Margaret Marks of Transblawg has an entry explaining a few of the basic rules of IKEA’s often bizarre-sounding product names; if you read German, you can go to her source, an article in Stern, and find out much more. Or you can just play the IKEA game.
An e-mail from the always thoughtful and thought-provoking gentleman who goes (for reasons best known to himself) by the sobriquet “dungbeetle” around these parts has reminded me of the story of “Lord” Timothy Dexter, who among his many eccentricities (you can read about them here and, in a more censorious 19th-century version, here), published a booklet called A Pickle for the Knowing Ones full of the wisdom he wished to impart from his haphazard but financially successful life:
Not only did the content of his booklet cause readers to shake their heads, so did the format. As the quotes above show, Lord Timothy’s spelling was atrocious, and he had no use for punctuation. After the first printing sold out, he amended the second edition. He inserted a page of punctuation marks at the end with the note: “Nowing ones complane of my book the fust edition had no stops I put in a Nuf here and thay may peper and solt it as they plese”
A new paper, “Last Writing: Script Obsolescence in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Mesoamerica” by Stephen Houston, John Baines, and Jerrold Cooper (published in the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History), sounds fascinating; a Washington Post story by Guy Gugliotta says:
When a system of writing begins to die, people probably don’t even notice at first. Maybe the culture that spawned it loses its vitality, and the script decays along with it. Maybe the scribes or priests decide that most ordinary people aren’t able to learn it, so they don’t teach it.
An amusing article by Michele A. Berdy in the Moscow Times about funny-sounding place names (a river Gryazukha ‘Mudhole,’ a town Starye Chervi ‘Old Worms,’ and the like); some of the “meanings” should be taken with a certain amount of salt, but it’s a fun read. I might not link it here, though, except that the last village she mentions is Да-Да (Da-Da). (Via Taccuino di traduzione.)
Michael L. Chyet, 46, has studied more than 30 languages, delving into the marvels of cultural and oral histories with the zeal of an explorer marching into uncharted territory. For the past 18 years, he has labored quietly but passionately to produce the most comprehensive Kurdish-English dictionary ever written.
I like to read the corrections in the NY Times; the vast majority deal with ridiculously minor errors in people’s names or job titles, but occasionally there’s something more substantial. Today we have:
An article on Aug. 20 about the mystery writer Martha Grimes and her new novel about the publishing industry, “Foul Matter,” misstated the meaning of the publishing term used as the book’s title. “Foul Matter” refers to the edited manuscript and proofs of a book that have been superseded by revised or corrected versions or by the final printed work. It is not a term for an unedited manuscript.
In other words, once the corrections have been made on a proof (or galley) it becomes the foul proof (or galley, not that anybody uses galleys anymore). You’d think the NY Times would have known that in the first place, wouldn’t you?
Another reader might find it absurd that James Fenton spends the bulk of his NYRB review of Robert Lowell: Collected Poems nitpicking the annotations; I, on the other hand, am delighted. Anyone can rhapsodize about Lowell’s verse, but it takes dedication, an eye for detail, and a well-stocked mind to go through the footnotes as Fenton has—and, as it happens, I love footnotes. I’ve spent much of my life trying to understand things foreign to my experience, and I long ago learned the value of a well-annotated text. This, alas, does not appear to be one.
Anthony‘s comment on the Whale Cloth Press thread led me back to the Dada Manifesto, written by Hugo Ball in 1916. I hadn’t read it in years, and it struck me how fresh it still is, so I thought I’d present it here for your dadadelectation—in my own translation, since the ones available online are awful, giving no sense of the brio of the original. There seem to be two versions circulating on the internet; I’ll give a translation of the short version because, well, it’s shorter; for comparison (if you read German), here‘s the longer one (pdf; here‘s the HTML cache).
Language poetry isn’t my favorite style, but Whale Cloth Press has done a terrific job of putting it online, with two books by Kit Robinson (check out the varied presentations of the poems from Windows, with mouseover texts for certain stanzas of “All Fours” and the gorgeous gray background for “Speaking Peoples“) and Robert Grenier‘s Sentences, which Ron Silliman (from whom this link comes) considers one of American poetry’s “essential texts.” He singles out for notice a poem that reads, in its entirety:
You may find that a bit too simple, but here’s Ron’s take on it:
Theresa Nielsen Hayden has a post about a blog called Copy editing, damnit that purports to be the source of all wisdom concerning style: “Listen to me, I know style and how to use it.” The annoyingly smug tone of that sentence is the second thing that strikes one; the first, thanks to the mile-high type face, is the solecism in the blog’s name (as Theresa points out, “he’s misspelled it… ‘damn it’ if two words, ‘dammit’ if one”). One might get used to those things if the entries were well written and accurate; alas, they are neither: it’s a series of sub-Safire snippets on ancient red herrings like “most unique,” “mail is a noun, male is an adjective,” and “runner-ups.” None of this has anything to do with real style; these are the shibboleths of a certain breed of green-eyeshaded, mossbacked Perry Whites of concern only to the unfortunates who still submit copy to them. Here’s a sample of the misbegotten conflation of grammar and presumed logic: