Thursday, October 30, 2008

The 'mauve' count stands at eight

Eight mauves in nine hundred pages --it's not an obsession or anything, just a feature of style, let's say. Now if I could just find some significant pattern in the appearances of these mauves. Oh, I'm talking about Proust again, in case you're just joining us.

Thinking that, since the literature of the flaneur is unconcerned with the juvenility of plot, there was no danger in reading Proust's biography in the facing pages of my current volume, I did in fact spoil the languid flowering of what is perhaps the signal development of Proust's life: the discovery of his homosexuality. But spoil it I did, and now I'm become perhaps too sensitive to suggestions of it. You be the judge:

At the beginning of The Guermantes Way, Marcel hasn't come out yet: he's infatuated with, mad with adoration for, ass-over-teakettle ga-ga for the Duchess de Guermantes, a stranger to him and the aunt of his friend Robert Saint-Loup. Entirely in the interest of using his connection with Saint-Loup as a way to get to know the Duchess, Marcel has gone to the cavalry barracks where Saint-Loup is stationed and sleeps the first night there --in Saint-Loup's room. Big deal. I've done that. Still, what are we to make, in light of this relationship, of the way Proust describes the landscape of the barracks . . . well, we know exactly what to make of it --we may even think it's just a bit too easy to make out:

"And next morning, when I awoke, I went over to Saint-Loup's window, which being at a great height overlooked the whole countryside, curious to make the acquaintance of my new neighbour, the landscape which I had not been able to see the day before, having arrived too late, at an hour when it was already sleeping beneath the outspread cloak of night. And yet, early as it had awoken, I could see it, when I opened the window and looked out, only as though from a window of a country house overlooking the lake, shrouded still in its soft white morning gown of mist which scarcely allowed me to make out anything at all. But I knew that, before the troopers who were busy with their horses in the square had finished grooming them, it would have cast its gown aside. In the meantime, I could see only a bare hill, raising its lean and rugged flanks, already swept clear of darkness, over the back of the barracks."

I can get with that. But he doesn't stop there --in fact he takes it into the realm of stuff that I'm not really in to:

"Imbued with the shape of the hill, associated with the taste of hot chocolate and with the whole web of my fancies at that particular time, this mist . . . came to infuse all my thoughts of that time . . . [i]t did not, however, persist late into the day; the sun began by hurling at it in vain a few darts which sprinkled it with brilliants, then finally overcame it. The hill might expose its grizzled rump to the sun's rays, which, an hour later, when I went into the town, gave to the russet tints of the autumn leaves, to the reds and blues of the election posters pasted on the walls, an exaltation which raised my spirits also and made me stamp, singing as I went, on the paving-stones, from which I could hardly keep myself from jumping in the air for joy."

You click your heels all you want, Prousty Baby; meanwhile, I can never look into a mug of Swiss Miss again with out seeing, mindless eyes peering from plushy muppet-flesh, the face of Rick Santorum.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Copy Book: from William H. Gass

In Fiction and the Forms of Life:

"For most people, fiction is history; fiction is history without tables, graphs, dates, imports, edicts, evidence, laws; history without hiatus --intelligible, simple, smooth. Fiction is sociology freed of statistics, politics with no real party in the opposition; it's a world where play money buys you cardboard squares of colored country; a world where everyone is obediently psychological, economic, ethnic, geographical --framed in a keyhole and always nude, each figure fashioned from the latest thing in cello-see-through, so we may observe our hero's guts, too, if we choose: ah, they're blue, and squirming like a tickled river. For truth without effort, thought without vigor, feeling without form, existence without commitment: what will you give? for a wind-up world, a toy life? . . . six bits? for a book with a thicker skin? . . . six bucks? I am a man, myself, intemperately mild, and though it seems to me as much deserved as it's desired, I have no wish to steeple quires of paper passion up so many sad unelevating rears."

This is now at the top of my list of Favorite Sentences Ever (the list currently numbers one); it has everything a man could want out of life: squirming guts, tickled rivers, the suggestion of sodomy-by-foreign object, and most important, naked ladies --naked lords too, I guess, but you don't have to look at them. Oh, apparently it's more than one sentence. Favorite Paragraphs Ever? Pff.

I don't know what a quire is, but I don't imagine I want it steepled up my rear any more than I'd want that feat of reaming consummated by a choir. I also had never heard of steepling things up other things, but I can imagine what it feels like.

Heh-heh. A quire is one twentieth of a ream.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What's the Word?

