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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Language

Thursday February 15 2018

Here:

image

The best comment I can think of is another photo, one of the many that I took in the Churchill Dungeon, this one being an item for sale in the gift shop:

image

I love words.  I sometimes I fail to think of the right ones, but they never fail me.  It just that I am sometimes not worthy of them.

But I found some good ones this time, I think,

Sunday February 04 2018

I just heard ITV News describe South African politician Jacob Zuma as being “mired in a whirlwind” of something or other.  Controversy, or some such thing.  Yes, this.

Next thing you know, he’ll be blown away by a swamp.

Wednesday January 31 2018

I’ve often wondered about words like these, but Susie Dent explains:

You can be gruntled (satisfied), kempt (combed), couth (polite), ruthful (full of compassion), whelmed (capsized), and gorm-like (have an intelligent look about you). And, for a while in the 1600s, you could be shevelled too.

A commenter adds the words “chalant” and “consolate”, which were apparently first used in a New Yorker piece.

Also in that piece: “wieldy”, “descript”, “gainly”, “cognito”, “make bones about it”, “beknownst”, “it would be skin off my nose”, “both hide and hair”, “toward and heard-of behaviour”, “maculate”, “peccable”, “new hat”, “terminable”, “promptu”, “petuous”, “nomer”, “choate, “defatigable”, “committal”, and quite a few that I surely missed.

Immaculate and impeccable are odd ones.  Does im at the front mean not?  It’s not clear.  Pressive?  Pact?  Mitate?  Agination?  Immiserate sounds the same as miserate.  This can get very intricate.  Although, you may think it to be not very tricate.  Also, I hope you are being ritated rather than the more common negative of that.

“Indefatigable” could be shortened twice.  Defatigable.  Fatigable.  Which means something very similar to indefatigable.

Timidate.  Timate.  Genious.  Sipid.  Cest.  Ert and Ept, I’ve heard before.  Nuendo.  Finitesimal.  Juriours,

For “over”, you could just put “der”.

I hope this posting has interested you.  My apologies if, instead, you have been terested.

Friday January 19 2018

Indeed:

image

At the time I took that photo, in Lower Marsh, I was with someone else, and just grabbed the shot before moving on at once.  But I reckon it came out really well.

Wikipedia tells us of Mickey Mouse’s compiucated origin.  He was a replacement for a rabbit, and before a mouse was arrived at, it seems that many other animals were considered:

Mickey Mouse was created as a replacement for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an earlier cartoon character created by the Disney studio for Charles Mintz, a film producer who distributed product through Universal Studios. In the spring of 1928, with the series going strong, Disney asked Mintz for an increase in the budget. But Mintz instead demanded that Walt take a 20 percent budget cut, and as leverage, he reminded Disney that Universal owned the character, and revealed that he had already signed most of Disney’s current employees to his new contract. Angrily, Disney refused the deal and returned to produce the final Oswald cartoons he contractually owed Mintz. Disney was dismayed at the betrayal by his staff but determined to restart from scratch. The new Disney Studio initially consisted of animator Ub Iwerks and a loyal apprentice artist, Les Clark, who together with Wilfred Jackson were among the few who remained loyal to Walt. One lesson Disney learned from the experience was to thereafter always make sure that he owned all rights to the characters produced by his company.

In the spring of 1928, Disney asked Ub Iwerks to start drawing up new character ideas. Iwerks tried sketches of various animals, such as dogs and cats, but none of these appealed to Disney. A female cow and male horse were also rejected. They would later turn up as Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar. A male frog was also rejected. It would later show up in Iwerks’ own Flip the Frog series. Walt Disney got the inspiration for Mickey Mouse from a tame mouse at his desk at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1925, Hugh Harman drew some sketches of mice around a photograph of Walt Disney. These inspired Ub Iwerks to create a new mouse character for Disney. “Mortimer Mouse” had been Disney’s original name for the character before his wife, Lillian, convinced him to change it, and ultimately Mickey Mouse came to be.

Those two paragraphs are, at Wikipedia, crammed with links.  Follow the link above and scroll down to where it says “Origin”, if you want to follow any of these links.

I will, however, honour the amazingly named Ub Iwerks with a link from here.  I wonder how he was pronounced.  His dad was from Germany, and I think I know how they’d have said the name there.  But, Ub (!?!) was born in Kansas.  When it came to Amercans pronouncing foreign names, all bets were off.  My guess is there were lots of Germans where the Iwerks family grew up, and thus it was not felt necessary to do any name changing.

