Hermeneutic puzzle of the day

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Email from Amanda Adams asks "Can you make anything of this?", where "this" is a line from Anders Nelson, "Universal Blocks Spielberg/Jackson Pic", 9/20/2008:

I would feel more bucolic for liking my adventure stories to have at least a modicum of violence in them …

Amanda implies that bucolic might be some sort of malapropism.

But Nelson is implicitly comparing American and European tastes, while commenting on Universal's decision to turn down a Spielberg/Jackson project to film Tintin. The whole paragraph:

For those of you unfamiliar with Tintin, he’s a character who is immensely popular in Europe that I’ve never especially cared for. He has adventures in exotic locations much like Indiana Jones, but he’s much younger, never punches anyone, and doesn’t even seem to get all that dirty while hiking around in the jungle. The problematic racial history of the strip doesn’t make you feel any warmer to it either (just check out the wikipedia page for more on that one). Plus, the original strip was written by a guy named Herge, and you just can't trust people with one name. I would feel more bucolic for liking my adventure stories to have at least a modicum of violence in them, but then again, I think most Americans are pretty much in the same camp on that one, which might be why Universal isn’t going to be involved (it might also have something to do with the fact that Jackson and Spielberg would make about $100 million together before the studio saw anything).

So the context is that old idea that Americans are crude provincials in comparison to those cosmopolitan Euros. And since bucolic means "Of or characteristic of the countryside or its people; rustic", you could translate the puzzling phrase as "My love of movie mayhem would make me feel like a hick, except that most Americans feel the same way."

It's been a while since I read the Tintin books, but I expect that Spielberg and Jackson will be able to portray a reasonable number of car chases, explosions, and so on. As I recall, there are also plenty of guns waved around, and sometimes fired.

But I'm not in a good position to report the actual facts about violence in Tintin, unfortunately, since I'm now sitting in the airport waiting for a plane. A quick web search turns up a reference to Arnaud De la Croix, "Une Dynamique de la Violence", Les Cahiers de la Bande Dessinée, 56:42-45, 1984, described as a "Qualitative study of acts of violence in the Tintin albums", but Les Cahiers de la Bande Dessinée seems to be both defunct and not digitally archived.


  1. Faldone said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 7:31 am

    Whatever the denotation of bucolic, the connotations, at least to me, are those of a calm, idyllic existence. Not the right word for this context, I don't think.

  2. Laurent C said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 8:36 am

    The actually is some fighting in Tintin, except nobody (as far as I remember) is ever seriously injured: Tintin is the kind of comics that parents let their kids read (and that most adults find boring).

    Such one-word pen names as Hergé are quite common among comics authors of Franco-Belgian culture, by the way. The comment "you just can't trust people with one name" is judging a European comics by American standards.

  3. Grep Agni said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 9:16 am

    From dictionary.reference.com:

    bu·col·ic /byuˈkɒlɪk/ [byoo-kol-ik] –adjective Also, bu·col·i·cal. 1. of or pertaining to shepherds; pastoral.
    2. of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life.

    I agree with Faldone. In fact, I would say he mis-used the word.

  4. Stephen Jones said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 9:23 am

    Whatever the denotation of bucolic, the connotations, at least to me, are those of a calm, idyllic existence

    But that's what Americans like; finding people living a calm, idyllic existence and blowing them up :)

  5. James Wimberley said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 9:29 am

    Look at the phrase as a whole. "I would feel more bucolic for [x]ing…"
    I can' t make sense of this for any value of x. Nor is bucolic a kind of feeling; it's a kind of environment. Perhaps she meant to say I feel like a rustic for liking more violence etc.

  6. Philip Spaelti said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 10:20 am

    Just to add to what Laurent C says, Hergé is just "RG" (Hergé's initials) spelled out.

  7. Sili said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 10:20 am

    Well, I think these days more adults than kids like Tintin. Never been a favourite of mine, but I've read worse.

