If the court knows herself

jglenis

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Hello, I would like to ask, just for the record, what would you suggest for the phrase “if the court knows herself”. It comes from Mark Twain’s The Belated Russian Passport. I have started translating it some years ago as a student, just for the fun of it. And so far whenever I have posed this question as a merely academic issue there have been no consensus as to its semantic origin. The problem is, how can an English noun be feminine? Just to get an idea of the context:

"Very well," said the clerk, "I will tell him what you say." He looked bewildered, and in a measure subjugated; and added, timidly: "But--but--you
know you will beat it to the frontier twenty-four hours. There are no accommodations there for so long a wait." 
Who's going to wait? Not I, if the court knows herself."
The clerk was temporarily paralyzed, and said, "Surely, sir, you don't wish it sent to Petersburg!"
"And why not?"
"And the owner of it tarrying at the frontier, twenty-five miles away? It couldn't do him any good, in those circumstances."
"Tarry--the mischief! Who said he was going to do any tarrying?"
"Why, you know, of course, they'll stop him at the frontier if he has no passport."
Life is like a grammar lesson. You find the past perfect and the present tense.


treandafilia

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  • Eις μνήμην της Treandafilia Groves (1841-1875)
I see there are no replies to this one, and after reading it a few times over to understand it properly, the question began to interest me. My research indicates that the phrase "if the court knows herself" is an American English idiom, frequently used by Mark Twain, and only one or two others, which means something like "sure as eggs", "you can bet on it", "unless I am seriously mistaken" etc, etc.

The feminine gender of the noun "court" appears to be part of the idiom and should not be taken literally or become part of the translation, indeed in my humble opinion this can only be translated by a Greek idiom.

Over to the Greek section of our forum membership to contribute a few idioms ... ... ...
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;



banned8

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I'd found this and forgot to contribute it (difficult week, the past one):

One of the anomalies of the early judiciary of California was Judge Redman of Santa Clara County, Judge of the County Court at San Jose. He was a man of very little education, rough and ready in his style and a hard drinker. He was utterly arbitrary in his decisions some of which were very peculiar, and were without regard to any known principle of law. I think the phrase “But if the Court knows itself, and the Court thinks it does,” originated with him. I heard him use it constantly, and I never heard it before. Sometimes in adjourning the Court, he would say “If the Court knows itself, and the Court thinks it does, we will now adjourn the Court for five minutes and the Court will take a drink.”

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/calbk:@field(DOCID+@lit(calbk071div12))

The idiom is not unknown in the form "if the court knows itself" (though not in the masculine). However, the feminine "knows herself" is quirky and otherwise undocumented.


jglenis

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Thank you for the very interesting information! I guess is not the first time English grammar does not behave, especially when Twain is involved, which makes of course reading only more stimulating.

"a man of very little education, rough and ready in his style [...] utterly arbitrary in his decisions some of which were very peculiar, and were without regard to any known principle of law"

Luckily, there are no such persons in high places any more in the States.
Life is like a grammar lesson. You find the past perfect and the present tense.



stathis

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"a man of very little education, rough and ready in his style [...] utterly arbitrary in his decisions some of which were very peculiar, and were without regard to any known principle of law"

Luckily, there are no such persons in high places any more in the States.

:)))


 

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