A story of infelicitous penguin-naming
November 20, 2007 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Did ever a saint baptize some penguins?

At the end of the second lecture of How to Do Things with Words, J. L. Austin writes, "When the saint baptized the penguins, was this void because the procedure of baptizing is inappropriate to be applied to penguins, or because there is no accepted procedure of baptizing anything except humans?"

There are no other references to the penguin-baptizing saint in Austin, nor have I ever met anyone who had any clue what this is about, nor have I been able to find anything on Google about it.

Was this just a quirky example of Austin's own imagination, or is there some story related to it?
posted by Ms. Saint to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Could it be referencing Penguin Island?
posted by czechmate at 12:29 PM on November 20, 2007

Many Catholic churches hold a "Blessing of the animals" day in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. I don't know anything about specifically baptizing penguins, though.
posted by sarahnade at 12:30 PM on November 20, 2007

It says on this page of the novel Penguin Island by Anatole France: One of France’s later works which deals satirically with French history and the development of civilization. The novel tells of an old Briton monk who sails to an island; his poor eyesight has him baptizing penguins rather than people. Here's a shot of the back cover of the book.

There's a mention of your quote here with a bit more context.
posted by iconomy at 12:38 PM on November 20, 2007

blessing and baptism are different. you can bless just about anything, but i think you can only baptize humans.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:04 PM on November 20, 2007

It is indeed a reference from "Penguin Island" a political satire written in 1909. Here's a link to the author.

A quote from that page...

"His most famous work, Penguin Island (1909) was a political satire that poked fun at mankind, the Church, and government with the help of penguins in the mythical land of Penguinia. In the classic parable, the blind monk Saint Mael accidentally confused humans with penguins and baptized the penguins."
posted by ChainzOnline at 1:51 PM on November 20, 2007

Back when my parents took me to church, I was baptized, but I learned alter that the guy who did it was no saint...
posted by azpenguin at 11:02 PM on November 20, 2007

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