Monday, June 28, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: The mangled means and ends of liberal arts education. Plus: Cape Town, South Africa, goes Hollywood; what happens to the digital data of the deceased? the truth about Pinocchio, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
My first Christianity Today online article:
On what Tony Campolo and Colin Powell mean when they talk about "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide."

Update: More from TNR
My latest Tribune language column:
On the mysterious origins, and sudden emergence, of the phrase "back in the day."
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Here's my mini-corpus, a collection of recent examples, for "back in the day." Here's the history of the Citroen, the car mentioned on CNN.

I looked up heyday in the OED; the oldest definition is "an exclamation denoting frolicsomeness, gaiety, surprise, wonder, etc." It derives it from the ME heyda or hoighdagh; OED's first citation is 1526. Here's an example of heyday's root as an interjection:

1622: Hey-da! what Hans Flutterkin is this? what Dutchman doe's build or frame castles in the aire? -Jonson, Masque Augures

- One e-mailer wondered about one linguist's use of "an historical" in an e-mail statement in my column this week. I checked with Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd ed., 1996:

Opinion is divided over the form to use before h-words in which the first syllable is unstressed: the thoroughly modern thing to do is to use "a" (never "an") together with an aspirated h (a habitual, a heroic, a historical, a Homerica, a hypothesis), but not to demur if others use "an" with minimal or nil aspiration given to the following h (an historic, an horrific, etc.) ... At the present time, especially in written English, there is abundant evidence for the use of "an" before habitual, historian, historic(al), horrific, and horrendous, but the choice of form remains open.

- Another e-mailer inquired about the journalistic term lede. My eagle-eyed editor, Lilah Lohr, fields it.

- The NYT on cellphone shouters. (more; China tries to regulate text messaging).

- From the Wash.Post 6/12:
In a move that could have major implications in the doping scandal related to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has begun to argue that the stringent burden of proof standard known as "beyond a reasonable doubt" should no longer apply to track and field drug cases because of recent changes in anti-doping rules, according to a June 1 memorandum The Washington Post has seen. USADA Director of Legal Affairs Travis T. Tygart wrote to the agency's Anti-Doping Review Board that the lesser standard of "comfortable satisfaction of the . . . hearing body" should be adopted in the arbitration of all track and field cases initiated after March 1 of this year regardless of when the alleged violations took place.

- Seen in the NYT's second review of Bill Clinton's book:

"During the silly time when Clinton was pilloried for wanting to debate the meaning of "is," I often wondered why no one pointed out that he was educated by Jesuits, for whom the meaning of "is" is a matter not lightly resolved."

- Recently at LL: "disagree" as a noun and the thing is.

- I think WordSpy is on vacation this week, so you'll have to wait for his writeup on smoothista(LL) and cheesemail:

Cheesemail: "Whenever someone of the non-management staff does something beneficial for the organization, they are thanked/congratulated by the middle management team," writes Marion Germaine, who thinks she might have created this neologism. "This is cc'ed to all of the staff and upper management. We on the staff must reread the same congratulatory message over and over as each middle-manager demands that you take notice that they have noticed the non-management staff. And they're also letting upper management know that they have noticed . . ." G&M

- ties that bind started in a hymn, and is now a political cliche, says GetReligion.

- Did you know Thomas Jefferson wrote it's as a possessive? (LL again)

- Just watched the Simpsons play Scrabble on the Season 1 DVD:

Pull back to reveal that the rest of the family are playing the classic word game. Bart waits impatiently for Marge to make her move, and she does: She places an `H' on the board to spell `HE'. Now it's Homer's turn. He grumbles, ``How can anyone make a word out of these lousy letters!'' Homer's rack contains the letters O-X-I-D-I-Z-E. He decides to play the `D' to spell `DO'. Lisa places an `I' above the `D'...

Lisa: `Id', triple-word score!
Homer: No abbreviations.
Lisa; Not I.D., Dad, `id'. It's a word!
Bart: As in ``This game is stoop-id''.

Lisa reminds Bart that he's supposed to be building his vocabulary for
tomorrow's aptitude test. Marge suggests they check the dictionary, and
Homer is surprised that they have one. It's currently being used to
prop up the couch. Lisa looks up the word and confirms her score.
Now it's Bart's turn.

Bart: Here we go. Kwyjibo. [places his tiles] K-W-Y-J-I-B-O.
Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus fifty points
for using all my letters. Game's over. I'm outta here. [gets up]
Homer: [grabs Bart with his left hand, holding a banana in his right]
Wait a minute, you little cheater!
You're not going anywhere until you tell me what a kwyjibo is.
Bart: Kwyjibo. Uh... a big, dumb, balding North American ape. With no chin.
Marge: And a short temper.
Homer: I'll show you a big, dumb, balding ape! [leaps for Bart]
Bart: [making his escape] Uh oh. Kwyjibo on the loose!

via SNPP

Some classic episodes: Bart sells his soul, Homer vs. the 18th Amendment, and Moaning Lisa.

Last week's column and inflections
NY Times
I like to hang on to links to New Yorker movie reviews, because the observations tend to be apt and insightful whether or not I'm interested in the movie. So here's Anthony Lane on The Ladykillers, Van Helsing and The Day After Tomorrow, and here's David Denby on Troy, Saved! and Farenheit 911. Here's the AFI's Top 100 movie songs. Other New Yorker links: stunt doubles, blogger agents, Google-bombing, Barack Obama, Paul Goldberger on the WW2 memorial, the squid hunter, food allergies, and the economics of punctuality.

And some more stray links: The NYT on fashion in Chicago, the proliferation of touch screens and the short life span of gadgets. Here's the Melbourne Age on small technology, the Wash.Post on the economic imperative of spending,
and the SF Chron on bringing bullet trains to the West Coast.

Though one of the poorest countries in the European Union, Portugal invested $780 million in construction of stadiums for the Euro Cup, more than any other host of the event has ever spent. At the Algarve Stadium in the seaside resort of Faro-Loulé, Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum topped the stadium with two billowing sails made of a tensile fabric structure held up by 65-foot masts and cables. Their swooping shape is designed to provide shade over the stands and to allow air currents to swirl under the cloth and across the seats. "For years and years, town halls or banks or churches conveyed the status or identity of a city," said Richard Breslin, an architect with HO& K. "Now they are football stadiums." NY Times

Onion headlines last week:

Report: 9/11 Commission Could Have Been Prevented x

Heinz Factory Explosion Looks Worse Than It Is

Michael Moore Kicking Self For Not Filming Last 600 Trips To McDonald's

New Alternative-Fuel SUV Will Deplete World's Hydrogen By 2070

The Onion's TV listings:

"Somebody Marry Someone!" ABC, 9 p.m.

"Effeminate House Rearranger Squad" DISC, 9 p.m.

"The Marketables" NICK, 8 p.m.

"A 37-year-old Executive's Idea of Cool" MTV, 10 p.m.

The Onion's explanation of Iraq's new flag:

The Onion

Etymology Today from M-W: peremptory \puh-REMP-tuh-ree\

1 : putting an end to or precluding a right of action, debate, or delay
2 : expressive of urgency or command
3 : marked by arrogant self-assurance : haughty

"Peremptory" is ultimately from Latin "perimere," which means "to take entirely" and comes from "per-" ("thoroughly") and "emere" ("to take"). "Peremptory" implies the removal of one's option to disagree or contest something. It sometimes suggests an abrupt dictatorial manner combined with an unwillingness to tolerate disobedience or dissent (as in "he was given a peremptory dismissal"). A related term is the adjective "preemptive," which comes from Latin "praeemere" - "prae-" ("before") plus "emere." "Preemptive" means "marked by the seizing of the initiative" (as in "a preemptive attack").

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Monday, June 21, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: The wobbly reliability of Red and Blue America distinctions, and the difference between "university" and "management" elitists. Plus: German beer in Moscow, the family that put Millican, Oregon, back on the map, China's elderly population boom, pragmatism in foreign policy, "laughter leaders," and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

Last week: Q&A with David Sedaris
My latest Baltimore Sun op-ed:
Why stay-at-home dads are (but shouldn't be) an aberration in America.,0,3091945.story

Here and here are my college newspaper columns on male feminism and "family values." Here's a Listmania list on "Media Literacy and Motherhood." More on The Mommy Myth here, here and here. Another can-do self-help book that caught my eye (but whose title was too long to include) was Working Mothers 101: How to Organize Your Life, Your Children, and Your Career to Stop Feeling Guilty and Start Enjoying It All. (Sounds easy enough.) And, I'm not sure how this fits in, but there's a book called Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote. The NYT piece on the opt-out revolution is here (with Reason's take on it here and mine here). Whew! When I actually become a parent, I won't have time to read all this crap about parenting!
My latest Tribune language column:
On two new witty works of word watching, Geoff Nunberg's Going Nucular and Barbara Wallraff's Your Own Words.
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I was going to start the story by saying that since presidents are immortalized by their words, President Bush may be forever remembered for saying "nucular," especially now that it's in a book title. But my editor wisely called me off it: "I'm not sure you can convince me that in, say, 50 years, anyone will remember Bush said nukular. JFK's Boston blueblood accent was a big deal in the 60s, but he is not immortalized for having said "Cyu-ber" for "Cuba.""

Here's more on "nucular" from LL, the NYT and Richard Lederer. And here's LL on the Latin nuculeus.

Update: LL two-part analysis: nucular--error or deviation?

- The etymology of the expression K-Rad

- The fine print on my Quizznos coupon said I must "surrender" the coupon when redeeming it. Oh yeah? To Quizzno's and what army?

- Swimmer Janet Evans, in a Q&A with Sports Illustrated: The roofless Olympic pool is not ideal, she said. "But every swimmer is in the same boat." Are boats covered under performance-enhancers?

- In the same issue, a story said the Stanley Cup Finals "amounted to a debutant ball for 24-year-old Lightning center Brad Richards, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner..." "Debutant," told me, is French for "one making a debut."

- Yesterday's pitching matchup between Barry Zito and Carlos Zambrano was only the third meeting in the history of the game of pitchers whose surnames began with the letter Z, says ESPN. Zito faced Victor Zambrano last year; the previous instance was in 1925. Meanwhile, as Steve Rushin noted last month, Giants rookie David Aardsma has bumped Hank Aaron out of first place in baseball's alltime directory of players sorted by surname.

- In a not-so-fond farewell to Ronald Reagan, Christopher Hitchens recalled, "Reagan said that intercontinental ballistic missiles (not that there are any non-ballistic missiles-a corruption of language that isn't his fault) could be recalled once launched."

- E.J. Dionne in a Sojourners article on the language of the marketplace: He quotes a Democratic advisor: "We used to call for immunizing little children against disease. Now we call it an investment in human capital."

- Remember when participants in a study used to be called subjects? "Now the American Psychological Association wants to retire the term," says the NY Times. "It is, the group says, too impersonal, stripping people of their individuality, their humanity."

- I was studying the terminology of 2 Peter 3:10 for my book when I came across this bit of translation trivia in a 1987 piece in the Westminster Theological Journal: "The recent official Swedish version of the NT translates "will perish" (skall forgas) and adds in a footnote: "This word renders what the author must have meant.")" There's nothing like convenience when grappling with God's Word.

- Updates: I wrote about the book Wordcraft and the morphing of brand names to common nouns without knowing there was a word for it: "Genericide: The process by which a brand name becomes a generic name for an entire product category." from More on brand names at Wordlab. Also from WordSpy: Children's books get vulgar: call it poop fiction.

I wrote about Lynne Truss' Eats Shoots & Leaves the week before its release in the U.S. (where it has become a bestseller). This week Louis Menand gets picky about the book in the New Yorker.

Finally, I quoted the National Spelling Bee director as saying there were no major non-English spelling bees that she knew of (here). This one may not be major, but LL says there's a Dutch spelling bee, which intrigued this blond-haired Dutchman.

Last week's column and inflections
Det. News

Congrats to the champs! I was just getting addicted to my driveway hoop in Michigan the last time a scrappy bunch of Pistons defeated a showy ensemble of Lakers for the NBA championship. Here's Mitch Albom and Drew Sharp on the title that took even Hockeytown by surprise. Pity that all ESPN could talk about since the confetti flew last week has been which Lakers are going where in the wake of their collapse. This after mobbing the bandwagon and prounouncing how great it was that a team-oriented group of unknowns trounced the selfish stars and what a reminder it was that basketball is a team game and we shouldn't swoon over stars. Now about those stars... Meanwhile, my dad and I continue to await a Super Bowl victory for the Lions. As the Free Press wrote last week, it's been a while.

Do young children have an immunity to irony? I was on the Amtrak back from Grand Rapids last week and watched the conductor goofing around with some kids who were four or five years old. The conductor held up the bottom of his tie and pretended it was a microphone as he interviewed them. "That's not a microphone! That's a tie!" one boy noted. My dad was inconsolable when my younger sister and I stopped protesting the veracity of his goofing. I wonder if kids this age have a need for certainty and sincerity as they take in the world around them, and can only develop a sense of irony and metaphor later on (though in the case of talk radio, numbness to irony persists).

Childe Hassam Country Road (Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Massachusetts), 1882. Childe Hassam (1859-1935), a pioneer of American Impressionism and perhaps its most devoted, prolific, and successful practitioner, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts. This spring, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will offer Childe Hassam, American Impressionist, an unprecedented exhibition of about 120 of Hassam’s finest oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels, and some 30 prints.

Two stray links: The fate of the Illini mascot down in Springfield, and the fate of Amish in the City on UPN.

