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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

Tuesday May 19 2015

Okay, this quote is from Chapter One, “A Universal Language?”, of The Story of English: How the English Language Conquered the World by Philip Gooden (pp. 11-12):

English is the closest the world has yet come to a universal language, at least in the sense that even those who cannot speak it - admittedly, the large majority of the world’s population - are likely to be familiar with the odd English expression.  One term that is genuinely global as well as genuinely odd is OK (or O.K. or okay), originating in America in the 19th century.  An astonishingly adaptable word, it works as almost any part of speech from noun to verb, adjective to adverb, though often just as a conversation-filler - ‘OK, what are we going to do now?’ Depending on the tone of voice, OK can convey anything from fervent agreement to basic accquiescence.  It may be appropriate that such a truly universal term has no generally agreed source.  Attempts to explain where it came from don’t so much show variety as a high degree of imaginative curiosity.  So, OK is created from the initials of a deliberate misspelling, oll korreket, or from a campaign slogan for a would-be US president in the 1840s who was known as Old Kinderhook because he came from Kinderhook in New York State.  Or it is a version of a word imported from Finland or Haiti, or possibly one borrowed from the Choctaw Indians.  Or it is older than originally thought and derives from West African expressions like o-ke or waw-ke.  Enough explanations, OK?

OK.

Monday April 20 2015

It is more important to me that I get to bed at a sensible hour than it is that I do some sensible blogging before getting to bed.  So, another sign:

image

But this time, instead of them doing something a bit strange, it’s me doing something very silly.

Photographed by me in Walthamstow, yesterday.

Good night, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow.

Sunday April 19 2015

I took this snap of a sign, in Chinatown (London manifestation of), just off Charing Cross Road:

image

What I like about it is how they had to add the English language explanation of what hair “magic” actually involves.  Presumably the oriental characters make it clear to orientals what’s on sale here.  But at first, the English weren’t buying.  I mean, “magic”?  Could be anything or nothing.  Hypnosis?  Pills?  Herbalism?  Magic mud of some sort?  Clearly the English needed further elaboration, however much it spoiled the original splendour of the original sign.

But alas, the nature of the service on offer, once explained, descended in one word from the transcendental to the commonplace.

Friday April 17 2015

Abusive internet comments are usually very tedious.  But, having never heard this gag before, I liked this one.

Following the alleged threat by US politician John McCain to kick the s*** out of another US politician, Harry Reid, a commenter commented (April 16 12:43am):

(Harry Reid) – s*** = 0

Here in the UK, our politicians seldom issue such threats to one another.  They are, alas, almost all of them on the same side.

Wednesday April 08 2015

And I don’t mean Twiggy.

I love it when a bald bloke photos a London Big Thing.  So I loved it when this fashionably bare-headed gentleman photoed lots of little London Big Things:

image

He’s photoing the big old London model, at the Building Centre in Store Street, off Tottenham Court Road, last month. (It was the same day I took this White Van photo and this BT Tower photo.)

This big old London model is in the process of being refurbished.  If all goes as advertised, a big new London model will be ready to view at the end of this month.

People often say “I can’t wait”, when things like this are in the offing.  What do they mean?  That by the time it arrives, too much time will have elapsed and they will no longer be interested?

I know, it’s just what they say.  They don’t really mean it.

I can wait, and I will wait.

Friday February 06 2015

Pride of place in David Thompson’s ephemera today, and pride of place this Friday at Bmdotcom, goes to the cat who changed her mind.  She stepped out, with just the one paw.  She pawsed.  Paw cold cat!  She pawed cold water on the original plan and retreated back into the warm.

In other cat news: Why cats like to hide in boxes.  It’s because they like to hide.  They’re not good at conflict resolution.

So rather than work things out, cats are more inclined to simply run away from their problems or avoid them altogether. A box, in this sense, can often represent a safe zone, a place where sources of anxiety, hostility, and unwanted attention simply disappear.