Blog and learn.

Tuesday December 26 2017

After that trip to Primrose Hill with GodDaughter2, when my camera stopped cooperating, and I later got it working again, I went back there, on my own.  I couldn’t be content until I had taken as many photos there as I would like to have taken on the previous visit.

One of the better photos I took on that second trip, of photoers photoing, was this:

image

Is that guy photoing his photoer lady-friend, as she photos the view?  Judging by the red blob on his screen, which has got to be her bright red rucksack, I would say: yes he is.  What a peculiar man, wanting to take a photo like that.

Joking aside, there is something else about my camera that troubles me, besides having spent a day thinking it was completely bust.  Do you remember that day earlier this year when the sky turned yellow, because of some North African dust storm, or some such thing.  Well, when my camera is set on automatic - and when I use it it is always set on automatic – it does this all the time.  Everything comes out yellower than it should.  Blues are diminished into white.  The merest suggesting of actual yellow is intensified.  Not good.

The above photo, effective though I think it is, illustrates this only too clearly.  Notice how even my photo of the guy’s screen has his sky bluer than my version of the sky.  Which means that his screen must have been very blue.

I tried reading the camera manual, but unfortunately this is written in a Serbo-Croation dialect of Sanskrit.  Not one word of it makes any sense to me at all.  And I tried fiddling around with the camera itself, without any success.  I couldn’t even find anywhere on the www where I might be able to ask my question, and more to the point, maybe get some worthwhile answers.  Help.  I realise that Boxing day is not a good day to be saying such a thing, but I say it anyway.  By the time anyone gets around to reading this, the problem is unlikely to have gone away.

Friday December 15 2017

Incoming from Rob Fisher: link to a piece in the Independent, about machine learning applied to old telescope data is finding new planets.

Quote:

A computer was trained to look through the data from the Kepler space telescope, and look for signals that might belong to planets. And it found new planets within existing systems, by spotting signals that seemed to indicate something of interest but were too weak to have been spotted by humans.

That suggests that there might be whole worlds and solar systems hiding within the data we’ve already collected, but which we had not noticed because there are simply so many signals to pick through. Kepler has collected four-years of data from looking at the sky and 150,000 stars – far more than humans could ever look through.

So, exactly what were these weak signals?

The new planets – just like all of the thousands found by Kepler – were spotted by watching the sky for light coming from the stars. When planets pass in front of their stars, scientists can register the dimming as they go, and use the speed and characteristics of that dimming to work out what the solar system might actually look like.

Much of that work relies on pattern recognition, which until now has been done by scientists looking through the data. But the new findings are the result of work between Nasa and Google, which trained machine learning algorithms to learn to spot those patterns itself and so pick through the data much more quickly.

This is good.  Keep Skynet busy with harmless hobbies.

Maybe not.  Getting Skynet to compile a huge and exhaustive list of all the places in the universe where biology-based life might be, after biology-based life on this planet has been taken care of.

This is maybe how the robot holocaust will happen.  We will have been telling them to “take care of” us and our fellow creatures.  But they’ll have been watching too many gangster movies, and ...

Wednesday December 13 2017

Today I was in central London.  It wasn’t good photoing weather.  Grim and grey and wet.  But I did take this photo:

image

At the time, I thought I was photoing an army of Santas.  For some reason I find the photoing of large numbers of similar or identical objects, in a big clump or clutch, to be rather satisfying.

But it turned out I was photoing two British Personal Brands With Huge Global Reach, namely The Queen, as performed by Elizabeth Windsor, and Mr Bean, as performed by Rowan Atkinson.

A lot of their appeal is that these are both characters who do a lot of physical stuff, rather than characters who talk a lot.  Neither Elizabeth Windsor nor Rowan Atkinson are stupid or inarticulate people.  On the contrary both are notable wordsmiths, blessed with famously subtle senses of humour.  Nevertheless, the Queen’s daily repertoire of stuff is adopting Royal poses and walking or being driven about Royally and making Royal gestures and doing Royal things like shaking hands with a line of lesser celebrities.  And Mr Bean mostly makes faces and does pratfalls.  These are things that anyone on earth can see – see - the point of with great ease.  You don’t have to know a word of English to get what The Queen or Mr Bean are all about.  And if only a tiny percentage of the world’s populace like what they see of these two characters, that is still a lot of people.

