Thursday 24 June 2010


From the abyss of Dear Dogberry page comes this shriek for help:

Being in the general proximity of Wimbledon you will doubtless have heard of the record-pulverizing match between Nicolas Mahut of France and John Isner of the USA, currently suspended at 59-59 in the 5th set. Our ESPN commentators were having a terrible time coming up with fitting adjectives: "epic," "freakish," a "battle royale," a "clash of wills," etc.. "Epic" yes, but not just any epic--after all, you could recite the Iliad all the way through in a mere 24 hours. Last year's final was epic. This match is Mahabharatan. At least, that's the best I can do. What say you? From your vast lexical treasury, your bathypelagic well of verbal resourcefulness, can you generate suitable superlatives? I eagerly await your offerings. Signed,

Dumbstruck in Delaware

Well, Dumbstruck in Delaware, I should begin by saying that Mahabharatan is a damned fine coinage. For readers who don't know (and I'm sure there's one of you), the Mahabharata is a Sanskrit epic that's about ten times longer than the Iliad. I like mahabharatan. I shall steal it and use it for my own sinful purposes.

Can I do better? I'm not sure. It's pretty easy to coin words for large. You find a large thing and turn it into an adjective. Gargantua, the giant hero of a book by Rabellais, gave us gargantuan. The Biblical monster Behemoth gives us behemothic. The Himalayas give us Himalayan and so on and so forth. But none of these words fit. They are all bulky, and the tennis match is long.

My best suggestion would be jörmungandrian. Jörmungandr is a snake from Viking mythology which grows so long that it encircles the earth and ends up biting its own tail. As I mentioned in a previous post the circumference of the earth is 24,901.55 miles, so Jörmungandr is very long indeed.

There's an added advantage that the snake biting its own tail is one of the mysterious symbols that pops up in almost every culture in the world. Mythographers call it the ouroboros and generally agree that its some sort of symbol of the infinite (or possibly of wisdom). That means that if you were captured by some strange and isolated tribe of Amazonian headhunters and forced, at hatchet-point, to describe the Mahut-Isner match you could confidently use the word jörmungandrian. The head-hunters might not understand you immediately, but they would doubtless have a cognate symbol in their own twisted and macabre mythology.

Well, Dumbstruck in Delaware, I hope that helps. And remember: having a bigger vocabulary doesn't necessarily make you a "better" person, what really matters is whether you can use that vocabulary to negotiate with tennis-obsessed cannibals.


The Inky Fool engaging in pest-control


  1. Dear Dogberry,

    Please could you explain how to pronounce jörmungandrian?

    Tongue-tied of Tottenham Court Road

  2. Is the "ö" anything like the "ø" in "et glass øl"?

  3. Dogberry comes through in the clutch! The match is indeed jörmungandrian, not to mention Olympiotitanic, Ragnarokian, and Mahabharatan. I would only request that you change my moniker from "Desperate" to "Dumbstruck" because it is better and I thought of it one minute too late. Signed,

    Less Dumbstruck in Delaware

    PS.: While we're loosely on this "length" theme, you will surely enjoy this, my favorite word from Sanskrit and perhaps any language:


    "Having a pair of hands trembling to knead the swelling breasts of cowgirls." Surely this word will describe both of our stalwart competitors after their jörmungandrian contest finally finds its tail with its mouth.

  4. Also, I misspelled "Nicolas" in my note. No 'h' in the serve-beleaguered Frenchman's name.

  5. I've be suffering from undiagnosedgopipinapayodharamardanachanchalakarayugashalin since childhood. But rather than being treated, I've been stigmatised and banned from dairies.
    That's a fantastic word.
    Mrs M. I should imagine it's your-mung-gandrian, but will try to check up.

  6. Did you get to see him on any of his recent touring? (Is he still touring?) I went to his concert in Athens a couple summers ago and am currently listening again to Live in London in my car CD player. You've picked out for quotation my favorite lines in a very great song. Practically the only records of his I don't have mostly by heart are New Skin for the Old Ceremony and Death of a Lady's Man. Oh, and the atrocious Dear Heather. Other than those--whoosh.

  7. The Antipodean26 June 2010 at 11:34

    Chris, I'm not sure if it's 'still' or 'again,' but he came all the way down under to see us (or to allow us to see him) in early 2009, and he's back later this year.

    Dogberry, I may have to reclassify you in my subscriptions: cricket, football and now tennis. It's getting quite sporty around here. They are at least respectably ancient sports.

    Would-rather-not-talk-about-cricket-right-now in WA. (There should definitely be a word for that: surely the English have come up with one at some point?)

  8. Chris, I have never seen him live. I'm not sure that an arena would be the right place to listen to Mr Cohen and he doesn't seem to play little smokey bars any more. In fact there are no smokey bars any more.

  9. The ouroboros (though I have only learned the word thanks to you, though Wikipedia knows it, of course) was essential (allegedly) in the discovery of the structure of benzene.