Sunday, November 14, 2004

Bud's self-censoring (which Gaddis might aver is better than self-censering); CAAF in violent need of the OED

Over at Chekhov’s Mistress, Bud shares some preliminary thoughts on this first section of T.R. (or as I’m thinking of it, T. Recs.). In a parenthetical he wonders about any allusions packed into Doctor Sinisterra’s name: “(Sinister? No land?)”

I’m wondering too, and guessing Bud’s nailed it. OurWebster’s Third glosses “sinister” as “left, on the left side, awkward, injurious, evil, unlucky, inauspicious." The shift from “ter” to “terra”, or “[no] land,” for a fraudulent shipboard doctor adds a nice second layer.

This website page looks at the etymology of “sinister” in terms of the “basis these terms have in materialism, pre-religious fear and the dogma that resulted from prehistorical sun worship.” Any other thoughts from the etymologists among us obvs. welcome.

2 Comments:

Blogger LITBLOG CO-OP said...

Ask and you shall receive, dear CAAF, hot from OED:


I. †1. a. Of information: Given with intent to deceive or mislead, esp. so as to create a prejudice against some person; prompted by malice or ill-will. Obs.
1411 Rolls of Parlt. III. 650/2 And of all that by sinistre information, I havyng doute of harme of my body,+dyd assemble thise persones. 1485 Exch. Rolls Scotl. IX. 646 note, Gif+Johne informit the kingis heines that the said acris pertenit nocht to the said tennandis, that it was wrang and senister informacion. 1534 More in Ellis Orig. Lett. Ser. i. II. 49 That+no synistre information move your noble Grace to have eny more distrust of my trowth. 1566 Reg. Privy Council Scot. I. 416 Upoun sinister informatioun maid to thair Lordships,+the said Robert wes lattin to libertie; albeit the saidis Lordis perfytelie now undirstandis the contrarie.

†b. Similarly of suggestions, advice, etc. Obs.
1450 Rolls of Parlt. V. 179/2 By sotill meanes and sinistre suggestions. 1480 Coventry Leet Bk. 433 Þe hasty, sinistre and seducious suggestion & labour made be Laurens Saunders. a1548 Hall Chron., Hen. IV, 8b, The evell & sinister councell of perverse and flatteryng persons. 1559 Mirr. Mag., R. Tresilian xvi, Kynge Richarde, By synister aduyse, had tourned all vpsodowne. 1569 in Ellis Orig. Lett. Ser. i. II. 257 Doubting what synister complainte may be now againste me. 1601 B. Jonson Poetaster v. iii, The sinister application Of the malicious, ignorant, and base Interpreter.

†2. Of opinions, etc.: Prejudicial, adverse, unfavourable, darkly suspicious. Obs.
1432 Paston Lett. I. 35 That the said Erle may have knowleche therof, to th' entent that he may+not dwelle in hevy or synistre conceit or opinion. 1533 More Apol. xxxvii. Wks. 904/1 It wyl be hard to bring anye suche sinister opinion of him in any good honest mans head. 1589 G. Harvey Pierce's Super. i. 17 Let me not bee mistaken by sinister construction. 1604 T. Wright Passions vi. 313 We passe into the corners of other mens soules+by rash judgements and sinister suspitions. 1648 Boyle Seraph. Love xxiv. (1700) 146 We are apt to harbor sinister thoughts of the Contriver of a Plot. a1713 T. Ellwood Autobiog. (1765) 67 Some evil Suspicion or sinister Thoughts concerning me. 1795 Sewel's Hist. Quakers I. Pref. p. xv, This is a very sinister and preposterous conceit.

3. Of actions, practices, etc.: Dishonest, unfair; not straightforward, underhand; dark.
Common c 1470 to 1650, esp. with arts, courses, labours, means, ways.
1455 Paston Lett. I. 326 The sinistrez, maliciouse, and fraudulent laboures and rapportes of our sayd ennemyes. 1483 Plumpton Corr. (Camden) 43, I am right sory & any synister wayes of my adversaryes be shewed unto you. 1502 W. Atkynson tr. De Imitatione iii. li, Thou+sekest for thy defence derke & synyster excuses. 1549 Compl. Scotl. xix. 160 The sinister ministratione of thy office, is the special cause of the scisma. 1612 Bacon Ess., Of Judicature (Arb.) 456 Persons that are full of nimble and sinister trickes and shiftes. 1655 Fuller Ch. Hist. v. 165 Such who consult with covetousness in matters of conscience, embracing sinister courses to save charges. 1759 Dilworth Pope 84 Private letters+which were obtained in a sinister manner by him. 1800 Colquhoun Comm. Thames xv, Cheap Fish+might be sold all the year if no sinister arts were used to prevent it. 1829 I. Taylor Enthus. i. (1867) 18 We ought not to heed the injudicious, and perhaps sinister, delicacy of some persons who had rather that truth should remain for ever sullied [etc.].

