Monday, September 27, 2004

NY TimesThis week in my B&C blog:
Marilynne Robinson's interview by the New Yorker, covering writing, praying, Calvinism, and Congregationalism. Plus: theft of electric cable plagues Mozambique, designing streetlights in New York City, Freud versus C.S. Lewis, secular life ceremonies, the history of suicide (deadly Yangtze River Bridge pictured), the mummification of Egyptian cats, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

Back issues of B&C I want to re-read:
Jan/Feb 2000,
May/June 2000
July/Aug 1998

California's Indigenous LanguagesMy latest Tribune language column:
On the revitalization of Native American languages in California.
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Here's the Economist's Kenneth Hale obituary with the Louvre quote. It says Hale could converse in about 50 languages. More on his Green Book. If you're interested in language death, take a deep breath and start clicking: Languages in Danger on Listmania; bibliography on Indigenous Language Stabilization from; a post about UNESCO's forthcoming "Language Preservation and Documentation Handbook: South Asia version"; intro to a paper or book called Revitalizing Indigenous Languages; resources on endangered languages from

More specific sites:, about the So. Calif. language I mention in my column; also, the revitalization of the Oneida (NY), Omaha (Neb), and Comanche (Okla) languages. More from the BBC from NPR, with links to audio samples from Africa and Asia.

Here's a review, excerpt, and overview of Mark Abley's Spoken Here. And here's a review of David Crystal's Language Death.

More from LL:

In August 2002, Wayt Gibbs wrote a piece in Scientific American called Saving Dying Languages. It included a full-page geographical plot to show the degree of correlation between locations of endangered languages and regions of greatest biological diversity. I wish someone could do a similar plot but with a linguistic uniformity score for each region of the world superimposed over a conflict index.
David Crystal considers this issue in his great book Language Death and mentions other cases of conflict in regions of linguistic uniformity. In a footnote, he quotes a section from the The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy about the mythical Babel fish, a universal language translator which, "by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation." x/x

And here's a drawing of the indri, mentioned in the briefs at the end of my column.

- The words of a protester (the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq) who disrupted a Laura Bush speech earlier this month:

“I wanted to rip the president's head off. ... I think if I had him in front of me I would shoot him in the groined area.” x

- This blogger and this columnist suspect Iraqi prime minister Allawi's speech to Congress last week was written by the White House. I wonder if his use of the phrase better off is a tip-off--not just because it is so frequently uttered by Bush, but also because it is idiomatic (or, at any rate, the individual parts do not suggest to speakers who struggle with English, such as Allawi, their meaning when paired). The world, he said, is “better off without Saddam Hussein.”

- MSNBC aired the results of a CBS poll on how many Americans "Think Iraq was the right thing to do"--"Iraq" being synonymous with "invading Iraq," and you can't help thinking that whenever Bush looked at a map circa 2002, he couldn't conceive of the name of the country without wanting to invade it.

- Saw an ad for a movie--Wimbledon, I think--that included this endorsement: "'Thumbs up!' Ebert and Roeper." I scratched my head: you usually see E&R's unanimous recommendation written as "Two Thumbs Up!" But in this case, apparently one of the critics had given it thumbs up and the other thumbs down--an ambiguous endorsement, dishonestly presented here. If the movie was indeed Wimbledon, this is exactly what happened: Ebert gave it thumbs up, Roeper thumbs down.

- Upon hearing the familiar voice of Terry Gross when he interviewed her, the Trib's Michael Wilmington says he was voicestruck. (Here's my piece on Gross from my college paper.)

From Sports Illustrated, 9/27:

-"When I was little I was big." WILLIAM PERRY, 1981 Clemson's 6'3", 305-pound guard, talking about his childhood.

- When de Vicenzo signs [an] incorrect card, 66 becomes his official posting, and he misses the green jacket by one phantom stroke. Afterward de Vicenzo's spirit and English are both broken. ... "What a stupid I am."

- Rick Reilly, on one SI collector: "He's got every single issue--protected in plastic slipcovers and stacked, in order, neatly on bookshelves in his living room. "There were four or five over the 50 years that didn't come for one reason or another," he said, "but I always managed to go to my dentist and take them from him." Where else would you go to fill a cavity?"

- My wife referred to our young nephew yesterday as double as old as when we last saw him. I assumed this was one of her unique contrivances, but "double as much" gets 819 hits at Google (compared with 544,000 for "twice as much").

we also experience a twist in the apparent wind in the order of
5 degrees or so (close hauled - downwind the twist can be double as much)

He spent double as much for sugar in 1904 as he did in 1890.

Elderly women lose nearly double as much calcium as elderly men because of hormonal changes due to menopause

Then there were just more than double as much cdma 3G customers than GSM/UMTS 3G customers in the end of 2003.

Murphy advertise in the news paper in the East and offered the workers 5 $ in
day that was double as much as the normal salary on that time

The merchant repenting, offered to give him double as much if he would make it again,
but neither his promises nor Cosimo's entreaties could make him consent.

- A link I saved: Terry Eagleton on fundamentalism:

Fundamentalism doesn't just mean people with fundamental beliefs, since that covers everyone. ... "Fundamental" doesn't necessarily mean "worth dying for". You may be passionately convinced that the quality of life in San Francisco is superior to that in Strabane, but reluctant to go to the gallows for it. ... Fundamentalism means sticking strictly to the script, which in turn means being deeply fearful of the improvised, ambiguous or indeterminate.

From Tim Dowley's Introduction to the History of Christianity: "The term 'fundamentalism' came to denote an unduly defensive and obscurantist attitude which was anti-scholarly, anti-intellectual and anti-cultural."

- The Trib's Rick Morrissey a week and a half ago: "Babe Ruth was beloved. Bonds is a lot of things, but 'beloved' isn't one of them. If 'beliked' were a word, Bonds wouldn't even be that." The Chicago Reader notes that Reilly first used this word, but exonerates Morrisey of plagiarism.

- via From Thomas Hobbes, A Brief Of The Art Of Rhetorick, Bk. III ch. II, Of the Choice of Words and Epithets:

THE Vertues of a Word are two; the first, that it be perspicuous; the second, that it be decent; that is, neither above, nor below the thing signified; or, neither too humble, nor too fine. Perspicuous are all Words that be Proper. An Orator, if he use Proper Words, and Received, and good Metaphors, shall both make his Oration beautiful, and not seem to intend it; and shall speak perspicuously.

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Had cause to cite Naisbitt and Aburdene's Megatrends in a B&C piece in the works.

Published in 1982, the book outlined these ten megatrends in the world:

Industrial Society to Information Society
Forced Technology to High Tech/High Touch
National Economy to World Economy
Short Term to Long Term
Centralization to Decentralization
Institutional Help to Self-Help
Representative Democracy to Participatory Democracy
Hierarchies to Networking
North to South
Either/Or to Multiple Option

The 2000 edition has this list:

The Blooming Global Economy of the 1990's
A Renaissance of the Arts
The Emergence of Free-Market Socialism
Global Lifestyles and Cultural Nationalism
The Privatization of the Welfare State
The Rise of the Pacific Rim
The Decade of Women in Leadership
The Age of Biology
The Religious Revival of the New Millennium
The Triumph of the Individual

More here and here.
Cat in the HatJust came across this page that says The Cat in the Hat was an allegory for American involvement in Vietnam. (You always have to be careful about these kinds of theories; but this one seems plausible.)

Recent Onion headlines:

Trapped Miner Wishes He Could See The Coverage x
Female Athletes Making Great Strides In Attractiveness x
Kerry Vows To Raise Wife's Taxes

And one "person-on-the-street" comment on the failure to renew the assault weapons ban: "When we enacted this ban in 1994, it was an important step to protect our children. Now that our children are grown up and off at college, it's not such a pressing issue."
Watched Office Space over the weekend, and found this bit of trivia at

The red Swingline stapler that Milton was so afraid of having taken away was never actually manufactured by the Swingline company; it was instead painted red by a crew member in the props department. However, following the movie's success on video as a cult film, the demand for red Swingline staplers (apparently as a symbol of quiet rebellion among cubicle-bound employees) was so great that the company began to sell the red Swingline stapler on its website.
NY Times

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a work which makes superlatives superfluous. Running 11 feet along the shelf and weighing in at a healthy defensive end's 280 pounds, the D.N.B.'s 60 volumes contain 60,000 pages and some 60 million words. More than 10,000 contributors have written a total of 54,922 essays on the worthies (as well as the worthless) who make up the fabric of British history. It has been more than 12 years in the making. NY Times

Etymology Today from M-W: morganatic \mor-guh-NAT-ik\

: of, relating to, or being a marriage between a member of a royal or noble family and a person of inferior rank, in which the rank of the inferior partner remains unchanged and the children of the marriage do not succeed to the titles, fiefs, or entailed property of the partner of higher rank

The deprivations imposed on the lower-ranking spouse by a morganatic marriage may seem like a royal pain in the neck, and yet the word "morganatic" comes from a word for a marriage benefit. New Latin "morganatica," a term based on Middle High German's "morgen" ("morning"), means "morning gift." It refers to a gift that a new husband traditionally gave to his bride on the morning after the consummation of their marriage. So why was the New Latin phrase "matrimonium ad morganaticam," which means literally "marriage with morning gift," the term for a morganatic marriage? Because it was just that — the wife got the morning gift, but that's all she was entitled to of her husband's possessions.

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Monday, September 20, 2004

NY Times
This week in my B&C blog: The theology of hurricane avoidance. Plus: South Africa's boom in wildlife preserves; supermarkets learning to cater to Latino shoppers; the dark side of getting a good deal; Johann Wilhelm Wilms, the forgotten contemporary of Beethoven; the legacy of the poet Ovid; Gandhi's sleeping arrangements, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
My latest Tribune language column:
Is it "world English," "international English," or "global English"?
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Also see this world English bibliography. More on Spanglish and Japlish. More on the Seoul billboards here and R&J in Elizabethan English here. And, of course,

-From Philip Gourevitch's recent New Yorker piece on Bush's oratory:

Bush’s gift ... is a function of his lack of polish: the clipped nature of his phraseology, the touch of twang, the hard consonants, the nasal vowels, the dropped conjunctions and slurred or swallowed suffixes. ... He is grossly underestimated as an orator by those who presume that good grammar, rigorous logic, and a solid command of the facts are the essential ingredients of political persuasion, and that the absence of these skills indicates a lack of intelligence. Although Bush is no intellectual, and proud of it, he is quick and clever, and, for all his notorious malapropisms, abuses of syntax, and manglings or reinventions of vocabulary, his intelligence is--if not especially literate--acutely verbal. His words, in transcription, might seem mindless, incoherent, or unintentionally hilarious ... but it is pretty plain what he means.

-I was thinking the other day how ironic it is that the word "candidate" contains the word candid. Meanwhile, this play just showed in Bloomington:

In a presidential year when many commentators have deplored the dearth of eloquence in public discourse, one of the most eloquent of presidential candidates, Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965), will be the subject of a one-man play opening this summer. The play, "Adlai, Alone," focuses on the language, life and politics of Stevenson, the unsuccessful 1952 and 1956 Democratic opponent of Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is scheduled to open on Sept. 10 at the McLean County Museum of History in Stevenson's hometown, Bloomington, Ill.

-It's not a crime, but this review of The Gutenberg Elegies ends with this sentence: "Above all, what we are doing needs thinking about."

-Digging through the ADS-L archives, I found this attempt to antedate the apple-a-day adage:

_An apple a day keeps the doctor away._ Eating fruit regularly keeps one healthy. First found as a Welsh folk proverb (1866): "Eat an apple on going to bed, And you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread." First attested in the United States in 1913. The proverb is found in varying forms. --Gregory Titelman, RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF POPULAR PROVERBS AND SAYINGS (1996). 8/3/2000

-My grandma asked me about the origins of the word piggyback, and I didn't know. So she found it online (she's a very wired grandma).

In the old days — and I guess even now — it was common practice for individuals who had to carry a heavy object to invariably place it on their back. This method of carrying things around was called "pick a pack". And `pick a pack' when said quickly became `pickapack'. Parents often carried their children "pickapack" too. But children because they loved animals so much changed "pickapack" to "piggyback". has the origins of dumbbell, which has nothing to do with intelligence.

-This July, the Onion ran an "op-ed" by the Hulk. I haven't seen the movie, but it got me curious about his trademark syntax--familiar from early portrayals of Tarzan and Native Americans--featuring few verbs and articles and little subject-verb agreement. I wonder why these syntactic features came to be associated with "primitive" speakers. I suppose speakers learning English as a 2nd language might use such constructions, but only because their native language lacks articles and uses different endings for plurals. And children's syntax is quite different from this. So why is this syntax considered brutish?

Why No One Want Make Hulk 2? x
The Onion 7/14/04

X2 come out last year. Spider-Man 2 come out last month. Both great sequels to great movies about Hulk friends. Hulk love great action movies about friends! People buy tickets. Make money for theaters, make money for movie company. Movie company make more movies with money. Already, they working on X-Men 3. Hulk movie come out last year. It success. It big popcorn movie with heart. So why no one want make Hulk 2? It make Hulk mad!

-words for deceased relatives in the Bardi language, from Anggarrgoon, via LL:

loomiyoon baawa (child who has lost a parent, = orphan; cf loomi baawa, neglected child)
gambaj(oo) (mother who has lost a child, now used as a swear word by Bardi men who don't know its original meaning)
algooyarr (father who's lost a child)
jilarr (man who has lost a brother, sister or cousin)
miiraj (woman who's lost a brother or sister)
galgarr (widow or widower)

• Previous column and inflections
T-shirt seen on the El:

I'm canceling my subscription
I'm over your issues
My friend Nathan reports on the legend of a Loch Ness-like monster in Great Slave Lake near Yellowknife.
It's been pointed out that the second-most common word in President Bush's convention address was "will"--not a good sign for an incumbent. Still, as David Brooks pointed out (here), what nobody noticed was that Bush's speech had a lot about social programs. I thought this was interesting, because it made Bush sound like a Democrat, and Kerry's speech was so Republican.

Bush proposes to build community health centers, expand AmeriCorps, increase the funds for Pell Grants, create job retraining accounts, offer tax credits for hybrid cars, help lower-income families get health savings accounts, dedicate $40 billion to wetlands preservation, and on and on and on. This is an activist posture. As Karen Hughes said on PBS on Thursday evening, "This is not the grinchy old 'Let's abolish the Department of Education or shut down the government' conservatism of the past."
Etymology Today from M-W: probity \PROH-buh-tee\
: adherence to the highest principles and ideals : uprightness

"Probity" and its synonyms "honesty," "honor," and "integrity" all mean uprightness of character or action, with some slight differences in emphasis. "Honesty" implies a refusal to lie, steal, or deceive in any way. "Honor" suggests an active or anxious regard for the standards of one's profession, calling, or position. "Integrity" implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge. "Probity," which descends from Latin "probus," meaning "honest," implies tried and proven honesty or integrity.

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Monday, September 13, 2004

NY TimesThis week in my B&C blog: The absence of work, and workplaces, from contemporary literature. Plus: Denmark's harsh restrictions on marrying foreigners, tree removal in the Amazon River (pictured), the truth about the diamond trade, Francis Scott Key's political views, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

My latest Tribune language column:
On "belly talk"--the attempts of expectant parents to communicate with their unborn babies.
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Here's the BBC on the Psychological Science study I mentioned, and here's a page about ultrasound. Here's a recent Wash.Post report that babies understand concepts.

Here's the report I mentioned about the supposed typos of Indian transcriptionists; LL links to the skeptical post. Here's a 1996 instance of "baloney amputation."

Update: The Times of London via PEC:
"[Among] the Times' series of letters about dictation confusion... A solicitor dictated a warning that a client was under a misapprehension. The client received a letter stating she was 'under a Miss Happy Hension.'"
An article in the current American Journalism Review on the lack of diversity among Supreme Court reporters spotlights my brother-in-law, Stephen Henderson, believed to be the first minority reporter to cover the Court for the mainstream media.
Etymology Today from M-W: travail \truh-VAIL\
1 a : work especially of a painful or laborious nature : toil b : a physical or mental exertion or piece of work : task, effort c : agony, torment
2 : labor, parturition

Etymologists are pretty certain that "travail" comes from "trepalium," the Late Latin name of an instrument of torture. We don't know exactly what a "trepalium" looked like, but the word's history gives us an idea. "Trepalium" is derived from the Latin "tripalis," which means "having three stakes" (from "tri-," meaning "three," and "palus," meaning "stake"). From "trepalium" sprang the Anglo-French verb "travailler," which originally meant "to torment" but eventually acquired the milder senses "to labor" and "to journey." The shift in meaning from "torment" to "journey" gives us an idea of what people once thought about travel: it was torture. The Anglo-French noun "travail" was borrowed into English in the 13th century, followed about a century later by "travel," another descendant of "travailler."

Previous E.T.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Tiger Mending

This week in my B&C blog: The computer al Qaeda left behind in Kabul. Also, the probability of miraculous premonitions, pedestrians on their #$*&! cell phones, humor in the arts (including "Tiger Mending," above), the sixteenth minute of fame, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
The Genius of LanguageMy latest Tribune language column:
On a new essay collection called "The Genius of Language: Fifteen Writers Reflect On Their Mother Tongues."
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More on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis here and in Diane Ackerman's chapter on metaphors in her new book "Alchemy of Mind," where she quotes Whorf:

We are inclined to think of languages simply as a technique of expression, and not to realize that language first of all is a classification and arrangement of the stream of sensory experience which results in a certain world order.

-I thought it was ironic that the Los Angeles Lakers issued a statement after the dismissal of the Kobe Bryant case saying:

This has been a very difficult situation over the past fourteen months for everyone involved. Kobe has handled himself with dignity and professionalism throughout this very trying ordeal.

First, "trying" is a pun, and second, this was nothing compared to the original medieval ordeals, in which torture or forced hand-to-hand combat was used to supposedly demonstrate guilt. Most people, in their glib pronouncements that "that was quite an ordeal" are oblivious to this gruesome history.

- From Newsweek's recent cover story on biblical archaelogy:

Scholars like John Dominic Crossan, a professor emeritus of religious studies at DePaul University and former co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, can read volumes into a simple signpost in the Biblical town of Ephesus. "There's a gate to the market that Paul would have walked under," Crossan relates. "On top, it says Caesar is the son of God. When Paul applies that name to Jesus, it's not just a nice title. It's the title of Caesar. That is known as high treason."

(Also see CT's analysis of the Newsweek piece; story on Sudan's biblical history; earlier pieces here, here and here on the importance of biblical archaeology. x)

-I recoiled at the banality of President Bush's phrase the horror of terror, as did linguist Geoff Pullum:

The horror of terror. Surely no one but Bush could have slopped together such a ridiculous-sounding phrase - two virtually synonymous and phonetically similar abstract nouns fighting each other like two possums in a sack, I thought as I heard it.

But, Pullum finds, the phrase turns up nearly 200 non-Bush hits, so Bush shares the culpability for this banality.

- NYT on how Hurricane Frances was named. Also, news anchors kept talking about how Floridians were battening down the hatches. M-W defines "batten" as "to fasten with or as if with battens"--that helps--and says the word "probably [comes] from Old Norse batna to improve; akin to Old English betera better." The first definition is "to grow fat, to feed gluttonously." "Hatch," meanwhile, means "door," as in "espape hatch."

I'm pretty sure I heard one anchor say "batted down the hatches." Google suggests this is a rare mistake, which surprised me, given the archaic verb. The phrase gets only 9 hits, compared with over 20,000 for "batten down the hatches."

-I changed the word compunctions to qualms in my B&C blog this week, following the rule that you should change Latinate words to Old English ones whenever possible. Then I checked to confirm that "qualm" is Old English. American Heritage said its origin is unknown, but, which gets much of its info from the OED, says:

qualm - O.E. cwealm (W.Saxon) "death, disaster, plague," utcualm (Anglian) "utter destruction," related to cwellan "to kill," cwelan "to die" (see quell). Sense softened to "feeling of faintness" 1530; meaning "uneasiness, doubt" is from 1553; that of "scruple of conscience" is 1649. A direct connection between the O.E. and modern senses is wanting, but it is nonetheless plausible, via the notion of "fit of sickness." The other suggested etymology, less satisfying, is from Du. kwalm "steam, vapor, mist," which also may be ult. from the same Gmc. root as quell.

-The histories of the Italian words peccadillo and punctillo.

-Among the linguistic tidbits I enjoyed while re-reading James Wood's review last year of "God's Secretaries."

There is a one-word answer to the question of what the translators got right. It is music. And here music is meaning. Take the well-known words from Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Tyndale had “Come unto me all ye that laboure and are laden and I will ease you.” The Jacobeans retained Tyndale’s rhythm; but it was they who added that simple, brief word-to our modern ears a marvellous half-adjective and half-adverb-heavy laden. Their desire, made explicit in the preface, was to use as many English words as possible, “commodiously,” for the greater glory of God. Often, they strove for the widest possible meaning, the most ambiguous resonances; the musical equivalent might be the organ stop known as a “mixture,” in which tones of related pitch are played simultaneously by a single key. A famous example occurs in I Kings 19:12: “And after the earthquake, a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire, a still small voice.” Coverdale’s earlier rendition had “a still soft hissing,” and the so-called Matthew’s Bible, of 1537 (which closely followed Tyndale), had “a small still voice.” The later translators, by changing “small still voice” to “still small voice,” retained the literal meaning of Matthew’s Bible while playing on the double sense of “still,” adding the extra suggestion that the voice has always been small and will continue to be (is still small). ...

The Princeton New Testament scholar Bruce M. Metzger complains in his book “The Bible in Translation” (not found in Nicolson’s bibliography) that the word katargeo, which occurs twenty-seven times in the New Testament, is subjected to an anarchy of different English approximations, eighteen in all, including “abolish, cease, cumber, deliver, destroy, do away . . . fail, loose, bring (come) to naught, put away (down), vanish away, make void.” ...

And, of course, there were errors, many of them. In I Kings 13:27, the wrong pronoun prompts unwitting comedy: “And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.” Modern translations have changed “him” to “it,” but my copy of the King James Bible, at least, still proudly bears “him.”

I wrote in my college paper that the Bible should be purged of verse numbers. Mark Noll says the same thing in B&C:

Both books also comment on an unfortunate precedent set by the Geneva Bible, which was the first English-language version published with verse divisions.
Segmenting the text like this-a practice that has thankfully been overcome
in many recent translations-may have been a boon for checking references,
but it was otherwise a disaster; it encouraged prooftexting, obscured the
integrity of narratives, and dismembered cohesive discourses under the
control of the inspired authors into fragments manipulated by uninspired

-Thumbing through Paul Tournier's book The Meaning of Persons, I liked this line, a qualifier to his condemnation of superficial and self-serving small talk:

It would simply not be human to wish to divest the dialogue of everything superfluous; it would become dry and pedantic, devoid of all graciousness and poetry.

(Later, Tournier says: "The real meaning of travel, like that of a conversation by the fireside, is the discovery of oneself through contact with other people, and its condition is self-commitment in that dialogue." How that contrasts with the orientation toward private leisure and consumption in the travel industry!)

Previous column and inflections
Speaking of the New Yorker, here's David Denby on "We Don't Live Here Anymore":

He frames this discordant material with formal elegance and a soothing, even redemptive beauty--the right aesthetic strategy, I think, since other people’s unhappiness, however fascinating, can be merely tawdry when offered without the relief of lyricism.

This continues an important theme from Denby's reviews of "House of Sand and Fog" and "In the Cut": the aesthetics of monotonous misery.
Recent cartoons in the New Yorker (8/30):

- Girl to playmates: "I have to be getting back--I'm the glue that holds my parents' marriage together."

- Squirrel calling to squirrel on top of park bench: "Try to remain calm. I'm going to talk you down."

- General to victim standing before firing squad: "You will notice that we are represented by troops from many nations."

Plus, I meant to post these from last summer but never did:

- Man to dancers: "Damn it, Persky! I ask you for a fiercely choreographed rite of destruction and rebirth, and you give me a febrile study of dehumanized angst!" (6/30) (Was this lifted from this review?)

- Two doctors in waiting room, one standing passively w/arms folded, other hunched forward, eyes wide, arms out. "What'll it be, Mrs. Waltham--stolid workmanship or nervy brilliance?" (5/26)

- Parents congratulating graduate: “When I think of the as yet undreamed-of loopholes that are going to be available to you guys!” (6/2)

- Pickup truck driver to passenger: "That's a good question, Clint. I don't know if my gun rack is an authentic regionalism or just a macho affectation." (3/31)

- Dinner guest introducing companion to company: "Jim is a good old-fashioned modernist." (3/31)

- Burglars examining enormous SUV: "No radio, but there is an orchestra pit." (3/31)

More in my B&C blog
I do think this upcoming election is the most important in my lifetime, which isn't saying much, since I was born during the Carter Administration. But so much is at stake for our country's ability to repair our relationship with our allies and undertake more sensible economic and environmental policies that I'm deeply worried about Bush's current lead. Still, the most important election label has been thrown around with abandon in American history, as the Times showed on Sunday. Among the most dubious usages:

1924 Coolidge vs. Davis
"I look upon the coming election as the most important in the history of this country since the Civil War."
Joseph Levenson, Republican leader, The New York Times, July 20

1976 Ford vs. Carter
"I think this election is one of the most vital in the history of America."
President Ford, debating Jimmy Carter, Oct. 22

1984 Reagan vs. Mondale
"This is the most important election in this nation in 50 years."
Ronald Reagan, Nov. 5

Meanwhile, Christian historian Mark Noll writes that he will be sitting this election out, as usual. He explains:

Seven issues seem to me to be paramount at the national level: race, life, taxes, trade, medicine, religious freedom, and the international rule of law. My disillusionment with the major parties and their candidates comes from the fact that I do not see them willing to consider the political coherence of this combination of convictions, much less willing to reason about why their own positions should be accepted, or willing to break away from narrow partisanship in order to try to act for the public good. ...

These are political convictions to which I have come as a result of my Christian faith. Of course, I could be mistaken--either in what traditional Christianity should mean politically for an American citizen in the early twenty-first century or in how best to argue for these positions with reasoning not demanding a pre-commitment to traditional Christianity. But as long as I hold these positions, I am a citizen without a political home.
I blogged here last year about this editorial from the New York Times on the population bomb that wasn't. The Times ran another piece about under-population a week or two ago. (More from Philip Yancey in May.)
A former professor of mine kept this journal during her semester in Hungary last year.
Etymology Today from M-W: nabob \NAY-bahb\
1 : a provincial governor of the Mogul empire in India
2 : a person of great wealth or prominence

In India's Mogul Empire, founded by the Moslem prince B?bur in the 16th century, provincial governors carried the title of "naw?b" in the Urdu language. In 1612, Captain Robert Coverte (apparently unaware of earlier travel accounts) published a report of his "discovery" of "the Great Mogoll, a prince not till now knowne to our English nation." The Captain informed the English-speaking world that "An earle is called a Nawbob," thereby introducing the English version of the word to the written page. "Nabob," as it thereafter came to be spelled, gained its extended sense of "a prominent person" in the late 18th century, when it was applied sarcastically to British officials of the East India Company who returned home after amassing great wealth trading in Asia.

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