Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cuke Boy speaks!

Here's a poem I wrote in college, featuring characters from a concept I had --even then, in my salad days, in another century-- for a comic strip.

Anyway, it's a new revision, to better fit the villanelle form and to get closer to a three-foot iambic line --and to spell 'lullaby' right:

Princess Coughsyrup Lullaby

Do not 'Alack!' my love,
That we are lost on Titan,
The Milky Whale is still above.

Around my hand your glove
And fingers, trembling, tighten.
Oh, do not 'Alack!' my love.

No cause to coo, my dove,
Let me your heart-load lighten:
The Milky Whale is still above.

We'll have the night I dreamed of,
With you and I uniting.
Oh, do not 'Alack!' my love.

Though Stinking People shove
And sheep-horned eels are biting,
The Milky Whale is still above.

My words must be enough:
I got out now to fighting.
Do not 'Alack!' my love.
The Milky Whale is still above.

Cuke Boy

Friday, November 28, 2008

Oh, what the hell . . .

Here's that sentence I promised you, three-quarters of the way to it's final revision, with the word count standing at around 530 in the subject and 1 in the predicate (at least for the main clause):

None of my first few abortive attempts to form a band, neither the Island Puddles, whose entire line up was me and one friend, to whom the name was revealed in a dream on a vacation to the British Isles during the summer after sixth grade, two twelve-year-olds who had never so much as held a guitar let alone attended a lesson, but nevertheless wrote songs (or the lyrics of songs) such as "Brown Bear's Gonna Get You" and "Satan Sucks," a timely attack on the seizure of Devil Worship that then gripped the country; nor Stone Monkey (which was named by me this time), a rotating gallery of thieves and stunted post-adolescents (including one fellow, possibly from Sweaty Nipples, who regaled us with tales of leaving his seed in equal parts in his ex-girlfriend and his parents' hot tub), who thundered, on equipment mostly stolen from the middle school, stumblingly --in a shower of orange paint chips from my too-thick drum sticks-- through renderings of the current MTV rotation, such as Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity" and Tesla's popular update of the 5-Man Electric Band's "Signs," and the easier tablatures from the guitar magazines, such as Kiss's "Deuce," often while loosened of our teenage (or somewhat older) inhibition by whiskey or vodka purloined (or, as we said, "kyped") from unsuspecting or maybe permissive parent's liquor cabinets and wet bars, a loosening of judgment which found us committing one caterwauling afternoon to tape, capturing a stab at Faster Pussycat's "Bathroom Wall" alongside an original from my own pen called "Charon" (which I pronounced as though it were etymologically related to "charcoal") during which I embellished my lofty poetry by screeching "bitch!" every few bars; neither Krass Bantam, a flock of my high school friends who gathered in a hayloft overlooking one of the local Stake Houses in order to give protracted birth to multi-segmented chug-rock songs, like the hate ballad throat-wailed by our spectacularly unmusical singer who called it "The Box," along with the unavoidable Sex Pistols covers, all of which we recorded, trembling with performance anxiety before the tape machine, and played back, again and again, on our smoking trips to the abandoned cannery, trying to discern, without any critical faculty to do so, whether what we heard was genius or diarrhea; nor the true glistening carbuncle in this Crown of Zits, the Grease-Eatin' Hootenannies Rock 'n' Roll Combo, a high-school tribe (of my younger brother's friends this time) who specialized in highly enlightened punk- (by which I mean the Bad Religion videos we saw on, once again, MTV) inspired rants against the Drug War as continued by Bill Clinton, paranoid fantasies about the cameras in UPS trucks, even a (rhyming but unmetrical) sonnet that deployed the knowledge gained from an hour's perusal of an electronic component handbook to mock AC/DC --oh, and an elegant, eloquent complaint about my first work experiences called "I'd Rather Be A Diaper" a title I was so proud of that I emblazoned a sweat-stained t-shirt with it in black marker as a slogan and badge, and wore it practically every day of my first two years at college; no, none of these bands, hard as it may be to believe, lasted.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Epanalepsis? Tough break.

So, you won't be surprised to learn that I can't write poems at work. But that's not true, I write all of my poems at work! Fine. But I can't write a poem at work today. Not enough sleep. Too much non-ergonomic and, frankly, pretty Francophone drumming in the Old North French style. Of ROCK.

So, epanalepsis. This was mentioned in a lecture about sentence craft and I did know what it was. I try not to bother you with every word I look up, but this one sounds like a disease of the butt, so it's fair game for LBRTFD --which should probably go, when it's going by letters-only, by its old name of TYDCA.

Epanalepsis is a rhetorical device in which you repeat the words at the beginning of whatever syntactic unit you like at the end of that unit. I wish I didn't have to come up with my own example. Ah, red like a tomato is red. That's a fine example of how epanalepsis can be used to good effect, says the man who just heard of it for the first time half and hour ago.

