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December 25, 2004

On Reading Jo Walton's "Tooth and Claw"...

Jo Walton (2003), Tooth and Claw (New York: Tor: 0765349094) really is as delightful as I was told it would be.

I do have one question, however. Consider the heraldic postures of dragons--and other beasts--to wit:

Why have only the first and the last--entered the normal English vocabulary?

Posted by DeLong at December 25, 2004 07:30 PM

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A good german blog vould not be redundant

Posted by: goodgerman at December 25, 2004 08:06 PM


My guess--not being a practicing linguist or having a copy of the OED in front of me--is that Rampant and Dormant probably didn't enter English through heraldry, but as general words via Norman French.

Posted by: Patrick Taylor at December 25, 2004 09:59 PM


I don't know, but since all are of French derivation they should be banned.

Posted by: Strange Doctrines at December 25, 2004 10:28 PM


If it is in Discworld, it is normal English. As Amazon says:

Excerpt from page 28 "... 28 Terry Pratchett The writer ... "Down, boy! Couchant! I said couchant! No! Not ..."

Posted by: a at December 26, 2004 02:03 AM


I'm afraid that that quote can't be used to prove that it's normal English, as it was used in a heraldic content (more precisely it was the animal handler at the Ankh Morpork heraldic institute who gave the orders to the animals that posing for the heraldic symbols).

Yes, Pratchett uses the heraldic vocabulary when dealing with heraldy - not surprising.

[I would go further: Terry Pratchett is simply not normal, and neither is his vocabulary.]

Posted by: Kristjan Wager at December 26, 2004 03:51 AM


Passant is in English, however, as in EN PASSANT, the pawn move in chess.

Posted by: Paul at December 26, 2004 06:08 AM


All of these look like the third person plural conjugation. "Dormant" and "rampant" are adjectives in English. The question I would ask, "Why did verbs of this form come to English as adjectives?"

Off the top of my head, I think I can speculate about "passant": we already use the cognate "to pass" along with the gerund "passing" and particple "passed". If "passant" has been used before, we wouldn't need it any more.

I do have an OED and I'll check it out.

Posted by: uberman at December 26, 2004 07:29 AM


My last post is just wrong.

According to the OED, "dormant" is a present participle in Old French around the 12th century. It looks like there are some alternative spellings, but I'm not clear about these being Freanch spellings or English spellings.

"Rampant" is another present particple in French. Again, the OED lists alternative spellings, but of different forms than those of "dormant".

The OED lists three definitions of "couchant", only one of which it calls rare. Is it possible that this word is still being used in Great Britain?

The OED only shows a few example of "sejant", which means, "in a sitting posture; [i]esp.[/i] of a quadraped: Sitting with the fore-legs upright." Again, it derives from a French participle, this one a corruption of Old French "seiant" and Modern French "séant".

All of this verbage and I still haven't answered the question, so maybe I can be the White House Press Secretary?!

Since we don't have as much contact with beasts, ot at least because they may be less important to us in the modern world, we don't need as many words to describe their postures. Indirectly, this explanation cuts for "dormant" and "rampant". These words are both common, but their usages are not common in describing the posturing of beasts.

Posted by: uberman at December 26, 2004 08:04 AM


"Passant is in English, however, as in EN PASSANT, the pawn move in chess."

There is also a "coup en passant" in bridge. I believe the name was taken from the chess move, rather than heraldry.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov at December 26, 2004 08:42 AM


Could it be that, with their lack of subtlety, English nobility could relate to sleeping and rampaging but not any states of being inbetween?

Posted by: Sarah at December 26, 2004 09:15 AM


It takes a certain kind of person to read and enjoy SciFi and Fantasy. I'm not surprised to find out that you are one of them.

I'll have to look for this book.

Posted by: JWC at December 26, 2004 09:18 AM


[I would go further: Terry Pratchett is simply not normal, and neither is his vocabulary.]

I am curious - what makes you say he is not normal?

As for vocab, he could dig up rare or foreign word or even invent it. Once millions read it in Discworld, it is a part of English.

[You think somebody normal could write Discworld?]

Posted by: a at December 26, 2004 10:58 AM


American dragons are of course, always either dormant or rampant. We don't have occasion for the other terms.

Posted by: bob mcmanus at December 26, 2004 12:04 PM


If you want "English" in all its glory used in absolutely correct ways but totally abnormally, you should read Jack Vance. Terry Pratchett is a Jovian spot in Vance's worlds.

Posted by: Carol at December 26, 2004 12:59 PM


[You think somebody normal could write Discworld?]

Depends on the definition of normal. If you think he is mentally disturbed, I do not understand why. If you mean that he is way above average in SF/Fantasy in terms of talent, I agree. Still not King though.

Posted by: a at December 26, 2004 02:13 PM


I just want to comment, I only noticed you starting to comment on people's comments within square brackets the other day; and I don't particularly like it. It strikes me as being somewhat unfair to the comment thread,since it's difficult to see when you made the changes in relation to other people's comments; it's not tremendously clear what you're doing (since random people can and do use square brackets, too); and it's not possible to simply do a C-f and search for 'DeLong' to see if you've responded to things.

Posted by: Brian Palmer at December 26, 2004 08:44 PM


Terry Pratchett undeniably has a mental perspective outside of that which most of us use. I do not think this makes him disturbed, but it certainly makes him abnormal.

Posted by: perianwyr at December 28, 2004 07:26 AM