humains qui après nous vivez
N'ayez les coeurs contre nous endurciz,
Car, ce pitié de nous pauvres avez,
Dieu en aura plus tost de vous merciz.
Vous nous voyez ci, attachés cinq, six
Quant de la chair, que trop avons nourrie,
Elle est piéca devorée et pourrie,
Et nous les os, devenons cendre et pouldre.
De nostre mal personne ne s'en rie:
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absouldre!

François Villon--"L'Épitaph (Ballade des pendus)"

It's Tuesday again: French day. As usual I spent a good portion of my pre-matinal regime in French reading and revision to get ready for conversational practice this evening. I was feeling particularly fresh, so I wrote a poem based on the first two stanzas of Villon's (I ran out of time for finishing the third stanza and envoi). It's a near translation, and you can get much of Villon's basic sense from it, but I purposefully make some departures. If you want a closer translation, try Swinburne's "Epitaph in the Form of a Ballade", from Poems and Ballads. I shall say that Villon is almost impossible to translate faithfully. He was an incomparable craftsman, and used every resource of his native tongue. It's actually fairly easy French to follow (especially, for me, after Les Symbolistes), so if you paid attention at all in high school, give the original a try (you must read it aloud).

Anyway, the first half of my modest effort:

Brother souls who live beyond our days,
Don't turn towards us hearts of hollow stone,
For if you pity us, such wretched strays,
Goddess redeem indulgence you'll have shown.
You see a hand or so of us thus strown:
Bodies once well fed of ill-got gain
Now ravened by rot and beasts upon the plain
We, the bones who speak, turn dust and ash.
None should deign to laugh upon our pain,
But wish all ghosts kind Fortune's calabash.

--Uche Ogbuji--from "Epitaph (après Villon, maître)", 3 May 2005

The only real thematic change is from the European gallows to the "evil bush" of Igbo custom, reserved for criminals who have committed abominations.

I've been working on and off on getting Cara Musis, my literary site, back in shape, so I can publish some of my work. I think I'll have to make that a priority this weekend. «Aaaaïïïïïe, nooooon!», do I hear you say? Ah, hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère... Va t'en.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Tu crois que le monde est à toi,
Qu'il t'appartient;
C'est ta chose, tu en disposes,
Sans qu'il ne reste rien

--Les Nubians--Demain--Princesses Nubiennes

My generic pass at translation:

You believe the world is yours
That it belongs to you
It's your thing, it's at your disposal
Without which [without you?] there's nothing left

O-ou yes, Hélène et Célia Faussart, Les Nubians. Les soeurs chantant. Les soeurs sexy.

As I recall, I heard "Makeda" in a Boulder record store, and, besotted, ran to faire le connaissance of whomever had produced such gorgeous music. I saw Les Nubians at the Fox Theater in Boulder a couple of years ago. Comme d'habitude, the Boulder crowd was well up on their music, and the energy was amazing. Their encore was a sublime tribute to African music, followed by a crowd-participation version of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster". It strikes me how consistently wonderful my concert experiences in Boulder are. It may be a white bread town in all demographic reality, but in spirit, Boulder doesn't fake the funk. I'm looking forward to seeing Zap Mama at the Boulder Theatre tomorrow. Oui. Soi-même Zap Mama. Quelle chance pour moi.

C'est mardi, which means the day for La Table Francophone of Boulder. I've been going most Tuesday evenings for the last few months. I go to work on my spoken French, and to hang out with my friends, many of whom these days are francophones. Une soirée avec mes amis. Quelle chance pour moi.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Ils reviendront, ces Dieux que tu pleures toujours!
Le temps va ramener l'ordre des anciens jours;
La terre a tressailli d'un souffle prophétique...

Cependant la sibylle au visage latin
Est endormie encor sous l'arc de Constantin
--Et rien n'a dérangé le sévère portique.

--Gérard de Nerval--from "Delfica"

My translation to English verse:

They shall return, these Gods you always mourn!
Time shall to ancient days order return;
The ground has shuddered with prophetic blow...

Meanwhile the Sibyl with the Latin face
Under Constantine's arc still sleeps in place
And naught has molested the strict portico.

My first foray into French poetry for plaisir (as opposed to slogging through Hugo in fifth form French class) was to get properly at the Symbolistes, revered by my hero Ezra Pound. I started, as all Symboliste studies do, with Nerval. But rather than seeing him as a bump on the road to the greats--Verlaine, Mallarmé, Rimbaud--I was captured by his lunatic vision.

"Delfica" has always been a favorite poem in mine, and it has come to my mind often during this papal interregnum. The heavy marble of Catholic order doesn't exactly recall Delfica's arboreal pagan shrine (from the earlier part of the poem I didn't quote), but in the thread of latin-tongued prophecy, Constantine triumphant, and severity of mission I do find resonance with the somber, perfunctionary pageant constantly being reported from The Vatican.

Not that it stirs any sort of devotion in me. My Catholicism is even more dormant than Nerval's Sibyl. If anything, I read Delfica's two prophetic final stanzas as a window beyond the apotheosis of some odd bureaucrat cardinal, looking beyond the evident crumbling of empire-church. Even in the case (middling likelihood) that the new Pope is fellow Igbo Cardinal Arinze, I'd probably be more stirred by sense of nationalism than religion (and nationalism is very weak in me).

What paganism gets right about religion over Christianity is mystery of the local. No. Protenstantism didn't get this right either. They claimed to be rebelling against the tyranny of Catholic dogma, but they are still chained to the Bible. Paganism derives power not from some dusty logos, but rather from the magic of particular time and place. I think that local mystery is enhanced rather than abated by global communication, and I can imagine a near end to all these crepuscular, ecclesiastical institutions that now seem to dominate our lives.

I see the church as Petronius's Cumaean Sibyl (famous from Eliot's quotation in The Wasteland). She says "apothanein thelo". Yes thelo. Every immortal Sibyl dies, succeeded by symbol, which becomes Sibyl. Et rien n'a dérangé le sévère portique.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia