Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Carolyn Mohr on The ups and downs of English
Michael Jennings on Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
priscila on The ups and downs of English
Simon Gibbs on Wedding photography (4): Preparations
6000 on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Darren on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Michael Jennings on Wedding photography (2): Signs
MarkR on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
MNB Achari on Google Nexus 4 photos
MNB Achari on The ups and downs of English
Most recent entries
- Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
- Wedding photography (4): Preparations
- Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
- Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
- Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
- Rothko Toast
- Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
- And another posting from my smartphone
- Posted from my new smartphone
- Google Nexus 4 photos
- Wedding photography (2): Signs
- Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
- A Fleet Street lunch
- So painters also used to “take” pictures
- Funniest run out ever?
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Category archive: Language
As has already been reported here, I have been reading Pride and Prejudice on my Google Nexus 4 ultra-mobile computer-with-phone. And, in Chapter X of this book, I read this:
My highlighted version of that last sentence being:
“As for your Elizabeth’s picture, you must not attempt to have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?”
So, in Jane Austen time, painters “took” pictures.
I thought that was only photographers. There does seem, does there not?, to be something peculiarly apt about a photographer “taking” a picture. After all, you could only “take” a picture with one click of a mechanical button, as I just did of my Google Nexus 4 with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150, if the picture was in some basic sense already there for the taking, in its entirety. “Take” gets across the difference between photoing someone and painting a portrait of them, by which I mean “making” a portrait.
Perhaps this “take” usage, to describe portrait painting, declined when the painters stopped claiming to produce what we now call photographic likenesses, and, under the competitive influence of actual photography, began to “make” pictures of people, the whole point ofand the whole justification of which was that a mere camera could absolutely not “take” such pictures. Such paintings are made, not taken. To accuse a painter of “taking” a picture would be to accuse him of adding nothing.
This morning, in bed, I pondered the extreme contrast in meaning of the expressions “settle up” and “settle down”. They are not opposites on the same scale, in the manner of “talk up” and “talk down”. They are two completely different expressions.
Having now woken up (again) and got up, I continue to ponder the ups and downs of the English language. What, if anything, might “woken down” mean?
“Fed up” means fed up, yet is seemingly unrelated to merely being fed. “Fed down” means very little, unless you are doing something like feeding a wire down a hole.
“Look down” is clear enough. But “look up” means three almost unrelated things. You can look at the ceiling. You can look up a word. And things can be looking up. In version one of this paragraph, look up only meant two things, but then I realised there was a third. Perhaps there are others.
“Kneel down” exists as an expression. “Kneel up” does not, but ought to, to describe that particular other sort of kneeling.
Out of doors in England, there are “downs”, but no “ups”. Often downs are further up than the regular landscape. The South Downs are hills, are they not?
How difficult it must be to be foreign, and to have to bone up on all this.
A cat gets into a box. Eventually. Video. Here.
And no, I don’t know what language that is.
“This is a guy who literally is walking around in a dark room trying to find the light switch of leadership.”
Ouch, says Instapundit. Indeed. But what Instapundit means is that this denunciation of President Obama by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie really hits home. I don’t think the pain he feels is caused by that “literally”.
Literally used to mean: this is not a metaphor. Now literally means: I am really serious about this metaphor and I really want you to listen.
Presumably these exoplanets are inhabited by gods.
Or perhaps by very rich socialite ladies. “My exoplanet is simply divine, my dears.”
I know, silly. Divine means identify. But I laughed.
Cricinfo boffin Anantha Narayanan:
My surmise was correct. In the 210 4/5/6 match Test series played so far, the England win over India is the most comprehensive and devastating in history of Test cricket. That is what many experts are saying but this is now proved here with hard analytical conclusions.
I found the series utterly fascinating from beginning to end, despite its ever more extreme one-sidedness. Partly, this was ignoble sadism, watching my team slaughter the other fellows. But there was another slightly more honourable impulse at work, I think. The thing is, England have never played like this before. England don’t do whitewashes, or whatever such slaughters are more properly called when the white guys beat the non-white guys. They don’t win the series with a succession of wins, with no draws, and then win the dead test match at the end as well, also by an innings. If anything, I found the final test the most riveting of all. Would England keep it going, and win the lot? Yes they would. Yes they did. Wow. Fancy that.
