Category Archives: fun

A post in praise of long titles for books, in which I clarify “long,” give luxuriant examples, describe the function, compare with lengthy titles in other spheres of life, dismiss objections both silly and obnoxious, and cap off with further examples

Some people dislike the long titles that many old books had. They scorn them or laugh at them.

I rather enjoy them.

In fact, I find them relaxing. I’ve encountered a couple just recently that really eased my nerves. Continue reading

Book sniffing note: Slanguage, by Bernard Share

Look, I don’t think I’m weird about this. I really don’t. I think lots of you sniff your books. And probably other people’s too.

The way books smell matters. The cheap hard white academic institutional paper of tenure books and reheated dissertations has a smell that tells you from the beginning that you will learn a firehose-blast of trivialities and you will not admit to enjoying it too much. My undated Hodder & Stoughton edition of The Ruba’iya’t of Omar Khayyam has just a memory of a smell of storytime from thick soft volumes, while my copy of Elementary Particles by David Griffiths has an inexplicable faint whiff of black pepper. For a long time, every issue of National Geographic had a tangy smart pong that was the closest thing I’d ever found to the taste left by a large bug (perhaps a bee) that slammed into the back of my mouth as I was cycling at speed. And nothing – nuh, thing – can match the overriding dusty-honey air of ancient foxed linen rag bond in the subterranean stacks of that Great Pyramid of theatre history, that glorious bibliotechnical Dumpster, the Harvard Theatre Collection. Continue reading

vexeme

We all have our pet peeves. Some of us have many and some have few; some of us have bigger ones and some have smaller ones. Some people have pet peeves like leashed Rottweilers that precede them in all situations (the worst grammar grumblers can be like this), but for most of us, they are more like purse dogs, easy enough to carry around and produce as needed – almost cute, even, though they might make a mess on your wallet. For many of us, though, they’re not even pets so much as little flags we take out and wave at certain moments, kind of like sports fans. Continue reading

Bighill Creek, the stream of consciousness

I was back in Alberta last week visiting my parents. My dad writes a weekly column in the Cochrane Eagle and he asked me if I’d like to write a guest column for him. I said “sure” because asking me to write something is like asking me if I’d like a glass of champagne. I decided to do something on the lovely little creek that stitches together the parkland at the heart of the town. It’s on his website as “Our blue stream of consciousness joins past and future” with one photo by me, but since this is my blog and I have room, I’m going to give it to you here with four photos.

Day by day, high and far on its edges, Cochrane grows. And instant by instant, in the town’s green heart, a blue past and future flows.

Bighill Creek comes to air above town and wanders down to see what’s here. It sashays past the old RancheHouse, swerves under a footbridge, swings wide, sighs at the glittering graffiti under the highway and slides under another footbridge and the tracks. Nourishing grasses and trees as it passes, it ducks under Glenbow Drive and plays peekaboo with the red paths of Glenwood, William Camden, and Riverfront Parks: eight more bridges and two culverts. A jogger out with the dogs will cross it and cross it again, and again, and again. And then it becomes Bow water.

I visit Cochrane and the Bow Valley landscape of my youth every year, and every year I walk and run along and across Bighill Creek. As I change, and the people I know change, and Cochrane changes, the creek is more or less the same, depending on the season – but, like any stream, its water is different from moment to moment.

But it returns as I do, as the seasons do. Water evaporates from its surface and soaks the ground from its bed, and the plants it refreshes breathe it into the air. The water in the air dreams itself into clouds; the clouds rest down as snow and rain; the snow and rain feed the springs and the creek. And so, although most of the creek flows on like the countless instants we lose to memory in time, some of it returns.

And after another year, I return. I am the same person but not quite the same, and Cochrane is the same town but not quite the same. I stand on a bridge and reflect on the creek. And the water flows by like mind into memory, some of it newly met and some coming back to me.

Wines, the world, and so on

I love wines. Especially good ones. From all over. Aina and I go on trips just to taste wines. My serious wine education started when I was 19 (thanks, cousin Sharon). For the past 16 years I’ve edited the website of Tony Aspler, Canada’s wine guy, and that was where I got the idea of doing word tastings.

So, naturally, when I got the opportunity to write an article for a travel website about wines to choose for a starter wine cellar, I very happily took it. And I sure enjoyed writing it. Here it is. If you don’t enjoy reading it, have a glass of wine and try again (I recommend a chilled sparkling wine – a blanc de noirs from Champagne if you want to spend the money, or a Gloria Ferrer from Sonoma, or a crémant de Loire or, heck, why not Seaview Brut?).

The world in your home: How to build the ultimate international wine collection

 

omnibus notum, scilicet

Good scholars always want to add to their skill kits, obviously, but they can sometimes be a silly set too. There are times when levity is the only sensible response to the gravity of the situation – to wit, when there is something that everyone knows, or that follows easily from something everyone knows, but no one has bothered proving. It’s not that citations bring excitation, but there is an expectation that if you say it you can cite a source for it. If it’s notable, it should be footnotable; absence of a note would be ominous. So when you are making a point in a paper, and you get to something that’s important to the point, and it’s an “everybody knows” thing or a “well of course” thing, but you can’t find prior research to support it, what do you do?

What you want to do is footnote it with “Obviously” or “Everybody knows this.” But that seems rather… um… frank. Frankly English, for one thing. This is scholarship, you know! You don’t put “Smith, the same one I just cited,” you put “Smith, ibid.”; you don’t put “Smith, here and there throughout the book,” you put “Smith, passim.” So what do you put instead of “Everybody knows this” or “Obviously”? I’d be tempted to put res ipsa loquitur, a well-known phrase that means ‘the thing speaks for itself’, but it has a specific legal use – to wit: the very nature of a particular accident is evidence of negligence (i.e., that kind of accident can’t happen unless someone screws up).

So I put the question to fellow scholars on Twitter, which in such matters can be an omnibus full of notables. Various suggestions came through. One from Laura Gibbs that I especially liked was omnibus notum. This does not mean a post-it note on a transit vehicle; it’s Latin for ‘known by all’. It can easily be abbreviated to om. not. or o.n. If the reader sees you footnote “An egg will probably break if you drop it from shoulder height onto a tile floor” and says, “A footnote? Are you joking?” you can say “I om. not.

An even more cogent one could be what Gregory Stringer suggested: scilicet. It’s a term used in various Latin writings; it is actually a synthesis of scio licet, which means ‘it is permitted to know’, but the Romans used it to mean ‘obviously’ or ‘naturally’ or, in a concessive manner, ‘of course’, to be followed with a sed (‘but’) clause. It can be pronounced in the classical Latin way, “ski li ket,” or it can be said in the English way, like “silla set” or “sigh la set.”

The fact that there is an existing English-style pronunciation for it tells us that it is in use as an English word.1 So we’re all set, right? Hmm, well. There are two English usages. One, no longer current, means ‘doubtlessly’ sarcastically: “Should Trump become president, he will scilicet brush up his diplomatic skills.” The other one uses it in another sense available from its construction: ‘evidently’ or ‘to wit’. That is to say, it means ‘that is to say’ – i.e., it’s another way to say i.e. It’s like a clickable plus sign that has expanded to show the extra information. So if you set scilicet the reader may be conditioned to expect just that thing you were using it to avoid: an explanation.

Ah, drat. No rest for the learnèd. However obvious the thing, however needless an explanation seems to be, you can’t always conceal it, or skip it, or hope it’s too obvious for a note. Why not? Because, as Mark Twain wrote, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”2 The great advances of knowledge have come from disproving the obvious.3 So you sigh and see what you can set down.

Thanks to Iva Cheung for setting this thought train in motion.

 

1Res ipsa loquitur.

2Actually, this can’t be found in any of Twain’s writings, though he did write “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” in Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar. A similar quote is attributed to Twain’s contemporary Josh Billings: “It ain’t ignorance causes so much trouble; it’s folks knowing so much that ain’t so.” This likewise does not appear in Billings’s work. But Billings’s 1874 Everybody’s Friend, or Josh Billling’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor has “I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.” (Thanks to Bob Kalsey, http://wellnowbob.blogspot.ca/2008/07/it-aint-what-you-dont-know.html, for this.) In any case, the idea itself has an intuitive appeal and a certain… obviousness?

3If this doesn’t seem obvious to you, I can’t see why not.

Some travel shortcuts

I think it’s time for another poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar. This is one of a small set that have nothing to do with romantic difficulty – though it does have to do with getting around.

When you’re referring to a couple of geographical features, such as the Bow River and the Elbow River, you can join them together and say the Bow and Elbow rivers, because river can be treated as a descriptive term in this case. If you’re talking about Green Bay and North Bay, you can say Green and North bays if you’re talking about the bays, but it might be misleading to use that when you’re talking about the cities. Some people like to extend this practice to city names, as in Forts Meyers and St. John, but that can get a little dodgy. Or maybe more than a little…

Getting around efficiently

Oh, all the places we have gone –
we’ve seen Forts Myers and St. John;
Green and Thunder Bays were nice,
and Frobisher, though full of ice;
Long and Virginia Beaches – spiffy;
Grand and Cedar Rapids – iffy;
I still recall how we did things
in Hot and Colorado Springs
and Sans Diego and Jose –
oh, yes, and don’t forget ta Fe;
Saints Petersburg and Paul were green,
Dart and Fal mouths were marine;
Ott and Osh awas were cool;
Grands Forks and Rapids, rather cruel;
Cals gary and ifornia, great;
Monts pelier and réal – don’t wait;
Wins dsor and nipeg, give a miss;
Den and Vancou vers, skiers’ bliss;
Columbs us and ia, just fair;
Phoeni and Bron xes – don’t go there;
Moose Jaw and Factory – no way;
Jun and Gatin eaux – OK;
Toes peka, ledo, ronto – yeah;
Men chester and itoba – nah.
Oh, yes, we’ve had the time that was
in Canad and Americ as!