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Archive for June 18th, 2010

Open Letter to The Awl

June 18, 2010 | by

Brothers and sisters, with all respect, your declaration of war is an admission of defeat. We beg you to reconsider this folly.

First you tell us—in what begins to sound like a rage-filled howl against the light—that there is “no such word as snuck.” Then you send us a link to an Internet site, where we learn that snuck “has reached the point where it is a virtual rival of sneaked in many parts of the English-speaking world.” With enemies like that, who needs friends?

You instruct us to look at the OED, yet when we do, we find not only a snuck entry there (“chiefly U.S. pa. tense and pple. of sneak v.”), but also dozens of usage citations, going back to the nineteenth century, many of which are taken from such known language slouches as Raymond Chandler, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner . . .

Speaking of Faulkner, the coincidence of our being crackers is not, as you imply, irrelevant in this case. The very first appearances of snuck are almost exclusively Southern, and opposition to it has always been inseparable from the idea that it sounds country, or vulgar, or demotic.

That's probably why the dear “ass-people” at your high school taught you never to say snuck. They wanted the best for you, and didn't want your college professors making fun of you in class. That's only proper. High school is the time and place for rigid prescriptivism of the kind you're trying to put over on us. Later on, though, you put away high-school things. You wake up to the idea that English is an ocean, full of words that live, change, and die, and that your task is not to fix them in place but to master their flow, as best a person can.

A story I heard during the course of my own education changed my mind forever on this subject. When William Tyndale was doing his translation of the New Testament in the sixteenth century—the one that got him killed—there was a certain ancient word for which he lacked an English equivalent. His solution was to mash together a French word, beauty, and an old Saxon one, full. That's how we got beautiful. By your logic, we should stop using it, since, after all, it wasn't a word. Nothing is, until it is.

Snuck is a beautiful, almost onomatopoeic word. We've asked you for a good reason not to use it. In return you've given us the opinions of a long-ago ass-person (enjoyable term in itself—your coinage?). That person has been oppressing you. Set yourself free.

Yours in the cause,
JJS

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The Zombie Cup—It Lives!

June 18, 2010 | by

It seemed for about a week that this would be a tactical tournament—a dullish Cup, shadowed by Inter’s Champions League triumph, marked by negative play and cautious counterattacking lineups, and ultimately crowning, perhaps more decisively than a champion, the incisive geeksite ZonalMarking.net. German efficiency seemed the closest we’d get to actual electricity.

How quickly things change—and how high a German defeat lifts the hearts of fans the world over. For my money, Joachim Löw can still boast the tournament’s top performing side, as well as its top performing cashmere: Germany looked as dangerous a man down against Serbia as any team this side of Argentina, and, having gone down to that inferior squad, may no longer be plagued by the panic of preeminence that seemed to trip them up in a lackluster first half. Ghana, beware.

The true maestros of today’s early-game tournament resurrection were, of course, the referees. There will surely be howls of outrage in the coming hours and days over the nine yellow cards (six in the first thirty-six minutes) in Serbia’s defeat of Germany, and over the preposterously disallowed U.S. goal against Slovenia, which would have delivered three points to the Americans and made them the first team in the tournament’s history to recover from a 2-0 halftime deficit and actually win. But as fans of the game, we shouldn’t be howling—or howling too long, anyway. However erratic, those decisions are not injustices, they are refereeing, and a happy reminder that soccer is not a game of numbers, like poker, mastered by biding one’s time, but a game, beneath the tactics, of chance. You buy your ticket and you take the ride.

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The Most Unpredictable World Cup Ever?

June 18, 2010 | by

Spain lost. France was (I feel quietly confident in using the past tense) awful1. Brazil struggled to break down the obdurate North Koreans2. As I write this, Germany just lost to Serbia who already lost to Ghana making Group D impossible to predict. Japan beat Cameroon. England is running a you-be-the-goalkeeper campaign for the World Cup lottery. Chile and Uruguay both look pretty tasty. Italy isn't looking unshaky. Only Argentina is fulfilling their historical imperative and they haven’t had to defend yet.

