A Study in Transcription

Three apparently independent transcriptions of one source text, a list of things that go bump in the night from the Denham Tracts, expose some peculiar quirks of the transcribers. Here is a list of differences in the list between the three transcribers, noting where there is a consensus between two of them:

bug-bears bugbears bugbears
spectres spectres specters
robin-goodfellows robin goodfellows robin-goodfellows
hobthrusts hobthrusts hob-thrusts
calcars calcais calcars
incubesses incubuses incubuses
firedrakes fire-drakes fire-drakes
hellwains hellwains hell-wains
kit-a-can-sticks kit-as-can-sticks kit-a-can-sticks
gyl-burnt-tails gylburne-tails gyl-burnt-tales
oldshocks old-shocks old-shocks
pad-fooits pad-fooits pad-foots
conjurers conjurors conjurers
swaiths swaithes swaithes
tod-lowries tod-lownies tod-lowries
blackbugs blackbugs black-bugs
hodge-pochers hodge-pockers hodge-pochers
bygorns bygones bygorns
brags ... brags
wraiths wraithes wraiths
flay-boggarts faly-boggarts flay-boggarts
... brags ...
nickers nichers nickers
madcaps madcaos madcaps
cauld-lads caul-lads cauld-lads
buggaboes bugaboos bugaboos
kows, or cowes kows or cowes kows, or cowes
... buckies buckies
gy-carlins (gyre-carling) gy-carlins (gyre-carlings) gy-carlins [gyre-carling]
chittyfaces chittifaces chittifaces
jinny-burny-tails jimmy-burnt-tails jinny-burnt-tails
doppel-gangers dplle-gangers dopple-gangers
portunes postunes portunes
korreds correds korreds
cluricauns cluricanns cluricauns
lianhanshees liankaushees lian-hanshees
black-men black-men blackmen
clubbernapper clabbersnappers clabbernappers
corpse lights or candles corpselights or candles corpse lights or candles
nick-nevins nick-nerins nicknevins
whitewomen white-women whitewomen


Consensus Choices

Since there is a large correspondence between Pechkin and Pitt, we can take them as being the more authoritative texts. Indeed, Barbelith shows a huge number of typographical errors such as "madcaos" for "madcaps" and the like.

One of the most difficult differences to judge is that of the hyphen. It seems to vary quite inconsistently between the three. It's possible that there is exhuberence in adding it, but there might also be a kind of reverse exhuberence to take it out, too.

There's also an interesting Americanisation correction made by Pitt, and an ordering difference in Barbelith, the latter of which is very difficult to explain. With "pad-fooits" it seems quite unlikely for two people to have made exactly the same typo, so the Pitt version is probably corrected. With words such as "swaiths" it seems that accidental modernisation has occurred; it's difficult to transcribe in original spelling. In some, for example with wraiths, it may even be that two of the sources have accidentally modernised, but I've gone with the modernised version as the consensus.

I may also have made some mistakes too, of course, but it would take another person to correct though, and then they too might make mistakes, so there would be a chain of transcription studiers.

The transcriptions were lowercased before comparing. The followuing script was used to convert the comma separated files into a list:

>>> import os       
>>> files = [fn for fn in os.listdir('.') if 'comma' in fn]
>>> for filename in files: 
...    input = open(filename, 'r')
...    out = open(filename.replace('.comma', ''), 'w')
...    for line in input: 
...       for word in line.split(', '): 
...          word = word.lower().strip()
...          if word: print >> out, word
...    input.close()
...    out.close()

And GNU diff found the differences.

Resulting Reconstructed Test

ghosts, boggles, bloody-bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, black dogs, spectres, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hobthrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-tumblers, melch-dicks, larrs, kitty-witches, hobby-lanthorns, Dick-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-fooits, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom-thumbs, blackbugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob-thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks [necks], waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins (Gyre-carling), pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lianhanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nick-nevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses

The Denham Tracts, edited by James Hardy, (London: Folklore Society, 1895), vol. 2, pp. 76-80., via Asliman, Pechkin, et al.


Newsgroups: fido7.ru.english
From: "Stepan M. Pechkin"  - 
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Date: 1999/07/29
- http://groups.google.com/group/fido7.ru.english/msg/53224cb8398bedfe?hl=en&

1997, D. L. Ashliman

17:11 / 03.09.01
Sean B. Palmer