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Sunday: April 30, 2006

Any Questions?

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:37 PM GMT-0500

The Rat wants a feminine equivalent of ‘avuncular’. That’s easy: ‘materteral’. According to the Random House Word of the Day site, the word is listed only once in the Oxford English Dictionary, but is actually older (1823) than ‘avuncular’ (1831). They also note that Latin had different words for aunts and uncles on the father’s and mother’s side of the family: you father’s brother and sister are your patruus and amita, your mother’s are your avunculus and matertera.

They do not note that the etymologies of three of these are transparent: your patruus is a second father (pater), your matertera a second mother (mater), and your avunculus a lesser grandfather (avus). In Anthropology and Roman Culture. Kinship, Time, Images of the Soul (tr. J. Van Sickle, Johns Hopkins, 1991), Maurizio Bettini gathers the evidence that the father’s siblings were “were expected to maintain an attitude of discipline, harshness and aloofness”, while the mother’s were stereotypically “warm and affectionate even to the point of indulgence” (both quotations from Matthew Slagter’s review, here). It appears that The Rat will soon be an amita rather than a matertera, but ‘amital’ is not an English word, and I imagine she’s planning to be more materteral anyway. I recently learned that I will soon be a patruus magnus (great-uncle), but I plan to defy the etymologies and be greatly avuncular.

Saturday: April 29, 2006

A Favorite Passage

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:42 PM GMT-0500

Like most of us, LanguageHat dislikes ‘Historical Novelese’. Here’s Robert Graves’ parody of the genre, from a fictional fiction about the Diet of Worms:

‘Nay,’ cried the good bailiff of Hochschloss, ‘all folk who journey through this bailiwick must first drink the health of my Lord the Duke: in mead, be they poor; in good Rhine wine, be they of the better sort.’

This is from Chapter 10 of one of my favorite novels, Antigua, Penny, Puce (1936). In Chapter 17, we are told that the author of A Session of the Diet “had to pay to get it published and was grossly over-charged and, in spite of a large additional sum that the publishers demanded for advertising, only sold forty-five copies in England and seven in Canada”.

Tuesday: April 25, 2006

High Culture Today

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:23 PM GMT-0500

The people at smartlist@smarttix.com keep sending me advertisements for New York shows, few of which look at all interesting. This one is an exception, though not in a good way:

BUSH IS BAD – Now in its Eighth Smash Month! Take advantage of this special offer and save 25% through the end of May!

BUSH IS BAD, which has been described as a cross between Forbidden Broadway and The Daily Show, offers catchy tunes, wickedly funny lyrics and scathing impersonations of the president and his dissembling gang of conspirators. Among the best-reviewed new musicals of the season, it has been described as “savvy, uproarious, [and] delicious,” with “lyrics that draw blood and melodies that stick in the brain,” eliciting “raucous, borderline orgasmic reactions.” The New York Times declared that “Bush-hating has become fun again!” For a limited time, you can enjoy all of the scathing fun for just $18.75!

“UPROARIOUS, infectious FUN!” – Broadwayworld.com

No comment seems necessary, except that $18.75 is very low for a New York show.

Monday: April 24, 2006

Law of the Conservation of Worries

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:13 PM GMT-0500

Ginny, of ChicagoBoyz, wonders whether we tend to worry just as much about our problems today as our ancestors did about theirs, even though theirs were for the most part far more serious. A. E. Housman thought so. Here is what he wrote in a letter to pacifist classicist Gilbert Murray on April 23, 1900:

I rather doubt if man really has much to gain by substituting peace for strife, as you and Jesus Christ recommend. Sic notus Ulixes? do you think you can outwit the resourceful malevolence of Nature? God is not mocked, as St Paul long ago warned the Galatians. When man gets rid of a great trouble he is easier for a little while, but not for long; Nature instantly sets to work to weaken his power of sustaining trouble, and very soon seven pounds is as heavy as fourteen pounds used to be. Last Easter Monday a young woman threw herself into the Lea because her dress looked so shabby amongst the holiday crowd: in other times and countries women have been ravished by half-a-dozen dragoons and taken it less to heart. It looks to me as if the state of mankind always had been and always would be a state of just tolerable discomfort.

