Friday, May 19, 2017

"Cellar door, if it only meant something more interesting" ... but it does!

Quoting from memory C. S. Lewis' written endorsement of this phrase as highly aesthetic phonetically.

In Letters to children, one to a goddaughter, who wanted to become a writer, I think.

We know that Tolkien in his essay on English and Welsh mentioned same phrase - without the qualification "if it only meant something more interesting".

Perhaps wisely so.

First, we can check pronunciation : the "cellar" seems to be the non-rhotic pronunciation, the "door" at least potentially the rhotic one.

Now, I just said, it does mean sth more interesting than the door of a cellar - depending on which language you go to.

For [selador] in French, it means sth highly interesting (never mind French r's being unaesthetic, one can use the Burgundian version, and not use the Parisian r).

Let's put it in context:

"Adorer, ça signifie de mettre en avant la bonté, sainteté, grandeur de Dieu. Les êtres créés le font volontairement s'ils sont doués de l'esprit, et par leur nature en tout cas, même s'ils ne le sont pas, comme le sel et comme l'eau. Le sel adore Dieu par le fait de purifier et faire guérir les plaies, et ceci avec de la peine, comme c'est le cas pour la pénitence. Et l'eau adore Dieu par le fait d'être limpide, pour le fait d'enlever les souillures et de préparer les gens à vivre un bon moment avec le visage et les vêtements propres. Donc, le sel et l'eau sont utilisés pour l'eau bénite, avec qui on se signe avant d'adorer Dieu."

But you also have Spanish, where it would in Madrid and further South be "watchman" or "watching". Above, in Burgos, that would not be [selador] but [thelador].

In theory, it could instead have been either of two meanings, Latin "celator" - hider - or "zelator" - zealot. Probably the first is the real relative of Spanish celador.

If one made a conlang with roughly Spanish development of Latin words, but with an accent shift like in Sindarin to make it sound more English [sélador = roughly cellar door, rather than seladór], one could say sth about the "cellar door" which makes the subject highly interesting - and which Chesterton would have endorsed:

"The cellar door? Búino, es célador de tésoros y es célador de la líbertadh."*

It is a hider (or watchman!) of treasures and a zealot for liberty - so much indeed of the first, that I suspect Uther Pendragon was more related to the cellar door of king Cole of Colchester than to the dragon of Beowulf, since wine is a healthier treasure than "iumenna gold", especially if also "galdre bewunden."

At least Thorin found it so.

Reminds me of the fact that in Spain, wine cellars in certain parts of the North look very much like hobbit holes (same round doors), so that a wine bottle is technically a "hobbit" - a "holbytla", a "hole dweller". Hence my joke back in 2004 about "drink a hobbit". Nothing to do with any vampyric lusts after Pippin or Merry, simply an observation on where wine bottles in Spain are dwelling.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
Pope St Celestine V

* Real Spanish : "La trappa de la cava? Bueno, es celadora de tesóros y celosa de la libertad".

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