    As for Hergé, it's a nom de plume adapted from his days as a boyscout. His real name was Georges Rémi > G.R. > R.G. > /eʁ.ʃe/ (or possibly /ɛʁ.ʃe/ – I suck at both French and IPA).

  8. Ray Girvan said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 11:20 am

    It's confusing on a couple of levels. Firstly the "I would feel" is a strange construction if he means "I feel" or "I might be viewed as". Secondly, as others have said, "bucolic" definitely doesn't come across as the right word. You're bucolic if you sit gormlessly on a turnip clamp, dressed in a cowdung-spattered smock while chewing a straw and drinking rough cider.

    At least for US readers, the ideal word conveying "rusticity plus inclination toward gun-toting entertainment" might be "redneck".

  9. language hat said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 11:32 am

    I too agree with Faldone. It's the wrong word, and it's bad writing.

  10. Larry Lard said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 11:55 am

    > [Tintin]’s a character who is immensely popular in Europe that I’ve never especially cared for.

    There's also something odd about the clause order here, at least to my ear.

  11. Jens Fiederer said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

    Yes, one dictionary definition might match, but I've never heard the word used in such a way. It sounds completely wrong.

    In fact, it is the first time I've ever seen bucolic applied to a PERSON. Not even a shepherd! My expectation is to see it applied to a scene or a lifestyle.

  12. Jens Fiederer said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

    Oh, and going to the Wikipedia article:

    A page which presented Tintin killing a rhinoceros by drilling a hole in the animal's back and inserting a stick of dynamite was deemed excessive, and Hergé substituted a page which saw the rhino accidentally discharges Tintin's rifle whilst the erstwhile hunter snoozes under a tree.

    I suspect we'll be able to come up with the violence SOMEHOW.

  13. Catanea said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

    I really didn't understand it, and I still don't. I have tried to find a contact address for Anders Nelson, now that I have seen that there doesn't seem to be any consensus of what it might mean. Replacing "bucolic" with "pastoral" (my first attempt at understanding) didn't get me anything I understood any better. I hoped the sharp listeners/readers at Language Log would think of some obvious near homophone/eggcorn I am just not twigging to… I'd really like to know what he means. I mean, "bucolic" isn't a synonym for "content" or "fulfilled" is it?

  14. Ray Girvan said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

    first time I've ever seen bucolic applied to a PERSON
    I don't have full access, but a brief taste of a UK corpus – Collins WordbanksOnline – finds examples

    "a low-key portrait of the bucolic Prince""the alcoholic bucolic leprechaun""no longer the bucolic bobby on his bicycle"

    among a majority pertaining, as you say, to landscapes or atmosphere.

  15. mollymooly said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

    I would place Tintin closer to the Hardy Boys than Indiana Jones, though I'm not sure Hollywood will. Hergé had some unsavoury opinions, but Tintin shows an enlightened respect for gypsies in « Les Bijoux de la Castafiore »

  16. Troy S. said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

    The word also has a very specialized meaning in the study of Latin poetry,
    where you can have bucolic meter and bucolic diaeresis. A bucolic diaeresis is a diaeresis between the fourth and fifth feet of a line, the old "Shave and a haircut…ONE TWO." Where the ONE TWO is the bucolic diaeresis. Apparently this was considered a trite poetic style stereotypical of herdsmen, even in the ancient world.

  17. dr pepper said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

    When i see the word "bucolic", i see intense greenery and think of warm lazy afternoons. Of course that is the reaction of someone who doesn't live there 24/7 and have to keep the fields gteen, the cows hapy, the sheep together, etc.

    Agreed on the poor choice of phrasing.

    Also, Tintin was supposed to be a reporter, but a lot of his adventures were accidental, he didn't mean to get in as deep as he ended up. That's good Hollywood fodder. And according to a documentary on the comic that i saw once, there was a sequence in which he helped to struggle against an aggressive bunch of people who were thinly disguised nazis.

