PEACE.

I would like to wish all Languagehat readers a happy new year; may 2003 be a year of peace for each of us individually and for the world at large.

I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.
—Helen Keller

TRADUCING TOLKIEN.

I saw The Two Towers yesterday and enjoyed it a lot—partly because the theater kept the sound down to a level where I didn’t have to keep my hands over my ears for half the move; theater owners please take note! (Best Languagehat line: “It takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish.”) However, I had not read the books in decades, so discrepancies were lost on me aside from a little uneasiness around the edges. Now that I’ve read Naomi’s detailed demolishing in Baraita, I like the movie less in retrospect. Renee has a more narrowly focused attack in Glosses.net. Tolkien fans will want to read both.

MEMORIZING POETRY.

Yesterday’s NY Times had a good op-ed piece, A Lost Eloquence, by Carol Muske-Dukes on the value of memorizing poetry, which I heartily endorse. The opening is a little silly, but here’s the heart of the essay:

Years ago, when I taught in the graduate program in writing at Columbia, the late Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was also on the faculty. Brodsky famously infuriated the students in his workshop on the first day of class, when he would announce that each student would be expected to memorize several poems (some lengthy) and recite them aloud. The students — even if they had known that Brodsky had learned English in dissenter’s exile in Russia by putting to heart the poems of Auden, among others — were outraged at first.
There was talk among students of refusing to comply with this requirement. Then they began to recite the poems learned by heart in class — and out of class. By the end of the term, students were “speaking” the poems of Auden and Bishop and Keats and Wyatt with dramatic authority and real enjoyment. Something had happened to change their minds. The poems they’d learned were now in their blood, beating with their hearts.
In the workshops I teach I continue to ask students to choose poems to memorize. Recently, a young woman loudly resisted what she called a boring exercise. But after memorizing Emily Dickinson, Countee Cullen, Sylvia Plath and several haiku by Issa, she was still going strong — delighted with how the words rolled trippingly off her tongue. “I own these poems now,” she said.

LOWERCASE THAT I!

I don’t tend to join crusades, but I’m hereby enlisting in Joseph Turow‘s. According to John Schwartz’s article “Who Owns the Internet? You and i Do” in this week’s NY Times Week in Review, Turow is campaigning to have the word “internet” spelled with a small i.

Capitalization irked him because, he said, it seemed to imply that reaching into the vast, interconnected ether was a brand-name experience.
“The capitalization of things seems to place an inordinate, almost private emphasis on something,” he said, turning it into a Kleenex or a Frigidaire. “The Internet, at least philosophically, should not be owned by anyone,” he said, calling it “part of the neural universe of life.”
But, he said, dropping the big I would sent a deeper message to the world: The revolution is over, and the Net won. It’s part of everyone’s life, and as common as air and water (neither of which starts with a capital).

I’ve always thought of the word as lowercase, and it irritates me every time I see that capital I. Mind you, there are (as always) obstacles to change:

Dictionaries do not generally see themselves as making the rules, said Jesse Sheidlower, who runs the American offices of the Oxford English Dictionary.
“What dictionaries do is reflect what’s out there,” he said. He and his fellow dictionary editors would think seriously about such changes after newspapers make them, he added.
That could take a while. Allan M. Siegal, a co-author of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and an assistant managing editor at the newspaper, said that “there is some virtue in the theory” that Internet is becoming a generic term, “and it would not be surprising to see the lowercase usage eclipse the uppercase within a few years.”
He said, however, that the newspaper was unlikely to make any change that was not supported by authoritative dictionaries.

And, by the way, “the Internet’s capital I is virtually engraved in stone, since Microsoft Word automatically capitalizes the lowercase “i” unless a user overrides its settings.”
So fight the power and force the newspapers, the dictionaries, and Bill Gates to recognize the new, non-brand-name reality—write “internet”!

GAZABO.

No, not “gazebo”: it’s a slang term from the early part of the last century meaning ‘guy, fellow’ or (according to Howard N. Rose’s 1934 A Thesaurus of Slang) ‘a friend or companion.’ Jack London in Valley of the Moon (1913) uses it thus: “By the sixth round the wise gazabos was offerin’ two to one against me.” I came across it in a poem by Edwin Honig, “The Gazabos.” The poem is a bit long to quote in full here, but it can be found online (a page with a large number of poems; search on “gazabos” or scroll to about two-thirds down). Here is the beginning:

I saw them dancing,
the gazabos, apes of joy, swains of
their pocket mirrors, to each a world:
a dancing, a gallumphing, a guzzling
of themselves.
They yapped, they cooed,
they flapped their feet and winked grimaces
into grins. They rapped their knuckles on
their teeth and bled and licked
the blood like honey.
Turning the corner
to my street, I spat on each
gazabo as they came. They loved it,
they could barely keep
from following….

GANGS OF NEW YORK.