That's the way to use it elegantly on a small scale, but I'll bet you're familiar with epanalepsis on the grand scale (and I don't mean chronic, malignant epanalepsis of the butt), where a paragraph or a chapter or a whole Proustian Monster Mega Novel ends, sometimes after a colon (not of the butt --and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Comedy Rule of Three), with the same word it began with.

And then there's the practice of using different forms of a word, or words of common origin in an epanaleptic fashion: we'll have athletics for the athlete, mathletics for the mathlete, aesthetics for the aesthete --that sort of thing. This particular device actually has a name of its own, but who cares? Those ridiculous lists of Greek names for rhetorical devices don't help you learn anything. I wish they would teach the devices first and then bring out the names only when we need a short-hand way to talk about the patterns --you know, when you might actually care what they're called. But then some people like to pull fancy-sounding words that nobody else understands out of their butts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Praise of Cowardice, v.3.0

While I'm working on rewriting my favorite poem from my college glory days, 'Princess Coughsyrup Lullaby,' I thought I'd share with you a lyric that is perhaps of interest to no one but Central Boise Library fans, a small subset of which strangely overlaps with the tiny (but complete) set of my readership. . . It might be of interest to them because it was what Sam sang, for a year or so, for the song that became "A Certain Bully." Yes, my modesty is false: I do think this poem stands on its own merits:
There are three hard returns here, but Blogger simply will not display them. I shrug.
In Praise of Cowardice (v.3.0)
A coward hides his tail
between his hind legs,
looks back with ears held flat
as he slinks away.

A hero dies just one time;
A coward has a thousand lives,
A thousand chances to contemplate,
A thousand chances to hesitate.

(this stanza doesn't scan right at all, but he made it fit, sort of):
Sometimes there is no bridge
between the thought and the deed;
if you would cross the gap
all you can do is leap.

(this was the chorus):
I love my cowardly ways.
Cowards should be everyone.
You can't get shot in the face
If you know when to run.

There was a variant chorus, but I don't remember what it was. It must not have been as punchy a getting shot in the face. I stole that idea from Faith No More, the song 'Ricochet' I think, or maybe 'Last to Know' --I haven't heard the King for a Day . . . record for a while.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Re-Christening

I think I'd rather call it a 're-inauguration' since there won't be any actual Christening, and I hate to bother Christ about such a trifling matter --he must have enough on his plate already, what with the Rapture coming up and everything.

Also, calling it a re-inauguration let's me bring up a variation in pronunciation (I still want that word to have another 'o' in it . . .) that I've been hearing, our new president having a inauguration on the horizon: I say, and prefer to hear, in-og-you-rayshun --with a couple of stresses somewhere, but that's beside my point; but I've heard three or four people on the TV say in-ogger-ayshun. What's up with that?

I can appreciate that leaving out the added 'y' sound calls attention to the word's origin in augury, specifically haruspicy, the telling of fortunes through the inspection of sacrificed bird entrails --I mean, who wants to gloss over words that arise from bird entrails?-- but, isn't it harder to say that way? Doesn't it become a mushy mumble that could easily be firmed up by putting the 'y' in there, like I --the ultimate arbiter of all taste and propriety-- do?

Well, let's check the dictionaries . . .

AHD4 doesn't list the 'ogger' variant-- so, take that, all you Augurists! But it also reveals that I was bullshitting you (again) about the haruspicy: 'auspices' is the common word that arose from bird guts; inauguration's root 'augury' just refers to divination in general, gutless and birdless though it may be. But! NOAD2 lists the 'y' as optional, and indicates that the variants occur with equal frequency, if I'm reading it right. So it looks like AHD4 missed something when it recorded this pronunciation, and failed to record the other. I'm gonna write a letter to President Obama! After the inauguration, of course.

Anyway, I changed the name of the blog, in case you didn't notice.

Who doesn't love the Norman French?

They were French-speaking Vikings who conquered England --and that reminds me of a quip and a reversal of that quip (and then a fundamental, too-obvious-to-notice fact about the quip that undermines the whole enterprise) that delights me, probably because I learned it in Jon Dayley's History of the English Language class, which I loved.

But first I want to say that I fully intended to return to Richard Baker's sentences this weekend but UPS jealously sequestered my "Welcome Package" from Qwest, in which was housed the activation code for internet service in my new abode. Thus I am reminded how much I hate UPS's 'signature required' delivery services. Many thanks to both companies; I hope they get what they deserve during the upcoming New Depression.

Well, that was more animus than required. Sounds like somebody's got a case of the Mondays.