There was also a backhanded compliment involved in my gloating. I can remember when England slaughtering India at cricket was about as much fun to contemplate as someone torturing a cat. It proved only that England were being horrid to poor defenceless India. It didn’t prove anything about England’s prowess. Ditto New Zealand. But India, in cricket and in the world generally, is now a major force, a fact reflected in their recent number one test match status and nouveau riche economic status, second only in public esteem in that particular contest to China. This result was as freakishly bad for them as it was freakishly good for England, which is all part of how freakishly good it was for England. India can live with us poor little Brits gloating about beating them at a mere game, while they continue to take over our steel industry. So, I gloat.
This, by the way, and I apologise for tangenting off, is one of the sources of anti-Americanism. Anti-Americanism is a similarly backhanded compliment, paid by the world to the top country in the world. Americans, we all instinctively know, can take it. If people ever start hating China more than America, then watch out America, because that will mean that China is the top country.
But this is a cricket posting, so I really don’t want to end with that digression. And yes, there are a couple more things I want to say about cricket.
The first concerns a disagreeable new habit that the television cricket commentators have suddenly acquired, probably from Geoff Boycott. Whenever anything happens, instead of pausing, thinking, and then saying something pertinent, in clear-as-a-bell English, they are now groaning. Boycott and Michael Vaughan are the main offenders, so maybe it’s a Yorkshire thing. Ooooooh. Ooooor. Awwwww. Errrrrr. Often there is a rising inflection to it, as if they are disapproving of what they see. In short, the television commentators are starting to sound exactly like spectators. This is not what they are paid to do. They should be sent away on courses, presided over by Richie Benaud, the Pope of the pause think say something pertinent school of commentating. The worst offence was right at the end of one of the games. Instead of saying: England have won by however many runs it was, Boycott groaned and moaned and said something highly non-pertinent. Terrible.
The second thing I want to say about India is that I hope England slaughter them in the one-dayers also. England have already won the only T20 game, but then got the worst of a rained off start to the 50 over series. I hope that is no portent and that England come back hard and win the rest of the ODI series 4-0.
I do not say this out of sadism. I say it because cricket needs India to be good, and nothing provokes cricket goodness like a jolly good thrashing. England’s current excellence is directly traceable to earlier humiliations, when the Aussies five-nothing-ed them in 2006-7 or thenabouts, and when the Windies blew them away in Jamaica, just after Andy Flower became the coach. If India win these ODIs, lots of Indians will say: there you are, when we try, we win. Test cricket is boring, who needs it? We are the one day kings and we just proved it. Our team’s okay. It’s test matches that are the problem, blah blah blah. Cricket very much now needs Indians not to be able to say this, but instead to say to themselves: bloody hell, we are rubbish at ... cricket. All of it. We must spend some of our new money by not being so rubbish, across all the formats.
Next time anyone asks how clean my flat is, I will reply: “Fairly clean.” In fact, come to think of it, I already do.
About two hours LATER:
I could keep doing this for months.
When it comes to Michael Jennings telling me about something, this is the usual pattern, I find. Not that he necessarily does, just that he could.
Labuan island, Malaysia:
I’m not bored yet.
These are coming to me as and when taken, right? Not just from the archives?
Actually it’s by Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd. And it’s not that new; it was first published (in French) in 2007. But it has just been made available in English. And it is exactly the Todd book that, for several years now, I have most been wanting to read. It is entitled A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World.
If it is as interesting as I hope it is, this book could finally enable Todd to make his long overdue breakthrough into the English speaking world.
And it is, as Instapundit is always saying, in the post.
In all my previous Todd googlings, I had never before come across this stuff about Todd, although I am almost certain that it has been there all along. Will read this tomorrow, or failing that, Real Soon. (And ooh look: at the top left, under where it says “NEW!!!”, there is me, and three of my Todd postings.)
When you are on the permanent lookout for health and safety signs, you see them everywhere. And this afternoon, in the Kings Road, I spotted this one, and promptly crossed Kings Road to get close to it.
