Tuesday, December 20, 2022

NYT Letter Boxed fail

[The New York Times Letter Boxed, December 20, 2022.]

I am indignant. I had no idea where I might have gone after grimpen, but I wanted grimpen, a word known to many a reader from T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker”:

On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure
The Oxford English Dictionary can only guess: “? A marshy area.”

Eliot seems to have picked up grimpen from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, where it appears as part of a place name:
Life has become like that great Grimpen Mire, with little green patches everywhere into which one may sink and with no guide to point the track.
The Annotated Sherlock Holmes explains:
As is well known, Watson’s “Great Grimpen Mire” is Grimspound Bog, three miles to the north and west of Widecombe-in-the-Moor.
All three citations — 1902, 1940, 1968 — appear in the OED, and are the only citations for the word.

Vladimir Nabokov has some fun with Eliot’s vocabulary in Pale Fire (1962). In John Shade’s poem of that name, his daughter Hazel reads in her bedroom:
Sometimes I’d help her with a Latin text,
Or she'd be reading in her bedroom, next
To my fluorescent lair, and you would be
In your own study, twice removed from me,
And I would hear both voices now and then:
“Mother, what’s grimpen ?” “What is what?”
Pause, and your guarded scholium. Then again:
“Mother, what’s chthonic ?” That, too, you’d explain,
Appending: “Would you like a tangerine?”
“No. Yes. And what does sempiternal mean?”
You’d hesitate. And lustily I’d roar
The answer from my desk through the closed door.
A reader of Four Quartets should be able to answer all three of Hazel’s questions.

Related reading
From the Doyle edition (a page of “East Coker,” all marked up) : NYT Spelling Bee fail

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