Saturday, December 24, 2011

Works Cited

The boy who rode on slightly before him sat a horse not only as if he'd been born to it which he was but as if were he begot by malice or mischance into some queer land where horses never were he would have found them anyway. Would have known that there was something missing for the world to be right or he right in it and would have set forth to wander wherever it was needed for as long as it took until he came upon one and he would have known that that was what he sought and it would have been.

Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Monday, November 14, 2011

Works Cited

Thus, if you liked a girl, you gave her a nickname. Elmore Weldon, for instance: a pretty, sturdy thing with whom he flirted furiously for weeks. He called her Elmo, after St. Elmo's Fire, that miraculous light seen about the masts and yardarms of ships during a storm. He liked to picture himself as a mariner in peril on the seas of life, while she illuminated the dark skies for him. Indeed, he almost became engaged to Elmo; but then, after a while, he didn't.

He was also much concerned at this time about nocturnal emissions, which had featured little in the Morte d'Arthur.

Julian Barnes, Arthur and George

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Corzine - Administration's Go to Guy for Economic Advice

Joe Biden boasts of Corzine's grasp of global markets.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Works Cited

Now that I'm more or less safe from him, and him from me, I can recall him with fondness and even in some detail, which is more than I can say for several others. Old lovers go the way of old photographs, bleaching out gradually as in a slow bath of acid: first the moles and pimples, then the shadings, then the faces themselves, until nothing remains but the general outlines. What will be left of them when I'm seventy? None of the baroque ecstasy, none of the grotesque compulsion. A word or two, hovering in the inner emptiness. Maybe a toe here, a nostril there, or a mustache, floating like a little curl of seaweed among the other flotsam.

Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Shuulinjii-in: A Practical, Phonetic Means of English Spelling

I've created my own orthography for the English language. Many people have done this before, and it wasn't adopted, not even when Shaw gave it a go, nor will this be. Nonetheless, my orthography is eminently practical and sensible.

As anyone who's learned a foreign language knows, it takes a while to learn an alien way of representing sounds, no matter how simple the rules underlying it. Which means, this will sound more complicated than it is.

Attractive features of my spelling system include: (1) it uses less letters than the current English alphabet; (2) it uses no new letters; (3) it's entirely phonetic; (4) each letter, digraph, or trigraph represents a single sound; (5) the sounds of the letters are largely derived from traditional English spelling; (6) it has a sensible arrangement of voiced and unvoiced consonants.

Let us begin with the consonants. The consonants come in the following groups (1) the stops; (2) the fricatives; (3) combinations; and (4) the liquids. We start with the stops as they are generally regarded as the "strongest" consonants.

A stop is any consonant that completely stops the flow of air in the mouth. We'll present them based on where they are formed in the mouth (the so-called "point of articulation"), starting at the back of the mouth and moving forward.

Velar stops.

These are formed with the tongue touching the back of the mouth.

Without a pitch, the sound is of the "c" in "car." This is represented by "k." (A pitched sound is one when the vocal cords vibrate. Hold a finger over your throat. Make a "k" sound. Now make a "g" sound. Hear the difference?)

With a pitch, the sound is of the "g" in "gun." This is represented by "g."

Finally, with the nasal passages opened, the sound is of the "ng" in "hang." We represent this with "ng."

So this gives us the series: k, g, ng. All are articulated at the same point in the mouth, with the first non-voiced, the second voiced, and the last nasalized.

Now at a different part of the mouth.

Alveolar stops.

These are formed with the tongue touching the alveolar ridge, behind the teeth, and occur in the same order.

Unvoiced: "t" as in "ton." Represented by "t."

Voiced: "d" as in "dam." Represented by "d."

Nasal: "n" as in "note." Represented by "n."


Labial stops.

These are formed with the lips.

Unvoiced: "p" as in "pit." Represented by "p."

Voiced: "b" as in "beat." Represented by "b."

Nasal: "m" as in "moose." Represented by "m."

This completes the collection of stops. It forms this pleasantly ordered square.

k g ng
t d n
p b m

The first column is unvoiced, the second column is voiced, the third column is nasalized.

The first row is velar, the second is palatal, the third is labial.

The next group is the fricatives. Again, we group this by point of articulation, starting farthest back in the mouth.

Glottal fricative.

There is only one fricative at this location, the "h" as in "hot." It is formed in the throat, and is unvoiced, and is represented by "h."

In some languages this fricative also occurs voiced, Sanskrit, for example, but in English we only have the unvoiced version. Moving forward towards the lips, we arrive at the palatal.

Palato-alveolar fricatives.

Unvoiced: The "sh" sound in "shin." This is represented by "sh."

Voiced: The "sh" sound in "measure." This is represented by "zh." Note that as "z" is typically the voiced variant of "s," so "zh" is the voiced variant of "sh."

Alveolar fricatives.

Unvoiced: The "s" sound in "sin." This is represented by "s."

Voiced: The "z" sound in "zoo." This is represented by "z."

There's a slight difference in the position of the tongue here (it reaches back for "z") but the location is pretty close.

Dental fricatives.

Unvoiced: "th" as in "thin." This is represented by "th."

Voiced: "th" as in "the." This is represented by "dh." These two sounds, typically spelled the same in English, have to be distinguished. As "d" is the voiced variant of "t," it makes sense that "dh" would be the voiced variant of "th."

Finally, as we move forward, we reach the lips.

Labial fricatives.

Unvoiced: "f" as in "fun." This is represented by "fun."

Voiced: "v" as in "vine." This is represented by "vine."