Obviously, it’s been low scoring and the ball is a disaster but this is delightful chaos. FIFA had arranged it so that if Brazil and Spain won their groups, they would not meet until the final. Now, if Spain finishes second, which is quite likely, the two will meet in the next round. And if Switzerland can hold on for two draws, they will have the easiest route to the finals. This could be the most unpredictable World Cup ever.

Annotations

  1. In the ongoing post-colonial narrative of the World Cup, it is important to note that the France–Mexico game yesterday was a reenactment of Cinco de Mayo. If Manet were alive, his subject would surely have been Raymond Domenech, a coach so loathed by his team that it crossed my mind that they were playing for his firing (squad).
  2. The North Korea support, dressed in red and waving handkerchiefs in unison whilst wearing (in my imagination, anyway) white surgical masks are actually Chinese actors who have been hired by the North Korean Government to imitate North Korean fans. You have to wonder for whose benefit. The games aren’t being shown in North Korea and we’ve been told the truth.

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José Saramago (1922–2010)

June 18, 2010 | by

José SaramagoClick here to read the Art of Fiction interview with José Saramago from the Winter 1998 issue.



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Assholes Revisited, Milton’s Sonnets

June 18, 2010 | by

Boy Reading, by Thomas Pollack Anshutz.

You answered how to be an asshole. But how about what to do when you've been dealt one? In other words: I got dumped. Quick: where's the revenge section of the bookshop? —Greta, New York City

In Patrick Hamilton's 1947 novel The Slaves of Solitude, a middle-aged Englishwoman embarks on her first love affair and—after many heartbreaking and cringe-inducing misadventures—discovers that the best revenge is a night alone in a fancy hotel. As Rita Konig would say, J'AGREE. If nights alone are not your idea of poetic justice (or if you want to work on your French), I suggest the libertine novella No Tomorrow, by Vivant Denon. Here a jilted young nobleman takes revenge on his mistress the other way—by going to bed with her friend. (Who, needless to say, has her own agenda.) The New York Review Classics has bulked out this slim bagatelle (newly translated by Lydia Davis) with the original text. So you can compare as you set your vendetta out to chill.

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Grand Guy Grand

June 18, 2010 | by

Photograph by Pud Gadiot

In the Spring 1959 issue, readers were introduced to "grand Guy Grand," a billionaire trickster who sows confusion wherever he goes. The story was adapted from Terry Southern's novel The Magic Christian, published later that year. In the late sixties the novel was made into a movie starring Peter Sellers, and it continues (on the evidence of Monday's paper) to cast its nefarious spell on impressionable young minds.

When not tending New York holdings, Guy Grand was generally, as he expressed it, “on the go.” He took cross-country trips by train: New York to Miami, Miami to Seattle—that sort of thing—always on a slow train, one that makes frequent stops. Accommodation on these trains is limited and, though he did engage the best, Grand often had to be satisfied with scarcely more than the essentials of comfort. But he didn’t mind, and on this particular summer afternoon, at precisely 2:05, he stepped onto the first Pullman of the Portland Plougher, found his compartment, and began the pleasant routine of settling in for the long slow trip to New York. As was his habit, he immediately rang the porter to bring round a large bottle of Campari and a thermos of finely-iced water; then he sat down at his desk to write business letters.

It was known that for any personal service Grand was inclined to tip generously, and because of this there were usually three or four porters loitering in the corridor near his compartment. They kept a sharp eye on the compartment-door, in case Grand should signal some need or other; and, as the train pulled out of the station, they could hear him moving about inside, humming to himself, and shuffling papers to and fro on his desk. Before the train made its first stop, however, they would have to scurry, for Grand’s orders were that the porters should not be seen when he came out of his compartment; and he did come out, at every stop.

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