Monday, March 29, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
On the American National Corpus, which promotes the study of words in their natural habitats.
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Here's the perm.preview to my column last week on sports cliches, which ran while I was recovering from minor surgery.
My latest Tribune articles:
On the Millennium Carililon and tower in Naperville:,0,701151.story
On the rail history of the southern suburbs:,0,5864032.story
This week in my B&C blog: Samuel Huntington's distortions about Mexican immigration. Plus the physics of opera singing, a social history of board games, the resurgence of beavers, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
I've been avoiding going to grad school because of my distaste for the detachment and specialization of higher education--I prefer to be generally curious than indulgent in a certain category of arcana. I came across this description of academic specialization in Science magazine: "Calling oneself a 'gravitational physicist' or an 'expert on leg anatomy of Early Cretaceous sauropods' is not at all extraordinary."
In today's Tribune:

Top 10 national foundations and their 2003 assets.
In billions of dollars / % change from previous year

Bill & Melinda Gates (Seattle) $26.80 11.33
Lilly Endowment (Indianapolis) $10.80 7.73
Ford (New York) $10.60 9.32
Robert Wood Johnson (Princeton, N.J.) $7.80 -2.73
W.K. Kellog (Battle Creek, Mich.) $6.30 10.66
David and Lucile Packard (Los Altos, Calif.) $6.00 24.81
William and Flora Hewlett (Menlo Park, Calif.) $6.00 16.15
Gordon E. and Betty I. Moore (San Francisco)* $4.90 5,097.85
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur (Chicago) $4.50 17.29
Pew Charitable Trusts (Philadelphia) $4.10 7.46

*Reflects final installment from a charitable remainder trust.
Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Etymology Today from M-W: besot \bih-SAHT\

1 : infatuate
2 : to make dull or stupid; especially : to muddle with drunkenness

"Besot" developed from a combination of the prefix "be-" ("to cause to be") and "sot," a now archaic verb meaning "to cause to appear foolish or stupid." "Sot" in turn comes from the Middle English "sott," a noun meaning "fool." The first known use of "besot" is found in a poem by George Turberville, published in 1567. In the poem the narrator describes how he gazed at a beautiful stranger "till use of sense was fled." He then proceeds to compare himself to Aegisthus of Greek legend, the lover of Clytemnestra while Agamemnon was away at war, writing: "What forced the Fool to love / his beastly idle life / was cause that he besotted was / of Agamemnon's Wife."

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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
On the postwar decline of formality and eloquence in American English.
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My most recent article: on the growth of elder care mediation.
This week in my B&C blog: My Q&A with one of my favorite writers, Steve Rushin. Plus: The fate of the last farm in Queens, "starchitecture" on college campuses, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

NY Times
I was struck by this term used in one of the captions for the Rembrandt exhibit here at the Art Institute:

Early seventeenth-century Dutch artists showed a new tack for depicting picturesque dilapidation--collapsing farmhouses, ragged beggars, faces eroded by time.
Came across this in the NY Times Science section's Observatory column last month:

Studies of common European hermit crabs by scientists at Queen's University Belfast show that when one crab attacks another, the defender evaluates its chances and, if it senses a lost cause, gives up without wasting any energy, in the form of glucose and glycogen, on a fight. ... The defender either holds on and outlasts the attacker or gives up, releasing its grip on the shell and allowing the attacker to evict it forcefully. ... In fights that the defender won, it used up energy holding on to its shell. In fights that ended in eviction, the defender used little or no energy.
Some New Yorker (and other) movie review links I want to save: Anthony Lane on Master and Commander, Eternal Sunshine, Big Fish and Girl With Pearl Earring, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (soundtrack review); David Denby on Cold Mountain and Something’s Gotta Give, and House of Sand and Fog. Slate's David Edelstein on Love Actually and his top 34 movies of 2003. Other links: corporate boards, Yeardley Smith, and William Brennan.
Etymology Today from M-W: ideate \EYE-dee-ayt\

transitive sense : to form an idea or conception of
intransitive sense : to form an idea

Like "idea" and "ideal," "ideate" comes from the Greek verb "idein," which means "to see." The sight-thought connection came courtesy of Plato, the Greek philosopher who based his theory of the ideal on the concept of seeing, claiming that a true philosopher can see the essential nature of things and can recognize their ideal form or state. Early uses of "idea," "ideal," and "ideate" in English were associated with Platonic philosophy; "idea" meant "an archetype" or "a standard of perfection," "ideal" meant "existing as an archetype," and "ideate" referred to forming Platonic ideas. But though "ideate" is tied to ancient philosophy, the word itself is a modern concoction, relatively speaking. It first appeared in English only about 400 years ago.

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Monday, March 08, 2004

My Tribune language column this week:
On the translation of "The Passion" into Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin.
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Here's a graf that was cut from the column:

Fulco said the "The Passion" does not incorporate a Galilean accent, though Jesus actually spoke with one. In fact, one of the reasons Jesus' status as a religious teacher was unusual was his northern accent, which would have been received by the religious elite in Jerusalem with the kind of condescension that might meet an American Southerner in New York City.

Here's the London Guardian on some everyday Aramaic, though it doesn't acknowledge that modern Aramaic is different from the ancient Aramaic in the movie.

Up next: John McWhorter on "the degradation of language and why we should, like, care"

-My Tribune archive
My latest Baltimore Sun op-ed:
Why this Nader voter is switching allegiances four years later.,0,1173096.story

-Previous Sun op-eds

Interesting response at the weblog:

In his Sunpaper article (“A Reversal on Ralph”, March 7, 2004) Nathan Bierma summed up his journey from being a Nader supporter in the 2000 presidential election to being a Democratic supporter in 2004 by concluding that, “Politics, like it or not, is about pragmatism. . . It’s not about idealism, and it’s not really about changing the system, not all that much.” ...

To paraphrase the poet’s words, “If there were world enough and time,” then Bierma’s newfound “pragmatism” would be no crime. But, in light of the recently released Pentagon findings which predict that catastrophic climate change will cause a “significant drop” in the planet's ability to sustain its present population over the next 20 years, there may in truth be nothing as practical as Bierma’s idealism.

Therefore I ask Bierma and other “former” idealists, when thinking about the seeming futility of third party politics in America, to contemplate German Green Party cofounder Petra Kelly’s timely admonition that, “If we don't do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable.”
This week in my B&C blog: The history of curiosity, from Common-place magazine. (If I haven't trumpeted this enough before: I'm a big fan of curiosity.) Plus: the Lakota Nation Invitational basketball tournament in South Dakota, America's rising centenarian population, a scientific explanation for the parting of the Red Sea, the politics of catapults, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

I begin the blog with an Augustine quote; more here and here.

More on centenarians and public policy from the Brookings Review here.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Tribune news: I'm starting a weekly column on Language as part of the revival of the daily "At Random" column in the Tempo section. It will run on page 2 of Tempo on Thursdays. I realize it's especially self-involved to invite people to read one column and one separate weblog each week in addition to this blog, so I'll try to keep things light here. My first column is on the explicit dialogue of "Sex and the City":

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Up next: Translating "The Passion"

-My Tribune archive
Latest B&C article:
What's wrong with the prison system, and why 90 percent of existing answers are ruined by ideology.

More on the phrase There but for the grace of God go I, which I mention in the article.
This week in my B&C blog: The month in news and book reviews. LINK/ARCHIVE

Trimmed: Patriots win Super Bowl, Janet Jackson gives viewers more than they can bare, John Kerry rolls, Howard Dean drops out, Bush's Guard gaps, Bush and Kerry are 16th cousins, "Passion" is 5th largest Wednesday opening ever, "Rings" rules Oscars, ties record, New elements created, Gay marriages in San Fran., Comcast bids for Disney, Woodrow Wilson bridge unpopular, Cows ruled cheaters at Ohio State Fair.
As we approach the anniversary of last year's first bombing of Baghdad, here's an e-mail forward I found in an old file...

What George Bush Senior sang to George Bush Junior before bed....

When you're happy and you know it, bomb Iraq
If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are frisky, Pakistan is looking shifty, North
Korea is too risky, Bomb Iraq.

If we have no allies with us, bomb Iraq.
If we think someone has dissed us, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections, Let's look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions, Bomb Iraq.

It's "preemptive nonaggression", bomb Iraq.
Let's prevent this mass destruction, bomb Iraq.
They've got weapons we can't see, And that's good enough for me.
'Cuz it's all the proof I need Bomb Iraq.

If you never were elected, bomb Iraq.
If your mood is quite dejected, bomb Iraq.
If you think Saddam's gone mad, With the weapons that he had, (And
he tried to kill your dad), Bomb Iraq.

If your corporate fraud is growin', bomb Iraq.
If your ties to it are showin', bomb Iraq.
If your politics are sleazy, And hiding that ain't easy, And your
manhood's getting queasy, Bomb Iraq.

Fall in line and follow orders, bomb Iraq.
For our might knows not our borders, bomb Iraq.
Disagree? We'll call it treason, Let's make war not love this
season, Even if we have no reason, Bomb Iraq.

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Etymology Today from M-W: baksheesh \BAK-sheesh\
: payment (as a tip or bribe) to expedite service

Baksheesh" came into the English language around 1760 and was most likely picked up by British subjects as they traveled abroad. In Asia, English speakers would have heard "baksheesh" used as a word for "gratuity, a present of money, tip" — a meaning they directly adopted. Etymologically speaking, "baksheesh" is from Persian "bakhshĂ®sh," which is also the source of the word "buckshee," meaning "something extra obtained free," "extra rations," or "windfall, gratuity." "Buckshee" is strictly a British English term and is not used in American English. Like "baksheesh," it too is dated circa 1760.

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