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Archive for January, 2004

The Same Tune

Monday, January 26th, 2004

The Hall Brothers’ “The Wrong Road” has the same tune as (Bill Monroe’s? or did he just cover it?) “Footprints in the Snow”.

Movie Words

Sunday, January 25th, 2004

Query # of hits % Total
“Ashton Kutcher” movie 151,000 63
“Ashton Kutcher” film 75,900 31
“Ashton Kutcher” flick 8,380 3.5
“Ashton Kutcher” “motion picture” 2,840 1.2
“Ashton Kutcher” talkie 252 0.1
Query # of hits % Total
“Buster Keaton” film 72,000 52
“Buster Keaton” movie 58,800 42
“Buster Keaton” “motion picture” 4,440 3.2
“Buster Keaton” flick 3,320 2.4
“Buster Keaton” talkie 1,090 0.8

Sellout Spelling

Sunday, January 25th, 2004

I saw a poster for an Ashton Kutcher flick. Ashton was depicted in the foreground, looking shocked and perhaps apprehensive. A pair of slim, feminine hands, having come over his shoulders from behind, were fastening his tie. The hands belonged to a pretty standard Hot Chick, visible behind his right shoulder. I’ve seen her in something but I forget her name. Behind his other shoulder, lips pursed, an Old Man.

The name of the movie:

My Boss‘sDaughter

This is an interesting way of dealing with the ever-confusing problem: “How does one form the possessive of a word that ends in s?” This has been dealt with in many ways. Some folks (elegantly and correctly) would say “My Boss’ Daughter”. Others would go for the logically unassailable but slightly unsightly “My Boss’s Daughter”. Back in the day they would have said “My Boss His Daughter”, or even (I believe) “The Governess His Daughter”.

But those pusillanimous movie wimps (O Hollywood! thy moral cowardice giveth me a puke) have wimped out entirely. They are not man enough to spell it either as Boss’ or Boss’s, but have to try to have it both ways. Typical. They are abdicating their responsibility to the youth, and to the future.

Now let’s mock some other wacky ways people’ve spelt this movie’s title!

  • My Bosses Daughter (Nice try, Chaucer!)
  • My Bosses’s Daughter (Nice try, Fritz!)
  • My Bosses’ Daughter (Maybe if you have a very specific work situation…)
  • My Boss Daughter (Yeah, she’s totally mint)

Late Breaking Update!

For all y’all visual types. Is she really fastening his tie?

More on France, Children’s Rhymes

Thursday, January 22nd, 2004

Another classic, this one taunting, for communication of a very specific message. It works best with two-syllable names stressed on the first, though you can accomplish wonders with a little syncopation. Not wishing to offend anyone, I’ll mock myself here, and just to be sure feelings aren’t hurt I’ll do it in an obviously untrue, purely exemplary manner (I am looking at a computer screen now!):

I see London, I see France,
I see Desi’s underpants!

I was delighted some months ago with an elaborated version of this, which my young niece knows:

I see London, I see France,
I see Desi’s underpants!
Not too big, not too small,
Just as big as Eastview Mall!

France, Pants

Wednesday, January 21st, 2004

There’s a classic rhyme:

There’s a place in France
Where the naked ladies dance
There’s a hole in the wall
Where the men can see it all

But I only call it classic because I read it in a book once, and it gets more Google hits than what I consider in my heart of hearts the real version — the version I learned as a boy in The Ward, Upstate New York. It’s sung to a what always struck me as a Mysterious Eastern Melody, which at least one website alleges is called “The Hoochie Kootchy Dance”.

Oh they don’t wear pants
On the other side of France
But they do wear jeans
Just to cover up their beans

Children’s rhymes are fascinatingly mutable. By far the more common version of this variant appears to have “the Southern part of of France” in the second line. Which makes sense climatologically, I suppose, tho I wouldn’t know about culturally.

A second couplet “But they do wear grass / Just to cover up their ass” was known to me and others as well, but considered a bit racy for mixed company. The internet knows of “But they do wear fleece / to protect them from the beast”.

Risks of Reading

Monday, January 19th, 2004

I discovered today that Whitehall is not a big old palace anymore.

I should go to Europe sometime!


Monday, January 19th, 2004

The “telegraph” used by the English naval admiralty (located in Whitehall) in the early nineteenth century to communicate with the coast.

The series of beacons in Agamemnon which alerts the watchman back in Argos that Troy has finally been whupped.

The beautiful, wide-spirited scene in Return of the King when the chain of mountaintop beacons is lit from Gondor to Rohan.

I remembered The Dream of the Rood as referring to the rood as something like “beacna beorhtost”, and I meant to write about how the Gondor thing visually enriched that language for me. But as it turns out I remembered the poem wrong — the relevant section goes like

ðuhte me ðæt ic gesawe seldlicre treo
on lyft lædan leohte bewunden,
beama beorhtost. Eall ðæt beacen wæs
begoten mid golde; gimmas stodon
fægere at foldan sceatum, swelce ðær fife wæron
uppe on ðam eaxl-gespanne.

