Polotaswarf

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Polotaswarf

Post by tony h » Thu Mar 16, 2006 3:33 pm

as in get my Polotaswarf out of the Kaiser's treasure

what on earth is a Polotaswarf and how should it be pronounced?

Regards
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Polotaswarf

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Mar 16, 2006 8:34 pm

Tony, This is a mysterious word and the only source I could find it in was the novel Hereward, The Last of the English by Charles Kingsley written in 1866. It appears only three times in that text and once with a tantalizing footnote telling us where to find the meaning – good luck in trying to find that source! However, from the context one can take a pretty good guess as to its meaning as follows (but pronunciation and derivation??):

POLOTASWARF: The booty/reward/loot/treasure/wages due to a subject/soldier for services rendered (probably in battle) to a ruler/king/leader.
<“I would pay thee back honestly. I shall go down to Constantinople to the Varangers , get my POLOTASWARF [Footnote: See ‘The Heimskringla,’ Harold Hardraade's Saga ((King of Norway (1046-66)) for the meaning of this word.] out of the Kaiser's treasure, and pay thee back five to one."— ‘Hereward, The Last of the English’ (1866) by Charles Kingsley, Chapter 1, page 17>

<“Hot young Englishman began to emigrate. Some went to the court of Constantinople, to join the Varanger guard, and have their chance of a POLOTASWARF like Harold Hardraade.”—‘Hereward, The Last of the English’ by Charles Kingsley, Chapter XVIII, page 119>

<“Aha! said Hereward without looking round. “I never thought there would be loose stones in the roof. Here! Up here, Vikings, Bereserker, and Sea–cocks all! . . . Here! cried he, while Osbiorn profited by that moment to thrust an especially brilliant jewel into his boot. “Here is gold, here is dwarfs work! Come up and take your POLOTASWARF. You would not get a richer out of the Kaiser’s treasury. Here, wolves and ravens, eat gold, drink gold, roll in gold, and know that Hereward is a man of his word, and pays his soldiers’ wages royally!”—Hereward, The Last of the English’ by Charles Kingsley, Chapter XXVI, page 180>
Ken G – March 16, 2006
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Polotaswarf

Post by russcable » Fri Mar 17, 2006 12:04 am

It's not hard to find "The Heimskringla" online - the problem is finding it in 11th Century Norwegian. The English versions are "pre-translated" so polotaswarf doesn't appear in the text! Of course, if I could read 11th Century Norwegian, I would probably already know what polotaswarf meant. (^_^)
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Polotaswarf

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Mar 17, 2006 4:28 am

The face-value implication to be taken from Kingsley's footnote is that he knew enough Old Norse to have read the saga of Harald Hardraade in the original (where the name is spelt Harald Harðráði). I'd be interested to know what evidence there is that Kingsley actually possessed this ability, which would have been esoteric even for a Victorian Englishman of letters.

I find it remarkable that 'polotaswarf' fails to make a single online appearance except in the Kingsley text, even when no other search terms are included (and I used four different search engines to look for occurrences). Additionally, why isn't Kingsley more specific about where it occurs in the source text if he is not going to bother explaining the term to his English-speaking readers -- and indeed, why doesn't he explain it if he is already making the effort of devoting a footnote to it? He doesn't even supply a chapter number, let alone a page reference for a specified published version of the text.

As we are entitled to presume that since Kingsley has provided neither translation nor explanation in his teasingly useless footnote, he must have taken the term 'polotaswarf' from the original text without changing it, why doesn't it appear there? There are in fact quite a few online versions of the saga to be found in the original Icelandic/Old Norse (to find them using Google, set the Advanced Search preferences to scan Icelandic pages only and search for the terms Heimskringla Harald). But 'polotaswarf' is not contained in any of them.

Equally, if it was a common term for loot or booty, as Ken has inferred it to mean, why is it not mentioned in any academic papers or discussions by scholars of ancient or medieval Scandinavia? One would have thought that it would have made at least a few independent appearances online by now.

I conclude that either Kingsley miscopied the word from the original (the more charitable, but improbable possibility), or he invented a bogus word that he pretended to have taken from an reference source that he deliberately chose for its obscurity in order to make himself appear cleverer or more learned (perhaps to make it seem as though his historical novel was researched more thoroughly than it actually was, in order to deflect potential criticisms of its accuracy).

My strong suspicion, based on these multiple lines of circumstantial evidence, is that the latter is the case: I would wager even good money that the word does not appear in any dictionary of Icelandic or Old Norse in either the form that Kingsley supplies or anything resembling it.

It is reasonable to draw the inference that if Kingsley needed to go to the trouble of manufacturing spurious provenances for his historical references, Hereward probably contains a lot of other unreliable or self-invented material.

And if Kingsley was capable of faking this item of bullshit terminology for his Hereward novel (it's a pity he didn't call it Quest word? Doh!) while professing it to be genuine, what factoids did he invent for his other fictions?

Lastly, for what it's worth, to me 'polotaswarf' sounds more like a Klingon word than one of Scandinavian origin.

(Next time anyone asks about the meaning of a Kingsley-specific word, I'll tell them what I really think. ;-)
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Polotaswarf

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Mar 17, 2006 10:10 am

OK, I must eat a few of my words. I found an out-of-copyright Icelandic-English dictionary online (specifically, An Icelandic-English Dictionary by Cleasby/Vigfusson (1874), which appears at http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/html/oi_cleas ... b0478.html thanks to the Germanic Lexicon Project) that contains the following entry:

-----------------------------------

polotur, f. pl., or palata, u, f. [through Byzantine Gr., from Lat. palatium] :-- the king's palace in Constantinople; þeir ganga til konungs palatu þar er hannsvaf inni, Fagrsk. u I, Fms. vi. 172. polota-svarf, n. 'palace-scouring,' a right belonging to the Warengs, when the Greek emperor died, of roaming through the king's treasury for money, see Fms. vi. I7i -- ganga þeir um allar polotur konungs, ... ok skal hverr hafa at frjálsu þat sem höndum kemr á (in fact a kind of pillage).

-----------------------------------

It seems evident that the reason for the paucity of instances of 'polotaswarf' is due to Kingsley's changed spelling of 'polota-svarf'.

Frustratingly, neither the dictionary's list of general abbreviations at http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/html/oi_cleas ... a0014.html , the list of abbreviations of works and authors at http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/html/oi_cleas ... a0013.html , or the list of works consulted at http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/html/oi_cleas ... a0009.html explains 'Fms.', though I would guess that it denotes an Icelandic history book or other reference work.
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Polotaswarf

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Fri Mar 17, 2006 8:45 pm

Icelanders? English? Byzantines? Greeks? Palace-scouring sounds like money-laundering to me. It must be a loan-word.
And I'd be careful of eating that leaven, Erik.
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Polotaswarf

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Mar 17, 2006 9:36 pm

Are you saying we must mind our mannas, Edwin?
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Polotaswarf

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Mar 17, 2006 9:43 pm

Erik, That is truly amazing. I was really curious about this one and felt extremely frustrated when I reached what for me was a dead end. Being a total dodo when it comes to foreign languages, I sit in awe at the depth and breadth of expertise that you and a few other WW members exhibit time and again – it’s great having you guys around!

Thanks,

Ken – March 17, 2006
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Polotaswarf

Post by Shelley » Fri Mar 17, 2006 9:47 pm

A-manna to that, Ken Greenwald!
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Polotaswarf

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Mar 17, 2006 11:12 pm

Thanks, Ken. But you're not such a slouch as you make out, either. :-)

The key here was simply realising that because Old Norse and Icelandic are so similar, if there was a resolution of the riddle it would probably be found in a dictionary of Icelandic. It really wasn't a lot more complicated than that.
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Polotaswarf

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Sat Mar 18, 2006 8:19 am

Absurdly simple when you think about it, Holmes :-O
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Polotaswarf

Post by tony h » Sat Mar 18, 2006 10:00 pm

Well! I am impressed. And of course the Kingsley reference is where I came across the word. I have also trimmed the goose quill and laid ink on paper to a non-online Norse friend, if that turns up anything more I will let you know. I had assumed that the major problem in finding a reference on-line would be variations in rendering the word into an English fount.

Many thanks for all contributions to my first post.
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Polotaswarf

Post by tony h » Sat Mar 25, 2006 10:47 am

Eric,

You raised some doubt as to whether Kingsley would have read the Heimskringla in Old Norse. My reasearch suggests that he would have not to do so. Samuel Laing translated the Heinskringla into English and it was piblished in 1844. Kingsley's Hereward the Wake was not published until 1866. I suspect that the "obscure" footnote was not so obscure to contemporary readers.

Regards,
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Mar 25, 2006 11:12 am

Thanks, Tony. That information in turn raises the question in my mind of whether Laing's version mentioned 'polotaswarf'/ 'polota-svarf' etc. (i.e. approximating or reproducing the original Old Norse term), and/or whether he explained it in his translation. (Did you find the actual text of the Laing translation anywhere?) It's a minor point, I suppose, but it would be interesting to follow it up for the sake of pulling all the strands of this dicussion together.

Speaking of which, this thread has been an interesting exercise for me in demonstrating how perilous it can be to rely on inductive reasoning and inference to draw conclusions: it only requires a single faulty assumption to be made to derail an entire train of thought. In this instance, I wrongly assumed that Kingsley would preserve the original form of the word 'polota-svarf' in his novel.
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Polotaswarf

Post by tony h » Sun Mar 26, 2006 9:59 am

I am trying to get hold of a copy. I will let you know if I find out. But it might take a while.

regards
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