Through the centuries in the morning

The morning name for the 6th: Attraverso i Secoli, the title of an elementary Italian textbook from about 60 years ago. Not mine, but Ann Daingerfield Zwicky’s. No longer in my possession, after several years of the Great Library Divestment, but still I remember it, and it somehow surfaced in my dreamtime.

The title attraverso i secoli ‘(down) over / through(out) / across the centuries / ages’ is a PP with the very interesting P attraverso, which (historically) is itself a P + a N derived from a verb of motion (cf. the English V traverse).

And the expression as a whole is formulaic, a conventional way of referring to (all of) historic time.

As a bonus, there’s the book Il Quidditch Attraverso i Secoli by Kenilworthy Whisp.

Historical note. Much compressed, the story goes something like this. It starts with the Latin V transverto transvertere ‘turn in a different direction’, PSP transversus, with transversus used as Adj or N (but still able to occur with an object). Lat. transversus  > It. traverso, which combines with the P a(l) ‘to’, yielding a(l) traverso/ at(t)traverso, meaning roughly ‘traversing, traveling over/across’ or more abstractly, ‘span (in space or time)’ . But the originally verbal form attraverso can still occur with an object, and is then open to reanalysis as a P meaning ‘over, across, through(out)’.

Originally participial verb forms occurring with objects are open to such reanalyses. That’s the (much simpler) story of the English P concerning. From OED3 (Sept. 2015) on concerning (< PRP of the verb concern ‘to refer or relate to, to be about’):

1. a. As regards; as relates to. Chiefly in as concerning: as far as concerns; as to. [1st cite 1525] … 2. In reference or relation to; regarding, about. [1st cite 1535]

(Similarly, regarding.)

Meanwhile, secoli (pl. of secolo), literally ‘centuries’, has developed a figurative (hyperbolic) sense ‘ages’, denoting a very long time period.

Formulaicity. The full Italian expression attraverso i secoli is one way of expressing something like ‘for / during / through(out) centuries’ or, figuratively ‘for / over ages’. You could use another preposition, like di or per or something more complicated, like nel corso di; you could do without the definite article i (in both Italian and English, PPs with both anarthrous and arthous objects are acceptable, and have subtly different meanings); and of course other objects (like gli anni ‘the years’) are possible.

The PP attraverso i secoli isn’t an idiom — its meaning is derivable by general principles of composition from the meanings of its parts — nor is it a cliché (it’s neither overused nor ineffective), but it is conventionalized, formulaic, in another way: of the choices of ways to express this family of meanings, attraverso i secoli is very likely to be chosen; it’s the “off the shelf” variant for expressing this kind meaning in Italian. There seems to be no generally used label for such default variants; the colorless label default variant would do, or maybe the playful shelfie. (If I could think of a good way to allude to the distinction between well / rail drinks and call drinks in a bar, I would: shelfies are the well drinks of the phrase world.)

Deploying the PP. The phrase attraverso i secoli is especially suited for discussions of history, so it’s no surprise to see it as the title of history textbooks:


As I recall it — I might have invented this — Ann’s elementary textbook had that title because it introduced the Italian language through vignettes about the glory of Italy throughout history: Venice as a world power, Il Risorgimento, the culture of Tuscany, that sort of thing. That prepared students to have brief conversations about Italian society and culture, embroidered with delightful turns of phrase, while being unable to inquire about the pen of their aunt vis-à-vis the table of their uncle, or for that matter to ask how to get to the train station or where the bathrooms are. (Ann was fond of useless but ornamental expressions in other languages.)

Bonus book. I didn’t find any links to Ann’s textbook, but searching for it brought me this remarkable book:


Yes, Kennilworthy Whisp’s Il Quidditch Attraverso i Secoli — the Italian translation of Whisp’s Quidditch Through the Ages. From Wikipedia:

Quidditch Through the Ages is a 2001 book written by British author J. K. Rowling using the pseudonym of Kennilworthy Whisp about Quidditch in the Harry Potter universe. It purports to be the Hogwarts library’s copy of the non-fiction book of the same name mentioned in several novels of the Harry Potter series.

… In 2001, Rowling penned two companion books to the Harry Potter series, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, for British charity and offshoot of Live Aid, Comic Relief with all of her royalties going to the charity. As of July 2008, the books combined are estimated to have earned over $30 million for Comic Relief. The two books have since been made available in hardcover.


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