Volume 9, No. 2 
April 2005

Mark Hooker

Mr. Hooker with a samizdat copy of The Hobbit.

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Index 1997-2005

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
A Lifetime of Learning and Teaching
by Betty Howell

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Why are most translators underpaid? A descriptive explanation using asymmetric information and a suggested solution from signaling theory
by Andy Lung Jan Chan

  In Memoriam
Thomas Snow: 1930 - 2005
by Alex Gross
Lessons Learned
by Wilfried Preinfalk
  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages: Character is Destiny
by Ted Crump

Software Localization
Demystifying Software Globalization
by Kenneth A. (Sandy) McKethan, Jr. and Graciela White

  Translators Around the World
Translation and Interpretation Work for the LNG Tangguh Project in Papua, Indonesia
by Izak Morin

  Translation Theory
¿Qué traducción? Los métodos de traducción en el análisis contemporáneo
Armando Francesconi, Ph.D.
Foreignization/Domestication and Yihua/Guihua: A Contrastive Study
He Xianbin

  Arts and Entertainment
The Power of Film Translation
by Agnieszka Szarkowska

  Translating Social Change
Translation Problems in Modern Russian Society
by Irina Khutyz

  Book Review
A Conversation with Ilan Stavans
by Verónica Albin
Tolkien’s Use of the Word “Garn!” to Typify a Motley Crew of Reprobates
by Mark T. Hooker

  Literary Translation
Ideological Manipulation in Translation in a Chinese Context: Su Manshu's Translation of Les Misérables
by Li Li

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
On Idioms, Intertextuality, Puddings, and Quantum Physics (all of them in simultaneous, please)
by Carlo Marzocchi

  Translator Education
Knowing Before Learning: Ten Concepts Students Should Understand Prior to Enrolling in a University Translation or Interpretation Class
by Brian G. Rubrecht, Ph.D.
Language Learning in the Translation Classroom
by Carol Ann Goff-Kfouri, Ph.D.

  Translators' Tools
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Research on Dictionary Use by Trainee Translators
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  Translation Journal

Book Review


Tolkien’s Use of the Word “Garn!”

to Typify a Motley Crew of Reprobates

by Mark T. Hooker

olkien is an excellent stylist and applies his knowledge of dialectical usage to paint a picture of his characters by putting typifying words into the speaker's dialogue. The literary baggage that these words carry around with them helps the reader to understand who the speaker is. This baggage is built up of all the usages of each word that the reader has been exposed to. It varies from reader to reader, even among well-read, educated native-English-speaking readers. Non-native-English readers and the readers of translations will, very likely, not get the point of Tolkien's subtle typifying usage of words like garn, and, therefore, may appreciate a look into the literary suitcase that the word garn carries around with it.

The word garn is a bit of Cockney dialect that Tolkien puts into the mouths of a number of characters of less than sterling repute. The renowned showman W. S. Gilbert has a sentence that is an excellent illustration of the type of person who might use garn in his The Hooligan: A Character Study (1911). In it, his character says: "Garn! I don't want no wash! Washin' never freshened a bloke yet." In G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion (1914), garn is the word that prompts Professor Higgins to say that Eliza speaks a sort of "kerbstone English" that is going to "keep her in the gutter to the end of her days."1 The reaction of the lyrical Professor Higgins in Lerner's and Loewe's My Fair Lady is, perhaps, somewhat better known: "It's 'Aoooow' and 'Garn' that keep her in her place. Not her wretched clothes and dirty face."

The characters whom Tolkien is keeping in 'their place' are:

  • the Orc Shagrat in Chapter 10 of Book IV, "The Choices of Master Samwise" (T.444),
  • a nameless small Orc tracker in Chapter 2 of Book VI, "The Land of the Shadow" (R.247, R.248),
  • the largest and most evil-looking ruffian of the crew that came out to meet Frodo and Company at The Green Dragon in Chapter 8 of Book VI, "The Scouring of the Shire" (R.350), and
  • Ted Sandyman, a character of undoubted ill repute, in Chapter 8 of Book VI, "The Scouring of the Shire" (R.366).

