23 November 2017

Müller’s daṇḍa

I seldom get to write comedy in my articles, but this line comes close:
"It is possible that Conze was influenced by Müller’s daṇḍa."
Of course I'll have to explain. The word daṇḍa means literally means "stick, rod". It is used figuratively to mean "beating, punishment". It's pronounced a bit like English "dunder" which from the 1620s was used in the (Germanic sounding) expression "dunderhead" ("a ponderously stupid person" according to the OED). The origin is obscure, but it might come from Dutch "donder" meaning "thunder". Both Müller and Conze were German by nationality, though Conze was in fact born in the UK (which enabled him to claim citizenship in 1933 when he fled from the Nazi's - he wasn't a Jew, but he was a communist).

Anyway, daṇḍa is also the name of a Devanāgarī punctuation mark, like this | And, as with all such things, there is always the Freudian connotation. So yeah, this is almost a dick-joke.

In 1884 Müller was working at Oxford University and he produced the very first Sanskrit Heart Sutra published outside Asia (only about 1000 years after the first Chinese printed books). Unfortunately, he inserted a daṇḍa where it should not have been. Conze (presumably following Müller) inserted a full-stop in his Roman script edition in 1948.

The result is that one sentence becomes two, but the second one is a fragment with no verb and no subject, just a string of adjectives hanging around causing trouble.

It would be unfair to refer to Conze as a dunderhead, after all, he spoke 14 languages, but the man was sloppy and often cut corners. He was a kind of intellectual cowboy (in the modern English, rather than the classic American sense). We really need to tear down everything he did and do it again properly this time. It puzzles me that he was ever revered, but he was and still is.

Of course the fact that the text everyone has translated from is garbled and incomprehensible at this point, has never stopped anyone from translating it as though it made perfect sense (though Red Pine slyly switches to translating the Chinese version at this point).

I am writing an article arguing for the removal of the extraneous full stop. In 2015, I made a killer argument for adding a dot over one of the letters, so this kind of balances things out. I get my laughs where I can.


  1. ...attribution for the quote?

  2. I just wrote it, for that article you looked at for me.