Also, just one Clinton joke, qtd in today's Trib: "President Clinton talks about his infidelity on `60 Minutes' this Sunday," Jay Leno said. "Sixty minutes, is that enough time? Shouldn't it be `48 Hours'?"
NY Times

Does anybody have better bad taste than members of America's upper class? This has been a particularly rich season in opportunities to view the vanishing folkways of the genus High WASP. Sotheby's auctioned the chattels from Greentree, Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney's North Shore estate, earlier this month. In the manner of their class, the Whitneys did not set off their Van Goghs with pin spots and mausoleum solemnity. They treated them instead as decoration, no more or less important than the penny banks, scrimshaw powder horns and Staffordshire dogs that sat atop every surface in sight. Far from being accorded any special status, the Picasso, "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)," hung unobtrusively in a knicknack-cluttered living room suggesting a chintz-upholstered dollhouse owned by a truly strange child. NY Times

Etymology Today from M-W: slipshod \SLIP-SHOD\

1 : wearing loose shoes
2 : shabby
3 : careless, slovenly

The word "shod" is the past tense form of the verb "to shoe"; hence we can speak of shod horses and shod feet. When the word "slipshod" was first used in the late 1500s, it meant "wearing loose shoes or slippers" - such slippers were once called "slip-shoes" - and later it was used to describe shoes that were falling apart. By the early 1800s, "slipshod" was used more generally as a synonym for "shabby" - in 1818, Sir Walter Scott wrote about "the half-bound and slip-shod volumes of the circulating library." The association with shabbiness later shifted to an association with sloppiness, and by the end of the century the word was used to mean "careless" or "slovenly."

Previous E.T.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

David SedarisThis week in my B&C blog: My interview with David Sedaris, whose new collection is Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. (Another portion of this interview will run later this month in Chicago Tribune Magazine; other interviews here and here.) Also: race in South African suburbs, the art of scientific visuals, the importance of Christian creeds, information environmentalism, the history of writer's block, why the Detroit Zoo is releasing its elephants, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

Speaking of information environmentalism, saw this at G&M:

Every increase of knowledge may possibly render depravity more depraved, as well as it may increase the strength of virtue. It is in itself only power; and its value depends on its application. -Sydney Smith
My latest Tribune language column:
On the Esperanto Society of Chicago, dedicated to studying and celebrating an obscure international language invented in the 19th century.
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One of the most interesting things about Esperanto that I had to cut from the piece is "Passporto Servo" ("passport service"), in which Esperantists can travel to any of 80+ countries where the language is spoken and find free lodging with fellow Esperantists. This has the practical benefit of cutting travel expenses and the idealistic benefit of fostering international goodwill. That and more is covered in this fine magazine-length piece on Esperanto earlier this year in the Ottawa Citizen.

Other Esperanto links:

-I thought this subhead on the Economist's Web site was awkwardly constructed:
"Ronald Reagan was fond of a nap and no intellectual."

-On yesterday's Simpsons rerun:

Homer: What are you, Judge Judy and executioner?
Ad: Apartment Finders: We put you in your place

- Blogger M.S. (via LL) prides herself on sentences unlikely to be repeated:

I want this to be more like a yo-yo than it can realistically be.

I blame the mango.

The patient had a history of ingesting inadequately cooked frogs.

Don't feed your racist toothpaste to the cat.

My favorite nonsensical sentence was by my English linguistics prof (although it may have originated with Chomsky):

The green ideas slept furiously.

- Putting Slate's Bushisms in context, from Spinsanity.
John F. KennedyReagan Week afterthoughts:From Slate: 5 myths about the Reagan presidency, more on the end of the Cold War, and William Saletan on Reagan, government and liberty. Here's what I wrote a couple years ago in my college paper about rethinking Reagan. Incidentally, the NYT's Alessandra Stanley was the only one I saw who jumped on this pun: mourning in America. As for the Reagan funeral as a national ceremony, see the Chi.Trib, NYT, and NPR. Also, a fascinating piece on the writing of obituaries in advance in the Boston Phoenix.
Onion headlines last week:

Reagan's Body Dies

Kerry Names 1969 Version Of Himself As Running Mate x

List Of Friends Revised After Birthday Party x

Leno's Voicemail Message Pauses For Laughter
NY Times

An assembly hall for Boeing 737 jets. The company will build 108 of the jets for use in hunting submarines. NY Times

The latest mutation of the Nigerian e-mail scam now involves Qusay Hussein. The supposed sender identifies herself as the "former mistress to the son (Qusay) of the Iraqi former leader, Saddam Hussein. ...While i was still in contact with Qusay,he made a deposit in my name to a security firm in Spain, which has an affiliate branch in Amsterdam." x
NY Times

The Box House is a floating cube perched on concrete piers. Three sides are uninsulated timber, one and a quarter inches thick, and the fourth, the north and sun-facing side, is entirely of glass, with bifold doors on the lower level that open onto a deck overlooking fields, trees and hills. The house is 20 feet high by 20 feet long by 20 feet wide, a scant 400 square feet. But the double-height ceiling, cubic space and transparent north facade make it feel spacious. NY Times

Etymology Today from M-W: polyonymous \pah-lee-ON-uh-muss\
: having or known by various names

"Polyonymous" comes to us from Greek. The "poly-" part means "many," and the "-onymous" part derives from the Greek word "onoma" or "onyma," meaning "name" — so a reasonable translation of "polyonymous" is, in fact, "having many names." There are a number of other descendants of "onoma" or "onyma" in English, including "anonymous" ("having no name"), "pseudonym" ("false name"), "eponym" (someone who lends their name to something, or a word that comes from someone's name), and "patronymic" (a name taken from one's father). Even "name" itself is derived from the same ancient word that gave rise to the Greek "onyma," making it a distant cousin of all these name-related words.

