Monday, February 27, 2017

“An enemy of the people”

The New York Times traces the history of the phrase “an enemy of the people.” Long story short: the French Revolution, an Ibsen play, Lenin, Stalin, and sometimes Mao. Roy Peter Clark recently wrote at greater length about Ibsen, Trump’s rhetoric, and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

And let us not forget Richard Nixon’s remark that “The press is the enemy.” “Write that on a blackboard one hundred times,” he told Henry Kissinger.

I’ll repeat what I wrote in a post about the slogan “American first”: Words have history. History has history.

The S.S. Lurk

Elaine’s idea that Gilmore Girls is Gilligan’s Island looks more and more plausible. From the episode “Will You Be My Lorelai Gilmore?” (February 27, 2007). Kirk is telling Lorelai that he has bought a boat:

“Yeah, the S.S. Lurk. It’s a combination of my name and Luke’s, since it used to be his boat.”

“Oh, you bought Luke’s boat.”

“Yeah, she needs a little more work before she’s seaworthy, but as soon as she is, I’ll take you out. You can be Ginger to Lulu’s Mary Ann. Let’s lock down dates now. When are you free?”
Related reading
All OCA Gilmore Girls posts (Pinboard)

[My transcription.]

Civility at work

A short interview from To the Best of Our Knowledge: Christine Porath talks about civility in the workplace. And there’s an online questionnaire.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Best Picture

Moonlight. Moonlight. Moonlight.

A related post
Movies, twelve of them (Including Moonlight)

Words of the day: post, posthaste

Whence the post in post office?

The term comes from positus, Latin for “position" or “station,” and a postal system carries information from one place to another, preferably with dispatch. (“Posthaste” first appeared as an instruction on the cover, or outside, of a letter but soon became a synonym for “hurry up!“)

Winifred Gallagher, How the Post Office Created America: A History (New York: Penguin, 2016).
A blog post is a post of a different kind. The first Oxford English Dictionary citation for this kind of posting (“a message displayed on a mailing list, newsgroup, or other online forum to which it has been sent”) dates from 1981. The shorter post dates from 1982. The OED sees the influence of old-fashioned posting (“the dispatching of letters, etc., by a messenger riding post“) in these newer uses. In my mind, a different sense of posting has always been behind the online term: “the action of putting up a notice on a post, wall, etc., or of making anything public by this or similar means.” See also the Facebook metaphor of writing on someone’s wall.

I hope that this post makes someone curious enough to look up mail (as I just did).

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Grey day with squirrel


[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

No filter — the day was just grey. This squirrel sat watch for several minutes, not moving. I thought of lines from William Carlos Williams: “The descent beckons / as the ascent beckoned.” This squirrel was taking its time about heeding the beck. Which at last it did. See also this poem.

A related post
KNUT Winter Schedule

Friday, February 24, 2017

Waiting for Godot Shimkus

Senator Bernie Sanders, speaking to CNN yesterday: “If you don’t have the guts to face your constituents, then you shouldn’t be in the United States Congress.”

Our representative in Congress, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), doesn’t believe in facing his constituents in town-hall meetings:

Rep. John Shimkus told fellow lawmakers he‘d never held a town-hall meeting during his two decades in Congress, and offered advice on how to handle constituent relations, according to two sources in the room. A Shimkus spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the private conference, but did confirm that Shimkus has never held an in-person town hall, saying he prefers telephone town halls and one-on-one constituent meetings.The spokesperson added that Trump won the Illinois district with 70 percent of the vote, and his constituents were “pleased the president is delivering on his promises.”
Well, not every constituent. Eight of us went to one of Rep. Shimkus’s local offices today. All efforts to arrange a meeting with him had failed, so we just showed up. (It’s a forty-five-minute drive.) For a little more than an hour, we spoke to a district aide, who took notes and promised to pass on our concerns, which included “alternative facts,” Cabinet appointees, climate change, the executive order on travel, funding for the arts and PBS, health care, LGBTQ rights, mass deportations, Planned Parenthood, our president’s lack of plain decency, a promised wall, Russian influence in the 2016 election, and, above all, fear about the future of our democracy. It was a respectful meeting, with an aide who was admittedly out of his wheelhouse. That wheelhouse would be what’s usually called “constituent services” — helping people with IRS and Social Security problems and such.