Right, the Norman French. So I'm sure you've heard, from a member of the Freedom Fries, the French are (ahem . . .) sissies crowd, that 'we' --which in this case means the English language, rather than the US armed forces as it usually does when these people say it-- learned the word 'surrender' from the French. As in "We saved their asses (note the special use of 'we') in Dubya Dubya Two and therefore only French people have a word like 'surrender.'"

Okay, I've created a Straw Man argument, but I hope you'll pretend that you've experienced a similar scenario.

So, 'we' did get the word from the French, but (as I'm sure you're well aware) not so recently as 70 years ago --oh no-- it was closer to 1000 years ago, in 1066, when William the Bastard, a Norman Frenchman, began a conquering which would eventually cover every inch of English soil, not to mention so much of English vocabulary that whatever word it was that the Anglo-Saxons he conquered used to indicate that they yielded to his French bootheel was forever replaced by the word he gave them: surrender.

But. This whole enterprise (and now we come to the undermining I mention earlier) is an example of linguification, a term that I believe I learned from Mark Liberman, but on Language Log anyway, that refers to the tendency we have of talking about facts about language as though they were facts about the state of the world --as in "I don't know the meaning of the word 'failure.'" Maybe so, and that's probably true of most people who don't speak English, but that has nothing to do with whether you can fail. It's a very common figure of speech, or rhetorical device, or something, but it can lead to some pretty bad reasoning.

And. I haven't checked the facts of when English borrowed 'surrender' so everything you've read so far has been bullshit at best and, perhaps, totally worthless. Haha, joke's on you.

Oh, now I'm insulting my faithful readership. What has gotten in to me? I do apologize.

Ah, so that was the digression. Now to the reason I started this post in the first place: Norman French loanwords and their cognates in English vocabulary. There are two pairs of words with much the same meaning, one of which 'we' got from Norman French and the other from regular French: Guard and Ward and Guarantee and Warranty. Remembering that those 'gu-' words have Norman French (w-) siblings helps me remember (or at least understand) their weird spelling. AHD4 calls Norman French 'Old North French' which I like a lot. I think I'll set my drums up in the Old North French style tomorrow.

Oh, and there's a new word 'guerdon' ('s word-of-the-day today) that, because it means 'reward,' looked like it was part of the same family. But it's not, though it does come from Old High German (by way of Latin and French) from a w- word: 'widar' which I would bet is the source of the widder- in widdershins, as it means 'back, against.'

Yep, it is. I checked --no more bullshit this time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why is this sentence so bad?

Ah, Friday afternoon: every drop of motivation to work, or even pretend to work --evaporated; every ounce of restraint that normally prevents me lashing out at or raining blows upon my colleagues --spilled; every coagulation of cogent cogitation my enfeebled, boredom-addled, over-worried, and sleep-deprived brain was once capable of --bled out and scabbed over; and so I resort to copying things out of books:

"From over Araevin's shoulder, a pair of silver arrows streaked out and took the first of the insect fiends in the jaw, vanishing up to the feathers in its foul mouth." This is from Forsaken House a Forgotten Realms novel by Richard Baker, whose profession, I believe, is game designer first and novelist second.

Why is this sentence so bad? I'm brought up short first by 'the insect fiends.' I guess he doesn't have a better name to call them, perhaps because his Point-Of-View character doesn't know what their official Monster Manual name is, but 'the insect fiends' just doesn't sound right. I think 'creatures' would have been less obtrusive --would have sounded more like what you might name creatures that fell upon you in a dark dungeon hallway.

I also don't like 'streaked out,' and it's an example of general problem we'll see in the rest of this passage: too many prepositions/adverbials. Does the first part of the sentence work if you put it like this: "from over his shoulder arrows streaked out" They streaked out from over his shoulder? Do they really need to streak out? Don't they need to come from inside, or at least at something in order to go out from it? Yes, I think they do. We don't need the 'out' and we don't need both 'from' and 'over' either but I'd let them slide since they efficiently position everything in space.

I really don't like 'took the first . . . in the jaw' (which maybe I should have listed first). The 'took' does suggest a good arrow-like 'toonk' sound effect, but when you 'take someone' in their 'something', it really sounds sexual, and a little too vernacular --though, since I've only read this passage, I don't know if the vernacular diction level is what he intends.

And finally, 'foul mouth' really works against the sentence because you cant read it without being reminded of the expression 'foul-mouthed' --unless the insect fiends have been cussing (and maybe they have) it would be better to avoid suggesting it. Furthermore, did the arrows hit its jaw or its mouth? Did they go in from the side or from the front? And why is its mouth foul anyway? Did the character get a whiff of its breath? I guess I'm going to have to read back and find out.

Tune in next time when I --armed with better knowledge of the context-- nitpick the rest of the paragraph.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Idaho accents, anyone?