You see Queen and Bean together, in effigy, in tourist crap shops, a lot.  That I photoed the two of them accidentally is no, as it were, accident.

Despite googling it, I still don’t understand what this is about.

Friday December 01 2017

Last Saturday, a friend invited me to share some gin at The Star.  We also each had a pie, with red wine in it.  Delicious.

The Star is quite near to the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, and has a great slab of Crossrail turmoil right slap against it, which has turned the formerly busy Great Chappell Street into a poky little footway, and has for a year or three now destroyed all possibility of passing trade to The Star.  So, The Star has switched to invites and events.  It hasn’t now even got a sign on over its front door.  Where there once was and still ought to be a sign, there is, for the time being anyway, only blank blackness:

image

But inside, things liven up considerably, in particular with an enjoyably ironic display of antique signage:

image

This next one, also visible above in the general display, being a particular collector’s item, which explains why I waited until today (Friday is Cats and Other Creatures Day here at BMdotcom) before displaying it here:

image

That wouldn’t be allowed now, any more than all the tobacco adverts would be.

imageAnd since this is a Cats and Other Creatures Day, there on the right is an advert for another product from the same enterprise.  If the product had been made of budgies and canaries, I’m sure the pussies would have loved it.

We got there on the dot at 1pm, opening time, and were the first there, hence those empty tables to be seen above.  But the place was soon buzzing with happy gin drinkers.

An earlier posting, featuring a photo I took just before I got to The Star, was also naughty, in a different way.  It’s interesting what naughtiness is now and is not now allowed.

Sunday November 26 2017

Earlier today I was at a party, and sitting in on the party was Alexa, the cylindrical robot from Amazon.  So, one of us asked Alexa to tell us a Dirty Joke.  Alexa replied: “Why do you call a chicken covered in dirt crossing the road?” Answer, although I didn’t hear if Alexa actually said this or merely assumed that we’d get it: a dirty joke.

Not bad.  And funny because, although a joke involving dirt, it is not a dirty joke in the sense of there being any sexual innuendo involved.

But, was Alexa trying to tell a joke?  Or merely trying to do as she was told, without in any way understanding what the thing she was being told to do actually meant?  I know, Alexa never “understands” anything.  She’s a machine, with no consciousness.  But, you surely know what I mean.

Another rather perfunctory posting.  But, I spent quite a lot of my day going to a party, partying, and getting back from the party.  I may, although I promise nothing, do better tomorrow.

Sunday November 12 2017

A few weeks ago, I watched and recorded a Shakespeare documentary series, in one episode of which Jeremy Irons talked about, and talked with others about, the two Henry IV plays.  And that got me watching two recorded DVDs that I had already made of these plays, the BBC “Hollow Crown” versions, with Irons as King Henry and Tom Hiddleston as the King’s son, Prince Hal.  While watching these, I realised how little I really knew these wonderful plays, and how much I was enjoying correcting that a little.

More recently, partly spurred on by what Trevor Nunn in that same documentary series had to say about it, I have been doing the same with The Tempest, this time making use of a DVD that I long ago purchased for next to nothing in a charity shop but had failed ever to watch.

By accident, when this DVD of The Tempest began, there were subtitles to be seen, and I realised that these written lines, far from getting in the way, only added to my enjoyment, so I left them on.  And, if subtitles were helping, why not the entire text?  Maybe I possess a copy of The Tempest, but if so I could not find it, so instead, I tried the internet, which quickly obliged.  My eyesight not being the best, I beefed up the magnification of the text until it was nearly as big as those subtitles.  So, I watched, I read subtitles, and I was able to see who was saying what, and what they were about to say.  And very gratifying it all was:

image

On the telly, on the left, David Dixon as Ariel and, on the right, Michael Hordern as Prospero, both very impressive.

And here, should you be curious, is the text they were enacting at that particular moment, as shown on the right of the above photo, but now blown up and photoshop-cloned into greater legibility:

image

I think the reason I found this redundancy-packed way of watching The Tempest so very satisfying is that with Shakespeare, the mere matter of what is going on is secondary to the far more significant matter of exactly what is being said, this latter often consisting of phrases and sentences which have bounced about in our culture for several centuries.  As ever more people have felt the need to recycle these snatches or chunks of verbiage, for their own sake, and because they illuminate so much else that has happened and is happening in the world, so these words have gathered ever more force and charismatic power.  As the apocryphal old lady said when leaving a performance of Hamlet: “Lovely.  So full of quotations.”