All in all, a motley crew of reprobates, if ever there was one. What they have in common is that they alone of all Tolkien's many other characters use the word garn. Ted Sandyman even resembles Gilbert's character, who "don't want no wash." Just before Sandyman says "Garn!," Sam Gamgee comments that Sandyman apparently has "no time for washing." (R.366)

In his short commentary entitled "Garn!" (Beyond Bree, January 2005, p. 5), Dale Nelson speculates that Tolkien might have heard garn, in the wild, so to speak, during his war-time service. The probability of this hypothesis is easy enough to test with the perusal of some on-line texts2 about World War I that substantiate the use of garn by "Tommies" like those with whom Tolkien served. These texts not only contain garn, but also Gawd lumme! which shows up in the Cockney-esque speech of the trolls in The Hobbit as Lumme. (H.47)

The theory of the possible military origin of Tolkien's use of garn is given an additional bit of support by a couple of other pieces of linguistic decoration in the dialogue where the nameless, small Orc tracker uses garn twice. Tolkien not only identifies the tracker's interlocutor as "the soldier," but also has him threaten the tracker with: "I'll give your name and number to the Nazgûl" (R.248), which sounds very much like the way "name and number" is used in the definition of "C.S.M." in "Tommy's Dictionary of the Trenches," which is found in a book on World War I by Arthur Guy Empey entitled Over the Top.3 There the Company Sergeant-Major is defined as "the head non-commissioned officer of a company, whose chief duty is to wear a crown on his arm, a couple of Boer War ribbons on his chest, and to put Tommy's name and number on the crime sheet." "Name and number" is a fixed word collocation for the military jargon of the period. It is the information to be found in Tommy's "identification disk," worn around the neck. In modern American military slang, this is known as a "dog tag."

It is not particularly easy to find a translation for garn. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists garn as an interjection, expressing "disbelief or ridicule of a statement." It is marked as colloquial usage, representing the--chiefly Cockney--pronunciation of go on! says the OED. This explanation of its origin, however, belies its stylistic marking. One of the examples in the OED indicates that its use is vulgar, and this is the marking that is given in the usually thorough Wildhagen German translating dictionary.4 The OED quotes the Glasgow Herald from 1925: "He complained that if he used such words as 'garn' or 'struth'5 he was accused of vulgarity ..."

Ideally, the successful translation of Tolkien's trick of grouping these four characters together by means of their common use of Garn! will use the same word for Garn!, each time that Garn! was used in the original. There is no semantic shift due to context for any of Tolkien's uses of Garn!, therefore, there is no semantic reason to use different target language renditions in each of the repeats. Unfortunately, the two Dutch (Schuchart and Mensink-van Warmelo) and the two German (Carroux and Krege) translators had a variety of renditions for Garn!.

The Van Dale English-Dutch dictionary6 offers the following translations of garn: Kom nou! Nee toch! Loop heen! The Wildhagen translating dictionary7 offers Quatsch! as its only translation of Garn!, which it marks as vulgar, showing it to be derived from go on! though not indicating its Cockney origin. Quatsch! was, indeed, the rendition that was most often used (3 out of 5) by Carroux for Garn! None of the other translators used the same word more than twice.

  • 'Garn!' said Shagrat. 'She's got more than one poison.' (T.444)
    'Loop heen,' zei Shagrat. 'Zij heeft meer dan één vergif.' (S1 T.961; S2 T.892; S3 T.406)
    'Ga nou!' zei Shagrat. 'Ze heeft meer dan één vergif. (M T.291)
    "Klar!" sagte Schagrat. "Sie hat mehr als ein Gift." (Carroux T.303)
    "Klar", sagte Schagrat, "sie hat nicht nur ein Gift." (Krege T.439)

  • 'Garn! You don't even know what you're looking for.' (R.247)
    'Loop heen! Je weet niet eens waarnaar je zoekt.' (S1 R.1208)
    'Loop heen! Je weet niet eens waar je naar zoekt.' (S2 R.1117; S3 R.231)
    'Schei toch uit! Je weet niet eens waar je naar zoekt.' (M R.169)
    "Quatsch! Du weißt nicht mal, was du suchst." (Carroux R.165)
    "Nix! Du weißt noch nicht mal was du suchst." (Krege R.240)