I directed your attention recently to a post of Mark Liberman's about the moral superiority (and logical correctness) of those who do not view accents and other deviant speech acts as signs of intelligence or of the soundness of arguments; now, the often obstreperous and always pungent Cambridge Grammarian Geoff Pullum offers some dissent:

I have to confess that I don't think anybody who regularly engages in this sort of chaotic blurt-and-babble speech in interview situations can be regarded as suited to a position involving political leadership or executive responsibilities in the government of a democracy.

I think being so utterly unable to explain what one wants to say is truly and reasonably regarded as a defect in one's qualifications for office — partly because being so inept at talking in a controlled and sensible way strongly suggests that there was no sensible thought back there, and partly because even if there were sensible thoughts back there somewhere, a leader needs to be more skilled at articulating them.

I can see the value in his position --maybe it's clearer if you read all of his post-- though it doesn't change the insight of Liberman's position; rather, it reveals a different position from which to reach the same conclusions about Sarracuda that prejudice against Idaho (oh right, Alaska) accents would lead you to.

Boy, I bet those of you who read Language Log on your own must be tired of me phoning it in --I can't even be bothered to crack open a dictionary anymore, now I'm reading to you from other blogs. But you'll be soon hearing a lot more from Geoff Pullum, I hope --I'm GOING BACK TO GRAMMAR SCHOOL, by which I mean I'm going to read his A Student's Introduction to English Grammar and tell you all about it. I don't understand the terms he uses in his posts --they're different from what I learned in school, so I need a refresher; and I understand there's a Future Real Linguist in my audience, so I gotta get my shit correct.

A hearty thank-you . . .

. . .to the (regularly-practicing-if-not-yet-performing) members of A Seasonal Disguise --including our new honorary tambourinestress-- who helped me move house, with particular attention to the day-long patience and forbearance of my far-too great demands on his time, labor, and automobile of the estimable Monsieur von House, the heart and soul of the whole operation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In which I reverse my years-long disdain for quoting quotations. . .

First, an aphorism that I think it worthwhile to carry around with you (found in no less worthy a place than Gmail's advertising ticker): from St. Augustine, who was named for Tully's daughter: "Patience is the companion of wisdom." So, maybe you're not all that wise, at least you can act like you are.

And an opinion of Mark Liberman that should probably be printed on all the world's currencies --and flags: "But I also believe that it's also morally wrong to try to win an argument by making fun of non-standard speech and lack of formal linguistic polish." (Read more about Liberman's views here. It's about Sarah Palin.)

I can't judge why it would be morally wrong, since I haven't yet encountered an intellectually satisfying moral system, but I can see (now that I think about it) how it's logically wrong --it's an ad hominem attack. In other words, a person's accent has no bearing at all on the content of their argument. The only thing you prove by making fun of accents is that you are a provincial snob.

What I find so remarkable about this is that EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD DOES IT. Lynne Truss's fame is entirely based on it (I think. She wrote Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which I haven't read but I think it calls for fatwa against people who misuse apostrophe's). So, let's all be better than everybody in the world and stop thinking that regional accents make people dumb. Sarracuda has lots more going for her in that area.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What the Hell Happened to Your Damn Blog?

Ah, I'm moving, so I haven't had time to, and have been too distracted to, write anything for all of you to . . . well, you know the name of the blog.

But look at this: Anu Garg is doing a whole week on prepostions! Closed class indeed.

He also says a few words about the rule against using those prepositions in a sentence-final sort of a way. I threatened to take up that subject myself not long ago, so I guess its time has come. I only have a few things to say:

First, an example that is a bit of a cheat ( taken from Garg's remarks): Which of these two sounds like something a human speaker of English would actually say: About what are you talking? or What are you talking about?

If the first sounds more natural to you, or even if you've ever uttered it in ordinary conversation, then this discussion has no value for you --it is not about the variety of English you speak. I don't worry about offending you because I don't think you exist. The rule would have to say something that no one would say. How can it be 'correct' if it's self-evidently awkward English?

I call this example a cheat because the preposition is stranded as a pretty much necessary part of forming the question: putting the question word standing for the object of the prepostion at the front of the sentence. But what about when the preposition is stranded in non-question sentences?

Those who forbid the sentence-final prepostion will have to explain why, in a sentence like "the accident gave him something to both apologize for and think about," the stranded preposition before the conjunction commits no offense to propriety, but the one before the period is outrageously unacceptable. What is different about the two positions in the sentence? One is at the end, but what is there at the end of the sentence that should make it a strictly segregated area forbidden to those second class (but very hard-working) sub-words, the prepositions?

Well, nothing, right? Just the rule --but ask the rule why it exists, or look into the sentence for some unwanted effect the rule exists to avoid, and there is nothing. The rule would have you say instead "the accident gave him both something for which to apologize and about which to think." Clearly an atrocity, and for no good reason --no reason at all, in fact.

I for one, insist on no atrocities without proper justification.