Friday, September 30, 2016

The Elements of Strunk

Behold The Elements of Strunk , created by a predictive text emulator working with the 1918 edition of The Elements of Style . The project is the work of Jamie Brew.

The prose of The Elements of Strunk often has an oracular Steinian beauty. Five discontinous samples:

In spring summer or winter sentences should be avoided.


The paragraph is the only allowable variation of the sentence.


Each paragraph is a man or an old mansion.


By itself, a comma is a portrait of a guitar. This is entirely correct.


A sentence must be feminine or better.
I learned about The Elements of Strunk from a post by a well-known hater of The Elements of Style . No matter: The Elements of Strunk can appeal to those who love or loathe Strunk and White, or to those (like me) whose responses are mixed.


10:40 a.m.: Oh, wait — there’s also a Twitter account.


10:53 a.m.: Oh, wait — Brew (and the hater) identify The Elements of Strunk as made from the 1918 text of The Elements of Style, but that text has no guitar. Not does it have other distinctive Elements of Strunk elements: Coleridge, Harper’s Magazine , Trafalgar, and so on. Brew must have used a later edition of The Elements of Style as revised by E. B. White. The fourth edition has Coleridge, Harper’s , and Trafalgar, with a guitar in the glossary of grammatical terms.

Related reading
All OCA Strunk and White posts (Pinboard)

[Steinian: as in Gertrude.]

A Neuman tattoo

We went to our soon-to-close Staples for what was probably the last time. Behind us in line at the register, a sixty-something man with a tattoo of Alfred E. Neuman on his arm. No caption, just the famous face.

“I like your tattoo,” I said. “Did you get it during the glory days of Mad?

If I had thought for another few seconds before asking, I would have realized that the ink was far too bright and sharp to have dated from the glory days of Mad . But in that case I wouldn’t have heard his explanation:

“I got it when I turned fifty. I decided that I was taking things too seriously. It goes with me everywhere.”

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Biro’s birthday

[Google Doodle, September 29, 2016.]

As The Crow pointed out in a comment this morning, today is the birthday of László Bíró, later Ladislao José Biro (1899–1985), the creator of the ballpoint pen. Thus today’s Google Doodle. The name Biro is still Britspeak for a ballpoint.

I much prefer to write with a fountain pen, but I have no hostility toward the ballpoint, and I think that reports of its role in the decline of handwriting have been greatly exaggerated. (All I have to do is think of my parents’ beautiful ballpoint handwriting.) My favorite ballpoint is the Parker T-Ball Jotter.

Thanks, Martha, for the heads up.

Related reading
All OCA pen posts (Pinboard)

“Fountain pens, pencil, and pipe”

Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street , trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016).

Edmund Jephcott has made several small changes from his earlier translation in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, and Autobiographical Writings , a 1978 collection of Benjamin’s work. The best one: meditation becomes observation , a more medical word.

Other Walter Benjamin posts
Advertising v. criticism : Benjamin on collectors : Handwriting and typing : Metaphors for writing : On happiness : On readers and writers : On writing materials : “Pencils of light” : Smoke and ink

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Impastor tonight

The second season of the series Impastor begins tonight (TV Land, 10:30 Eastern). Rachel’s husband Seth is a writer for this season’s episodes. Go Seth!


[The television was on for warmth .]

“I’m sorry, Perry. My man in Japan is knocking himself out.”

Paul Drake may not be big in Japan, but he has a Japanese presence, if only in the form of a man. The long arm of the Drake Detective Agency reaches across the ocean and back, like an awkward metaphor.

Related reading, via Pinboard
All OCA “overheard” posts
All OCA Perry Mason posts

[Dialogue from the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Crafty Kidnapper,” first aired May 15, 1966.]

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

About last night

Pretty, pretty good, and just thirteen seconds long. I found no way to embed.

[Speaking of last night: it must mark the first time Rosie O’Donnell, Howard Stern, and a former Miss Universe (Alicia Machado) have been mentioned in a presidential debate.]


My nose is on the run.

Related reading
All OCA weather posts (Pinboard)

Punctuation and parentheses

In a new video from The New Yorker , Mary Norris talks about punctuation and parentheses. The sticky wicket: Situation No. 3, “Several sentences in quotation marks within parentheses.” Norris uses as an example a sentence from a recent New Yorker article about the actress and model Hari Nef. For clarity: the pronoun she refers to Nef, not Piczo:

A Japanese photographer named Piczo snapped away, offering monosyllabic feedback (“Nice.” “Good.” “Good.” “Yep”) as she posed in a faux-fur coat that exposed a vertical sliver of pale torso.
That final unpunctuated “Yep” looks odd to me. Norris’s explanation leaves me unpersuaded:
“If you put a period there, it would just stop the whole flow of the sentence. So by not having the period, you know the sentence is going to continue.”
I would argue that a reader already knows that the sentence is going to continue because the opening parenthesis is still waiting for its closing partner to show up. And when that partner does show up, the sentence is still without a period. It goes on.

The Chicago Manual of Style (6.13) advises against a period when a complete sentence appears in parentheses within another sentence: “the period belongs outside.” A Chicago sample sentence: “Farnsworth had left an angry message for Isadora on the mantle (she noticed it while glancing in the mirror).” But 6.13 adds: “see also 6.96.” That section adds some complications:
A question mark, an exclamation point, and closing quotation marks precede a closing parenthesis if they belong to the parenthetical matter; they follow it if they belong to the surrounding sentence. A period precedes the closing parenthesis if the entire sentence is in parentheses; otherwise it follows.
The sample sentences that follow in 6.96 make clear that the words “if the entire sentence is in parentheses” refer to sentences in parentheses that stand alone, not sentences in parentheses within other sentences. Following the guidance in 6.96, a writer could embed a series of questions in parentheses, each ending with a question mark and enclosed in quotation marks:
A reporter asked questions (“Who?” “What?” “When?” “Where?” “Why?”) as the model posed in a faux-fur coat.
But if those question marks and quotation marks belong to the parenthetical matter, so too, I think, does the period that seems oddly missing after “Yep.”

The puzzle of punctuating “(‘Nice.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Yep’)” can be solved by taking into account what Chicago says in both 6.13 and 6.96: “Avoid enclosing more than one sentence within another sentence.” Granted, the parenthetical sentences in the New Yorker sentence are one-worders. But recasting the sentence avoids all problems:
Nef posed in a faux-fur coat that exposed a vertical sliver of pale torso, as a Japanese photographer named Piczo snapped away, offering monosyllabic feedback: “Nice.” “Good.” “Good.” “Yep.”
You can read the original sentence in context and decide if my revision does any damage to meaning. I don’t think it does. A bonus: the revision removes the possible confusion of Piczo and Nef (“she”). I will admit though that I like neither the original sentence nor my revision. “A Japanese photographer named Piczo,” “a vertical sliver of pale torso”: too cluttered for my taste. And why tell the reader that the feedback is monosyllabic? The photographer’s words themselves show that.

