Sunset Park

Yesterday afternoon, instead of being a productive scholar, I biked down to something called the Old Glory Look Out, at about 81st Street and Shore Road in Brooklyn. There was an Asian family fishing, and another person on bicycle with camera, who dismounted to photograph a grocery cart abandoned beneath the pedestrian bridge. I felt it would be a little excessive for me to document it, too, so instead I took some photos of the water, but they’re too much in the style of 1970s greeting cards to post. On the way home, I also snapped these:

Sunset Park, looking east.

Green-wood Cemetery, through the cast-iron fence on McDonald Avenue.

A building going up across the street from the cemetery.

Mad, mad words

Not long ago, I told Peter that I was mad—mad—I tell you . . . under circumstances I no longer recall (general bleariness from overuse of, probably). As I said the words, it occurred to me that they sounded awfully nineteenth-century, as if from a speech Edwin Forrest might have delivered.

They weren’t in my Bartlett’s, and Google was useless, not because the phrase doesn’t appear, but because it appears too often. This morning, for example, there are 866 webpages using the phrase, and although the number confirms that the phrase is a common property now, the results fail to indicate whom it was stolen from originally.

I found the answer in the Chadwyck-Healey for-pay database Literature Online, by using the exact phrase search, a function they make hard to find. (To get to it, you have to search for a phrase within quotes, and when that search fails, click a special button that only then pops up.) The wonderful thing about the database is that all the texts are dated; I think Donald Foster first explained to me the advantage of this, when I interviewed him, many years ago.

Anyway, the phrase seems to have come from Within an Inch of His Life, a melodrama by James A. Herne first staged in 1879. I hope it won’t disappoint anyone too grievously if I confess that I was able to resist reading the thing through. Here’s the money shot:

Jules de Dardeville. You wanted to be free that you might prevent me from breaking the chains in which you held me. At our last meeting, when I thought you were crushed by grief, and was softened by your hypocritical tears—your anger, which I mistook for love—I was weak enough to say “I marry Dionysia only because you are not free.” Then you cried “Oh, God! How lucky it is that thought never entered my brain before!” What thought? Come! Answer me! Confess!

Genevieve, Countess de Clairnot. Confess?

Jules de Dardeville. Aye! That thought was murder!

Genevieve, Countess de Clairnot. I was mad—mad—I tell you, with jealousy and anger! I have outraged and destroyed my husband’s honor! But to murder him! Bah! You accuse me of what you know to be a lie!

Jules de Dardeville. Then, madam, as you say—if you are innocent, who could be guilty?

[Countess sinks in chair with horror]

Jules de Dardeville. [Bitterly] You act your part well!

I don’t hear any silent finger-quotes around the Countess de Clairnot’s use of the phrase—she seems to be doing her best impression of sincerity—so I’m guessing this is the primal scene. (Of course, if anyone should find the phrase in print in 1878, please write!) Edwin Forrest appears to be not guilty.

UPDATE, 19 April 2008: The resourceful Paul Collins has pushed the date of origin back to 1855.

Mard-arsed monkeys

I would have all you hipster whipper-snappers know that I first added an Arctic Monkeys tune to my iTunes library last April (having been tipped off by Untouched by Work or Duty). I’m just saying, is all. I did not, however, know what a “mardy bum” was until last week.

I was under the impression it was a nonsense word, and then I ran into it in D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow. In the first chapter, when Tom Brangwen is still just a teenager, his older brother Frank, a butcher, calls him a “mardy baby.” I have a moderately vintage Compact Oxford English Dictionary, where I have to look up every word twice, because the supplements are printed separately from the old first edition. In the first-edition part, I found mard listed as a variant of marred, merd, or marter. Merd derives from the French merde, and means the same thing, so the phrase “mardy bum” suddenly took on a vividly blue cast. But this turned out to be a wrong turn, fortunately. In the supplement, mardy appeared in its own right, defined as ” Spoilt’, sulky, whining,” and exemplified by no fewer than three quotations from . . . D. H. Lawrence, who seems to have absolutely adored the word, because quotes from him also illustrate mard as a verb (“She marded ’em till they were soft”) and as an adjective (“Eh, tha’rt a mard-‘arsed kid”). The OED claims the word comes from “marred”—i.e., spoiled—and that the French have nothing to do with it.

UPDATE (3/25): Mitch Gould writes to suggest that perhaps mardy does come from merde after all, and that the OED editors have cleaned up the etymology, as it were. This would make the mard-from-marred derivation the opposite of a folk etymology, I suppose. (Is there a word for that?) As Mitch points out, the fact that mard appears with both bum and arse is awfully suspicious, given that there’s nothing especially sulky about that part of the body. Also, if mard came from marred, it’s strange that anyone would feel obliged to add a -y suffix to it in order to make it sound adjectival; marred is perfectly capable of functioning as an adjective solo.

Harper’s out of control

I’ve just sent a letter of protest to the editors of Harper’s, regarding their decision to publish Celia Farber’s article “Out of Control,” which encourages readers to doubt that HIV is the cause of AIDS. It’s dismaying to do a Technorati search and see how many people have already swallowed Farber’s disinformation wholesale. Richard Kim made an early critique of the article in his blog for The Nation, and CJR Daily jumped into the fray this morning. Gay City News interviewed Harper’s editor Roger Hodge about the article here. And scientists and members of several AIDS organizations, in America and in South Africa, have collaborated to produce this 37-page correction of Farber’s errors. Update: The New York Times reports on 13 March 2006 that Harper’s and Hodge are standing by Farber and her article.