Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

A quick movie recommendation: Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary about fifth-graders preparing for and competing in the New York City public schools' ballroom-dancing competition. The film follows students from three schools, two in Manhattan--Tribeca and Washington Heights--and one in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The students' dedication is inspiring; the openness with which they talk about what they hope to do in their lives is beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking; and their discussions of the opposite sex are almost always hilarious. The dance sequences are sometimes clunky, often remarkably graceful. (How do you describe ten-year-olds doing the tango?!) And even with several dozen students and teachers to keep track of, the filmmakers manage (well, sort of manage) to present each as an individual personality. Some of my favorite moments (aside from the dancing): dance-teacher Alex Tchassov explaining the secret of making eye contact while dancing; classroom-teacher Allison Sheniak beginning to cry when she speaks of how her students have become "little ladies and gentlemen" (they're sitting behind her and can hear that something is going in); the gossip sessions among the Washington Heights girls; student Michael Vaccaro's analysis of love and marriage. You have to stay through the credits to see that last one. A bonus, for me: seeing a school auditorium and gym just like those in P.S. 131, Brooklyn, my elementary school.

I was lucky enough to see this movie in a real theatre (not a crummy multiplex)--Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign, Illinois. If you too are in east-central Illinois, it's worth the drive.

You can see the website for the film by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Its and it's

Looking up my old neighborhood of Allston, Mass. (now being colonized by Harvard University), I was surprised to find the following:

Peter Vanderwarker was commissioned by Harvard Planning and the Allston Initiative to photographically capture the spirit of Allston . . . with all it's complexities.
An its/it's error from Harvard--sheesh. You can see it, with a Harvard URL, here.

Its and it's are not that difficult to keep straight. The first is a possessive, like his and hers, neither of which has an apostrophe. It's is a contraction. It's that simple. Or as the writer Jessica Mitford put it,
When is it its? When it's not it is.
When is it it's? When it is it is.

[The offending contraction, from a screenshot. The link to the Harvard page is now dead. “When is it its?” is from Jessica Mitford’s Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking (1979).]

Shelby Foote

From the AP obituary for historian Shelby Foote:

Early in his career, Foote took up the habit of writing by hand with an old-fashioned dipped pen, and he continued that practice throughout his life. . . . Foote said writing by hand helped him slow down to a manageable pace and was more personal that using a typewriter, though he often prepared a typed copy of his day's writing after it was finished.
You can read the obituary here.

The message

Marjorie Perloff, interviewed by David Clippinger:

DC: Why do you think abstract art is more accepted than abstract poetry? Does the aura of the museum offer a form of validity that poetry cannot access, or does the fissure go beyond the issue of institutions?

MP: I think there are two answers to this question. (1) visual art, abstract or otherwise, is much more accepted by the public than is poetry. Ours is increasingly a visual culture: a few years ago, I went to a Magritte exhibition at the Armand Hammer Museum here in Los Angeles. It was packed; one couldn't get near the paintings. But if one asked the same people to read surrealist poetry, comparable to Magritte's painting, they would be at a total loss and say the poetry was much too difficult, too obscure. Thus Max Ernst's paintings and frottages are Big Business whereas André Breton's poems are barely known in the U.S. And the same would be true of Dada or Italian Futurism. Kurt Schwitters, for that matter, is well known as a painter, but his poems remain almost unknown!

But (2) "abstraction" in language is a very different thing from abstract painting. I take it by abstract poetry you mean non-sensical? Like Clark Coolidge or Bruce Andrews? I think the hostility to such poetry has to do with the simple fact that words (unlike paint strokes or dabs of color) inevitably have meanings, and so the reader inevitably wants to "make sense" of a poem and is frustrated when he/she can't. I don't think it's the aura of the museum versus the university classroom. Then, too, poetry is taught especially badly: in even the best high schools the only modern poets read are Robert Frost or Langston Hughes or maybe Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath. There is no training in HOW TO READ whereas art history classrooms do better by paintings and sculpture. . . . we suffer from the awful high school (and also college teaching) which reads poems for their "messages." I always have to remind students not to think in terms of "the message."
You can read the interview by clicking here.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Zero content"

Guitarist Ry Cooder:

"What do you need another mall for?" he went on. "In L.A., that’s all they ever have built. They cut up the Brown Derby. They cut up all those restaurants that looked like funny things, like pigs or hot dogs. They tear down every coffee shop they can find. You talk about heritage, man, it was there. They find a bowling alley, chop it down. Interesting old apartment house, chop it down. Then they give back stuff with zero content, buildings with no past, a useless present, and no future at all. Where nobody is going to get together, where no memories will be created or associations made, or good times. They will simply be directing you into the act of taking your credit card out of your wallet, with that glazed look on your face. So, you see, I’m not a fan of that."
Why is Ry Cooder quoted in "Stadia Mania," a New Yorker piece about plans for new ballparks for the Mets and Yankees? You can find out by clicking here.

