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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 July 28 2015

Certainly in London and I presume everywhere else in Britain, when you see lots of verbiage attached to the outside of a building site, it tends to be health and safety stuff, of the sort shown in this posting, which I did here in February 2011.  (That was the very first posting I did with the category “Signs and notices” attached to it.)

In the summer of that same year, I was in France, where I took the picture that follows.  But I never got around to displaying it here.  Here it is now:

image

This is a sign that I saw adorning the outside of a French building site.

To me, it resembles nothing so much as the credits at the end of a movie.  Every imaginable contributor to the building process is painstakingly listed.  Click if you want to be able to read everything more clearly.

Although I am sure I might be persuaded otherwise (for instance by people with knowledge of the relative merits of the actual work that tends to be done in each country), I think the contrast is rather in France’s favour.

In France, everything that has been done, and by whom, is listed.  Presumably it has been done in a manner to make the people who did it glad to have their names in, as it were, lights.  In Britain, every imaginable thing that might go wrong is listed, in the form of an imprecation that people not do this.  It’s the difference between being proud of what is being done, and being nothing but apologetic about it.

Right at the end, though, it does say: “chantier interdet au public, port du casque obligatoire”.  This means (unless the internet has gravely deceived me): “access forbidden to the public, helmet obligatory”.  So, a bit of health and safety nagging there.  But that’s all there is.

In Britain, you also sometimes get a rather shorter list of the grander and more professional of the enterprises people who are doing the job, but not nearly so much is made of this, compared to all the stuff about being ever so, ever so careful.

Thursday July 16 2015

Indeed

On September 19th 2004, Goddaughter 1 and I visited the inside of the top of the Gherkin, on that year’s London Architecture Open Day, or whatever they call it.

But my camera (a Canon A70) was not very good at doing views, and the best pictures I took were of, guess what, other photographers.  And the most interesting other photographer was, I think, this one:

image

Proof (a) that selfies were being taken before the word itself had caught on, and proof (b) that I had already noticed.

I also like that the camera there looks seriously clunky and out of date.  That’s because it was then seriously clunky and is now seriously out of date.

Wednesday July 01 2015

Yesterday I wrote here about the twenty-first century social obligation to use a mobile phone when meeting up with someone, because of the problems this solves and despite the problems this creates.  Hence the need for me to take my mobile phone with me when going photowalkabout with G(od)D(aughter) 1.

But, on Saturday evening, the evening before GD1 and I went on our walk, I was very nearly deprived of my mobile phone, by which I mean deprived of the ability to make use of it.

What happened was that, while I was also out and about on Saturday evening, a baritone-singing student friend of mezzo-soprano-singing student G(od)D(aughter) 2, sought the help of GD2.  His mobile had run out of puff and needed a recharge.  GD2 uses an iPhone, but Baritone has an Android mobile, so Baritone could not use GD2’s recharger.  What to do?

Between them they decided that I and my Android recharger might be the answer.  I guess that GD2 then rang me on my immobile home number and discovered that I was out.  Then, knowing my aversion and incompetence as a mobile phoner, and especially as a reliable receiver of incoming mobile messages, she did not not attempt to ring me on my mobile.  Or, she did try my mobile and I did not answer.

For various reasons that I still don’t understand and which in any case do not now matter, Baritone ended up coming to my home, armed with GD2’s key to my home, and having made his entrance, he “borrowed” my mobile phone recharger.

I want to emphasise that the above quote marks are not sneer quotes.  They are confusion quotes.

For, what exactly does it mean to “borrow” a mobile phone charger?  What GD2 meant, when she assured Baritone that it would okay for him to “borrow” my phone charger, was that it would be okay for him to charge up his mobile phone, using my charger at my home.  As indeed it would have been.

However, Baritone misunderstood this assurance to mean that it would be okay for him to “borrow” my charger, as in: take it away and make use it throughout Saturday evening, in other places besides mine.  I don’t believe that Baritone would have done this without that assurance from GD2, as he understood it.  After all, whereas charging up your mobile in situ is socially very okay, taking a charger away without permission is surely a twenty-first century social gaff of the first order.  But, Baritone thought that he had permission to do this otherwise unacceptable thing.  GD2 is adamant that she gave no such permission, but I believe that Baritone genuinely thought that this unusual procedure was, in the light of GD2’s assurance, okay.  He made this clear in a written thankyou note he left on my desk.