This completes the fricatives.

sh zh
s z
th dh
f v


There are two sounds in English that are combinations of a fricative and a stop. They occur in a voiced unvoiced pair and are articulated at the alveolar ridge. One option would be to simply write these consonants as a combination of the fricative and the stop that make them up, but since (1) it's closer to current English usage and (2) it's easier to type one letter than two or three, I've represented them as single letters.

Unvoiced: "ch" as in "cheer." This is represented by "c." This is a combination of the stop "t" and the fricative "sh," and thus could be written "tsh." But I've chosen "c."

Voiced: "j" as in "judge." This is represented by "j." This is a combination of the stop "d" and the fricative "zh" and thus could be written as "dzh." But I've chosen "j."

This gives us the following combinations.

c j


The final group of consonants is the liquids, which are tougher to order, so here they are in no particular order.

"r" as in "run." This is represented by "r." "r" is a weird consonant, since after a vowel it consists of bending your tongue backward, but in front of a vowel, it's more done with the lips. This "r" represents the front of vowel version.

"l" as in "laugh." This is represented by "l."

That completes the consonants.


We could arrange the vowels by where they are in the mouth, but it's generally easier just to go by the typical English arrangement, which roughly goes from the top to the bottom of the mouth anyway. The vowels are as follows.

"a" represents the vowel in "fun."
"aa" represents the vowel in "watt."
"e" represents the vowel in "fed."
"ee" represents the vowel in "they."
"i" represents the vowel in "bid."
"ii" represents the vowel in "meat."
"o" represents the vowel in "caw."
"oo" represents the vowel in "foe."
"u" represents the vowel in "wood."
"uu" represents the vowel in "food."

Generally speaking the double vowels in the list are farther forward than the single vowels. In the cases of "ee" and "oo" they actually represent diphthongs, but few English speakers have any sense of diphthongs vs. monopthongs, so the distinction isn't terribly important.

Unfortunately this doesn't exhaust the vowels.

The vowel sound in "cat" was represent in Old English by the letter "æ." This isn't easy to reach on a modern keyboard though, so it's easier to just spell it as "ae."

The vowel sound in "fight" is represented by "ai." This vowel is a diphthong, and the spelling makes phonetic sense, since, using the vowels we've already established, it's a combination of "a" and "ii." I've simply omitted an "i" for simplicity's sake.

The vowel sound in "five" is represented by "aai." This vowel is a diphthong, and the spelling makes phonetic sense, since, using the vowels we've already established, it's a combination of "aa" and "ii." I've simply omitted an "i" for simplicity's sake.

The vowel sound in "boy" is represented by "oi." This vowel is a diphthong, and the spelling makes phonetic sense, since, using the vowels we've already established, it's a combination of "o" and "ii." I've simply omitted an "i" for simplicity's sake.

The vowel sound in "south" is represented by "au." This vowel is a diphthong, and the spelling makes phonetic sense, since, using the vowels we've already established, it's a combination of "aa" and "u." I've simply omitted an "a" for simplicity's sake.

To my ear, a vowel plus an "r" produces a sound so different from the vowel and consonant that makes the sound up, that we might as well just count the combination as a new vowel, in much the same way in French we count nasalized vowels as a new vowel.

So, the r-vowels, or "rhotic vowels" are the following.

The vowel sound in "car." This is represented by "ar."

The vowel sound in "wear." This is represented by "er."

The vowel sound in "fear." This is represented by "ir."

The vowel sound in "core." This is represented by "or."

The vowel sound in "fur." This is represented by "ur."

The vowel sound in "bower." This is represent by "aur."

The vowel sound in "foyer." This is represent by "oir."

The vowel sound in "fire." This is represent by "air."

So that completes the consonants and the vowels. This leaves the so-called semi-vowels, which are vowels used like consonants. That means that the vowel is said very quickly while leading to another vowel. Again we'll start from the back of the mouth forward.

The "y" sound in "yarn" is represented by "y."

The "w" sound in "warm" is represented by "w."

That's it, the complete palette of English sounds.

Leftover letters.

"x" wasn't used, but it could be used as a substitute for "ks" for the sake of speed, or alternatively represent foreign glottal sounds, like German "ich" or "nach" or Scottish "loch." "q," since it always occurs as "qu," which we can spell just as easily "kw," is completely superfluous and not to be used.


It may be necessary at times to distinguish between two separate vowel sounds and diphthongs. In this case, as has historically been done, an umlaut can be used. This is somewhat difficult in modern keyboards, so feel free to substitute an n-dash.


Certain sounds are different in English but the difference is generally ignored by native speakers. The "t" sound in "ton," for example, is aspirated, meaning it is followed by a puff of air. The "t" sound in "stun," on the other hand, has no aspiration. Yet we spell them the same, and unless made of aware the distinction, native speakers are generally unable to distinguish the two. This is to be contrasted with, for example, Sanskrit, where the distinction between the two sounds is perceived by speakers.

As native speakers ignore the distinction, it hardly seems necessary to represent it. However, for foreigners learning to properly pronounce the language, the distinction might be beneficially marked, in which case, an apostrophe could easily be used, as in Ancient Greek.

"Pun" would thus be spelled "p'an." "Spun" would be spelled "span."

There's also the matter of the dark and bright "l" sounds, but that's far too abstruse to be represented as this level.


Another distinction that isn't typically marked in English is the stress of a word. Again, this needn't be marked, but for purposes of teaching foreigners, an accent mark on the vowel can easily be used.