At first I thought most of the fun would come from the long spiel in the middle:
But, as (helped by the title of this posting) you have perhaps already spotted, there is more fun stuff going on here. There is a spelling mistake. “COSTRUCTION”. Even as I type this, my spellchecker is going spare. And it surely is a spelling mistake, rather than some peculiar, perhaps Italianate, new business bullshit type name, because down at the bottom of the sign, we see that the email of lamberticonstruction is, well, that, rather than lamberticostruction.
And when I got home, I saw that the same spelling error - if error it be - was repeated on the sign next to the original sign that got my attention:
What does this mean? Assuming these are spelling mistakes, and assuming further that I am not reading too much into this, I think what this signifies is that what is going on here is not communication but compliance. The law demands signs like this all over the damn place. Who the hell cares if the damn signs are spelt right? This is not to communicate, with the workforce, the public, or with anyone. It is simply a matter of obeying the damn law. And since it is very easy to see if this particular law is being obeyed - are there signs or are there not? - this is a law that has to be obeyed. For the Authorities, this is great. Not like chasing after real criminals, who fight back and hide and stuff. So, you order the damn signs and when they arrive you stick them up, as ordered. If some of the spelling comes back wrong from the damn sign-writer, who cares? I mean, you might demand your money back. But do you need another sign? Are you going to give these bastards yet more money to make their damn signs, that you don’t want but have to have? Are you hell? Who cares about any damn spelling mistake?
Only me, is my guess. And not because I object. I care because I’m pleased about it all, because it spices up my blog.
I think there is an argument about how spelt is spelt, which is my preferred spelling. Some argue that spelled is spelled spelled, but not me. However, I am open to correction on this. About five years ago I lost faith in my own spelling excellence. I used to think all my spelling preferences were correct. Since then, I have realised that my spelling preferences are that and in many cases only that, preferences.
LATER: Natalie Solent comments:
The Italian for “to construct” is “costruire” and “construction” is “costruzione”. Mr Lamberti wrote the signs himself and isn’t going to change them for anyone.
All is suddenly, if not clear exactly, then explained. I did do some googling before I did this posting, and found no references to “costruction”, which is surely a strange hybrid word, is it not? Or is it actually quite common when Italians operate in the Anglosphere?
Incoming from 6000:
Spotted this while out for an autumnal walk with the family in Constantia, Cape Town and instantly, as is the way with these things, thought of you.
The three languages are English (obviously), Afrikaans and isiXhosa - the local “African” language.
To get around any linguistic issues, they have used the ubiquitous blue circles. Except that neither I, nor Google Goggles has any idea what that one on the top left means. I’m sure it’s obvious, but it’s not to me.
Incidentally, the guy in the background is an equally ubiquitous car guard, who will check that no-one breaks into your car while you’re away for some small change.
By happy coincidence, I too have spotted a couple of multilingual signs in London recently, and was going to blog about them anyway
I saw this near Brick Lane in the East End:
The place already felt very different from my own dear Millbank. That did not make me feel any safer.
And I saw this on the outside of the psychiatric hospital or drop-in centre or whatever it is, on the Vauxhall Bridge Road side of Vincent Square:
I make that sixteen different languages.
Is it the patients or the staff who are responsible for all this linguistic diversity? Or do they just put that sign up in all such places, regardless of who speaks what in any particular one?
Other incoming multilingual signs would be most welcome, but if they do materialise please make them signs you have personally snapped, not just something plucked from the internet, which is of course already awash with such signs.
Administrivia. New to me anyway.
In a piece about “governance”, which is not excellent at all. Governance is creepy, and the Gorse Fox describes it well.
Next weekend the Six Nations Rugby will end, I trust with England winning the Grand Slam. England have certainly been the best side, but there are worrying signs that they aren’t that good either. England’s best moment came a few minutes into their second game, against Italy, when the England halves cut the Italian defence into fragments and put Ashton in for the first of his four tries in that eight-tries-to-one drubbing. Italy never recovered their defensive poise after that early shock to their system. In particular, they had probably not prepared for those inside passes that England have specialised in this year. But subsequent England opponents, I surmise, have practised against this particular ploy, and there has been nothing quite as good as that Italy performance from England since. Other sides are getting wise to the England threat, and once they respect it, they can settle down to nullifying it.
Basically, I think defences have got very, very solid. Professional is the word. As in: very, very boring. They make all the backs they are up against either run into them, which is boring, or run sideways, ditto. And England’s defence is one of the best.
