Thursday, September 17, 2015

The “gutticles of the percha”

Mr. Cummings was Vladimir Nabokov’s drawing master:

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (1966).

Webster’s Second defines gutta-percha :

A substance resembling rubber but containing more resin, from the latex of several Malaysian trees of the genera Payena and Palaquium . It is nearly white to brown, hard and rather elastic, softens on heating, and can be vulcanized. It is used esp. as an electric insulator and in temporary fillings in teeth.
The word derives from the Malay. According to the Second : “gëtah gum + përcha the tree producing it.”

I cannot think of gutta-percha without thinking of James Joyce’s “The Dead”:
—Goloshes, Julia! exclaimed her sister. Goodness me, don’t you know what goloshes are? You wear them over your  . . . over your boots, Gretta, isn’t it?

—Yes, said Mrs Conroy. Guttapercha things. We both have a pair now. Gabriel says everyone wears them on the continent.

—O, on the continent, murmured Aunt Julia, nodding her head slowly.
Now when I think of gutta-percha, I’ll think of Speak, Memory, too.

Related reading, via Pinboard
All OCA Nabokov posts
Other words, other works of lit: Apoplexy, avatar, bandbox, heifer, sanguine, sempiternal : Artificer : Expiate : Ineluctable : Iridescent : Magnifico : Opusculum

[Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives a different etymology: “gĕtah sap, latex + pĕrcha scrap, rag.” The Oxford English Dictionary agrees with Webster’s Second (and Third ). Gutta owes something to the Latin gutta drop, also the source of the English word gutter .]

comments: 6

Geo-B said...

And George MacDonald, Scottish Victorian writer, wrote a novel The History of Gutta Percha Willie, the Working Genius (1873).

Michael Leddy said...

At Project Gutenberg!

The Crow said...

I know gutta as a gummy, almost rubbery, resist used to outline designs in silk painting. Then, too, I heard it used many years ago in reference to rubber cement. (I was very young - 7 or 8 - and the woman [a great aunt] was very old, probably in her 90s at the time.)

When I Googled the word to be certain I was remembering correctly, I found an architectural use for the word (cone-shaped water drain on top of Doric columns - source of our word gutters?) and a medical definition for the pendulous shape a drop forms as it is falling (similar to the shape sap forms as it drips from the tree, I imagine.) As always, I learn something new every time I visit here. Thank you for that!

Michael Leddy said...

Your’re welcome! I’m surprised and delighted to have learned that gutta and gutter are related. But not gut .

Zhoen said...

I first heard about gutta percha from James Burke in his series, The Day The Universe Changed. The beginning of plastics, and the modern world as we know it, for better and worse. And the use of nitroglycerine in pools balls, as I remember it, with the explosive results.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for expanding everybody’s understanding of gutta-percha. I had no idea when I started out how important this material has been.