For the purposes of ordering the alphabet, using digraphs as actual letters (e.g., treating "sh" as a letter by itself rather than simply a combination of "s" and "h") simply makes things more difficult. So to order the alphabet, we will simply use single monographs, and organize them by phonological position and quality.

Kk Gg Tt Dd Nn Pp Bb Mm Hh Ss Zz Ff Vv Cc Jj Ll Rr Yy Ww Aa Ee Ii Oo Uu

The order being:

Stops (Velar[Unvoiced, Voiced], Alveolar[Unvoiced, Voiced, Nasal], Labial[Unvoiced, Voiced, Nasal]),
Fricatives(Glottal, Alveolar[Unvoiced, Voiced], Labial[Unvoiced, Voiced]),


k, as the "c" in "cat."
g, as the "g" in "gun."
ng, as the "ng" in "ring."
t, as the "t" in "ton."
d, as the "d" in "dirt."
n, as the "n" in "not."
p, as the "p" in "pear."
b, as the "b" in "bear."
m, as the "m" in "mile."

c, as the "ch" in "chop."
j, as the "j" in "joke."

h, as the "h" in "hoe."
sh, as the "sh" in "shoe."
zh, as the "sh" in "measure."
s, as the "s" in "soap."
z, as the "z" in "zoo."
th, as the "th" in "thin."
dh, as the "th" in "that."
f, as the "f" in "fun."
v, as the "v" in "vote."
l, as the "l" in "loan."
r, as the "r" in "row."
y, as the "y" in "yell."
w, as the "w" in "woke."
a, as the vowel in "fun."
aa, as the vowel in "watt."
e, as the vowel in "pet."
ee, as the vowel in "they."
i, as the vowel in "pin."
ii, as the vowel in "sheet."
o, as the vowel in "raw."
oo, as the vowel in "show."
u, as the vowel in "book."
uu, as the vowel in "lewd."
ae, as the vowel in "cat."
ai, as the vowel in "fight."
aai, as the vowel in "five."
au, as the vowel in "cow."
oi, as the vowel in "toy."
ar, as the vowel in "car."
er, as the vowel in "care."
ir, as the vowel in "cheer."
or, as the vowel in "sore."
ur, as the vowel in "fur."
aur, as the vowel in "tower."
air, as the vowel in "fire."
oir, as the vowel in "sawyer."

A Robert Frost Poem.

Sam see dha wurld wil end in fair.
Sam see in ais.
Fram wat aaiv teestid av dazair
Aai hoold widh dhooz huu feevur fair.
Bat if it haed tuu perish twais,
Aai thingk aai noo iinaf av heet
Tuu noo dhaet for distrakshan ais
Iz olsoo greet
End wud safais.

Raaburt Frost

Note how easy it is to tell which lines rhyme.

Skaat Shuul

Sunday, November 06, 2011


I did a couple of fitness classes the other day at my new gym. This was after the gym had sent me an email calling me a lazy bastard for not coming in more often. This turns out to be an effective service.

After hobbling out of the first class, I saw another class, Yoga, beginning, and thinking that sounded relaxing, I wandered in.

I didn't notice that somehow my iPhone had been turned on and started playing my current playlist, a Couperin suite for solo harpsichord. I was pretty out of it, so I somehow missed that there was harpsichord music coming out of my pants. I did hear the music as I entered the class, got a mat and started stretching. And it was harpsichord music I heard--very pleasing, and very calming, but still, I thought, an odd choice for a Yoga class. I expected new agey, or a few ragas or some such. Still I wasn't complaining.

So I went through the stretches for ten to fifteen minutes, never realizing Baroque era tunes were coming out of my rear, said rear now being thrust in the air in a pathetic reach for downward facing dog, said dog deserving to be shot and put out of its misery. Eventually the Yogi came up and told me to turn off my crotch-radio, at which point I realized I'd been broadcasting for a quarter of an hour. What really amazed me is nobody had hissed at me or shot a quizzical look--as if this was something people normally do, go around with a cembalist being pumped from your loins. So I turned off the iPhone, and realized, yes, there was new agey music playing in the background all along.

This being my first Yoga class in ten years or so, today, two days after, my legs form, at full stretch, a 120 degree angle with my torso. I woke up with my legs and arms pointing in the air like a tipped cow.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

His Brother was Going to Be Francis Bacon

SCOTT: I was going to get a pot-bellied pig, but apparently they count as livestock in Virginia, so you need a couple acres.

JAY: That's too bad.

SCOTT: I know. Cause I was going to name him Hamilcar Barca, Carthaginean Conqueror!

JAY: Meh.

SCOTT: Barcelona was named after him!

JAY: Meh.

SCOTT: Meh? That is singularly one of the greatest pet pig names available!

JAY: Ok.

SCOTT: Plus Hamlet was too easy.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Works Cited

One clue that there’s something not quite real about sequential time the way you experience it is the various paradoxes of time supposedly passing and of a so called present that is always unrolling into the future and creating more and more past behind it. As if the present were this car--nice car by the way--and the past is the road we have just gone over, and the future is the headlit road up ahead we have not yet gotten to, and time is the car’s forward movement, and the precise present is the car’s front bumper as it cuts through the fog of the future, so that it is now and then a tiny bit later a whole different now, etc. Except if time is really passing, how fast does it go? At what rate does the present change? See? Meaning if we use time to measure motion or rate--which we do, it is the only way we can--95 miles per hour, 70 heartbeats a second, etc.--how are you supposed to measure the rate at which time moves? One second per second? It makes no sense. You can’t even talk about time flowing or moving, without hitting up against paradox right away. So think for a second: What if there is really no movement at all? What if this is all unfolding in the one flash you call the present, this first, infinitely tiny split-second of impact when the speeding car’s front bumper’s just starting to touch the abutment, just before the bumper crumples and displaces the front end and you go violently forward and the steering column comes back at your chest as if shot out of something enormous? Meaning that what if in fact this now is infinite and never really passes in the way your mind is supposedly wired to understand pass, so that not only your life but every single humanly conceivable way to describe and account for that life has time to flash like neon shaped into those connected cursive letters that businesses’ signs and windows love so much to use through your mind all at once in the literally immeasurable instant between impact and death, just as you start forward to meet the wheel at a rate no belt ever made could restrain--THE END.

