You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Archive for May, 2003

Unidentified Natural Toxin

Sunday, May 25th, 2003

Fiddleheads are my new culinary enemy.

Voces Clamantium in Deserto

Saturday, May 24th, 2003

Very interesting!

Found out via salon, tho I fear the article may be “premium”.

By the way, as far as I can tell the site is running software libre entirely – a GPLed content management system running through apache on debian linux.

A Noble Spirit Embiggens the Smallest Man

Friday, May 23rd, 2003

Jebediah Springfield’s word “embiggen” was on my mind yesterday, as in the song: (quoted from snpp)

Hitch that team up Jebediah Springfield,
whip them horses, let them wagons roll.
That a people might embiggen America,
that a man might embiggen his soul.

The nifty thing about this word (described by Ms. Hoover (app. a native Springfieldian?) as “perfectly cromulent”) is how close it comes to calquing the somewhat legit frenchy “aggrandize”. “Enlarge” is along the same lines but more nativized…

Springfield is a sort of funhouse mirror for Americans, and the Springfielders’ Englished-up “embiggen” is counterpointed by at least one instance of a Springfield resident expressing contempt for non-native words. (We in the real world are not entirely strangers to this sort of boorish know-nothingism lately, with the “Käse verzehrende Kapitulationsaffen” hilarious targets as ever)

Homer: Hmm. I wonder why he’s so eager to go to the garage?
Moe: The “garage”? Hey fellas, the “garage”! Well, ooh la di da, Mr. French Man.
Homer: Well what do _you_ call it?
Moe: A car hole!

People have a hard time quoting things correctly. This line (the above is from snpp) shows up as

Here: Moe: “Garage?” “Garage?” Hey fella’s, the “Garaaaaage”!! Well la-di-da Mr. Frenchman!

Here: Moe: “Garage… Garage… Well, if it ain’t
mista fancy-pants Frenchman….!”

Here: Moe: “Oooh…lah dee dah…the *garage*…ain’t we fancy…” [acknowledged to be a mere paraphrase]

Here: Moe: A garage? Hey fellas, a garage. Well, oh la de da, Mr. French man.

I assume the obsessive and assiduous snpp has the quote right – “ooh la dee da” combines “la dee da” with the comically Gallic “ooh la la” nicely.

Moe Szyslak, of course, is no descendant of Jebediah Springfield’s original band of pioneers. I believe his adult accent is some sort of New York, but the show drops hints that he is an immigrant not only to Springfield but to the United States as well. Groening et al. are shifty about exactly where he’d be from (Italy? Arab lands? Eastern Europe?) – presumably because many kinds of foreigners is funnier than just one kind.

But to hell with verbal nativism. I love syncretic English, which has welcomed a millennium’s worth of linguistic immigrants. The original “lean unlovely” language has turned sprawling, farraginous, all-including (better to spell that with a dash, I think – too much Saxon vigor might seem pretentious). I love being able to choose between oversight, supervision and surveillance – between shit, scat and fæcal matter. English is the tropical rainforest of languages, a fecund breeding-ground of lexical biodiversity.

Incidentally, there are false etymologies of cromulent circulating out there. There are also hundreds of usages which don’t refer explicitly to the Simpsons. The “perfectly” which accompanied cromulent on its maiden voyage is sometimes by its side, sometimes not.

My personal opinion is that cromulent is a funny sounding word, but phonesthetically a little ill-suited to its meaning – too many words which end in “-ulent” in English have undesirable or ugly meanings: e.g. corpulent, crapulent, flatulent, fraudulent, opulent, truculent and virulent.


Thursday, May 22nd, 2003

Blast! I just succeeded in deleting my entire home directory with one stupid, brutal typo. My officemate Juliet knew exactly what had happened just by the way I said “Oh, Fuck!”, which is kind of neat.

