The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

Dancing in the Trenches, and Other News

October 26, 2015 | by

E. H. Shepard, Close of the Italian Season. Grand ‘Peace Ballet’ Finale, 1918–1919. Image via NYRB

  • Ask your standard-issue grammarian about further versus farther and he’ll trot out the conventional wisdom: farther should be used to refer to literal distances and further to metaphorical ones. But what if everything we’ve been taught is a lie? Caleb Crain investigates: “Further didn’t originally mean ‘more distant’ but something like ‘more ahead,’ or, as the contemporary O.E.D. puts it, ‘more forward, more onward’ … farther refers to a greater distance, literal or metaphorical, from a shared measuring point. Further refers to a greater progress in a shared direction.”
  • What did the literary world look like before the free market enveloped and swallowed it? Memories of that time are getting murkier every day: “It is almost impossible now to remember … that poetry was the literary genre to which the greatest prestige accrued until the mideighties; that one might have spent an afternoon talking with an acquaintance about the rhythm of a writer’s sentences … that we didn’t think of success in writing mainly in relation to the market, and in relation to a particular genre, the novel, and to a specific incarnation of that genre, the first novel, possibly until 1993, when A Suitable Boy was published, or maybe a year earlier, when Donna Tartt’s The Secret History appeared. It is now difficult to understand these examples as watershed occurrences in an emerging order, and difficult to experience again the moral implications of living … in an order that was superseded.”
  • NPR personalities used to position themselves as the genuine, warts-and-all alternative to the downy baritones on offer from traditional radio broadcasters—but today even the NPR voices have come to sound manufactured, their hesitant cadences and informality built into the script. “In addition to looser language, the speaker generously employs pauses and, particularly at the end of sentences, emphatic inflection … A result is the suggestion of spontaneous speech and unadulterated emotion. The irony is that such presentations are highly rehearsed, with each caesura calculated and every syllable stressed in advance … the preplanned responses of NPR personalities sound somewhat counterfeit when stacked against the largely, if not completely, unscripted monologues that open rawer podcasts … an even more forceful catalyst for speech patterns has been the modern Internet, the most powerful linguistic relaxant outside of alcohol.”
  • E. H. Shepard is best remembered as the illustrator behind the original Winnie-the-Pooh, but before that, during World War I, he ran a soldiers’ magazine from the trenches: “For months, his life, like all those on the front, was surrounded by slaughter. His sketchbook was full of pictures of crammed dugouts and rough shelters. He drew the chaotic rubble of no-man’s land, the plight of the wounded, and the tall roadside crucifix used as a lookout post by the Germans … But there’s still plenty of humor in Venti Quatro, the soldiers’ magazine he edited, satirizing the gung-ho coverage of the British press, so far from the bitter reality. His wit is not verbal, but visual—a quality hard to define—seen here in affectionate caricatures of fellow officers and in the wonderful, rhythmic dance of beak-nosed, moustachioed officers in swirling tutus.”
  • More and more literary magazines are charging a reading fee—is this blatant money-grabbing or the latest in a series of efforts to stanch the flow of submissions? “The major reason literary journals charge fees has less to do with money, and more to do with the enormous number of submissions they receive. Around the country, MFA programs are graduating people who want to be writers, so they submit creative writing to literary journals. The journals, with small staffs and minuscule budgets, are overwhelmed with submissions and take a long time—sometimes six months to a year—to reply. Most writers can’t wait that long for a single response, so they send their work to more journals. The whole thing snowballs … In some sense, then, writers are to blame for blanketing journals they haven’t even read with their work.”

How to Say No in Turkish

October 20, 2015 | by

Navigating a new language.

A postcard of the harbor in Constantinople, ca. 1914.

Some people see learning a language as an obstacle course or, more euphemistically, as a second coming of age. Whichever way you look at it, when it comes to Turkish, English speakers are faced with a much harder task than with an Indo-European language.

Why does the Turkish alphabet not contain the letter w? Very few Turkish words remind me of their equivalents in the languages I know; nothing follows a familiar pattern. Over and again, I read meanings into words that turn out to be false friends. Why does engel mean “obstacle,” kalender “unconventional” (it can also be a male first name), tabak—“dish”? Why do you “drink” a cigarette—sigara içmek? Why is a sunflower called a “moon flower,” and a hornet a “donkey bee”? Who came up with the idea to choose inmek for “get off”? Will I ever learn to stop dotting the ı? Read More »

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.
Read More »

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.