Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Category archive: Language

Sunday April 15 2018

I liked this, from the Megan Mullally character in Will & Grace (latest series, episode 6, beginning of):

“Sorry I’m late, but I got here as soon as I wanted to.”

At their frequent best, American sitcoms keep on nailing down these universal feelings about the world and its various demands, yet in a way that you never heard before.  It’s like they show you the world, but with perfect subtitles attached, explaining everything.  My sense is that a gag like that one is proposed by one person, and then talked through by a huge team of gagsters at a big table for about half a day until it is polished and refined down to its pure and perfectly funny essence.  (Either that, or some bloke just thought of it, just like that.)

In general, I really like American sitcoms, because, in addition to being funny, they are another world, but another world where they speak an almost identical language to mine.

In English, and also in American it would seem, sorry is definitely the hardest word.

Wednesday March 28 2018

Pollarding is what you do to trees, if you want to make them look like this, as lots of people seem to:

image

It’s not that warm now.  But nor is it that cold now.  It now feels warm because of it being less cold than it recently was.  Simply weather-wise, I probably prefer June.  But in June, the trees are all smothered in leaves.  Pollarding effects would be hidden.

I like the bobble on top of the building, far right.  Fits in well, I think.

Saturday March 17 2018

GodDaughter2 having dragged me into London at the crack of 10.30am (which is when that Traviata dress rehearsal started), I of course got to Embankment Tube early, on account of being so scared of being late.  I had some time to kill.

So, instead of turning left at the Embankment Tube ticket machines and just trudging up Villiers Street to Trafalgar Square and on to the ENO’s Colosseum, I instead turned right, and went up onto the north London end of the downstream version of the Hungerford Footbridge(s).  It’s a favourite little spot of mine, concerning which, maybe, there will (although I promise nothing) be more here, soon or whenever.

For now, consider just this one photo, taken from that spot, at that time:

image

Because it is the morning, the light is not what I am used to.  The Big Things of the City of London are not well light, because back lit.

The big picture story here is that the Big Things of the City of London are, slowly but surely, metamorphosing into one Great Big City Thing.

But when I got home and had a closer look, I was intrigued to see two moderately Big Things already clearly to be seen.

You probably noticed this one already:

image

That’s the Scalpel.  That the Scalpel has been going up has been obvious for some time.

But this one came as rather more of a surprise.  This detail had to be enlarged, or you might miss it, as I did, until I got home and looked carefully:

image

That, ladies and gents, hiding in among all the bigger Things, is the much touted but seemingly never actually happening (but it actually is) Can of Ham:

image

The Can of Ham is called that because it will look like a can of ham:

image

Come to think of it, I have a vague recollection of visiting those Big City Things, about … a while back.  Bear with me while I rootle through the photo-archives.Yes, here we go.  I was there on June 3rd, last year.

The Scalpel was already well under way, thanks to some particularly entertaining cranage:

image

And it definitely was the Scalpel, because it said so at the bottom:

image

But the Can of Ham was also already starting to go up:

image

As you can clearly see if you take a closer look at what it says at the bottom there:

image

By trying to call this thing “Seventy St. Mary Axe”, but by making it look exactly like a can of ham, and quite a big and visible one, big enough and visible enough for it to need a particular and memorable name, they screwed up on the naming front.  It was only ever going to be called the “Can of Ham”.

Some bunch of idiots long ago tried to get the Gherkin called 30 St Mary Axe, and that never stuck either.

50 St Mary Axe is also a Thing, but such a small Thing that nobody cares what that’s called, so that actually is called 50 St Mary Axe.

Thursday March 15 2018

Yesterday GodDaughter2 arranged for me to accompany her and and a selection her singing student friends to a dress rehearsal of the ENO’s La Traviata.  Like every show at the E(nglish) NO, It was sung in English. It was also somewhat strangely directed, as operas tend to be nowadays.  So, the students were all grumbling afterwards.  What were those peculiar gestures the soprano kept on doing?  “Such torture” to have listen to it in English!

As for me, my problems were that we were the usual third of a mile up and away in the sky (but with no windows through which I might have taken photos of London’s Things), and I couldn’t properly see what was happening down there in the distance, beyond the woman in front of me’s head and those brass railings that she was able crouch down and look under.  I wasn’t bothered by all the strange “acting” that the singers were apparently doing, because I could hardly see it.  It was all I could do to decypher the English crib (and thank goodness for that) above the stage, of what they were singing (in English also (but as often as not you still can’t make out the damn words (because of how they sing them))).  But the music, by Giuseppe Verdi, which I knew only as a random bunch of tunes that I had just about quarter-heard before, is so good that I was kept constantly entertained.  Plus, I understood enough of what was going on to really enjoy it, and to really learn something.

It’s quite a story.  A young woman (the Traviata of the title) is trying to juggle short-term pleasure with and against long-term romantic fulfilment, is fretting about whether her true love can truly be depended upon, but also doesn’t want to get her true love into social trouble because of her lurid past causing everyone to think he could have done better, which will dishonour his entire family and make his younger sister much less marriageable.  Plus, she is not in the best of health and has to keep seeing a doctor.

I can remember, way back in the sixties, when it was believed that all that social pressure stuff was dead in the water.  Plus of course, in the sixties, everyone was far too young to be having any health problems.  Girls could shack up with guys and have consequence-free sex, and then live happily ever after with … whoever.  I think I remember thinking, even at the time: well, we’ll see.  And it turns out that young girls can now be “ruined” a lot like they were in olden times, that “society” has not gone away, that people still get ill, even sometimes ill because of sex, and that La Traviata is still bang up to date.

The Father of the Traviata’s True Love very much wants True Love to stop being Traviata’s True Love, and begs Traviata to give him up.  For the ENO, yesterday, this Father was sung by Alan Opie.  He was especially good.  A bloke had come on at the beginning and said that, what with this being only a dress rehearsal, some of the singers might be holding back a bit, saving it for the real show.  But you could definitely tell that Opie was the real deal.

Wednesday March 14 2018

I follow Tom Holland because I have liked several of his books (especially Persian Fire), and because I often agree with him, as when he says things like this:

The assumption in Europe that its brand of colonialism was uniquely awful is, in a perverse way, one of the last hold-outs of eurocentrism.

Very true.

Via Tom Holland, I came upon this, from Anthony McGowan:

I came across a place called Strood. I looked it up (having no idea where or what it was), I found this achingly poignant statement: “Strood was part of Frindsbury until 1193, but now Frindsbury is considered part of Strood.”

It’s the implication that “now”, in the Strood/Finsbury part of the world, began in 1193 that makes this so entertaining.  I guess they have long memories out there in the not-London part of Britain.

Anthony McGowan is someone I don’t agree with a lot of the time (here is what I think about that).  But, I also liked this:

An article about the history of the Chinese typewriter. One old machine had a strange pattern, as some characters had been polished by over-use. It belonged to a Chinese-American immigrant. “The keys that glitter with use are: emigrant, far away, urgent, longing, hardship, dream”.

McGowan doesn’t supply links to where he got these intriguing titbits, which I don’t like.  But despite that and other similarly nitpicky nitpicks on my part, Twitter is working, for me.  At present I have no plans to depend upon it to say things, although that may change, for I am too distrustful of its increasing political bias.  But it is supplying me with much more stuff to be thinking about and writing about.

Tuesday March 13 2018

Incoming email from Tony entitled “Couldn’t resist buying this”:

image

Here’s hoping he was/will be amused by its cheek.

Apparently the Arse is a river in southern France, beside which grapes are grown.

Up early tomorrow. So now, to bed.

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:

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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.