Seasonal thanks

A juxtaposition of two sets of greetings for the season, each expressing thanks for the recipient’s work.

Item A, two pieces of e-mail to Emily Menon Bender, from completely unfamiliar organizations, thanking her for her publications in computational linguistics: some new cross between holiday cards from commercial associates (maintaining the business relationship) and what Margalit Fox calls “demented p.r. releases”, what amount to cold calls (by electronic means or ordinary mail) soliciting the recipient’s business.

Item B, a brief e-mail to me from a complete stranger thanking me for my blog postings. Thanks to the fact that the sender has a name even rarer than mine, I was able to verify that he was not only a real person but a very interesting scholar — and the note moved me far more than he could have imagined, coming after a long dispiriting week. (What’s more, it turned out to latch onto my morning name from the 18th, (Lady) Ottoline Morrell.)

I have Emily’s permission to post the weird thank-yous she got (though I have edited out information about the sources, as is Margalit Fox’s practice in her demented-p.r. postings), and I have (Dr.) Richard Răzvan Vytniorgu’s permission to post his thank-you note, plus material from his (public) website — so on with the show!

Emily’s academic spam. Earlier today, on FB, she reported:

New kind of academic spam:

“I would like to thank You for the work “Linguistic typology in natural language processing” and wish You all the best for the New 2019 Year!”


… from someone I’ve never corresponded with with a return address … and complete with an animated seasons greetings gif.

… And now I’ve gotten another one: “We would like to thank You for the publication “Parser evaluation over local and non-local deep dependencies in a large corpus” and wish You all the best for the New 2019 Year!” from …


Ok, at this time of the year you’re likely to get conventional greeting cards from people you do business with. And at any time of the year, if you’re a person in the public eye at all, you might get some demented p.r. releases, which I’ve come to think of as MargoFoxes. See my 2/24/17 posting “Demented p.r. pitches, absurd ad copy”, the first of my postings on the mail writer Margalit Fox gets soliciting her involvement in various dubious enterprises.

#1 and #2 are cousins of the MargoFoxes, but they’re something new. They seem to be aimed at establishing some sort of academic/business relationship that could be exploited in the future.

And, though they come from different addresses (suppressed here), they are very similar, and they share some features that suggest non-native speakers of English: Happy New 2019 Year and the new 2019 year, instead of New Year 2019; and capitalized formal You (like 1st-person I, and like formal 2nd-person pronouns in the writing systems for some European languages (Gm. Sie, Sp. Usted).

But I turn now to a less puzzling and more heartening greeting.

Enter Richard, bearing Ottoline. Richard’s note this morning, in its entirety:

Hey Arnold,

I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your language blog; I’ve learned a lot from your insights and I’m glad you take such a frank and open approach to sexuality.

Merry Christmas 🙂

Richard Vytniorgu

There are plenty of days when I think the readers of my blog are a small crew, largely consisting of old friends (from soc.motss, especially) and former students, plus a few linguistics colleagues, my daughter Elizabeth and cousin Eleanor, and a handful of others I’ve accumulated over the years. Most of them I know personally, and I suspect that they read my stuff just because they like me. So it’s gratifying indeed to hear that there are people out there who don’t know me but still like my work and are sufficiently moved to thank me for it — even more gratifying when the thanks embrace my writing on both language and sexuality.

Of course, I first satisfied myself that this was not some sort of cruel joke, and that Vytniorgu was not some invented surname. Not at al: (Dr.) Richard Răzvan Vytniorgu is legitimate, a serious and accomplished literary scholar already at 29.