    Hmm, here's a thought. Herge worked for several newspapers and had to find a balance between his own ideals and the ideological slant of his employers. Perhaps a good angle would be to merge the character with the creator.

  18. Nathan Myers said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

    I'm trying to figure out what word should have gone there. "Atavistic" doesn't work, "rustic" doesn't work, "backward", "lowbrow", "guilty" and "embarrassed" almost work. He seems to be saying that he is reassured of the harmlessness of his fictionary bloodthirst by seeing other Americans who share it. Arguably that should worry him more, but maybe he lives overseas, and doesn't know about Predator missiles.

    (My spellchecker doesn't like "fictionary", but it doesn't like "spellchecker" either.)

  19. Nick Z said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 6:08 pm

    Off (linguistic) topic, I know, but Tintin himself does punch people occasionally, and strike them in other ways (e.g. with their own sticks). Mostly for good politically correct reasons too. Since I and my childhood books are in different countries someone else will have to find chapter and verse, but here are some nice examples:


    And not such a nice one:


  20. the other Mark P said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

    "no longer the bucolic bobby on his bicycle"

    That's a different usage than the original one cited. The bobby fits into a bucolic country image — he isn't actually bucolic himself. The same way as the phrase "traditional bobby" in the same place wouldn't mean that the policeman is a traditionalist, but instead that he fits with the traditional image of a policeman.

  21. Ron Lee said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 1:08 am

    Via Cupertino, might it be brolic?

  22. Catanea said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 3:08 am

    Ah, now that sounds plausible, Ron Lee; and might fit with the style of the rest of the sentence – being followed by "for…" rather mystified me, also. I haven't run into brolic before.

  23. Ray Girvan said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 5:49 am

    Definitely! See Urban Dictionary.

  24. Sili said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 8:13 am

    Re the nature of Tintin: as was pointed out upthread the stories first appeared in Le Petit Vingtième which "was a Catholic and conservative newspaper from Brussels, led by abbot Norbert Wallez". Thus a lot of subjects were decidedly offlimit.

    I vaguely recall a recent(ish) documentary with some hitherto unpublished interviews with Hergé where he mentioned how he'd been called in to a serious conversation with representatives from the RCC and as a result had had to change his story in order for it to excape censorship.

    It was the Journey to the Moon where the 'bad guy' leaves the rocket to stay behind on the surface in order to let the rest return safely to earth. The first version had him leave a unambiguous suicide note which was completely out of the question to the RCC censors. In that regard it's not uninteresting that Hergé himself seemed to suffer from some degree of depression at times.

  25. Catanea said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 11:58 am

    Yes, thank-you. I'm convinced by "brolic" until Anders Nelson surfaces to correct the interpretation. Thanks. I really was mystified. Now, how can I USE "brolic"… hmm…

  26. Oskar said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 7:05 pm

    Also, the charge that Tintin is racist is silly. It's absolutely true that some of the very early stories where incredibly racist (most notably Tintin in the Congo, which is abhorrent), but Hergé had sort-of an epiphany about his own prejudices and went to stupendous lengths to make Tintin a comic about tolerance and multi-culturalism. This started in the early album Blue Lotus, where he goes to great lengths to portray Chinese people fairly, against the common stereotypes. There is even a scene where Tintin explains to a young boy that most westerners see Chinese people as slit-eyed idiots or villains, and compares it to the Chinese stereotype of westerners as "White devils".

    I'm sorry, but I love Tintin, and I get a little defensive of it. I grew up with these comics and as a child I learned a lot about how dangerous (and how wrong) prejudices and stereotypes can be from them. Calling the Tintin-comic racist is like calling the entire canon of American cartoons racist because once someone made one called Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs. It's just ridiculous.