  • 'Garn! You missed him.' (R.248)
    'Ha! Je hebt hem gemist.' (S1 R.1209)
    'Nee toch! Je hebt hem gemist.' (S2 R.1118; S3 R.232)
    'Kom nou! Je hebt hem gemist,' zei de spoorzoeker. (M R.170)
    "Quatsch! Du hast ihn verfehlt." (Carroux R.166)

    "Quatsch, du hast daneben geschossen." (Krege R.241)

  • 'Garn, what did I say?' (R.350)
    'Verdraaid, wat heb ik gezegd?' (S1 R.1313; S2 R.1213; S3 R.327)
    'Verdorie, wat heb ik jullie gezegd?' ( M R.236)
    "Verflixt, was habe ich gesagt?" (Carroux R.238)
    "Verdammt, was hab ich euch gesagt?" (Krege R.343)

  • 'Garn!' he said. 'You can't touch me.' (R.366)
    'Verdraaid. Raak me eens aan!' (S1 R.1329)
    'Verdraaid. Je kunt me niets doen.' (S2 R.1227; S3 R.342)
    'Och kom!' zei hij. 'Mij kun je niks maken.' (M R.247)
    "Quatsch! Mir kannst du nichts anhaben." (Carroux R.250)
    "Quatsch! Mir kannst du nichts anhaben." (Krege R.359)

Sometimes translations are constrained to a "secondary standard" that is not based on the dictionary, but on the translation of the same word used in another well-known text. This is most often applied to the translation of the subtitles of a film based on a book, or the translation of computer games based on a book or a movie, where the target audience of the film or the game being translated will be expected to have read or seen the original from which the film or the game is derived. This is in essence the partial recreation of the literary baggage of the word in the original language in the target language.

In a letter to the editor, in response to Dale Nelson's commentary on garn in Beyond Bree, David Bratman very accurately classifies garn as "a word most strongly associated with Shaw's Eliza Doolittle." (Beyond Bree, February 2005, p. 7) For most Americans, this author included, it is probably the only active association with the word garn. Given the widespread popular recognition of garn from Shaw's Pygmalion, or, more likely, the musical based on it, My Fair Lady, it could be considered appropriate for Tolkien's translators to use the same word for Garn! that is used in the translation of Shaw's (Lerner's and Loewe's) work.

This is obviously an artificial construct for use in the analysis of the first Dutch and the first German translations, because My Fair Lady debuted in 1956, but did not attain true popularity until the Academy-Award winning movie came out in 1964, long after these translations had been published. The second Dutch and German translations, however, were done after My Fair Lady.

In the Janssen-Pleiter-Gaaikema Dutch translation of My Fair Lady,8 the cue for Professor Higgins' line "It's 'Aoooow' and 'Garn' that keep her in her place" is when Eliza says: "Ach me neus!" This translation produces a viable utterance in all of Tolkien's contexts above, but modern-day native informants consider its use dowdy, old-fashioned, or even cutesy.

'Me neus!' zei Shagrat. 'Zij heeft meer dan één vergif.'
'Me neus! Je weet niet eens waar je naar zoekt.'
'Me neus! Je hebt hem gemist.'
'Me neus! Wat heb ik gezegd?'
'Me neus! Je kunt me niets doen.'

This approach also ignores the fact that me neus! is a poor translation of Garn! in the context of My Fair Lady. It entirely misses the point that Garn! is a phonetic distortion that is marked for the social stratum to which the speaker belongs. In other words, it needs to be mispronounced and 'vulgar.' The context of the dialogue in My Fair Lady at the point that Eliza says Garn! is phonetics. Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering are both phoneticians, and they are discussing pronunciation. The ideal translation of Garn!, therefore, should also be a phonetic distortion. In other words, it is the phonetic distortion that is the most important piece of information to convey in the translation of Garn! in this context, not the exact semantic value.

The German translation of Pygmalion by Siegfried Trebitsch,9 who knew Shaw, sticks to the definition in Wildhagen: Quatsch! The German translation of My Fair Lady by Robert Gilbert10 offers an interesting alternative. In Gilbert's version, Eliza says "Dof!"