I have lots of things to say about this movie, which (besides having great acting from Daniel Day-Lewis and Jim Broadbent) puts you in mid-nineteenth-century New York so convincingly you can practically smell the pigs wandering the streets in Five Points, but what’s relevant to Languagehat is, of course, the language. Which is magnificent. Much of the script (especially Day-Lewis’s part) was obviously written with a deep love for the period’s mix of high and low, exemplified by the line “I don’t give a tuppenny fvck for your moral conundrums!” (No, he doesn’t say “fvck,” that’s my attempt to avoid misbegotten googlings.) And the attention paid to detail can be heard in the way a policeman discussing problems at various locations during the Draft Riots refers to “Broad Way”; you can hear the two words, not ostentatiously but clearly. For that sort of thing I am willing to forgive some of the historical lapses (though not the absurd shelling of the city at the climax of the riots, obviously inserted to provide more bang for the multimillion bucks). I must warn potential viewers, though, that this is an extremely violent movie; anyone made queasy by multiple shootings, stabbings, hatchetings, brainings, and the like should avoid it (or at least wait for the video, where you can fast-forward through the gore).

HERESY OF THE DAY.

I was looking for an entirely different word in the Shorter Oxford when I ran across the mysterious term “Osiandrian.” I don’t know why religious sects so often have such recondite-sounding names, but they do; in high school I was fascinated by the word “Muggletonian” (and still am, truth be told, though I have no idea what belief it was that Muggleton held so fervently), and I couldn’t resist this. I could quote you the Oxford‘s boring definition about the Atonement of Christ being wrought by His divine nature, but instead I will serve up this pungent piece of rhetoric from “The Osiandrian Controversy” at the fundamentalist-Lutheran site Concordia Lutheran Online:

Wherever the vicarious atonement of Christ is denied or minimized as the cause of man’s justification; wherever God’s forensic act of Objective Justification is rejected; wherever the “Christ in us” is substituted for (or stressed above) the “Christ FOR us”; wherever Christians are taught to place their confidence and look for the assurance of forgiveness in their “personal experience with Jesus Christ” and their mystical relationship with the indwelling Savior; and wherever poor sinners are directed to their own works of sanctification for favor with God, as if they in any way merit His goodness—there the error of Osiander still lurks in the bushes.

Addendum. Pete, of the excellent New Companion, provides this touching testimonial:

I do believe in God alone,
Likewise in Reeve and Muggleton.
This is the Muggletonian’s faith,
This is the God which we believe;
None salvation-knowledge hath,
But those of Muggleton and Reeve.
Christ is the Muggletonians’ king,
With whom eternally they’ll sing.

GAELIC AND SORBIAN.

“Essentialism and Relativism in Gaelic and Sorbian Language Revival Discourses” (Paper given by Konstanze Glaser on 30 January 2002) is actually pretty interesting, with information on the background and present status of the two languages (that’s Scottish Gaelic, by the way, which I didn’t realize at first; since the paper was presented to the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, it’s understandable the Scottish part was taken for granted). And of course Languagehat is known to take an interest in Sorbian. The main reason I’m posting it, however, is the unexpected pairing of the two languages. When I saw the title, I blinked and repeated the words of my dear departed mother: “I never thought the subject would come up.” An excerpt:

Gaelic has served as a reminder of an original genetic and cultural link of indigenous Highlanders to the traditional Gaelic-speaking community of Ireland. Gaels have celebrated this link as a confirmation of their share in a rich cultural heritage and as a source of Pan-Celtic sensibilities, but there has never been a serious attempt to (re)establish a political union between them and their Irish counterparts. At the same time, Gaelic has functioned as a boundary marker towards the Lowlands. The Gaelic term Gàidhealtachd still is translated as both ‘Gaeldom’ and ‘Highlands’ even though the continued retreat of Gaelic language ability and language use to the Western periphery and a growing share of ‘Highland’ natives whose biographies were only marginally affected by the region’s traditional language and culture have made the composite meaning of the term Gàidhealtachd problematical.

HAIRY ISTHMUS TO ALL!

Eeksy-Peeksy has a little ditty (or, as he calls it, augury doggerel) that made me laugh despite my wretched cold, and I thought I’d share it with my readers. However, since 1) it may offend those who are solemn about the Nativity season and 2) it contains words that I don’t want drawing Google hits to Languagehat, I will put the actual ditty in a comment; if the comments are temporarily missing (sigh), just click on the Eeksy link above to be taken right to it. I will probably not be blogging tomorrow (too busy stuffing myself with Norwegian meatballs), so I will take this opportunity to wish all Languagehat aficionados a merry & happy twenty-fifth of December, whether or not you assign any metaphysical significance to the date.

LANGUAGEHAT RESTORED.

Thanks to a timely intervention by Anton Sherwood, the muttering Ogre, I found my missing entry by the simple expedient of republishing the archive. I apologize for crying wolf, but dammit, the gate of the sheepfold was open, I could have sworn I saw wolf tracks, and it’s so hard counting virtual sheep… At any rate, I am glad to know I have readers so willing to help out and encourage me to improve the blog; I appreciate all of your comments to the earlier entry, and I promise I’ll switch to Movable Type!