I’m not the only one doing frightful cat puns.  Belfast Telegraph headline:

Why Cats is still not feline its age after thirty years in the limelight

Guardian headline:

Cats take centre stage at Perth’s first internet cat video festival

More cat news from Oz, this time transport related.  Brisbane Times headline:

Uber delivers cats on demand with UberKittens

Finally, the New York Times reports on work by Professor Matthew Ehrlich on the history of media coverage of cats.  From the Ehrlich’s abstract:

This article critically examines the Times’ cat tales in the context of the cultural history of journalism and the academic study of human–animal relations, also known as anthrozoology. Trends and themes in the coverage indicate that cats have been used and portrayed as commodities, heroes, villains, victims, women’s best friends, and urban symbols. The stories demonstrate how and why animal news should be taken seriously by journalism scholars. Not only does it offer insight into our evolving relationships with animals, it also provides a provocative means of thinking about where journalism has been and where it is heading.

Critically examines?  He just wants to get lots of internet mentions.  This is mere academic postmoggyism.

Time to stop.

Tuesday January 27 2015

Lexington Green, here:

What if … ?

What would a history of the British Empire look like if it did not use the “rise and fall” metaphor?

What would that history look like if it examined not just the political framework or just the superficial gilt and glitter, or just the cruelty and crimes, but the deeper and more enduring substance?

What if someone wrote a history of the impact of the English speaking people and their institutions (political, financial, professional, commercial, military, technical, scientific, cultural), and the infinitely complex web of interconnections between them, as a continuous and unbroken story, with a past a present … and a future?

In other words, what if we were to read a history that did not see a rising British Empire followed by a falling Empire, then a rising American Empire which displaced it, but an organism which has taken on many forms over many centuries, and on many continents, but is nonetheless a single life?

What if we assume that the British Empire was not something that ended, but that the Anglosphere, of which the Empire was one expression, is something that has never stopped growing and evolving, and taking on new institutional forms?

What if it looked at the unremitting advance, the pitiless onslaught, universal insinuation, of the English speakers on the rest of the world, seizing big chunks of it (North America, Australia), sloshing up into many parts of it and receding again (India, Nigeria, Malaya), carving permanent marks in the cultural landscape they left behind, all the while getting wealthier and more powerful and pushing the frontiers of science and technology and all the other forms of material progress?

What if jet travel and the Internet have at last conquered the tyranny of distance which the Empire Federationists of a century ago dreamed that steam and telegraph cables would conquer? What if they were just a century too early?

What if linguistic and cultural commonalities are more important than mere geographical location in creating political unity in this newly shrunken world?

I recall musing along the same kind of lines myself, a while back.

The important thing is, this mustn’t be advertised first as a plan.  If that happens, then all the people who are against the Anglosphere, and who prefer places like Spain and Venezuela and Cuba and Hell, will use their ownership of the Mainstream Media to Put A Stop to the plan.  What needs to happen is for us to just do it, and then after about two decades of us having just done it, they’ll realise that it is a fate (as the Hellists will describe it) accompli.

Because, guess what, we probably are already doing it.

Tuesday January 20 2015

Here, at the end:

You don’t always have to understand exactly what’s going on to enjoy what you’re seeing.

Words to live by, in all manner of situations.

That was said about this fun and games stuff, but I was saying much the same to myself as I watched the fabulously entertaining highlights of the semi-finals of the F(ootball) A(merica) Cup, or whatever they call it over there.  A great come-back and extra time win by Seattle.  A crushing victory by New England, and accusations that they cheated by softening their balls.  What more could you ask for?

Well, what you could ask for is a duet of monodirectional brackets in the heading.  But, no need, because there it is.

Thursday November 27 2014

For a few hours, from some time last night until around midday today, instead of getting BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, all you got, if your experience was the same as mine, was this:

Database Error: Unable to connect to your database. Your database appears to be turned off or the database connection settings in your config file are not correct. Please contact your hosting provider if the problem persists.