I have written at length and with enthusiasm about Norris’s Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. I’ve been less impressed by Norris’s New Yorker videos. Their recommendations seem sometimes arbitrary, sometimes confusing. This discussion of parentheses and punctuation smacks of reverse engineering, beginning with the way The New Yorker does things (“That’s how we do it at The New Yorker ,” Norris says) and then working out an explanation. But I can’t imagine an explanation that would make “(‘Nice.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Yep’)” look anything other than odd.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

[Writing this post was a lot more fun than thinking about that debate. I was all set to embed the New Yorker video until I heard the name Goldman Sachs in the obligatory ad. An ad-blocking extension will zap the ad at The New Yorker website.]

Monday, September 26, 2016

Stream of consciousness

“I am very underleveraged” . . . “I could give you a list of banks” . . . “LAX” . . . “a third-world country.” Keep talking, Donald Trump.


9:05 p.m: “We settled the suit with zero — no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do.”


9:23 p.m.: “I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament.”

[I corrected a word here and there by checking the transcript at The Washington Post .]

At Fred’s Landing

I dreamed of my friend Aldo Carrasco (d. 1986) last night. I was in our living room, calling him on our landline to say that I’d mailed a transistor radio to him and that Elaine and I would be in New York on Friday, and New Jersey on Saturday. Aldo said that he had to work ten hours and would be up for doing something after that. I sounded like my twenty-something self on the phone. Aldo sounded like his twenty-something self — in other words, like himself. The conversation was short and ordinary, one friend giving another a heads up and making plans.

What prompted the dream, I think: watching The Honeymooners episode “The Worry Wart” last night (first aired April 7, 1956). One of Aldo’s letters included a Honeymooners trivia quiz with something from that episode: the cost of a vacation at Fred’s Landing. Answer: $42. I knew it then and know it now, but I know it now as something in one of Aldo’s letters. There’s no forgetting.

A related post
Letters from Aldo

Quinnipiac’s dropped cap

Quinnipiac University has a new “brand identity system.” So says the school’s associate vice president for public relations:

This new system, which includes new wordmarks, logo marks, colors, fonts, design motifs, patterns, etc. is a modern interpretation of the past university brand and represents who we are today, a nationally recognized university with a focus on
— and so on. I can’t bring myself to quote it all.

The system includes the wordmark Quinnipiac university , with a lowercase u . In response, a Quinnipiac student has started a petition to restore the missing capital. Note to QU: when your own students are telling you that they care about capitalizing proper nouns, it’s time to listen. But the school’s vice president of public affairs says there are “no intentions of looking back.”

Those titles: I wonder how the associate vice president for public relations and the vice president of public affairs manage not to trade places in an Ovidian metamorphosis. I wonder too why the school’s vice president for brand strategy and integrated communications wasn’t the one to comment on the u .

And I wonder how much money the school spent on the branding specialists who must have advised dropping the capital — and who chose a lousy font, to boot:

[From the school’s website. It’s an image, not text, and it scales dreadfully.]

Related reading
Capitalize. This. U. (The Quinnipiac Chronicle)
Revise the New Quinnipiac University Logo (A petition at

[The students in this fight have good intentions, but I have to say it: their fight is about conventions of spelling, not grammar.]

“Easily five foot eight or nine”

From Honoré de Balzac’s story “Another Study of Womankind.” A character, General de Montriveau, speaks of his colonel:

“‘An Italian, like most of the officers who made up his regiment — borrowed by the emperor from Eugène’s army — my colonel cut an imposing figure; he was easily five foot eight or nine inches tall.”

The Human Comedy: Selected Stories , trans. from the French by Linda Asher, Carol Cosman, and Jordan Stump (New York: New York Review Books, 2014). This story translated by Stump.
Imposing indeed. General, I like your perspective.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

NPR, sheesh

In a brief news bit about the death of the musician Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., an NPR announcer just spoke of zy-DEK-o music. No. Zydeco is pronounced ZY-de-ko, or \ˈzī-də-ˌkō\, as Merriam-Webster puts it.

You can hear the great Clifton Chenier say the word, right here.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

“The dream of a nine-year-old boy”

In The New Yorker , Roger Angell writes about the upcoming presidential election. After recounting various well-known Donald Trump insults and crudities, Angell turns to one more, Trump’s comment upon receiving a replica Purple Heart from a veteran. “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier,” Trump said. Angell writes:

What? Mr. Trump is saying he wishes that he had joined the armed forces somehow (he had a chance but skimmed out, like so many others of his time) and then had died or been scarred or maimed in combat? This is the dream of a nine-year-old boy, and it impugns the five hundred thousand young Americans who have died in combat in my lifetime, and the many hundreds of thousands more whose lives were altered or shattered by their wounds of war.
Roger Angell is now ninety-six. He is a veteran of the Second World War. He calls his vote in the upcoming election “the most important one of my lifetime.” You don’t need to share his confidence in Hillary Clinton to agree that it’s necessary to vote for her.

A related post
Allegory (Choosing between A and B)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Antigone in Ferguson

The PBS NewsHour ran a deeply moving story tonight about ​a production of scenes from Sophocles’s Antigone in Ferguson, Missouri. Antigone in Ferguson is the work of Outside the Wire, the theater group that has (among other efforts) staged readings of Sophocles’s Ajax and Philoctetes for military audiences.

Whatever the fate of Sophocles and other representatives of “western civ” in academia, their work remains perpetually relevant to human suffering and human endeavor. Antigone: “Grief for the whole huge disaster of us .” Creon: “Oh weep, weep for the pain of human pain!”

You can learn more about this production from Outside the Wire and Ferguson’s Center for Social Empowerment.

Related reading
All OCA Sophocles posts (Pinboard)
Modest proposals (One of which involves Antigone)

[Lines from Antigone translated by Paul Woodruff, from Sophocles’s Theban Plays (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003).]

Good questions

Good questions: “Here’s What the Moderator Should Ask Clinton and Trump at Their First Debate” (Mother Jones ). I hope that Lester Holt at least comes close to asking some of these questions.

