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Archive for May, 2004

Desultor’s 15-Second Writing Course

Tuesday, May 25th, 2004

  1. Don’t ever use a fucking famous-quotes book.
  2. Don’t ever use a fucking thesaurus.


Monday, May 24th, 2004

Mary Jacoby, writing at, about Dick Armey:

Armey opposed the invasion. In August 2002, he met separately with Bush and Vice President Cheney in an attempt to talk them out of it. “I said, ‘This has the potential to be an albatross at election time.’ I was so desperate that I quoted Shakespeare instead of Jimmy Buffett,” he said. “I don’t know the exact quote. Something like, ‘Our fears betray us,’ or ‘Our fears make cowards of us all.'”

It’s hard for me to divine exactly what Armey was shooting for here. I assume he’s quoting Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, of which I’ll quote a goodly hunk here. To save space on the server, and time for my busy readers, I’ve condensed fourteen rather wordy lines which are not relevant to my purpose into two.

So, should I kill myself? But death might suck!
Yes, that, I s’pose, is why more folks don’t do’t.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death-
The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns- puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Surely Armey was not advising Bush to kill himself? Nor advising him to think even less about his planned course of action? From what I can tell, Armey thought that Bush’s enterprises of great pith and moment should have been sicklied over a bit more with the pale cast of thought. And certainly it’s either very stupid or very smart to give Bush & Cheney a quote from a context which deplores

  1. Th’ oppressor’s wrong
  2. The proud man’s contumely
  3. The law’s delay
  4. The insolence of office

(The “contumely” link is a bit of a stretch, but it’s a blast from the past.)

Of course, I’m not 100% sure it’s Hamlet Dick Armey was shooting for here. He might, rather, have been echoing Dick III’s encouragement to his army, right at the end — not long before his death and his army’s defeat.

Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls;
Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
March on, join bravely, let us to it pell-mell;
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.

Coals to Newcastle. I hardly think that could be what Armey was after.

In sum, Armey’s quote makes no fucking sense at all. My guess is that he must’ve been searching to elevate his tone and grab more attention, and so he whipped out Bartlett’s, the magical source of powerful Shakespearean phrases. But this shit is like saying abracadabra when you mean alakazam, or klaatu barada when you mean klaatu barada nikto. I hope I’m not being unfair – I did my best. But this seems just stupid. If only he’d taken my fifteen-second writing course, he would have done all right.

Echo of Johnson

Saturday, May 22nd, 2004

I’ve noticed Patrick O’Brian doing the following a couple times. Here’s H.M.S. Surprise, p. 258:

   ‘Certainly. I feel much for the gentleman. But he seems to be of a sanguine humour, and Pullings tells me the captains of Indiamen become exceedingly rich — they shake the pagoda-tree like true British tars.’
   ‘Rich? Oh, yes, they wallow in gold. But he will never hoist his flag! No, no, poor fellow, he will never hoist his flag.’

This reminds me of an account which Boswell gives us of Samuel Johnson:

Nor would it be just, under this head, to omit the fondness which he shewed for animals which he had taken under his protection. I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a
cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I
frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same
Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying ‘why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’

This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. ‘Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.’ And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, ‘But Hodge shan’t be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.’

I’ve never read Boswell, but that last paragraph is employed by Nabokov as the epigraph to Pale Fire. It hit me hard when I read that book, and has stuck in my head since.

True Word, Spoken in Jest

Saturday, May 22nd, 2004

This isn’t counting variations with “many a truth”, “many an honest word”, etc. Also counting them as little as possible when they crop up as parts of sentences: I’m looking here for the proverb.

Phrase # Hits
Many a true word is spoken in jest 602
Many a true word spoken in jest 475
There’s many a true word spoken in jest 102
There is many a true word spoken in jest 42
Many a true word has been spoken in jest 19
Many a true word are spoken in jest 4
There are many true words spoken in jest 4
Many true words are spoken in jest 3
Many a true word are spoken in jest 3
Many a true words spoken in jest 2
Many a true word’s spoken in jest 1
Many a true words are spoken in jest 1
There’s many a true words spoken in jest 1
Many true words spoken in jest 1
Many a true word hath been spoken in jest 1
Many true words have been spoken in jest 1

“There’s many a true word spoken in jest” is at H.M.S. Surprise, p.89.

The funny thing about this sort of post is that it may itself be indexed by some search engines, making any subsequent attempts to do the same thing far more difficult. It can snowball, too. Ah well, nobody ever called this science!