4. a. Corrupt, evil, bad, base.
1474 Rolls of Parlt. VI. 110/1 Contynuyn in habundaunce of goodes and havour, to their sinister pleasure. 1477 Earl Rivers (Caxton) Dictes 7 Leste ye be let or withdrawen ther-fro by eny sinistre or euil temptacion. 1549 Compl. Scotl. Ep. Ded. 2 Ane sinister inuentit false titil contrar our realme. 1574 Whitgift Def. Aunsw. iii. Wks. 1851 I. 302 When do partial and sinister affections more utter them~selves, than when an election is committed to many? 1612 T. Taylor Comm. Titus ii. 12 Many in some blind and sinister respect or other, can come to heare Ieremie speaking from the Lord. 1656 Bramhall Replic. 16 He speaks of bad manners and vitious humors and sinister affections,+as envy, contention, contumacy, incontinency. 1780 Burke Sp. Econ. Reform Wks. 1842 I. 254 To see us pervert our skill into a sinister and servile dexterity, for the purpose of evading our duty. 1823 Byron Juan xiii. xxi, These were advantages:+he thought—It was his foible, but by no means sinister—That [etc.]. 1827 Hood Craniology 79 Till one gets mastery good or sinister, And comes in like a new prime-minister. 1860 W. Collins Wom. in White xi, To the same hidden source and the same sinister influence.

b. Of motives, aims, etc.
Common from c 1590, esp. with designs, ends, motives, views. sinister interest, esp. in the works of the Utilitarian philosophers (see quot. 1827).
a1533 Ld. Berners Gold. Bk. M. Aurel. (1546) Qviij, Ye suppose my good desyres be sinister. 1594 Hooker Eccl. Pol. iv. ix. §3 Is it so strange a matter to find a good thing furthered by ill men of a sinister intent and purpose? 1628 Prynne Love-lockes 14 Men in our dayes doe nourish their Haire and Loue-lockes out of Vaine-glory, Pride,+and such like Sinister and sinfull ends. 1656 Bramhall Replic. viii. 324 If Henry the eighth had any other private sinistre grounds known only to himself, they doe not render the Reformation one jod the worse in it self. 1710 Prideaux Orig. Tithes ii. 45 They may out of sinister and corrupt designs give false Judgments. 1771 Junius Lett. lxv. (1788) 337, I do not mean to enter into an examination of the partial, sinister motives of your conduct. 1804 Wellington in Gurw. Desp. (1837) III. 133 The Marhatta Chiefs+have frequently applied to him to exert the influence+to carry their sinister objects. 1817 J. Bentham Plan Parl. Reform iii. p. xi, Here we have one partial, one separate, one sinister interest+with which the universal+interest has to antagonise. 1824 J. S. Mill in Westm. Rev. II. 347 When romance assumes the garb of history,+it infallibly allies itself with the sinister interests of the few. 1827 J. Bentham Rationale Evid. V. ix. i. 6 Interest when acting in such a direction and with such effect as to give birth to falsehood may be termed sinister interest. 1856 Froude Hist. Eng. (1858) I. ii. 133 Wolsey+soon satisfied the king that he had no sinister intentions. 1861 J. S. Mill Repr. Govt. vi. 118 The evils arising from the prevalence of modes of action in the representative body dictated by sinister interests (to employ the useful phrase introduced by Bentham), that is, interests conflicting more or less with the general good of the community. 1871 Morley Condorcet in Crit. Misc. Ser. i. (1878) 43 All the evils came from the sinister interests of the nobles.

†c. Erring; erroneous; astray from the right path. Obs. rare.
1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 63b, Despyse suche synystre feares and shames, for they come communly of the ennemy. 1549 Coverdale Erasm. Par. Gal. 18 The sinistre rooted persuasion of the Jewes. 1632 Lithgow Trav. iv. 157 They haue also this sinister opinion, that at the day of Iudgement+Mahomet shall appeare. 1634 Habington Castara i. (Arb.) 12, I never felt a wanton heate, nor was my invention ever sinister from the straite way of chastity.

†5. Of persons: Acting or advising to one's detriment. Obs. rare.
c1500 Melusine 258 Yf some of his synester frendes haue informed geffray. a1548 Hall Chron., Hen. VI, 91 The displeasures to hym doen by the quene and her sinister counsailors.