A suggestion for debate-watching that I posted in 2008 and again in 2012:

The best choice for watching a presidential or vice-presidential debate is C-SPAN. Why? C-SPAN’s continuous split-screen lets you see both participants at all times, allowing for all sorts of observations about body language and facial expression.
I trust that C-SPAN will do things the same way on Monday night.

Advertising v. criticism

What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism? Not what the moving red neon sign says — but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt.

“These Spaces for Rent,” in One-Way Street , trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016).
Other Walter Benjamin posts
Benjamin on collectors : Handwriting and typing : Happiness : Metaphors for writing : On happiness : On readers and writers : On writing materials : “Pencils of light” : Smoke and ink

Eccentrics , no

I found a book on the library’s New Books shelves: Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness by David Weeks and Jamie James (1995, not new, I know). I looked in the index for anyone I knew and landed on pages 84 and 85. Here’s Emily Dickinson:

Emily Dickinson always wore white, never went out of her room, and hid her poems in little boxes.
Well, no. The 1846 daguerreotype of Dickinson (as a young woman) shows her wearing a dark dress. The 1859 daguerreotype that may be of Dickinson also shows dark clothing. In later life Dickinson became more reclusive and often wore white. She did not hide her poems in little boxes: she shared some of her work with close friends and published a handful of poems anonymously. And she wrote (famously) to Thomas Wentworth Higginson to ask for his thoughts about her poems — a gesture that suggests she was thinking of publication. Dickinson sewed pages together to bind her poems into fascicles. Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Dickinson’s niece, described the fascicles and also noted “variants and fragments found lying loosely in drawers and boxes.” Lavinia Norcross Dickinson said that her sister’s poems were discovered in a locked box. Mabel Loomis Todd, Dickinson’s posthumous editor, kept Dickinson’s manuscripts locked away for decades in a camphorwood box. But did Dickinson hide her poems in little boxes? No.

And here’s Glenn Gould:
One of the most widely admired pianists of the twentieth century, Glenn Gould is perhaps even more famous for his eccentric performance habits and extreme hypochondria that for his interpretive genius. He lived in deathly fear of drafts, and habitually appeared on stage dressed for an arctic expedition — in the words of Leonard Bernstein, “doubly hatted, doubly mittened, and endlessly muffled and mufflered.”
Gould is perhaps even more famous for leaving the world of concert performance for the recording studio, a point that goes unmentioned in Eccentrics. Hypochondriacal, yes, of course, but the claim that Gould came on stage to perform in hats, mittens, and mufflers is absurd. It draws upon Leonard Bernstein’s account of having Gould over for dinner:
Bernstein invited the pianist to dinner at his place in the Osborne apartment house, just across from Carnegie Hall. “He was all bundled up,” Bernstein recalls, . . . “and he had an astrakhan hat over some other kind of hat, doubly hatted, doubly mittened, and endlessly muffled and mufflered.”

Otto Friedrich, Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations (1989). This title appears in the bibliography for Eccentrics .
And from another Bernstein account of the same dinner:
At some point, early on — I think when he was doing the Beethoven C Minor Concerto with me — Glenn and I were going to do some work at my apartment, so I invited him to dinner first. This was the first time Felicia, my wife, had actually met him. As you know, Glenn had a “cold complex.” He had a fur hat on all the time, several pairs of gloves and I don’t know how many mufflers, and coat upon coat.
I think it’s fair to assume a degree of comic exaggeration in Bernstein’s description. Comic or not, it’s not a description of a musician appearing on stage.

Kevin Bazzana’s biography Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould (2003) recounts a Moscow concert at which Gould, after endless encores, “gave a final bow dressed in his coat, hat, and gloves.” That’s the bow of a musician who knows when to call it a night.

Arthur Schopenhauer: “A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.” My conclusion from pages 84 and 85 is that Eccentrics is a book to skip.

Related posts
Emily Dickinson : Glenn Gould

[Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s description appears in Emily Dickinson Face to Face (1932). Lavinia Norcross Dickinson’s comment is quoted in Thomas H. Johnson’s The Poems of Emily Dickinson (1955). The camphorwood box appears in Richard B. Sewall’s The Life of Emily Dickinson (1974).]

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Proust’s Muse

Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe, is the subject of an exhibition: Proust’s Muse, the Countess Greffulhe (Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York). The countess was an inspiration for Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes and Princesse de Guermantes.

Here’s a short video about the exhibition. A Wall Street Journal article about the exhibition recounts the writer Mina Curtiss’s encounter with the countess:

Curtiss asked about Proust. “I didn’t like him,” Countess Greffulhe said, citing “his sticky flattery.” She added, “And then there was the nonsense about my photograph, pestering . . . to get one from me. In those days . . . photographs were considered private and intimate. One didn’t give them to outsiders.”
Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

“Autumn Almanac”

“Friday evenings, people get together, hiding from the weather.” From autumn 1967, it’s the Ray Davies song “Autumn Almanac,” performed by the Kinks: Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, and Mick Avory.

I’m now convinced that there were three great pop groups in the 1960s: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Kinks.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Trump music

Elaine and I somehow, I know not how, got on a Donald Trump mailing list. When the first mailing came, we each wrote back with a clear message: take our names off your list. A second mailing arrived today. We each called a toll-free number (meant for donations) and asked that our names be removed. Why two calls? Only one “form” can be filled out per call.

The music that played for each of us as we waited on hold: a Mozart piano sonata. Wait, what?

Twistee Treat

[“As seen in east-central Illinois.” Click for a super-jumbo cone.]

This soft-serve stand closed in 2014. Goodbye, novelty architecture. Goodbye, summer.

“A good summer to be an epiphyte”

Verlyn Klinkenborg:

“September,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

[In Illinois, June, July, and August 2016 were the wettest June, July, and August on record.]


I do the New York Times crossword in its syndicated form, which means that today is August 10. I let my paid subscription lapse not long after TORME was clued as “Cool jazz pioneer.” Wrong, very wrong.

Anyway: the August 10 puzzle, a Wednesday puzzle, mid-week, not meant to be especially difficult, has a number of obscurities, one of which is the answer to 53-Down, “Warm Alpine wind”: FOHN (föhn ). I know that word because it makes a memorable appearance in John Ashbery and James Schuyler’s novel A Nest of Ninnies (1969). Ashbery explains in a Paris Review interview:

A gag that’s probably gone unnoticed turns up in the last sentence of the novel I wrote with James Schuyler. Actually it’s my sentence. It reads: “So it was that the cliff dwellers, after bidding their cousins good night, moved off towards the parking area, while the latter bent their steps toward the partially rebuilt shopping plaza in the teeth of the freshening foehn.” Foehn is a kind of warm wind that blows in Bavaria that produces a fog. I would doubt that many people know that. I liked the idea that people, if they bothered to, would have to open the dictionary to find out what the last word in the novel meant. They'd be closing one book and opening another.
Foehn , or föhn , or FOHN, is clearly (ha) obscure. But I got it. I wish I could say the same for SQFT and TSWANA.

Related posts
Crosswords : John Ashbery : James Schuyler

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

“To be happy”

To be happy is to be able to become aware of oneself without fright.

“Fancy Goods,” in One-Way Street , trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016).
Other Walter Benjamin posts
Benjamin on collectors : Handwriting and typing : Metaphors for writing : “Pencils of light” : On readers and writers : On writing materials : Smoke and ink

“Pencils of light”

A highly convoluted neighborhood, a network of streets that I had avoided for years, was disentangled at a single stroke when one day a person dear to me moved there. It was as if a searchlight set up at this person’s window dissected the area with pencils of light.

“First Aid,” in One-Way Street , trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016).
Other Walter Benjamin posts
Benjamin on collectors : Handwriting and typing : Metaphors for writing : On readers and writers : On writing materials : Smoke and ink

Monday, September 19, 2016

Word of the day: eclogue

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day today: eclogue . Though it’s an outdoorsy word (sort of), eclogue, like loll before it, would not have inspired effort in the brush-clearing department. Shepherds in eclogues don’t clear much brush. They talk and sing — much more fun.

Melville and Mitchell

At Dreamers Rise, Chris puts together the opening passages of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Joseph Mitchell’s “Up in the Old Hotel.” Yes!

Twelve more movies

[Or nine movies and three television series, really. But is it television if it streams on Netflix? Anyway, no spoilers.]

Making a Murderer (dir. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, 2015). Small-town America at its worst: an outsider family, vengeful localites, crooked police. If you don’t know the name Steven Avery, watch this documentary series with no further introduction.


To Catch a Thief (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1955). No early-Hitchcock miniatures here, only gloriously real scenery: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and the French Riveria, the last often seen from the sky.


Don’t Bother to Knock (dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1952). Marilyn Monroe as a fragile, just-released-from-an-institution babysitter, Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer, Richard Widmark as the man in the middle. Bonus: Elisha Cook Jr. as Monroe’s uncle. Bonus: Bancroft singing “There’s a Lull in My Life.”


The Short & Curlies (dir. Mike Leigh, 1988). Hairstyles, courtship, and jokes. “What’s round and really violent? A vicious circle.” With Brenda Blethyn, Wendy Nottingham, and David Thewlis. It’s at YouTube.


Five-Minute Films (dir. Mike Leigh, 1982). The Birth of the Goalie of the 2001 F. A. Cup Final , Old Chums , Probation , A Light Snack , Afternoon . Small slices of life, with glottal stops. I’m running out of things to say about Mike Leigh films. I just like them. At YouTube.


The Zen of Bennett (dir. Unjoo Moon, 2012). Tony Bennett, singing and talking, with emphasis on the making of an album of duets. We see, among others, Amy Winehouse (tragically insecure and self-abasing), Lady Gaga (vivacious — and that’s a deliberately old-fashioned description), John Mayer (a jerk). The best moment: a spellbinding partial chorus of “The Way You Look Tonight,” just Bennett and his quartet. More of that, please.


Grown-Ups (dir. Mike Leigh, 1980). With Phil Davis, Lesley Manville, and Brenda Blethyn. Lunacy and tea.


Home Sweet Home (dir. Mike Leigh, 1982). Postmen, domestic relations, unhappiness. “Stop treading on the rug — you’re squashing it.” With Timothy Spall and many others.


O. Henry’s Full House (dir. Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks, Henry King, Henry Koster, Jean Negulesco, 1952). A very mixed bag. Hawks’s “The Ransom of Red Chief” (Fred Allen, Oscar Levant) is a dud. Negulesco’s “The Last Leaf” (Anne Baxter, Jean Peters) is haunting. John Steinbeck introduces each film, but there isn’t a Blackwing, Blaisdell Calculator, or Mongol pencil in sight on his desk.


The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (dir. Andrew Jarecki, 2015). Robert Durst, the son of a wealthy real-estate developer, is a casual, confident, curmudgeonly liar who blinks and twitches after almost every utterance. The final minutes of this documentary series are unforgettable. If you don’t know the name Robert Durst, watch with no further introduction.


Stranger Things (dir. Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, 2016). Reason enough to stream Netflix. It should appeal to the twelve-year-old boy in everyone, former boy or no. A small town, supernatural realities, banana-seat bicycles, walkie-talkies, Christmas lights, and waffles. And tropes. Many, many tropes. Ghostwriter meets E.T. A total delight.


Wheel of Time (dir. Werner Herzog, 2003). Documenting great Buddhist gatherings in Bodh Gaya, India, and, more briefly, in Graz, Austria, with the director’s narration. Crowd scenes of staggering human variety, solitary pilgrims traveling prostration by prostration, the making and unmaking of a mandala. I found a scene with the distribution of gifts (trinkets) most revealing: it turns into a scene of looting. Everyone wants!

What would you recommend?

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Word of the Day: loll

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is loll :

Loll has origins similar to those of another soothing verb, lull , which means “to cause to rest or sleep.” Both words can be traced back to 14th-century Middle English and probably originated as imitations of the soft sounds people make when resting or trying to soothe someone else to sleep. Loll has also been used in English as a noun meaning “the act of lolling” or “a relaxed posture,” but that use is now considered archaic. In its “recline” or “lean” sense, loll shares synonyms with a number of “l” verbs, including loaf , lounge , and laze .
Had I known about today’s word earlier in the day, I perhaps wouldn’t have been as willing to spend much of the day clearing brush from the edge of our property (with Elaine). But if I had known about today’s word earlier in the day, Elaine would have convinced me that if we didn’t do this work today, we’d just have to do it some other day (like tomorrow). And who knows what the Word of the Day might be then: ache ? scrape ? poison ivy ? We got a lot done today — no lolling, loafing, lounging, lazing. No poison ivy either.

One more from The Writer’s Almanac

One more poem made from a week’s worth of poems from The Writer’s Almanac . This one is made of seven opening lines, Sunday through Saturday. I have taken small liberties with punctuation at the ends of lines, and I have joined two lines to make the poem’s second line.

“It is possible that things will not get better”: too true. Today The Writer’s Almanac has a poem by William Carlos Williams. And alas: the anecdotalism that pervades the website’s poetry choices and Keillor’s pious recitation make even Williams sound mundane: “There were some dirty plates / and a glass of milk / beside her on a small table.” I wish that there were a recording of Williams reading the poem for comparison.

More along these lines
“Last Words” : “Poem” : “Upside Down“

[PennSound has a great many recordings of Williams, just not of this poem.]

Saturday, September 17, 2016

“In the dark like ourselves”

Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock (1931).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Mark Penn, “senior strategist”

Oh New York Times , you can be so decorous:

During the 2008 Democratic contest, Mrs. Clinton’s senior strategist at one point pondered, in an internal memo that was later leaked, the ways in which Mr. Obama’s personal background differed from many Americans’. But contrary to Mr. Trump’s assertion, neither Mrs. Clinton nor her campaign ever publicly questioned Mr. Obama’s citizenship or birthplace, in Hawaii.
Credit where it’s due: the unnamed “senior strategist” was Mark Penn. And Penn didn’t merely ponder ways in which Barack Obama’s background “differed.” (Doesn’t everyone’s?) In a memo to Hillary Clinton (March 19, 2007), Penn wrote about what he called “a very strong weakness” for Obama, his “lack of American roots”:
his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.
True, nothing in those sentences questions Barack Obama’s birthplace. But the charge is clear: according to Penn, Obama was “not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”

I loathe Mark Penn. I loathe too the Times ’s unwillingless to acknowledge facts that are awkward and embarrassing for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

[How did I get to that memo so quickly? I made a post about it in 2008. And if there’s any doubt: I loathe Donald Trump.]

Fritzi’s whom

[Nancy , September 16, 1949.]

You’re right, Fritzi Ritz: whom . Today’s yesterday’s Nancy teaches us that there is no conflict between good usage and good cartooning.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[This post is tongue-in-cheek: I’d say who . Wouldn’t you?]

“One made life”

Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock (1931).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

[Copper : “chiefly British : a large boiler (as for cooking).” Clout : “dial chiefly British : a piece of cloth or leather : RAG.” Definitions from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary .]

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Anti-MLA Handbook

Dallas Liddle hates the new edition of the MLA Handbook :

To prepare for the new semester I have been studying the altered form of my own professional discourse laid out in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook and feeling something close to despair about where, on its evidence, the scholarly study of language and literature must be headed. Based on this new edition, what does my own beloved discipline of English know and value?

Not nearly what it used to.
Read it all: “Why I Hate the New MLA Handbook (The Chronicle of Higher Education ).

I have long preferred Chicago style, which seems to me more logical, more readable, and better able to answer tricky questions. MLA8 has one welcome change: the dumb identifiers Print and Web are gone from Works Cited entries. But so are the names of cities of publication. And the ugly abbreviation pp. is back. And in the name of a university press, University and Press are still reduced to U and P . And source materials now come to us in “containers.” A magazine is a container. So is a television series. So is Netflix. So an episode of Stranger Things has two containers. O brave new world.

For sample citations with MLA seventh- and eighth-edition styles, see here and here.

Tenuously related posts
Bad news from the MLA : Leadbelly at the MLA

“Layers and layers of shelter”

Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock (1931).

Very Joycean, this passage: it could appear in Dubliners or, with pronoun changed, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man . Also very Catherian.

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Link woes

The New York Times reports that the Link, meant to replace the public telephone in New York City, isn’t working out so well:

The Wi-Fi kiosks were designed to replace phone booths and allow users to consult maps, maybe check the weather or charge their phones. But they have also attracted people who linger for hours, sometimes drinking and doing drugs and, sometimes, boldly watching pornography on the sidewalks.
A related post
New York’s public telephones

Dr. Watson’s sardines

[From The Hound of the Baskervilles (dir. Sidney Lanfield, 1939).]

“Here, try some of these sardines”: Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) offers Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) a bite to eat. These sardines have cinematic reality only: there are no sardines in the novel’s stone hut, only tinned peaches and tongue.

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)
Dr. Watson’s prose, however

Dr. Watson’s prose, however

[The Hound of the Baskervilles (dir. Sidney Lanfield, 1939).]

Doctor John H. Watson is writing to Sherlock Holmes:

There is something about this fellow Stapleton I don’t like. However, his charming step-sister has invited us to dine with them at their house, across the moor.
Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016) on however :
It seems everyone has heard that sentences should not begin with this word — not, that is, when a contrast is intended. But doing so isn’t a grammatical error; it’s merely a stylistic lapse, the word But or Yet ordinarily being much preferable. . . . The reason is that However — three syllables followed by a comma — is a ponderous way of introducing a contrast, and it leads to unemphatic sentences.
Garner cites varied authorities on the wisdom of not leading with however . Better to begin with but or place however later in a sentence. A beautiful explanation from Sheridan Baker: “But is for the quick turn; the inlaid however for the more elegant sweep.” In a recent tweet Garner says that a sentence starting with however
shows something useful: you’re reading someone of only middling skill. It’s a shortcut litmus test. Truly.
Middling skill: that seems to describe Watson, or at least the Watson who appears in this film. The stuffiness of however suits him. Place the word later in the sentence and the difference is slight:
There is something about this fellow Stapleton I don’t like. His charming step-sister, however, has invited us to dine with them at their house, across the moor.
And because an inlaid however adds emphasis to whatever precedes it, Watson’s sentence may now carry an unintended implication: I don't like Stapleton, but his step-sister, wow. I will go to dinner because she will be there.

Change however to but  and the difference is sharp:
There is something about this fellow Stapleton I don’t like. But his charming step-sister has invited us to dine with them at their house, across the moor.
And now Watson’s meaning is once again clear: I don’t like this man, but duty and all that. I must go.

Dropping however at the start of sentences (and after semicolons) was, for me, a big step away from the ponderous habits of academic prose. Been there, did that. Done.

Related reading
All OCA Bryan Garner posts (Pinboard)

[As Garner points out, however at the start of a sentence is fine when it means “in whatever way” or “to whatever extent.”]


Orange Crate Art turns twelve tonight tomorrow night, an age best described as “difficult.” Orange Crate Art will often seem very grown up, but may revert to childish behavior at times. It needs nine-and-a-half to ten hours of sleep every night and catches up on weekends. Its voice is deepening, but it sometimes comes up against a mismatch between expectations and actual capabilities. As I said, “difficult.”

But seriously: writing in these pages, day after day after day, gives me more pleasure than any other writing I’ve done. To everyone who’s reading: thank you.


12:14 p.m.: I goofed on the date. My blog turns twelve tomorrow.

[Twelve-year-old stuff found here.]

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

“No need to buy an EGGBEATER!”

[Life , May 15, 1950. Click for a much larger view.]

