Tuesday, December 12, 2017

M-W sentence challenge

Fresca made a suggestion in a comment: write a sentence using Merriam-Webster’s nine runners-up for Word of the Year. The runners-up: complicit, recuse, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro, federalism, hurricane, and gaffe.

Mine:

“In the name of federalism, show some empathy, or at least some syzygy, you complicit gaffe-prone dotard,” the hurricane warned, “before I turn you into a gyro platter and recuse myself!”
Want to play? Leave a sentence as a comment, or write one in a post of your own and I’ll link to it.

Two-month-old Talia

Just a sec, let me get my wallet out.

[Pause .]

Here’s Talia as a newborn, and here she is around Thanksgiving. And here she is just yesterday, two months old:


[Talia Ivy Raab.]

Sing along with Talia: “Happy feet! I’ve got those happy feet!”

Words of the year

Several picks. I’ll add others as I find them:

From the Australian National Dictionary Centre: kwaussie.

From Cambridge Dictionary: populism.

From Collins Dictionary: fake news.

From Dictionary.com: complicit.

From Merriam-Webster: feminism. M-W’s runners-up: complicit, recuse, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro, federalism, hurricane, gaffe.

Monday, December 11, 2017

“Save the Country”


[Laura Nyro, “Save the Country” (Nyro). Kraft Music Hall Presents the Sound of the Sixties. NBC Television, January 15, 1969.]

A good national anthem, then or now. Especially now.

James Rushing Esq.

Still making my way through my dad’s CDs: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Ivie Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Mildred Bailey, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins, Clifford Brown, Dave Brubeck, Joe Bushkin, Hoagy Carmichael, Betty Carter, Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Rosemary Clooney, Nat “King” Cole, John Coltrane, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis, Matt Dennis, Doris Day, Blossom Dearie, Paul Desmond, Tommy Dorsey, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Stéphane Grappelli, Bobby Hackett, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dick Hyman, Harry James, Hank Jones (my dad did tile work in his house), Louis Jordan, Stan Kenton, Barney Kessel, Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, Peggy Lee, Mary Ann McCall, Susannah McCorkle, Dave McKenna, Ray McKinley, Marian McPartland, Johnny Mercer, Helen Merrill, Glenn Miller, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Gerry Mulligan, Red Norvo, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Joe Pass, Art Pepper, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Boyd Raeburn, Django Reinhardt, Marcus Roberts, Sonny Rollins, and now, Jimmy Rushing.

Here are two tracks from The Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing Esq. (Columbia, 1957), an LP I remember vividly from childhood. I found an expensive used copy in adulthood. When the recording was reissued on CD, I bought a copy for my dad. That’s what I’m listening to now.

 

“New Orleans” (Hoagy Carmichael). Buck Clayton, trumpet; Tony Parenti, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Cliff Jackson, piano; Walter Page, bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.

“Doctor Blues” (Ed Lewis–James Rushing). Buck Clayton, Ernie Royal, trumpets; Hilton Jefferson, alto sax; Buddy Tate, tenor sax; Danny Banks, baritone sax; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Hank Jones, piano; Skeeter Best, guitar; Milt Hinton, bass; Jo Jones, drums. Both recorded November 6, 1956.

Listening at the age of three or four or five, I had no idea what these songs were about. But I knew that I liked Jimmy Rushing’s voice.

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins : Billie Holiday : Louis Jordan : Charlie Parker

[Yes, there should be a comma before Esq . But I’m following the LP title.]

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Domestic comedy

[Watching an episode of Freaks and Geeks.]

“I’m so glad our kids are not in high school anymore.”

“I’m so glad I’m not in high school anymore.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

TV days

Donald Trump, quoted in a New York Times report on the course of the presidential day:

“I know they like to say — people that don’t know me — they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources — you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot.”
Yep, lots of documents, with lots of pictures.

The Times reports that “people close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television.”

Myth appeal


[Zippy, December 9, 2017.]

I admire Bill Griffith’s willingness to reference American ephemera with little or no explanation. Will someone get it? Who knows.

That sphinx’s face belongs to Bert Piel. He and his brother Harry were cartoon spokesmen for Piels Beer, with voices by Bob and Ray. (Bob Elliott was Harry; Ray Goulding, Bert.) In 2013 the cartoon brothers appeared on a television screen in a Zippy strip. And who knows in how many Zippy strips before that.

A Wikipedia article about Piels cites a beer expert who explains that the popularity of the Bert and Harry commercials hurt the brand:

“Unfortunately, the beer itself was not very good. Because of the great ads, all kinds of people bought it for the first time, hated it and spread the news everywhere about how awful it was. It was a case of terrible word of mouth caused by a wonderful ad campaign.”
YouTube has a goodly number of Bert and Harry television commercials.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Finals approaching


[Nancy, May 17, 1950.]

Jim, Nancy, don’t!

You’ll find better advice in this post: How to do well on a final exam. And for those inclined to the dark side: How to do horribly on a final exam. My StatCounter stats this week show that entire classes are looking at the first of these posts: visit, visit, visit, as exams loom, loom, loom.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Nancy, a literalist of the imagination, looks up cram in a dictionary and sits down with cake, cookies, a donut, fruit, jam, popcorn, and a sandwich.]

New AHD entries

Burner, saltimbocca, GOAT: among the additions this year to the American Heritage Dictionary.

I know burner from The Wire; GOAT, from Infinite Jest, where it’s turned into P.G.O.A.T., a name for Joelle van Dyne, the Prettiest Girl of All Time. Saltimbocca? As my mom would say, I never heard of it. Saltimbanque, yes. Saltimbocca, no. The words have a common source in the Italian saltare. A saltimbanque jumps on a bench or platform to perform. Saltimbocca, as you may have already figured out, jumps into one’s mouth. I know about saltimbanques from Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso.