We eight constituents thought our time was well spent. I don’t know if we’ll we ever get to meet with Rep. Shimkus. But as someone once said, “If you don’t have the guts to face your constituents, then you shouldn’t be in the United States Congress.”

[The Fifteenth District has a population of 710,000. As a member of our group pointed out, one-on-one meetings leave an overwhelming majority of voters without access to their representative. In 2016 Shimkus ran unopposed; he won reëlection with all of the vote.]

“Monkey, monkey, underpants”

From the Gilmore Girls episode “Santa’s Secret Stuff” (January 23, 2007). Lorelai explains her difficulty in writing a letter of reference for a friend. Her brain, she explains, is “a wild jungle full of scary gibberish.” This monologue might be my favorite moment from the series:

“I’m writing a letter, I can’t write a letter, why can’t I write a letter? I’m wearing a green dress, I wish I was wearing my blue dress, my blue dress is at the cleaners. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue, Casablanca. Casablanca is such a good movie. Casablanca, the White House, Bush. Why don’t I drive a hybrid car? I should really drive a hybrid car. I should really take my bicycle to work. Bicycle, unicycle, unitard. Hockey puck, rattlesnake, monkey, monkey, underpants.”
Related reading
All OCA Gilmore Girls posts (Pinboard)

[My transcription. The final three words sound like something from a children’s game, but I think they belong to Lorelai.]

No melodrama

From the Perry Mason  episode “The Case of the Lost Last Act” (March 21, 1959). A theater producer speaks:

“Thank you, Mr. Mason. You saved me from becoming a cheap and melodramatic anti-climax.”
Related reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to improve writing (no. 70)

The page-ninety test was a Ford Madox Ford habit: “turning to page ninety of any edition of an author . . . and then quoting the first paragraph of reasonable length” as a way to gauge a writer’s prose. Here is the first paragraph of reasonable length from page ninety of a recent book about the history of handwriting. “James” is the novelist Henry:

By the 1890s, James began dictating all his novels to a secretary, who typed the author’s words as he said them aloud. At first James found it hard to find such an amanuensis who would understand his words. As he put it, “The young typists are mainly barbarians, and the civilized here are not typists,” he declared, noting that hiring a woman was “an economy” over his previously male secretary.
I see a number of problems:

~ The use of by with began with is an odd way to mark the onset of action. For instance: “By the 1980s, I began to use an Apple computer.” “By the 1980s, I was using” or “In the 1980s, I began using” sounds more natural.

~ “All his novels”: all is unnecessary.

~ There is no difference between saying and saying aloud, and no other way to dictate than by speaking (or using sign language).

~ “James found it hard to find”: awkward repetition.

~ Amanuensis, though a word James favored, looks like an inelegant variation on the word secretary. And there is no difference between an amanuensis and “such an amanuensis.”

~ “As he put it” and “he declared”: putting the one before the quotation and the other after suggests a need for more careful copyediting.

~ “His previously male secretary”: yikes. I’m afraid to ask what happened to the guy.

Here again is the original paragraph and a revised version (which adds another phrase from the letter in which James refers to his new secretary as “an economy”):
Original: By the 1890s, James began dictating all his novels to a secretary, who typed the author’s words as he said them aloud. At first James found it hard to find such an amanuensis who would understand his words. As he put it, “The young typists are mainly barbarians, and the civilized here are not typists,” he declared, noting that hiring a woman was “an economy” over his previously male secretary.

My revision: By the 1890s, James was dictating his novels to a secretary, who typed as James spoke. At first James had difficulty finding someone who could understand his words. “The young typists are mainly barbarians, and the civilized here are not typists,” he complained. James found that hiring a woman to replace a male secretary was both “an improvement” and “an economy.”
The page-ninety test gives a fair representation of this book, which is not especially well written. For instance: “Graphologists had a steady business counseling people before answering marriage proposals as well.” Or: “A recent stylometric analysis of Double Falsehood, a disputed play by William Shakespeare, was proved to be partially the work of the Bard after it was run through computers.” Were graphologists answering marriage proposals as a sideline? Did the analysis turn out to be partly by Shakespeare? Was the play by Shakespeare partly by Shakespeare? Was it the analysis or the play that was run through computers? Whatever.

Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)
Ford Madox Ford’s page-ninety test
Handwriting, pro and con
My Salinger Year, a page-ninety test
Nature and music, a page-ninety test

[This post is no. 70 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]