Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999
Subject: Farm Implements? -Reply

>>> John Tranter <jtranter@JACKET.ZIP.COM.AU> 07/30/99 09:16am >>> JJULLICH@ . . . mentioned in his survey of Scandanavian poetry the line

"He offers a smile, mild
/ as pick-axe handles a / mile wide which kindles/ the hide of rutabegas"

As a long-time fan of John Ashbery, I'm a little concerned that the
spelling of


is getting abraded here. We don't have them in Australia -- we have Swedes and turnips, but not rutabagas -- but that's no reason to become careless about our treasury of English spellings.

Anyone care to comment?

The OED lists 1799 as the earliest citation for "The new turnip, called
roota baga". As "ruta-baga", it has appeared in poetry no less illustrious
than Shelley's (Oed. Tyr. 1. 47):

Hog-wash or grains, or ruta-bagas, none
Has yet been ours since your reign begun

later in poetry no less whimsical than Ogden Nash's 1951 "Family

We gobbled like pigs
On rutabagas and salted figs.

However, since brassica napus is also defined by the OED and the
Encyclopedia Brittanica as "the Swedish turnip" (see for a lovely
illustration of brassica rapa), the name is originally derived from a
West Gotland dialect of Swedish, and perhaps we should be less
protectionist about "our treasury of English spellings": often vestiges of
an earlier etymology can resurrect in mispronunciations or deviant

I'm distressed, though, that I cannot find a journal article I read on "Farm
Implements and Rutabagas", by Reva Wolf. It appeared in a literary
journal that I chanced upon in our Periodicals Room, but now I can't
remember which. If I remember correctly, she argues that there's a link
to an Andy Warhol painting with, I think, the word "rutabagas" in it, or
perhaps Popeye or some other element from the poem. John disavowed
any connection or knowledge of the painting, but she prints a photograph
of a Thanksgiving dinner party where he is seated in front of the suspect

He was working at Art News at the time, and may have said that the
title came from a Dutch or Flemish canvas in a catalogue he was editing
at the time; but Reva Wolf again traces down the original to find that any
such Old Master was in fact titled "Farm Implements and Vegetables in
a Landscape", or such, so that his recounting of it was a double
invention: he may have revised the title of the Dutch canvas itself in that

I'm drawing on an imperfect memory of the article here, so if anyone
can help out with the proper Wolf citation, we could learn more about
those rutabagas. I'm sure they're delicious with drawn butter.