Previous E.T.

Monday, June 07, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
On the science of spelling, on the occasion of the National Spelling Bee.
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More about the research of Dr. Greg Simpson at his home page. Update: more on the science of word recognition.

The winning word at the National Spelling Bee this year was "autochthonous" (meaning indigenous). The best story on the winner and the wobbly-kneed runner-up was in the Scotsman. Previous winners and words here at, more on spelling bees here and on spelling in general here. Geoff Nunberg has written a couple of good commentaries (one of which appeared in The Way We Talk Now, the other in Going Nucular), unavailable online, on these odd ceremonies that celebrate the useless skill of spelling unknown words.

- I have no idea what this means:
"He is 58, fleshy and balding, with a hard blue gaze."
NY Times, 6/1/04

- "Tonight a courageous dog is recovering from [a dangerously helpful intervention]" WBBM 2 News, Chicago, last week.

Can a dog be said to have courage? Or is that a moral virtue ascribed only to humans? (And just what is the difference between courage and recklessness, anyway?)

- Yesterday's church bulletin, introducing a young member of our congregation (whose mother is not pregnant):

"He currently has two younger siblings."

- Letter to the Times of London, as reported by the Plain English Campaign

"It says on the pack of coffee I have just bought: 'Produce of Central America, Colombia and Tanzania. Packed in Belgium.' What puzzles me is why this product is called 'Italian Blend'?"

- I wrote about the naming of BlackBerry last month. The NY Times did a piece a week ago Sunday on BlackBerries as dating devices:
This week in my B&C blog: May news and book review roundup. LINK/ARCHIVE
Etymology Today from M-W: genteel \jen-TEEL\

1 a : having an aristocratic quality or flavor : stylish b : elegant or graceful in manner, appearance, or shape
2 : maintaining the appearance of superior social status

In Roman times, the Latin noun "gens" was used to refer to a clan, a group of related people. Its plural "gentes" was used to designate all the people of the world, particularly non-Romans. An adjective form, "gentilis," applied to both senses. Over time, the adjective was borrowed and passed through several languages. It came into Old French as "gentil," a word that then meant "high-born" (in modern French it means "nice"); that term was carried over into Anglo-French, where English speakers found and borrowed it in the 16th century. Nowadays it is used to describe people or things that are of high social status or that simply give the appearance of being so.

Previous E.T.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

My latest Baltimore Sun op-ed:
On the fallacies of Samuel Huntington's new anti-immigrant treatise.,0,3956609.story

This was held over from early April, shortly after I posted a similar argument in my B&C blog. As I noted a couple weeks ago, many have given Huntington a hard time about his new book; Louis Menand and The Onion have been the most cogent and entertaining.

Update: Roger Kimball says yes, unpatriotic immigrants really are a problem, but Francis Fukuyama says no they're not.
Number of the Day: 10
Percent of drivers stopped for speeding in 2002 who were going 90, up from two percent in 1991.
-USA Today

-Previous Number
Thought of the Day: marriage and order
One of the interesting features of the otherwise exhaustingly predictable debate over gay marriage is how it is being framed, by both sides, as a question of order. Opponents say legalizing homosexual marriage imperils the "institution" of marriage, invoking an abstract infrastructure whose sturdiness cannot really be determined, much less debated, but has the right dramatic effect (even though what's really bugging them is the mental picture of, as Rick Santorum would say, man-on-man action)(see footnote one). Advocates, meanwhile, say gay marriage is a step toward more structured societal partnerships. Adam Haslett, in a fine history of marriage recently in the New Yorker, cites the arguments of gay conservative Jonathan Rauch. In an age in which individual gratification and consumer choice are squashing the concepts of sacrifice, mutual obligation, and civic life--and marriage is, in turn, declining while cohabitation becomes more prevalent--Haslett paraphrases Rauch as saying that "letting gays marry will actually help marriage by relieving the pressure to create alternatives." (David Brooks echoes this argument.) So the case for gay marriage is not just that it's wrong to devise legal blockades to the flourishing of romance (which, as Haslett notes, has been legally defined as a civil right); the bottom line is: gay marriage is good for marriage.

What makes me wonder is just how admirable this principle of marital order is as a formative bone of the civic skeleton. To go from merely describing--marriage stabilizes society, just as that tree branch is currently suspending a navigationally challenged skydiver--to prescribing--marriage should stabilize society, in the way this steel beam should stabilize the new house--seems to me to demean marriage. Whenever order and not love has been pursued as the ultimate end of married partnerships in history, it's been bad. Usually for women. My chief qualification to say this is that I played Tevye in my high school production of Fiddler on the Roof, and I had to ponder (in the middle of hoping my mustache wouldn't fall off) the protests of Tevye's daughters--the first one pleas for an alternative choice of husband, the second rejects Tevye's, er, right to choose, the third marries a Gentile. In each case, a point of order is at stake--1) the father's choice stands, 2) the father has a choice 3) no marrying outside Judaism. Were Tevye to rule against his daughters, he would be saying that the maintenance of these points of order takes precedence over his daughters' individual happiness and fulfillment. His choices are fascinating; he goes with his daughters on 1 and 2, since they really only affect him personally, but disowns his daughter on point number 3, since it concerns not just patriarchy but religious purity. The musical shows how marriage, for so many centuries of human history, has been run by males for the benefit of males--daughters seldom had any say and were usually considered mere property and pauns in social (or in the case of royalty) political chess games.

But damn it, at least marriage was orderly! So argue the traditionalists. Today we are in a chaotic period in which the honorable principle of individual freedom and the less honorable impulse toward instant gratification have combined to create a maritally tumultuous time of fickle commitments, gender role confusion, and stagnated relational growth. Here those high-minded (if vague) appeals to the "institution" of marriage become understandable: the i-word connotes a stately ivy-covered administration building, whose prestige demands that change be met with indignation. So Rauch's approach, which I believe is indeed his conviction and not a manipulative device, has the advantage of appopriating the ivy and the indignation while arguing the other side.

I'm in favor of gay marriage, not primarily for Rauch's reasons but rather because I believe religious conservatives' objections, based as they are in Levitican sexual ethics, are inapplicable to secular legal questions. If the church wants to perform gay marriages, that's another matter (one on which I'm more ambivalent), but if the state wants to do it, Christians don't have any good reason to stand in its way--that "institution" business won't cut it. Since the state has defined marriage as a legal right, only political inconvenience prevents lawmakers from adopting gay marriage. (And since conservatives just love slippery slope arguments, let's say you can only marry other people, so Senator Santorum's man-on-dog arrangements stay confined to his imagination.)

But the general question of marital order--or order as a marital virtue--remains troubling to me on a personal level. I've been married almost two years now, and I've come to see that while the romance never really fades completely from view, the most powerful inertial force in marriage is order. Everyone, in the heat of some moment, wants out at one point or another in your first year or two of marriage, and at those points, nursing anger or bitterness, I found that what usually popped into my head was: but just think how disruptive divorce would be in my life! My place to live, my finances, the number of meal servings to calculate from recipes, my ambiguous ownership of half our DVD collection, all these fixtures in my life would suddenly wobble (isn't it funny how strong emotion can make us think some of our most mundane thoughts?)(see footnote two). (Laura Kipnis cleverly illustrates these fixtures of order, giving them tongue-in-cheek oppressive overtones, in the October '03 Harper's; unfortunately the piece is unavailable online.) Don't get me wrong: not only do I love my wife, but I think we're really romantic and have an exceptionally long time to go before we're one of those boring married couples (yes, all newlyweds feel this way, but part of this feeling is the presumption of exclusiveness). And nearly two years in, I can acknowledge that marital growth happens when you stick with it for no other demonstrable reason, sometimes, than sticktoitiveness. This is why arranged marriages can sometimes be the best ways to "grow" a marriage (as I've read, and also sang about, as Tevye, with Golde). As Rauch says of marriage, "no other institution has the power to turn narcissism into partnership, lust into devotion, strangers into kin.” When you remove the illusion of romantic magic as the main fuel of a marriage, people wisely tend to more enduring traits of loving relationships. One article I read said that people in arranged marriages think of building toward a peak 25 years into the marriage. In our culture, the peak is considered to be the honeymoon. As I wrote last year on Valentine's Day 2003 (second item here), this is the scandal of romantic comedies, with their preoccupation on premarital goosebumps. How much better off would we be if our defining stories of love actually dealt with the dramas, tensions, subtleties, and changes we experience in long-term loving relationships rather than just that initial tease?

Footnote one: Here's Malcolm Gladwell, in the New Yorker, on the convenient connotations of "institution": “'Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman,' [said President Bush in response to the Massachusetts Supreme Court]. There’s that word again, and notice how the sentence doesn’t quite make sense. It should read: 'a sacred bond between a man and a woman.' But the President had to say 'institution,' because nobody imagines that the court’s decision will actually jeopardize the personal bond between any particular man and any particular woman." "Appeals to the institution of marriage, and institutions [in general]," Gladwell said, are "arguments of expediency ... [they] are where we hide when we can’t find our principles." link

Footnote two: Jonathan Franzen articulates this feeling in The Corrections (p.205 of the hardcover): "For a moment, after he hung up, Gary let himself imagine being divorced. But three glowing and idealized mental portraits of his children, shadowed by a batlike horde of fears regarding finances, chased the notion from his head."

Footnote three: I think there's a parallel here to having a relationship with God. I don't like that phrase, which is popular with evangelicals, because, for one thing, it is unbiblical, and for another, it make cozy spiritual feelings normative. But as with my marriage, I wish my faith were a little more "cozy" these days and a little less the product of sterile instruments of order: church services, theological deliberations, and so on. I know there's a function to the instruments--you can't sustain deep-rooted faith on fuzzy feelings--but sometimes I resent them.

Footnote four: From Paul Tournier's "The Meaning of Persons": "Marriage thus becomes a great school of the person, through the level of personal commitment it entails and the exacting quality of the dialogue it demands. ... What marriage really means [is] helping one another to reach the full status of being persons, responsible and autonomous beings who do not run away from life."

The history of marriage from the New Yorker
The history of marriage from The Week
Rauch on gay marriage from the Atlantic
The problem with marital counseling from the Melbourne Age
Is marriage holy? by Henry James, from the Atlantic in 1875
The case against gay marriage from the Center for Public Justice
David Brooks on gay marriage "in a culture of contingency," from the NY Times
Why families are good for the economy from the New Yorker
Economically, marriage may not be all it's cracked up to be from the Wash.Post
Men and separation from the Melbourne Age
The new American infidelity from Newsweek
The historical flexibility of the institution of marriage by William Saletan in the NY Times:

Republicans ... proposed a Constitutional amendment ''protecting'' current marriage laws, which they said were grounded in ''more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience.'' But this is a fiction. As Chauncey and Wolfson demonstrate, the rules of marriage have changed constantly. In biblical days, adulterers could be put to death. In ancient Rome, people got hitched by shacking up and got unhitched by moving out. A century ago, 14 states barred marriages between whites and Asians. The Supreme Court didn't strike down bans on interracial marriage until 1967. Marriage used to mean that women had no legal identity apart from their husbands; now it doesn't. Spousal rape used to be a contradiction in terms; now it's a crime. States used to ban contraception, on the theory that marriage was for procreation; now they can't. At the time, these changes were condemned as perversions. Now we call them traditions.

Previous Thought: Is the world dramatic?

Followup: In an earlier Thought I wondered about the consistency of wisdom, and the dilemma we face when embracing some teachings of a wise person while rejecting others as foolish. How can such wisdom and folly exist in the same person, and how are we qualified to sort it out? This is the dilemma of Vincent Bacote, writing in Comment of his appreciation of Abraham Kuyper's theology but horror at his racism. Can a racist be wise? (via the blog of Comment editor Gideon Strauss)

Da Vinci's The Last Supper, appearing here as randomly as it did in a CS Monitor story about sales of religious books.
Onion headlines this week:

Poll: Many Americans Still Unsure Whom To Vote Against x

Gay Couple Feels Pressured To Marry

Heartbreaking Country Ballad Paralyzes Trucking Industry

All Else Fails
Etymology Today from M-W: demotic \dih-MAH-tik\

1 : of, relating to, or written in a simplified form of the ancient Egyptian hieratic writing
2 : popular, common
3 : of or relating to the form of Modern Greek that is based on everyday speech

You may recognize the root of "demotic" from words like "democracy" and "demography." The source of these words is the Greek word "d?mos," meaning "people." "Demotic" is often used of everyday forms of language (as opposed to literary or highbrow versions). It entered English in the early 1800s and originally designated a form of ancient Egyptian cursive script which by the 5th century BC had come into use everywhere in Egypt for business and literary purposes (in contrast to the more complex, hieratic script retained by the clergy). "Demotic" has a newer specialized sense as well, referring to a form of Modern Greek that is based on everyday speech and that since 1976 has been the official language of Greece.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

European UnionMy latest Tribune language column:
On the multilingual chaos of the newly enlarged European Union.
temp link/perm.preview

The Plain English Campaign reports this week that the EU has ordered officials to reduce the average length of EU documents from 32 pages to 15 in order to reduce the burden on translators.

Here's the Guardian's superb story on the linguistic ramifications of enlargement, and here's the NY Times'. Here's the EU's boastful press release about that May 4 meeting. Here's the Guardian's guide to EU enlargement, here's the BBC's, and here's the EU's.

The EU also has excellent language pages on each of its acceding members: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Updates: From the BBC and Economist.

I tacked on an item to my column about the French author who wrote a novel without verbs (as a publicity stunt, evidently). Here's the article from the Telegraph; here and here are posts on it from Language Log, which also refers to a verbless student humor essay,and to other works lacking nouns, prepositions, and adjectives. There's also a short story written in 1939 without the letter E--an example, we learn, of a lipogram (an apparent etymological sibling to "liposuction").
My first Tribune Magazine story:
On two tea shops' tussle with coffee as a cultural staple.,1,6693821.story

Here's the Boston Globe's review of Alan and Iris Macfarlane's history of tea.
My B&C blog is idle this week, but these earlier items may be worth another click: the history of height, the history of boredom (4th item), the philosophy of disgust, the weight of the soul, the science of Moses' Red Sea crossing (3rd item), the politics of catapults (4th item), identity and place in the suburbs. ARCHIVE
My scorecards for an Astros-Cubs game I went to at Wrigley last August have been posted at Some scorers use dots to denote RBI's; for this game I left out RBI's and used dots to denote balls and strikes (and dashes for foul balls)--balls above the bottom line, strikes below. It's pretty geeky, I know, but it do like to see if the hitter was ahead or behind in the count.

The news isn't all bad, says Philip Yancey. Some positive developments in the world since 1980:

*The world illiteracy rate has dropped from 53% to 20%
*The percentage of people suffering from malnutrition has dropped by more than half, to 20%.
*Only 25% used to have access to clean water; now, 75% have it.
*Global infant mortality has dropped from one in eight to one in 16.
NY Times

Seattle's Central Library is the most important new library to be built in a generation, and the most exhilarating. Rem Koolhaas has always been a better architect than social critic, and the building conveys a sense of the possibility, even the urgency, of public space in the center of a city. The design is not so much a rejection of traditional monumentality as a reinterpretation of it, and it celebrates the culture of the book as passionately, in its way, as does the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. The Seattle building is thrilling from top to bottom. New Yorker
A few items on belief (as addenda to my essays on belief):

- I saw "Troy" and liked it, though I resented the familiar Hollywood theme of ridculing the naivete of anyone who sees a divine hand in their world. The Trojan king (good to see Peter O'Toole in that role) foolishly listens to his oracle, and thus make a serious strategic error. He later gives his son Hector a blessing from the gods before Hector fights Achilles, blindly believing that Hector has a chance. The Greeks, on the other hand, enjoy vision that is unclouded by matters divine (they prefer pure pride and greed as their guides) and so they march to a well-earned victory. But in the original epic, the gods intervene and interfere in direct and obvious ways, so beseeching them is not the least bit irrational for the characters (David Denby gives a nice overview of the murky history of the Trojan wars here).

Incidentally, IMDB's goofs page for "Troy" says, "In the raid of troy, several soldiers can be seen as merely acting out the stabbing of people." Well, I should hope they were "merely acting" it out! Otherwise someone should be arrested. The trivia page, meanwhile, says that Brad Pitt tore his achilles during training.

- I'm not denying that ascribing everything to the gods can be irrational, if not lunacy. In an interview with 60 Minutes, anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr says Allah removed Saddam, not the U.S.:

"Our salvation from Saddam was only with the grace of God.”
If getting rid of Saddam was a favor of God, why was it that God waited until the Americans came in to do the job?
“All praises to Allah! He works in mysterious ways.”

What a coincidence!

- A letter to the Atlantic, in response to a Jonathan Rauch essay (which I also respond to in my belief series):

Does Rauch lack the will or acumen to distinguish between the statements "I believe in God" and "I believe God wants me to fly airplanes into your buildings"? Is there any natural or common common connection between the two? The burden of proof is on Rauch, but he shrugs it off.

- "Nine in 10 [journalists in a survey] say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral (40 percent of the public thinks this way)," says Howard Kurtz. Of course you don't have to believe in God to be moral. Everyone is moral, as I wrote in my response to Rauch:

One of the things that distinguishes humans from animals is that while, say, worker ants march in line according only to the impulse of natural instinct and inertia of social dynamics, humans act upon an ethic of moral direction (ranging from a Franciscan ethic of compassion to the far less sentimental Ayn Rand ethic of self-interest).

Everyone has a sense of what they should do for some reason (whether or not that reason is righteous). If Kurtz (or the survey) meant morally proper, well, that is only up to the standards of a group that holds common notions of propriety. (Those standards may conform to God's will--the ultimate definition of moral righteousness--or they might just be legalistic habits, as with the Pharisees, whom Jesus always scolded.)
Etymology Today from M-W: riparian \ruh-PAIR-ee-un\
: relating to or living on the bank of a natural watercourse or sometimes of a lake or tidewater

"Riparian" came to English from the same source that gave us "river" — the Latin "riparius," a noun deriving from "ripa," meaning "bank" or "shore." First appearing in English in the 19th century, "riparian" can apply to things that occur alongside a river (such as riparian towns, trees, etc.) as well as things that are found within it (riparian rocks, fish, etc.). Some river communities have laws called "riparian rights," referring to the rights of those owning land along a river to have access to the waterway. Note the distinction of this word from "littoral," which usually refers to things that occur along the shore of a sea or ocean.

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