Dof! Ich frag' Sie, Herr, was fuer ein Wort is das?
Ihr "A-o-uh" und "Dof!" kennzeichen sie sozial -
Nicht ihr Hals, der drekiger als ihr Schal.

This is an interesting solution, because Dof! is not to be found in any of the first-line desktop defining or translating dictionaries, 11 or even in some specialized ones.12 A German-native speaking informant equated Dof! with Doof!, and commented that it was heavily marked as slang. Her additional comments largely coincided with those of the Dutch informants about the Dutch translation (me neus!). Dof! approximates the meaning of stupid, dumb, or silly, and can be used as a loose synonym for Quatsch!. Dof it turns out is the pre-war spelling of the modern Doof, which is somewhat unusual, because this German translation of My Fair Lady dates from 1963. Although any non-standard spelling has a certain stigma attached to it, this is a spoken text and it is the pronunciation and not the spelling that is important to the theater audience. Dof!, while a viable utterance in all the Tolkien contexts for Garn!, is still not the ideal solution to the problem.

"Dof!", sagte Schagrat, "sie hat nicht nur ein Gift."
"Dof! Du weißt nicht mal, was du suchst."
"Dof! Du hast daneben geschossen."
"Dof! Was habe ich gesagt?"
"Dof! Mir kannst du nichts anhaben."

The nine Russian translators of LotR also all had a variety of renditions for Garn!. The Galperin two-volume English-Russian dictionary13 offers the following translations of Garn!: ну да!, иди ты! скажешь тоже!, ух ты! (vol. 1, p.570)

VAM followed the Galperin for Shagrat, but just left Garn! out afterwards. "Грр!" [Grr!] and "Гарр!" [Garr!] seemed to be popular with G&G, Bobyr' and Volkovskij. Gruzberg, not unexpectedly, had a "Гарн!" [Garn!]. Murav'ev had a number of excellent alternatives, my favorite of which was "Иди врать!" (Go lie!) because it literally captures the underlying sense of Garn! < Go on! so well. 14

  • 'Garn!' said Shagrat. 'She's got more than one poison.' (T.444)
    -Эх ты, тютя!-сказал Шаграт.-У нее разные яды на разные случаи. (M&K T.412)
    - Грр! - продолжал меж тем Шаграт. - У нее много разных ядов. (G&G T.348)
    - Гррр! - сказал Шаграт. - У нее много разных ядов. (Бобырь 317)
    - То-то же, - продолжал Шаграт. - У Шелоб несколько ядов. (K&K T.491)
    - У нее полным-полно всяких ядов, - сказал Шаграт. (В Т.551)
    - Ба! - продолжал Шаграт. - У Шелобы богатый выбор ядов. (Nem T.363)
    - Ну да! - продолжал Шаграт. - У Шелобы есть разные яды. (VAM 904)
    - Запасы! - сказал Шаграт. - У нее есть разные яды. (Gruz T. 438)
    - Запасы! - сказал Шаграт. - У нее есть разные яды. (Mans T. 414)
    - Ну и болван же ты, Горбаг! Сам посуди, стала бы Шелоб дохлятину паутиной опутывать? У нее есть такой яд, которым она только усыпляет. (Ya T.308)

  • 'Garn! You don't even know what you're looking for.' (R.247)
    - Долбак! Ты ж даже не знаешь, кого ищешь! (M&K R.223)
    - Гарр! Ты даже не знаешь, что искать! (G&G R.212)
    - Гаррр! Ты даже не знаешь, что искать! (Bobyr 405)
    - Гарр! Ты даже не знаешь, чего ищешь! (V R.341)
    - Тьфу! Ты даже не знаешь, кого искать-то надо! (K&K R.272)
    - Ты вообще не знаешь, чего ищешь! (Nem R.197)
    - Ну, чего зря стараться? Мы даже не знаем, кого ищем. (Ya R.188)
    - Ты даже не знаешь, кого ищешь. (VAM R.1080)
    - Гарр! Ты даже не знаешь, что высматриваешь-то! (Gruz R.239)