The files are easy to recover, but the rotten thing is that I had just been cleaning out the year and a half of cruft that’s accumulated there – most of that organization-work is lost. There is, however, a bright side – while waiting for the slow tape drive to get to the right place, I had a chance to read this speech by our modern Demosthenes, Sen. Robert Byrd.  I am glad that we have among us such a fine Orator – a first-rate Cassandrist – a Composer of Philippics in the true classic Style.

Stumbling Fingers

Wednesday, May 21st, 2003

I’m sick of using Perl, the only programming language I have anything approaching fluency in, for everything. So the past couple days I’ve been learning enough Python to take care of a work project with it. The thing that’s been kind of surprising me about it is that I’m finding typing Python code consistently difficult. The language seems to really love lists, which it denotes with [square brackets] – and it uses them for getting at the indices of “dictionaries” too. I thought that Perl had made me learn where most of the ugly characters are on the keyboard, but as it happens I don’t tend to use square brackets much with that language. I’m a pathological hash abuser so the {curly brackets} come very easily to my hands; you’d think the square ones would be easy, since they’re on the Exact Same Keys as the curly ones. But for whatever reason, all them square brackets are cramping my style…

Walking While Reading

Monday, May 19th, 2003

I ignored all the purty flowers and signs of spring this morning, and read some Machado de Assis on the walk in to work. The text seemed to smile on this decision:

He was by the gate when that idea began to flower. From there he went inside, going up the stone steops, opening the door, unaware of anything. As he closed the door, a leap from Quincas Borba, who’d accompanied him, brought him to. Where had the major gone? Hw wanted to go back down and see him, but he realized in time that he’d just taken him to the street. His legs had done everything. They were what had carried him along all by themselves, straight, lucid, without stumbling, so that his head was left with nothing but the task of thinking. Good old legs! Friendly legs! Natural crutches for the spirit!

Still Harping on Juggernaut

Saturday, May 17th, 2003

The Hindu online edition had an essay about Henry Yule and Hobson-Jobson last November. It talks about more of the interesting borrowings into English, such as bandana, thug, and crimson.

Now I want to get Hanklyn-Janklin!

To see oursels as ithers see us

Friday, May 16th, 2003

Raccoons led me googlewise to this a few days ago. A bunch of Cornish kids’ impressions of America. They must’ve studied Rockville (Maryland?) right before writing – their impressions are too homogeneous to lack an immediate influence of that sort, and one of them makes reference to films. Fun repeated themes:

  • Buildings in the U.S. (tentatively including the White House) are white to keep out the heat.
  • Lots of cars and pollution.
  • Hot in winter, cold in summer.
  • Income disparity.
  • On-street mailboxes.
  • “Grisly bears” and raccoons always scattering trash around in town.
  • Fat, strict teachers in the schools; burgers and chips in the cafeteria.

“How much crime happens every day? We have a lot of crime but apparently not as much as you, is that why you have Jay walking.”

“There are typhoons hurricanes tornadoes earthquakes and poverty and the cost of living is high .But I would not mind a holiday there.”

The use of “I reckon” by three of these kids is interesting. Is this current in Cornwall? Or are they picking up on an Americanism, perhaps used in the movie they saw?

And I dig this: “What are your school diners like, are’ grotty’ like ours ?”

Check out the scarequotes, distancing the author from a word which must’ve felt too English. Is there some Englishy word for words which are too Englishy? Seems like there oughta be. It’s hard to find definitions for some of these words – many aren’t in the OED, and Google glossary doesn’t have many of them either. “Swotty twee” is currently a googlewhack. From that interesting lone page: “Quite twee. (put that word in cos most yanks don’t know the meaning!)”

Here’s a dictionary which at least passes the swotty grotty test. Fun to browse!

Happiness quantified

Wednesday, May 14th, 2003

Via Danny Yee, an excerpt from David Myers’ Psychology textbook – about happiness.

Blogger News Item

Wednesday, May 14th, 2003

Another testy post.