If we translate this in the poetically hampered but etymologically interesting Ezra Pound manner, which has the added benefit of being well adapted to a meagre and time-attenuated understanding of Old English, we get something like

Methought I saw a very seldom-like [i.e. rare] tree
leading aloft, bewound with light,
brightest of beams. All that beacon was
bepoured with gold; gems stood
fair on the fold’s sheet [i.e. the ground], likewise there were
five up on that axle-span. [i.e. shoulder-span]

Well, well, here we are dusting off our old textbooks for show and tell. No apologies, but readers with any aversion to dust, must, mold, foxing etc. are advised not to continue. Tolkien fans might appreciate this section of The Wanderer. It’s an “ubi sunt” passage, which are apparently pretty common in Old English poetry. I think there might be one in Beowulf too? I haven’t read much OE, but the whole vibe of “everything’s going downhill but let’s try to be really strong and noble anyway” certainly pervades most of what I have read, and for sure Tolkien is all over it. Theoden busts out with some shit very similar to this in Return of the King, or was it the Two Towers?

“Hwær com mearh? Hwær com magu? Hwær com maðumgiefa?
Hwær com symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Ea-la beorht bune! Ea-la byrnwiga!
Ea-la ðeodnes ðrymm! He seo ðrag gewatt,
genað under nihthelm, swa heo na wære!
Standeð nu on laste leofre duguðe
weall wundrum heah, wyrmlicum fag.
Eorlas fornamon æsca ðryðe,
wæpen wælgifru, wyrd seo mære,
and ðas stanhliðu stormas cnyssa&eth,
hrið hreosende hrusan bindeð
wintres woma, ðonne wann cymeð
nipeð nihtscua, norðan onsendeð
hreo hæglfære, hæleðum on andan.
Eall is eorfoðlic eorðan rice,
onwendeð wyrda gesceaft weorold under heofunum.
Her bið feoh læne, her bið freond læ,
her bið mann læne, her bið mæg læne,
eall ðis eorðan gesteall idel weorðeð

Learning Old English corrupts, and inclines one entirely too much to archaism. People are so in love with kicking it Pound style that it takes some time to find a translation that is readable. I wonder if, say, Italian translations of Latin works have the same problem? Anyways here’s a decent translation of the above, in a style reminiscent of Tolkien’s High Style:

Where has the man gone? Where has the horse gone? whence went the treasure giver?
whence went the banquet places? Where are all the hall revelry(s)
Alas bright cup! Alas mail-clad warrior!
Alas prince’s splendor! How time has passed

darkened under night’s-helm as if it had not been.
Now the stone slope outlasts the footstep of beloved one’s army
wall wondrously high with serpent images inscribed.
Warriors destroyed by the ash-spear troop
weapons greedy for slaughter. Fate, that illustrious one,

and its stone slope with tempests trouble
rapidly falling snow storm the ground binds
winter’s howling then comes darkly
the shadow of night grows dark sends forth from the north
a fierce hailstorm to the warriors’ vexation.

All is full of hardship in this rich earth
fate changes destiny in the world under heaven.
Here is wealth transitory here is friend transitory
here is man transitory here is kinsman transitory
the foundation of all this earth becomes vain

The above is by Rick McDonald, and the full text is here. Mr. McDonald has created an excellent Wanderer page.

Old School Medicine

Monday, January 19th, 2004

The 1772 (first edition) Encyclopedia Brittanica’s entry on medicine gets into some very interesting and helpful specifics on dropsy, scrophula, ague, impetigo, the yaws, scurvy, etc. It is useful and perversely pleasant to be reminded of the various humiliations of our embodiment.

Dropsy is a generalized œdema: i.e. when you get all swole up. Seems to start in the feet and ankles so maybe there’s some relation to the mysterious ailment I hear womenfolk call “retaining water”. The edema attendant on scurvy also tends to start in the feet and ankles. Water flows downhill I guess. Prescription: strong drastic purgatives. Diuretics. Also, “Some have been cured by a pertinaceous abstinence from all liquids, living upon sea bisuit with a little salt, and a very little rich wine.”
Hydrocele, or Dropsy of the Scrotum
The hydrocele, called the dropsy of the scrotum, hernia aquosa, and the dropsy of the testicle, is an aequeous tumour of the scrotum. Though authors mention several kinds, there are but two. The first is, when the water is contained in the tunica vaginalis; the second, when it is contained in the cellular membrane of the scrotum. This last is almost always complicated with an anasarca, a kind of dropsy which consists in the extravasation of the water which lodges in the cells of the membrana adiposa. The hydrocele in this case is known without any difficulty; for the skin is shining and soft, yielding easily to a slight impression, which will remain pitted for some time; the penis is also sometimes prodigiously swelled by the liquor which insinuates into the cellular membrane. There are none of these symptoms in the dropsy of the tunica vaginalis.

In the dropsy of the cellular membrane of the scrotum, some recommend the puncture with a trochart [ow! -d.]; others to make small apertures here and there with the point of a lancet [yow! -d.]; others, to put a small skane of silk through the skin with a needle, and to let it remain as a seton, till all the water is drained off. [eek! -d.] But the first two methods yield very little relief, and the last may be more likely to induce a gangrene. Nor is there occasion for any operation at all, because the cellular membrane of the scrotum is nothing but a continuation of the membrana adiposa; and therefore scarifications made in the skin of the small of the legs will effectually empty the scrotum.