  • 'Garn! You missed him.' (R.248)
    - Иди врать! Промазал ты, и все, - сказал сыщик. (M&K R.224)
    - Гарр Промахнулся! - обидно ощерился маленький. (G&G R.212)
    - Гррр Промахнулся! - сказал следопыт. (Bobyr 405)
    - Тьфу! - снова сплюнул первый. - Значит, что ты его упустил? Ну, дела! С пятидесяти шагов не попал! (K&K R.273)
    - Грр! Упустил! (V R.343)
    - Просто ты промазал, - отмахнулся следопыт. (Nem R.198)
    - Так и донесу господину назгулу. (Ya R.189)
    - Просто ты промахнулся. (VAM R.1081)
    - Гарр! Ты просто его упустил, - сказал следопыт. (Gruz R.240)

  • 'Garn, what did I say?' (R.350)
    - Едрена вошь, а я что говорил? (M&K R.319)
    - Ну, что я говорил? (G&G R.310)
    - Ну, что я говорил? (VAM 1159)
    - Ну, что я говорил? (Nem R.286)
    - Ну?! Что я вам говорил? (K&K R.390)
    - Видали, ребята? Говорил же я Сычу ... (V R.497)
    Not included in Yakhnin. (Ya R.291-292)
    Not included in Bobyr'. (B.483)
    - Гарри, что я говорил? (Gruz R.343)

  • 'Garn!' he said. 'You can't touch me.' (R.366)
    - Иди ты знаешь куда! Попробуй тронь меня. (M&K R.335)
    - Та-та-та. Я друг босса, меня нельзя трогать. (G&G R.324)
    - Не боюсь я тебя. Ты меня тронуть не посмеешь ... (VAM 1173)
    - Боялся я тебя! Ты меня пальцем не смеешь тронуть ... (Nem R.301)
    - Прям! Да ты меня и пальцем не тронешь, ясно? (K&K R.408)
    - Тоже мне, храбрец выискался. Я Самому друг, руки у тебя короче меня тронуть. (V R.524)
    Not included in Yakhnin. (Ya R.304-305)
    Not included in Bobyr'. (B.483)
    - Гарн! Ты меня не тронешь, я это, друг самого Хозяина. (Gruz R.390)

In the two Russian translations of Pygmalion15 that I have, Eliza says what Galperin says: "Ух ты!". It is hard to go wrong with Galperin, but the translation of Garn! that really catches my fancy comes from the Parygin version of My Fair Lady.16 There the cue for Professor Higgins' line "It's 'Aoooow' and 'Garn' that keep her in her place" is when Eliza says: "Чё он!" [chyo on]. This rendition, like Garn! is a mispronunciation of "Чего он!" [chego on] that characterizes the person who says it. This translation would be a workable fit in all of Tolkien's contexts above:

- Чё он! - сказал Шаграт. - У нее много разных ядов.
- Чё он! Ты даже не знаешь, чего ищешь!
- Чё он! Просто ты промахнулся.
- Чё он! А я что говорил?
- Чё он! Попробуй тронь меня.

Using the translation of Garn! in My Fair Lady as the secondary standard for the translation of Garn! in LotR would seem to be indicated due to the wide popularity of My Fair Lady-that is the most commonly encountered use of Garn! to be found in the literary baggage for this word. It may, however, be contraindicated because none of the renditions of Garn! in the various translations of My Fair Lady are strongly marked as words not to be used in polite company. The angelic face of Audrey Hepburn, and the enchanting melodies of the musical have done much to soften the original impact that the word garn once held.

If the 'native habitat' in which Tolkien encountered Garn! was indeed the barracks rooms and trenches of World War I, then a stronger anti-social register would seem to be required for Garn! This hypothesis would seem to be supported by Tolkien's comments in the Appendices, where he said that while the Orcs used Westron to communicate with one another, the way that they used it did not make it any more pleasant than were the various dialects of Orkish, which Tolkien describes as "brutal jargons" scarcely useful as a means of communication "unless it were for curses and abuse." (R.511)

Since most present-day readers will have no direct experience with the gritty barracks-room argot of the Tommies of World War I, perhaps a translation to a more modern barracks-room jargon is in order. Unfortunately-for the purposes of this article-I have no personal knowledge of the barracks-room vernacular of the Dutch and German armies. The same, however, cannot be said of the American and Russian armies. Were I to translate Garn! to the dialect of the barracks room that was in use when I lived in one, I would render it as Mofo! in English and Твою! [Tvoyu!] in Russian, both of which have essentially the same underlying meaning.