The thing is, Shakespeare’s characters don’t just do the things that they do, and say only what needs to be said to keep the plot rolling along.  They seek to find the universal meaning of their experiences, and being theatrical characters, they are able, having found the right words to describe these experiences, to pass on this knowledge to their audiences.  This is especially true of Hamlet, because central to Hamlet’s character is that he is constantly trying to pin down the meaning of life, in a series of what we would now call tweets, and consequently to be remembered after his death.

Prospero in The Tempest is not quite so desperate to be remembered, any more, we are told, than Shakespeare himself was.  In Prospero, as Trevor Nunn explained in his documentary about The Tempest, many hear Shakespeare saying goodbye to his career as a theatrical magician and returning to his provincial life of Middle English normality. But Shakespeare was Shakespeare.  He couldn’t help creating these supremely eloquent central characters.  Even when all they are doing is ordering room service, or in the case of Prospero doing something like passing on his latest instructions to Ariel, they all end up speaking Shakespeare, with words and phrases that beg to be remembered for ever.  These famous Shakespeare bits are rather like those favourite bits that we classical music fans all hear in the great works of the Western musical cannon.

So, a way of watching these plays that enables these great word-clusters to hang around for a while is just what you want.  (Especially if, like Prospero, you are getting old, and your short-term memory is not what it was.) It also helps being able to press the pause button from time to time, to enable you to savour these moments, to absorb their context, better than you could if just watching the one unpausable performance in front of you.  Although I agree, having a pause symbol on the furrowed brow of Prospero, as in my telly-photo above, is not ideal.

I am now browsing through my Shakespeare DVD collection, wondering which one to wallow in next.

Monday October 23 2017

GodDaughter 2 has fixed for me and her to go to a dress rehearsal of Rodelinda, at the ENO, tomorrow evening, for free!

So, what is Rodelinda about?

Rodelinda is a dramatic tale of power, anguish and love. When Grimoaldo takes Bertarido’s throne, Bertarido flees abroad, leaving behind his grieving wife Rodelinda. The usurper tries to force Rodelinda to love him, but when the exiled king returns in disguise, everyone is put to the test.

One of Handel’s finest operas, Rodelinda is filled with intense drama told through ravishingly beautiful music. ...

Good, good.

But then, this:

Award-winning director Richard Jones brings his distinctive theatrical imagination to this production, which sets Handel’s bitter political drama in Fascist Italy.

Well, maybe it’ll be okay.  Not all such productions are ridiculous.  And when it comes to Handel operas, my impression is that they are mostly pretty ridiculous to start with, wherever you set them.  This particular opera is ...:

… based on the history of Perctarit, king of the Lombards in the 7th century.

Those Lombards are:

Not to be confused with the modern inhabitants of the region of Lombardy, Italy.

The Lombards were:

… a Germanic people who ruled most of the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774.

Blog and learn.  Or in this case, blog and go to the opera, and learn.

My worry is that although Rodelinda will be sung “in English”, it will be sung in standard operatic fashion, i.e. the words might as well be in Swahili for all the sense they will make.  But, because all this indecypherable gibberish will be “in English”, there will be no big signs, foreign movie style, to tell me what the hell they are singing about, like there are at the Royal Opera House, where they sing operas mostly in such languages as Italian or German, or they do if you’re lucky.

In short, my fear is that I will get what I pay for, although here’s hoping I get more.

GD2 will definitely get more, because she is studying to do this kind of thing for a living.  Insofar as it’s good she’ll learn about how to do it.  If it’s not good she’ll learn about how not to do it.  Win win.

Sunday October 08 2017

Yes.  I ran it by Adriana plus her Plus One (Perry de H), at that feast I reported on yesterday, and it turns out that I’m not the only one who finds the phrase “self storage” …

image

… to be rather odd.  (That’s this.)

I know what self storage is.  It’s the name given to the process of ridding your self of some of the crap by which your self is currently surrounded and impeded, without actually chucking it away irrevocably.  In particular, when your self is in between locations, or when your self has moved from a big place to a smaller place, your stuff, or your excess stuff, needs to be stored somewhere.