Yet sometimes there falls so great a quantity of water into the scrotum, that the distention is very painful, threatening a mortification. Likewise the prepuce very often is so excessively dilated and twisted, that it hinders the patient from making water.

In these cases there should be an incision made on each side the scrotum, three inches in length, quite through the skin, into the cells which contain the water; and likewise two or three, half an inch long, in any part of the penis, with a lancet or knife.

Of the Hysteric Colic
This is a common symptom of the hysteric passion, and is attended with a most violent pain about the pit of the stomach, as also with a vomiting of a greenish humour, and a great sinking of the spirits: after a day or two the pain goes off, but upon the slightest motion or perturbation of the mind it soon returns again.

Neither bleeding nor cathartics have any place in the cure, for they exasperate the distemper; nay, the most gentle clysters are prejudicial: For this desease seems rather to proceed from a disorder of the spirits, than from a fault of the humours. It will be proper first to advise the patient to drink upwards of a gallon of posset drink, to clear the stomach of its impurities, by throwing it up again, that the effects of the paregoric may not be hindered. Afterwards give 25 drops of the thebaic tincture [Hooray!! -d.], in an ounce of cinnamon-water. This last is to be repeated at due intervals, till the symptoms disappear; that is, the effect of one dose must be known, before another is given. Yet sometimes, in plethoric bodies, if the strength will permit, it is better to prepare the way, by bleeding and purging, or both, for an anodyne.

Of the Flatulent or Wind Colic
It will be also beneficial to apply hot bricks or tiles to the part affected [i.e. where your belly aches -d.]; also bags with parched oats and carminative ingredients, as carraway seed, juniper and bay berries, with decrepitated salt. A clyster of the smoak of tobacco, blown through a pipe into the anus, is reckoned an excellent thing.
Of the Colic from Fumes of Lead
Workers in lead should never go to their business fasting, and their food ought to be oily or fat. A glass of salad oil, with a little brandy, rum or other spirit, is a good morning’s draught; but spirits alone should never be taken while at work, nor immediately after it. Physick should be taken spring and fall, and no man should go into the cold air while hot with labour, and they should change their working-cloaths for others as soon as possible. Liquid aliment is best, such as fat broth with good meat; for low living is bad. They should now and then go a little way out of the tainted air.

We can laud such humane and fun old medicine as giving laudanum for PMS/cramps (a treatment which would result in much jail time these dark days), but it is much cheaper and easier to pick out small ignorances and errors for mockery. However, since 18th century medicine was an entire system of understanding the world, this is actually a very unfair, ignorant and small-mindedly “modernist” thing to do. But then again, come on! They blew smoke up each other’s asses! Ha ha.

More Greekish Fun

Wednesday, January 14th, 2004

A couple of Greeky words I’ve learnt recently. All basically regurgitated OED. I don’t intend to harp on this too much, but my conscience requires me to tell you that you should really just get yourself an OED and look everything up instead of reading this.

This is Greek “cataclysmos”. From kata, “down”, and clyzein, “to wash, dash like a wave”.

In English it can mean any huge downpour, but is taken especially to refer to Noah’s flood — or as I call it, the Noachian deluge. Our more modern uses are pretty obvious extensions of this.

This lovely flower, ornament of our ditches, is known to the learned as lysimachion. Pliny states that oxen which are made to eat it are more willing to draw together. Hmm! Is loosestrife psychoactive? John Fletcher thought so! Take f’rinstance this from his 1610 Faithful Shepherdess: “Yellow Lecimachus, to giue sweete rest To the faint Shepheard.” Let a thousand flowers bloom, that’s what I say!

The lysi, to dissolve or “loose”, is familiar to us from many words, such as glycolysis and lysosome. They don’t call him lysosome “’cause he runs so fast”, despite what you may have heard. And who doesn’t recognize mach as Greekish “strife”?

Pliny also alleges that loosestrife was “discovered” by one Lysimachus, and hence the name. Sounds a little pat to me, but OED seems to credit it…

Poor Li’l Birdies

Friday, January 9th, 2004

Today I saw a “bevy” of starlings roosting in a tree. It is cold here, and their feathers were ludicrously puffed out in every direction – they looked almost spherical.

Now, I know that properly I’m supposed to despise and fear starlings – they’re European imports, not at all native to North America – they displace native songbirds and they don’t sing prettily at all. They can make you feel really weird and threatened when they swoop in by the thousand, carpeting treebranches with their bodies and filling ears with their eerie metallic screeching.

But all the same, if starlings may properly be likened to a cat they are certainly out of the bag – one imagines they must have been introduced to North America decades ago, and the ones now freezing in Massachusetts may well have as many generations of American ancestors as George Bush, even.

Again I defy nativism! I like starlings! It’s not their fault they sing so ugly. And they stick together admirably. And Old World sources write of them as possessing the power of speech.

I hope they make it through the winter all right.