  27. marie-lucie said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

    Tintin was a comic strip in children's magazines, but in America most people encounter him as adults. Tintin is based in Europe, and many typically European details of living conditions, places and characters are foreign to the American experience. The original is in French, and most Americans read it in translation – the English translations I have seen seem rather stilted. The name Tintin sounds silly to English speakers, but it is a typical, old-fashioned French nickname deriving from a first name (which in this case could be Martin or Augustin), and the connotations of the name are similar to those of Buddy or Sonny in English. The French name of Tintin's dog Milou is also a nickname, derived from the male name Emile, so Milou is really Tintin's buddy, practically human – Snowy is just a descriptive name given by the English translator.

    The stories were written over several decades, so the contexts have changed over the years, and so have the author's attitudes. It is true that the early strips contained derogatory stereotypes, but that was at a time when Hergé had not had personal contact with the stereotyped people themselves. It was an encounter with a Chinese man who became his friend that opened his eyes to the distortions, and he rewrote some of the earlier works. One of the adventures of Professor Tournesol (renamed Calculus in English) involves looted Peruvian artifacts. Early in the story the professor encounters a man (another European) who says something like "How would WE feel if people came from Peru to open the graves of our kings?" Is this the attitude of a European supremacist? Are there such sentences in American comic strips?

  28. Dan T. said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 11:08 pm

    I remember Tintin from when it was serialized in Children's Digest around 1970.

  29. marie-lucie said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

    I want to see if this will show. I just spent quite a bit of time writing about Tintin, two longish paragraphs: nothing showed. Thinking I must have forgotten to press the submit button, I rewrote the whole thing. This time I made sure I pushed Submit, but nothing showed. I am too tired to rewrite my text again today, but I agree with Oskar.

    [(myl) Both your two earlier comments and this one were put into the "spam queue" by Akismet, the generally efficient but sometimes irrational spam-blocking software in WordPress. I informed Akismet that they are not spam. I hope that it won't happen again, but the operation of this program is often mysterious to me.]

  30. Faldone said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 8:12 am

    Catanea: I'm convinced by "brolic" until Anders Nelson surfaces to correct the interpretation.

    I'm not buying brolic until someone comes up with a spellchecker that substitutes bucolic for it. I've run it through MS Word 2007, Eudora, Flock, Inernet Explorer, OpenOffice, and Firefox. None of them suggested bucolic.

  31. marie-lucie said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

    Mark, thank you. I tried to email you about the problem, but the message was returned, with the mention that the software "does not like this address"!

  32. Ron Lee said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 3:05 am

    I'm not buying brolic until someone comes up with a spellchecker that substitutes bucolic for it. I've run it through MS Word 2007, Eudora, Flock, Inernet Explorer, OpenOffice, and Firefox. None of them suggested bucolic.

    Faldone, in response to your brolic rebuff…

    While I have been to the city of Cupertino, I have never used spellcheckers (having always disabled them); also, I can't currently test this with the first five programs you mention, but, after re-enabling the spellchecker in Firefox 3.0.3, I've managed to get the following results:

    The only suggestion for brolic is frolic, but if it's mistyped as beolic or btolic, then bucolic is indeed among the suggestions offered for either typo.

    I then tried gmail's spellchecker, along with a couple of spellchecking websites, orangoo.com and spellchecker.net. The outcomes were even better, as they suggest bucolic for brolic, as well as for the typos.

  33. Catanea said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 11:03 am

    And lo! Anders Nelson HAS "surfaced", and here are his words:

    What I meant by that phrase is that I would worry that my tastes were too "low" in a sense, in that I didn't have the intellect to appreciate things that didn't have violence in them. With action-adventure films, I like things to have people being eaten, stabbed, crushed, and other such things. Without them, I'm just sort of bored. Tintin has never appealed to me primarily because there's never been any sense of physical tactility to it, and will always prefer Indiana Jones for that reason.

    Bucolic was probably not the right word. Does that help?

    Anders Nelson

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