A related post


We cool (and sometimes heat) our house with two Fujitsu Mini-Splits. But now we have added two Vornado fans, which do a terrific job of keeping the air moving and keeping life comfortable. We chose the VFAN Sr. in an ancient shade of green. It’s quiet, solid, and incredibly powerful. Also legitimately retro.

When one of our fans rattled, I called Vornado’s toll-free number and followed the rep’s suggestion to pop off the grill and tighten the blade cap. Problem solved. I recommend the VFAN Sr. highly.

Strange thing: Vornado, or an earlier incarnation of Vornado, was the parent company of Two Guys, an employer of mine in my student days. The fan is much, much better than Two Guys.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Once more with feeling

One more time: lines from seven days of poetry from The Writer’s Almanac . This poem, like the one before it, is made of last lines, here moving backward through the week. I have taken small liberties with initial caps and end-of-line punctuation.

Related posts
Here’s a poem for today
Another poem from Keillorville

Another poem from Keillorville

Another poem made from a week’s worth of poems from The Writer’s Almanac . This one is made of last lines. I have taken small liberties with initial caps and end-of-line punctuation.

Is it just me, or does line six feel unwittingly creepy?

A related post
Here’s a poem for today

Help wanted

[Made by the Internets.]

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Conserveira de Lisboa

“Cabral Ferreira likens tinned fish to wine, insisting that the flavors further develop after canning”: The New York Times reports on Lisbon’s Conserveira de Lisboa (est. 1930), a family-run store that sells nothing but canned fish. The store has a website, with great photographs.

Thanks to Matt Thomas, who reads the Sunday Times with exceeding care and posts the results at Submitted for Your Perusal.

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

September 11

[The Daytrippers , (dir. Greg Mottola, 1996).]

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Here’s a poem for today

Here’s a poem for today by Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and me. I made this poem by collecting the first lines of this week’s offerings. The line from William Wordsworth is a moment of delight, but as for the other six: an anecdotal sameness sets in rather quickly. Keillor’s reading voice adds an extra element of sameness, covering everything in dreary piety. Everyone sounds alike, or at least like cousins.

If I were a novice in poetry, The Writer’s Almanac would probably convince me that poetry had very little to offer. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. But putting these lines next to one another makes, I think, for greater interest. (Parataxis FTW!) The last stanza seems especially promising.

Related reading
A Palm memo
The “well-crafted” poem
All OCA poetry posts (Pinboard)

[Credit where it’s due: I have learned the publication date of On the Road from The Writer’s Almanac , which deepened my understanding of Nancy . And I have learned that “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch” is a registered trademark®.]

Friday, September 9, 2016

English teachers and spelling

From a series of exchanges concerning the spellings timpani and tympani , published in the Letters pages of The Atlantic in October 1986 and February 1987. These passages appear in the October issue. David Francis Urrows is taking issue with William Youngren’s use of the spelling tympani :

William H. Youngren, who teaches English at Boston College and writes about music for your journal, might take a few lessons in spelling from his colleagues.
Snarky, no? In his reply, Youngren says that Urrows is “quite wrong,” points to the presence of tympani in recent dictionaries, and looks at the history of tympany , tympanies , cetel  and drum in the Oxford English Dictionary . He adds that one Anglo-Saxon word for kettle drum was timpan or tympan. (See? There’s a y .) And then:
Finally, I wonder where Urrows got his curious idea that people who teach English are good at spelling. Most of us are actually pretty poor at it. But this disability has encouraged in us the useful habit of looking words up in the dictionary.
Take that!

Bill Youngren was a teacher of mine (a great one). He loved a good debate, and he didn’t hesitate to concede a point. But you had better have done your homework (so to speak) if you wanted to be persuasive.

A related post
Bill and Virginia Youngren’s house

[“So to speak”: in graduate school there’s no such thing as “homework.”]

California Typewriter

California Typerwriter (dir. Doug Nichol, 2016) is a new documentary. From the film’s website:

California Typerwriter is a documentary portrait of artists, writers, and collectors who remain steadfastly loyal to the typewriter as a tool and muse, featuring Tom Hanks, John Mayer, David McCullough, Sam Shepard, and others.

It also movingly documents the struggles of California Typewriter, one of the last standing repair shops in America dedicated to keeping the aging machines clicking.

In the process, the film delivers a thought-provoking meditation on the changing dynamic between humans and machines, and encourages us to consider our own relationship with technology, old and new, as the digital age’s emphasis on speed and convenience redefines who’s serving whom, human or machine?
The first sentence makes me curious. The second sentence makes me want to see the film. (California Typewriter is a family-run shop in Berkeley.) The third sentence, not so much. The film’s trailer equates the typewriter with freedom and rebellion: there’s even a still on the film’s website of a typewriter bearing the (Woody Guthrie-inspired) words “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.” That claim would come as news to the totalitarian regimes that documented their genocidal efforts in meticulous detail with typewriters. A machine can be put to any number of human purposes.

Related reading
All OCA typewriter posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

William Weld’s reading

My friend Stefan Hagemann (who has written a great guest-post about how to answer a question in class) pointed me to an All Due Respect interview with William Weld, Libertarian candidate for vice president. Speaking about the books that have meant the most to him, Weld cites James Thomas Flexner’s biography of George Washington as his “favorite historical book.” And then:

“In literature, my two favorite authors are Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones , Labyrinths , the Buenos Aires, the porteño, Argentinian, and Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian, probably my favorite author of all time. My favorite Nabokov book is Pale Fire .”
What?! Thank you, Stefan.

Elaine adds: “If only Gary Johnson knew what Aleppo is.”

Added strangeness: “That in Aleppo Once . . .” is the title of a Nabokov story.

Related reading
Borges on reading
All Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[If Gary Johnson is asked about his running mate’s literary tastes, he can respond in the Philip Larkin manner: “Who is Jorge Luis Borges?”]

And what is ...?

But wait. Can we be sure that Gary Johnson was asking “And what is Aleppo?” Could he have been asking “And what is a leppo?” Either way, his response is sad and frightening beyond belief.

We are really in the Upside Down, or the total animal soup of time, or something even worse.


3:43 p.m.: See also:

Word of the day: spatula

Spatula : what’s up with that?

Webster’s Third has a remarkable definition:

a thin flexible dull-edged usu. metal implement used esp. for spreading or mixing soft substances (as paint, plaster, ointment, frosting), scooping, or lifting (as in removing cookies from a pan).
I like the unsettling series — paint, plaster, ointment, frosting — and the surprising touch of coziness at the end. I hope there will be milk with the cookies.

