Category Archives: Words Words Words

Not letting snuck sneak past me

Oh, dear. How did this escape my notice? For many speakers, a button-down shirt now does not refer specifically to a shirt with a buttons securing the collar, but rather to any shirt with buttons down the placket.

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OP vs. RP

David Crystal and Ben Crystal talk to Michael Rosen and Laura Wright of BBC Four’s Word of Mouth about Shakespearean Original Pronunciation (OP), with generous audio demonstrations. David Crystal has a reference book, to be released this summer, The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation.

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Craig Havighurst has proposed a new umbrella term for that thing that most people call classical music, that my friends in college (particularly in the School of Music) encouraged me to call art music or serious music, and that I have also heard described as Western concert hall music. Havighust likes the term composed music, and he makes some good points.

Composed Music’s primary virtue is its blunt veracity. It is what it says it is: works by a singular mind, fixed and promulgated in written form. …it emphasizes the actual creator of the music, giving credit where it’s due in an era when the general public has been conditioned to associate works with performers.

And lest we forget,

The awkwardness of there being a Classical Period in Classical Music becomes moot.

In a follow-up, he points out that he intends the term to include jazz and third stream compositions as well, written by artists as diverse as Brubeck and Zappa.

Of course, we can always go with the dichotomy associated with Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington:

There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.


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Connell decoded

In Mrs. Bridge, Evan S. Connell’s “log-log duplex decitrix” (Chapter 49) appears to be a small error for the Keuffel & Esser Log Log Duplex Decitrig slide rule.

Similarly, this sentence from Chapter 13, “Guest Towels,” is initially confusing:

She had a supply of Margab, which were the best, at least in the opinion of everyone she knew, and whenever guests were coming to the house she would put the ordinary towels in the laundry and place several of these little pastel towels in each of the bathrooms.

Slantwise searching turns up Cynthia’s Linen Room:

Marghab Linens were produced in Madeira, Portugal between 1934-1984 and were marketed as some of the finest embroidery of the time. Vera Way Marghab was the driving force behind the imaginative and beautiful designs executed by her company, Emile Marghab, Inc.

The linens were hand-embroidered as a home industry by the Madeirans.

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Max has got it

Baseball considers itself the most thoughtful of games, a pastime more than a sport, written about with reverence and lyricism, in which pitching is considered more art than athleticism.

Yet the primary term used to explain the art of pitching, which often determines who wins and who loses, is an inelegant word of ill-defined mush.

John Branch tries to define stuff.

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ᏍᏏᏉᏯ (Sequoyah) explains how Cherokee script has evolved and adapted with changes in technology.

Eduardo Avila, PRI

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work in progressLearning Ally staff posted on the bulletin board the log sheets for several books that our team of transcribers had recently completed. Sometimes it’s nice to get a little attaboy. I worked on at least one of these titles. The books we recorded include:

  • United States Government
  • Texas Science Fusion: Lab Manual Grade 8
  • Economics: New Ways of Thinking, 2/e
  • Working with Young Children, 7/e
  • Basic Drama Projects
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Stories in sound: 1

Cory Turner listens to the work of neurobiologist Nina Kraus: an audio-driven screener for children at risk of literacy challenges.

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Laura McKenna considers her son’s acquisition of idiomatic language.

Ian has learned English like an ESL student. I suspect that English wasn’t his first language. I often wonder what his first language was. Was it images?

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Rare precision

Mark Memmott, interviewed by Scott Simon, takes the time to parse out the meanings of the word “suicide,” and explores when the word is (and is not) appropriately applied to someone who takes other lives along with his or her own. Memmott wants to inform, not inflame.

But I should note that the phrase suicide bomber can be problematic, and I want to be very careful with what I say next. I am not suggesting anything about what happened aboard the Germanwings jet, but, especially when information is scant, it’s important to remember that what seems obvious may not be. For instance, there is evidence that some of those who have been called suicide bombers have been forced to or tricked into carrying explosives into buildings and crowds. Should they be called suicide bombers? I don’t think so. I don’t think most people would. And I know I’m a nag on this topic. It’s usually best to avoid labels, and the phrase suicide bomber is a label. Unless you’re sure those labels apply, stick to the facts, be precise with your words, choose them carefully.

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Emily Nussbaum in a recent issue of The New Yorker:

The Fault in Our Stars has inspired a roiling debate about the popularity of Y.A. fiction, particularly among adult readers…. The messy part about this discussion is, of course, that plenty of the most potent and enduring “literary” works focus on adolescent identity, from Romeo and Juliet to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Often, it’s hard to distinguish the debate about art from the one about marketing, and from the thrumming anxiety about the economic survival of literary fiction—which is, after all, a genre itself. As with crime novels or science fiction, labelling entire genres “popular junk” or “ambitious art” is too simplistic: the teen book you like is Y.A.; the teen book I like “transcends the genre.”

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Good advice (i.e., advice I agree with) accompanied by useful local lore and an extra helping of snark: Washington City Paper‘s manual of style and usage.

M is uppercase, but feel free to grumble about it.

* * *

Penn Quarter
Neighborhood south and west of Chinatown defined better by the overconcentration of José Andrés restaurants than by definitive boundaries.

* * *

Not theatre, except as part of a proper noun. We don’t know how the obsession with French spelling arose, but we’re not playing along. Studio Theatre, you’re doing it wrong. Howard Theatre, WTF? Signature Theatre, just stop. You’re making our spellcheck misfire and our copy editors gnash their already worn-down teeth. Take a hint from our star pupil, Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater, or we may start calling you thee-AT-ruhs.
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Updike decoded

Two notes from Rabbit Is Rich:

I’d never run across the expression “to pass papers” (chapter IV, p. 975 in the Everyman omnibus volume) to describe closing on a real estate transaction. Maybe it’s a Pennsylvania thing. It’s certainly descriptive.

And look who shows up in the closing pages of chapter V, p. 1040:

… the way his brain is going on reminds him of some article he read last year in the paper of Time about some professor at Princeton’s theory that in ancient times the gods spoke to people directly through the left or was it the right half of their brains, they were like robots with radios in their heads telling them everything to do, and then somehow around the time of the ancient Greeks or Assyrians the system broke up, the batteries too weak to hear the orders, though there are glimmers of still and that is why we go to church…

And then Harry uses a couple of epithets to remind us of when and where he grew up. But there, in mangled form, is a précis of the work of Julian Jaynes and his opus, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

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Textbook pastebin

When I’m recording a textbook at Learning Ally, I often find it necessary to scribble a sentence fragment from the top or bottom of a page onto a scratchpad, so that I can read the complete sentence smoothly without a noisy rustle of turning pages. I recently worked on Theodore J. Lowi et al., American Government: Power and Purpose (2012), 12/e. In an exercise in political science found art (or spammy nonsense, you may decide), I collected all my scribbles from various page turns in the book, and here they are:

held on to their seats—nearly 80% of Democrats and more than 98% of Republicans.
of bills considered by Congress each year are defeated long before they reach the president.
He cannot aggregate the votes in his
negotiations, proposals, and counterproposals that were taking place.
There is ample evidence that Wilson’s
of information.
foreign policy initiatives.
On January 24, 2002, the 28 judges
Furthermore, in the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress conferred on the Supreme Court the power
claims on that principle during their terms in office.
Voters were unhappy about the state’s economy and dissatisfied with Davis’s
Voters, as we discussed in the
A grassroots campaign can
American farmers were frustrated with federal agricultural policies
The challenge is how to regulate the participation of groups without
of legislators’, judges’, and executives’ deliberations.
the nation’s economy.
their taxable income any money they can justify as an investment or a “business expense.”
As we noted in Chap-
providing the states with incentives to carry out federal mandates or shifting the program’s administration to a federal bureaucracy.
favor those already in positions of power and through prejudices that tend to develop against any group that has long been on the lower rungs of society.
the Soviet Union.
hundreds of millions on trade policy, we spend relatively little on environmental, human rights, and peacekeeping efforts.

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Williams decoded

There seems to be some confusion about the significance of the phrase “Magnolia 9047,” as it appears in this passage from scene 8 of A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), by Tennessee Williams:

BLANCHE [at the phone]: Hello. Mr. Mitchell, please…. Oh…. I would like to leave a number if I may. Magnolia 9047. And say it’s important to call….

MAgnolia is the telephone exchange, and 9047 the number within the exchange. The MAgnolia exchange was used from 1938 until 1960, when it was replaced with JAckson 3.

Some well-meaning souls have interpreted Magnolia 9047 as a street address, but it’s very clear that Blanche’s sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley live in the French Quarter at 632 Elysian Fields Avenue, as this passage in scene 1 with upstairs neighbor Eunice exposits:

EUNICE [finally]: What’s the matter, honey? Are you lost?

BLANCHE [with faintly hysterical humor]: They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!

EUNICE: That’s where you are now.

BLANCHE: At Elysian Fields?

EUNICE: This here is Elysian Fields.

BLANCHE: They mustn’t have—understood—what number I wanted…

EUNICE: What number you lookin’ for?

[Blanche wearily refers to the slip of paper.]

BLANCHE: Six thirty-two.

EUNICE: You don’t have to look no further.

However, Williams’ grasp of light rail routefinding is trumped by the poetics of Blanche traveling from desire to death to her celestial reward, as it is the Canal Street cars that are marked Cemeteries (for the terminus at Metairie Avenue), and this line does not intersect Elysian Fields Avenue.

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