Monday, March 24, 2014

Breaking the Rules

In The Ax and the Vase, Clovis occasionally refers to his wife and queen Clotilde as “Cloti.”  Linguistically, there is zero defense for this – not least as “Clotilde” itself is a Romanization of a name pronounced with very little relationship indeed to the adaptation.  I’ve discussed Clovis’ own name (given to him, not by his father, King Childeric, but by his mother, Basina).  His own Romanized epithet takes us from a name more like “Hludo-vechus” to something more familiar to the modern eye, raised on two thousand years of Romance language and an affinity for clipped phonics.

As do many in the family and the dynasty as a whole—Chlodomer, Clotaire, Chrotilda, and so on—Clotilde herself shares the primary root of her bigeminal name with Clovis.  The Clo- root word derives from “hlud” – a cognate for fame, and most often translated thus – but it also is a cognate and shares kinship with the modern word “loud”.  This informs, in a way, much of the plot of Ax.  Clovis spends a great deal of energy on what we could call propaganda; he not only makes his own myth, but he tells a particular sort of story—a spectacular sort of story—in acts calculated for maximum shock-value and impact.

In Clotilde’s case, the root is, interestingly, most often translated as “bright” rather than “famed” – and that may be a gender bias dating back centuries which continues to be regurgitated, a feminine interpretation of a root used both for men and for women alike.  Where Clovis’ name is said to mean “famed warrior”, hers is given as “bright battle” (the latter root of which tends to beg the question, what is “girly” anyway, in the context of Germanic naming?).  I can’t cite hard data that this is a gender bias, but the consistency of the different meanings given for the same root for Clovis and Clotilde is striking.

Anyway.  To the point (yes, there is one).


And so I have an early Frankish king being cutesy and calling his wife either bright or loud, depending on how we look at it linguistically … and the point is that linguistics went absolutely by the wayside in this conceit.

I felt it necessary to evoke perhaps the solitary area of tenderness in Clovis’ life and heart, by expressing it in his words to his wife.  Humans are creatures of nicknames – but how an ancient Germanic reiks might nickname his wife, his queen, is frankly beyond my ken.

And so, without justification and I am sure without the slightest reality, I created a diminutization with abbreviation.

As false as it is by the rules, it’s authentic in terms of human behavior.  Today, name-shortening is the way we most commonly create pet names (and have for centuries … even if not the centuries in which Clovis and Clotilde lived).  It’s also a deliniation of how close an orbit is between two people:  there aren’t many people who get away with calling me Di, but those who do are VERY close to me indeed.  There is a brevity in affection which creates intimacy between us – if someone in my office calls me Di, they’re likely to get an eyebrow-raising wry smile.  But when X uses it, it is a sort of bond – he’s known me for so long, and he has earned the right to choose a name for me.  Oddly enough, a former coworker almost created a bond with me by calling me Lady Di – which bugged me so much I finally told him to stop it, and his utterly priceless response (you really had to know the guy to see how this could be endearing) was, “But I like it!”  He stopped it outright – and, in the end, I found I missed him calling me that.  And I still have affectionate memories of him to this day.

Nicknaming is a bilateral sort of leveling, a mutual sharing – and so, when Clovis speaks with his “Cloti”, it is a signpost of their unique rights to each other.  No other person would nor could even think of such a name for the queen.  And no other person would have the right to use it, either.  I gave him no nickname from her, but people sometimes share a thing only one of them actually wears, so to speak.

It is in things like this historical fiction finds its little freedoms.  There will be guitarists at the back of the bar of course, who scoff at such apalling license.  I’m not writing for those purists, apparently.

Every word I put down is translated through a modern mind which can never honestly nor completely capture the character, the period, the etiquette and protocol.  I can evoke them and study – but, being the product of the world I’ve lived in, forty-six years of hopeless modernity will inform the set construction.  On occasion, such as in this little license, I’ll use a screw, if it holds better than a nail – even if that’s not authentic.  If the wall stays up, and holds its own corner of the story, that is authenticity enough.  I want the story to stand.

I won’t write a feminist Mary Sue character, whose presence would outright tear the story and its setting down; but I’m not above allowing myself a bit of “modern technology” to get a point across.  If the ancient nails are rusted away, and there’s a Philips head and a screwdriver to be had … I’ll call my Queen-Saint “Cloti” in the bedchanber with her king, and apologize to nobody for it.

When looking in a Saint’s bedchamber, there is some license you can take … and some, of course, you really can’t.  All things considered, I hope I chose the right infraction!

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