6. a. Of omens, etc.: Portending or indicating misfortune or disaster; full of dark or gloomy suggestiveness; inauspicious, unfavourable.
Orig. denoting omens seen on the left hand, which was regarded as the unlucky side: cf. 9c and dexter a. 1c.
1579 North tr. Plutarch, Marcellus (1895) II. 370 To withdraw the evill from them these sinister tokens did threaten. 1600 E. Blount tr. Conestaggio 29 Guided by some sinister starre. 1611 B. Jonson Catiline Consp. i. i, All the several ills that visit earth, Brought forth by night with a sinister birth, Plagues, famine, fire. 1700 Moxon Math. Dict. s.v., [When] Saturn [is] in Aries, and Mars in the same Degrees of Gemini,+Saturn is said to cast a Sinister Aspect to Mars. 1792 Gouv. Morris in Sparks Life & Writ. (1832) II. 180 From such facts it is impossible not to draw the most sinister presages. 1828 Scott F.M. Perth xix, Dorothy+had that strong appetite for collecting and retailing sinister intelligence, which is often to be marked in the lower classes. 1855 Macaulay Hist. Eng. xviii. IV. 230 Many said that those words, when examined, would be found full of sinister meaning. 1873 Horner Florence (1884) I. xv. 226 The death of a lion [in Florence] was deplored as a sinister omen.

b. Of looks, etc.: Suggestive of evil or mischief.
1797–1805 S. & Ht. Lee Canterb. T. I. 374 In the countenance of St. Auber he thought he discerned something watchful and sinister. 1824 W. Irving T. Trav. II. 112 The sinister expression with which she regarded the travellers. 1853 Lytton My Novel iii. ii, Such a smile!—so disagreeable and sinister! 1864 Burton Scot Abr. II. i. 9 The typical Irish immigrant, with his sinister animal features. 1838 Thirlwall Greece xxxviii. V. 68 This article, of so sinister an aspect, seems to have been inserted chiefly with a view to Thebes. 1838 Prescott Ferd. & Is. (1846) I. vii. 318 It gives a sinister expression to her otherwise unblemished character. 1838 Dickens O. Twist xxxi, A rather ill-favoured countenance, and a turned-up, sinister-looking nose. 1884 J. Colborne With Hicks Pasha 131 Their only visible tenants being sinister-looking vultures.

c. Of natural objects, places, etc.
1844 Hood Forge 31 As wild a night As ever was known on that sinister height. 1856 Kane Arctic Expl. I. vii. 69 The sky looks sinister; a sort of scowl overhangs the blink. 1894 P. Pinkerton Adriatica, Venice in Autumn, I hear the madmen scream From sinister San Servolo.

7. Attended with mishap, misfortune, or disaster; unlucky, unfortunate; adverse.
Common c 1580 to 1670, esp. with accident, chance, fate, fortune.
1576 Fleming Panopl. Epist. 115 If I be intercepted with some sinister chaunce. 1580 Lyly Euphues (Arb.) 242 A trauailer that hath sustained harm by sinister fortune. 1642 Rogers Naaman 8 Promising but a Sinister successe. 1670 Milton Hist. Eng. iii. Wks. 1851 III. 112 Thir Countrie, whose sinister fate had now blinded them for distruction. 1761 Hume Hist. Eng. I. xii. 287 Leicester himself, in case of any sinister accident, could easily take shelter in the city. 1792 Cowper Lett. 16 Sept., With no sinister accident to retard or terrify us. 1860 Motley Netherl. xliv. IV. 243 A sinister event+had opened the series of transactions in the East, and had cast a gloom over the public sentiment at home.

8. Unfavourable, harmful, or prejudicial to a person, his interests, etc.
1725 Pope Odyss. xx. 304 The bird of Jove Truss'd+a trembling dove: Sinister to their hope! 1771 Burke Corr. (1844) I. 285 By some accident very sinister to me, you absolutely forget the defence. 1805 Brathwait's Barnabees Jrnl. Introd. (1818) 40 A place very sinister to English princes. 1851 Hawthorne Twice-told T. Ser. ii. Main Street, Such a life was sinister to the intellect, and sinister to the heart.

