A cultural news roundup.
A cultural news roundup.
More looking than reading: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s 60 Fotos. Errata Editions has reprinted the entirety of the original 1930 book, a series of photographs, photograms, and photomontages. Truth be told, each image—geometric, abstract, fluid, distorted, and disquieting—requires as much reading as just looking. —Nicole Rudick
It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, but it’s not: soon, you may be able to take a blood test that can estimate how long you have to live. It may be too late, though, seeing as the Rapture is due to occur tomorrow. —Natalie Jacoby
Whether or not you believe the world is going to end tomorrow, read Maud Newton on having her fortieth birthday coincide with the Rapture. —Thessaly La Force
With a stunning and tragic Giro d’Italia in full swing in Europe and the Amgen Tour of California rolling closer to home, it’s been a good time to dig out The Rider, Tim Krabbé’s fictionalization of the 1977 Tour du Mont Aigoual race in southern France. The bikes are heavier and sprockets smaller than the feats of engineering raced today, but the raw drive to suffer and dominate that animates Krabbé’s lean staccato hasn’t aged a day. —Peter Conroy
In his recent Paris Review interview, Ray Bradbury claims to have modeled The Martian Chronicles after Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. I’m fond of Bradbury, and I’m fond of (and from) Ohio, and a friend recently passed Anderson’s short-story cycle along as suggested reading. It hit the mark for me, not least for its chilly evocations of claustrophobic, small-town America. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner
Rob Delaney really panders to my weird, should-I-open-this-URL-at-work sense of humor. Recently, I was very happy to learn he’ll be writing a new column for Vice magazine. I’ve never been more excited about feeling like I did something wrong or inappropriate, which is how I feel when I read his jokes. —N. J.
For a long time now, we’ve been thinking that our friends over at The Awl should start a culture diary of their own—and now they have! And with no less an eminence than David Orr, poetry critic of The New York Times Book Review. Hot, hot, hot!
We had forgotten all about it, until we received an interesting item from special U.S. Open correspondent (and Team Paris Review catcher) Louisa Thomas. In the current issue of Science, Jean-Baptiste Michel, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva P. Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, the Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and Erez Lieberman Aiden report new findings on the fate of irregular verbs in English:
Though irregulars generally yield to regulars, two verbs did the opposite: light/lit and wake/woke. Both were irregular in Middle English, were mostly regular
by 1800, and subsequently backtracked and are irregular again today. The fact that these verbs have been going back and forth for nearly 500 years highlights the gradual nature of the underlying process. Still, there was at least one instance of rapid progress by an irregular form. Presently, 1% of the English speaking population switches from “sneaked” to “snuck” every year: someone will have snuck off while you read this sentence. As before, this trend is more prominent in the United States, but recently sneaked across the Atlantic: America is the world’s leading exporter of both regular and irregular verbs.
(From “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books”)
To which we say, good catch, Louisa! It is not every day that The Paris Review Daily finds itself in step with the march of history. We’re not sure it’s something to celebrate; still, we thought our early adopters ought to know.
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,
I’m told a publication calling itself The Awl has blogged about our use of snuck for sneaked, calling out the whole Paris Review masthead for this transgression of English.
Transgression against English, they undoubtedly mean. If English had been transgressed by us, we would have stepped across it and begun writing in a foreign language. However solid an ambition that remains, no one will accuse us of it here. I suppose there’s no pausing to get basic prepositions correct when you’re on your way to obsessing over arcane questions of the irregular preterit. But let’s not be pedantic.
Actually, let’s be pedantic as hell. It ought to go against any writer’s grain when people try to pass off schoolmarmish grammarianism as a concern for style. Style is about getting the maximum effect out of words, eliminating unwanted ambiguities, and writing in such a way that readers see things better—in short, it’s about meaning. Grammarianism, which is to say, an out-of-control prescriptivism, is about doing things the right way, or more often, about giving others grief for not having done so.
I’m not an antiprescriptivist. Trying to keep your mother tongue honest is noble and even necessary. But a person needs to be objecting to a word on some grounds—that it’s inexact or obscure, that it’s confusing or unbeautiful. What is The Awl’s problem with snuck? As far as one can tell, somebody told them at some point that it was preferable to use sneaked. Why, though? We’ve been saying and writing snuck for at least a hundred and twenty-five years now, in high and low contexts. Everybody knows exactly what it means. Indeed, a big-deal British linguist has theorized that the reason snuck emerged as a form to begin with is that it sounds more like what it says. It’s shorter, faster, more final—it’s sneakier. To my ear, sneaked has lost the war, and even smells a bit of the lamp.
Admittedly, I come from a place where people still say y’uns (oldest surviving usage of ye, according to some scholars), which may disqualify me from pronouncing on such matters.
I wish The Awl the joy of its style sheet, and strongly urge the excellent Mr. Cox and the rest of you to stick to your guns.