The word spatula looks like Latin, and it is. It’s from Late Latin. And here things get interesting: all that W3 says is “more at EPAULET.”

Epaulet (“something that ornaments or protects the shoulder”) comes from the French épaulette, the diminutive of épaule, which means “shoulder.” Épaule comes from the Old French espaule , which itself comes from the Late Latin spatula or spathula , which means “shoulder blade, spoon for stirring.” Spatula or spathula is the diminutive of the Latin spatha , which means “wooden spoon, sword.” And spatha comes from the Greek spathē , “blade of a loom, oar, or sword.”

And here the dictionary tells us that there’s “more at SPADE.” And there is: the Greek spathē is the source of spade as the name of a card suit (♠︎). The Greek word also figures in the history of the word spade as the name of an implement, a word with a different, more complicated history: “more at SPOON.”

And now I wondered: if the Latin spatula is the diminutive of a word that means “sword,” could spatula have something to do with spat ? A petty quarrel, like a fight with little swords and not larger weapons? Apparently not. W3 says that that spat is “prob. of imit. origin.” And by the way, spat as in fancy footwear is short for spatterdash , “a usu. knee-high legging worn as a protection from water and mud.”

Having learned about spathē , I thought I understood why we have shoulder-blades . But the English-language shoulder-blade is the scapula , not spatula . And scapula explains scapular.

I will never look at a thin flexible dull-edged usu. metal implement in the same way.

[Spatula , capitalized, is also the name of “a genus of ducks consisting of the shovelers and often included in Anas .” Uncapitalized, spatula also means “a spatulate [shaped like a spatula] process on the body of an insect.”]

Recently updated

Nancy Kerouac I’ve come to a conclusion.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cargo-shorts debate

How did I miss this story?

Relationships around the country are being tested by cargo shorts, loosely cut shorts with large pockets sewn onto the sides. Men who love them say they’re comfortable and practical for summer. Detractors​ say they’ve been out of style for years, deriding them as bulky, uncool and just flat-out ugly. In recent days, the debate has engulfed the nation.
Perhaps you missed it, too: “Nice Cargo Shorts! You’re Sleeping on the Sofa” (The Wall Street Journal). The subhead is a thing of beauty: “Fans of the roomy summer staple meet pockets of resistance.”

Personally (and I once knew a student who prefaced every statement with that word), I find cargo shorts exceedingly practical. How else am I supposed to carry a phone, a wallet, keys, and a pack of Kleenex? A thing of practicality is a joy forever.


4:30 p.m.: Finally got the link to work.

“Be a good adult”

On children’s awareness:

These children, who are at our mercy, are well aware of our power over them, and aware too of the things in us which can do them harm. There’s little sense in our saying to them, “Now be a good child.” Better for us to say to each other, “Be a good adult.”

Caroline Pratt, I Learn from Children: An Adventure in Progressive Education . 1948. (New York: Grove, 2014).
Also from Caroline Pratt
Art criticism : On waste in education : Pencils in school : Snow in the city in the school

Zippy and Shecky

[Zippy , September 7, 2016.]

See Kliph Nesteroff’s Outrageous and Courageous: The Myth and Legend of Shecky Greene (WFMU). A sample of Greene’s comedy: “Frank Sinatra saved my life once. He said, ‘Okay, boys. That’s enough.’”

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How to improve writing (no. 67)

Ford Madox Ford’s page-ninety test (and it is page ninety, not ninety-nine), can yield amazing results. The Ford practice: open a book to page ninety and consider the first full paragraph of any length. How’s the prose?

This past Sunday I applied the test to a book Elaine and I bought at a library sale. Was this book, about nature and music, worth our time? Here’s the first full paragraph on page ninety:

The first thing I noticed at each location was how much emphasis the other researchers on-site — each concentrating on a narrow topic — placed on the visual aspects of their study animals. For those whose scope of work involved sound at any level, the biophony — and in many cases even the individual species’ sounds — was completely overlooked. Yet I realized quickly just how varied and rich the natural soundscapes were.
The first two sentences are ponderous. Dashes are part of the problem: the first two separate placed from researchers ; the next two may have convinced the writer that sounds was not part of a compound subject. An error in subject-verb agreement results: biophony and sounds was overlooked. But were overlooked wouldn’t be much of an improvement: the passive-voice verb is a dull choice, especially if the writer wants to emphasize that other researchers missed something. Elsewhere, an overreliance on to be minimizes the writer’s agency: “The first thing I noticed . . . was.”

Reading the paragraph a third or fourth time, I noticed that an overabundance of prepositional phrases adds to the first sentence’s ponderousness: “at each location,” “on-site” (where else could the researchers be?), “on a narrow topic,” “on the visual aspects,” “of their study animals.” And I began to wonder what it might mean to describe an animal’s “visual aspects.” Do they have something to do with a creature’s ability to see? Or are we speaking of a creature’s appearance? One more thing: the paragraph’s final sentence seems to me a bit too self-congratulatory.

My best revision:
At each location, I found that other researchers did little more than look at animals. Even those whose work involved some attention to sound failed to notice the biophony and the distinctive vocalizations of individual species. It was as if these researchers were deaf to the richness and variety of natural soundscapes.
My revision takes this paragraph from seventy words to fifty-two, with no dashes. The dash problem, as I discovered by turning pages, is everywhere: 236 pages, and only twenty-odd are dashless.

The book, by the way, is from Little, Brown. The writer thanks his editor for a “finely tuned combo of eye and ear for proper voice and structure.”


3:35 p.m.: One more change: from “distinctive sounds” to “distinctive vocalizations.” I didn’t like the repetition of “some attention to sound” and “distinctive sounds.”

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)
The page-ninety-nine test
The test applied to My Salinger Year

[Biophony? The writer defines it as “sounds originating from nonhuman, nondomestic biological sources.” This post is no. 67 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Cal is real

[Mark Trail , September 6, 2016.]

Heard yesterday, seen today: Cal is real.

Today’s strip reminds us for the umpteenth time that Mark has a bad history with boats. Comics meta-comedy.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Mark Trail and reality

[Mark Trail , September 5, 2016. Background removed.]

So far he’s just a voice, speaking from inside a small building, but Cal, like Abbey Powell, is a real person. Theodore “TC” Calvin is the owner-operator of Island Hoppers Helicopter Service, “conveniently located on the eastern shore of Oahu.” The names “TC” and Island Hoppers derive from Magnum. P. I.

Having just watched the (great) first season of the Netflix series Stranger Things , I am troubled that two people from our reality (one of whom takes his name from a television show) are now lost in the Upside Down of Mark Trail . Abbey, Cal, come home!