David Foster Wallace, Good Old Neon

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Grammar Question

English is my native language, but I'll confess I'm not 100% clear on this particular detail. Which of the two following sentence fragments, in your opinion, is correct?

Option 1. "What I've experienced is slowly developing sensations..."

Option 2. "What I've experienced are slowly developing sensations..."

I mostly want to go with option two, but I thought I remembered some rule learned long ago about "what" being considered to be in the singular and the verb therefore having to agree with it. Can anyone set me straight on this?


Both sound perfectly correct to me.

I think the confusion comes from "What" being potentially plural or singular (e.g., What are these? What is this?). If we replace "what" with terms that are marked for being plural, we can see the difference. Here, I'll replace "what" with "thing":

Singular: [The thing] I've experienced is slowly developing sensations...

Plural: [The things] I've experienced are slowly developing sensations...

Now, both of those sound perfectly correct. Some might be tempted to object that in the first sentence, the sentence equates a singular thing--the thing--with a plural thing--sensations. But there's nothing wrong with that: consider the sentence "The team is eleven people," which does the same thing.

The difference between the two, if there is any difference, is the subject of the first--the thing--stresses the singularity of the experience. You're talking about one thing, one singular state, a state of slowly developing sensations. With the latter, you're talking about the individual sensations.

Bottom line: if these are the type of issues you're dealing with in English, then you're fluent. Use either construction and be happy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Works Cited

Everyone's heard the supposed fact that if you take the English idiom "It's Greek to me" and search for equivalent idioms in all the world's languages to arrive at a consensus as to which language is the hardest, the results of such a linguistic survey is that Chinese easily wins as the canonical incomprehensible language. (For example, the French have the expression "C'est du chinois", "It's Chinese", i.e., "It's incomprehensible". Other languages have similar sayings.) So then the question arises: What do the Chinese themselves consider to be an impossibly hard language? You then look for the corresponding phrase in Chinese, and you find Gēn tiānshū yíyàng 跟天书一样 meaning "It's like heavenly script."

David Moser, Why Chinese is So Damn Hard

Monday, July 25, 2011


PORTUGUESE COWORKER: Of course, my favorite movie is Pan's Labyrinth.

SCOTT: Meh. Good movie, sure, but that's all.

PORTUGUESE COWORKER: It resonates with me.

SCOTT: Why? It's about Spain.

PORTUGUESE COWORKER: Well, we had a similar situation. We had a dictator.

SCOTT: Different dictator! Different country! Franco was not Salazar! Spain had no Carnation Revolution!

PORTUGUESE COWORKER: How do you know these things?!

SCOTT: How is Pan's Labyrinth your favorite movie!?


Jesus Christ!

MOM: Stop saying that!

Stop doing things that justify saying it!

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's Hot

DENEN: It's supposed to be even hotter in August.

It's a tough day to be a bum. Then again, most days are a tough day to be a bum.

Except for Bum Christmas!

Or Bring Your Bum to Work day!

That's actually how I got this job!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Works Cited

The emphatic period

English V2.72 introduced the multiple shriek stop, intended to allow subtle distinction in emphasis. In practice this facility has been abused, and has lost its force. In the following dialogue, it is not clear whose presence is more surprising, Julie’s or Wayne’s:

Who did you see on the High Road???

It was Julie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who was she with?????

She was with Wayne!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Long term users will recall English V2.96 attempted to persuade heavy emphasisers to group their emphatic punctuation in bunches of five for easy counting

It was Julie !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!

and a V3.03 offered system using a suffix convention to denote the intended repetition

It was Julie !33

but neither has ever been much taken up by the big public.

Now, top punctuation boffins have come up with a solution that reintroduces the power of exclamation but has a built-in mechanism that defeats attempts at repeated-stop hyperbole. Here is the emphatic period in action:

It. Was. Julie.

Ooof. Pretty emphatic stuff, eh? Now watch what happens when the user attempts to introduce more emphasis by tripling the number of full stops used:

It... Was... Julie...

Instead of increasing the impact, the repetition activates the safety feature and introduces an effect of hesitancy—not what the writer intended at all.

However, I have to warn you that this feature may not make the final release of V3.31. There has been a legal challenge from the telcos, who stand to lose many £millions per annum if it goes through. Apparently a significant proportion of text traffic comprises teenagers sending !!!s to each other.

Verity Stob, "Excuse me, Miss, but your pronouns need upgrading," Speculative Grammarian, Volume CLXII, Number 2, July 2011

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


LOREN: What languages do they make you learn in Uruguay?

If you want to be a lawyer, Italian.

Italian? Not Latin?

CARLOS: Italian.

SCOTT: That doesn't make any sense. I could see if you were going to be a chef, then Italian might be useful.

LOREN: French.

Or French. And you'd be required to completely forget English.


Did you enjoy your draconian lunch, Carlos?

SCOTT: Right now he's thinking, "I didn't eat a dragon."