Friday: April 21, 2006

Aphorism of the Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:35 PM GMT-0500

Existen normas del buen gusto, pero no podemos conocerlas.
Sólo podemos aplicarlas.

Standards of good taste exist, but we cannot know them.
We can only apply them.

(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 2.330)

As one of my teachers in college put it, “De gustibus non est disputandum does not mean that everyone’s taste is equal. It means that some people are wrong, and others are right, even if they can’t prove it.” This is a loose paraphrase of something said 30+ years ago, but the gist is accurate.

Thursday: April 20, 2006

Aphorism of the Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:12 PM GMT-0500

La “instrucción” es toxina letal para el espíritu.

“Education” is a lethal toxin for the soul.

(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 2.179)

Wednesday: April 19, 2006

Aphorism of the Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:18 PM GMT-0500

El pueblo fue rico espiritualmente hasta que los semieducados resolvieron educarlo.

The People were spiritually rich until the half-educated decided to educate them.

(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 2.178)

Bad Latin Alert

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:54 PM GMT-0500

Mickey Kaus writes (April 19th, 5:20 pm):

. . . why should the L.A. Times probe into Burkle’s various nexes with prominent Democratic politicos?

“Nexes”? Eeeew! The plural of Latin nexus is nexus. No, the two forms are not identical: the singular has a short U and rhymes with ‘wuss’ and ‘puss’, while the plural has a long U and rhymes with ‘goose’ and ‘moose’. Of course, ‘various nexus’ would look and sound terrible in English, and ‘nexuses’ would be even worse. As with mongooses and octopuses (or octopodes), it’s probably best to avoid the plural entirely.

Tuesday: April 18, 2006

Aphorism of the Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:47 PM GMT-0500

El hombre actual no vive en el espacio y en el tiempo. Sino en la geometria y los cronómetros.

Modern man does not live in space and time. Rather in geometry and clocks.

(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 2.178)

Grammar Jokes

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:12 PM GMT-0500

Sunday’s upgrade to WordPress 1.5 has made spam comments a lot easier to deal with. Lately, quite a few of the latter have contained a simple two-word message: tool die. My first thought on seeing one was that there’s a missing copulative: not that I have any intention of checking, but surely the sender is advertising “tool and die” products? My second thought was that there’s a missing comma: taking ‘tool’ as a vocative and ‘die’ as an imperative would express my thoughts about the sender with some precision. Of course, before I upgraded my spam-obliterating capabilities, these thoughts were more likely to include copulative imperatives.

Sunday: April 16, 2006

Well, This Sucks . . . .

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:14 AM GMT-0500

I finally upgraded from WordPress 1.2 to 1.5, mostly because it was the only way to deal with the floods of spam comments (11,000 in the last week, 729 in the last 3 hours). That’s a lot easier now, but what the Hell happened to my format? It’s the same Index and CSS files, with the minimal changes required for the upgrade to work. So where did the background color go? Why is the title so small and so purple and so left-justified? And why does the blogroll have bullets that were not there before? Shouldn’t keeping the old CSS file take care of all that? Isn’t that what CSS files are for? Most important, why is the whole thing so damned ugly? (I mean, even more than before.) I suppose now I’ll have to spend all day fixing the templates. At least I can delete 729 comments with two keystrokes, instead of having to use 4-7 keystrokes for each batch of 20 as I did before.

Update: (4/16, 9:00am)

Formats will be highly variable today as I try to find the problem. If the site looks OK now, that’s only because I short-circuited WordPress’s nonfunctional stylesheet-switcher and hard-coded a link to the one on my other site.

Friday: April 7, 2006

Nerdy Joke

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:37 PM GMT-0500

Viking Pundit and others have reported that the French strikers’ slogan is ‘CPE non’. Am I the only one who can’t help thinking that it should be accompanied by ‘JC et WF, oui’ and ‘JS avant tout’? Actually, my policy is ‘CPE et JS oui, JC et WF peut-être’. Perhaps I’m influenced by the fact that local radio station WCPE plays classical music — the initials seem unlikely to be coincidental.