And it normally would have been okay.  Had I not been going on an expedition the following day with GD1, then the charger could have made its way back to my home some time on or around Sunday, and all would have been fine.  But, for all the reasons that were explained in the previous posting, I needed that charger by quite early on Sunday morning at the latest.

So, despite GD2s protestations, I acquit Baritone of wrongdoing.

But then again, Baritone is a baritone.  And baritones often behave very badly, quite often at the expense of notably virtuous mezzo-sopranos.  So maybe I’m being too kind.

All was speedily corrected by GD2, who was rather insulted by the profuseness of my thanks when she brought my charger back at 8am on Sunday morning.  Of course I got your charger back.  (See what I mean about virtuous mezzo-sopranos.)

It was just as well that I did get it back.  In addition to using my mobile for all that meeting up at the start of the day, I also used it for its map app, and to tell me how Surrey were doing against Gloucester.  Very well, as it happened.  Nothing like your sports team winning to keep you going when you are knackered.

However, I now understand better why people have cameras with mobile phones built into them.  What with my bag and all, I was having constantly to choose between knowing where I was, and photoing it.

Surrey are on a bit of a roll just now.  This evening they beat Gloucester again, in a T20 slog at the Oval.  Surrey needed a mere six runs from the last four balls.  So, how did they get them?  The last four balls went: wicket, dot, dot, six.  In English that’s: probable Surrey victory, possible Surrey victory, almost impossible Surrey victory, Surrey victory.  I got that off my laptop, but I could have got it from my mobile, if I had been out and about.  Provided it hadn’t run out of puff.

Thursday June 11 2015

I love learning about two-man teams, and in Paul Johnson’s short, excellent biography of Mozart (see also this earlier bit) I have been learning more about just such a team, although a very temporary and unequal one:

In the meantime, Mozart had met his great partner, the Abate Lorenzo Da Ponte.  The letter (May 7, 1783) in which he tells his father, “I have looked through at least a hundred libretti and more, but I have hardly found a single one with which I am satisfied,” also says he has met the new fashionable poet in Vienna, Da Ponte, who “has promised ... to write a new libretto for me.” The emperor had decided to abandon singspiel in 1783 and embrace Italian opera again, and he put Da Ponte in charge of the words.  Da Ponte was a converted Jew, the son of a tanner, who had embraced Christianity in 1763.  He had led a bohemian life, as a teacher, a priest, a lascivious escort of married women in the Venetian fashion, a friend of Casanova, expelled from Venice for sexual depravity, and thereafter making his living as a translator and writer in the theatrical world.  He had an extraordinary gift for languages, rather like Mozart himself but on a much more comprehensive scale, and seemed to think multilingually.

Da Ponte wrote the librettos for three Mozart operas, The Marriage of Figaro (K. 492, presented May 1,1786), Don Giovanni (K. 527, October 29, 1787), and Cosi fan tutte (K. 588, January 26, 1790), and the collaboration between the two men must be accounted one of the most successful in the history of opera.  By almost universal agreement, Figaro and Giovanni are Mozart’s two best operas, though a small minority argues that Cosi contains the best music and superb staging and that a first-class production can make it the best evening’s entertainment.

The two men worked successfuly together for two reasons. First, they both understood that creating an opera was collaboration and that composer and librettist both had to know when to give way; sometimes words must yield and sometimes notes. The truth is, of course, that Mozart was extremely adept at words as well as music, and often he took over as librettist, Da Ponte acquiescing. This raises the second point: Both men were good tempered, used to hard knocks, nasty words, and intense arguments.  They had the admirable habit, essential to success in the theater, of drawing a firm line over a disagreement, once it was resolved, and moving on quickly to the next problem.  Mozart’s good nature was absolutely genuine and went to the root of his being.  He was incapable of real malice or the desire to wound (the one exception was the archbishop, and there, too, hatred was expressed in words rather than deeds). Da Ponte was a much more flawed creature.  He was a fearful liar, to begin with, and his various volumes of memories are not to be trusted at all. His subsequent career after he left Vienna and went to New York, becoming a trader, a bookseller, a bankrupt, a poet, and other things, shows that his commitment to the stage and to music - drama, particularly - was not total.