Sunday, July 03, 2011

How's that Movie Coming Anyway?

MOM: Scott, can you do me a favor?

SCOTT: Only if you call it a "solid."

MOM: Can you do me a solid?



MOM: Can you do me another favor?

SCOTT: What did I tell you to say?

MOM: Can you do me a sordid?

SCOTT: That's not what I taught you. And now I'm kind of scared.


DAD: So what'd you do today?

SCOTT: Same old, you know. Richard and I spent a couple of hours watching various animals giving birth.

DAD: Like?

SCOTT: Like elephants. We watched this mother elephant plop one out. Not like a horse, you know, when you've got three or so people with Larry-the-Cable-Guy accents yanking on the thing, but no, it comes out at the bottom, like the eggs from the ovipositor in Aliens 2, and no sooner is this thing on the floor then a wave, and I mean a wave, of afterbirth comes out. I mean it comes and comes. It is like the finale of Carrie. Then the baby's not breathing, so the mother starts freaking out, and she begins to wail on it. Not like with little playful kicks or anything. She beats the living crap out of this thing, until finally it starts breathing. It's a beautiful thing.


Watching Independence Day.

SCOTT: Richard, see the little girl playing the President's daughter?


SCOTT: She was Ann on Arrested Development.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Works Cited

One need not go far to find examples of completely unpredictable semantic shifts which would no doubt be rejected as far-fetched were they not verifiable by phonology or historical circumstances. A few English examples will suffice: fascist, based ultimately on Lat. fascis ‘‘bundle (of twigs or straw)’’, which refers to a bundle of rods bound around a projecting axe-head that was carried before an ancient Roman magistrate by an attendant as a symbol of authority and power; fornicate, based on Lat. fornix ‘‘arch’’, where prostitutes lingered in Republican Rome; fiasco ‘‘complete failure’’, based on the Italian word for ‘‘flask’’ in an obscure stage allusion; go ‘‘say’’ (in narrative); and finally bus ‘‘vehicle of mass transportation’’, ultimately the dative plural inflection which remains after the clipping of the Lat. omnibus ‘‘for everyone’’.

Baldi, Philip and B. Richard Page, "Review: Europa Vasconica-Europa Semitica..." Available at:

Friday, June 03, 2011


MOM: It was one of the best days of my life.

SCOTT: Yeah, Mom, mine too.

MOM: Early this morning, 1982, I was in quite a bit of pain because of you.

SCOTT: I know, Mom. Have I apologized for that?

MOM: No.

SCOTT: Sorry.

MOM: It's OK. You cause me less pain now.

SCOTT: The sweetest thing anyone's said to me all day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


D: que ha pasado por tu vida? algo emocionante?

Scott: Sì! Hoy, vine a la oficina. Entonces, Denen, mi colega, me dijo, "Escosès! Tienes un agujero grande en tu camisa!" Vi a mi camisa, en el lomo. "Ay!" dije -- "Tengo un agujero gigante en mi camisa!" Todos aquì vinieron a mi cubìculo para reirme. A las mediodia, vine a Macy's y comprè una nueva camisa.

D: okay, now the weather is nicer, so I'm thinking on a BBQ on my house. My only issue is that my house is small so I don't want to invite a lot of people, however I don't want those I don't invite to feel offended.

D: any ideas on how to address that?

Scott: Una barbacoa... secreta.

D: hahahah, there is not such thing. It would be odd to say, "hey come to my place but don't tell anyone"

Scott: Women tell me that all the time.


Carlos: Scott, since you're the expert translator here, what is the English equivalent of "Del árbol caído todos hacen leña"?

Scott: "From the fallen tree, everyone makes a log?" What does that mean?

Carlos: You know. When somebody's down, everybody can make fun of him.

Scott: That's awful! English speakers don't have such a saying.

Loren: Schadenfreude!

Scott: Leave it to the Germans to do it in one word.

Denen: It's like throwing someone under the bus.

Scott: But that doesn't really capture it. You have to get that sense of everyone throwing someone under a bus. Like how, because I wore a shirt to work today with a hole in it, everybody will make fun of me, today and forever.

Carlos: Exactly.

Scott: Well, we can use that. From my shirt, everyone gets a patch. De la camisa de Scott, todos consiguen un parche. Y ahora, ¡tenemos un modismo!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Keeping Busy

RICHARD: What are you doing?

SCOTT: ... ... ... ... shit. Watching Gilmore Girls. Man, I was trying so hard to think of a lie.

Monday, April 04, 2011

In General

I don't know if I say it enough, but I have the most wonderful set of friends and family, and though I may envy people in some particulars, I never envy anyone in that sense. Jay, Richard, David, Joshana, Carol, Mom, Dad, you are the sparks of this life of mine. I wouldn't trade you all for anything.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rembrandt's Lucretia

Rembrandt's Lucretia is at the National Gallery. The copy here doesn't do it justice; the contrast between the color on Lucretia and the darkness surrounding her isn't as evident, the candlelight effect of Rembrandt's lighting isn't apparent. Even the facial expression is missing something that can be seen in person.

Lucretia was a noblewoman of the Roman Kingdom who was raped by a relative of the king. After telling her husband what had happened to her, she took her own life. Rembrandt's paintings are often dark, but--for me--here that darkness represents the depth of time, how distant the history is: just this one story and a few others emerge from the Roman Kingdom (ca. 7-5th c. BC), and the rest is unknown. (And those few stories are impossible to confirm.)

But it's the facial expression that draws me. It's sadness, of course. But it's more than that; it's an apologetic sadness. As if to say, "It's too much. I'm sorry. It's just too much."

