War of the Words
In “Gertrude Stein’s Radical Grammar” (February), Kay Armatage quotes Stein’s famous line, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” The line is, in fact, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” (“Sacred Emily,” 1913), which may refer to Sir Francis Rose, an English painter.
Clifton Fadiman caught the essence of Ms. Stein in Party of One, when he wrote that she was “a past master in the art of making nothing happen very slowly.”
Halifax, Nova Scotia
In her article, “Gertrude Stein’s Radical Grammar,” Kay Armatage misquotes her subject. Ms. Stein’s famous declaration, in the 1913 poem “Sacred Emily,” was “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” without the initial indefinite article. The subject is a young girl, Rose Lucie Renée Anne d’Aiguy, whom Stein and Alice B. Toklas met on holiday. Rose was also the inspiration of Stein’s small book for children, The World is Round.
The first line of Stein’s poem, “Sacred Emily,” is indeed “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” (The jury is out as to whether “Rose” refers to Sir Francis Rose or Rose Lucie Renée Anne d’Aiguy.) However, Stein later amended the phrase in a number of works, including “Poetry and Grammar”: “When I said/A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose./And then later made that into a ring I made poetry and what did I do I caressed completely caressed and addressed a noun.”
Ken Alexander’s February Sighting (“Nation Proliferation”) was excellent, but a “tinker’s damn”? No sir, a “tinker’s dam.” A tinker was an itinerant who would mend kettles and other tinware by using a little dam of dough or clay to stop the solder from spreading. The “dam” would then be thrown away, a worthless little plug.
It seems there are two camps here: Tinker’s Dam, in the red bandanas, are headed by Edward Knight, who wrote a Practical Dictionary of Mechanics in 1877; Tinker’s Damn, in the blue bandanas (of course), honour Henry David Thoreau, who is first recorded using the expression in 1839. In an apparently unsuccessful attempt to avoid a thrashing, The Walrus deferred to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary’s spelling.
“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter, an email ([email protected]), or a tweet, or post on this website. Comments may be published in any medium and edited for length, clarity, and accuracy. Mail correspondence to: 411 Richmond St. E., Suite B15, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3S5