In response to:
The Strange Case of Pushkin and Nabokov from the July 15, 1965 issue
To the Editors:
What surprised me about Edmund Wilson’s review of the Nabokov translation of Eugene Onegin was the revelation that Mr. Wilson does not use Webster’s unabridged dictionary—unless it’s the third edition, of which I have no direct experience. Mr. Wilson asks, “And what does he mean in the commentary when he speaks of Pushkin’s ‘addiction to stuss’?”. The reviewer goes on to complain that it is not an English word. But Webster’s recognizes it as one of ours and defines it as “a gambling game like faro, the cards being dealt by hand. The banker takes all bets on splits.” This may not give us the reason for Pushkin’s addiction, but it does explain its nature.
Mr. Wilson describes “lunes” as archaic. Webster’s does not. He says that “loaden” can not be used as a participle. But it occurs in this same dictionary as an entry of its own, directly above “loaden, v.t.,” and is designated as “past participle and participle adjective of LOAD. Dial.” All right, so it’s dialect. It’s also a participle.
Now we come to “semeion,” of which Mr. Wilson says, “This is a Greek word that is not to be found in the English language. It usually means sign or signal, but…one finds that it has also been used by one Aristoxenus, a fourth-century B.C. writer on music, to mean a ‘unit of time, a note.’ ” But once again Webster’s is less exclusive. “Semeion” is admitted to the English language as an English word whose first meaning corresponds to that of “mora”: the unit of quantitative meter, a common short syllable.
If all of this misunderstanding has indeed come about through the use of Webster’s third, I can only repeat—bad cess to it!
Great Falls, Virginia
August 26, 1965