In my Proust this morning, this sea-wet morsel: tergiversate.

Ter-giv-er-sate! From what manure-mucky corral of the Old West did this surly harlequin emerge, kicking against the rough fenceposts of our unsuspecting world with its mudheeled boots of fine-tooled Mexican leather? Erm, the muddy corral called Latin.

The Roman centurion might have been heard, before driving his spear into the side of yet another nameless, soon-forgotten enemy of the Empire, to say "Let's not tergiversate about whether this one is dead." Only he'd say everything but 'tergiversate' in Latin. Well, he'd say 'tergiversate' in Latin, but it's already Latin. I mean it's still Latin. Except for the suffix. Okay, I'm sick of this god-stabbing centurion.

This two thousand year survivor of a word was formed by combining tergum 'the back' with versare 'to turn' or 'to see' and AHD4 defines it as 1) to use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate; and 2) to change sides; apostasize.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mary Oliver, and a ridiculous detour

At the end of Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse Mary Oliver sends us off with expansive words (but I'm not actually going to give you all of the expanded parts):

"No poet ever wrote a poem to dishonor life, to compromise high ideals, to scorn religious views, to demean hope or gratitude, to argue against tenderness, to place rancor before love, or to praise littleness of soul. Not one. Not ever."

Why she got to get all up in my grill like that? Now I have to tear up either a whole stack of notebooks and loose leaves, or my Rustic Poets* Association membership card. Or maybe I can just sweep a few of these into the rubbish bin. . .

*This is an allusion to Frank Zappa's Illinois Enema Bandit, a song most certainly designed to demean . . . quite a few things, mostly women*.

*No, not really. It's a satire of pretentiousness and liberal piety. That just happens to demean to women. But only college-educated ones.

An adventure in forgetting

My week's vacation ended, I'm once again able, after a gap of a few lazy days, to conveniently return to posting all of my idle thoughts about which you all so fervently do not care.

I firmly believe in the propriety of 'splitting the infinitive.' I believe it is the duty of every right-thinking writer of English --prose or poems, journalism or drama-- to proudly split any infinitive they choose. And to use 'they' with singular referents, as you already know. I put 'split the infinitive' in "scare quotes" (though my scare quotes are, of course, in truth pretentious 'inverted commas') because the act of placing words between the infinitive particle and the uninflected form of the verb, in fact, does not 'split' the infinitive: it's two words to begin with. What possible warrant could there be for the claim that in this situation, uniquely, two quite separate words are not to ever be separated by modifiers?

There is much that must be shown if this case is to deserve more than out-of-hand dismissal, especially given that the rules of ordinary speech in no way prevent, neither by etiquette nor the obviously more real demands of making sense, any speaker at all to blithely, indiscriminately, even casually, put anything they like between the particle and its verb.

Oh my. I had no intention, in beginning this post, to divert along the screeding path of grammatical rabble-rousing. Do forgive me. And don't my sentences become insufferable when I write in a rush? I'll have to take up sentence-final prepositions another day, because it is something I both make use of and have strong feelings about.

But I brought you here today to share a story of my forgetting a word, then finding a scrap of paper where I had used that word, then learning the word anew, in a different context, with an altogether different meaning: Atop a stack of notes and scraps I saw a sketch of a drum beat above which an arrow pointed to a brief rest, an eighth of note perhaps, and at the blunt end of the arrow, the notation 'anacrusis'; having no memory of writing the word, or any trace of its meaning, I set the page aside and thought no more of it --that is, until I ran across 'anacrusis' again that same day (we have discussed how this reliable coincidence of words new-learned both is and is not a property of the universe, have we not?) in Mary Oliver's Rules for the Dance, a little, worthy book about metrical poetry, where the word means the addition of a syllable extraneous to the the meter of the line, not belonging to any of its feet, as in this from Twelfth Night: "O mistress mine where are you roaming?" in which the supernumerary to the trochaic four-footer is that aitchless 'O.'

O, I'm so proud of that last sentence! Can you tell I've been reading William H. Gass? --well, it'd be pretty surprising if you could, given both his relative fame these days and the paucity of evidence --anyway, he writes long sentences and I want to be like him. I have a sentence of his in my copy book that I'll share with you shortly.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New occasional feature: Learning to Spell

Maybe I've done it more than most, but everybody as learned to spell some words in ways that are, shall we say, not generally recognized. My new realization is that I need to take the 'e' out of 'sizeable' and put it on the end of 'therefor'. Where did I read 'sizable' twice and think, "hey lookit how dumb this guy is"? And then I saw it somewhere else and suddenly it was all, "oh, lookit me, I guess." No, don't lookit me, please. Of course, the Oxford American (2e) lists 'sizeable' as an also variant, which in this case means it's also standard. Maybe I'll keep my spelling after all.