[The Apollinaire link goes to Ron Padgett’s translation of an Apollinaire poem. The Picasso link goes to a catalogue from the National Gallery of Art. I always love a free PDF. Also, free association.]

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How to start a sentence

In the ABA Journal, Bryan Garner offers some advice about how to start a sentence. Key principles:

(1) A fair percentage of sentences should begin with short contextualizing phrases, often adverbial. (2) A fair percentage should begin with one-syllable transitional words—normally But, Yet, So or even And.
[If you noticed the absence of a comma before or: the ABA Journal follows AP style, sans serial commas. As Garner writes in an earlier column, “I don't have the clout to overrule them. It's as simple as that.”]

Imaginary local news

“Well, they don’t call it FALL for nothing. Leaves this week continue to ‘fall’ from area trees. The small colorful objects have been spotted on lawns, sidewalks, and streets in many communities. Experts say this trend will continue for some time, followed by — you guessed it — the white stuff. And Jack here is going to tell us when we can expect the first of that white stuff.” Segue to weather.

[This post started as one sentence in a letter to a friend.]

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Bully for Woolly

A short New Yorker piece, “Disruption Spreads to the Nightstand,” describes a new product from the mattress company Casper: Woolly, “a magazine that embraces the hunger for hygge and covers the bedtime beat.”

I thought I was reading a spoof, but no, Woolly is real. The first issue contains, among other things, a feature on sweatpants comfort pants and an “Adulting Coloring Book.” A picture caption: “I flossed!”

Opinions

One narrator’s family:


Alice Munro, “Family Furnishings,” in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (New York: Vintage, 2002).

Also from Alice Munro
“Rusted seams” : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?” : “A private queer feeling” : “A radiance behind it”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pronouns and institutions

Lindsay Shepherd is a graduate student and teaching assistant in communication studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. Teaching first-year students about pronoun use, Shepherd showed a short clip from a television debate about gender-neutral singular pronouns — and specifically, about whether speakers and writers should be required by law to honor the pronouns that other individuals choose for themselves. As Shepherd tells it, she was not taking sides; she was presenting a debate and inviting students to comment. Later, one or more students complained. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on what followed.

Part of what followed: a meeting in which two faculty members and a staff member questioned Shepherd and opined about what happened (and about much else). The recording of that meeting offers a deep experience of the Kafkaesque. No one will tell Shepherd who or how many students complained, or the nature of the complaint or complaints. Shepherd’s presentation of a current debate about language is deemed by her interlocutors to have created a “toxic climate.” Shepherd is told that she has targeted “trans folks” and committed an act of “gender-based violence” and transphobia. Even as a faculty member tells Shepherd that there are “two sides” to every story, it’s clear that he and his colleagues have already made up their minds about what happened.

What might be the most extraordinary moment: “Your role as TA is not really to be teaching about the politics of grammar; it’s to be teaching grammar.” And yet teaching grammar includes teaching the use of singular pronouns, which, in English, are gendered — which is to say, political. Someone then asks Shepherd if she’d be willing to stick to “more traditional” matters in grammar. And yet a “more traditional” presentation would likely prohibit any consideration of gender-neutral singular pronouns. As I said, Kafkaesque.

Lindsay Shepherd describes herself as “a reasonable leftist.” The conclusion she has reached about her university, as presented on her Twitter page: “Confirmed: WLU is a mental institution.”

[A specifically Canadian context for this controversy: Bill C-16. See also a recent post by Geoffrey Pullum, unrelated to events in Canada: “I’m on the same side as my non-binarist and gender-neutral and transsexual friends,” Pullum writes, but he thinks of singular they with a personal name for antecedent as ungrammatical.]

John Gruber on Messenger Kids

John Gruber’s comment on Facebook’s Messenger Kids app: “This is like Philip Morris introducing officially licensed candy cigarettes. You’re nuts if you sign your kids up for this.”

All the books are green, almost

The Washington Post reports on “the odd assortment of books that make up the White House Christmas book tree.” The books were chosen for their green covers — or, in the words of Stephanie Grisham, director of communications for first lady Melania Trump, “their varieties of green color tones.” The green books set off Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s copy of A Christmas Carol, bound in red.

[See also Nicholson Baker’s “Books as Furniture.”]

Mystery actor


[Click for a larger, perhaps more recognizable view.]

He’s appearing in his first film role. Do you recognize him? Leave your best guess as a comment, and enter as often as you like. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Robin Wright on words
and sentences

Ilan Stavans’s podcast In Contrast offers an excellent interview with the journalist and foreign correspondent Robin Wright. Wright offers, in passing, some provocative observations about the teaching of writing in the United States:

There is the illusion that the longer the sentence, and the more multisyllabic words are used, the longer the paragraph, the better the writing, when in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I always say “Tight is right”: write short, write pithy, write to the point, write things people understand in one bite, rather than compound ideas in a single sentence. . . .

Unfortunately, in universities, people write quite dull prose.
Wright is right, of course. One idea, one sentence is a good maxim, as long as one acknowledges that ideas come in all sizes and may be made of many parts. (See, for instance, Proust.) If you look at any of Wright’s recent pieces for The New Yorker, I think you’ll agree that her sentences, whatever their length, are models of clarity.

A related post
Sentences, short and long

[Transcription mine.]

Stefan Zweig in Turkey

Stefan Zweig is reported to be the most-read writer in Turkey.

Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

Van Dyke Parks meets
Merle Haggard

As told by Kinky Friedman:

“Van Dyke was worried he’d get lynched because, well, he’s a sort of Noel Coward type,” Friedman says. “So he asked everybody, ‘How long have you known Merle?’ And every one of them would answer, ‘Ever since.’ ‘Ever since,' 'Ever since,’ ‘Ever since.’ So he asked me, ‘What does that mean, ever since?’ I told him, ‘Ever since prison, stupid!’ Stupid is one thing Van Dyke is not. But ever since prison.
Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

[“A sort of Noel Coward type”? What?!]

Charles Simic on the pencil

Charles Simic writes about “The Poet’s Pencil”:

I knew a poet who could only write his poems with a stub of a pencil. Nothing else worked for him as well. His family and friends bought him fountain pens, ballpoints, typewriters, and laptops, but he kept away from them. “It’s like giving a dog a wristwatch for Christmas,” his wife said.
The poet, of course, is Simic himself.

About Simic’s offhand characterization of “an age of computers and smartphones when pencils are becoming extinct”: with enough use, individual pencils have always become extinct. But the species? No. Not now. Not yet.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Word of the day: wrangler

At many a performance of The Nutcracker, the volunteering parents who manage the young dancers backstage are called wranglers. For obvious reasons.

Is this bit of language heard backstage more generally? I have no idea. Anyone?

For Safari users only

I’m not an IT guy, but I play one at home. That’s how I found a page about how to speed up page loads in Safari. Disabling DNS prefetch — who knew? — makes an enormous difference.

I’ve long used Google Code’s namebench to select DNS servers. That helps. And we just received a new modem/router from our cable company. That helps too. But disabling prefetch — well, as Timmy Martin would say, Gosh!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

From the Saturday Stumper

A nice clue from the Newsday Saturday Stumper, 40-Across, eight letters: “Unwritten constitution.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by Lester Ruff, whose name sounds like an anagram (Re: Truffles), but who knows? Finishing a Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Pottery Barn Kids [sic]

My daughter Rachel has alerted me to the existence of Pottery Barn Kids merchandise: Le Creuset toy cookware and Williams Sonoma toy food, costing much more than many people can afford to spend on real cookware and real food. You can guess what we think about this stuff.

In our household the crucial culinary toy was a 1980s Little Tikes Kitchen, a topic of conversation in a piece of fambly videotape. “Vintage” Little Tikes Kitchens are now even more expensive than Pottery Barn toys.

Barack Obama talks about
social media

Barack Obama told an audience in New Delhi that he uses spellcheck and punctuation:

“Which my daughters think is odd. They were explaining to us how if you put a period at the end of a sentence it sounds harsh. I said, ‘No, that’s English. That’s how you know the thought is finished.’”

He said he sees people getting in trouble for their tweets, and says they should follow the old advice of thinking before you speak: “Think before you tweet,” Obama said. “Same principle.”

He said social media is a powerful tool, for both good and ill. “And look, I’ve got 100 million Twitter followers. I actually have more than other people who use it more often.”

Who’s tweeting?

WNYC reports on Dan Scavino, Donald Trump’s social-media guy. An observation from a Huffington Post reporter, Ashley Feinberg:

“The time of day is usually a good indicator [to decipher Trump’s tweets]. In the morning, Dan’s not at work yet, and Trump is sitting on his couch watching Fox News and tweeting himself, so those are usually him — when it’s before 10:00 AM or so. Late at night, too, the 10:30 tweets are usually Trump. But during the day, it’s more up for grabs.”
The eccentric capitalization of ordinary words— “The Failing @nytimes has totally gone against the Social Media Guidelines” — seems to be a good sign that it‘s Trump. Lots of words in all caps — RESTORE AMERICAN PROSPERITY — I think that’s more a Scavino tic.

Mystery actor


[Click for a larger, perhaps more recognizable view.]

I think this one is tough, but when I think they’re tough, other people find them easy — and vice versa. At any rate, the actor is appearing in his first credited film role. Do you recognize him? Leave your best guess as a comment, and enter as often as you like. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.

*

11:00 a.m.: Here’s a hint: medicine.

11:26 a.m.: Another: water.

12:56 p.m.: This post has had many, many visits but no more guesses. I could add another hint: think boat. But I’ll reveal: it’s Bernie Kopell, best known as Dr. Adam Bricker, “Doc,” from The Love Boat. Here he plays an assistant to the Guru Brahmin (notice the photo, lower left) in The Loved One (dir. Tony Richardson, 1965).

That was tough.

More mystery actors
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

“More than his usual
state of instability”

From a letter to The New York Times by Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine:

We are currently witnessing more than his usual state of instability — in fact, a pattern of decompensation: increasing loss of touch with reality, marked signs of volatility and unpredictable behavior, and an attraction to violence as a means of coping. These characteristics place our country and the world at extreme risk of danger.

Ordinarily, we carry out a routine process for treating people who are dangerous: containment, removal from access to weapons and an urgent evaluation. We have been unable to do so because of Mr. Trump’s status as president. But the power of the presidency and the type of arsenal he has access to should raise greater alarm, not less.

We urge the public and the lawmakers of this country to push for an urgent evaluation of the president, for which we are in the process of developing a separate but independent expert panel, capable of meeting and carrying out all medical standards of care.
Lee is the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President (2017). She points out in her letter that she and the contributors to that book represent mental health professionals who “now number in the thousands.”

Madness, or method?

In The Washington Post, Ruth Ben-Ghiat responds to yesterday’s Daily News editorial:

Many have sought to diagnose President Trump’s mental health from afar, depicting him as delusional, narcissistic or a madman. Such an approach is understandable, since many of us struggle to make sense of his destructive behavior and attachment to falsehoods that are often of his own making. Yet it’s the history of authoritarianism that provides the best framework for understanding Trump’s words and actions. From Benito Mussolini onward, strongmen have ruled through a combination of seduction and threat, building up protective cults of personality and relentlessly pushing their own versions of reality until they’re in a position to make them state policy.

