My apologies for the lack of recent posts. A combination of some busy committee assignments, a public lecture (just finished today), an unexpected grant proposal deadline, an unusually-busy reference letter writing season, and getting the book off to the publisher have occupied my days to an insane degree. Things should calm down over Thanksgiving and I will have some longer posts next week.
For now though, since it’s floating around the blogosphere, I wanted to draw your attention to the Atlas of True Names, which presents place-names by giving their etymology in English (e.g. “Hillfort” for London or “Sibling Love” for Philadelphia or just “Strait” for Detroit). It can be trite, and the etymologies themselves can be questioned. What I find most fascinating (as a Tolkienophile of some decades) is that they use the toponymy of Middle-Earth as an explicit model justifying the aesthetic quality of the enterprise. For me the most compelling aspects of Tolkien’s nomenclature were the untranslated Quenya, Sindarin, Khuzdûl, and Adûnaic (among others), whereas formations like ‘Mirkwood’ were merely passably interesting. I freely admit that my old copy of Robert Foster’s Complete Guide to Middle-Earth quickly became so worn that I had to discard it a couple of years ago after years of abuse.
All of which reminds me of a sad story that I should get off my chest. In my first term at McGill I taught a class on the anthropology of writing systems and literacy, the last week of which was left open for student-directed topics, and the members of the seminar wanted to study constructed scripts, so I gave them a little piece to read on Tengwar (Elvish) and another on Klingon. But on the day we were to discuss those readings, I learned just hours before class that my mentor Bruce Trigger had passed away, and so I cancelled that class, which remains untaught to this day.