As for 'therefore', I really hate that 'e' at the end, even though I dearly love 'e' in isolation. Oh, don't keep 'e' in isolation! He'll get lonely. Invite 'e' in to sit by the fire, won't you? Ahem. I don't like the standard spelling, but 'therefor' is a different word --maybe slightly different, maybe seriously different-- so I'd better learn to keep them straight. Plus, who doesn't know how to spell 'therefore'? Sheesh. What are you, a drummer?

The Forest of Sticks and Skins

Okay, I know the answer before I begin, but I still want to ask: is it even possible to blog about drumming? Are there any drummers who can read? And if the one literate drummer is blogging, who is left to read their blog?

I thought that drumming might be something I could write about on those days when the dictionary gods vouchsafe me no secrets, but I hesitate because I fear there would be a disconcerting dissonance between the subject of rock drumming and --whatever it is that I write about here.

Yes, it is revealed to me that my multi-faced nature is so radically bifurcated --nay, omnifurcated-- that its splendiferous multifarity cannot be contained --confined!-- within the bounds of one paltry uni-topical log of . . . my idle musings. Nor, apparently can the virile urges of my idio-semantics be contained by such outmoded machinery as actual words --nay!-- the needs of my meanings are such that I must shatter the whole of English morphology into recombinant pieces that I may mortar together in any form that suits my grand designs.

But I don't have anything to say about drumming.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Copy Book: A sentence most difficult to understand

From Proust again, naturally:

"Philosophy distinguishes often between free and necessary acts. Perhaps there is none to the necessity of which we are more completely subjected than that which, by virtue of a climbing power held in check by the act itself, brings back (once our mind is at rest) a memory until then levelled down with all the rest by the oppressive force of bemusement and makes it spring to the surface because unknown to us it contained more than any of the others a charm of which we do not become aware until the following day. And perhaps, too, there is no act so free, for it is still unprompted by habit, by that sort of mental obsession which, in matters of love, encourages the invariable reappearance of the image of one particular person."

It's three sentences, but you need the first to make sense of the second (good luck with that) and you need the second to make sense of the third. Though the third has its own super-abundance of self-interruptions, it's the second that really stopped my gob: I read it four times before I realized what an unparsable wonder it was and decided to preserve it forever in my copy book.

I count two places where it interrupts itself, but at 'and makes' I can no longer tell what is interruption and what is the main stream of sense, and I give up hope. A bit more punctuation might make it easier on the brain, but our current system of dots must be impotent of containing or guiding the maelstrom of meanings Proust packs into his lines, so what might properly belong behind fences of paired commas, or maybe curly braces, instead spring up like fully-endowed members of the sentence proper and blot out with their coagulated semantics any chance for the hapless reader to ever learn what the fuck Proust is trying to say.

You are, like, Borg

I hope you'll forgive my late lapse into peevology, as they call it over on the Language Log --and I hope you'll forgive the deletion of that peevology. What do I care if people want to surround every noun and verb and adjective of their cellular telephone conversations (held five feet from my very ear) with attenuated likes? I doesn't mean they're stupid, just* that they sound that way.

So, I will instead say only that the cellular telephone is the crumbling verge of the slippery slope to Borgdom --no, no pop culture references allowed-- it's the slippery slope to the Hive Mind. You know, bees. You are always connected.

But I have it heard it said that resistance is, like, futile.

*You are hereby instructed to view that 'just' as a coordinating conjunction, or at least something with equivalent force. No comma splice to see here. Move along.

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's not very good but I wrote it anyway

I've tarted it up in an inappropriate title, but it's got to have a title. This one admits poetry's apiaries all belong to one person --but what am I gonna do? I'm the bee guy. Besides, when the Poet Tyrant sees it I'll never have another chance to write anything, let alone bad poems. Here you go:


The bees of a slow world do not buzz;
The whirring of their wingspans isn't wind;

The honey of slow bee, though sweet,
The sweetness is itself enough to eat;

The sweetness of a beesting isn't sleep:
It is loss and it is longing. It is heat.