Moreover, it is not clear that he recognized quality in opera. He thought the best composer he worked with was Vicente Martin y Soler, and he had the most fulsome praise for Antonio Salieri.  The implication was that both were Mozart’s superiors as musicians.  Both were more successful commercially at the time, and their operas were performed more frequently than Mozart’s - so were those of many other composers, at least eleven by my reckoning.  But both were so inferior to Mozart by any conceivable artistic criteria as to cast doubt on Da Ponte’s musical understanding.  And it is a significant fact that his three Mozart operas are the only ones whose libretto he wrote that have remained in the repertoire or that anyone has heard of today.

Hence the inescapable conclusion is that Mozart was the dominant figure in the collaboration.  Da Ponte understood or learned from Mozart the need to keep the drama moving by varying the musical encounters and groupings, by altering the rhythms of vocal speech, and by switching the moods.  He may even have understood the great discovery in the writing of opera that we owe to Mozart - the way in which character can be created, transformed, altered, and emphasized by entirely musical means taking possession of the sense of words.  But the magic touch is always provided by Mozart as music dramatist.

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.

BMdotcom abusive comment of the day
Photoing the old London model
Anthrozoology
BMdotcom What if? of the day
BMdotcom (mathematical (and sporting)) quote of the day
Database blues
Early tries by my guys
Pavarotti could not read music (very well)
Fuck the duck until exploded
MicheldeMontaigne.fr
Is it practise or practice?  (And: would perfect communication actually be perfect?)
Sign with sarcastic sneer quotes
Xxxx-ie outside Xxxx-ridges
God was overheating and now needs radical transplant surgery (and Dawkins now has to do my email)
Quota selfie from 2006
What to call the sneerquote Salesforce /sneerquote tower? (plus a quite profound tangent)
TfL electronic signs (etc.)
GARBAGE SHED AND JUMP INTO THE SEA IS PROHIBITED
Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)
The joyful excitement of the Festival lyrique international de Belle-Île-en-Mer
Chinos?
Premier League soccer news
Two badly lit views of “Victoria Tower” and why Big Ben is not St Stephen’s Tower or Elizabeth Tower
Sorry for the outage last night
JK Rowling describes two rich girls
Boris Johnson’s London
Big Things on a better day
Comrade Blimp
Friend on telly
Sidwell (and me) on selfies
Fat bastard!
Heroes?
Hampers can be annoying
TIL
Monty Panesar: “I piss on your short pitched fast deliveries aimed at my body!”
The Alex Singleton blog
The right sentences but not necessarily in the right order
There are cranes and there are cranes
BMdotCOM mixed metaphor of the day
So painters also used to “take” pictures
The ups and downs of English
Kissa yrittää mennä laatikkoon
Literally the light switch of leadership
BMdotCOM Headline of the week
Thrashing India
Choosing a Clean Food Outlet in Lawas is as easy as ABC
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
Misspelt (correction: Italian) signs of the times
Multilingual signage
Excellent new word
Pronouncing on the Six Nations
BM.com quote of the day
More signage
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom spam comment spelling mistake of the day
The Humpty Dumpty Learning Channel
Obamanomics dod not work
English will not last for ever shock
Another strangely punctuated headline and a depressing television play
K Street - metonym - synecdoche
To Serve Man
Reading various bits of Roger Kimball
I flipping told him
Brian Sickle-feather?
Sounds like a brothel with film star lookalikes
One of the many signs of aging
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom modified cliche insult of the day
Stepping forward into the abyss!
Old-school media versus (or becoming) new-school media (again)
All your Quite Interesting questions answered
What a difference a g makes
Spelling Micklethwait wrong and Googling for Brian Micklethwaite
Inappropriate?
Long platform ticket
I am not drunk - I just didn’t know what to put so I just started
Some neologistics
Excellent mixed metaphor
I need to get out less
“I will cause a boy that driveth a plough to know more of the scriptures than thou dost.”
Metaphor muddle alert
Brought?
Today I have been blogging elsewhere and also doing other things
Computer blues
Signs of civilisation
It’s true what they say about how hard it is to pronounce Chinese – oh beansprouts!
New word alert
Robots will transform education
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
When inimitable means very imitable
Today I ate something that disagreed with me
Refuting decimation