[Milton-L] lapsarian sex, fallacious, milton's verbal skill (and blake's fruit)

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Tue Apr 15 20:10:09 EDT 2014

You're obviously a fan of Saturday Night Live, Gregory. 

I will have to ponder this for a bit, but yes, I do think Milton was capable of such dexterity . . . when he wanted to be. I just don't think that this was one of those occasions. (The degradation of sex-which-makes-two-as-one and lifts the soul and the eyes heavenward and seeks union and mutual ecstacy into something carnal and lascivious and selfish and self-gratifying is "fall" enough, in my eyes; it doesn't need to descend even further into depravity.)

And okay, I'll say it: men persist in responding to such statements with charges of prudery--yet look how (until this day) they refer to such acts. (Why any self-respecting woman would want to engage in activities that so persistently the object of scorn and ridicule they can ponder for themselves.) Pace John Leonard, I really don't think Milton would have gone there.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

From: Gregory Machacek 
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 7:41 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Subject: [Milton-L] lapsarian sex, fallacious,milton's verbal skill (and blake's fruit)

On different sides of the fallacious/fellatio debate:

John Savoie describes Milton as "a proven punster of extraordinary verbal density and poetic dexterity."

Carol Barton describes him as "a master craftsman with respect to the use of language"

But do we think Milton was so masterful that his verbal skill could manifest itself in the way I am about to describe?

Linguists have a concept called coarticulation, by which they describe the way that our pronunciation of a given sound can be influenced by the sounds around it.  This can happen within a word (the t in eighth is more dental than the t in eight) or within a phrase (the v in "have" becomes more of an f in the phrase "have to").

The first vowel sounds in fallacious and fellatio are slightly different, ? versus ?.  But I would submit that the word "that" in the phrase "that fallacious" prompts a pronunciation of the first vowel sound in "fallacious" as a sound more like the ? in "fellatio."  Try saying "fallacious" all by itself, then notice how you place the first vowel sound differently in your mouth when you say "that fallacious."  Fallacious/fellatio has struck some readers in this thread as an improbable pun.  But does the word "that" nudge the vowel sound in "fallacious" in the direction of "fellatio"?  

Please remember that my real question is not about this particular possible pun, but about whether we think Milton would have been a sufficiently cunning linguist (couldn't resist) to have discovered and employed this property of language articulation, here or elsewhere?

So I'm not asking whether you think there's a pun here.  I'm just asking how poetically dexterous, how linguistically masterful we think Milton was.  Enough to do something like this, even if not this?  And do the readers on this list have examples of how, in context, the pronunciation of words is distorted by their neighbors--to significant effect?  (I tend to drop h in "he" in "oozy locks he laves" and I've always thought  the resulting oozy-loxies seem extra oozy as a result.)

On Blake and his fruit:  he'd obviously read Milton properly, realized that the fruit on the forbidden tree was no known genus, but genus incognitus interdictus and depicted no-known-fruit, but just what the text tells us:  something ruddy and gold and downy (and forbidden).

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College


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