Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Ruth Berman
Dear Editor,

Ange Mlinko, reviewing Robert Pinsky's Gulf Music and Mary Kinzie's California Sorrow (January 2008), comments in praising their use of etymologies that it would be nice if they had identified which dictionaries they used, instead of referring archetypally to what "the" dictionary says. This truth could be underscored by her praise of Kinzie's "discovery" about the origins of ash (tree) and ash (cinder) in "Like a Furnace." Claiming that the two ashes are identical works as a pun, but not as etymology—unless Kinzie was using a quirky dictionary at odds with most others (e.g., the OED and Webster's Unabridged). Kinzie says ash (tree) is from Old Norse askr and ash (cinder) from Middle English asche akin to Old Norse askr. Rather, ash (tree) is from Old English aesc and is cognate with Old Norse askr, going back to Old Teutonic (hypothesized) askoz; ash (cinder) is from Old English asce and is cognate with Old Norse aska, going back to Old Teutonic (hypothesized) azgon. The pairs of words are similar, but not the same.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Originally Published: May 16, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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