Now, outside of Switzerland, Zwicky is an unusual, even “funny” name, but thanks to the Swiss diaspora, the Zwickys have radiated from the town of Mollis to establish themselves all over the world (spread thinly and unevenly, but spread all over the place); on the other hand, inside of Switzerland, Zwicky is an entirely ordinary name, not worth remarking on. Vytniorgu, however, is a genuinely rare name (at least with that spelling); Richard is the only Vytniorgu who comes up in a Google search. From his website:

Twentieth-century and Contemporary Literary Studies Scholar


I am a British scholar of Ukrainian-Serb descent. I was born in Vatra Dornei, Romania, in 1989 and came to live in the UK when I was 10-months old. I grew up in Wiltshire and became fascinated by the Bloomsbury Group and all things modernist. Between 2008 and 2011 I studied History and Sociology at the University of Exeter before I moved to Leeds to complete an MA in Victorian Studies, writing my dissertation on the personal creativity of Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938) and how her Victorian upbringing intersected with her engagement with modernist personalities such as Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

From 2014-17 I was a Midlands3Cities PhD student at De Montfort University, researching the role and value of literary experiences in the quest for wisdom. I worked with the writing of the modernist author Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and the literary theorist Louise Rosenblatt to develop my own vocabulary and vision for literary studies, where academics and students can factor life experiences much more explicitly into their studies, responding to cultural representations in personal, creative ways.  Since then I have developed my project into my first monograph, The Butterfly Hatch: Literary Experience in the Quest for Wisdom — Uncanonically Seating H.D.

In 2017 I worked as an Academic Consultant to Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, where I researched and designed several literary salons based on Ottoline Morrell‘s innovative get-togethers in the early twentieth century.

I am now a … part-time lecturer in English literature at the University of Leicester, while also managing a small number of private tutees.

The Morrell link is to the Nottingham site on 5/18/17, with a Vytniorgu interview on Morrell. Endnote there:

Richard is a British-Romanian thinker who has written on topics of identity, ethnicity, and religion

I quote this for its identification of Richard as British-Romanian; I would have said Romanian British, or better, Romanian-born British. Another chapter in the messy business of identifying nationality and of naming those nationalities. Most recently in this vein, see my 12/18/18 posting “Nationality: the case of Albert Einstein”.

A further note: it’s ok if you judge Richard in #3 to be cute; the photo was designed to frame him as an amiable (and approachable) twink. Portraits express personas, and twink is one of Richard’s personas; the intensely engaged scholar is another.  All of this is relevant to Lady Ottoline Morrell, who was the subject of an enormous number of paintings and drawings (many by the artists she supported), among them:

(#4) Lady Ottoline Morrell by Cavendish Morton (platinum print, 1905, in the National Portrait Gallery)

Ottoline Morrell was my morning name on the 18th, the name in my head when I awoke that day. In one way, not surprising, because I’ve had an interest in the Bloomsbury set for over 40 years (of course, I have no idea why Morrell popped into my head on that particular morning).

From Wikipedia:

Lady Ottoline Violet Anne Morrell (16 June 1873 – 21 April 1938) was an English aristocrat and society hostess. Her patronage was influential in artistic and intellectual circles, where she befriended writers including Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon, T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence, and artists including Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington and Gilbert Spencer.

… Later [in life], Lady Ottoline remained a regular host to the adherents of the Bloomsbury Group, in particular Virginia Woolf, and to many other artists and authors, who included W.B. Yeats, L.P. Hartley, T.S. Eliot, and an enduring friendship with Welsh painter Augustus John. She was an influential patron to many of them, and a valued friend, who nevertheless attracted understandable mockery, due to her combination of eccentric attire with an aristocratic manner, extreme shyness and a deep religious faith that set her apart from her times.

Her work as a decorator, colourist, and garden designer remains undervalued, but it was for her great gift for friendship that she was mourned when she died in April 1938.

This extract barely scratches the surface of a truly remarkable life.

2 Responses to “Seasonal thanks”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Not just Romanian-British but also of Ukrainian-Serb descent. Lots of Eastern Europe there.

    It’s the hat that makes that photo completely adorable.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Richard explains the uniqueness of his name: it is in fact an invented name, designed to integrate his birth and adopted surnames.

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