Both were, I must point out, sufficiently frequently used in that milieu that they no longer had any actual relationship to their original meanings, which are sufficiently vulgar to shock any polite company. For the socio-linguistic group in which they were used, they had been reduced to mild oaths of no real significance to the people who used them. For people on the outside of this group, however, they are rather shocking, and that is, quite probably, the effect that Tolkien was looking for with his five uses of Garn!. The modern English translation has the additional advantage of being a condensation and phonetic distortion. The Russian, unfortunately, is only a condensation. This increases their linguistic fit for Garn!, which is commonly perceived to be a linguistic derivative of Go on!

While I would find it incongruous to hear Eliza Doolittle use my modern translation of Garn!, I would not be at all surprised to hear an Orc or Ted Sandyman or one of Sharky's ruffians use it. Perhaps Tolkien, like Shakespeare, occasionally needs to have his vocabulary 'translated' for the modern reader.

Since Tolkien limited the use of Garn! to only four speakers in The Lord of the Rings, having them all use the same unique word, like Tolkien did, gives them all something in common, and to use the British vernacular, makes them all seem "common." The translator of a tale as long as The Lord of the Rings, can certainly be forgiven for missing such a subtle nicety as this, which only a few readers will notice, but it would be nice-given the interest in retranslating Tolkien (there are 2 German, 2 Hebrew, 2 Dutch and 9 Russian translations to name but a few), if it made it into a future edition, now that his trick has been pointed out.

End Notes:

1 The Works of Bernard Shaw, London: Constable and Co. Ltd., 1930, vol. 14, p. 214.

2 A Yankee in the Trenches (1918) by R. Derby Holmes, who served as a corporal of the 22nd London battalion of the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13279;. The Best 500 Cockney War Stories edited and published by The London Evening News in 1921 http://www.firstworldwar.com/diaries/cockney_intro.htm.

3 http://www.military-quotes.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=8206

4 The New Wildhagen German Dictionary (Dr. Karl Wildhagen and Dr. Will Heraucourt, compilers), Chicago: Follet Publishing, 1965.

5 OED: Short for "God's truth," used as an oath.

6 Groot woordenboek Engels-Nederlands. Utrecht: Van Dale Lexicografie, 1989, p. 582.

7 The New Wildhagen German Dictionary (Dr. Karl Wildhagen and Dr. Will Heraucourt, compilers), Chicago: Follet Publishing, 1965, p. 351.2.

8 Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Loewe, My Fair Lady (A musical based on G.B. Shaw's play Pygmalion), Amsterdam: H.J.W. Becht, (no date), text translated by Hubert Janssen and Alfred Pleiter, lyrics by Seth Gaaikema, p. 19.

9 Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Loewe, My Fair Lady (A musical based on G.B. Shaw's play Pygmalion), Berlin: Fischer Verlag, 1913, text translated by Siegfried Trebitsch, p. 17.

10 Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Loewe, My Fair Lady (A musical based on G.B. Shaw's play Pygmalion), München/Zürich: Droemer Knaur, 1963, text translated by Robert Gilbert, p. 20.

11 Duden (1989), Grimm (1860), Muret-Sanders (1910), Wildhagen (1965), Collins (1991).

12 Heinz Küpper. Illustriertes Lexikon der Deutschen Umgangssprache (in 8 Bänden). Stuttgart: Klett, 1983.

13 New Russian-English Dictionary (in two volumes), I.R. Galperin (ed.). Moscow: Soviet Encyclopedia Publishing House, 1972.

14 For a detailed discussion of the Russian translations, see: Mark T. Hooker. Tolkien Through Russian Eyes. Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2003.

15 Бернард Шоу. Избранные произведения в двух томах. перевод: Е. Калашникова, М.: Государственное издательство художественной литературы, 1956, стр. 206.

Бернард Шоу. Избранные произведения. Перевод: П. Мелкова, Н. Рахманова (предисловие и послесловие). М.: Панорама, 1993.

16 http://www.sinor.ru:8104/~pmv/lady.htm