Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

Ditto ditto my song

November 17, 2023

A serenade on my Apple Music in the dark night of 10/13, Danny Kaye singing Gilbert & Sullivan patter songs, with warmth rather than the sharp edges of the D’Oyly Carte patter specialists; at my 2 am whizz break, he had arrived at the Lord Chancellor’s “Nightmare Song”, from G&S’s Iolanthe, with its concluding:

the night has been long —
ditto ditto my song —
and thank goodness
they’re both of them over!

Being (more or less relentlessly) a linguist, I asked myself, not for the first time: What kind of word is ditto? It looks a lot like some kind of adverb here, with the crucial line paraphrasable as (awkward) thus thus my song, or (better) also also my song, or (even better) so too my song. (Although you might argue that ditto‘s a special kind of noun, since it’s paraphrasable as the same.) And, while we’re on the subject: Where on earth does it come from? I entertained speculations about some connection to double, maybe Greek di– ‘two’, or possibly to dot, given ditto marks.

My etymological speculations are provably off-base; the closest English words are diction and dictate, from the Latin stem dict– ‘say’. Meanwhile, my off-the-cuff part-of-speech assignment is flatly contradicted by the authority I look at first, NOAD (a lexicographically respectable dictionary of manageable size, and — unlike AHD or the M-W dictionaries — one accessible directly from my browser). NOAD is based on the resources of the OED, and the OED (which I can access on-line) on ditto classifies the word as a noun — but in an entry from well over a century ago, so we need to look critically at its evidence for this classification. Which shows that in the 18th century the word was incontestably a noun (with a plural dittoes). That usage, however, is long dead. The question is what to say about modern usage, and there my adverb idea has a lot going for it (and is also the classification given in Merriam-Webster’s word history for modern ditto).

So we’re in for a bumpy ride, much like the Lord Chancellor’s, with possibly more questions than answers. Hang on.


Lisztomania enters the 21st century

November 13, 2023

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday, “Anti-Ode to Liszt” (slamming his piano transcription of the Ode to Joy section of Beethoven’s 9th symphony), an amazing New Yorker piece by Alex Ross, in print in the 9/11 issue (under a version of the title above), on-line on 9/4 under the title “The Greatest Show on Earth: Liszt defined musical glamour. But pianists now see substance behind the spectacle”.

I was pointed to the Ross piece by Lise Menn in e-mail. Apparently, I saw a thumbnail announcement of it in my New Yorker feed but missed it in scanning through the issue when it came out (I lose days, sometimes more, of attention to the media through medical or personal crises, so these reminders are genuinely helpful to me).

Now, a section from Ross’s synoptic view of Liszt — his life, his career, and his music. From here on, it’s all Ross: