Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Note: My "On Language" column in the Tribune is moving to Wednesdays as of today. Here is today's column, on political slang: temp link/perm.preview


• When I saw the headline 'Kerry woos labor at Warren rally,' I thought that we usually use the word "woo" in cases of successful seduction, which did not necessarily occur in Warren (but three-letter verbs are a boon to headline-writers). The definition doesn't require success, but is that more common? (If I have time, maybe I'll fiddle around on Google and try to find out.)

• Isn't it interesting how the article "a" can denote a hypothetical and/or future happening? "We do not know if a President Kerry would cross partisan lines to build a broad consensus on critical matters of foreign policy, health care, and judicial appointments." If he wins the election, just drop the "a."

• The Trib said that Norman Mailer did a creditable job of playing himself in a guest appearance on Gilmore Girls. I wondered, what's the difference between "creditable" and "credible"? Apparently not much: credible: "offering reasonable grounds for being believed"; creditable: "worthy of belief ... sufficiently good to bring esteem or praise." Did the Trib mean Mailer's self-impersonation was believable or praiseworthy, or both?

• E-mail I received: "Going forward, we'll work on getting the entire [newsletter] online." Easier that way than to go backward.

• `Would you mind if I called you Judy?' a Tribune reader asked a waitress. 'She said, `No, not at all.' Later, Judy returned to the table and handed me a piece of paper with her phone number on it. When I'd asked if I could call her Judy, she thought I was asking for her phone number.' more

• Always left out: A producer on the extras for the movie Miracle says that they looked for skaters "all over North America and Canada."

• ESPN's graphic for the highlights of a hat trick in Dutch soccer read Hoeden Truc (and translated it as "hat trick")

• "Here!" I yelled across our apartment in response to my wife's inquiry about my whereabouts. "Where's 'here'?" she asked. I had intended the volume and origin of my voice to convey how far away I was, but should have reported my location. "Here" is demonstrative; can it demonstrate distance, as I intended?

• I looked up kitsch after seeing this NYT article and picture: "originates from the German term etwas verkitschen (which has a similar meaning to "knock off" in English." (more earlier)

• Bulletin board ad in our basement for a used fur coat: "Like New Condition"

Previous column and inflections
It's not healthy to get too worried about newspaper endorsements (at least they provide thought-out arguments, which are rare this time of year), but here's the full roundup from Editor & Publisher. Here in Chicago, the Tribune endorsed the Republican presidential candidate for the 287th time (prompting this rebuttal from ex-die-hard Republican Steve Chapman), but did give the nod to Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama. Here's the WP for Kerry (also: Slate and Nykr). The Cleveland P-D, which endorsed Bush in 2000, wants to back Kerry this time, but its tax-cut-loving publisher is standing in its way. Why not go the route of the Republican-friendly Detroit News, and decline an endorsement? (Update: It did.)

Here's the New Yorker on Kerry and Iraq and how Bush changed between Texas and Washington (more).

Meanwhile, nearly as important as the presidential race is the balance of the Senate, Daily Kos has a roundup. Just in case, ABC's The Note has a list of excuses ready for whichever presidential candidate loses.

Egad! An article about issues less than a week before the election! USA Today on stem cells.

Despite these links, I really am getting sick of politics--promise. I need some political humor to lighten the load. Sojourners saw a bumper sticker that said: "Bush/Cheney '04: Because you don't change horsemen mid-apocalypse."

Other moments of political pithy:

Vote for the man who promises least. He'll be the least disappointing. -- Bernard Baruch (1870-1965)

I never vote for anyone. I always vote against. -- W.C. Fields (1879-1946)

It doesn't matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in. -- graffito in London, 1970s

Q: Where does one find dual air bags? A: At a political debate. -- Johnny Hart

One last thing, on Bush's metaphysical ruminations, via Slate:

A "senior adviser to Bush," Suskind reports, says to him that "guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.' ...

The problem with this now-famous anecdote is that it has nothing to do with certainty based on religious faith or with the tension "between fact and faith" that Suskind claims to find in the Bush White House. The aide isn't talking about ignoring reality and living in some spiritual dream world, he's talking about changing reality through worldly action (e.g. war). His point is less Christian than Marxist, a vulgar Bush corrolary to Marx's famous Theses on Feuerbach , the last of which is carved into his tombstone: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." The press and much of Washington studies the existing world in various ways, the "senior advisor" seems to be saying. "Meanwhile we're changing the world in ways that make your studies obsolete."

OK, maybe one more thing, on political journalism: I wrote here in my college paper about the overabundance of sports metaphors in political coverage. This headline is a classic case: "Kerry Returns Bush Volley On Health Care" As I said earlier, Geoff Nunberg noted that the most apt sports metaphor for the debates is figure skating: "a quadrennial competition that nobody has any idea how to score unless one of the competitors actually falls down."

Finally, even worse than a biased media is a banal media. When reporters bend over backwards to be artificially neutral (Daily Kos says coverage of the veep debate was "Both Sides Mislead: Cheney Erroneously Claims Not To Have Repeatedly Linked Iraq to 9/11, While Edwards Overestimates US Spending on Iraq Reconstruction by Less Than 1%") they get stiff. Is anyone informed or illumined by this lead of David Broder's story on the final debate?

Reprising policy battles that Republicans and Democrats have contested for decades, President Bush and challenger John F. Kerry sharpened their differences on social and domestic issues last night, with each candidate comfortably articulating the positions his most loyal supporters wanted to hear.

Update: More on Bush's certainty an NYT op-ed.

As I've written--and let me again disclose I'm fervent about my Christian faith--faith isn't faith without a healthy dose of doubt, without the tension between a sense of credulity and incredulity. Certainty is a form of denial of the complexity of the world. So it's fatuous of the media to necessarily equate spiritual belief with single-mindedness, but it's also fatuous of Bush to treat his morning devotions as a pep talk rather than as spiritual reflection, as he reportedly does.

Another update:

"[A] political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief." President Bush, Oct. 27

Couldn't have said it better myself. I have just one question about this election, and this is the absolutely last thing I'm going to get off my chest. Whatever your beef with Kerry (and I have many), what more does a president have to do in his first term to lose re-election? On what basis will you ever vote against an incumbent in the future if you vote for this one? What more will that incumbent have to do, and will the country be able to survive it?

Update: Relief in the form of Onion humor:


Election Day tips:

The new electronic voting machines are complicated. But don't worry: Octogenarians will be on hand to troubleshoot any technological problems that might arise.

Don't wear dress shoes. They leave black scuff marks on gymnasium floors.

If you are black and a resident of Florida, work out two or three alternate routes to your polling place to avoid police checkpoints.

If you live in Florida, for Christ's sake, look at the ballot very, very carefully this time.

Keep in mind that the name of every person who votes against George Bush is going to be read aloud on television the next time we're attacked by terrorists.

- Other headlines:

Republicans Urge Minorities To Get Out And Vote On Nov. 3 x

Study: 100 Percent Of Americans Lead Secret Lives x

Assistant Uses Cake To Smuggle Cake-Decorating Set To Martha Stewart x

Op-ed: Converting to the Metric System Starts With the Individual x

Street poll on bringing back the draft: x
"If I get drafted, I hope they put me on one of the swift boats. From what I gather, those guys are never in any danger."

Well, okay. As long as it's only a small draft and then they promise to stop."

That's it. I'm voting for the candidate who would flip-flop on sending my son to die, rather than the one who'd do it without hesitation."

- What do do about the flu vaccine shortage x
Time Out NY on media people's media diet.
Clinton Stockwell of Chicago Semester on Christian urban engagement:

A few years ago, when thinking about the focus of another urban program, we came up with the following: that there was a great need to “create a new generation of leaders for a world that has become increasingly more urban, more global and more culturally diverse.” Biblically, as many of you know, perhaps the most significant verse in scripture for me comes from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament. There, Jeremiah exhorted the exiles, who found themselves in pagan Babylon, not to flee or revolt, but to “seek the peace of the city, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its peace, one would find their peace” as well.
In a world rife with conflict, tension and danger, we desperately need such leadership. We need those who can navigate cities, can make connections globally and
will “stand in the gap” between cultures, and between differences of race, class, nationality, gender, ethnicity and religion.

Earlier: Gideon Strauss on six principles of Christian cultural engagement
Apparently the technical term is racing thoughts, but here's a clip from "Finally, if you're cursed with a runaway mind, remember, as Oswald Chambers said, "God . . . loves me, and I will never think of anything that he will forget, so why should I worry?"

This will get your thoughts racing, from NYT's review of Harold Bloom's latest:

Yet the title of Bloom's antiphilosophical book, ''Where
Shall Wisdom Be Found?,'' is, of course, an ancient
philosophical question. He never stoops to say in a
reductive way what wisdom finally is, but he does give us
some of its characteristics. He speaks of the ''wisdom of
annihilation'' in Ecclesiastes, of the ''structure of
gathering self-awareness'' in Job and ''King Lear,'' of
how, from Homer, we learn the hard truth that ''the gods
are selfish, nasty spectators, all too happy to see us
suffering in their theater of cruelty.'' Yet human
suffering can be made bearable: ''Wisdom literature teaches
us to accept natural limits.''
Daylight Savings Time is confusing, especially in Indiana.

ABC News' The Note: Futures Calendar:

— Oct. 27, 2004: Game four of the World Series in St. Louis
— Oct. 27, 2004: President Bush campaigns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan
— Oct. 27, 2004: Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) campaigns in Iowa and Minnesota
— Oct. 27, 2004: Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) campaigns in Florida
— Oct. 27, 2004: Vice President Cheney campaigns in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin
— Oct. 28, 2004: Game five of the World Series in St. Louis if necessary
— Oct. 28, 2004: National John Kerry Meetup Day
— Oct. 28, 2004: Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) campaigns in Ohio and Wisconsin
— Oct. 29, 2004: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) campaigns for President Bush in Columbus, OH
— Oct. 29, 2004: Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) campaigns in Florida
— Oct. 30, 2004: Game six of the World Series in Boston if necessary
— Oct. 31, 2004: Game seven of the World Series in Boston if necessary
— Oct. 31, 2004: Daylight savings time ends
— Oct. 31, 2004: Halloween
— Nov. 2, 2004: Election Day
— Nov. 2, 2004: Scheduled start of the NBA's 2004-2005 season
— Nov. 5, 2004: President George W. Bush and Laura Bush's 27th wedding anniversary
— Nov. 5, 2004: National unemployment numbers for October released
— Nov. 5-8, 2004: International Association of Political Consultants' 37th world conference in Vancouver, British Columbia
— Nov. 7, 2004: 35th Annual New York City Marathon
— Nov. 11, 2004: Veterans' Day
— Nov. 17, 2004: Fmr. Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT)'s birthday
— Nov. 18, 2004: Official opening of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, Little Rock, AR
— Nov. 19, 2004: State unemployment numbers for October released
— Nov. 25, 2004: Thanksgiving Day
— Nov. 30-Dec. 4, 2004: National Lague of Cities' Congress of Cities and Exposition in Indianapolis, IN
— Dec. 1, 2004: World AIDS Awareness Day
— Dec. 3, 2004: National unemployment numbers for November released
— Dec. 4, 2004: Louisiana congressional runoff
— Dec. 7, 2004: Hanukkah begins
— Dec. 7, 2004: Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
— Dec. 11, 2004: Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)'s birthday
— Dec. 13, 2004: Presidential electors meet in state capitals across the country
— Dec. 15, 2004: Bill of Rights Day
— Dec. 21, 2004: First day of winter
— Dec. 21, 2004: State unemployment numbers for November released
— Dec. 25, 2004: Christmas Day
— Dec. 26, 2004: Kwanzaa begins
— Jan. 6-8, 2005: Southern Political Science Association conference, New Orleans
— Jan. 7, 2005: National unemployment numbers for December released
— Jan. 16, 2005: 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards
— Jan. 20, 2005: 55th Inauguration of the President of the United States
— Jan. 21-23, 2005: American Association of Political Consultants' 14th annual conference in Washington, DC
— Jan. 25, 2005: State unemployment numbers for December released
— Feb. 13, 2005: 47th Annual Grammy Awards
— Feb. 26-27, 2005: National Education Summit on High Schools cosponsored by Achieve, Inc. and the National Governors Association in Washington, DC
— Feb. 27, 2005: 77th Annual Academy Awards
— May 19, 2005: Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith opens in theaters
Etymology Today from M-W: slake \SLAYK\
1 : satisfy, quench
2 : to cause (as lime) to heat and crumble by treatment with water : hydrate

"Slake" is no slacker when it comes to obsolete and archaic meanings. Shakespearean scholars may know that in the Bard's day "slake" meant "to subside or abate" ("No flood by raining slaketh...." - The Rape of Lucrece) or "to lessen the force of " ("It could not slake mine ire, nor ease my heart." - Henry VI, Part 3). The most erudite word enthusiasts may also be aware of earlier meanings of "slake," such as "to slacken one's efforts" or "to cause to be relaxed or loose." These early meanings recall the word's Old English ancestor "sleac," which not only meant "slack" but is also the source of that modern term.

Previous E.T.

Monday, October 25, 2004

My B&C blog is idle this week. You can catch up on recent Places items on San Juan de Teotihuacan's pyramids, Danish restrictions on marrying foreigners, South Africa's wildlife reserves, paintings found in a Philadelphia school (2nd item), Redesigning NYC's streelights (2nd item), the Mormon temple in Nauvoo, Illinois (2nd item)
My latest Tribune language column:
On the phrase "in harm's way," which has doubled in use over the last month.
temp link/perm.preview/reprint

More from Safire on "in harm's way":
The phrase is rooted in its opposite: out of harm's way, coined by the
English divine Thomas Fuller before 1661: "Some great persons . . . have been made sheriffs, to keep them out of harm's way." Apparently the sheriff's job was a political plum, not then dangerous. ... Thomas Manton, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, delivered a [17th century] sermon arguing that man's "duty is to run in harm's way" because "there are none so much harmed, maligned and opposed in the world, as those that follow that which is good ... The hoary phrase has more power than the bureaucratic "in the face of impending hostilities."

More on the debates: tranx's and search/more. "Cheney's top three phases were Saddam Hussein (11), fact of the matter (10) and United States (10), while Edwards' were John Kerry (36), American people (28) and tax cuts (16)." More on Bush's pauses (I'm not buying the idea that this is evidence of Bush being wired). Also: Kerry and Bush acc. speech texts.

More on the candidates' language: LL on Kerry and contractions; Bush and tautologies. Kerry said "ladies and gentlmen" 13 times to Bush's 0 in the second debate, which could have come off as patronizing. Bush said "steadfast" four times to Kerry's once (in a "yes, but" rebuttal) and "firm resolve" or "firm and resolve" three times to Kerry's 0. As I wanted to say in the story, you can be steadfast and have resolve and still be guilty of what H.L. Mencken called a "foolish consistency." Also: USA Today noted that Bush said in his acc. speech. "Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called walking," and "Now and then I come across as a little too blunt."

Some interesting observations on the candidates' speaking styles--although, as I quoted Mark Liberman in my story and as Arnold Zwicky wrote me by e-mail, let's not go overboard and let these superficial analyses override matters of policy.

Geoff Nunberg on Kerry in July:

Kerry's involuted syntax is less a sign of prevarication than an excess of prudence. He steps into a thought like someone wading into a rocky stream, always probing with his toe for stones. And when he does finally set his foot down, it's cushioned in abstractions -- "We're not maximizing the potential for the outcome we went in there to achieve." When he's finished, it's not always easy to tell if he has actually touched bottom.

Geoff Pullum on Bush and clarity:

For a start, there is nothing indecisive-sounding about this sentence of Kerry's, with its series of illustrative examples and its succession of parenthetical phrases ... Yet there can be plenty of indecisiveness in a stream of fairly simple clauses if they are all over the map in terms of subject matter.

"I don't believe it's going to happen.... I've shown the American people I know how to lead.... I understand everybody in this country doesn't agree with the decisions I've made.... People out there listening know what I believe.... This nation of ours has got a solemn duty to defeat this ideology of hate.... We have a duty to protect our children and grandchildren.... Ten million citizens [in Afghanistan] have registered to vote."

My reading of the whole answer is that we're looking at a man in a panic who has no idea what to say to the question. He has been taught a whole slew of tough-sounding clauses to reiterate, but can think of nothing to do but hurl them around at random. He demonstrates ... real intellectual weakness and indecisiveness when faced with a challenging question. ... Neither of the current stereotypes about styles of speech seems to be true: Kerry does not engage in long-winded unstructured rambling; Bush sometimes does.

James Fallows in the Atlantic this summer:

During his career George Bush's speaking style has changed significantly ... [In a 1994 gubernatorial debate with Ann Richards,] Bush was eloquent. He spoke quickly and easily. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions. He mishandled a word or two ("million" when he clearly meant "billion"; "stole" when he meant "sold"), but fewer than most people would in an hour's debate. More striking, he did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones. "

• "On the Media" on October surprise. (This year's OS? albeit unplanned)

• Ever since the graphic of a swing (that you swing on) next to this NYT op-ed about polling, I've had this image of a voters swinging back and forth on swingsets whenever I hear the term swing voters.

• In his new book on animals and language, Yale's Stephen Anderson cites an eleven-letter, vowel-less word in Georgian that is monosyllabic: gvprts'kvnis ("he is bleeding us, financially"). (p.123; see #5 here.

• Reading a New Yorker piece from this summer on Reagan by Edmund Morris: "Gorbachev once remarked on Reagan’s “balance” to me in an interview. But he used the Russian word ravnovesie in its wider sense, of psychological equilibrium. The President’s poised body and smooth yet inexorable motion telegraphed a larger force that came of a lifetime of no self-doubt."

From Dave Barry's Mister Language Person: Melba Glock sent in a story from the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star headlined ``Volunteers needed to help torture survivors.''

• A memo from our apartment building informed us that "the tuckpointers will be setting up their equipment" this week. Had no idea what that was; M-W: "tuck-point/ transitive verb/ : to finish (the mortar joints between bricks or stones) with a narrow ridge of putty or fine lime mortar"

• The memo also alerted us to a new coffee shop that was a "flavorsome" alternative to Starbucks. I didn't think that was a word, but M-W has it and it gets some 6,600 hits on Google

• Speaking of hits, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has been hailed by fan signs as papi, which the announcers identified as a term of respect in Central America. Haven't found anything on it yet (I'm assuming it's a variant of papa, which M-W says derives from "French babytalk"; unlike "pappi," a part of a fruit, which comes from the Greek "pappos.")

• On the last "Scrubs," J.D. asks for a milado cookie and is told it's a milano. He's relieved and says: "I always thought that was a little bigoted for a cookie."

• At the store, I wondered, is Lunchables what linguists call a substantivized adjective--an adj. that functions as a noun, as in "through thick and thin"?

From LL:

A friend once told me about an idiom that nearly ended a relationship. He was northern European, not a native speaker of English, sojourning at a university in the midwest. She was American, reading a map in the passenger's seat of the car he was driving. "OK," she said, "at the next intersection, you want to turn right." He was furious. Internally, of course. "How does she presume to know what I want?" There were other issues here, but her idiom crystallized his sense of psychic intrusion, and he brooded about it for days.

• And LL on the NYT's "after boring of the task."

• I came across the adjective a prioristic last week; I forget where. I thought it was suspect. M-W has "apri·or·i·ty" (which would make the adjective "aprioritistic"); Google has 493 hits for "a prioristic" and over 2,000 for "aprioristic."

From "The change [of title] is clear in the movie, as in the song before the credits, the singers interlock between calling the movie "Sharkslayer" and "Shark Tale".

"Interlock between"? M-W: interlock: "1. to lock together: UNITE 2. to connect so that the motion or operation of any part is constrained by another." How about "alternate between"?

• Movies as sponsors are getting strange--yesterday's World Series telecast included something like the "Polar Express Play of the Game"--but an NYT printer-friendly page was confusing, running its announcement and movie title side-by-side:

so that it naturally reads: "Printer-Friendly format I [Heart] Huckabees/Sponsored by In Select Theaters Now."

• Finally, from a Kodak ad: "The best part about photography are the pictures."

It are?

Previous column and inflections
Onion headlines:

U.S. Finishes A 'Strong Second' In Iraq War x

Millions of American Lips Called To Service In Fight Against Poverty x

Tibetan teen getting into Western philosophy x

Jacques Derrida 'Dies'

Slate's breakdown of major polls gave Kerry a 276-262 Electoral College edge on 10/19 (above), Bush a 271-267 edge on 10/24

This is (duh) all a crapshoot, not least because in many cases more people hang up on pollsters than talk to them (as I've covered before; more this week from the NYT and NYkr [Update: Slate too]), because of the ambiguity of who is a "likely" voter, because of last-minute voting decisions or changes of mind, and because the election will probably go into the courts for a few weeks again. The AP outlined a few scenarios that will make the election anything but cut-and-dried:

For example, if just New Hampshire and Nevada (or West Virginia) shifted from favoring Bush to the Democrats this time, there could be a 269-269 tie, leaving it to the House to pick the next president and the Senate to pick the new vice president come January. That would leave open the jarring possibility of a Bush-Edwards or Kerry-Cheney pairing, depending on the political leanings of the new House and Senate.

More likely is the chance that results from one or more states could be up in the air for a while because of a recount, challenges to provisional or absentee ballots or lawsuits related to other voting problems. Both parties have lawyers primed to pounce at any target of opportunity this time. And the opportunity for challenges has grown under a new federal law requiring all states to allow people to cast provisional votes if their names don't appear on registration rolls. ...

Michael White, the federal official responsible for coordinating certain aspects of the Electoral College, says he'll be keeping an especially close eye on Colorado, where voters are considering a referendum to divide the state's electoral votes proportionally among the candidates rather than using the existing winner-takes-all formula. A lawsuit is virtually guaranteed if the referendum is approved, meaning the state's nine electoral votes could be a lingering question long after Election Day.
Baseball History is Made


Boston Globe
via G&M's Soc.St.'s:

"There is in most literary biography a single detail that speaks volumes about its subject," writes Paul Theroux in The New York Times Book Review. "Thoreau almost never left home, Henry Miller was henpecked, Borges lived in fear of his mother, James Joyce was afraid of thunderstorms, Freud was angst-ridden on railway platforms, Wittgenstein was addicted to cowboy movies, Wallace Stevens to candy. Jack Kerouac had copies of National Review by his bed when he died."

NY Times

Perched five stories above Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Center, Rafael Viñoly's new design for Jazz at Lincoln Center has a cool ethereality that lifts it above the mediocrity of its setting. It's a reminder that some experiences become more intimate when they are shared in full public view. NY Times

Etymology Today from M-W: chicanery\shih-KAY-nuh-ree\
1 : deception by artful subterfuge or sophistry : trickery
2 : a piece of sharp practice (as at law) : trick

"We have hardly any words that do so fully expresse the French clinquant, naiveté ... chicaneries." So lamented English writer John Evelyn in a letter to Sir Peter Wyche in 1665. Evelyn and Wyche were members of a group called the Royal Society, which had formed a committee emulating the French Academy for the purpose of "improving the English language." We can surmise that, in Evelyn's estimation, the addition of "chicanery" to English from French was an improvement. What he apparently didn't realize was that English speakers had adopted the word from the French "chicanerie" before he wished for it; the term appears in English manuscripts dating from 1609. Similarly, "clinquant" ("glittering with gold or tinsel") dates from 1591. "Naïveté," on the other hand, waited until 1673 to appear.

Previous E.T.

Monday, October 18, 2004

This week in my B&C blog:
Five articles on reading, writing, and critical inquiry.
NicaraguaMy latest Tribune language column:
On Nicaraguan Sign Language, the youngest known language in the world.
temp link/perm.preview/reprint

Here's Ann Senghas on NSL; here's a summary from TFD and here's a piece from the Economist. Here's the UC Maroon on Marie Coppola's research (and here's a UC page). Here's the NYT Mag story in 1999, with an interesting letter in response from a prof a Gallaudet.

I asked Marie whether NSL is now taught in Nicaraguan schools

The students are not formally instructed in NSL. The teachers in the classroom vary widely in their ability to sign NSL (it is not part of their special education training), and are definitely not as proficient as the students. Some teachers attend classes in NSL at the Deaf association in Managua.

More on babies' vocabularies here and here.

This brief was cut from my column:

There are two keys to winning a stock-car racing championship: win your races and watch your tongue. Dale Earnheardt Jr.’s win at an October 3 NASCAR race in Talladega put him in first place in points in the season standings, but he fell to second two days later when NASCAR fined him 25 points for using an expletive in a post-race NBC interview.

Here's the exchange:

In Victory Lane on Sunday at Talladega, Ala., an NBC interviewer asked Earnhardt how much his fifth victory at that track meant.

"It don't mean [expletive] right now," Earnhardt replied. "Daddy's won here 10 times."

"While NASCAR is being the world's decency police, why not take another 10 points from Earnhardt Jr. as well for his grammatical error?" asked Scott Fowler in the Charlotte Observer. More from Also: Frederica Mathewes-Green on the ethics of joyous vs. angry swearing; Pittsburgh P-G on Tony Campolo saying the S-word in a sermon.

-Tribune headline: "Rising health costs resonate for voters." Shouldn't that be "resonate with" (since the relevant definition of "resonate" is "to relate harmoniously"?

-LL and NW on the history of hip.

PU-R-I thought it was interesting to see a long mark over the U in the logo of PUR, since long marks are virtually unused in English. But the mark is necessary here unless you want to say "purr" and sell cat food.

-Geoff Nunberg on sort of at LL and the NYT.

-The referee in the Vikings-Saints game last night explained that a receiver "got three feet in bounds" (meaning three steps, of course) before crossing the sideline. Said ESPN's Paul McGuire: "I wanna see the guy with three feet."

-I was puzzling over the line in the hymn I Know Whom I Have Believed (don't you love hymns' grammar?):

But I know Whom I have believèd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

In the hundred or so times I've sung this hymn, I wondered how you can "commit" something "against" a day. I had to look at the lyrics online today to realize it's the "keeping" that's "against that day." I think.

I'm the son of a seminary professor and I should know this, but I'm confused: is it that God is keeping/protecting the commitment against the threat of judgment day? Or is "against" somehow an old-fashioned preposition for until? Looking at side-by-side English translations of 2 Timothy 1:12, which the hymn is quoting, suggests the latter:

KJV (from Wycliffe's EB)
For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

That indeed is the reason why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know in whom my trust reposes, and I am confident that He has it in His power to keep what I have entrusted to Him safe until that day.

for which cause also these things I suffer, but I am not ashamed, for I have known in whom I have believed, and have been persuaded that he is able that which I have committed to him to guard -- to that day.

Update: My Dad weighs in:

I checked a commentary, and the reference in 2 Timothy 1:12 to "that which I
have committed unto him" could also be translated as "that which he [God] has
entrusted to me" (the word is simply "deposit"). In either case, it's probably
Paul's work or doctrine that had been entrusted to him or that Paul had
entrusted to God. And "entrusted . . . for that day" might reflect Paul's
confidence that as a steward of that which has been given him (or of what he
has given to God), he will not be found wanting on the great day of reckoning.

Here's the Greek (also see the interlinear text):

[12] di' hên aitian kai tauta paschô, all' ouk epaischunomai, oida gar hôi pepisteuka, kai pepeismai hoti dunatos estin tên parathêkên mou phulaxai eis ekeinên tên hêmeran

Here's the Latin:

[12] ob quam causam etiam haec patior sed non confundor scio enim cui credidi et certus sum quia potens est depositum meum servare in illum diem

-Geoff Pullum at LL:

I wonder how the phrase This isn't rocket science, with its conventionalized meaning "This isn't all that advanced or hard to understand", originally came from? I've got a few cliché dictionaries, but they don't cover it. Why is rocket science a byword for arcane advanced scientific mumbo jumbo? Rocket technology is thousands of years old. Sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal powder in a tube, light and retire. A little bit of trigonometry will tell you where it will land; a little calculus and some data on thrust and combustion rates and you can work out the acceleration and the trajectory and everything. It's a good application of basic Newtonian physics and math, but it's surely not the most difficult stuff science ever got into.

-The Plain English Campaign was alerted to this sign in a Canterbury supermarket: "If you wish to change your baby, please see the lady at the
salad bar." (It's never too late for genetic engineering!)

-Nunberg on the phrase look presidential

As it happens, that phrase first became common in the American political lexicon in the 1970's, when the televised debate was permanently revived after a 16-year lull, and the networks first began broadcasting post-debate commentary and spin. "Looking presidential" in debates is like "artistic merit" in figure skating -- an imponderable that nobody feels obliged to pin down.

Earlier he notes, "the most apt sporting comparison is probably to Olympic figure skating -– a quadrennial competition that nobody has any idea how to score unless one of the competitors actually falls down."

-LL on when back in August can mean August 2005 (interesting note on the Latin "post"), and a followup post here that notes, "Canada is not above the US--go outside, look up, and see for yourself."

-Here's a sentence (from Martin Marty on 9/27) I'd like to diagram. Makes perfect sense, but the inversion seems pointless. "Not ready to whisper or be silent is Father Andrew Greeley."

-I was interested to learn at LL that you can do a Google search for there are x linguists (with certain tags included) and turn up instances with the number inserted (a similar search would be for "x statistics are made up on spot," discussed here).

Previous column and inflections
Onion headlines:

Glee Club Depressed, Angry

Pringles level at six inches and falling x

And the O's person-on-the-street poll: Last week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan set up a commission to determine whether genocide has taken place in the Darfur region of Sudan. What do you think?

"So this might have been a genocide after all, and not a civil war in which only one side was fighting."

"I think the U.N. is going to find that the blame lies with all the Sudanese rap music that glamorizes genocide."

"I think the entire world will breathe a sigh of relief if the U.N. finds that it is not genocide. Well, everyone except for the half-million people who were murdered there."
How's this for a some-of-my-best-friends-are-black kind of patronization of religious people (that sets up a recitation of the media's Bush-as-puppet-of-fundamentalists conspiracy theory) from Timothy Noah in Slate:

Now, don't get me wrong. Religious faith can be a very fine thing. Some of my best friends believe in God, and some of their best qualities derive, at least in part, from their faith.

("'Some Of My Best Friends Are Black' How many times have I heard someone say this when they become anxious about a position they are taking, except it comes out as "you know, some of my best friends are black, but ... (followed by some essentialized view of what the speaker perceives as "blacks")" x.

Lecture at Amherst: "But Some of My Best Friends Are Black: Racism and the Culture of Denial.”)
3rd debateSo what was Bush's bulge, anyway? Elvis put it there. No, I think it's just how the suit bunched. But suit expert tells the NYDN that this isn't the answer. "I'm telling you that is not a tailor's mistake. Unless somebody doctored the photos, he's got something under there." But if Bush was wired, how did he manage to sound so, er, unassisted?

Tom Shales on the 3rd prez debate.

Tranx's here; search tool here.

Sound bytes: Debate summaries via auto-summarizer:

Kerry in 100 words: 82,000 Arizonians lost their health insurance under President Bush's watch. This president has turned his back on the wellness of America. President Bush has taken -- he's the only president in history to do this. 6 million jobs lost. This president has taken a $5. Once again, the president is misleading America. The president just said that government-run health care results in poor quality. The jobs the president is creating pay $9,000 less than the jobs that we're losing. 6 million jobs. The president has denied 9. Let me pay a compliment to the president, if I may.

Bush in 100 words: My opponent talks about fiscal sanity. You voted to increase taxes 98 times. Most health-care costs are covered by third parties. If you have a child, you got tax relief. If you're married, you got tax relief. If you pay any tax at all, you got tax relief. We passed tax relief. We'll increase federal spending. We've increased funds. The people I talked to their spirits were high. My opponent, the senator, talks about foreign policy. I think people understand what she's saying.
CQ's Craig Crawford on flip-flopping at

No one was more of a flip-flopper than Lincoln on the slavery question. To slavery supporters, he often spoke of the inequality of the races, implying but never explicitly saying that blacks were genetically inferior. To abolitionists, he criticized slavery but did not clearly oppose it. He successfully maintained this balancing act until emancipation became a tool to demoralize the Confederacy and win the Civil War.

William Safire on flip-flop:

In one corner of the linguistic arena, we have a heavy-hitting onomatopoeic reduplication: flip-flap, cited in the 16th century as ''they goe flip-flap in the winde,'' meaning to swing back and forth, and soon taken up by performers to describe a type of somersault, becoming flip-flop about a hundred years ago. In the opposite corner, wearing tricolor trunks, is nuance, rooted in the Latin for ''cloud'' and the French for ''shade,'' meaning ''a subtle variation in tone'' or ''delicate shading of meaning.'' According to Candy Crowley of CNN, George W. Bush once told her, ''In Texas, we don't do nuance.'' ...

To flip-flop is ''unabashedly to switch sides,'' but when done by a politician you support, it is called ''changing one's mind to comport with the nuances of new circumstances.'' A neutral term is ''to undergo a reversal of views.'' When engaged in by a politician you oppose, the verb tergiversate, pronounced with a soft g, is a choice favored by pedants, meaning ''to switch sides like an apostate.''

As I said here and here, this ex-Naderite will be voting for Kerry. But I'm not unconvinced of this claim by writer Robert Ferrigno:

I'll be voting for Bush ... Kerry will dance the Albright two-step with Kim Jong-il, consult with Sandy Berger's socks, and kowtow to the U.N. apparatchiks who have done such a fine job of protecting the Cambodians, Rwandans, and the Sudanese. No thanks. No contest.

Update from The Onion: Nader Polling At 8 Percent Among Past Supporters x
Who could possibly still be undecided in the presidential election? A New Yorker cartoon identifies three undecided voting blocs:

Pro-war gay oilmen for separation of church and state

Black Christian Howard Stern fans from Texas

Trust-funded organic-farming Enron stock-holding gun enthusiasts

Robin Williams on Leno: "Compassionate conservatism--that's like a gun rack on a Volvo."

Billy Crystal on Letterman, on the hazards of taking his 18-month-old granddaughter to a restaurant in LA: "In LA, when you're out with a woman 54 years younger than you, people think you're dating."
In honor of the Astros' first playoff series win, from SI last year:

Baseball in Houston is a cup of tea at Starbucks, an order of salmon at The Palm or a car ride through Venice. It has an odd ring to it. Forty-one years after the major leagues came to Houston and pandered to Texans by naming the expansion team after a firearm--the Colt .45s--the fourth-largest city in America is a backwater outpost on the baseball map. ...

The Astros, of course, have been easy to overlook, even when dressed in those famously loud-striped 1980s uniforms inspired by laundry detergent boxes. No city has waited more seasons for its first World Series than Houston. Worse still, the Astros [hadn't] won a playoff series of any kind [until they beat the Braves in the '04 LDS], losing [their first] seven while dropping 22 of 30 postseason games. x
GS on cultural engagement ...

Drawing on what I have learned from Steven Garber, I would suggest that the Bible functions in our cultural engagement in at least six ways: by drawing us toward a heart commitment to Jesus, by providing the Big Story that frames our reasoned convictions, by modeling in Jesus and the heroes of the faith what our character might be, by calling together through a shared heart commitment the communities of faith within which our convictions and character are forged, by indicating the transhistorical meta-context that frames all of our particular historical contexts, and by proclaiming the calling to the love of God that anchors all of our particular vocations. x

... and how to get a good education x.

Debbie Blue, in her beautiful book of sermons, Sensual Orthodoxy: "Maybe we're just meeting a figment of our own or some Sunday School teacher's imagination if Jesus doesn't strike us as a little odd."
Etymology Today from M-W: whilom\WYE-lum\
: former

"On the eastern side settlement and agriculture have all but obliterated the whilom tallgrass prairie...." (William Least Heat-Moon, The Atlantic, September 1991)

"Whilom" shares an ancestor with the word "while." Both trace back to the Old English word "hw?l," meaning "time" or "while." In Old English "hw?lum" was an adverb meaning "at times." This use passed into Middle English (with a variety of spellings, one of which was "whilom"), and in the 12th century the word acquired the meaning "formerly." The adverb's usage dwindled toward the end of the 19th century, and it has since been labeled "archaic." The adjective first appeared on the scene in the 15th century, with the now-obsolete meaning "deceased, late," and by the end of the 16th century it was being used with the meaning "former." It's a relatively uncommon word, but it does see occasional use.

Previous E.T.

Monday, October 11, 2004

King Oyo of UgandaThis week in my B&C blog:The ethical dilemma of whether (and what) to give to panhandlers. Plus: King Oyo of Uganda, age 12 (pictured); tourists watchng Mt. St. Helens steam; the American ivory trade; the controversy over who painted the White House's East Room portrait of George Washington; Japan's baseball strike; cleaning the crud out of your computer keyboard; Starbucks prices go from rip-off to ridiculous; and more ...

My latest Tribune language column: On the juicy roots of food words, and why English is a sampler platter of other languages.
temp link/perm.preview

Here's AHD on "cappuccino" and the Capuchins:

The history of the word cappuccino exemplifies how words can develop new senses because of resemblances that the original coiners of the terms might not have dreamed possible. The Capuchin order of friars, established after 1525, played an important role in bringing Catholicism back to Reformation Europe. Its Italian name came from the long pointed cowl, or cappuccino, derived from cappuccio, “hood,” that was worn as part of the order's habit. The French version of cappuccino was capuchin (now capucin), from which came English Capuchin. The name of this pious order was later used as the name (first recorded in English in 1785) for a type of monkey with a tuft of black cowl-like hair. In Italian cappuccino went on to develop another sense, “espresso coffee mixed or topped with steamed milk or cream,” so called because the color of the coffee resembled the color of the habit of a Capuchin friar. The first use of cappuccino in English is recorded in 1948.

Here's more on Mocha, Yemen. Here's an e-mail from etymology expert Anatoly Liberman on whether "cream" was a blend of "cramum" and "cresme," as dictionaries speculate.

As for "burrito," The Washington Post speculated in 1998 that the name comes from a Spanish saying (presumably intoned by burrito-eating ranchers and miners): "If I had a horse, I would go make my fortune, but I only have a little donkey." More Spanish food words and loan words. Here are some more French food words. Here's a page on the Turks and the history of coffee, and here's a page on the history of sushi (couldn't find the translation of the word). Finally, a list of instances of the presumed Hebrew root of "cider" ("shekar" for "strong drink," via the Greek “sikera”) in the Bible (including Ezekiel 44:21: "Neither shall any priest drink wine when they enter into the inner court.")

I wondered why Dick Cheney found it necessary to use pandemic to clarify epidemic in the VP debate:

Well, this is a great tragedy, Gwen, when you think about the enormous cost here in the United States and around the world of the AIDS epidemic [em dash] pandemic, really. Millions of lives lost, millions more infected and facing a very bleak future.

M-W defines "epidemic" as "an outbreak or product of sudden rapid spread, growth, or development," and "pandemic" as "a pandemic outbreak of a disease," and the adjective as "occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population." (Both words can be n or adj.) So an epidemic can be concentrated, while a pandemic can be national in scope. Cheney doesn't bring much care or concern to his use of words, so this subtle distinction was surprising.

debate tranx's: Pres 9/30, VP 10/5, Pres 10/8

- more on values from William Saletan in Slate:

Most Democrats, including Kerry, duck and cover when Republicans bring up values. Not Edwards. He knows the language and loves to turn it against the GOP. The word "moral" was used twice in this debate. The word "value" was used three times. All five references came from Edwards. He denounced the "moral" crime of piling debt on our grandchildren. He called the African AIDS epidemic and the Sudan genocide "huge moral issues." When Ifill asked him about gay marriage, he changed the subject to taxes. "We don't just value wealth, which they do," said Edwards. "We value work in this country. And it is a fundamental value difference between them and us."

- Among the "malapropisms, solecisms, gaffes, spoonerisms ... truisms," and other Bushisms highlighted in this Slate piece are "Hispanos," "resignate," and "transformationed". Says Slate's Jacob Weisberg: "the symptoms point to a specific malady--some kind of linguistic deficit akin to dyslexia--that does not indicate a lack of mental capacity per se." Says his wife Laura: "He doesn't like to overthink." Also see LL on Weisbergisms

- "To laughter, Mr. Bush said that Mr. Kerry would impose "Hillary care'' on America ... unlike what Mrs. Clinton proposed in 1993, it would not create any big new federal bureaucracy and would retain the current employer-based system, and Mr. Kerry said he was averse to any kind of national health care plan." NY Times

- "It is a truism of American politics that the more optimistic candidate wins, and Kerry has good reason to fear joining the line of Democrats-Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore-whose careers were cut short by insufficient ebullience. New Yorker

- Jon Stewart called Cheney's comment in the debate that "If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the right same course of action" a case of 20-20 blindsight. (Later in that show, he asked Bob Schieffer why, after Abu Ghraib, etc., only Rathergate "gets a -gate."

Update: Stewart on 60 Minutes: "I can't believe that the National Guard memo scandal is the only scandal in four years that has gotten elevated to the status of having a gate attached to it," says Stewart. "Rather-gate. For God's sake, we launched a war based on forged documents. That doesn't get a gate. How do you not get a gate outta that?"

- From Newsweek: Though the 2007 French presidential election remains a long way off, early political jockeying is already taking place-in bookstores. Mixed in with nearly 700 new autumn releases are more than a half-dozen books by France's most popular or powerful politicians, known as presidentiables. (What is the French word, I wonder?)

- Andy Rooney said he'd like to see debates between the presidential candidates' wives and the vice presidential candidates' wives. The graphic for the latter read "Vice Presidential First Ladies Debate." Shouldn't that be Second Ladies, just as the veep's plane is Air Force 2?

-From the Washington Post:

Federal regulation of the $2 trillion consumer credit industry may hinge on how the Supreme Court chooses to interpret a single word. ... Donald B. Ayer, representing Alexandria-based Koons Buick Pontiac GMC Inc., told the court that it is "utterly clear" from the context and history of the law that Congress intended to set a $1,000 cap on how much consumers could win by suing for alleged violations of TILA by car dealers -- and that it used the term "subparagraph" to lump such cases together with others subject to the cap.

-The Chronicle of Higher Ed on sovereignty as the S-word of world politics.

-From the NY Times Mag:

Meanwhile, the market for functional foods, a broad category that includes everything from calcium-fortified orange juice to cholesterol-lowering Benecol spread to drinkable supplements like Ensure, has been increasing by up to 14 percent annually. Though Mars might like us to think otherwise, chocolate could never pass as a functional food, because of its high levels of fat and its high number of calories.

-2Blowhards on gentrification in Brooklyn and what it calls the word's pejorative origins in 1960s London.

-In his column this week, Martin Marty quotes Emory University's Robert M. Franklin talking about African-Americans' non-marital birth rate. Hadn't heard that one, but as long as it isn't ambiguous (birth rate of babies who aren't married?), it's a good substitute for "out-of-wedlock" (wedlock means marriage, but it's used almost exclusively now in the context of unmarried partners--regrettably, I think).

- What is lamping? From the Guardian:

Lamping is a form of pest control involving the shooting of foxes and ground game at night with the aid of powerful lights. Hunters' lamps can illuminate areas up to 300 metres away, and are sometimes fixed to a vehicle. The reflection of the lamp light in the eyes of the quarry startles them and helps direct the lampers' aim.

-Saw this slogan on the Crain's building here in Chicago yesterday. I'd like to make it a sentence (by adding "Crain's is...") and diagram it. Where the Who's Who Read What's What.

-Geoff Pullum at LL

The idea that you can distinguish a clockwise from a counter-clockwise circular loop by saying that one goes to the west and the other doesn't is more than just wrong, it's a screamingly obvious geometrical impossibility.

-The Trib's Rick Morrissey on "one of the most amazing quotes in the annals of sports":

"I resent the inference that I'm not prepared," [Dominican Republic native Sammy Sosa] told the Sun-Times. If Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were quoted as saying, "Sup, Dawg?" it wouldn't be weirder than Sosa being quoted as saying, "I resent the inference …" Either Sosa needs better advisers and stenographers or else he needs to forget baseball and start teaching honors English, he's suddenly that good with the language.

-From a book of Australian profanity:

Eat breakfast backwards, to, v. - To vomit
Dead heat in a zeppelin race, phr. - Large breasts
Passhole, n. - The person who drives slowly for miles but speeds up the minute you try to pass

-The Complete Review on English PEN's seminar on translating fiction, featuring its 2004 Translation Prizes. Related articles: Arabic lit not being read in the West, and German lit gets a bad rap.

-Language-related Onion stories:

CANTON, OH-QT2D-7, an 11-year-old electric assembly-operations robot, was laid off Monday when the Lawn-Boy plant that has employed him relocated its manufacturing headquarters to New Delhi, India. "Query: What am I going to do now?" QT2D-7 said, panning its infrared eye across the empty parking lot outside the factory where it had worked every day for more than a decade. "Observation: I've never known anything but assembling lawnmowers. Query: Just like that, they throw me out?" x

Ad Exec Doesn't Care What Proverb Actually Means
CHICAGO-Leo Burnett Agency creative executive Patrick Bergman authorized the use of a common proverb in a Subway ad campaign in spite of the fact that the phrase's true meaning undermines the intent of the ad, the 41-year-old reported Monday. "The ad slogan 'Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?' was perfect for Subway's free-sandwich giveaway," Bergman said. "Who cares if, technically, the customer had to buy 12 sandwiches to get one free? People know the phrase, and they respond to it." Bergman last misused a proverb two weeks ago, when he put "haste makes waste" in an ad encouraging people to hurry to a 12-hour Macy's white sale. x

-I mentioned the phrase sold them a lemon [i.e. a junky car] to my wife, and she said, "I like lemons!" Do lemons generally have more negative connotations than positive? Obviously, they're sour, but they don't suffer approval ratings as low as, say, green vegetables.

- From

A very uncommon word today, but what a glorious quotation for it!
smaragdine- of or pertaining to emerald; resembling emerald; of an emerald green

As I trod the trackless way
Through sunless gorges of Cathay,
I became a little child,
By nameless rivers, swirling through
Chasms, a fantastic blue,
Month by month, on barren hills,
In burning heat, in bitter chills,
Tropic forest, Tartar snow,
Smaragdine archipelago,
See me --- led by some wise hand
That I did not understand.
Called on Him with mild devotion,
As the dewdrop woos the ocean.
- Aleister Crowley, Aha!

- From KPVI TV: "Scholars, academics if you will[??], tell us that there are many ways to communicate through language: English, the language of business; Russian, the language of debaters; French being the language of lovers; and Spanish, the language of God."

-Lines from a recent spam message:

ambushgirtharduousbasinjoysutureyatesderbytam bellboy gimbal audition coppery commonweal multiplicity practitioner cortex crupper headline vertigo triatomic verbal janus easel upholstery feeney mirth lady cormorant peppy hedonism italy decompile eurasia dilapidate zeal domino

(See 3rd item here from my B&C blog)

-LL observes the death of Derrida. (LL on Mencken on the fatuities of journalism; LL on journalists and math.

Previous column and inflections
Onion headlines this week:

Older Brother Accused Of Cushion-Fort Prisoner Abuse x

Bush Arrives At Debate Wearing Flight Suit

Many Animals Harmed in Catering of Film x

"I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight," Cheney told Edwards during the debate.

On Feb. 1, 2001 ... On April 8, 2001 ... On Jan. 8, 2003 ... AP via ABC News

The New Times of Broward-Palm Beach 10/7/04 on the first presidential debate: "Dubya's eye-batting, scowling, stammering, smirking, embattled, half-paranoid, and all-around weird performance."

Questions you won't hear in the debates:

For Kerry:

If, as president, you met with President Jacques Chirac of France, would you permit yourself to speak French? Would the American people?

Why should we make you commander in chief of the United States armed forces after you have said that those forces regularly committed war crimes in Vietnam, and after you voted against new missile systems, the B-2 bomber and the American-led effort to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991?

For Bush:

History suggests our best presidents acknowledge error, learn from mistakes, grow in the job. Lincoln readily conceded a number of errors. "I'd like to believe I'm smarter today than I was yesterday," he explained. Yet when you were first asked about mistakes you had made since the inauguration, you could not think of any. Your vice president followed suit this week, insisting he would recommend today exactly the same course in Iraq. Without acknowledging error, how can you expect to be smarter today than you were yesterday? ...
[Actually, this was close to the last question for Bush in the 2nd pres. debate]

Are you prepared to say to the world's Muslims that the United States is not a Christian nation but a religiously neutral nation whose Constitution prohibits the establishment of any religion?
And a good observation in Slate about a recent fad in popular portrayals of suburban angst:

But there's at least one problem: The placid suburban lifestyle of shows like Desperate Housewives-a world in which whole communities of stay-at-home wives expect to be subsidized in grand style by the labor of their uncomplaining husbands, who in turn expect to come home to spotless mansions-doesn't exist anymore, at least not in the pure form depicted on this show. Why are we so, well, desperate to satirize a rapidly disappearing slice of American life? Is the recent wave of suburban snarkiness just suburban nostalgia in disguise?

Caitlin Flanagan has written that we don't have housewives anymore, we have full-time moms. The difference (she didn't put it exactly this way) is that housewives spent their days in their kitchens; FT Moms spend theirs in their minivans.
Interesting and important observations by a fellow neo-Calvinist, Gideon Strauss:

Yes, there are some not-so-good-things about neocalvinism. We neocalvinists are not often tempted to world-flight, but we are tempted to the triumphalistic notion that the sanctification of the world rests finally in our human hands, we are not often tempted to anti-intellectualism, but instead often succumb to intellectualism, we are not often tempted to an illiterate biblicism, but instead sometimes succumb to a sophisticated and subtle reduction of trust in the authority of the Bible, we seldom go too far toward quietism, but often forget to pray. At least, some of us do.
Man 2: Rabbi, should I buy a Chrysler?
Rabbi K: Eh, couldn't you rephrase that as a, as an ethical question?
Man 2: Um... Is it right to buy a Chrysler?
Rabbi K: Oh, yes! [chuckles] For great is the car with power steering and dynaflow suspension!

-Like Father, Like Clown, The Simpsons

Speaking of The Simpsons, here's a case of a cartoon character being used to argue municipal policy:

New Times Broward-Palm Beach
In the Name of Mr. Burns

Hamilton Forman is Fort Lauderdale's equivalent to Mr. Burns on The Simpsons: a multimillionaire with so much power and wealth that he sometimes seems to believe he owns his fair city. Forman bought Broward County land early and often, from downtown Fort Lauderdale to the western cities; he is the patriarch of the county's premier land-owning aristocracy. ... At the September 20 meeting of Fort Lauderdale's Planning and Right of Way Committee, Forman demanded approval to turn part of the median outside the church into a parking lot. He even offered to pay to do it. Forman had for years been using the green space as an illegal parking lot. Despite no-parking signs and two wooden barriers intended to keep cars out, ol' Mr. Burns found a way. He even admits it. Forman simply destroyed the attractive barriers to make way for his fellow churchgoers, he told the committee. ... It's right there on tape: Mr. Burns admitting to willfully and maliciously destroying municipal property.
You can have some fun with this make-your-own-highway-advisory page:


(More on Dante's Inferno here, here and here.)
PHC episodes I intend to listen to again: 12/21/02, 04/19/03, 10/25/03
Etymology Today from M-W: saga \SAH-guh\
1 : a prose narrative recorded in Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries of historic or legendary figures and events of the heroic age of Norway and Iceland
2 : a modern heroic narrative resembling the Icelandic saga
3 : a long detailed account

The original sagas were prose narratives that were roughly analogous to modern historical novels. They were penned in Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries and blended fact and fiction to tell the tales of famous rulers, legendary heroes, or even plain folks. And they were aptly named; "saga" traces back to an Old Norse root that means "what is said or told." When English speakers borrowed the term back in the early 1700s, they used it to describe those first Icelandic stories. Later, "saga" was broadened to cover anything that resembled such a story, and eventually it was further generalized to cover any long, complicated scenario.

Previous E.T.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

NY TimesThis week in my B&C blog: September news and book review roundup, plus a places item on a Wal-Mart opening near this sacred Aztec pyramid. LINK/ARCHIVE

Bulls billboard

My latest Tribune language column:
On the history of the phrase "through thick and thin," the new slogan of the floundering Chicago Bulls.
temp link/perm.preview

I e-mailed Steve Schanwald to ask whether this would be a "thick" or "thin" year. His response, in classic marketing-ese: "As for whether this season will be thick or thin, only time will tell. That's's why they play the games. All I know for sure is that fans who come to our games will have fun."

Here's the text, background, and translation of Chaucer's Reeve's Tale. Here's another early example of "thick and thin" cited by OED, from Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" in 1590: "His tyreling jade [a weary horse, from which we get our word "jaded"] he fiercely forth did push, Through thicke and thin, both over banke and bush" (background)

Here's the home page of Anatoly Liberman, etymologist extraordinaire. Here's an imaginary conversation written entirely in cliches involving the word "thick." Here's a sermon entitled "Through Thick and Thin."

- Wikipedia calls pages such as this one (on the Indian language of Tamil) disambiguation pages, "i.e., a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title."

- LL on LH on the new (old, actually) name of the capital of Kyrgyzstan:

Its name ... used to be Pishpek, and then became Frunze in Soviet times ("Purunze" to the locals, at least in pronunciation). Since the Soviet name was a reference to the Bolshevik political and military leader Mikhail Frunze, the post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan decided to return to the old name. Unfortunately, no one knew its etymology. I'm not completely clear why this was viewed as a problem -- perhaps local linguistic nationalism prefers etymologically transparent place names? Anyhow, it was decided to use the Kyrgyz word nearest in sound, which is bishkek, meaning "whisk to stir kumiss with". ... This story (if true) means that the name of the capital of Kyrgyzstan is a very special type of eggcorn, namely a false analysis, with a slight change in sound, created on purpose to provide an interpretation for a name that otherwise lacks one.

- Heard Letterman refer last week to the luxury personal blimp advertised in the new Neiman Marcus' Christmas catalog as a dirigible. Hadn't heard that word before; M-W defines the noun as an "airship" and the adjective as "capable of being steered," from the Latin "dirigere." Most articles I found about the catalog (including CNN and NPR) refer to the blimp as a "zeppelin," and so does the catalog itself. Here's a page from the Chicago Public Library on a "dirigible crash" in the 1920s.

- Conan, via "Since Bill Clinton's operation, the number of patients complaining of similar chest pains has increased dramatically. Doctors are calling the trend the Bill Clinton Syndrome. ... Before the operation the Bill Clinton Syndrome was characterized as a burning sensation in the groin."

- LL finds that "in Thursday's debate, John Kerry's sentences were 17.7% longer than George Bush's," and that Kerry used more words (7,168 to 6,165) in fewer sentences (468 to 476). LL also challenges Kathleen Hall Jamieson on her contentions that Bush's sentences are S-V-O-period and that "words found on the SAT verbal exam should not appear in candidate's speeches." Finally: Debate fact-checking from the Wash.Post.

- The Onion: 'Ravaged' named Florida's official state adjective x

- My friend Nick coins a word at his Web site: "Corklearance: a periodic cleansing of one's bulletin board contents, often yielding year-old pamphlets."

- The Observer (via Lit. Saloon) says Carlos Fuentes' new manifesto-memoir is dubiously translated:

The strangest moment may have more to do with the translator than the author. Writing about his wonderful father ('a man of good humour, tenderness, punctuality: a good example'), he records that on the day he died, Fuentes Sr 'did two things: he tried on a new suit and he sexually harassed my mother'. Fuentes's attitudes towards women are dodgy enough, but can he really be praising Dad for cornering Mum in the kitchen? Perhaps the Spanish means something more like 'made gallant romantic advances to'.

- The trouble with headlines: This article in the Trib was about how the Baltimore Orioles were compensated for having the Montreal Expos move next door to them in D.C. The headline leaves in unclear whether they were compensated or charged: "Report: Orioles paid well for Expos' move"

- Can we drop the "-less in Seattle" headline already? This morning on ESPN, the anchor's tease said the Mariners were "manager-less in Seattle." That's miles away from clever.

- Speaking of ESPN, I thought it was incorrect for ESPN to call an analysis segment "Fact or Fiction," since the segment often includes predictions (about whether the Dodgers will beat the Cardinals, etc.), and predictions are neither demonstrably true nor false. But M-W says fiction can mean "a useful illusion or pretense." (I guess it's up to you to decide how useful ESPN's predictions are.)

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