Far from being lunatics, leaders such as Trump are opportunists and skilled manipulators who may change their ideas on specific policy issues without ever deviating from their main goal: the accumulation and steady expansion of their own power.

Word of the day: sledgehammer

Walking through the hardware store, I wondered: why sledgehammer? Does it have something to do with sledding? A mighty hammer used to free a sled stuck in ice?

The Oxford English Dictionary traces sledge to the Old English slecg, equivalent to the Middle Dutch and Dutch slegge and related to similar words in Old Norse and other languages. The surprise comes at the end of the etymology: “The stem *slagj- is derived from that of slay.” So a sledgehammer is a killing hammer? No, not really: the obsolete slay in question means “to smite, strike, or beat,” and sledgehammer or sledge, as the dictionary points out, refers “especially” to a blacksmith’s hammer.

Sledge, as I vaguely remembered, does also mean “sled” or “sleigh.” But that sledge derives from the Middle Dutch sleedse — no smiting there, just a sled. And sleigh comes from the Dutch slee, a contracted form of slede. No smiting there either.

The word hammer comes from the Old English hamor, hamer, hǫmer, equivalent to similar words in a number of Germanic languages. Says the OED, “The Norse sense ‘crag’, and possible relationship to Slavic kamy, Russian kameni stone, have suggested that the word originally meant ‘stone weapon.’” Primitive, man, primitive.

[Whatever we were looking for in the hardware store, it wasn’t a sledgehammer. I think it was microfiber cloths.]

“Only appearance”

A complete story:


Franz Kafka, “The Trees,” in The Complete Stories, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken, 1971).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

“Mad”

A Daily News editorial is saying it plainly:

The President of the United States is profoundly unstable. He is mad. He is, by any honest layman’s definition, mentally unwell and viciously lashing out.
[What prompted this editorial: what the paper calls Donald Trump’s “Wednesday Twitter spasm.”]

“Bon Appétit!”

Here’s a third piece of Lassie fan-fiction. The first two: “The ’Clipse” and “The Poet.” You can click on each page for a slightly larger view. Enjoy.














Related reading
All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard)

[“You are alone in the kitchen”: inspired by the failed flip of a potato pancake. Julia Child did indeed prefer white pepper to black.]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Washington Phillips, Grammy nominee

Dust-to-Digital’s Washington Phillips And His Manzarene Dreams has been nominated in two Grammy categories: Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes. I wrote a review of this extraordinary album last year.

The NSA’s Grammar Geek

Now available at governmentattic.org: advice columns on grammar and usage from the National Security Agency’s Grammar Geek(s). “Gabby” took over as the Geek after “Gigi” retired. Both names are pseudonyms.

A choice bit from Gigi:

Oh! If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a news anchor solemnly state that such and such “went down” today, I would have enough money for several new grammar books — all of which I would throw at the TV.
How marvelous that the NSA can spy on millions of Americans and still keep its sense of humor.

How to improve writing (no. 73)

Today we have rearranging of parts. From a New York Times opinion piece, a sentence that needs improvement:

Harding, the former Moscow bureau chief of The Guardian, has been reporting on shady characters like Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was indicted last month, long before Trump announced his candidacy.
I see two problems:

“Last month, long before Trump announced his candidacy” makes for a momentary muddle. Place “long before Trump announced his candidacy” at the beginning of the sentence, and you can see the second problem more clearly:
Long before Trump announced his candidacy, Harding, the former Moscow bureau chief of The Guardian, has been reporting on shady characters like Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was indicted last month.
See the problem? It’s a matter of tense: Long before x did y, Harding has been reporting. I suspect that the original arrangement of the sentence’s parts allowed the writer to miss this now-obvious error. Once more:
Long before Trump announced his candidacy, Harding, the former Moscow bureau chief of The Guardian, was reporting on shady characters like Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was indicted last month.
I’d say bring back the copy desk, but I don’t think copy editors edit opinion pieces. (Anyone know?)

Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 73 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. I’ve added italics to the name of The Guardian in the Times sentence.]

Dog science

The narrator (a dog) has explained that there are two kinds of food: food from the ground and food from above. Science has determined that there are two ways of procuring food: “the scratching and watering of the ground” and “the auxiliary perfecting processes of incantation, dance, and song.” But if the perfecting processes work to give the ground sufficient potency to attract food from the air, why do dogs look upward and not at the ground when they sing, dance, and chant?


Franz Kafka, “Investigations of a Dog,” in The Complete Stories, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken, 1971).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

[Watering the ground? It seems to mean just what you think it means.]

Chock full o’Coffee

“Most of the people in New York — we’ve been there forever and they get it, but if you’re in Omaha and suddenly we’re on the shelf and you see the brand for the first time, there’s confusion”: The hard work of assuring shoppers that Chock full o’Nuts coffee is just coffee — no nuts.

Chock full o’Nuts is our household’s everyday coffee. Pistachios are our everyday nuts.

Related posts
A 1964 guidebook description : Chock full o’Nuts reverie : Chock fill o’Nuts in a movie : Chock full o’Nuts lunch hour, 1955 : Chock full o’Nuts skyline with the WTC

Monday, November 27, 2017

An interview with Annie Atkins

From the podcast 99% Invisible: “Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film and Television,” an interview with the graphic designer Annie Atkins, maker of graphic props for film. Atkins was the lead graphic designer for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Yes, the Mendl’s box.

The Voyager Golden Records

The sounds of the Voyager Golden Records (there were two): coming soon, on LPs and CDs.

Pocket notebook sighting


[20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills, 2016). Click either image for a much larger view.]

Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) wanted to be an Air Force pilot and went to flight school, but the war ended before she was done. It makes sense that her pocket notebook would be one with a military background. It’s this notebook, its pages sewn in signatures, with evergreen covers and the word Memorandum in lime cursive. The notebook opens from the top:



I bought a stash of the side-opening Memorandum some time ago. They’re extremely well-made notebooks.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Enter Sluggo


[Zippy, November 26, 2017.]

