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Archive for April, 2003

Go and rescue Kitty from the cave!

Friday, April 25th, 2003

X-men… Juggernaut… the memories come rushing back. Me and my boys used to play the X-Men video game at Putt-Putt all the time. The fresh one with the two screens side by side, and up to six simultaneous players.

At the end of one of the levels, you have to beat Juggernaut. He looks kinda wuss in the game compared to in the comic books, and keeps on saying “Juggernaut will crush you!” But he doesn’t crush you, unless you’re really off that day, because you know exactly how to whup him.

Whoever’s playing Nightcrawler (i.e. me) does most of the work. Here’s the recipe:

Run circles around his big slow ass, doing jump kicks to the back of his head. If you’re playing well he’ll never even touch you. After a couple of these kicks, he’ll fall down to a sitting position. Now the key to a truly artful Juggernaut beatdown is this: the first (two?) times he falls down, he’s still capable of getting up surprisingly quickly and hitting you with his club. Inelegant and possibly dangerous. So, these times, you go up to him and carefully measure out six or seven bitch-slaps – it helps to say things like “Ss!” and “What then!” and “Can’t whup nobody!” as you’re doing this. Then step back, let him stand up again – and kick him in the back of the head again, until he falls over.

The third time he falls down is the key. This time, he won’t get up if you beat him hard enough. So now everyone mobs him and commences the gaffling, until he’s flat on his back. Repeat as needed.

That’s how you whup Juggernaut.

Bruce Banner, Noam Chomsky

Friday, April 25th, 2003

The print edition of USA Today has a picture of a computer-generated “Incredible Hulk” on its cover, with this story. The picture and accompanying caption on the online edition are different (it’s Wolverine!)

The Hulk’s caption in the print edition says something to the effect of: On the television show Bruce Banner’s alter ego was played by a human actor, but in the movie he will be a “pigment [sic] of computer imagination”.

I think this is about as close to Noam Chomsky’s famous nonsensical sentence, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”, as we’re ever likely to see in the wild.

Ye Uselesse Poste

Thursday, April 24th, 2003

I just wanted a post to test an aggregator – borrowed this link from robotwisdom

Hobson Jobson

Thursday, April 24th, 2003

The recent shi’ite pilgrimage to Karbala has gotten a lot of attention. Jon Stewart and his gang had a really funny bit about it on the Daily Show, highlighting the cultural distance. People so overwhelmed with religious fervor that they cut their heads open – how can I relate to that? I can’t grok it any more than I can really grok speaking in tongues or snake handling.

However, I doubt that I truly understand what’s going on in the physical world in Karbala, let alone in the heads of these pilgrims. Observers of religions foreign to them tend to grotesquely misunderstand and misrepresent what they see. This pilgrimage reminded me of the title entry of Hobson-Jobson, by Colonel Sir Henry Yule, and last night I spent a while flipping through that book.

Yule was a knight, a soldier in the Sikh wars, a translator and a civil servant in India. A perfect Victorian – valiant and almost comically learned.

In 1886 he (and his deceased co-author, A. C. Burnell) published Hobson-Jobson. From the preface:

Our work indeed in the long course of its compilation, has gone through some modification and enlargement of scope; but hardly such as in any degree to affect its distinctive character, in which something has been aimed at differing in form from any work known to us. In its original conception it was intended to deal with all that class of words which, not in general pertaining to the technicalities of administration, recur constantly in the daily intercourse of the English in India, either as expressing ideas really not provided for by our mother-tongue, or supposed by the speakers (often quite erroneously) to express something not capable of just denotation by any English term. A certain percentage of such words have been carried to England by the constant reflux to their native shore of Anglo-Indians, who in some degree imbue with their notions and phraseology the circles from which they had gone forth. This effect has been still more promoted by the currency of a vast mass of literature, of all qualities and for all ages, dealing with Indian subjects; as well as by the regular appearance, for many years past, of Indian correspondence in English newspapers, insomuch that a considerable number of the expressions in question have not only become familiar in sound to English ears, but have become naturalised in the English language, and are meeting with ample recognition in the great Dictionary edited by Dr. Murray at Oxford.

Yule’s wide-ranging curiosity (and his blasted Victorian ability to read more than I will ever be able to) led him somewhat astray from that goal:

It has been already intimated that, as the work proceeded, its scope expanded somewhat, and its authors found it expedient to introduce and trace many words of Asiatic origin which have disappeared from colloquial use, or perhaps never entered it, but which occur in old writers on the East.

and further astray…

Other divagations still from the original project will probably present themselves to those who turn over the pages of the work, in which we have been tempted to introduce sundry subjects which may seem hardly to come within the scope of such a glossary.

The wonderful people at the Digital South Asia Library at the University of Chicago have provided a searchable online version of Hobson-Jobson.

Here are the entries for
Hobson-Jobson itself,
and Firefly.

I’ve put the first two words here to provide examples of cross-cultural understanding of religion. If you have access to the OED or some other dictionary which gives historical quotations, look up “mumbo-jumbo” for more of the same. I give you “Firefly” out of love.

Wordsworth used to publish a cheapo version of Hobson-Jobson, but it looks like it might have gone out of print.

Piss-ant discovery

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

New word for the day: pismire = ant.

From “piss” and “mire”, apparently due to the “urinous smell of an anthill” – I’ve never noticed such a smell, but maybe European ants are stinkier than upstate NY ants…

“Mire” here doesn’t mean mud. It’s another word entirely – an old-school word for “ant”. There’s something like it in lots of the Germanic languages. Interestingly, some scholars think it comes from a root which gives us “mig” and such Latinate joys as “micturition”. “Mig” is defined by one “Atkinson” in his Cleveland Glossary:

Mig, liquid manure; the fluid which runs away from the midden, or from the stall drains of a cow-house, &c.

That is to say, mig = piss.

So, poor Pissy Emmet the piss-ant is defamed in both syllables of pismire. And he doesn’t escape it in Latin “formica” (or descendants like Spanish hormiga) either – you can guess where those last two syllables come from. Sadly, I don’t have the resources to determine whether “myrmex” in Greek comes from the same root. It would be a grave indignity for Achilles, whose compatriots the Myrmidons took their name from the ant, if this were so.

Not surprisingly, looking up “pismire” in the Promptorium Parvulorum puts you in a pretty funny section. Here are three consecutive entries:
PYSMERE. Formica.
PYSPOTT, idem quod pyssynge vessel, supra.

That last one just cracks me up!

The long view

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

This has something I’d been kind of looking for – a few long views of the oft-seen statue scene off in Baghdad.

For Pete Sake

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

In at least on place alongside the Massachusetts highways, you can see a sign which says “Take a break. Stay awake. For safety sake.”

This isn’t quite “grammatical” – it seems you’d want a possessive there, as in “For safety’s sake”. A dumb mnemonic would be, “For the love of all that’s logical, whose sake is it you’re talking about?”

Hal and I were talking about this, and he suggested I start a protest movement to educate people on this point. We had a lovely vision of something along the lines of a Million Pedant March, with recursive self-explanatory chanting: “For Pete’s sake, for heaven’s sake, for goodness’ sake, for correctness’ sake, FOR SAFETY’S SAKE!!!”

As it happens, the mistake is well-established – it’s hard to grok the two esses in a row, and people drop the ‘s from the possessive. This is the sort of thing that cropped up a lot when writing was not as firmly established in English, and people were more concerned with representing the way they talked and sounded than making their written English logically consistent. We’re fussier now – see a good dictionary for details.

The word has an interesting history – it starts out meaning “Contention, strife, dispute”. Under the influence of Nordic legal traditions, this started being used in a legal sense like the way sake’s cognate is used in Old Norse. This is “Out of consideration for; on account of one’s interest in, or regard for (a person); on (a person’s) account.”. Thence our current usage.