Sunday: April 2, 2006

More Curious Language

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:00 PM GMT-0500

While in Cary yesterday, I ran across a large Asian grocery store and stocked up on chicken hearts. The duck tongues were a bit pricy, and I don’t care for chicken gizzards, so duck gizzards were not particularly tempting, but what precisely is “intestinal bung”? The first word is clear enough, so I probably don’t really want to know.

Worst Slogan Ever?

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:53 PM GMT-0500

Heard on the radio yesterday:

When you want to get a stranglehold on your day, try Vault.

With the following T sound, “on your day” sounds almost like “on your date”. I thought for a moment that Vault was aiming at the serial killer demographic.

Thucydides on the United Nations

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:47 PM GMT-0500

He’s actually writing about the Peloponnesian League, that is, Sparta and its allies just before the Peloponnesian War, but the similarities are striking. This is Book I, section 141.6-7, in Crawley’s mildly archaic translation, reprinted in the Landmark Thucydides:

In a single battle the Pelopnnesians and their allies may be able to defy all Hellas, but they are incapacitated from carrying on a war against a power different in character from their own, by the want of the single council chamber requisite to prompt and vigorous action, and the substitution of a congress composed of various peoples, in which every state possesses an equal vote, and each presses its own ends — a condition of things which generally results in no action at all. The great wish of some is to avenge themselves on some particular enemy, the great wish of others to save their own pocket. Slow in assembling, they devote a very small fraction of the time to the consideration of any matter of common concern, most of it to the prosecution of their own affairs. Meanwhile each fancies that no harm will come of his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look out for this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays.

Top Shelf Doubts

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:29 PM GMT-0500

Commenters on several blogs have breathlessly reported that Border’s Books has a policy of putting copies of the Koran on the top shelf as a mark of respect or (depending on how you look at it) abject dhimmitude. So far as I can see, no one has bothered to check with a cross-section of actual Border’s stores to see whether this supposed policy is being followed — assuming for the moment that it exists at all. As it happens, I was in two of the three Border’s stores in Raleigh, North Carolina yesterday, and this is what I found:

  • In the North Raleigh store, translations of the Koran were on the third shelf (of eight) in the Religion section. The left-hand portion of the top shelf, the first 8 or 10 inches, was devoted to Hindu works such as the Baghavad Gita, while the remainder of the top shelf and all of the second were filled with Kabbala books. Books about Islam filled the next several shelves, starting with the Korans on the left side of the third shelf. I haven’t done a thorough check, but it seems that in its Religion sections, Border’s sensibly puts the scriptures of each religion first, followed by other works less central to the definition of the religion. The fourth shelf contained, among other things, V. S. Naipaul’s Among the Believers, a distinctly unsympathetic account of Islam. So far, no sign of any special privilege for Muslims.
  • The Border’s in Cary (a western suburb of Raleigh) had its Korans on the top shelf of a waist-high bookshelf. However, given that books about Islam are one of the larger subcategories in Religion, and that there were almost enough of them to fill a 5-shelf section, I see nothing sinister in the fact that they filled the top part of the section, with a few books about Buddhism below, and a few more starting the next bookcase to the right. Starting a major religion with a new section of shelving and putting the scriptures of that religion first in the section (mostly) devoted to it would naturally put them on the top shelf. Even without the contrary evidence of the North Raleigh store, this would be very weak evidence in favor of the rumor.

For what it’s worth, the Korans in the Columbia, Maryland Border’s were on one of the middle shelves the last time I saw them, though that was a few months ago. Perhaps they’ve been moved up since then. Perhaps every other Border’s store except the one in North Raleigh has knuckled under to sinister Wahhabi imams and moved their Korans to the top shelf, as if they were expensive liquors. Perhaps the manager of the North Raleigh store will be fired as soon as someone at Border’s headquarters reads this post. Somehow, I doubt it. It would be a good thing if the more excitable bloggers — you know who you are — would actually check to see whether a rumor is true before reporting and denouncing it. The distributed nature of the Blogosphere makes this rumor particularly easy to check. If anyone wishes to stop by other Border’s locations to see where they keep their Korans and report their findings, the comments are open.