First panel: “Zippy read so many ‘Little Max’ comic books by Ham Fisher that he became Little Max!” And went on to live by himself in a little brick house. But then things get all Pandora-like.

All I know about Little Max is what I read in Zippy — and that he was Joe Palooka’s sidekick.

Venn reading
All OCA Nancy posts : Nancy and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Notice the tiny Sluggo in the first of these panels.]

Yielding in Massachusetts

In The New York Times Magazine, John Hodgman answers a question about driving in Massachusetts: what should a driver do when someone is standing on the sidewalk at a Yield to Pedestrians crosswalk, not yet crossing? Hodgman says the driver should yield: “Don’t be a masshole.”

What Hodgman doesn’t make explicit is that yielding for someone still on the sidewalk isn’t required by Massachusetts law. But says a Cambridge lawyer experienced in crosswalk cases: "If they have the intent of crossing within a reasonable distance of it, then yeah, you gotta stop."

[Drivers in Brookline (the town referenced in Hodgman’s piece) really do stop at Yield to Pedestrian signs, at least the ones in Coolidge Corner, at least most of the time, at least in my experience. I’ve added commas to the lawyer’s sentence.]

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A representative walk

Air, mint, air : air : air : air : air, leaves : leaves, air : air : air : air : air : burning leaves : burning leaves : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air, turkey, air : air : air : air, fireplace, air : air : air : air, leaves, air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air : air, leaves, air : air, leaves, air : air.

[Inspired by something my friend Sara McWhorter wrote and sent. The colons separate the fifty minutes of walking. Mint? Lip balm.]

From the Saturday Stumper

A clever clue from the Newsday Saturday Stumper, 26-Across, four letters: “Hail in Oz.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by Andrew Bell Lewis. Finishing a Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

Rations detail


[Kyle Surges, WWII Rations, detail. Oil on panel. 9" × 18". 2015.]

Kyle Surges’s paintings knock me out. Visit the artist’s website for more.

Friday, November 24, 2017

We three kings

Donald Trump reminds me of three kings, or one king and two tyrants, really: he combines Agamemnon’s contempt for truth (“Fake news!” Trump would have told the seer Calchas), Oedipus’s egomania (“I alone can fix it,” Trump would have said of the Sphinx’s curse), and Creon’s strutting authoritarianism (“I’m president, and you’re not,” Trump would have told Oedipus when ordering him back in the house).

But unlike Oedipus, Trump has no interest in the pursuit of truth: he would have fired Tiresias and ended the investigation into the murder of Laertes. Oedipus chose to pursue that investigation, wherever it might lead. But of course he had no idea where it would lead.

Also unlike Oedipus: Trump would never have solved the Sphinx’s riddle to begin with.

A related post
Word of the day: tyrant

[In Iliad 1, when Calchas tells Agamemnon why the Achaean forces have been hit by a plague and what to do to remove it, Agamemnon complains that Calchas never gives him any good omens. Agamemon’s the king; Oedipus and Creon, tyrants.]

Sardine art


[Maudie (dir. Aisling Walsh, 2016).]

The Canadian artist Maud Lewis used sardine cans to hold her paints. Here, look. Notice the Campbell’s Soup can too, put to un-Warholian use.

Today is National Sardines Day. Let us, each in our own way, honor the small, oily fish.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving, Talia


[November 22, 2017.]

Talia is still a very wee pal, but take a look at this photograph and this one and you can see how much she’s grown. Just think of these posts as appearing in plastic sleeves in a wallet: yes, I am a grandparent showing you pictures of my grandchild.

Thanksgiving 1917


[“Thanksgiving Food Never So Expensive: Turkeys Get Up to 50 Cents a Pound and Cranberries Bring 25 Cents a Quart.” The New York Times, November 29, 1917.]

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Previous Thanksgiving posts
In jail, 1916 : At the Waldorf Astoria, 1915 : In jail, 1914 : In jail, 1913 : Thanksgiving and mortality : In jail, 1912 : Competitive eating, 1911 : A 1917 greeting card : A found letter : Sing Sing, 1908 : Sing Sing, 1907 : I remember Thanksgiving

[Nathan Straus, co-owner of R.H. Macy & Company and Abraham & Straus, had a long history as a philanthropist.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Jon Hendricks (1921–2017)

The singer and lyricist Jon Hendricks has died at the age of ninety-six. The New York Times has an obituary. The Lambert, Hendricks & Ross album Sing a Song of Basie (1957) is one of my earliest musical memories. It begins: “Dig Count Basie blow Joe’s blues away.”

Peppermint Hallmark


[Peanuts, November 22, 1970.]

Peppermint Patty (last name Reichardt I once heard) is watching a beauty contest. But I prefer to believe that she’s watching the Hallmark Channel.

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard) : I am a prisoner of Hallmark Movies and Mysteries : Hallmark ex machina : The Bridge, continued : Shine on, Hallmark Channel : Sleigh Bells Ring

[Yesterday’s Peanuts is today’s Peanuts. This strip ran again this past Sunday. Extra credit if you recognize the source for “(last name Reichardt I once heard).”]

“Useful, poetic,” &c.

Rachel Peden writes of losing the battle against weeds but loving her garden “just the same”:

I Iove it on the day when the earth is prepared and I can take off my shoes and walk barefooted on the fresh, moist, sun-warmed soil. I love it when I put my shoes back on and begin to work, marking off rows and putting in seeds, and almost forgetting to stop in time to start supper. I love it when the first bean sprouts appear, the little bowed green heads first, then the two little green hands held up above the face. A garden makes me feel useful, poetic, comforted, overworked, justified for living, luxurious. I always promise to be faithful to this one, but every year the weeds are more faithful than I. After all, they have nothing else to do, of course.

Rachel Peden, The Land, the People (Bloomington, IN: Quarry Books, 2010).
As late as the first days of November, we still had tiny plum tomatoes growing. But the frost ended that. Our raised beds are now covered with cardboard and waiting for the spring. The first time it snows I want to sit with Elaine at the kitchen table and plan out next year’s crops.

Also from Rachel Peden
Against school consolidation : Dry goods, &c. : Inspiration for writing : “For pies and jelly and philosophy” : “On speaking terms with yourself”

The obvious

Amy Davidson Sorkin, writing in The New Yorker about “Liberals and Sexual Harassment”:

When Clinton ran for President in 2016, she may not have gauged how profoundly Bill Clinton’s record with women would hurt her.
Ya think? And:
As hard as it is to hear, particularly given the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy and her laudable record on everything from climate change to children’s health, her nomination compromised the Democratic Party.
Ya think? And:
There were other choices, early on; perhaps one of the fourteen Democratic women in the Senate in 2015 might have emerged.
“Might have emerged” — if what?

There was another choice later on as well, but in Davidson Sorkin’s telling, there is no Bernie Sanders.

Timmy Martin, writer

A Dixon Ticonderoga works for most purposes. But not all. From the Lassie episode “The Contest” (September 20, 1959), as Timmy Martin prepares to write about What My Pet Means to Me:

“Where’s the pen and ink and good paper?”
Notice: the pen. One, for the house. It’s a dip pen.

Related reading
All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nanski


[Click for a larger view.]

A Nancy parody, found in a sampler of MAD imitators. The titles on the TV screen: Khrushchev Knows Best, I Love Nikita, and Meet the Pravda.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Khrushchev’s name might be misspelled in the comic. Too small to tell.]

Domestic comedy

“A Thanksgiving movie now? When it’s already almost Christmas?!”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

A pocket notebook sighting


[A Stranger in Town (dir. Roy Rowland, 1943).]

John Josephus Grant (Frank Morgan) looks at a blank page as he asks questions: Have you always lived in this state? Are you sure you’ve never lived in another state? Did you file your income tax this year? The man he’s questioning gets more and more worried. And then Grant explains:

“It’s an old trick that Justice Brandeis used to play. I read about it in Collier’s once. You see, it’s an unfortunate fact, Mr. Adams, but every man, even you and I, has done something that he doesn’t want anybody to know about. Now if you can make him think that you’re holding in your hand the skeleton in his closet — you’ve got him. Well, let’s say at least you’ve got him squirming, nervous, worried, as you were. But if that man happens to have a really guilty conscience. . . .”
What Grant doesn’t give away is that he didn’t read about this trick in Collier’s. He himself is a Supreme Court Justice, on vacation and incognito.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

Twelve more movies

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (dir. Noah Baumbach, 2017). A third-tier sculptor, two of his three wives, and his three adult children. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, perhaps, but here it’s a way very much influenced by Anton Chekhov, Woody Allen, and Wes Anderson. My favorite line: “You guys will never know what it’s like to be me in this family.” The all-star cast includes Candice Bergen, Judd Hirsch, Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Emma Thompson. But there’s less here than meets the eye.

*

A Stranger in Town (dir. Roy Rowland, 1943). A Supreme Court justice (Frank Morgan) travels incognito for a brief vacation and, still incognito, sets things right in a small town. The claustrophobia and corruption of small-town life are played for laughs, and justice wins in the end, just as in real life. At the one-stop shop for obscurities, YouTube.

*

Alimony (dir. Alfred Zeisler, 1949). Martha Vickers is the starring attraction in a sketchy lawyer’s scheme: have her marry a rich guy, frame him for infidelity, sue for divorce, and collect, yes, alimony, with the lawyer taking a cut. I especially liked the scenes of boarding house life and Leonid Kinskey’s comic turn as a theatrical producer. The movie moves toward Detour-like sordidness before steering (crazily) to a disappointingly wholesome ending. Another YouTube find.

*

Stranger Things, second season (dir. Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy, Andrew Stanton, Rebecca Thomas, 2017). I described the first season of Stranger Things as Ghostwriter meets E.T. The second season might be described as Ghostwriter meets E.T. meets Theseus-and-the-Minotaur meets The Exorcist. Darker, scarier than the first season, and excellent fun. Caution: contains nougat.

*

My Cousin Vinny (dir. Jonathan Lynn, 1992). Someone recommended this wonderful comedy to Elaine. Somehow we had never seen it. Someday you should see it if you haven’t. A neophyte Brooklyn lawyer, or “lawyer” (Joe Pesci), travels to Alabama to defend his cousin and his cousin’s friend, two college fellows wrongly accused of murder. It’s a good thing that Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) comes along. I’m not surprised to learn that lawyers love this film. But I’m surprised to learn that the film is used in teaching law.

*

One of Us (dir. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, 2017). The documentarians of Detropia and Jesus Camp look at the struggles of three ex-Hasidim: Etty, a mother of seven who’s fled an abusive husband; Luzer, a struggling actor; and Ari, a young man who was raped as a child and is now bedeviled by drugs. Each has grown up without skills of work and social life; each now tries to establish an identity apart from an insular culture of surveillance and intimidation that demands absolute conformity to its rules. (Talk about fundamentalism: Etty shows the filmmakers a son’s reading primer in which every girl’s face has been blacked out.) As the film makes clear, the cost of leaving the community can be very high.

*

The Exception (dir. David Leveaux, 2016). Love and espionage in wartime. Christopher Plummer plays Kaiser Wilhelm in exile in the Netherlands. In his grand house, an affair begins between a German officer (Jai Courtney) and a maid (Lily James). The narrative is somewhat predictable, but with moments of genuine suspense. Best scene: dinner with Himmler, as the Kaiser meets the new order.