Antoine Clarke asked in a comment on this what I made of Italy. Briefly what I think of Italy is that they are slowly improving, while France are struggling with the fact that those professional defences can no longer be bamboozled with Gallic flair. Something to do with defenders not making eye contact, but just covering all the likely areas, and hunting in little teams. One guy takes your top half, the other your lower torso. This leaves France reduced, humiliatingly, to just another collection of Six Nations cloggers. This is not new. It has been happening for some years.
France also have the problem of a coach who has completely lost it, his extraordinary eruption after France got beaten narrowly by Italy having been by far the most amusing Six Nations thing that happened last weekend.
But question. During that Italy France game, the BBC were calling the French coach “Lee Vr Mon”. But I regularly hear other people who also ought to know call him “Lee Yeh Vr Mon”. To put it another way, is there a grave accent over the first e in Lievremont, or is there not? I’m thinking: yes there is. You might miss an accent, but you are less likely to make one up that isn’t really there.
You expect individual English BBC commentators who used to be players to screw around with foreign names. Yesterday Guscott, for example, was calling Rougerie “Rougier”, and I recall complaining about this kind of thing from Jonathan Davies a couple of years ago. But you don’t expect BBC people who are there because their expertise is talking to mess up foreign names. But I rather think they did. Antoine?
And talking of screwing up, Serge Betsen was and I believe still is a fine player, but his command of English is inadequate for him to be a commentator on Brit TV. All he did was subtract the question mark from the questions asked of him. So Betsen, are France very optimistic about bouncing back from their loss against England and winning this game this afternoon? Betsen: Yes eh eh eh eh eh France air eh eh eh eh vairy optimistic eh eh ay bout boun seeng back and eh eh eh weeneeng thees gemm. The more tongue tied he became, the longer the questions got, just to make sure that something coherent was said. Betsen may be an expert on rugby in French, but in English, this is not expertise.
I don’t call anyone “Doctor” unless they can write me a prescription for drugs.
Quite right. Found in a piece denouncing “Doctor” Krugman, who is only a doctor in the sense that he doctors his numbers.
Not that there should be any such thing as “prescription drugs”, but that’s a different argument.
A while back I did a posting here about a big sign, covered in anal-retentive, litigation-phobic instructions about health and safety.
This posting now is basically a clutch of other signage photos I took that same day, on that same expedition.
Signs are extremely communicative of the kind of times you live in, of the kind of place you were at, of the kind of event you were at, of the kind of assumptions your world is flooded with. Also, more than buildings, they change, and good photography homes in particularly on that which will not always there. Signs also tell you the dumb facts about where you were, and what you were looking at, which are easily forgotten if all you have is pictures with random number names. Signs give you google handles, the way imagery can’t, yet.
So, what I’m saying is, yes I know that most of these snaps that follow in this clutch of squares are pretty mundane, but I like them. I hope that, if you click on squares that particularly intrigue you, you will also like what you see.
First, a sign saying where I was going and roughly where I was when I took these. Like I say, some dumb facts. Apologies for the blurriness of several of the snaps that follow, especially in this first one. At the point I took this, I still thought that all I was doing with this map was taking a note for myself. I still hadn’t realised that this was a whole new category of bloggableness, or I would have taken a bit more trouble. But, it still tells the approximate story.
So now, the clutch of squares:
When will signs start appearing saying that photography in public places is forbidden? I suspect, actually: only a bit, in particular places.
One, cameras will soon be so small as to be undetectable. People can already take photos with their all purpose mobile gizmos without any security goon being any the wiser, even if standing only a few yards away. Soon, we will all be able to snap photos with the top buttons on our shirts, or from our hats.
And two, as soon as any such signs forbidding photo-ing do start to appear, in ways that are at all silly, they will be relentlessly snapped, internetted, and mocked. Hey Big Brother, do you really think that we the people will accept a world in which only you are allowed to take photos in public? In your dreams sunshine.
Comments telling me that this is already happening (preferably with links) would of course be especially welcome.
This, from something that will not be appearing at Samizdata:
Thank you for fantastic blog post. Where else could I get this kind of information written in such an incite full way.
My italics. “Incite full”. There’s been a lot of that in my part of the internet just lately.