In the slow world we don't speak;
We don't remember, we don't know
Where we have been.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Occasional Feature: The Copy Book

Here is Proust on adolescence (from the Modern Library edition of Within A Budding Grove):

"But the characteristic feature of the ridiculous age I was going through --awkward indeed but by no means infertile-- is that we do not consult our intelligence and that the most trivial attributes of other people seem to us to form an inseparable part of their personality. In a world thronged with monsters and with gods, we know little peace of mind. There is hardly a single action we perform in that phase which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to annul. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer posses the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only period in which we learn anything."

I recognize myself in there, especially the bit about giving anything to annul our past mistakes, though in my case that desire continues up to the present day. I regret pretty much everything I have ever done.

The Poet Tyrant

I am the art.
I am rime.

Whosoever, with unworthy words, shall insult the dumb stone,
and their hired engravers too, and those who made the insults
to be engraved, and all who can read the wounded stone
without a loosening in the bowels --for this sin is a contagion,
a stain that won't wash clean, that passes from eye to mouth to ear
and envermins every true use of rime, in study or in ceremony,
of whom the worm infects-- shall be put to death.

Or let them be confined for life, or until they can be
made to feel the weight of their crime
against rime.

Or let their confinement be one lifetime
for each "butterfly,"
each "everlasting."

But death, only death
for "Love."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Own Private Incestuous Echo Chamber

FAIR WARNING: I guarantee you won't care about this even more than you already don't care about everything else here at TYDCA.

Here's a comment on a review I wrote of a D&D module on Amazon. I decided not to respond to it there because I don't care to participate in the Free Exchange of Stupidity --even if this is not a stupid comment: I think his facts are right, but I'm not sure his warrant for defending the title of the module is well grounded. It might just be that old Appeal to Tradition again. Then again I actually didn't know, until I went there just now to get the URL, that the title was an allusion to Idylls of the King. See how I can mention the title now, just like I've known about it for more than two minutes?

Apart from that, I have no interest in his objections to my criticisms, but I suppose they provide a healthy contrast of opinions that might help the savvy consumer in their decision of whether to purchase a crappy supplement to a freshly obsolete game system.

Oh, and the reason I posted this at all is that I get a thrill from the irony that he's lecturing me about the history of a word --and that I didn't know that history.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My job is Guantanamo Bay today

Who would've thought that the part of Cuba with the most outrages upon human diginity wouldn't be the part controlled by Castro?

Torture, they say is for the birds,
Not fit for the Best Empire Still Living.
Why then, every Canadian Thanksgiving,
Do you command us here and gag us all with words?

Give thanks to my proofreader

Well, he's just about my only regular-kind-of-reader as well.

Dear Old Mr. Joss Nixon, after being big-hearted enough to read my blog --and after having been the original captive audience of the old-tech iteration of Things You Don't Care About-- offered his service this morning as a proofreader to save me from the shame of having my errata and sloecisms flapping in the breeze. And no doubt also so that he wouldn't suffer the same shame if he tried to share the blog with his SMART friends.

But why would anybody want to read this blog? It's like being read to from dictionaries.

Anyway, I've combed through all the entries and squashed several typo fleas, and some more serious vermin, so I hope that in future your reading experiences will be as bug-free as they can be here on Things You Don't Care About.

Thanks Joss!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What's next, mixing up the Wilde Flowers and the Soft Machine?

I would like to apologize to the members of A Seasonal Disguise for claiming that 'Pretty Ballerina' was by the Merry-Go-Round. It is, of course, by the Left Banke.

You'd think I would be able to remember who did that song in particular. (This link went to the MySpace page for Lust For War, where the Left Banke song was posted. It has long since vanished through my deleting it.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Eric the Urchin

In the dentist chair this morning I saw a bit of that Planet Earth deal, and the phrase 'larva of the sea urchin' made me wonder about why we call them larva and urchins, and why do we call both street urchins and sea urchins urchins? It just so happens that I wonder about the etymology of every word for which I don't already know; the difference this time is that I remembered which words I wondered about. And I have a this blog, and whole world of people who don't care that I can explain it to.

So, larva in Latin meant something like lemure, which is plenty interesting and probably something I'll use in D&D, but it's not my topic this afternoon. Urchin, you crafty Universe, is also a name for hedgehogs. Is there anything about hedgehogs that isn't wonderful? Their German name is Igel, so, you know, it sounds like eagle; and they're the mascot of the German Green Party, for which reason Doris Matthaus paints them into a great deal of her boardgame artwork, to my endless delight.

But I digress. And I hate that game. Hard.