So anyway, this presumably tiresome aside ties back into current events for me. The plans of ShrubCo. (thanks Molly Ivins and Mark Morford!) for war everlasting dredged a couple words from my memory – a fragment of a once-memorized larger hunk of Beowulf. They’ve been rattling around in my head – “singale sæce”. I had always lazily thought of this as “unending siege”, with sæce as the etymon of “sack”, as in “looters have thoroughly sacked the cultural institutions of that ancient city, Baghdad”. But it turns out that we got “sack” from the Italians in the 16th century, like so many of our other war-words, and the singale sæce which Grendel has against Hrothgar and the men of his main is actually a “sake”. An unending grudge.


Thursday, April 17th, 2003

For several days, through yesterday morning, there was a smooshed sparrow slowly decomposing on the sidewalk on Broadway, on my walk to work. But yesterday, as I was passing it on the way home, my usual greeting of “what up, bird?” was interrupted midstream by my surprise at its appearance. A closer look revealed that someone had replaced the dead bird with a life-size, and lifelike, stuffed toy sparrow.

Whoever did this – if by some cosmic coincidence you read this – your Art did not go unappreciated.


Thursday, April 17th, 2003

If you could go back in time, what would you do?

For years now, I’ve had a fantasy about this. No heroics, no stock market games: what I would love is to rescue lost antiquities. Imagine – you go to the Library of Alexandria, before its destruction at the hands of ignorant Christian fundamentalists (or the caliph Omar, or Julius Caesar, or Donald Rumsfeld traveling to the past, or whoever it was), and there it is. Immediately I’m digging through the leaf catalog or whatever. Where is Ovid’s lost Medea? Oh Ovid, you are so dreamy, I cannot wait to read this!

What about the Proteus, the lost satyr-play from the Oresteia? Or any other satyr-play – we have none! And can the Oresteia really be the only complete set of three tragedies we have from the Greeks?

What about folk-songs, ballads, fairy tales? Lost to the wind. Even after people started writing them down (not early enough!), at least a hundred years went by before someone had the bright idea of recording the tune as well as the words. What I would give to wander the England or the America of four centuries ago with a tape recorder! Such mystery, such beauty – a window into our own souls as humans. Lost.

While wandering England, why not make a better transcription of MS Cotton Vitellius, before the fire? And what about other manuscripts which Cotton collected but which the flames consumed entirely? What about the ones the vikings turned to ashes, along with the monasteries which owned them? We have no English Callimachus to even tell us what we’re missing.

We still get the occasional lucky find – Huckleberry Finn in a trunk in someone’s attic; gnostic scriptures in clay jars in a cave at Nag Hammadi – but so much is lost forever. Dust in the wind. Gone, gone, gone.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to call the way we’ve allowed the museum and library in Baghdad to be sacked a crime against humanity. It’s permanent, it’s irrevocable. It’s going to affect everyone from now on, whether they know it or not. We and our children and theirs and theirs are poorer now – you could say the prodigal son has squandered a common patrimony of the world.

But hey, all this is worldly anyway, right? When we get to the kingdom of heaven, we won’t mourn the passing of dust, right? Right?

statues just velunt moveri

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

I have gotten a dispensation to depart from the assigned topics and write my Latin paper on two words in the Pygmalion story – “velle moveri”. As in:

virginis est verae facies, quam vivere credas,
et, si non obstet reverentia, velle moveri:

Her appearance is that of a real maiden, whom you might believe to be alive,
and, were it not for reverence, to want to move

The passive infinitive “moveri” can simply be intransitive in sense – “to move [herself]” – but the primary sense is more like “to be moved”. I am going to research whether there might be some lewd subtext to this choice of words and the passive voice. “Moveo”, not surprisingly, has many meanings (think of all the different ways “move” can be used in English), and some of these come close to swiving – e.g. “to strike” (compare the English “fuck”).

So I get to use the OLD and the TLL and “The Latin Sexual Vocabulary” and some secret classics library for which I need to get a key. I’m hoping to find space to bring up a comparison to the creepy Warren and his “girlfriend” April on Buffy (not to mention the fabulous Buffybot!). But I only have two pages to work with…