But self storage, taken literally, sounds like you are parking your self in a warehouse and for the duration, your life will consist only of all the extraneous crap.

You become like a zombie or something.  I can understand people wanting to put their mere selves to one side while earning a living.  That might make a rather profitable business.  But while actually, you know, … trying to live … ?

Odd.

Friday October 06 2017

Gerald Elias, in this piece linked to from Arts & Letters Daily, demolishes the claim that the use of vibrato by classical string players is only a recent thing.

The evidence against this idea is so overwhelming that the question is, why do anti-vibrato fanatics like Sir Roger Norrington get the time of day from orchestras?  Probably because, just as Leopold (father of Wolfgang Amadeus) Mozart apparently grumbled back in his time, string players now tend to use vibrato rather too much.  (As do opera singers now, in my opinion).  So, hearing some symphonic warhorse without any vibrato at all can yield otherwise unhearable felicities, however absurdly inauthentic such a performance as a whole clearly is.

But enough of vibrato.  Elias is right, and although he chooses not to name any of these fools, the likes of Norrington are wrong, and that’s that.  At which point in his piece Elias says something else that strikes me as far more interesting, if only because, unlike all the stuff about vibrato, the thought had never occurred to me before:

Sorry to go on ad nauseum about vibrato. Time to move on to a different thought. How many of you have traveled through a hilly country like England or Italy? Have you noticed the change in people’s spoken accent when you wend your way from one village to another? Hell, you go from Brooklyn to the Bronx and it’s like another language. Now, go back two or three hundred years, when the sole possible means of verbal communication was person-to-person and most people rarely left the confines of their natal valley. Just imagine how much that linguistic phenomenon would be magnified! Don’t forget, it wasn’t until Italy’s unification in 1870 that they started thinking about a national language.

My point is, do you really think that there was only one way to play music in that day and age? Do you really think no one (or everyone) played with vibrato? My guess is that the variety of techniques and interpretations was much more vibrant, colorful, and creative than it is now, when easy international travel and instantaneous mass media give us a thoroughly homogenized concept of what well-played music is “supposed” to sound like. So much for the orthodoxy of the Historically (Mis)Informed.

Good point.  You often hear critics complaining about how orchestras now all sound the same.  Well, why would we believe that this process of performance style convergence is only a very recent one?  (Any more than we would believe that vibrato is only recent?)

Wednesday October 04 2017

Words make for entertaining photos.  The words in signs.  The “words” in graffiti.

I was out and about today, and here are a couple of the more amusing photos I took.

There was this, involving two glamorous women:

image

And this, involving another quite glamorous woman:

image

The first photo was taken through a shop window in Lower Marsh.  That quote about Hell seems to be generic, so presumably that’s a generic woman.  I had supposed it to be somebody in particular, in the way that Marilyn Monroe is somebody in particular.  But, it seems not.

The second photo was taken at the southern entrance of the Peake Street graffiti tunnel.  An entrance that now looks like this:

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The graffiti in the tunnel, which goes under Waterloo Station, is constantly changing.  Here is how some of it was looking today:

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Apart from recognising a couple of Hulks there, the incredible one and Homwer Simpson, this is all a mystery to me.  As I think I’ve said here before, graffiti like this has in common with Modern Art of the more usual sort in being incomprehensible to outsiders.

At the other end of the Peake Street graffiti tunnel, there is a big notice which tells everyone what the graffiti rules are.

I know what you’re thinking.  Good luck with that.  And if you are thinking that, you are not wrong:

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Life is Beautiful!!  Hm.  Not so sure.  But then, I am in two minds about graffiti.  It’s threatening, but stylish.  One moment I like how it looks.  At other moments, it feels like visual bullying.

If anyone knows what this notice now says (I’m talking about the big purple “word” there), please leave a comment.

I prefer standard English.

Tuesday September 19 2017

This evening I started contriving what I hope will be the first of quite a few excerpts from The Judgement of Paris, the book referred to in the previous posting.  But it all took far longer than I had thought it would.  Those Frenchies and their accents!  Also, lots of numbers referring to endnotes had/have to be removed.  It has a lot of endnotes.

So, meanwhile, another photo taken by me in Paris, in the frigid February of 2012:

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That’s one of the modernistical buildings of La Défense, reflected in another of the modernistical buildings of La Défense.  (Even organising those accents was a bit of a bother.)