Molly’s taittering lips
U 18.673-4: […] my lips were taittering when I said goodbye she had a Gorgeous wrap of some special kind [...]
This still leaves us with a few questions. Should we now take it as a foregone conclusion that ‘my lips’ in ‘Penelope’ should be reread (and re-translated) as ‘my labia’? Does this re-reading throw out of focus an otherwise touching scene? Or should it be read as another example of Molly’s unsentimental carnality? Could the author have been indulging in a private joke, at the expense of Molly and/or his readers?
Although we now know where Joyce found “taittering”, the word itself still remains something of a lexical mystery, as Ellis offers his readers no documentary information about his allegedly Irish sources here. So in one sense the problem has merely been deferred. It seems very unlikely that the word derives from the Irish language. It bears a tantalizing resemblance to a number of English dialect words, such as ‘titter’ and ‘twitter’, both of which can mean ‘to tremble’, but no evidence exists of ‘taitter’ as a variant, so any connection must remain speculative. So far it looks as though Joyce has snapped up an English hapax posing as a Hibernicism.
1 Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1906.
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