Uncleftish Beholding

So, I haven’t been listening to a lot of podcasts this year, but recently I started listening to podcasts again, and right now my favorite by a mile is Lingthusiasm.

New to Lingthusiasm? Here’s a few good starter episodes:

How to rebalance a lopsided conversation (transcript)
Why do C and G come in hard and soft versions? Palatalization (transcript)
When nothing means something (transcript)

I took the above straight off their homepage. My impression is that you can pretty much start with any episode at all, but I guess I should check out these particular episodes as well.

Anyway, I was listening to Tea and skyscrapers – When words get borrowed across languages and they had a reference to a wonderful article I read many years ago called Uncleftish Beholding. This is an article written by Poul Anderson, it turns out (I had forgotten that detail), which tries to explain atomic theory without using any English words derived from Latin or Greek. It’s written only using words derived from German. This is, as you might expect, really funny.

Here’s the first bit of Anderson’s remarkable essay:

For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made
of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began
to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that
watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.

The underlying kinds of stuff are the *firststuffs*, which link
together in sundry ways to give rise to the rest. Formerly we
knew of ninety-two firststuffs, from waterstuff, the lightest and
barest, to ymirstuff, the heaviest. Now we have made more, such
as aegirstuff and helstuff.

The firststuffs have their being as motes called *unclefts*.
These are mightly small; one seedweight of waterstuff holds a
tale of them like unto two followed by twenty-two naughts. Most
unclefts link together to make what are called *bulkbits*. Thus,
the waterstuff bulkbit bestands of two waterstuff unclefts, the
sourstuff bulkbit of two sourstuff unclefts, and so on. (Some
kinds, such as sunstuff, keep alone; others, such as iron, cling
together in ices when in the fast standing; and there are yet
more yokeways.) When unlike clefts link in a bulkbit, they make
*bindings*. Thus, water is a binding of two waterstuff unclefts
with one sourstuff uncleft, while a bulkbit of one of the
forestuffs making up flesh may have a thousand thousand or more
unclefts of these two firststuffs together with coalstuff and

At first is was thought that the uncleft was a hard thing that
could be split no further; hence the name. Now we know it is made
up of lesser motes…

Click through to read the rest, which is very much worth your time!

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4 thoughts on “Uncleftish Beholding”

  1. Did you listen to the etymology episode? Pasta, paste, and pesto? That was fun >< Also, Love & Fury! Great episode. And if you haven't heard it already, #80 Word Magic is about magic systems and world building (with mention of the Scholomance series).

    That essay is fantastic too. Waterstuff, seed weight, forward and backward ladings, mandkindish goodgain! That's great stuff.

  2. Mona, not yet. I listened to a couple recent episodes and then went alllll the way back and started working my way forward.

  3. The diagrams of QE1’s famous sentences are amazing. So complicates, with phrases at the front, Xs everywhere.

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