Tuesday, November 02, 2004


 As seen at LanguageHat
Maciej Ceg?owski of Idle Words has created something called Languid (langu- ID, get it?):I've set up a little web service for identifying language. If you paste in some text (the more the better), it will tell you what language it's..... read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
The misuse of military power; aggression; bullying. .. read more

Thursday, October 28, 2004


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
Plays having contrived melodramatic plot, concentrating excessively on the technique to the exclusion of characterization. .. read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
Plays having contrived melodramatic plot, concentrating excessively on the technique to the exclusion of characterization. .. read more

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


 As seen at LanguageHat
I am a dreamer of words, of written words. I think I am reading; a word stops me. I leave the page. The syllables of the word begin to move around. Stressed accents begin to invert. The word abandons its..... read more

"all but" - I hate that expression!

 As seen at Pain In The English
Can't help it but I really despise the expression "all but". How did a phrase that suggests the opposite of what it says ever come into currency?

"Such actions were all but unheard of then"
"Later, they were all but wiped out in a British attack"
"They were all but exterminated by the Jedi"

PS: For some discoveries in word coignage read Neal Stephenson's trilogy The Baroque Cycle. A mere 3000 pages... read more


 As seen at LanguageHat
Another quote that struck me, this time from Andre Bazin via Matt Zoller Seitz in NY Press:...I found myself trying to recall an Andre Bazin observation. When I got home, I found it in Bazin's What is Cinema? Vol. II...... read more

stump speech

 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
A political speech, delivered on a campaign tour. .. read more

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Screw The Pooch

 As seen at Pain In The English
Does anyone know the history of the phrase "screw the pooch" and exactly what it means? Thanks... read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
Dull or lethargic, especially relating to the mind. .. read more


 As seen at LanguageHat
This sentence from Mark Liberman's (very interesting) Language Log post on the history of sentence diagramming (which I, like Mark, had to learn as a lad) is a good example of why I dislike the culture of MIT linguistics (the..... read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
Having or known by many names. .. read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
1. Having the characteristics of a master or teacher; authoritative. 2. Domineering or overbearing. 3. Of or relating to a magistrate. .. read more

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Five by Five

 As seen at Pain In The English
Where does the term 'five by five' come from? I first heard it on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', but have since heard it in a military setting. The context on 'Buffy' is:

How are you doing?
Five by five!

I take it to mean something like 'fine', 'great' or something similar. Does anyone know how it came to be?.. read more

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
Weariness; listlessness; lethargy. .. read more

Sunday, October 03, 2004


 As seen at Mirabilis.ca
I've become quite fond of há?eks. Don't you wish we had some in Engliš?..... read more

Heir raising [11]

 As seen at OpenBrackets

Oh, I am sorry about the protracted silence.

I sometimes wonder whether there isn’t an end to what anyone has to say, despite the infinity of subjects at hand. Plus, there are times when your own mind bores even you, and you doubt the appeal of everything it produces (for instance that bit about how I discovered that pichiciego is another name for fairy armadillo.)

A few weeks ago, J. Robinson wrote to me about a new book called The genius of language. Edited by Wendy Lesser, it’s a book of 15 essays by multilingual authors about their relationship with their mother tongue.

I’m about halfway through, reading in disorder. Aside from a few unforgivable typos (tu est) in a book about language, I found some of the contributions a little bland – or probably just not quite what I’d expected. Unlike Conrad or Nabokov or Bianciotti, most all the contributors write in their native tongue, so they have not had to translate themselves for an adopted culture, and largely enjoy the influence of another language on their relationship to words and ideas. But it is a great subject, and sweet the common thread of a form of homesickness when speaking of their second language(s).

Of course all the authors pepper their essays with foreign words, and I kept wondering why some provided translations and others didn’t. I can’t help feel there’s a certain smugness (and a bit of a cheat) in keeping it to yourself.

Around our house, French is the language spoken most often, the language of jokes and reprimands and homework. And I’ve never quite known how to reconcile the fact that my children are growing up in a different culture from my own.