Yesterday I saw a hedgehog in a top hat on a shelf in the grocery store, lying in a jumble of assorted stuffed-animal fur and sundry adorableness, and there was no way I could avoid taking both him and his top hat home with me. Well, not home, but back to work where I gave him to my dear friend Lowdown Larry Lowenbrau. Now, she used to ask 'What's his name please' whenever I presented her with any animal of the small and googly-eyed variety, but this time I was unprepared.

Well, she didn't ask anyway, but the point of this story (and don't get your hopes up, it's not much of a point) is that the Latin source of urchin is ericius, which is not related to Eric (that's Old Norse for 'ever-ruler') except that it looks just like it, so now the hedgehog is named Eric the Urchin. Huh. Oxford American has 'hericius.' If I'd looked there first, I probably wouldn't have thought of Eric. Thanks a lot not-Eric McKean.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Now here's a word we can all get behind


It looks to me like one of those newfangled blends, like craptacular, only this time the crap- is attached to fabulous instead of spectacular.

But, given that I found it in Proust, that analysis is somewhat unlikely. I know of a word, crapulent, of which our word could well be a sibling, that I think means 'drinking too much,' but I'll have to look it up. Oh, how I hate to look things up!

Yep, crapulous and crapulent are indeed brother and sister in meaning ' sickness caused by excessive eating and drinking.' My source is AHD4 as usual. It does seem meet that overeating would make one crapulous.

Now for the part I really hate: the etymology. This crappy word comes to us from Greek kraipale by way of Latin crapula which meant intoxication. But, get this, the Latin toxicus meant poison for arrows, finally explaining to me why the word toxophily, which means archery, sounds so poisonous. Toxon was the Latin for 'bow,' which they borrowed (no doubt at high and pointy speed) from Old Persian, in which it might have had the form taksa and would have meant 'arrow.' My search ends when I check a Farsi-English dictionary and learn that it lists the current word for arrow as tir, and I can but weep that our crapulous friend can trace his free-associative ancestry no further.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Let's invent some new pronouns

Unless my memory is faulty (it is, but I mean on this fact in particular) pronouns are called by linguists a 'closed class,' which means that, unlike with nouns and verbs, you can't add new members and you can't take them away. Well, as my post about THEM shows, the members of the pronoun class can change eventually.

Now, this is actually controversial these days --I'm surprised how often I find myself thinking of grammar controversies. Who knew?-- in that we feel a lack of a third person pronoun that doesn't specify gender. That is, some people feel the lack; smart people recognize that THEY serves perfectly. End of discussion.

I thought I said it was controversial. Well, my mind is made up, but other people argue about it.

Back to the new pronouns I'd like to introduce. About ten years ago, a fellow linguistics student (in whose band I happened to play some drums) and I , having learned of the existence in some languages of different kinds of WE, decided we'd like to have some different first-person plural pronouns to choose from as well, to clear away some potential ambiguities. Jar-Jar fever had the land in its rubbery grip in those days, so of course one new WE was WESA, which would mean 'you and me and also everyone else in this conversation,' and to contrast with that, we proposed WENIS, to mean 'me and someone else, but not you.'

So now we could say 'Wenis are going for pizza,' and the Hooper Humperdinks of the world would know right away that we meant Not Them. But we never said it.

I guess we'd still want a WE to mean 'you and me but not anybody else' so the original WE can be left to cover that.

I wish I had more pronouns to propose, but it's not like there's a lot of room in the class. It's closed. Instead --even though it's not at all necessary-- I'll just destroy the objection to using THEY with a singular referent: no one has the slightest difficulty understanding that YOU can have both singular and plural referents, and that it agrees with plural verbs even when its referent is singular.

And citing tradition by saying 'we've always done it this way' or 'this is its original meaning' and therefore it must always be done that way, is a logical fallacy. I mean, it's not like we still say hem for them.


For a good read about a different closed class changing, here's an article from Language Log, by an actual language professional.

The Watchmen and Philosophy

This is not a post about pop culture, oh no. This is a post about philosophy . . . in pop culture. I hope you get a chance to read Watchmen and Philosophy.

My brother's got an article in it!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Oh, Universe, how do you know both Proust and Wood?

In my Proust this morning, Marcel mentions letters from Gilberte making use of the preterite --he in fact makes the word 'preterite' a verb: preterition, I think it was-- I didn't really know what this meant: see the bit about French being 'mute and inscrutable' below.