I couldn’t be telling you this if the above melancholy circumstance had not been corrected.  Deepest thanks to The Guru, for his prompt attention to the matter.

Since I was attempting to post something last night, that means you got nothing yesterday.  Trust me, your suffered far less than I did.  I hope to be making it up today.

("Making it up”.  What a strange expression.  It means: doing a corrective favour.  And it means: inventing it, even perhaps lying about it.  And then there is also what women (and now some men) do to their faces, minus the “it”.  Odd.  Although I do see a connection between meaning two and meaning three, rude though it might be to point such a thing out.  (And why make “up”?  (See also “screw up” and “clean up”.  (So this digressionary paragraph turned out relevant after all.  (This is my record for the most consecutive close-bracket signs.)))))

Saturday November 08 2014

My rule about being a sports fan is be very happy when your teams are winning, but relax when they aren’t.  Enjoy the good stuff.  Let the bad remind you that it’s just games.  I am not, in other words, a “real fan”, the sort of who puts his entire happiness at the mercy of events that are wholly out of his control.

And just now I am happy, because two autumn rugby internationals have just kicked off, Wales v Australia and England v NZ, and in both games the Brit teams have scored early - and frankly very surprising – tries.  7-0 Wales.  5-0 England.  This is the kind of thing you must enjoy while it is happening, without assuming that it will get any better, in fact while assuming that it is pretty much bound to get worse.  Protective pessimism.  Am watching Wales v Oz on the telly.  Highlights of Eng NZ on the telly later.

And Australia score under the posts.  7-7 with the easy kick (yes).  But, according to the BBC:

New Zealand are reeling from England’s blitz start.

Don’t you just love it when the other fellows reel.  Reeling is something only now done with an -ing on the end.  Why is that?

I am giving a talk on Jan 6th at Christian Michel’s about Sport Being A Substitute For War.  Just thought I’d mention that.  I will try to write it down and will thus be able to shove it up here afterwards.

And NZ have now scored.  5-5 with a kick to come.  And Oz have now scored another.  Wales 7 Oz 12 with a kick to come. I must stop.  Three antipodean tries have been scored since I started writing this. It’s only games.

Or is it?  Wales Oz 7-14, but Eng NZ 8-5, to England.  And now Wales have scored in the corner.  Wales 14 Oz 14.  I remember when rugby was played in mud and you were lucky to see a single try in an entire match.  So far there have been six tries in under half an hour.  Make that seven because Oz have just scored again.

Saturday November 01 2014

During a discussion on Radio 3’s Music Matters at lunchtime today, about whether knowledge of classical music is necessary for the enjoyment of classical music, noted baritone singer Sir Thomas Allen mentioned that Luciano Pavarotti could not read music.  During recordings, said Allen, someone used to stand behind Pavarotti and quietly hum his notes for him, to make sure he got them right.

However, when Pavarotti himself was challenged about this, he denied it:

In an interview in 2005 with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC, Pavarotti rejected the allegation that he could not read music, although acknowledging he sometimes had difficulty following orchestral parts.

I’m guessing that what is at stake here is the difference between being able to read music after a fashion, and being able to read it fluently and with utter confidence that one is getting it absolutely right every time.  Sort of like the difference between having to spell out lots of the rather harder words, and just reading.

When I played the flute at school (until I gave it up and just became a classical fan) I had, by the sound of it, even greater difficulty reading music than Pavarotti did.  But even so, this makes me feel much better.

Allen also said that Mirella Freni (a soprano about as noted as Allen himself) was the same.

Wednesday October 29 2014

See number 4 of these mistranslations.  See also, number 2: “RACIST PARK”; number 9: “BAG OF SHIT”; number 16: “Deformity Toilet”; and number 19 (which I have seen before I’m almost sure): “Translate server error”.

Got this via here, of all places, the one he chose being number 6: “Entrance only with Herr Hitler”.

Tuesday October 21 2014

There I was, lying in the bath, listening to Radio 3.  Some music had ended, and I was now being subjected to a programme which I do not usually listen to, called Words and Music.  And I heard the actor Jim Broadbent saying these words, by Michel de Montaigne:

I take the first subject that chance offers.  They are all equally good to me.  And I never plan to develop them completely.  For I do not see the whole of anything.  (Nor do those who promise to show it to us.) Of a hundred members and faces that each thing has, I take one, sometimes only to lick it, sometimes to brush the surface, sometimes to pinch it to the bone.  I give it a stab, not as wide, but as deep as I know how.  And most often, I like to take them from some unaccustomed point of view. Scattering a word here, there another, samples separated from their context, dispersed, without a plan and without a promise, I am not bound to make something of them, or to adhere to them myself, without varying when I please, and giving myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and my ruling quality, which is ignorance.

Sounds like a blogger, doesn’t he?  A blogger, that is to say, like me. Especially where he says “without a promise”.  I keep saying that. Above all there is that “this is what it is and if you don’t like it you know just what you can do about it” vibe that so many bloggers give off.  With Montaigne, we are arriving at that first moment in history when writing and publishing new stuff had become easy.  Not as easy as it is when you blog, but a whole lot easier than it had been.

I transcribed the above quote from Broadbent’s reading of it.  The punctuation is somewhat uncertain, and at one point assertively creative on my part.  I added some brackets, around what is clearly a diversion from his main line of thought to which he immediately returns.  It’s a sideswipe at others and it is then forgotten.

Such is the wonder that is the internet that I had little difficulty in tracking down the quote.  It is near the beginning of Montaigne’s essay entitled “Of Democritus and Heraclitus”, in volume three of his essays.

image

The BBC used a more recent translation, which I much prefer the sound of, it being less antique and long-winded.  And if Montaigne himself was also antique and long-winded, then I still prefer intelligibility to stylistic accuracy.

LATER: More about Montaigne, also emphasising the modern social media angle, here.

Wednesday October 01 2014

Taking the first question first: is it practise or practice?

This is the kind of question that, in the days before the www, used to rattle about inside several million heads for decades on end.  As it so happens, it did so rattle in mine.  But for a decade and more now, such questions could and can be answered, and today I answered this question for myself, by finding my way, very quickly, pretty much as soon as I started trying, to this site.  I’d been meaning to do this for a long time.  Today, I did.  What it says at the other end of that link, assuming I read it right, is that practice is the noun and practise is the verb, as with advice and advise.  I know, you knew that.  I must be an uneducated pillock not to know it.  But, although in many ways not an uneducated pillock, I was for many decades just that, in this particular way.  Besides which, the essence of educatedness is not mere knowledge, it is knowing that one needs to acquire this or that further item of further knowledge, and if far later than is dignified, well so be it.

I’m not saying that this answer is correct.  I’m just saying that from now on, this is the answer I will try to apply whenever the practice/practise dilemma presents itself to me.

Moving on to the question in the brackets above.  Answer: no.  The site where I found this answer (right or wrong) is called “Future Perfect”, and its subtitle is “Improving Written Communications”.  Like, that’s all it would take to make the future perfect.  I do not believe this.  I get it.  Future perfect is also a piece of grammar, and grammar is (along with spelling) one of the things this place is about.  Ho ho.  But, future perfect?

Perfect communication could just mean perfectly expressed abuse.  Remember that fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide, which enabled everyone to communicate perfectly with everyone else, and which started terrible wars, because now everyone could understood everyone else’s insults.  Perfect communication is indeed, maybe, part of the perfect future, but saying perfectly nice things is also an important part of perfection, I would say.  And that’s quite aside from the fact that actual perfection would also be terrible, for other reasons.

Sunday September 14 2014

Here. They may not have intended it to be sarcastic, but that’s how it reads.