There is an odd gap that can only be bridged with boring explanations that begin, ‘when I was a girl’ – which invariably makes me feel like one of those stranded immigrant housewives who people Toronto’s “little” neighbourhoods, wiping my hands on my housecoat as I sigh and go misty with thoughts of the old country. ‘Oh, Francesco…’

They’ve never seen The Brady Bunch or I Love Lucy, so I’m unable to gauge their minds with familiar markers. And even though my son loves Bugs Bunny as much as I did, Mel Blanc is sorely absent, the jokes aren’t as good and, damn it, they’ve changed the names (as you’d expect, Pepe le Pew does not work in French).

So it’s just not the same show. And even though they like dumb and dirty jokes as much as I did (uh, do), most of my dusty repertoire falls flat in translation.

Attempts to provide them with equivalents of my favourite bedtime stories required research, and there was no nostalgia in my voice when I sang French lullabies. Plus I’ve had to brush up on my French kings and queens, and which river runs through what (please don’t quiz me).

Even more than language, I’ve failed them in social graces. I realized a little too late that I had not schooled my kids on the bise (the ritual cheek kissing hello and goodbye). I didn’t grow up with it, and still try to get away with only the hello part. Unless you’re awfully fond of them, kissing a roomful of people goodbye just seems like so much work.

Girls catch onto the ritual earlier than boys, and are already kissing each other bonjour and ciao by the time they’re 12. But my son still flinches when he sees an adult cheek lunging towards him, lips puckered. (The same boy who, at the age of 5, used to rub his hands over women’s buttocks, saying, ‘mmm, nice’ and would occasionally walk up to a stranger in the street and, for no apparent reason, punch him in the nuts.)

I also forgot to tell them about tu and vous. I suppose I figured they’d just catch on. During the early years, kids address everyone with the familiar tu but, by the age of 10, are expected to make the distinction. I had a sudden bout of panic, certain my kids were going around insulting their elders, and that I’d soon be hauled into the principal’s office to explain. Turns out, they’d caught on.

Despite my occasional glaring awareness of my foreignness, I suppose I can at least take comfort in knowing that my aversion to French rap and the idiocy of SMS is shared by native-born parents across the country.

.. read more

Patchwork [1]

 As seen at OpenBrackets

Today’s game is called centon, taken from the Latin word cento meaning (roughly) patchwork. It’s an ancient game that consists of creating a piece of poetry or prose made up of lines from other works.

The only rule – if you’re willing to take some dead Latin poet’s word – is that you cannot use two consecutive lines from the texts you’re plagiarising (uh, sorry, to which you’re paying homage).

So, given the cornucopia of current events, you could either cobble together a string of headlines, and tickle Dadaists (and alarmists) with something like this:

Mel Gibson gets court order against praying fan
Bomber kills 25 worshippers in Pakistan
Restless St. Helens may not be done
Judge questions plans for Microsoft sanction
Schwarzenegger warns against glamorizing inmates
Greek archaeologists discover 2,500 year old pomegranates.

Or you can string together lines from novels or from celebrated and not so verse, to produce a little ditty like this:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
I said: my heart, now let us sing a song for a fair lady on her wedding-day:
I am in love with high far-seeing places
I love my hour of wind and light
Not that I love thy children, whose dull eyes see nothing save their own unlovely woe
You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave, or wounded in a mentionable place
Love not, love not! ye hapless sons of clay!

With a critical eye you scann’d, then set it down, and said:

Love is the blossom where there blows every thing that lives or grows
Love has earth to which she clings
Oh love is fair, and love is rare; my dear one she said
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds
Love suffereth all things
Love, love me only, love me for ever
I Love him, I love him, ran the patter of her lips

I said – for Love was laggard, O, Love was slow to come
Love is a sickness full of woes
Love is a breach in the walls, a broken gate,
Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue.

But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack from my first entrance in, drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning:
Love, flooding all the creeks of my dry soul
How could I love you more?
Love is enough.

I said, then, dearest, since ‘tis so
Why do you iron the night away?
Give me more love, or more disdain.

Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike.

And you need not suffer the humiliation of having produced a pun.

.. read more