1 of 2
1
desert island
Posted: 11 March 2008 06:48 AM   [ Ignore ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1214
Joined  2007-04-28

This term is well known in the UK from a long-running BBC Radio 4 programme (Desert Island Discs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Island_Discs) in which eminent folk or celebrity trash choose ten records they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. They talk about their lives in between their chosen music being played. They can also take a book (the Bible and Shakespeare’s Complete Works are already there) and one luxury item (Oliver Reed went for an inflatable doll).

The man (Roy Plomley) who came up with the idea in 1942 later admitted it should really have been called Deserted Island Discs but the name stuck. The image we have is of a tropical island with coconut palms and beaches, maybe from print cartoons of someone on a sandy island the size of a four tatami mats with a palm tree in the middle. But both seem to me to be wrong: ‘desert’ is clearly conflated with sand (y beaches) as in the cartoons, while ‘deserted’ means abandoned by previous inhabitants.

What does the OED say about this? Desert Island seems to be in general use:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_island, but the person who wrote this doesn’t consider the etymology. Is the term used outside the UK? How far does it go back? Plomley can’t have plucked it out of thin air.

(You can see what guests on the show chose here if interested and they are not at all all British: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/desertislanddiscs.shtml) What book would you take?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 March 2008 07:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4691
Joined  2007-01-03

The OED2 has desert island going back to 1607.

And the idea of musing about what one would take to a desert island predates the BBC show by at least a decade:

1930 F. B. YOUNG Jim Redlake III. v. 376, I always except the Meistersinger. I think I should choose it as my desert-island opera.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 March 2008 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3468
Joined  2007-01-29

‘desert’ is clearly conflated with sand (y beaches) as in the cartoons

That’s a modern image (doubtless influenced by Lawrence of Arabia and predecessors like the Rudolf Valentino flicks The Sheik, The Son of the Sheik, and Blood and Sand).  Desert is a very old adjective meaning ‘uninhabited’ or ‘uncultivated and unproductive.’

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 March 2008 01:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  811
Joined  2007-06-20

I suspect the belief that desert islands are sandy was also influenced by Robinson Crusoe, and the image of Man Friday’s footprint in the sand. Chapter III of Defoe’s book is headed “WRECKED ON A DESERT ISLAND”, and his description of the island shows he means “desolate” and/or “uninhabited”: while he describes its interior as wooded in places, rocky and hilly in other parts.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 March 2008 12:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  142
Joined  2007-02-13

However, in the C20th, “desert” acquired a technical meaning of an area with less then 250mm annual rainfall (plus other complications around more drainage or evaporation then precipitation).  I am sure that this must have skewed the perception and use of the term.
Plus, just to complete the circle the Latin word “desertum” meaning unpopulated is thought the be derived from the egyptian word for the lands forming part of what we now call the Sahara.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 March 2008 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3468
Joined  2007-01-29

the Latin word “desertum” meaning unpopulated is thought the be derived from the egyptian word for the lands forming part of what we now call the Sahara.

Thought by whom?  Not by anyone with any knowledge of Latin, that’s for sure; it’s simply the past participle of deserere ‘to sever connexion with, leave, forsake, abandon, etc.’

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 March 2008 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  142
Joined  2007-02-13

should have been more precise. Mentioned it out of interest, and the sources are far from authoritative.  However, the similarity to the egyptian word for “red lands” has lead some to speculate that the lack of habitation there lead to the origin of the latin word.  Cute, but as LH says open for a latin scholar to comment on.
However, I think the idea that the use to refer to an arid place is caused by “sheik” movies is also in error.  Etymonline has this usage from middle english, and this use in french dates to 1135.

So Roy Plomley’s (the broadcaster) idea that he should have used “deserted island” is not too wrong, given that the usage contemporary with the start of the radio show brings up the image of dry, sandy/rocky place.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 March 2008 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3468
Joined  2007-01-29

Cute, but as LH says… [change “open for a latin scholar to comment on” to] completely wrong.  There is nothing to “comment on” other than to call it utter nonsense, doubtless propagated by the same idiots who believe Cleopatra to have been black.

So Roy Plomley’s (the broadcaster) idea that he should have used “deserted island” is not too wrong, given that the usage contemporary with the start of the radio show brings up the image of dry, sandy/rocky place.

I’m not sure what difference it makes what image we get of the island; the salient point is that it’s someplace you’re going to be by yourself and dependent on whatever entertainment you brought with you.  A far more significant fact is that “desert island” has a more satisfying rhythm than “deserted island”; “deserted island discs” probably would never have caught on.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 March 2008 11:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2816
Joined  2007-01-31

Moreover, “desert island” has been the standard idiom for quite some time.  MOA-Cornell, with a corpus of works from 1815-1926, shows 297 matches for “desert island”, only 13 for “deserted island”.  The OED even lists “desert island” as a collocation (under “desert") with citations from 1607 forward.  “Deserted island” is misguided hypercorrection IMHO, unless you’re talking about a situation like Roanoke or Bikini, where a formerly inhabited island becomes deserted.  I don’t see previous occupants as an integral part of the desert island disc (or book) scenario.

[ Edited: 12 March 2008 11:36 AM by Dr. Techie ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 March 2008 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1214
Joined  2007-04-28

I think Plomley had cartoons like these in mind (rather than actual islands) which have long been a tradition in magazines like the defunct Punch. He’d obviously have been aware of Robinson Crusoe, however, so maybe a mixture of both, bearing in mind it is an intellectual exercise for entertainment: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/d/desert_island.asp

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 March 2008 08:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  710
Joined  2007-02-07
venomousbede - 13 March 2008 07:28 AM

I think Plomley had cartoons like these in mind (rather than actual islands) which have long been a tradition in magazines like the defunct Punch. He’d obviously have been aware of Robinson Crusoe, however, so maybe a mixture of both, bearing in mind it is an intellectual exercise for entertainment: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/d/desert_island.asp

I’m curious how you came by the belief that you can see into the mind of Plomley in 1942.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 March 2008 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1214
Joined  2007-04-28

Oh, happydog. I’m curious about what the locution “I’m curious” signifies.  Why not say “Are you seriously suggesting...” or “No one in their right mind would...” It’s just an ill-educated guess and conjecture I thought worthy of consideration and I have to say I have found other posters’ responses edifying. Do you reckon the Punch cartoon proposal is completely out of the question? You didn’t say.
I have a book by Plomley about DID but it is in my father’s house so I can’t quote from it but I remember from it Roy saying he had got the name of the show wrong (he was wrong in this -see above) and that they booked a guest called Alistair MacClean thinking he was the author but he turned out to be the director of the Canadian Tourist Bureau in the UK and had to record the whole show which was never broadcast lol.
I’m returning to the UK in three weeks so you can expect scintillating updates about what Plomley was really thinking (if I can find the book), soonest! I might turn out to be completely wrong but I can handle that. I know my limitations and value civility ;)
At the very least my enquiry prompted corrections.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 March 2008 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  710
Joined  2007-02-07

It signifies that I’m curious. I can imagine many different circumstances where one might believe they have insight into the mind of another. I recently watched a program about research into this very subject. I’ve also been a student and practitioner of magic since my teens and instilling beliefs into the minds of others, as well as exploiting the beliefs already there, is pretty much what magic is all about. So, why people believe what they believe is something that I’ve actively studied for at least 40 years and I’ve learned not to make assumptions about what processes are involved.

I’ve asked this question of people many, many times and sometimes the answers are far beyond anything I could have imagined.

For my part, I don’t see that any sort of visual image is necessarily inherent in the phrase “desert island” but since you seem to, that itself is also something I find curious and interesting. From what I’ve read, some people always think in pictures and some do not.

So you see, there are many curious and interesting things involved in your statements about cartoon images and this radio show; which is why I phrased my question exactly as I meant it. What you imply from it is yours.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 March 2008 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  158
Joined  2007-02-14

There is a “Mount Desert Island” in Maine that—according to a tourist website—was named by Samuel de Champlain who ran aground there in 1604—just prior to Dave’s OED reference for first English usage.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 March 2008 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  811
Joined  2007-06-20

Shirley he’d have said Mont d’Isle Desert?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 March 2008 08:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  311
Joined  2007-02-17
Zythophile - 13 March 2008 11:40 AM

Shirley he’d have said Mont d’Isle Desert?

Actually, it was Isles des Monts Desert - Mount-Desert Island not Mount Desert-Island.

---
“I got your letter. Thanks a lot.
I’ve been getting lots of sun.
And lots of rest. It’s really hot.
Days, I dive by the wreck. Nights, I swim in the blue lagoon.
Always used to wonder who I’d bring to a desert island.” - Laurie Anderson - “Blue Lagoon” (1984)

[ Edited: 13 March 2008 08:21 PM by Myridon ]
Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1
 
‹‹ pettifogger      yea or yay = so ››