II. 9. a. Situated on the left side of the body.
c1475 Partenay 3049 The sinistre Arme smote he vppon. c1500 Melusine 84 Raymondyn+putte+the hand senester at hys nek. 1597 A. M. tr. Guillemeau's Fr. Chirurg. 54/1 My Lord of Gyuri receaved a terrible shot in his sinistre shoulder. 1606 Shakes. Tr. & Cr. iv. v. 128 My Mothers bloud Runs on the dexter cheeke, and this sinister Bounds in my fathers. 1682 Dryden Mac-Fl. 120 In his sinister hand+He placed a mighty mug of potent ale. 1842 S. Lover Handy Andy xxxix, The old lady substituted a black silk shade to obfuscate her sinister luminary. a1658 Lovelace Poems (1864) 158 That which still makes her mirth to flow, Is our sinister-handed woe. 1861 in A. E. Lee Hist. Columb. (1892) II. 437 All the infinite variety of shakes+was executed upon the devoted sinister and dexter of the President.

b. Lying on or towards the left hand.
1483 Caxton Gold. Leg. 436b/2 The preest translateth his book to the synyster parte of the aulter. 1600 J. Dymmok Ireland (1843) 39 The sinister winge of the vantguard. c1611 Chapman Iliad xiii. 310 In the Greeks' left wing, The Trojans saw the Cretan king+And his attendant+Both cheering the sinister troops. 1650 Fuller Pisgah 67 We have placed the name of Amorites on the sinister front of this our description. 1830 G. R. Gleig Country Curate I. iii. 48 Of the doors,+that behind is fastened to the sinister lintel by+five latches. 1871 M. Collins Marq. & Merch. III. iii. 74 A card with the name of the journal+engraved in the sinister corner.

c. With reference to omens. (Cf. 6.)
1675 Hobbes Odyss. xx. 24 Then o'er their heads an Eagle flew on high Sinister. 1717 Pope Iliad xii. 257 The victor eagle, whose sinister flight Retards our host. 1734 tr. Rollin's Anc. Hist. (1827) I. Pref. 50 By the sinister flight of birds.

10. Her. Forming, or situated on, the left half of a shield (regarded from the bearer's point of view; cf. dexter). Also absol.
Cf. also bar-, baton-, bend-sinister.
1562 Leigh Armorie 41 The sinister point+is in the left side of the same escocheon. 1637 Heywood Royal Ship 43 Shee pointeth to Hercules on the sinister side, with his club in his hand. 1709 Strype Ann. Ref. I. Introd. 8 The sinister half [of the escutcheon] being as it were obscured or cut off. 1730 Bailey (fol.), Tenne+is expressed in Engraving by Lines diagonal, from the Sinister Chief and Traverse. 1797 Encycl. Brit. (ed. 3) VIII. 447/2 The Bend is an ordinary formed by two diagonal lines, drawn from the dexter-chief to the sinister-base. 1864 Boutell Her. Hist. & Pop. xiv. 169 The sinister half of the impaled shield. 1868 Cussans Heraldry (1893) 53 Purpure, diagonal lines drawn from sinister to dexter.

b. sinister bend, = bend-sinister, bend n.2 3.
1612 J. Davies (Heref.) Muse's Sacr. Wks. (Grosart) II. 83/2 A Sanguine-field, that beareth Harts, in chiefe, crost with sinister-bends. 1820 Lamb Elia i. South-Sea Ho., His lineal pretensions, like his personal, favoured a little of the sinister bend.

11. Directed to the left; characterized by moving or turning towards the left. rare.
1615 G. Sandys Trav. 84 A hundred Knights Circling the sad pile with sinister rites [L. ex more sinistro Orbe]. 1644 Bulwer Chiron. 102 To draw sinister circles, or rashly to fling the Hand up and downe. 1822 J. Parkinson Outl. Oryctol. 224 Ostrea serra: suborbicular, sinister, gigantic.

12. Relating to the use of the left hand. rare—1.
1818 W. Taylor in Monthly Rev. LXXXVI. 7 It became practicable to keep the left hand habitually clean,+and there was no longer any occasion to persist in those sinister forbearances, which are+commanded.

November 15, 2004 at 2:17 AM  
Blogger Bud Parr said...

I do like the No Land thought, and probably didn't take into account that it could be both or more. It would seem that, without trying to get too deep into symbolism, Gaddis does purposely name his characters in the Dickensian sense.

The reason I like the idea of Sin (no) Terra (land) for Sinisterra is that there appears to be a water theme in the book. In a book with religion as a theme, water is sure to be present because of the holy water rites, baptism, etc. There is a boy that kills himself in two feet of water (which may be enough for a baptismal dunking, the death (loss, or is it) at sea, the rainstorm in Madrid is cleansing?, etc. Again, not to make too much of it, because I'm sure it would be easy to go tangentially into name meanings, which are probably best for a second or third reading (this is my first, I'm a GV).

November 17, 2004 at 4:38 PM  

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