WWI Vet Dies: Reminds Me of a Mamet Joke

Faithful readers will recall several entries since November about a line in David Mamet's Heist that I [Roger Ebert] said was the funniest he had ever written. Gene Hackman is a thief who wants to retire. Danny DeVito wants him to do one more job, for the money. Hackman says he doesn't like money. DeVito replies: ''Everybody needs money! That's why they call it money!''...

Many readers said they did not see anything funny about this line. I quoted Louis Armstrong: ''There are some folks that, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em.'' More protest. I quoted Gene Siskel: ''Comedy and eroticism are not debatable. Either it works for you or it doesn't.'' This also failed to satisfy many readers.

In desperation I sent the whole correspondence to David Mamet himself, and have received the following reply:

Thank you for your update on the Heist controversy. A lot of people didn't even think 'World War One' was funny. So it just shows to go you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fun Fact

The etymology of slave:

late 13c., "person who is the property of another," from O.Fr. esclave (13c.), from M.L. Sclavus "slave" (cf. It. schiavo, Fr. esclave, Sp. esclavo), originally "Slav" (see Slav), so called because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Works Cited

The English word 'defeatism' is formed from the French word défaitisme current in 1915, which is not officially French: that is to say, in the early Twenties Marshal Foch, as a member of the Académie Française, vetoed its adoption into the Dictionary, on the ground that it was an un-French concept and intolerable.

Graves and Hodge, The Reader Over Your Shoulder

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Works Cited

That I am the Man in the Cloak. In other words, I am by no manner of means the Man of the Cloak, or the Man under the Cloak. The Germans call me "Der Mensch mit dent Mantel", the Man with the Cloak. This is a deplorable error in the nomenclature of that otherwise intelligent people; and I am speechless with astonishment that they should have fallen into it. Why? Because my cloak is not part and parcel of myself. The cloak is outside, and the man is inside, as Goldsmith said of the World and the Prisoner; but each is a distinct entity; of that I am satisfied; on that point I, as the Persians would say, tighten the girdle of assurance round the waist of my understanding, though, perhaps, there is no waste of my understanding whatever. I admit that you may say, "The Man with the Greasy Countenance," or "The Chap with the Swivel Eye;" thus, also, Slawkeiivbergina (vide Tristram Shandy) calls his hero ''The Stranger with the Nose," and reasonably enough; for, although it was at one period conjectured that the nose in question might extend to five hundred and seventy-five geometrical feet in longitude, not even the most incredulous amongst the Faculty of Strasburgh were found to advance an opinion that the nose was not an integral portion of the individual. With me the case is a horse of another colour. I do not put my cloak on and off, I grant, but I can do so when I please by a mere exercise of volition and muscle; and therefore it is obvious to the meanest capacity (I like original tours de phrase) that I am just the Man in the Cloak, and no mistake.

James Clarence Mangan, My Bugle and How I Blow It

Monday, March 07, 2011

French Modernism vs. Chenoweth

JOSHANA: So the Kennedy Center website has crashed from the amount of people trying to buy Wicked tickets. I'll do what I can.

SCOTT: All you can do. Now, amazingly, I had absolutely no problem buying tickets for Turangalîla. In fact, when I bought the tickets, they offered to bump me up to play with the second violins.


SCOTT: I want to say the etymology of "trivial" is something like this. It comes from the Latin word "trivium," a combination of "tres" and "via," meaning where three roads meet. In Roman times, the "trivium" was our modern day water cooler. It's where you would go to talk about last night's "Lost" episode.* So the sort of mindless things people would chatter about came to be called "trivial." I want to say that's the etymology, but I suspect I made that up awhile ago and I can no longer distinguish the fact and the fabrication in my mind.

* Actually, "Lost" had not yet premiered in classical Rome. I throw that in there just to make it understandable for the modern audience. In truth, a Roman was more likely to be watching "Three's Company."

NB: The real etymology, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary:
early 15c., "of the trivium," from M.L. trivialis, from trivium "first three of the seven liberal arts," from L., lit. "place where three roads meet," from tri- "three" + via "road." The basic notion is of "that which may be found anywhere, commonplace, vulgar." The meaning "ordinary" (1580s) and "insignificant" (1590s) were in L. trivialis "commonplace, vulgar," originally "of or belonging to the crossroads."

Works Cited

"All right," said the major. His eyes twinkled. "Maybe you aren't so dumb as you let on. Maybe. We got one last question. This here's a cultural type matter ... listen up close. What effect would the death of Ho Chi Minh have on the population of North Vietnam?"


Reading slowly from his paper, the major repeated it. "What effect would the death of Ho Chi Minh have on the population of North Vietnam?"

Paul Berlin let his chin fall. He smiled.

"Reduce it by one, sir."

Tim O'Brien, Going After Cacciato

Friday, March 04, 2011

Plus His Grandfather Really Schooled the Spanish Communists

LOREN: I'm sick of hearing about James Franco. Anyone feel me?

SCOTT: How can you be sick of James Franco? He's got two ph.D.'s he's working on. What is more impressive than that?

LOREN: Yawn.

SCOTT: Now, I was not always a Franco fan. Those Spiderman movies, for example, were complete shit.

LOREN: Right.

SCOTT: But he's come back from them. Which is all the more impressive. It's as if Spiderman 3 was a giant rock that pinned the arm of Franco's career against a canyon wall, and he ripped his way free. How can you not be impressed by that?

Thursday, March 03, 2011


BOOGER: What was that word you used?

