February 29, 2012, 12:01 am
The backlash against The Artist started well before it won Best Picture (and a slew of other Oscars) on Sunday night. “Feel-good lightweight nostalgic bathos,” is the basic idea. I disagree. I think it’s a fantastic movie for a number of reasons, but the one that relates to this blog and which I will talk about today is the sheer pleasure of its (spoiler alert for those who have been on holiday in Papua New Guinea for the past few months) wordlessness.
It’s a common theme bordering on truism of film criticism that what’s truly special about the medium is the stuff that’s nonspoken—the visuals, the music, the sound effects—and that, to some extent, the artistic high water mark of cinema came in the silent era. The director of The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, was quoted earlier this month as saying:
A movie without dialogue is the purest way to tell a story. The audience gets…
February 28, 2012, 12:01 am
Until the last century, there were no teenagers.
Romeo and Juliet weren’t teenagers. Jane Austen’s characters, and Austen herself, were never teenagers. Nor were Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, or Dickens himself. Huckleberry Finn was 13 when he had his adventures, but even he wasn’t a teenager. In fact nobody, fictional or real, was a teenager until after the turn of the 20th century.
What a difference now!
Nowadays, upon turning 13, a young person is acutely aware of entering a special phase of life: a phase with all the rights and privileges thereto pertaining, shared by neither children nor adults. It is not a phase to hurry through with the aim of becoming a grownup as quickly as possible, but one to savor for its own culture, its own fads in music, clothing, language, and attitudes.
It wasn’t young people ages 13 through 19 who first thought to make the teen…
February 27, 2012, 12:01 am
In 2005, bemoaning the College Board’s decision to drop analogies from the SAT in order to make room for the writing section, Adam Cohen observed, “Nowhere are analogies more central than in politics.” That truth has been echoing for me in the latest round of analogizing in the debate over insurance coverage for contraception.
Carving out one tiny corner of that debate, readers’ responses to my local newspaper’s coverage, I find the following analogies:
1. Under your logic the government should have the ability to force Jewish nursing homes to serve pork if some bureaucrat determines it is healthier than beef.
2. The Mormons were forced to abandon polygamy because it’s illegal under this nation’s laws.
3. Should institutions run by Jehovah’s Witnesses be able to refuse to cover the cost of blood transfusions in their health insurance?
4. The same thing…
February 24, 2012, 12:01 am
This week something rare, old fashioned, scholarly, and entertaining arrived via the U.S. Postal Service. As usual, I’m postponing other tasks until I have read it cover to cover.
It’s a journal you’ve probably never heard of: Comments on Etymology.
Rare I call it, because the journal has very few subscribers. And old fashioned, because it’s only on paper. It’s not available on the Internet.
For more than four decades, Comments on Etymology has been one of the least known and most enjoyable scholarly journals in the field of linguistics. And it’s the No. 1 source for the study of American slang.
Indeed, for anyone seriously interested in the origins of words, especially slang, Comments on Etymology is indispensable. And for anyone not so seriously interested, it’s still entertaining and engaging.
That’s because the journal engages readers in the search for …
February 23, 2012, 12:01 am
“It used to be called illegitimacy,” began last Sunday’s lead article in The New York Times, “Unwed Mothers Now a Majority in Births in 20’s.” Indeed, it did, until the Times Style Book and, now, the AP Stylebook got hold of it.
The phrase “illegitimate child,” according to the AP’s perhaps belated entry in its online version, is “stigmatizing, and unfairly so,” according to the Stylebook editor David Minthorn. Like those following The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (which made up its mind about the term in 1999), AP reporters are encouraged to replace the offending adjective with phrases like “whose parents were not married.” Now, I have inveighed elsewhere against those who argue that politically sensitive descriptors are too clumsy, but you have to admit, this one is a mouthful. Still, culturally attuned readers and listeners—like Sigmund Roos,…
February 22, 2012, 12:01 am
Lucy Ferriss recently mentioned here on Lingua Franca some comments of former Harvard president Larry Summers. He questions the importance of foreign-language instruction in 21st-century higher education:
English’s emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile. While there is no gainsaying the insights that come from mastering a language, it will over time become less essential in doing business in Asia, treating patients in Africa or helping resolve conflicts in the Middle East.
As Lucy noted, this stimulated a Room for Debate discussion with half a dozen replies arguing in favor of foreign-language classes. I certainly do not want to argue against: I wish I could have…
February 21, 2012, 12:01 am
Photo courtesy of Jonathan
Although I may have a reputation for breaking the rules, when I set out to copy-edit a manuscript, my default tactic is to follow the stylebook until I have a reason not to. It’s the most sensible way to work. Since few writers are consistent in their stylings, few will object when I favor our house style and edit their departures from it accordingly.
Occasionally, however, a writer is relentlessly, reliably consistent in violating a style rule. And inevitably, I don’t notice the consistency until I’m a good way into the manuscript. After 80 or 100 pages, it dawns on me that I’ve been changing the same thing over and over … and over … and that the writer has never once diverged from the antistyle. Which suggests that the writer really likes it the way he wrote it….
February 19, 2012, 3:49 pm
I’ve gotten very familiar with the geography of my local grocery store. That’s because of the grammar mavens, with which my town is peculiarly well-stocked. There’s the lawyer who’s obsessed with the dummkopfs who use which instead of that, and another fellow—also a lawyer, come to think of it—who’s on a one-man crusade against singular they. When I glimpse either of these two on the borders of my peripheral vision, I like to be able to dash into the cereal aisle and go incognito behind a jumbo box of Shredded Wheat.
The other day, I was comparing the assorted bags of organic field greens when I saw another neighbor. I knew him only as a friendly sort, but after we exchanged pleasantries, he started in on people who say between you and I. There was no escape.
The complaint was not new to me, of course. In fact, more than a decade ago, when the BBC polled its listeners about…
February 17, 2012, 12:01 am
It’s dangerous to post a column on work avoidance. You’re likely to receive e-mails, as I did after my post on Pootwattle, proposing even more ways to fritter away the time you should be spending writing your book or grading your students’ papers. Of all the proposals I received, none has tempted me more than “Letters of Note,” an Internet assemblage of notable epistles from the past six centuries.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a famous person in possession of e-mail should be in want of pen and ink. Though we write letters all the time, really—what are e-mails, texts, and Facebook messages, if not letters?—we regard the loss of the written or typed epistolary record with more than simple nostalgia. The private communications of notable people (and the contemporary forms I’ve listed are never sufficiently private) reveal sides of their personalities and…
February 16, 2012, 12:01 am
Photo courtesy of ginnerobot
If you have recently published with an academic press, or if your book is in press now, you might have been disappointed to learn that your work won’t be available on your e-reader anytime soon. While novelists take for granted that their new books will appear in all the electronic formats simultaneously with print publication, for scholars there are no such assurances. Why?
The answers fall into three main areas: (1) technology, (2) rights, and (3) money.
While novels typically consist of straight prose that is relatively easy to pour into the proprietary formats required by the different e-book devices, academic books tend to feature more complex elements. Maps, tables, graphs, and appendixes are still a challenge for e-readers, which must be…