Three items of interest from Sunday’s New York Times Magazine:

1) From a very interesting Peter Maass article on Vagit Alekperov, the president of Lukoil and a living example of How to Get Rich Without Getting Tossed in Jail by Putin, I learned the kind of thing I’m always looking to learn, namely where the company name comes from: “The company combined three of the largest fields of the Soviet oil industry — Langepas, Urai and Kogalym — as well as several refineries, and its name derives from the first letter of each field.” (The name always sounded funny to me, because luk means ‘onion’ in Russian.)

2) William Safire’s column is actually informative without being obnoxious; he investigates various occurrences of the phrase “(behind) the green door” (including the movie — ah, ’70s memories!), ending with a link to an online collection of O. Henry stories, among which is a delightful tale of adventure called “The Green Door.”

3) An article by John Hodgman on the fantasy writer Susanna Clarke contains the following sentence: “When we were shown the preserved cat that was said to have been found in the pub’s wall, where it had been bricked in generations before to ward off evil spirits, Clarke pointed out that in East Anglia, it would have been far more likely to find a horse’s head: ‘Horse magic had much more of a hold there.'” Does anyone else find the second “it” as awkward as I do?


  1. You should have asked me. 🙂 An entertaining article indeed. “Chrystia Freeland, a journalist and author of an authoritative book about that era, described it as a Faustian bargain.” I don’t remember her saying that, or anything like that, in 1995. Amazing how people change.
    It’s funny but I have never associated LUKOIL with luk. It doesn’t sound Russian enough.

  2. Ooh yes, severe parsing infelicity on ‘it’. There’s a possible antecedent, the antecedent has been called ‘it’, both pronouns are in subject position, the verb (‘find’, once you get past the modals) is appropriate for the antecedent, and it can be the raised subject of ‘likely’ as much as an expletive. A big consipiracy of stylistic pointers to the wrong interpretation.

  3. Exactly. Even without the entire preceding part of the sentence, the bare-bones “It would have been unlikely to find…” doesn’t work for me — you have to say “It would have been unlikely that (people would find a horse’s head/a horse’s head would be found)” or “It would have been unlikely for (people) to find…”

  4. Do you not need a comma after the “that” just before “in East Anglia”? (This is intended as a question, by the way, not a statement of fact.)

  5. How ’bout “…far more likely would have been to find…”? Though I think what really makes the sentence awkward is the tenuous connection between clauses. Maybe two separate sentences would be better. “We were shown…” (full stop) and “Clarke pointed out…”

  6. Hey and this reminds me — did you see the article about the Society for the Preservation of Deliberately Concealed Garments?

  7. That’s amazing. I never heard of “concealed garments” — I thought they were the ratty t-shirts you stuck at the back of the drawer so your wife wouldn’t throw them out.
    tom: No, you don’t need a comma there. In fact, the sentence would read more smoothly without the comma after that phrase.

  8. Looks like I overlooked the MeFi thread on the concealed-garments site; there’s other interesting stuff there as well.

  9. Actually you’re right about the ‘it’: it’s simpler than ambiguity, it’s just ungrammatical in its bare form.
    it was possible to find…
    *it was likely to find…
    the cat was likely to find…
    *the cat was possible to find…
    But in this more complex environment they’ve given ‘likely’ an expletive rather than raising over it.

  10. Does anyone other Russian besides me associate the sound of “LUKoil” with the fairy tale character Ole Lukoile?

  11. LOL! I meant Ole Lukoie, of course. See what I mean? 🙂

  12. I did, till recently – when I saw the gas stations in Jersey with their logo.
    Nothing ‘fairy tale-ish’ about it…

  13. Ok, I suppose I meant: do you not need a comma after the “that” IF you have a comma after “East Anglia”? The only way I can make sense of it is to make it a bracketing comma (parenthetical comma in US English?), with the bracketed bit being “in East Anglia”.
    I agree it reads slightly better without the comma at all; and that it would read a whole lot better if it was just rewritten as two sentences.
    Sorry, I realise correct comma usage is hardly the most exciting topic in the world, but it’s something I’ve still not quite got a handle on.

  14. Safire’s analysis is interesting, but I doubt that the idea of the mysterious green door started with O Henry. It seems to have been a recurring theme in that period (e.g. Mary E Stone Bassett’s 1905 “The Little Green Door”, and HG Wells’ 1911 The Door in the Wall). As Borley Rectory and the Green-Baize Door points out, in Victorian times a green door led to the servant’s section, the behind-the-scenes part of a house, and that could be the origin of its mystique as a front for hidden activities, as exemplified here in Valentine Williams’ 1919 Okewood of the Secret Service.

  15. Saw the lead of the Safire column this last Sunday and put the piece aside to read later– it got buried. Finally got around to reading it and kept looking for a song I recalled from the 50’s. When he referenced the porn movie I thought for sure he’d bring up the song. Nope. Went on line today to see I remembered the song correctly, or if my mondegreens mind had mis-heard it back then and it was actually, “Screen Door.”
    The Green Door
    -Artist: Jim Lowe
    -peak Billboard position #1 for 3 weeks in 1956
    -Words by Marvin Moore and Music by Bob Davie
    {music includes constant “tick-tock” clock sound}
    (Midnight, one more night without sleepin’)
    (Watchin’ till the mornin’ comes creepin’)
    (Green door, what’s that secret you’re keepin?)
    There’s an old piano
    And they play it hot behind the green door
    Don’t know what they’re doin’
    But they laugh a lot behind the green door
    Wish they’d let me in
    So I could find out what’s behind the green door
    (Knocked once, tried to tell them I’d been there)
    (Door slammed, hospitality’s thin there)
    (Wonder just what’s goin’ on in there)
    Saw an eyeball peepin’
    Through a smoky cloud behind the green door
    When I said “Joe sent me”
    Someone laughed out loud behind the green door
    All I want to do is join the happy crowd behind the green door
    (Midnight, one more night without sleepin’)
    (Watchin’ till the mornin’ comes creepin’)
    (Green door, what’s that secret you’re keepin?)
    (Green door, what’s that secret you’re keepin?)
    Green door!!
    Transcribed by Robin Hood

  16. What a bizarre song! I’d be surprised Safire missed it, except I don’t think he’s exactly had his finger on the pulse of popular culture.

  17. John Cowan says

    my mondegreens mind

    The original mondegreen (hearing “laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen”) doesn’t actually work in Scots, as lain is the correct predicate there. There is also a great mondegreen in the next two lines, where the Scots version has:

    Now wae betide thee, Huntly!
    And whaurfor did ye sae?
    I hae bade ye bring him wi ye
    But forbade ye him tae slay.

    a literal translation would be:

    Now sorrow happen to you, Huntly!
    And why did you do so?
    I had ordered you to bring him with you
    But forbade you to kill him.

    whereas many seem to have heard it as:

    Now woe betide thee, Huntly!
    And wherefore did you say:
    “I bade you bring him with you
    But forbade you him to slay”

    thus making the last two lines into what Huntly rather than the King said beforehand, and reducing the stanza to an absurdity.

    ObSpellingFail: bade is pronounced like bad, with the TRAP vowel, though accents with the bad-lad split put it on the lad side, pronouncing it with the ancestral short vowel. In these accents (notably in Australia and North America, where the TRAP-BATH split never happened or was partly or wholly undone), words like bad, sad, glad have a long vowel or a tense diphthong, depending on accent.

  18. I’m glad to see the Deliberately Concealed Garments website is still there.

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