(urth) BotNS in German

Matthew Malthouse matthew.malthouse at ntlworld.com
Sat Dec 4 04:34:15 PST 2004

At 09:53 04/12/2004, you wrote:
>At 10:19 AM 12/4/2004, you wrote:
>>At 00:51 04/12/2004, Hmpf MacSlow wrote:
>>>In English, you can always find a more complicated way to say something 
>>>simple (E.g. 'barbican' for 'watchtower').
>>Except that barbican and watchtower each have specific and disparate 
>>meanings which should bring quite different images to a reader's mind.
>Okay... but my point kind of was - we don't have two different words for 
>it in German. (Though of course I'll only know for sure when I've checked 
>a specialised dictionary, I guess. There may be a word I just don't know.)
>For the sake of curiosity: what *is* the difference? All my dictionary 
>would offer me for 'barbican' (I never looked it up before I had to 
>translate it, being used to not understanding the occasional word in 
>Wolfe, and usually just going by context) was, well, 'watchtower'.

Barbican is specifically a defensive construction protecting a gate.  It 
might be a single tower or formed of several, it might have no individual 
towers at all but be a massive projection no higher than the walls.  Some 
are so extensive that they might be considered forts or castles in their 
own right were it not for their function in relation to a superior 
structure such as a fortress, castle, city, monastery and so on.


A watchtower is also defined by function: to keep watch or guard.  Its 
defining characteristic in terms of fortifications would be height and 
access, or perhaps vantage if topography provides the height.  There might 
also be strength and defensibility but those are not direct 
requirements.  The medieval towers along the Pyreneese between France and 
Spain would be watchtowers although few if any are as large or tall as 
Baldanders' castle is described.

So when Severian tells of Roche  "And try to get through the barbican 
without a safe conduct? They'd send to Master Guloes." it is a gate both 
fortified and guarded.

(That was easy, being on the first page, but reminds me that I'd love an 
electronically searchable text!)

Wolfe's use of language is subtle and sometimes Baroque but I can't think 
of an example where precision is sacrificed to ornament.  If he uses two 
words for apparently similar things I think one can be confident that he 
intends to evoke different images in the reader's mind.


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