So, in How Fiction Works just now I read footnote that informed me that French has a preterite tense used only in writing. Oh, Universe, how did you know what I would be reading today? Okay, it's pretty easy to know which books I'm reading, and I even have a schedule for reading them laid out, but still, good work Universe!

Roy Wood was not a member of the Mauve

It makes sense, doesn't it, that if you're going to get the most out of Proust you're going to have to know the meaning of mauve. It looks for all the world like a French borrowing to me --or, should I say, it looks like still-unborrowed French, mute and inscrutable as the rest of that language to me.

If I had to guess what color it refers to, I'd report that it brings to mind a deep purply rose, redolent of rosewater and swathed in a fog of rose-vapors. And as to the pronunciation, I have to say I can't choose between rhyming it with Raskolnikov (unless you put -off on the end of it, I suppose) and taking the preciously pretentious-sounding --vaugely French, even?--option of rhyming it with Karl Rove.

Let's check the desk dictionaries, shall we?

American Heritage, 4e calls it 'a moderate grayish violet to moderate reddish purple.' And they want to me to rhyme it with Rove! Who do they think I am? I have half a mind to spit a mouthful of just-this-side-of-tepid bergamot-tinged tea all over my volume of Within a Budding Grove. Hey, that rhymes with mauve too.

So, the etymology entry tells us the Latin source is malva, which is still the name of a genus of mallow-flowers. We're then directed to MALLOW where we learn that the Latin word is probably of Semitic origin, from the root mlh (the 'h' should have a dot under it; I don't know Unicode either), that root is used in words for 'saltmarsh' where these mallow-flowers must grow, and where they take their name from; mlh is also the root of the Hebrew word for salt.

So, send in your recipes for salty mauve marshmallows now.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What is the Good Life anyway?

It's got to be good both in the sense that it is enjoyable and fulfilling for me, and that it does something to help those people with half-lives, or worse, as Ted Honderich talks about in the Principle of Humanity.

Before getting to the talk of half-lives, I was thinking of responsible living --green energy consumption and sustainable agriculture. I suppose there's always progress to be made on those fronts.

In addition to my inveterate consumption of art-like objects --which makes living sweet for me, but is at odds with green living-- I have to admit that I don't do anything to help all the people not living in comfortable oblivion.

Just look at what happens when you decide that you will not write about pop culture. You don't have anything to say.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Latin has two anuses

Presented without comment: Our English anus comes to us intact from Latin, where it had its present meaning; but Latin bequeaths us another anus, that I learned about from Norman Schur's 1000 Most Challenging Words: anile, meaning to behave like an old woman, comes from the Latin anus, which was their word --entirely unrelated to the other, Schur assures us-- for 'old woman.'


Alright, now for the comment. If memory serves, the Spanish name for the ring finger is dedo anular. I don't know if it's undue influence of Captain Beefheart's song 'Korn Ring Finger*,' but that name looks to me a lot like 'anal finger.' Well, wouldn't you know it, that first Latin anus does in fact also mean 'ring'; I presume the body part was so named for its shape.

I mean no disrespect to old women by writing about this. Pity the word anile isn't so polite. It does have one polite application, I suppose, though the politeness will only be within your mind: if you're unsettled, as I am, whenever someone describes themselves as 'anal' as a shortening of Frued's somehow even less pleasant 'anal retentive' --a concept which deserves none of its currency, I hope you'll agree-- you can pretend they have in fact said 'anile,' even though neither the pronunciation nor the meaning is quite right.

*it's a bonus track added to the 1999 release of Safe As Milk

Let me at 'em

This delights me, but I don't suppose anyone else would care about it: the American Heritage Dictionary (fourth edition) defines 'EM, as I expected, as a contraction of THEM; but the etymology reveals that it comes to us from Middle English hem, which itself comes from Old English him, also spelled heom, the dative and accusative plural of he.

Looking for the sources of THEM, I learn that it comes from Old English thaem and Old Norse theim, again by way of Middle English. So 'EM is not a contraction of THEM?

I thought I had a fancy bit of detective work that I could present to the usual audience of People Who Don't Care, but it turns out the Oxford American Dictionary steals my thunder: its entry of 'EM spells it out for you without requiring the strenuous detective work of reading two different entries. I quote: "Originally a form of hem . . . now regarded as an abbreviation of THEM." Good ol' Erin McKean.

Still, I'm delighted that this old-as-Chaucer word hem, which I doubt anybody speaking English today would claim as their own, is still among us, but unrecognized. Like a Canadian.