i'll make this good-looking soon, for now just enjoy the words!

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sea slug vs. sea cucumber


As anyone who has read Rise knows, I have tried very hard to explain why I used the word “slug” rather than “cucumber” for most translations. (Some selections are copied below for visitors who have not read Rise but may be spoiling for a fight.)  But, first, let me post some correspondence on the name issue that is not in the book for my readers’ amusement.


As to "sea slug" vs. "sea cucumber", unless you're really playing with us all, you can relax some of the mea culpa. Webster's IIIrd clearly has the following (entire entry):

sea slug n 1 : holothurian 2 : a naked marine gastropod;

specif : nudibranch

And the OED (1st ed, which I've not finished reading yet, so no need here for the 2nd) gives as its first definition:

sea slug 1. = trepang

But, somehow, I suspect you knew all this, since you must now be the world's most broadly educated person on the subject.

William J. Higginson


That was very sweet of Bill.  And embarrassing for me.   The scientists had me so completely psyched out, I didn’t even think of defending myself in that way with Websters and the OED.   But as I replied to Bill,


" I can not relax on the mea culpa -- or, blyth's [R.H. Blyth who did the first sea slug translation unless an earlier one is found] culpa (i share the blame) -- for not just biologists but skin-divers get really huffy-puffy about this!  If I don't whip my back until the blood runs, I think they will not mention it on their websites and magazines! "

 Let me give an example:




That came when i was about halfway through the book, from a relative who once taught biology and possessed the uncanny ability to jump about in my Word Doc file and find every lubricious haiku in the book, for he pleaded to me to find a few that would not upset my 105 year old grandmother, who bless her soul died this year at age 106.  The next is from a more liberal soul, a writer in California who is far from a scientist.  She wrote the first letter in response to my e-mail announcing the book’s publication and the second after peeking quickly at the website.

Dear Robin;

wOW! I think of you often and have expected this announcement because I know how artistically talented you are. Did you also do illustrations? I know something about sea slugs--I was once told by a biologist on a beach that they are single celled. I marveled at that. On the beach near Carmel one sees their backbones. I must read your poems and will order the book at once. Even though I do not know holothurian. Please keep in touch and many congratulations. I still have your drawings on my wall and in a drawer.. Margaret

Oh dear, Robin, you have evolved the sea slug as a sea cucumber which is not one celled at all and has spines. Just because the slug has fewer letters; yet the slug itself is longer than the cucumber. Sea cuke the word is no longer than sea slug but who would want to say rise up ye sea cukes. To be as long as a sea slug yet one-celled seems to me an achievement, yet I cannot say as much for the cucumber and feel that the slug has been diminished. How could you.  Margaret
I shall have to find out if nudibranches (sea slug proper) have anything like backbones.  Since their brains have brought them acclaim – and a Nobel for their main student – it is safe to say they have more than one cell  (kelp, perhaps?).  But my point here is the righteousness which nominal differences call forth even from a non-scientist!