*

Maudie (dir. Aisling Walsh, 2016). The life of Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins), self-taught Canadian artist. Lewis suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and lived in rural isolation and poverty, married to a man who here seems at times emotionally inert, at other times downright abusive. Is Ethan Hawke’s brutish Everett Lewis a just representation of Maud’s husband? Is Maud’s inarticulateness (which seems to suggest intellectual disability) a just representation of her character? I don’t know. Worth watching, but the film leaves so many matters unaddressed, including the first thirty-odd years of Lewis’s life.

*

20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills, 2016). It is 1979 in Santa Barbara. Annette Bening plays Dorothea Fields, a divorced mother, a Salem smoker, the first female drafting technician at the Continental Can Company, and the owner of a rambling old house with boarders. To raise her fourteen-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), Dorothea enlists the help of her boarder Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and the girl next door, Julie (Elle Fanning). Dorothea’s male boarder William (Billy Crudup), all mustache and chambray, is put to other purposes. The film moves from character to character, as if from room to room (with title cards giving each character’s name and year of birth), and is much more about character than “action.” Most of the events in the film, I realize, arrive in the form of conversations. Exceedingly well written and acted.

*

Notorious (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1946). Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman, daughter of a Nazi spy, recruited by American intelligence to infiltrate a group of post-war Nazis in Brazil. Cary Grant is Devlin, the American agent who loves her. Claude Rains is Alex Sebastian, a Nazi in Brazil, also in love with Alicia. (Ick.) The Bergman–Grant scenes make Notorious the most erotic Hitchcock film I’ve seen. But it’s Leopoldine Konstantin, as Alex’s mother, who steals the show.

*

Rear Window (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1954). I remember the excitement when this film, Vertigo, and three others returned to theaters in the 1980s. Why not watch yet again? Or better — why not watch the people across the courtyard, and watch Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly watch the people across the courtyard? Something I don’t think I’d noticed before: the bamboo shades (think theater curtain) go down during the closing credits. And Thelma Ritter’s lines: “In the old days, they used to put your eyes out with a red-hot poker. Any of those bikini bombshells you’re always watching worth a red-hot poker?” How’d they get that past the censors?

*

The Promise (dir. Terry George, 2016). A love triangle — a journalist, a governess, a medical student — in the time of the Armenian genocide. Early on, the film’s lavish attention to beautiful costumes and sets threatens to displace attention from the characters. Later, events themselves make the characters seem less and less important. Some descriptions of the film speak of a love triangle “set against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide.” But what does it mean to think of genocide as a backdrop? To my mind, the most moving scene in the film is the final one, one that has nothing to do with the triangle. As the movies teach us, the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 20, 2017

“The long and short of it”


[Alonzo Mourning and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.]

On the PBS NewsHour tonight, hopeful words from Alonzo Mourning, talking with Charlayne Hunter-Gault: “What sportsmanship can teach us about healing racial divides.” I trust that everyone involved saw the sweet incongruity in these pull-away shots.

[Mourning uses the phrase “the long and short of it” in the course of the conversation.]

Grammar and patriarchy

In The New York Times, Carmel McCoubrey writes about nouns and gender and French: “Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy.” With a sidetrip into singular they.

Orange Julep art


[“Orange Julep, Route 9, Plattsburgh, New York.” Photograph by John Margolies. 1978. From the Library of Congress feature John Margolies: Roadside America. Click for a much larger view.]

A Flickr page for this photograph notes that the Orange Julep was torn down around 1979 and that only a parking lot remains. Here is a photograph of the Orange Julep in nighttime splendor. A larger Orange Julep still stands Montreal.

Other posts with orange
Crate art, orange : Orange art, no crate : Orange art turtle : Orange batik art : Orange bookmark art : Orange car art : Orange crate art : Orange crate art (Encyclopedia Brown) : Orange dress art : Orange enamel art : Orange flag art : Orange light art : Orange manual art : Orange mug art : Orange newspaper art : Orange notebook art : Orange notecard art : Orange parking art : Orange peel art : Orange pencil art : Orange pump art : Orange soda art : Orange soda-label art : Orange stem art : Orange stereograminator art : Orange telephone art : Orange timer art : Orange toothbrush art : Orange train art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange Tweed art

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sleigh Bells Ring

“This has exceeded even my lofty expectations!” So says a character in the Hallmark movie Sleigh Bells Ring, on last night and on again six more times between now and the of the year. “My favorite of the season!!! Definitely a DVR keeper!!!” So says someone on Twitter. So bad it‘s good, says I. So bad and so good that having dropped in about halfway through, Elaine and I had to watch to the end. We had to see what would happen. Because after Alex overstepped by putting up all the Christmas decorations with his old girlfriend Laurel’s daughter Scarlett, how could things ever turn out right for him and Laurel?

Related posts
I am a prisoner of Hallmark Movies and Mysteries : Hallmark ex machina : The Bridge, continued : Shine on, Hallmark Channel

Saturday, November 18, 2017

From the Saturday Stumper

A clever clue from the Newsday Saturday Stumper, 23 Across: “With 29 Down, sight below some Lincoln Memorials.” The answers are three and four letters long. No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by “Anna Stiga,” Stanley Newman, the puzzle’s editor. Anna Stiga, or Stan Again, is the pseudonym Newman uses for easier Saturday Stumpers of his making. Finishing a Saturday Stumper, even if it’s an easier one, is cause for minor self-congratulation.

Otto Baum Handlettering

An Instagram page: Otto Baum Handlettering. I especially like this clip, which shows some tools of the trade.

Thanks, Rachel!

