The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

Flush with Talent, and Other News

September 4, 2015 | by

Minako Nishiyama, Miki Kasahara, Yuma Haruna, Melting Dream, 2014. Photo by Yasunori Takeuchi. Courtesy Toilennale

  • Joy Williams has a new collection out, and a reporter has found her in rare form:Williams does not have an email address. She uses a flip phone and often writes in motels and friends’ houses on old Smith-Coronas; she brings one with her and keeps others everywhere she stays … Williams now splits her time among Tucson, her daughter’s home in Maine and Laramie, migrating across the country with her dogs in her Toyota, which has 160,000 miles on it but is pretty new by her standards. (Her last car, her old Bronco, neared 360,000.) She eats a lot of Weetabix.”
  • You should be proud of your name: it’s yours. It denotes y-o-u, and no one can take that away from you. Unfortunately, things get a bit complicated if your parents happen to have given you a necronym, that is, a death name: “It usually means a name shared with a dead sibling. Until the late nineteenth century, necronyms were not uncommon among Americans and Europeans. If a child died in infancy, his or her name was often given to the next child, a natural consequence of high birth rates and high infant mortality rates … In their 1989 Dictionary of Superstitions, folklorists Iona Opie and Moira Tatum offer one reason for the necronym’s decline: many parents feared it was a murderous curse.”
  • “Unless ice burns and burning fire cools / No bard could look on you and not speak out / It can not be that I monopolize / The making of the songs that give you praise / Or that such pools as are your dearest eyes / Have just one bather.” These lines, and about eight others like them, are worth seventy-five hundred pounds. That’s not because they’re excellent, necessarily. It’s because Ezra Pound wrote them. They’re from an unpublished sonnet he wrote to the British painter Isabel Codrington in April 1909; it sold at auction earlier this week. “He obviously admired her,” said a perceptive employee at the auction house.
  • Let’s go on an adventure with the passive voice, shall we? Watch as, step-by-grammatically-irksome-step, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” becomes “Speed was involved in a jumping-related incident while a fox was brown.” “We have finally fully arrived at the ultimate in passive voice: the past exonerative tense, so named because culpability is impossible when actions no longer exist. For the most extensive erasure of direct communicative value, the original object can now even be removed entirely.”
  • Duchamp is old hat. The future of toilet art is, like the future of most things, in Japan, where an exhibition called Toilennale “brings together Japanese artists who have transformed sixteen public restrooms into sites for art installations … one park lavatory literally becomes a sweet site, transformed inside and out by a trio of artists into an enormous piece of pink candy titled ‘Melting Dreams.’ ”

Probably Not the Brontës, and Other News

July 30, 2015 | by


A collector named Seamus Molloy thinks this photo is of the Brontë sisters.

  • Today in pictures of the Brontë sisters that are probably actually not pictures of the Brontë sisters: have a look at this one from the mid-nineteenth century, recently purchased by a collector named Seamus Molloy on eBay for fifteen quid. It could very well be Anne, Emily, and Charlotte, couldn’t it? And yet: “There’s no record of them having their picture taken, photography wasn’t exactly flourishing in Howarth in the 1840s, and it would have been expensive … Apart from anything else, it looks nothing like them. When Anne was four she told her father she wanted ‘age and experience’ but the women in the photograph are closer to middle age than the sisters would have been (Anne was twenty-eight when she died). They’re too cross-looking, too.”
  • While we’re talking tricks and illusions pertaining to Victorian-era writers—hackers have taken to using passages from Sense and Sensibility to fool computers’ security-screening processes. (Computers are famous for adoring the prose of Jane Austen.*) “Adding passages of classic text to an exploit kit landing page is a more effective obfuscation technique than the traditional approach of using random text,” an important computer person said. “Antivirus and other security solutions are more likely to categorize the web page as legitimate after ‘reading’ such text.”
  • Sarah Manguso on being a mother and many other things: “A man who used to cuff and clamp me, and who once cut a hole in my tights with his coke razor and fucked me through it, became a close friend. One month I had an unusually heavy period. I think I might actually be having a miscarriage, I told him. At least you aren’t having a kid, he replied, shuddering. We both laughed.”
  • Our London editor, Adam Thirlwell, on the Argentinean novelist Alan Pauls: “His writing—whose background is always the grotesqueries of recent Argentine politics—is a constant process of evaluations, of readings and misreadings, as his characters try to investigate the true nature of the stories in which they find themselves … events are always hidden behind the scribble of the characters’ thinking, a haze of suspended investigation into an infinitely receding past—both personal, and also historical: the era of the Junta and the Dirty War.”
  • Here at The Paris Review, we capitalize the word Internet, because our style guide says so: it’s a proper noun. I have questioned the wisdom of this rule on more than one occasion, but I’ve stood idly by and let it happen. Well, no more. The denizens of this World Wide Web, this information superhighway, this e-zone, must draw a line in the digital sand. “Whether or not to capitalize the word internet might not seem like big fish to many readers, and they would be right … but neither is it simply a matter of correct grammar. How we think about and make use of words can have a profound impact on how we think about the things those words represent … changing the capitalization would signal a shift in understanding about what the internet actually is: ‘part of the neural universe of life.’ ”

*This is a lie.

That Swaggering, Bouncing Pronoun

July 13, 2015 | by


The only known photograph of John Clare, taken by W. W. Law in 1862.

