The Gostak Distims the Doshes

‘The gostak distims the doshes’. I have no idea what it refers to — but some idea what it means.

To start with, you’ll notice each word also has a certain feel. One commentator in 1939 wrote that

sometimes I like to think of the gostak as being a big bully, even a sort of Frankenstein monster … the doshes I look upon as being silly, possibly because they haven’t been able to avoid being distimmed, and if this is the case, it serves them jolly well right.

Anything can come to mind. For me, the gostak is a timid reptilian creature slavishly performing some menial task. But he (or she or it) could easily be a big formidable creature violently distimming the doshes, whatever they may be.

Putting aside imagination for a moment, the logic of the sentence is very obvious. Even a four year old would be able to work out some obvious meanings of the phrase. The author of the 1923 book The Meaning of Meaning, from which the phrase is taken, explains:

… if we assume it is English, we know that the doshes are distimmed by the gostak. We know that one distimmer of doshes is a gostak. If, moreover, doshes are galloons, we know that some galloons are distimmed by the gostak. And so we may go on, and so we often do go on.

Most readers will find it likely that the gostak is a sentient being, that distimming is an action, and that the doshes are an object. It’s remarkable how much imagination one is able to inject into an empty sentence.

It is particularly interesting is that the phrase — though utterly vague — nevertheless has a ring to it. It is an insight, perhaps, into how political phrases work. They are sentences that are structured attractively, but whose references are totally irrelevant. ‘The gostak distims the dishes’ will be forever stuck on your mind, yet you will never understand to what it refers. It’s as vacuous as ‘Yes We Can’, the trite slogan of Obama’s 2008 campaign. These phrases have a clear feeling without having a clear meaning.

Someone rather clever once made a game out of the gostak sentence. Made in 2001, it’s a work of interactive fiction — that is, an all-text game — and is a blast to play for puzzle lovers. I’ve never finished it myself, though got some way along a few years back. It begins as such:

Finally, here you are. At the delcot of tondam, where doshes deave. But the doshery lutt is crenned with glauds.

Glauds! How rorm it would be to pell back to the bewl and distunk them, distunk the whole delcot, let the drokes discren them.

But you are the gostak. The gostak distims the doshes. And no glaud will vorl them from you.

Delcot
This is the delcot of tondam, where gitches frike and duscats glake. Across from a tophthed curple, a gomway deaves to kiloff and kirf, gombing a samilen to its hoff.

Crenned in the loff lutt are five glauds.

You then have to enter verb-noun commands and gradually decipher the odd language. For example, I first typed ‘kirf’, assuming that ‘kiloff’ and ‘kirf’ were cardinal directions. ‘Kirf’ took me to the gomway, as predicted. Here are the first few commands I tried afterwards:

Gomway
You’re on a gomway deaving hoff, with gropples on the fosk. There’s a stike across the gomway here, and the delcot is to jirf.

>look at gropples
That’s not a dape I recognise.

>jirf

Delcot
This is the delcot of tondam, where gitches frike and duscats glake. Across from a tophthed curple, a gomway deaves to kiloff and kirf, gombing a samilen to its hoff.

Crenned in the loff lutt are five glauds.
A warb degombs the brangy.

>hoff
You can’t pell at that lutt.
A gitch frikes from the hoggam to zank and leil the warb.

>zank glaud
Which do you mean, the raskable glaud, the poltive glaud, the glaud-with-roggler, the glaud of jenth or the Cobbic glaud?

>raskable glaud
You can’t zank what isn’t poltive.

>leil raskable glaud
(first rasking the raskable glaud)
That’s unleilable.

>frike glaud
You can’t reb any such thing.

>glake glaud
Which do you mean, the poltive glaud, the glaud-with-roggler, the glaud of jenth, the Cobbic glaud or the raskable glaud?

>poltive glaud
You zank it durly. It smibs into the brangy.

You’ll notice that even with those handful of commands the nonsense words seem less and less nonsensical. Play the game here if you’re interested.

In the maen tmie, I’ll levae you wtih Three Chants by Ruth Crawford Seeger. She cereatd her own lagaugne for the pceie, hvaing been ublane to fnid an Egnslih tirnaotslan for the Iidann religious txet the ‘Bhagavad Gita’. Tihs is the fsirt mevmneot:

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