Domestic comedy

“We’ve never been to the new McDonald’s — which is now old McDonald’s.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Things to do in the Valley

The San Fernando Valley, that is. The main thing to do in the Valley was to hang out with Rachel, Seth, and Talia. But I can recommend a few other things to do:

Bargain Books (14426 Friar Street, Van Nuys). A small store (estd. 1958) where the books are reasonably priced and shelved two deep. We found one book by Alexander King, two copies of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and three Robert McCloskey books for you-know-who. And the owner showed us an inscribed Truman Capote title. Capote had excellent handwriting.

Barnes & Noble (12136 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City). On the one hand, it’s a chain store. On the other hand, the location is a renovated movie theater. Location, location, location. There’s a large selection of children’s books.

Beeps Diner (16063 Sherman Way, Van Nuys). The real thing (estd. 1956), with a few tables outside, a few more tables inside, and two windows for ordering. The tuna melt is terrific. Beeps appears in a 2006 Zippy strip. A xeroxed enlargement hangs under a menu signboard.

Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizza (Nineteen locations). Excellent pizza. That means more to me than it-was-served-at-the-Oscars, which it was, in 2014, when Ellen DeGeneres ordered Big Mama’s for the audience.

Brent’s Deli (19565 Parthenia Street, Northridge). Huge sandwiches, excellent ingredients, beautifully prepared. Pickles included. No disrespect to Canter’s or Nate ’n Al, but I think I prefer Brent’s.

Firehouse Restaurant (18450 Victory Boulevard, Tarzana). Greek food, intensely flavorful. Large portions — just the side order of hummus would probably last through three or four lunches in our house.

Puro Sabor (6366 Van Nuys Boulevard, Van Nuys). Peruvian food. We had yucca with huancaina (a tasty cheese sauce), mixed ceviche (fish and seafood marinated in lemon, with cancha, Peruvian corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes), and steak with tacu tacu (a pounded piece of tender beef atop a hash of rice and beans). A total comfort meal.

These bookstores and restaurants have earned the Orange Crate Art seal of approval.

Synchronicity

We were hanging out with Rachel and Talia, with an Amazon Dot playing Beatles tunes. I was looking through my RSS feeds, and started reading a post from Grammarphobia. A reader had a question:

Can you give me a very simplified way to remember how to use “there,” “their,” and “they’re”? I know “there” is a place or shows ownership, and “their” is more figurative, but I still sometimes get them wrong. HELP!
You can guess what Beatles song started as I read that last word. Swear.

Related reading
All OCA synchronicity posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mark Trail, recycled

That face . . . those beads of perspiration . . . where have I seen them before?



[Mark Trail, revised, May 10, 2014. Mark Trail, May 14, 2015; April 28, 2016; November 16, 2017.]

Today’s face is a cruder rendering: it appears that Mark’s lower forehead has been wiped clean and the eyebrows redrawn. But the beads of perspiration on the upper left forehead (Mark’s left), the cheekbones, the shadow under the nose: it’s the same face, recycled and repurposed.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

UPC misspelling

I was surprised to find what looks like a misspelled word on the back on a box of UPC. Here, look:


[“Be good to yourself this morning with a satisfing bowl of Simply Nature Organic Oats and Honey Granola.”]

To my eye, the letterforms look too various to have come from a cursive font. I think that this “note” superimposes an image of handwritten text onto an image of an exaggeratedly rustic piece of paper. Which would mean that someone wrote satisfying while leaving out the y. And that no one else noticed.



Related reading
All OCA spelling and misspelling posts (Pinboard)

Mister Memory

[Please imagine Jeff Sessions in the role.]

Q: “What are the 39 Steps? Come on, answer up! What are the 39 Steps?”

A: “I don’t recall.”

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How to improve writing (no. 72)

Page 49 of the November 20 issue of The New Yorker is a full-page ad for Ameritrade. The most prominent text element on the page is embarrassingly off:



I wondered for a moment if the ad is announcing an investment plan meant to provide for family members after the investor’s death. “The portfolio that works even when you aren’t” — in other words, when you aren’t around? But no, it’s just clumsy writing. The problem is that works and aren’t aren’t parallel elements in this sentence fragment. Parallel elements would look like these: it works even if you don’t work; it works even if you quit; it works even if you shuffle off to Buffalo. It works even if you aren’t? No. Even if you aren’t work? No.

One way to fix the problem: “The portfolio that works even when you don’t.” Or “The portfolio that’s working even when you aren’t.” But these revisions might suggest unemployment or retirement.

Better: “The portfolio that works even when you aren’t paying attention.” Or “The portfolio that works even when you’re not looking.” That sounds a little shady to me. But then again, I’m not a likely prospect for this ad.

The oddness of the banner sentence ought not to take attention away from the dangling participle in the body text: “By monitoring and rebalancing your portfolio automatically, it’s a low-cost solution that takes care of business, so you can take care of life’s essentials.”

Yes, life’s essentials, one of which is (or ought to be) striving to write good sentences.

Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)

[Click for a larger view. This post is no. 72 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Domestic comedy

[After using the remote control.]

“There, that’s better. Now he’s using his inside voice.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[“Inside voice” comes from American Splendor (dir. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003): “Remember what I told you about loud talking? Use your inside voice.”]

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Doublet and hose and usage

This passage arrived this morning with Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day:

[I]t does not follow that because a certain form of speech was current in earlier times it is therefore acceptable today — we might as well suggest that, because in Queen Elizabeth’s time our forefathers dressed in doublet and hose, we could wear the same garb without causing excitement and suspicion as to our mental condition.

Henry Alexander, The Story of Our Language (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1940).
See also mededitor’s “Jane Austen” fallacy. And here’s my take on the fallacy.

You can subscribe to Usage Tip of the Day at lawprose.org.