SCOTT: I said "We osculated."

BOOGER: What does that mean?

SCOTT: We kissed.

BOOGER: I thought you were just mispronouncing "oscillate."

SCOTT: I should be so lucky.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Elegiac Couplet

The elegiac couplet was one of the most common forms of Latin poetry. It consists of two lines, one hexameter followed by a pentameter. An example is Martial's 1.38, here without macrons:

Quem recitas meus est, o Fidentine, libellus;
sed male cum recitas, incipit esse tuus!

Latin poetic forms are adaptations of forms originating in Greece, and thus, like Greek, the Latin forms are based on syllabic length (English poetry, as a contrast, is based on accent strength). To understand this, let's first investigate the basics of Latin meter.

The most common unit (or foot) is the dactyl, which consists of one long syllable (the thesis) followed by two short syllables (the arsis), with long syllables being roughly twice the length of a short syllable.* "Dactyl" is, incidentally, the Greek word for digit --you can figure out the connection between the meanings by looking at the length of the segments of one of your fingers.

The two short syllables may usually be replaced by a single long syllable -- this makes sense, since one long syllable is the same length as two short syllables: the result is called a spondee. This gives us two possibilities (- represents a long syllable, u a short one) for a foot.

Dactyl: - u u

Spondee: - -

We can refer to both of these with the following short hand:

- U

Where U indicates either a long syllable, or two shorts.

When we refer to a hexameter, the prefix tells us how many feet (dactyls or spondees) we find in a given line: six. So the following are some examples of a hexameter line:

- - | - u u | - - | - - | - u u | - -
- u u | - - | - - | - u u | - u u | - u u

And so on.

(Note that u u - (called an anapest), though metrically the same length, does not occur.)

Now we can understand the typical elegiac meter. The first line is a hexameter, with the following pattern:

- U | - U | - U | - U | - u u | - -

So, as you can see, in the first four feet either a spondee or dactyl is possible. The fifth foot is always a dactyl, and the last a spondee: this gives the last two feet the rhythm of "Shave and a haircut."

The latter line is a pentameter with the following pattern:

- U | - U | - || - u u | - u u | -

The double line indicates a pause, called the caesura. In the elegiac couplet, it sets up the punchline. As you can see, the first two feet can be either dactyls or spondees. After those two a half-foot occurs, a single long syllable. The caesura is then followed by two dactyls and another half-foot long syllable.

Now, before we apply this to Martial's couplet, we have to know a few rules of determining the length of a syllable.

1. A long vowel (in Latin, some vowels always occurred long, just as in English some vowels are always diphthongs) or a diphthong is always long (it's long by nature).

2. A short vowel, if it's in a syllable that ends in a consonant, is also long (long by position). Generally consonants attach to the following vowel, if possible. If a consonant cluster occurs the first consonant remains with the preceding vowel, the latter with the second. (It's actually a bit more complicated. See note ** at the bottom.)

Here's the couplet again, with the long vowels marked.

Quem recitās meus est, ō Fīdentīne, libellus;
sed male cum recitās, incipit esse tuus!

We can now tell which vowels are long.

Long by nature: the ā in "recitās" is long, as is the ō, and the two ī's in "Fīdentīne."

Long by position: "Quem" has a long vowel, because the syllable ends in a consonant, as does "est". Similarly the first "e" in "Fidentine" is long because the syllable ends in "n", as does the "e" in libellus, because the syllable ends in "l". The "us" in "libellus" must be long because the syllable ends in "s". "Sed" ends in a consonant, so must be long. Likewise with "cum". The first syllable of "incipit" is long, ending in a consonant. The last syllable is not long however, because as we've noted, the consonant goes with the following vowel if possible (even across word boundaries!), so here it attaches to the first syllable of "esse". The first syllable in "esse" is long, as it ends in a consonant (it's impossible to move both consonants of a double consonant to the next syllable: Martialis serpens non erat). The "us" in "tuus" is long: there's no following vowel for the consonant to move to!

So, knowing that, let's break the couplet into its feet with their length marked:

Quem recit | ās meus | est, ō | Fīden | tīne, li | bellus

- u u | - u u | - - | - - | - u u | - -

sed male | cum recit | ās, || incipit | esse tu | us!

- u u | - u u | - || - u u | - u u | -

Altogether, this give us:

- u u | - u u | - - | - - | - u u | - -
- u u | - u u | - || - u u | - u u | -

Compare this to the prescribed pattern of the elegiac couplet:

- U | - U | - U | - U | - u u | - -
- U | - U | - || - u u | - u u | -

It matches perfectly (Greek poets would frequently break the "rules," the Golden Age Latin poets less so, and the later Latin poets seldom if ever).

I mentioned the caesura being the break before the punchline. Here's the same couplet translated into English with the caesura marked to give you an idea what this means:

What you recite, Fidentinus, is mine
But when you recite badly || it begins to be yours!

Let's try another Martial. This is 1.47:

Nūper erat medicus, nunc est vespillo Dialus.
Quod vespillo facit, fēcerat et medicus.


- u u | - u u | - - | - - | - u u | - -
- - | - u u | - || - u u | - u u | -

Note this meter is identical to the last couplet, save the first foot of the second line was before a dactyl, but here has had a spondee substituted, which we know is acceptable in the meter. Our "Shave and a haircut" ending is: "... illo Diaulus"

And translated (with the flexible Latin word order shuffled a bit to sound more natural), with the caesura marked.

Diaulus was recently a doctor, now he's an undertaker.
What the undertaker does ||

(Wait for it.)

the doctor also did!