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Nancy Kerouac

[Nancy , February 20, 1960.]

Nancy has begun her magnum opus, On the Sidewalk .


2:20 p.m.: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was published on September 5, 1957. Is today’s panel a matter of coincidence?


September 8: I e-mailed Guy Gilchrist, who draws today’s Nancy and presides with John Lotshaw over Random Acts of Nancy . I’ve had no reply. I can’t find anything online to suggest that anyone else has remarked on a Nancy-Kerouac connection. I think it’s safe to conclude that the September 5 Random Act is a strange and wonderful coincidence.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[You can read Random Acts of Nancy every day at GoComics. Context for On the Sidewalk here.]

Nancy TV

[Nancy , September 5, 1949.]

A television in 1949: Fritzi Ritz was a relatively early adopter.

See also Henry and Peanuts for unsupervised children sitting too close to the television. They’ll ruin their eyes!

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy is available six days a week at GoComics.]

Labor Day

[“The American Worker.” Photograph by Edward Clark. No location or date. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a much larger view.]

I am slightly bonkers over the mid-century material culture in this photograph. The cigarette brands: Camel, Lucky Strike, Kool, Old Gold, Chesterfield, Philip Morris Commander, Cavalier, Pall Mall, Chesterfield, Herbert Tareyton, Raleigh (filter and non-filter), Old Gold, Philip Morris Commander, Winston, and Tareyton (filter). Beneath the cigarettes, Velvet, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Prince Albert pipe tobacco. The earliest possible date for this photograph: 1954, the year Winston was introduced. Notice that the one man in the picture is hatted (of course). He appears to be in need of some Gillette blades.

I was telling my daughter recently what it was like to run a cash register in my Housewares Department days. The register was more like the one in this photograph than not. Ringing up multiples of a single item was the most fun you could have: hold down the keys for the price with the left hand (as if playing a chord on a piano), and bang away on the bar with the right: Three at $1.49? $1–40–9, bang, bang, bang.

Is that Sally Draper in the corner? And can you tell that I’m an ex-smoker?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Fred Hellerman (1927–2016)

Fred Hellerman, the last of the Weavers, has died at the age of eighty-nine. The New York Times has an obituary.

I have long liked “Tomorrow Lies in the Cradle,” a sweet, tear-smeary song by Fred Hellerman and Fran Minkoff. Here is Hellerman performing the song at the Weavers 1980 Carnegie Hall reunion.

Related posts
Ronnie Gilbert (1926–2015)
Pete Seeger (1919–2014)

[Apologies for the ad, over which I have no control.]

Friday, September 2, 2016

Something phishy

Hillary Clinton’s e-mail reply to a message purporting to be from the personal account of a State Department official, a message that contained what the FBI calls “a potentially malicious link”:

Is this really from you? I was worried about opening it!
What do you when you get such a message? You delete it. You do not reply. Unfuckingbelievable.

Yes, that word goes after the un- . It’s an instance of what’s called expletive infixation and an exception to the more usual practice of placing the word before a stressed syllable. The word unfuckingbelievable is also an expression of my deep and unerasable misgivings about voting for Hillary Clinton.

Beverly Cleary, writing by hand

Beverly Cleary, writing by hand:

To me, writing involves my imagination, a handful of 29-cent ball point pens, a stack of paper and time free from interruption. I often begin books in the middle or at the end and play about with my characters in my poor handwriting until I am satisfied with their behavior, which is often a surprise to me. That is the fun of writing. I then rewrite my books in somewhat more legible typing and take them to a typist who telephones for translation of words written between the lines but manages to return pristine manuscripts. I find typing the most difficult part of writing, and once bought and returned a German typewriter that had Achtung! printed on the front. Battling a typewriter is distracting enough without having it giving me orders like an arithmetic book. Telling stories quietly and privately with pen on paper is my joy.
This passage appeared in a 1985 essay published in The New York Times , “Why Are Children Writing to Me Instead of Reading?” A good question, one that results from the classroom study of “living authors.” Cleary quotes from a letter by E. B. White to a librarian in which he wonders about the wisdom of having classrooms’ worth of children write letters to writers. A sentence from the letter that Cleary is too kind to quote: “The author is hopelessly outnumbered.” In another letter, to a child, White explained why he hadn’t written another book for children: “I would like to write another book for children but I spend all my spare time just answering the letters I get from children about the books I have already written.”

Elaine found her way to the Times essay after reading Cleary’s two memoirs. They’re on my to-read list.

On an unrelated note: it’s really hard to type while listening to the Kinks.

Related posts
Beverly Cleary : handwriting : E. B. White (Pinboard)

[White’s letter to the unidentified librarian is dated May 7, 1961. The letter to a child-reader dates from late March 1961. From Letters of E. B. White , ed. Dorothy Lobrano Guth (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). White would go on to write one more book for children, The Trumpet of the Swan (1970).]

“Somewhere in the invisible”

Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday . 1943. Trans. Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964).

This passage strikes me as perhaps the saddest in The World of Yesterday : a picture of an intellectual worker, one for whom individual freedom and European unity were the highest values, powerless as he watches the world fall apart once again.

This passage reminds me of an observation from the writer Romain Rolland, as quoted by Zweig: “Art can bring us consolation as individuals, but it is powerless against reality.” That sentence struck both Elaine and me; she wrote about it in this post.


3:57 p.m.: A comment from a reader makes me want to add: If this passage makes you think about the upcoming U.S. presidential election, well, me too. As does what Zweig says elsewhere about a desire for “order.”

Other Zweig posts
Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city : “A tremendous desire for order” : Urban pastoral, with stationery : Zweig’s last address book

Thursday, September 1, 2016

An Elements of Style collection

If The Elements of Style were an arcade game, Jerry Morris would have the highest score, and the next highest score, and the score after that, and so on. He has an impressive collection of different editions, even if he’s missing 1918.

What do I think of The Elements of Style ? That it’s a better book than its detractors claim. It is, however, sadly dated, and not an especially good choice for twenty-first-century students seeking to improve their writing. Michael Harvey’s The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing is far better.

Related reading
All OCA Strunk and White posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

[The radio was on. ]

“Come listen! This person being interviewed is answering every question by starting with the word ‘sure.’”


Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Criminal : “The Editor”

An excellent episode of the podcast Criminal : “The Editor,” about an unlikely friendship between a prison inmate and a Merriam-Webster editor.

To my mind, the best podcasts are those that let me forget that I’m listening to a particular podcast, a particular brand. In other words, there’s only the content. Criminal is one of my favorite podcasts.