The Lord Provides

Saturday, May 22nd, 2004

Words come when you need them. One day you meet a curious new one, or reencounter a strange old friend. Your curiosity having been engaged but for whatever reason left unsatisfied, what do you see next day but the same word! I have seen so many instances of this phenomenon that I am hard put to attribute it to any influence but that of a kind and loving God.

For instance, summat, meaning “something” in certain dialects of English. I convinced myself last night that characters in The Office were using this word, which I’d only seen in books.

It’s an easy-to-say version of somewhat. Folks I talk to only use somewhat adverbially, as in “Isn’t it somewhat annoyingly faux-folksy to use the word folks in linguistic exposition?”. But since its earliest days it’s also been able to mean “something”, which is easy to handle if you think of what not as relative or interrogative, but as substantival. If you see what what I’m talking about.

Anyways, I was catching up today on the disheartening backlog of words I’ve marked to look up in Patrick O’Brian novels, and came across the following [H.M.S. Surprise, p. 68]:

He found himself staring at Killick, who said, ‘Three bells, sir. Gentleman back presently. Here’s coffee, sir, and a rasher. Do get summat in your gaff, sir, God love us.’

I think I’ve seen the word in George Eliot, too, so maybe it’s “Midlands” English? That label, however, wouldn’t quite fit Slough, where The Office is set — that city is in the Southeast of England. Ah well — I just don’t have the right dictionary to know about the distribution of summat. The OED is very close to useless on regional variation — alls you ever get is their haughty little “regional” label, with never an indication of what “region” they’re talking about.

Holy Miscellany!

Monday, May 17th, 2004

I have here what might well be the first use of “Holy Moly” in a rap song. From Kurtis Blow’s 1979 Christmas Rappin’.

Also, a few frames from Harvey Kurtzman’s SUPERDUPERMAN!. This originally ran in issue 4 of Mad magazine, in 1953. But I remember reading it as a boy, so they must have rerun it at least once in the 70s or 80s.

Some readers, perhaps, will recognize Kurtzman’s work from the “Little Annie Fanny” series which ran in Playboy in the 70s. Scurrilous stuff. The artist is Bill Elder, with whom Kurtzman worked at Mad sometimes too. Highly compelling to this author at the age of perhaps eight, when I discovered them in a secret pornography stash at home.

This one is from 1973.


Thursday, May 6th, 2004

And now, alas, we bid our tale goodbye —
Shazam is safe, the end nowhere near nigh.
When all’s been said, why, what more shall I say?
With love, dear friends, I send you on your way.

Sivana Can’t Whup Nobody

Thursday, May 6th, 2004

“Marvel 13”

The sharp eye will here discern Marvel’s Latinity (written on the Marvelium mausoleum) to be something less than marvelous. Memoria is, of course, feminine, and in takes the accusative here, so the inscription would be less odiously improper if it said “In Memoriam to Captain Marvel”. If one were cutting it uncommonly fine, one might put some separative punctuation (colon, anyone?) between the Latin and the English, to signify that they are acting in something like apposition to each other.

Marvel’s, however, is a pretty common error, and his innovations in the physical realm are surely such that to criticize him overmuch for such a faux pas would be the act of a scrub — a scrub, one doubts not, who has never invented a new element.

Phrase # hits
In Memorium 51,200
In Memoriam 642,000

Incidentally, Marvelium’s atomic number is given as 99. Sivanium and Shazamium (of which the bracelet is made) are 97 and 98. These numbers, it so happens, now belong to non-fictional elements which were discovered after this comic was made.

Atomic # Fict. Name Real Name Moral
97 Sivanium Berkelium I refute Sivana thus!!
98 Shazamium Californium Once a hippie, always a hippie.
99 Marvelium Einsteinium Brains over brawn.

The Somethingth Hour

Thursday, May 6th, 2004

“Marvel 12”

The master of the fourth neutronic stage,
A man to whom the hyperbolic curve,
Cat’s-cradled, twined across his mighty gage
Of battle (not thrown down but out to serve
His natural-philosophical design,
A plan hatched by this omnipollent man)
Is but a bauble, in his lab confine
Marvelium has made, and like Rodin
(Though pausing first, no doubt, discovery’s
Delight suffusing him, to speak — “Eurek-
A!”, sure, his word) said stuff does sculpt and tease
Into a cage, and that in no wise weak.
But though Marvelium be marvelous
Can it Sivana’s wispy form entruss?

Shoulda Kept a Closer Eye on the Sivanium Stash

Wednesday, May 5th, 2004

“Marvel 11”

Aw shizzle! Marvels One and Two we see,
The best of friends that e’er a pair could be.
Sivana’s now innumerabilis
But still I doubt that he could step to this.