From Vladimir Nabokov’s interview to NYT, 1969:
Q: How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?
Nabokov: I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile – some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.
This was one of the silliest things that Nabokov ever said. However, he did a lot of clever things, too. I experienced catharsis when I red in his Reply to My Critics the defence of the use of the (archaic even by standards of Shorter Oxford Dictionary) wordform “dit” instead of “ditty” in his translation of “Eugene Onegin”:
I cannot understand why Mr. Wilson is puzzled by “dit” (Five: VIII: 13) which I chose instead of “ditty” to parallel “kit” instead of “kitty” in the next line, and which will now, I hope, enter or re-enter the language. Possibly, the masculine rhyme I needed here may have led me a little astray from the servile path of literalism (Pushkin has simply pesnya–“song”).
I was always surprised that Nabokov entered into a protracted argument with Wilson about the use of “dit” instead of “ditty”; perhaps Nabokov’s motivation was just sadistic joy at the discovery of his colleague’s ignorance. Indeed, Wilson’s attack on Nabokov is a precise parallel of scorn heaped on Pushkin by contemporary critics who disapproved his use of “топ” instead of “топот”. Pushkin’s response (in his article ОТВЕТ НА СТАТЬЮ В ЖУРНАЛЕ «АТЕНЕЙ») is famous:
Людская молвь и конский топ — выражение сказочное (Бова Королевич).
Читайте простонародные сказки, молодые писатели, чтоб видеть свойства русского языка.
«Как приятно будет читать роп вм. ропот, топ вм. топот» и проч. На сие замечу моему критику, что роп, топ и проч. употребляются простолюдимами во многих русских губерниях — NB мне случалось также слышать стукот вместо стук.
[Part of this post appeared first as my comment to a post in House of Mirth, 26 Sent 2007.]