European Diary

Lobar Warming

Scoffers may deride the proposition I find instinctively plausible, that the consonants and the vowels of speech are its masculine and feminine constituents, though the same scoffers would not think to keep a professor from speaking of male rhymes or an electrician of female plugs.  Yet the role of women in many societies, historically considered, is reminiscent of the function of vowels, which are there to enliven a word rather than to carry the burden of its meaning.

In some languages unrelated to ours, such as Hebrew or Arabic, many of the spoken vowels are merely hinted at in transcription, as if femininity were a crossword puzzle which the wise can solve using certain clues.  But in our languages, too, when in the course of a phoneme’s Indo-European migration a consonant mutates, this is big news for etymologists, with a whole new Law to go with it and a celebratory picnic on the outskirts of Marburg in honor of the jolly good fellow Jakob Grimm; yet the defloration of an alien vowel, in a word’s transition from one language to another, hardly draws notice.  On other occasions in this space, I have likened women to sacramental wine, to Roman spectacles, to tantalizing mirages; may this fresh flight of fancy be forgiven me.

Everybody knows the mauvais quart d’heure occasioned by the interaction of recognized beauty and presumptive brain.  Of the five or six people who have...

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