One of the benefits of the strict meter is it aids in memorization, which may be one of the reasons for its strict adherence in a time where poetry was written to be recited, not read. These are just couplets, but the Iliad, written in dactylic hexameter, is over 15,000 lines long, and began as an oral tradition, only written down by Homer later on.

In fact, I was surprised a few days ago to find that I had, without intending to, memorized the first Martial couplet just by having spent some time figuring out how it scanned.

* When it comes to dactyls, spondees, anapests, etc., these are all also used in languages that rely on stress rather than length, with the long syllables corresponding to stressed syllables, the short syllables to unstressed ones.

** Nothing's easy. First h's don't count as consonants, so "ch", "th" and "ph" are just one breathy consonant that moves together to the next vowel if possible. "Gn" and "qu" are likewise considered one consonant and move as a group. A stop (b, p, d, t, g, c) plus a liquid (l, r) can move together as well, or they may be broken apart if the poet wants to.

Second, if a word ends in a vowel and the following word begins in a vowel, the first vowel disappears. Thus, "vita est" (3 syllables) is pronounced "vit-ast" (two syllables). That's easy to buy, but somewhat more surprising is that the same rule holds if the first word ends in an "m". So "vitam est" is also pronounced "vit - ast."

Why? Probably because Latin had started to develop a degree of nasalization, whereby the "m" simply nasalized the preceding vowel in certain positions but didn't sound by itself at all. This may be why so many words with "m" endings in Latin ended up with vowel endings in the daughter Romance languages. (After those endings were gone, French and Portuguese underwent a secondary nasalization, using "m" and "n" to nasalize another set of vowels. It may have been something like this: "Bonum" (Classic Latin) --> "Bono~" (Later Classic Latin) --> "Bono" (Proto-Romance) --> "bon" (Old French) --> "bo~ɔ̃" (Modern French). The clear significance is the French will eventually express approval of something by a loud "b" sound.)

Note that the poet could also avoid this elision at his discretion.


Webster's occasionally publishes lists of user-submitted new words. Some are quite good.

#2: Ecotistical

(adjective) : having or showing an excessively high opinion of oneself because of one's conservationist ecological practices

"Pret a Manger is never done with telling you how worthy it is. … [It] ecotistically plasters its greener-than-thou credentials all over its walls, napkins and the packaging of everything it sells." – Brendan O'Neill, The Guardian, April 4, 2007

#6: E-cquaintance

(noun) : a person known to another through online communication only (as via email or Internet social networking)

"... Peter Watts, brilliant Canadian hard SF writer, marine biology PhD, good e-cquaintance of mine, and by all accounts all round nice guy in the flesh ..." – blog post at, December 12, 2009

Volume 5
Volume 4
Volume 3
Volume 2
Volume 1

Monday, February 28, 2011

Really, her name c'est ne pas Booger

10:27:30 AM: Booger: did you have fun?

10:29:03 AM: Scott D. Scheule/NATL/TAX/EYLLP/US: A lot. Except for Friday. I was so sick Carlos drove to a drug store, bought some Day-Quil and insisted I do a few shots.

10:30:59 AM: Booger: seriously?

10:31:01 AM: Booger: I'm so sorry!

10:32:00 AM: Scott D. Scheule/NATL/TAX/EYLLP/US: Yeah, it's going around.

10:33:15 AM: Booger: aparently.

10:33:18 AM: Booger: I don't wanna get it.

10:34:57 AM: Scott D. Scheule/NATL/TAX/EYLLP/US: It's unavoidable. It's to be got.

10:35:36 AM: Booger: tu ne parle pas de c'est la

10:36:21 AM: Scott D. Scheule/NATL/TAX/EYLLP/US: Do you know where the "pas" comes from?

10:36:38 AM: Scott D. Scheule/NATL/TAX/EYLLP/US: In Latin it means "step", like pace. Why is it also the negative marker?

10:36:56 AM: Scott D. Scheule/NATL/TAX/EYLLP/US: I shall tell you.

10:37:25 AM: Booger: please do.

10:41:22 AM: Scott D. Scheule/NATL/TAX/EYLLP/US: In Old French, there used to be a phrase that was something like, I can't walk a step."Are you going to go to the discotecque, Emperor Charlemagne? I won't go. I won't go a step." Eventually, people were extending that use in all sort of ways. "Would you like some horse, Ms. of Arc?" "No, not a step." And eventually, the "pas" became so commonplace, people forgot the figurative meaning and just threw it onto any negative sentence. Now, amazingly enough, in spoken French, people have started dropping the "ne" entirely but kept the etymologically ridiculous "pas." So it's something like "Ms. Binoche, will you marry me?" "I marry step you!"

Charlemagne's Guinea Pig = Good Band Name

SCOTT: I was listening to some lecture about the Early Middle Ages, and Charlemagne's -- you know, Carlomagno, tu cobayo -- spreading of Christianity in pagan Anglo-Saxon England, and... wait, cobayo? ... No ... tocayo! Tu tocayo! Namesake. What did I say? Charlemagne, your guinea pig? You must have had no idea what I was talking about.

I knew what you were trying to say.

Reminds me. In Latin yesterday, we were reading a passage about a boat during a storm, and it being filled with water: aquā implērī. Only Robert, reading it, said equā implērī, meaning filling with female horses. I imagine the sailors at that point throwing in the towel. "Look, we've been bailing water for the past five hours, and that's cool, but this shit? There are fucking female horses falling from the sky. Nicely played Neptune. You win, keep the boat."

CARLOS: Time to start swimming.