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Archive for February, 2004


Friday, February 27th, 2004

Laurence Sterne, in the arresting portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery, London, U.K., looks like Jeffrey Jones. Definitely not Gary Oldman.

Incidentally, Jones, like Robert Forster and tons of other talented actors, is from UPSTATE. Buffalo New York represent represent-sent!

Defining Marriage

Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

Language Log‘s Geoffrey Pullum points out the fact that gay marriage rules and people who want to define marriage as a “sacred bond between a man and a woman” or whatever are a bunch of assholes.

And they’re no great hands at original phrasing either; observe for instance the frequency of that Christ-y adjective in that stupid phrase, which I keep hearing. I see 738 google hits for “bond between a man and a woman” and 90 for “sacred bond between a man and a woman”. Over 10% — most alarming! Often this sort of parrotism is a sign of a major cultural influence. For English, usually the Bible, often Shakespeare, other sources too of course come into play. But I don’t see evidence of that phrasing being kingjamesical, so who knows. Rhythmic formulaic chanting can make one feel very comfortable with even one’s most infamous actions, so perhaps this chunk of language, rather than having an antient “only begetter”, is a magical refrain of comparative recency.

Defining, in general, is a low tactic. One feels contempt for those who argue from definitions. My particular circumstances tinge that revulsion with compassion, but usually only barely.

Definition, when prescriptive, is an act of violence. The word, of course, comes from Latin finis, an end or border. Building fences is an act of violence which itself doth give rise to more violence.

If you are interested in the word “marriage”, go to the library and use the OED, a real dictionary. Or check out the informative, intelligent and dispassionate entry over at the laudable Wikipedia.


Friday, February 13th, 2004

I find I have made a joke in my latest rap battle (against that saucy villain Kilt-Dawg) which is unsupported by the OED.

“Nose”, in Tristram Shandy, seems to mean both “nose” and “penis”. Hence poor Tristram, nose crushed by birthing-forceps and penis shortened by a falling window. References to his nose (or anyone’s) in that book often seem to hint at his membrum virile. Also suspicious is the traveler of the big-ass nose and the remarkable fringed codpiece in Slawkenbergius’ tale. And the ludicrous pains Sterne is at, several times, to define and delimit precisely what he means by “nose”.

But was this slang of the times? Or just Sterne having fun? It seems like it must be the latter, else it would probably be in OED. Anyways, I’m glad I found this out! Learning is fun!


Monday, February 9th, 2004

The Mozilla Project has changed the name of their stand-alone browser yet again. Formerly Phoenix, then Firebird, now Firefox. They are clearly hell-bent on some sort of flaming animal, no matter how many tries it takes them to find one that doesn’t infringe.

The word reminds me of foxfire — the phosphorescence which decaying wood can give off. I’ve seen this before, during a Hudson valley ramble in the dark dark woods. It was a beautiful blue-green — shocking — unimagined; and I figured I’d propagate it in my dorm room, eventually illuminating the entire space in the most eerie and natural way imaginable. I took a cool, damp hunk with me, and had its company indoors for one night, but it must have died — it never glowed again. O Science! Too oft thou killest that thou loves.

I hope I’ll see foxfire again sometime — maybe when I live further from all the bright satanic malls and whatnot.

Foxfire is in that damned second volume of DARE — the one with every single blooming word I want to look up — the one I can’t afford new and haven’t found used. So about all I can say is that OED thinks only Americans use the word these days.


Wednesday, February 4th, 2004

First day of class today, so I have my notebook from last semester. I came across a quotation in it, which I wrote down in Union Square in maybe December.

“Hey buddy, can you help me out with any change? I’m a homeless guy.”

I thought it was interesting that this man would call himself “a homeless guy” instead of just “homeless”. The former seems more third-person, the way someone with change might refer to a homeless guy.

Nives: Oh my God, I was just in Webster Center and I saw this homeless guy just sitting out on one of the benches!
Dives: What, here?!
Nives: Yeah, he had some sign about he like needed work or whatever. He spelled like every word wrong. He looked super sketchy, like he was drunk or something, so I called the cops.
Dives: God! In Webster of all places!

Whole-Word Typoes

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2004

Over the past couple years, I’ve gotten so I can type reasonably fast.

I think the speed allows me to make a kind of typing error I hadn’t made before, where I mistype not merely by misplacing letters, but by typing an entire valid word which isn’t the word I was thinking.

For instance, I often type “shit” when I’m thinking “this” or even “which”. It’s a bit surprising that it doesn’t go the other way, really — I say “shit” a lot but I’m sure I say “this” more? “Shit” feels somehow easier for my fingers to get out. Could it be because it starts on a “home key”?

I think I’ll collect them for a while! [2/3/04]

“thought” for “though” [2/4/04]
“this” for “shit” [2/13/04]
“would” for “sounds” [2/25/04]
“this” for “shit” [3/1/04]
“fart” for “raft” [3/1/04]
“subjective” for “subjunctive” [3/1/04]
“points” for “pounds” [3/2/04]
“this” for “shit” [3/4/04]
“was” for “saw” [3/10/04]
“oat” for “our” [3/15/04]

Classless, Crass and Deplorable

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2004

Janet’s titty has the nation atwitter!

Michael “Fair and Balanced” Powell sez: “That celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation’s children, parents and citizens deserve better.”

It is always interesting when someone calls something “classless”. Exercise for the reader.

“Crass” is interesting too. The root word, Latin crassus, means “solid, thick, fat”. It comes to refer to things in the material realm, as opposed to spiritual things. Remember, kids – spiritual and physical are different! Iesus rex est!

We’ve also got another version of the word from the French. In Old French, the initial “c” of crassus became a “g”, giving the French the antecedent of their modern word gras. I haven’t checked a historical French dictionary, but I assume the sense developed in French pretty early into fat, or fatty tissues. English appears to have picked it up, like so many other hunting or eating words, in the Middle English period, when those fat, classy Normans were running the show. It is now our “grease”.

The translation in Le Monde picks up more on the class aspects of Powell’s speech, and seems to ignore his attempt to backhandedly pun on French cognates to suggest that Americans are too fat (you’re not so skinny yourself, Mr. Powell!). They have his speech as

Comme des millions d’Am