From John Clare’s letter to Eliza Emmerson, March 1830. Clare, born on this day in 1793, came from poverty and is sometimes dubbed “the peasant poet”; he’s known for his expansive poems on rural life and for his eventual turn toward insanity. By the end of his life, Clare had escaped from an asylum, and sometimes claimed to be Shakespeare, Lord Byron, or a prizefighter. This note, a polemic against the egotism of the first-person pronoun, was written in the midst of a deep depression seven years before he was hospitalized. By “points,” Clare means punctuation, which he disdained, thinking it an unnecessary hindrance to expression. Original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.
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More Than Just a Haircut, and Other News

April 16, 2015 | by

Audrey Hepburn, the ur-gamine, in the trailer for Roman Holiday.

  • 92Y has released recordings of Tomas Tranströmer reading his poem “Reply to a Letter” in 1989 and Seamus Heaney reading in 1971. “Heaney is in his early thirties on this 1971 recording,” Pura López-Colomé writes in a breathless commentary, “already in full command of his capacities—a Beethoven, more than a Bach … he poet-visionary’s vibrant voice, about to be swallowed by dichotomy, banishes all evil through a salutary tension coil.”
  • Adam Thirlwell on Ulysses and the scandal that continues to surround it: “Joyce happened on a whole new way of writing novels. And the first, most intoxicating invention was the discovery of how comprehensive it was really possible to be. Even sexual fantasies, to choose an extreme example, could suddenly find their form … If transgender fisting occurs earlier in the history of the novel, I would be surprised.”
  • A visual history of the gamine, with her boyish charm, reminds us that she is “more than just a haircut.”
  • On the increasingly gendered use of the exclamation point: “For many women, they are the most common, or neutral, way of ending sentences. Leaving them out indicates negative intentions, while including them simply shows an expected level of enthusiasm.”
  • “My father once split an infinitive, and I did not attend his funeral.” “I got a tattoo of a comma splice and then had it removed.” “I disregard ransom notes if their punctuation is incorrect.” The bona fides of true grammar nerds.

The Rise of Slackness, and Other News

March 27, 2015 | by


General Echo‘s 12" of Pleasure LP.

  • Luc Sante on listening to reggae in the late seventies: “General Echo, whose real name was Errol Robinson, was prominent in the rise of ‘slackness,’ the sexually explicit reggae style that began to eclipse the Rastafarian ‘cultural’ style … his songs include ‘Bathroom Sex’ and ‘I Love to Set Young Crutches on Fire’ (‘crotches,’ that is), as well as ‘Drunken Master’ and ‘International Year of the Child.’ ”
  • The Cannes Film Festival saw a lot more action in the fifties: “Of all the grueling daily rituals … perhaps the most frivolous are the combination beach party/publicity functions, where paparazzi scramble to get shots of the ‘traditional striptease by the starlet of the year standing on the rocks.’ This particular custom was spawned in part by Brigitte Bardot’s inaugural, bikinied appearance at Cannes in 1953. But disrobing actresses arguably didn’t become a fixture of the festival until the following year, when Simone Silva got banned for posing topless next to Robert Mitchum—a spectacle that caused a pile-up of frantic, injured photographers.”
  • How the Danish writer Dorthe Nors found her way to the short story: “The Swedes have that big, fearless, existential approach to literature. The Danes have an elastic, playful, anarchistic and ironic way of using language. And here was this dude telling me—the closet Swede—that I should make use of the strengths of my own language … ”
  • What does Taylor Swift have in common with Austen, Auden, Thackeray, and Shakespeare? And don’t say, She’s a storyteller of legendary talents—the answer is more mundane. She’s an adopter of they as a singular pronoun.
  • When John Updike tried to write a Jewish character—Henry Bech, who went on to star in four of Updike’s novels—Cynthia Ozick took him to task: “Updike comes and goes as anthropologist, transmitting nothing … Being a Jew is something more than being an alienated marginalized sensibility with kinky hair.”

Who’s Number One?

March 17, 2015 | by

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and the role of the first person.


Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

It can be staggering to realize, suddenly, that something you’ve never thought about—something you’ve always accepted as real—is just an article of faith. Language is often what turns the lightbulb on: someone defines reality afresh with a new word (mansplaining, Rebecca Solnit) or by showing the hidden powers and interconnections of an old word (debt, David Graeber). Rarely is the realization about language itself.

Of all the dogmas of classical antiquity, only grammar has held its ground. Euclidean geometry, Ptolemaic astronomy, Galenic medicine, Roman law, Christian doctrine—the schools have radically demolished them all. But even now, Alexandrine grammar still reigns.

The quote is from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888–1973), a deeply idiosyncratic Christian theoretician of the modern era. (All translations are mine, from the two-volume The Language of the Human Race: An Incarnate Grammar in Four Parts [Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts: Eine leibhafte Grammatik in vier Teilen].) Rosenstock-Huessy inspired a few cognoscenti, including W. H. Auden and Peter Sloterdijk, but he is still, it is safe to say, deeply, deeply obscure. It is hard to know what to do with him. I certainly find off-putting the self-evident all-importance of Christ’s Birth or God’s Divine Purpose, which he regularly tosses into his philosophical arguments. (Auden: “Anyone reading him for the first time may find, as I did, certain aspects of his writings a bit hard to take … Speaking for myself, I can only say that, by listening to Rosenstock-Huessy, I have been changed.”) The grammatical dogma he means, though—and which he spent more than one 1,900-page book in mortal combat against—is the innocent-looking list dating back to the Greeks: first person, second person, third person. I love, you love, he/she/it loves, or, if you studied Latin, amo, amas, amat. Read More »