Segovia

Guitarist Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) on his hatred of routine playing:

I have to be present at every note I play.
From the New York Times obituary, available by clicking here.

[Use mediajunkie as your name and password to read the Times online.]

Friday, June 24, 2005

The most dangerous game

I have been intending to write this essay for months. Why am I finally doing it? Because I finally found some uncommitted time? Wrong. I have papers to grade, textbook orders to fill out, an NSF proposal to referee, dissertation drafts to read. I am working on this essay as a way of not doing all of those things. This is the essence of what I call structured procrastination, an amazing strategy I have discovered that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time. All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you.
I've been meaning to post an excerpt from John Perry's essay for, well, for some time now. You can read "Structured Procrastination"--at your own risk--by clicking here.

Prof. Perry also has a nice essay on horizontal organization, the art of spreading out your work in piles all around you. You can read "A Plea for the Horizontally Organized"--again at your own risk--by clicking here.

Garrett Wade

I happened to mention it while teaching: the Garrett Wade catalogue must be the most beautiful tool catalogue ever made. You can see the online version by clicking here. The print version, on non-shiny paper, is even better.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

GMH, journal-keeper

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was a dedicated journal-keeper. Did he write in Moleskine notebooks? Who knows. Here's a sample from Hopkins' journals:

Aug. 10 [1872]. --I was looking at high waves. The breakers always are parallel to the coast and shape themselves to it except where the curve is sharp however the wind blows. They are rolled out by the shallowing shore just as a piece of putty between the palms whatever its shape runs into a long roll. The slant ruck or crease one sees in them shows the way of the wind. The regularity of the barrels surprised and charmed the eye; the edge behind the comb or crest was as smooth and as bright as glass. It may be noticed to be green behind and silver white in front: the silver marks where the air begins, the pure white is foam, the green / solid water. Then looked at to the right or left they are scrolled over like mouldboards or feathers or jibsails seen by the edge. It is pretty to see the hollow of the barrel disappearing as the white combs on each side run along the wave gaining ground till the two meet at a pitch and crush and overlap each other.

About all the turns of the scaping from the break and flooding of wave to its run out again I have not yet satisfied myself. The shores are swimming and the eyes have before them a region of milky surf but it is hard for them to unpack the huddling and gnarls of the water and law out the shapes and the sequence of the running: I catch however the looped or forked wisp made by every big pebble the backwater runs over--if it were clear and smooth there would be a network from their overlapping, such as can in fact be seen on smooth sand after the tide is out--; then I saw it run browner, the foam dwindling and twitched into long chains of suds, while the strength of the back-draught shrugged the stones together and clocked them one against another.

Looking from the cliff I saw well that work of dimpled foamlaps--strings of short loops or halfmoons--which I had studied at Freshwater years ago.

It is pretty to see the dance and swagging of the light green tongues or ripples of waves in a place locked between rocks.
No wonder Hugh Kenner referred to Hopkins' "poetic of detail." For Hopkins, looking (as in his modest preface, "I was looking at high waves") is synonymous with the most careful, extended attention to detail. The excitement of this passage for me lies in realizing just how right Hopkins' words are: "rolled out by the shallowing shore," "as smooth and as bright as glass," "solid water," "the huddling and gnarls of the water," "the looped or forked wisp made by every big pebble," "the foam dwindling and twitched into long chains of suds." Reading this passage, I can see--really see--what I've been seeing and missing.

You can see images of three pages from Hopkins' journals by clicking here.

Update: I've added the two short paragraphs that complete this GMH journal entry (I didn't know that the anthology I was borrowing from had made cuts). Thanks to Sean Payne, whose blog, Sign Language, you can visit by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Learning styles

Here's an interesting link, to a free learning styles inventory (via lifehack.org). The score in each category can run from 0 to 20. My numbers:

Visual 13
Aural 14
Verbal 19
Physical 5
Logical 13
Social 9
Solitary 17
Yes, I'm a solitary (and sometimes logical) reader, or at least that's how I learn best. This inventory might not tell you anything you don't already know. Then again, it might.

[Note: The above site asks for a name and email address and says that providing them is "completely optional." But you don't get to see your result until you've filled in the "optional" blanks. Just giving initials and a throwaway email address (e.g., "junkmail@mailinator.com") is sufficient. Mailinator is a terrific resource when a website asks for an email address.]

Monday, June 20, 2005

The class of 1935

It can be poignant to read the class notes in college alumni magazines. Recent graduates typically report job successes, marriages, and new arrivals. But here's something from the class of 1935:

Dick had just recovered from a heart attack and was resting up for a few days before going back to the hospital to receive a pacemaker. He and Mary were relaxed. At five o'clock on the day he died, they had their favorite "old-fashioneds," followed later by one of their favorite meals, and they ended the evening, at bedtime, by saying the rosary together. Mary slept downstairs because she was just recovering from a hip replacement. In the morning, Dick didn't respond to her calling. His ailing heart had quietly stopped beating. We should all be so lucky when the time comes.
A memory of Dick (John) Vaughan, written by his friend Edward T. Sullivan, correspondent for the Boston College class of 1935, published in the Spring 2005 issue of the Boston College Magazine. The surviving members of this class would now be in their early nineties.

[Note: An old-fashioned is a drink made with sugar, bitters, lemon peel, and whiskey, served on the rocks.]

Sunday, June 19, 2005

There'll always be an England

From the Chicago Tribune:

Watch out for "happy slapping," the latest youth craze to sweep Britain.

It's not a new dance step or even a new designer drug. It's a criminal assault.

Groups of teenagers approach an unsuspecting person and begin punching and kicking him or her while capturing it all on their mobile camera phones. The images are later uploaded and shared on the Internet.

The victims can be young or old, male or female. Bus stops, tube stations and parks are considered prime venues. In most cases, the injuries are minor. But on Saturday, British newspapers reported that an 11-year-old London girl had been raped by a gang of happy slappers, and Scotland Yard confirmed that three 14-year-old boys had been arrested.

The craze apparently started in London late last year but has spread across the country. British Transport Police say they have investigated about 200 attacks in London alone since the beginning of the year, but they acknowledge that most go unreported.

Happy slapping is the latest manifestation of what Britons call "yob culture." The word "yob" dates to the 19th Century--it likely derives from "boy" spelled backward--and it denotes a kind of loutish, anti-social behavior associated with working-class youth in Britain's urban centers. The British soccer hooligan is the quintessential yob.
You can read the article "'Happy slap' yobs breed fear, anger" by clicking here.

[If asked for a name and password, use noaccount@mailinator.com and noaccount.]

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Back to school

From "College in the 40s," by Michael Bracken, who went back to college at 42 and will graduate at 48:

While my son speeds through college without stopping for marriage, children and career, I relish the few advantages of being a college student at my age. I especially enjoy the reaction at the local multiplex when I request the "student discount," and my wife takes great pleasure in telling people that she sleeps with a college student.
You can read the essay (from Inside Higher Ed) by clicking here.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The New York Times invents a word?

From the New York Times:

Ostentious outfits were on display in York, England, for Ladies Day of the Royal Ascot races.
Does the Times mean ostentatious?

Neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor Merriam-Webster OnLine nor dictionary.com has an entry for "ostentious."

[This sentence appears in a photo caption--no way to link to it, alas.]

Update: By 3:23 p.m., the caption was gone, replaced by this one:
Women looked their very best in York, England, for Ladies Day of the Royal Ascot races.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Human rights" and other four-letter words

It's remarkable that I find myself in agreement with a Wall Street Journal editorial, but today I do. From the WSJ (June 15):

Microsoft's Kowtow

"Where do you want to go today?"

That was Microsoft's slogan in the mid-1990s, one that evoked the unlimited possibilities inherent in the age of the Internet and the software revolution. The answer to that question today would be, "hopefully not where they discuss 'freedom,' 'democracy' and 'human rights,'" at least not if you expect to use Microsoft's new portal in China.

The software giant has just bowed to the Chinese government by banning these words. If you type them on Microsoft's new portal, a message appears telling you to try different ones. If this weren't insulting enough, the message actually says, according to news reports, "this item should not contain forbidden speech such as profanity. Please enter a different word for this item."

To be fair to Microsoft, it is not alone. Yahoo! and Google have also caved in to China. Google chose last year to omit sources the Chinese government does not like from its Google News China edition, saying that it didn't make sense to provide a link to sites that would probably be blank anyway. All of these Internet companies make the point that it is better to make a compromise, gain a foothold in China and then offer China's masses the smorgasbord of information that is out there.

That view got backing from none other than Colin Powell, who happened to be in Hong Kong this week as this story was breaking. Microsoft figured it is "best for them and better for Chinese citizens to get 95% of the loaf," the former Secretary of State said at a conference when we asked him what he thought of an American company banning the word "freedom." While acknowledging that "Microsoft, and Google, and other information providers, have had to make a compromise that we wouldn't find acceptable in the United States," Mr. Powell said, "I think it's probably best for them to make that kind of compromise." Mr. Powell added that he thought the Chinese government was fighting a losing battle in thought control over the Internet, at least "if Chinese teenagers are like the teenagers in my family."

It is admittedly difficult for China's government to block Internet content from its estimated 87 million users, a number that is growing. But it is a lot easier if it has the cooperation of the industry. These corporations might also remember that Beijing needs their business. The Internet is where demand and supply meet these days, and China's leaders need economic growth to continue if they are not to face large-scale upheaval. Certainly the Microsofts and Googles might try to drive a harder bargain.

"Best in Class"

From the New Yorker:

Daniel Kennedy remembers when he still thought that valedictorians were a good thing. Kennedy, a wiry fifty-nine-year-old who has a stern buzz cut, was in 1997 the principal of Sarasota High School, in Sarasota, Florida. Toward the end of the school year, it became apparent that several seniors were deadlocked in the race to become valedictorian. At first, Kennedy saw no particular reason to worry. "My innocent thought was What possible problem could those great kids cause?" he recalled last month, during a drive around Sarasota. "And I went blindly on with my day."

The school had a system in place to break ties. "If the G.P.A.s were the same, the award was supposed to go to the kid with the most credits," Kennedy explained. It turned out that one of the top students, Denny Davies, had learned of this rule, and had quietly arranged to take extra courses during his senior year, including an independent study in algebra. "The independent study was probably a breeze, and he ended up with the most credits," Kennedy said.

Davies was named valedictorian. His chief rivals for the honor were furious--in particular, a girl named Kylie Barker, who told me recently that she had wanted to be valedictorian "pretty much forever."

Kennedy recalled, "Soon, the kids were doing everything they could to battle it out."
You can read Margaret Talbot's "Best in Class," on the lengths some young people will go to to be high-school valedictorians, by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

How many languages?

Kottke.org poses a fun question: How many languages in your music collection? Here's my inventory, not exhaustive, though many of the examples (e.g., Bulgarian) are the only examples I have:

Arabic: Sister Marie Keyrouz (Byzantine chant)

Bulgarian: Bulgarian Women's Choir

French: Clifton Chenier, Edith Piaf, Poulenc songs, Henri Salavador

English: I'll just keep going . . . .

German: Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera)

Greek: Sister Marie Keyrouz (Byzantine chant), field recordings of folk music

Italian: Beniamino Gigli, great Italian tenor

Japanese: "One Home Run," a song on Van Dyke Parks' Tokyo Rose, sung partly in Japanese

Portuguese: João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim

Spanish: Buena Vista Social Club, Eddie Palmieri

Tibetan: recordings from Buddhist monasteries

Yoruba: Sunny Adé

I have a handful of recordings about which I'm not sure: a gamelan recording from Bali, singers and kora players from Mali, "Ja Pehechaan Ho" (the opening music from Ghost World), and an Indian version of the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda."

How many languages are in your music collection? Leave a reply by clicking on comments.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Contemporary Brit-po

3808 students: Here's a recent article from The Guardian about the contemporary British poetry scene:

Poetry is being ruined by establishment--festival chief

by Richard Jinman

British poetry has become almost irrelevant, because the establishment has closed ranks against fresh ideas and forms, the director of an experiment called Text Festival said yesterday.

"[It] has run out of steam," Tony Trehy said. "There's nowhere for it to go other than becoming a mild entertainment or an anachronism."

Mr Trehy describes the festival, which opens today in Bury, Greater Manchester, as a declaration of war against the poetry establishment.

He hopes it will change the staid image of the poet by giving a stage to poets who mix text with everything from music, dance and mime to graphic design and mathematics.

"If people come expecting a [conventional] poetry reading they will go away having had a much more exciting experience," he said.

"If establishment figures like Simon Armitage or Carol Ann Duffy are judging a competition, you know what kind of result you're going to get," he said.

"There's real excitement about the Turner Prize, but who cares who wins the TS Eliot prize nowadays? The dead hand of the British poetry establishment means more challenging and inventive work is being seen somewhere else."

The poet laureate, Andrew Motion, said he had some sympathy but it was an old argument. "A lot of those barriers have been torn down now, and bloody well right too.

"The poetry scene has got more tolerant than it used to be and this is reflected on all sorts of levels," he said.

"I can see the shape of his [Trehy's] argument, but I don't see much evidence of a closing of ranks. We all have something to learn from one another, but in the end there is more take-up for one kind of writing than another."

The Text Festival opens with an exhibition celebrating the life and work of Bob Cobbing, an internationally recognised British exponent of concrete, visual and sound poetry, who died in 2002.
If you'd like to see the article itself, you can find it here.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Crooked teeth?

"I don't know what makes me any more interesting than anybody else," he says. "Crooked teeth?"
Paul Giamatti, quoted in Rolling Stone. You can read the article by clicking here.

[Note: Paul Giamatti is one good reason to see Cinderella Man.]

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Editing

From Jeremy Wagstaff's Loose Wire:

I only recently realised, for example, that I’ve always been saying 'esconced' for some reason. Only yesterday did I find out it should be 'ensconced', as I’m sure you all know. (Well, maybe not all of you: There are more than 5,000 sites where the word 'esconced' is used. But you're right to laugh at me.)

This doesn't stop me having my bugbears. I once nearly got myself fired for suggesting to his face that the then head of the multinational news organisation I was working for was using the word 'enervated' incorrectly, and that it meant the opposite of how it sounded. (It means 'lacking energy'.)

Then I noticed a couple of newspapers recently have misspelled 'loath' as 'loathe'. Loathe is the verb, loath is the adjective. I am loath to point such a thing out, but loathe it when I see the words misused.

I must stop being an editor. Two things happen: You quickly turn into a pedant, while at the same time realising that you knew far less about the English language than you thought you did.
You can (or should it be may?) read "The Humiliation of Being an Editor" by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

E-mail from Stefan Hagemann

My friend Stefan Hagemann writes:

On another note, I just finished rereading Slaughterhouse Five. I think it sort of counts towards your suggestion to reread a "crucial book from childhood," though I didn't read it for that reason. Rather, I was talking politics with a neighbor who is also an avid reader and somehow our conversation came around to Vonnegut. We'd both read it in high school, and while I probably remembered it a bit better (maybe because I'm a little younger), our memories were pretty fuzzy, so we both revisited it. It was a good experience and I'm looking forward to discussing it with her. There were entire scenes that I'd forgotten. My favorite is when Billy Pilgrim is time traveling/hallucinating and he encounters a war movie in reverse:

"The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. The used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new....The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby."

Now I'm rereading Paradise Lost in preparation for the fall semester. Like Slaughterhouse Five, it's a much easier go this time than the last, but unlike Slaughterhouse Five, there aren't a lot of laughs. Lots of infinite wrath and infinite despair, however. So it goes.

A's for everyone

From a piece by Alicia C. Shepard, journalist-in-residence at American University:

It was the end of my first semester teaching journalism at American University. The students had left for winter break. As a rookie professor, I sat with trepidation in my office on a December day to electronically post my final grades.

My concern was more about completing the process correctly than anything else. It took an hour to compute and type in the grades for three classes, and then I hit "enter." That's when the trouble started.

In less than an hour, two students challenged me. Mind you, there had been no preset posting time. They had just been religiously checking the electronic bulletin board that many colleges now use.

"Why was I given a B as my final grade?" demanded a reporting student via e-mail. "Please respond ASAP, as I have never received a B during my career here at AU and it will surely lower my GPA."
You can read the rest by clicking here.

Monday, June 6, 2005

In the groves of academe

From the Associated Press:

A community college professor has been charged with using his students' names and Social Security numbers to obtain department store credit cards.

Bradley Neil Slosberg, 49, of Winter Haven, was arrested Friday on charges of criminal use of personal identification and scheming to defraud, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said.

Slosberg and his girlfriend, Deborah Hafner, stole the identities of at least three of the students from his anatomy and physiology class at Polk Community College, sheriff's office spokeswoman Carrie Rodgers said.

Hafner, 45, filled out the credit card applications and committed the forgeries, Rodgers said. She was charged with two counts of forgery and one count each of criminal use of personal identification and scheming to defraud.

The couple could not be reached for comment early Monday.

Slosberg had asked his students to write their names and Social Security numbers on a sign-in sheet, students said. "We all signed it," Amanda Bracewell said. "We figured, 'He's a teacher, what is he going to do with it?"'
(Via CNN.)

Oprah picks Faulkner

From Reuters:

Talkshow host Oprah Winfrey propelled Nobel-prize winning author William Faulkner up the bestseller list on Saturday, proving again why her television book club is one of the biggest sales drivers in publishing.

Within 24 hours of being picked as the summer reading pick for Oprah's Book Club, a boxed set of the three novels "As I Lay Dying," "The Sound and the Fury" and "Light in August" was the number two seller on Amazon.com, second only to J.K. Rowling's next Harry Potter book, which hits the shelves in July.

Publishers Weekly reported that publisher Vintage, a division of Random House, had already shipped 500,000 copies of the boxed set.
You can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

Saturday, June 4, 2005

The front table

From today's New York Times:

The once humble conventions of book display--the neighborhood bookstore window, the recommended-books table near the cash register--have also been supersized beyond recognition. In fact, many publishers say that the tables and flashy cardboard displays that crowd the front of chain bookstores have emerged as a marketing force fully as powerful as the traditional ways of trying to bring a book to the public's hard-won attention--through newspaper and magazine ads, reviews, author tours and radio and television interviews.

But this promotional device, like most others, comes with a cost. It is known, somewhat deceptively, as a cooperative advertising agreement. In plain terms, it means that many of the books on display at the front of a store or placed face out at the end of an aisle are there because the publisher paid for them to be there, not necessarily because anyone at the bookstore thought the book was noteworthy or interesting.
You can read the article "Cash Up Front" by clicking here.

[Use mediajunkie as your name and password.]

Friday, June 3, 2005

From the Greek

From the Wordsmith word-a-day list:

gamut (GAM-uht) noun

The complete range of something.

[From Medieval Latin, contraction of gamma ut, from gamma (third letter of the Greek alphabet), used to represent the lowest tone + ut, from the names of the notes ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si (ut and si later changed to do and ti). Gamma + ut contracted to gamut and the meaning expanded to denote all notes. The names ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si are derived from the initial syllables of a Latin hymn.]

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Overheard

Neighbor Aber, on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood:

I'll deconstruct this landing place later.
Yes, I sometimes watch a few minutes of Mister Rogers for old times' sake.

Perfect Etiquette (1879)

Moving books between my home and my office, I rediscovered a pamphlet that I bought some years ago at a library sale: Perfect Etiquette; Or, How to Behave in Society. A Complete Manual for Ladies and Gentlemen, Embracing Hints on Introduction, Salutation, Conversation, Friendly Visits, Social Parties, On the Street, In Public Places, In Traveling, Driving and Riding, Letter Writing, At the Table, Making and Receiving Presents, Courtship, Wedding Etiquette, Christening, Funerals, Etc., with Suggestions How to Dress Tastefully. The Toilette, With Simple Recipes for Improving the Complexion, etc. (New York: E.G. Rideout & Co., 1879). It appears to be the cheapest of paperbacks, the pages stapled, the cover nothing more than another page. Yet the 1879 pages are virtually free of foxing, which is more than I can say for paperbacks that I bought as an undergraduate in the 1970s.

Here are three entries from Perfect Etiquette. About the salad oil, I will add the usual disclaimer: do not try this at home.

Our Hair.
A good head of hair is the pride of every one, and to be kept in order, it should be brushed often and carefully. The brush should be of medium hardness, and the hair should be divided, so as the scalp should be brushed also, and all the scurf taken away.

Pure unscented salad oil is all that is required for the hair, and this should be applied with the hands, and rubbed off with flannel before going to bed, so as not to stain the pillow.

Bald Heads.
The covering of the head is one of the natural causes of baldness which is found more often in men than women; and whenever it is noticed coming on, the silk hat ought to be dispensed with and a straw one substituted.

The Beard.
Those who shave do well; but those who do not do better. If nature intended for men to shave, she would not have been so lavish in providing them with beards, and it is best for men not to shave at all, for nothing adds to the beauty of man so much as a full flowing beard.