Derb Returns
Print Friendly and PDF
My apologies for having been absent these past few days.  I was in England attending a family event.

Normal service will now be resumed.  Upcoming this week I have my March Diary, a post about the Great Radio Derb Archive Release and Lottery, and of course a Radio Derb podcast.  Watch this space.

Meanwhile, by way of warming up, here are a couple of errata from the email bag.


First erratum.  In my March 18th podcast I had some fun with feminist glaciology.  (Hey, how many opportunities are there?)  In there somewhere I quoted academic Mark Carey writing that: “Glaciers don’t have a gender.”  I jeered that:
Actually, prof, glaciers do have a gender. They're masculine in German, French, Italian, and Spanish, but neuter in Russian.
Well, jeer not lest ye be jeered.  As several listeners pointed out—all, I should say, very gently—the word “glacier” is actually masculine in Russian.

How did I come to make such an egregious linguistic blunder?  Like this.

My Russian is sketchy, mostly the residue of a one-year course I took fifty-three years ago (how time flies!).

The sketch does not include the Russian word for “glacier,” so I looked it up in my pocket dictionary:  Collins Gem Russian-English, English-Russian Dictionary (Soviet Orthography) by Waldemer Schapiro (Fellow of the Institute of Linguists), pub. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London, 1958.

For “glacier” the English-Russian half of the dictionary gives:

glacier, sn. — ледник  (pronounced “lyed-NEEK”)
Fair enough; but what does “sn” mean?  The dictionary has only one list of abbreviations (Сокращения).  It doesn’t list “sn” separately, but it gives “s” as meaning “substantive” (i.e. a noun) and “n” as “neuter” (среднего рода).

Got it.  So this is a neuter noun in Russian.

Uh-uh.  If you go to the Russian-English half of the dictionary and look up ледник you get:

ледник, sm. — glacier
Sure enough, the darn thing is masculine (as, I belatedly recall, are all Russian nouns that end with a consonant).  So … what’s that “sn” doing in the other half of the dictionary?

I wonder if Waldemer Schapiro (Fellow of the Institute of Linguists) is still dwelling among us in this vale of tears?  I’d like to have a word with him.

Second erratum.  In that same podcast I said the following thing:

The Marianas Islands, for example, where Donald Trump just won 73 percent of the Republican vote, were the territory of Micronesian hunter-gatherers until Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1521.
(Note that there is nowadays no zone of commentary so recondite as not to warrant a Trump reference.)

That’s wrong, says a listener:

The Chamorro may have been primitive, but they weren't simple hunter-gatherers.  They practiced agriculture in garden plots, and possibly in rice fields.  They probably did not have any domestic animals, however.
He’s right.  That’s one of those annoying things I knew but had momentarily forgotten.  The Neolithic Revolution didn’t happen all at once.  Hardly anything does.  Natura non facit saltum.


Thanks to the listeners who took the trouble to email in with corrections. is a fact-based website, and we care a lot—more, I believe, than some bigfoot print publications—about getting things right.
Print Friendly and PDF