Posts Tagged ‘words’
May 25, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- After he published the Tractatus, Wittgenstein traded philosophy for gardening, and developed a fixation on home design that may have led him back into philosophy’s embrace: “To details like the door-handles, in particular, Wittgenstein accorded what [the biographer Ray] Monk calls ‘an almost fanatical exactitude,’ driving locksmiths and engineers to tears as they sought to meet his seemingly impossible standards … Monk argues, more than once, that this design project brought Wittgenstein ‘back’ to philosophy … But I doubt that the return to philosophy was prompted by social connections, which were always a mixed bag for the antisocial Wittgenstein. I prefer to believe that the prompt was in the handle. For when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, the idea that drove him beyond all others was that the nature of language had been misunderstood by philosophers … Words did not, he had come to believe, primarily provide a picture of life (the word “snake” representing, or sounding like, an actual snake); they were better conceived of as a part of the activity of life. As such, they were more like tools.”
- Jacob Harris was scoping out some nineteenth-century newspaper ads (don’t judge; this is how some of us get our kicks) when he stumbled upon an ad for the Brooklyn Furniture Company composed entirely of typography—a direct predecessor of the ASCII art that would come more than a century later. “The face resembles modern ASCII art, but it was published at a time—March 20, 1881—that seemed impossibly early,” he writes: “In many newspapers, these early examples of text art vanished not long after they arrived … Apart from the two advertisements I had found, the style apparently never caught on in the Times. But why not? To answer that, I looked more at the Eagle where I found the earliest ads—and where they survived for several decades longer than everywhere else. They are there in 1881, when one bold advertiser filled an entire page with ASCII text. They are there in 1888, when the Eagle advertised its election night almanac in the familiar large letters. They are there all the way up to July 3, 1892, a day the same Brooklyn Furniture Company again ran a half-page ad with their address in large ASCII letters. And, then, on July 5th, they were completely gone, replaced by modern layouts and fancy typography. Those upgrades likely explain, at least in part, what happened. ASCII art flourishes most when technology is limited; you don’t need Print Shop anymore when you can do digital layout on your computer and have an inkjet printer.”
- “The gift and curse of American hyperbole, truthful and otherwise, has lately been distilled in a single omnipresent word. In 2016, everything is ‘everything.’ That’s what the Internet is telling us, at least. Or yelling at us, in capital letters, with blaring hashtags attached. ‘@Beyonce’s #MetGala dress is EVERYTHING,’ Self magazine proclaimed recently on Twitter … Internet one-upsmanship is a definitively 21st-century art form, but ‘everything’ carries a hint of yesteryear—a whiff of the hot air that once swirled through medicine-show tents and carnival grounds … The Internet has a way of placing all of us—you, me, the online peddler of counterfeit Viagra, the editor of The Paris Review—in the undignified position of those touts who haunt the sidewalks outside bad restaurants in tourist-trap neighborhoods, thrusting menus in the faces of passers-by.”
- In which Edward Docx attends the 2016 British Esperanto Conference: “There are few times in your life that you can be certain that you are doing what nobody else in the world is doing—or has ever done—or will likely do again. This was one of them. I was sitting at a table of six, with a Catalan, a Brazilian, a Belgian, a Londoner and a Slovakian, while they munched and guzzled their way through their kareos and had what I can only describe as the most kinetic, exciting and involving conversation in Esperanto that Spice City (of Stanley Street, Liverpool) is ever going to witness. The animation. The jokes. The asides. The soliloquys. The antanaclasis. Oh, if only I had known what they were talking about I could have … I could have told you. But I was converted. The whole idea and application of Esperanto was so obviously amazing, so demonstrably persuasive, so self-evidently practical that I forget all over again about English; English; English.”
- The Internet is a fine place to find good writing. But it’s the best place to find moronic writing—just try. It’s such an effective moronic-writing delivery system that print media got jealous: “There are too many people filling every possible orifice of the Internet with their idiot opinions and comical prejudices and poorly constructed arguments … But: Have you seen what’s not on the Internet? You would think, what with the supposed influence of those who man the precincts offline, away from the free-for-all of our type-and-post world, that there would be safety in the smooth, heavy paper and creamy finish of print … And yet: THEY ARE NOT ALL THAT MUCH BETTER … It turns out most people don’t have anything very interesting to say and they’re actually a lot worse at saying it than we previously anticipated. Also, what no one expected is that shit flows upward, splattering the finer precincts we once looked to for wisdom with the same awful patina of chatty, ‘relatable’ garbage whose ultimate goal is to be passed around without anyone mentioning how gross your palms feel once you hand it off. We were warned and we didn’t listen and now we’re all paying the price.”
May 23, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- On the streets of English, adverbs are the knockoff Rolex salesmen lurking in the shadows, always ready to sell you something shiny and fake. Christian Lorentzen urges you to stay away: “The adverbs easiest to hate are the so-called sentence adverbs—also known as conjunctive adverbs. Writers who lean on the crutches of moreover, accordingly, consequently, and likewise are declaring a lack of confidence in the sequence of their own logic or a lack of faith in their readers’ ability to follow it. Deploying indeed is tantamount to saying, ‘I’ve just had a thought and, indeed, I’ve just had another.’ Next time you come across the word meanwhile, ask yourself when else all this could have been happening. What is the adverbial phrase of course but a smug duo dropped in to congratulate writer and reader for already agreeing with each other. Nevertheless, nonetheless, and the atrocious however are symptoms of an anxiety over a proliferation of the word but. But you can never have too many helpings of but, and sound thinking will make hay of contradictions.”
- Today in bowel movements: they’re never as good as they used to be. As Maggie Koerth-Baker writes, “Since at least the Renaissance, Western cultures have fretted about their own bowels while looking back to an imagined past where mankind pooped in peace and harmony. According to James Whorton, professor emeritus of medical history and ethics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, modern life has long been considered the ultimate cause of constipation. Take, for instance, a bit of doggerel poetry from mid-1600s England: ‘And for to make us emulate, / The good old Father doth relate / The vigour of our Ancestors, / Whose shiting far exceeded ours’ … More than just nostalgia, though, the belief that modern lifestyles caused constipation was viewed as a medical emergency, on the scale of what we think of the obesity epidemic today.”
- Most historical fiction aspires to verisimilitude—the author hopes to convince readers that she’s conjured an accurate version of the past. But “a handful of recent works of fiction,” Lucy Ives writes, “have taken up history on radically different terms. Rather than presenting a single, definitive story—an ostensibly objective chronicle of events—these books offer a past of competing perspectives, of multiple voices. They are not so much historical as archival: instead of giving us the imagined experience of an event, they offer the ambiguous traces that such events leave behind. These fictions do not focus on fact but on fact’s record, the media by which we have any historical knowledge at all. In so doing, such books call the reader’s attention to both the problems and the pleasures of history’s linguistic remains … restoring historical narratives to what they have perhaps always already been: provoking and serious fantasies, convincing reconstructions, true fictions.”
- When I pass by a beautiful woman, the first thing I think is, God, I hope she doesn’t get tuberculosis. Then I think, She probably already has tuberculosis. I’m especially inclined to believe this if the woman is dressed in a high Victorian style—in the nineteenth century, I have learned, “one of the ways people judged a woman’s predisposition to tuberculosis was by her attractiveness, [historian Carol] Day says. ‘That’s because tuberculosis enhances those things that are already established as beautiful in women,’ she explains, such as the thinness and pale skin that result from weight loss and the lack of appetite caused by the disease. [A 1909 book] confirms this notion, with the authors noting: ‘A considerable number of patients have, and have had for years previous to their sickness, a delicate, transparent skin, as well as fine, silky hair.’ Sparkling or dilated eyes, rosy cheeks and red lips were also common in tuberculosis patients—characteristics now known to be caused by frequent low-grade fever.”
- Pity the Emily Dickinson biographers, for theirs is a life of mystery and suffering: “In the twenty-first century, Emily Dickinson has become very much about our selves, an interpretation that has been allowed to flourish partly because of her anonymity: The bulk of her poems, of course, were published after she died, and she lived with her parents all her life, unmarried and leaving letters that only hint at possible lovers, hardly ever leaving her home. During the last thirty years, it has been many writers’ impulse to try her on, explore the ‘masks,’ as [Jerome] Charyn calls them, that she wore in her poems, and give motive to her writings through more expressive means.”
May 10, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
Many people hate the word moist. Indeed, it has become almost expected to hate the word moist, with its connotations of limp handshakes, cloying Uriah Heep types, and creeping damp. A recent study found that the aversion was real, reported the New York Times: “Data from the current studies point to semantic features of the word—namely, associations with disgusting bodily functions—as a more prominent source of peoples’ unpleasant experience.”
But here’s the thing: I like moist. And not just because of good associations with the groundbreaking Moistworks blog, either. I think moist just needs better PR. Read More »
April 11, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
The other day I noticed something for the first time. “Please allow all customers off the train,” said the recorded voice over the subway sound system. Customers. Not passengers, not riders: customers.
What did it mean? Something bureaucratic, obviously—but philosophically? Had the transaction at last been stripped of all artifice? Had the civic connotations of public transit been cast off in favor of naked commercialism? Or was this a simple acknowledgment that we’re paying for the ride—and that, in the way of all American customers, we are always right? Read More »
March 30, 2016 | by Ryan Bradley
The linguist discusses how technology shapes culture and culture shapes words.
The first time Sarah “Sally” Thomason and I spoke, she’d just completed her annual two-day, eighteen-hundred-mile drive from her home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she teaches, to rural northwestern Montana, where she spends her summers studying Montana Salish. For thirty-four years, Thomason has been assembling a dictionary of this Native American language, which is spoken fluently by fewer than forty people. Thomason, a linguist, is fascinated by what happens when one language meets another, and how those languages change, or don’t. I had contacted her because I was interested in how certain words—say, e-mail, or google, or tweet—had been exported worldwide by American-born technology. I’d already called several linguists, and they all said I had to speak to Sally. No one, they said, had more insight into how linguistic traits travel, how pidgins and creoles are born, and how languages interact and change over time.
The French government tried very hard to resist American loanwords like e-mail, promoting in its place messagerie électronique or courriel. They’d formed a whole agency for this purpose. Laws were passed and enforced. And yet e-mail prevailed—it was simply more efficient. But Sally was especially excited about languages that resist such borrowing, even in the face of extraordinary cultural influence and dominance. Montana Salish was one such language. Our conversations followed a pattern: I arrived expecting one thing and ended up somewhere entirely distinct, thinking differently about language and human culture.
Is it fair to say that you study what happens when languages meet? Is meet too friendly a word? I suppose there’s a whole range of things that happen, and sometimes it’s friendly and sometimes it’s not.
Right, but having a language disappear because all the speakers got massacred is actually really rare. There are a couple of examples where all the speakers of some language got wiped out by a volcanic eruption on an island. And there are a couple of examples, at least one in this country, where almost everybody was wiped out by smallpox and then the remainder was lynched by a mob.
What languages are those? Read More »
March 14, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Because people are incorrigibly nosy, and because no one seems to find it enjoyable to let an author write her books in peace, an Italian professor has sallied forth with yet another dubious claim as to the true identity of Elena Ferrante. And the professor’s guess isn’t very creative, either; it’s just another professor. “The latest writer forced to deny that she is the creator of the critically acclaimed Neapolitan novels is Marcella Marmo, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Naples Federico II. ‘Truly no, I am not Elena Ferrante,’ she told Corriere della Sera, saying she had only read the first novel in the Neapolitan series and the newspaper should give her the other books as an apology.”
- Today in super: what a shitty word super is, with its grating long u, its relentless cheer, its strange ties to start-up culture. Teddy Wayne writes “Super followed by an adjective—in other words, in adverbial form—was more than five times as common from 2010 to ’12 as from 1990 to ’94, with the biggest leaps coming in the last decade … What was once reserved for the best, the most awe-inspiring and the wondrous is now routinely deployed for the mundane, the banal and the taste of fro-yo … It is a prefix for a wealth of hard math and science terms (such as superset or superstring theory). It can imbue a nebulous proposition with what sounds like data-tested objectivity: ‘We have implemented a superaccessible user database’ comes off as more authoritative or more high-tech than ‘We have implemented a very accessible user database.’ ”
- Eileen Myles has become that strangest of subspecies, the famous poet. Arielle Greenberg wonders why Myles’s fame has itself garnered so much attention, and what it might mean for her work: “It is weird for a poet to be famous, and no one feels this weirdness more deeply than poets themselves. It’s even more weird for a poet to be newly more famous—genuinely, glossy-magazine famous—in her mid-sixties, after writing nineteen books … Why is the media so obsessed with Myles’s ascent into mainstream celebrity? I think a host of reasons are at play: the way Americans try to get ‘cultured’ by osmosis so that stylish articles about poetry make us feel more intellectual, the ‘bootstraps’ nature of Myles’s story, the novelty of someone who ran for president as a piece of performance art getting photographed for glossy magazines. I find myself thinking about a term used a lot in my circles in the early 1990s: co-opting. Back then, it seemed that everything authentic and revolutionary and vital—the riot grrl movement, grunge music, hip-hop—was quickly gobbled up by the establishment and spat back out in clean, shiny packages for mass consumption. I worry that the hoopla over Myles is an attempt by the media to take everything underground about her and her work and use it to make itself look cool.”
- The Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film Cemetery of Splendor continues his long, oblique, quiet approach to political cinema, in which characters struggle to awake from the bland dream of history: “By far the most nakedly political film of Weerasethakul’s career, it is a gentle, open-hearted story of human connection, and it is underlain at every moment by rage and dread. Midway through the film, the two main characters, Jen and Itt, go to the movies. In a slick modern multiplex, they watch a trailer for a schlocky horror flick, a fevered montage of impalements, heaving breasts, and prehensile tongues. This sequence is as close to a direct statement of intent as you’ll ever find in a Weerasethakul film. Cemetery of Splendor has no gore, no bug-eyed demons or shrieking victims, and it makes time for flirtatious conversations with the local librarian, a long sales pitch for a miracle skin cream, and several public group workouts (a charmingly inexplicable staple of this filmmaker’s work). But it too is a horror movie, all the more unsettling for its poky, daylit geniality.”
- It’s been twenty years since Under the Tuscan Sun was published, turning Tuscany into an unseemly pastiche of luxury and authentic European living. What have we done since? Jason Wilson explains: “I have sat on Tuscan-brown sofas surrounded by Tuscan-yellow walls, lounged on Tuscan patios made with Tuscan pavers, surrounded by Tuscan landscaping. I have stood barefoot on Tuscan bathroom tiles, washing my hands under Tuscan faucets after having used Tuscan toilets. I have eaten, sometimes on Tuscan dinnerware, a Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta from Wendy’s, a Tuscan Chicken Melt from Subway, the $6.99 Tuscan Duo at Olive Garden, and Tuscan Hummus from California Pizza Kitchen. Recently, I watched my friend fill his dog’s bowl with Beneful Tuscan Style Medley dog food. This barely merited a raised eyebrow; I’d already been guilty of feeding my cat Fancy Feast’s White Meat Chicken Tuscany. Why deprive our pets of the pleasures of Tuscan living?”