Archive for the ‘Memory’ Category

Briefly noted: decline

June 5, 2014

From Bruce Handy’s “Comic Relief: Bob Mankoff’s ‘How About Never — Is Never Good for You?’ ” in the NYT Book Review on the 1st (on Mankoff’s book, see here):

To the perennial gripe that the [New Yorker] cartoons aren’t as funny as they used to be [a complaint sometimes ventilated in comments on this blog], Mankoff’s short answer is: “They never were.” It’s true. I conducted another experiment, pulling three random issues of the magazine off local library shelves, from 1933, 1965 and 1997; each batch of vintage cartoons produced the same amount of chuckles, snorts of recognition, mehs, groans and huh?’s as would those in any recent issue (minus jokes at the expense of Africans, Native Americans, Gypsies, Jews and wives who won’t shut up). Mankoff believes that people tend to forget cartoons they didn’t like, remembering only the keepers, which gives the past a perpetual leg up.

Selective memory strikes again.

I’ve gone back over years of New Yorker cartoons and had the same experience as Handy. In fact, some older and celebrated cartoonists — Peter Arno and Helen Hokinson, for example — never entertained  me much at all.

Social memory

December 28, 2013

From GayStarNews on the 17th, in “Taylor Kitsch ‘had no idea about the whole AIDS epidemic’ before filming The Normal Heart: Actor plays closeted Wall Street executive in denial about having the disease” by Greg Hernandez:

‘I mean, look: I was born in ’81. I had no idea about the whole AIDS epidemic,’ the actor tellsVulture.

Social memory is surprisingly shallow. Events vanish with great speed. My studemts (in their 20s and 30s) know virtually nothing about the Vietnam War or the protests surrounding it. Then it turned out out that several acquaintances (in their 20s) knew essentially nothing about the AIDS epidemic — this after some emotional reminiscences from me.


Arnie Levin

June 19, 2013

This fine New Yorker cartoon by Arnie Levin, sent to me by Sally Page Byers and Amanda Walker (along with an X-rated composition by Pierre et Gilles and an X-rated photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans; posting on Tillmans on AZBlogX, here):


A play on the proverbial “An elephant never forgets”.


Syntax on the move

April 28, 2013

Jon Lighter on ADS-L comments on my usage:

Arnold’s unremarkable syntax from the “Chicano” thread: “the first OED2 cite, from 1947 Arizona, is somewhat disparaging in tone.”

In case some young folks don’t realize it, this journalistic use of a year-date as an adjective [well, prenominal modifier] is pretty “new” …

The usage is so natural to me that I thought nothing of it, nor did I recognize it as a relatively recent innovation or associate it with journalists.



February 1, 2013

After seeing myself cited repeatedly as the source of

Zwicky’s Law, which states categorically that
 “The more irrelevant garbage you put into a sentence, the better it sounds.”

I pondered. This is from this source, but all the cites go back to John Lawler. The sentiment is one I’ve expressed several times (in connection with grammaticality judgments on specific sentences), though not in fact categorically, and usually light-heartedly, but I didn’t recognize this wording, and couldn’t find the source. So I wrote John to pin the thing down. Turns out it’s Linguists’ Lore.


Explanations and understandings

January 30, 2013

Posted by Mike McKinley on Facebook this morning:

Ah, I recognized this as a variant of a quotation I have long admired. From Boswell’s Life of Johnson, courtesy of the Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page:

Johnson having argued for some time with a pertinacious gentleman; his opponent, who had talked in a very puzzling manner, happened to say, “I don’t understand you, Sir;” upon which Johnson observed, “Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”


Ask AZ: The F-word and “F-word”

July 8, 2012

Reader Adrian e-mailed me yesterday to ask about John McPhee’s reminiscence in the New Yorker‘s July 2nd issue (“The name of the subject shall not be the title”) in The Writing Life department, in which McPhee claimed that the expression F-word wasn’t in use in 1975. Adrian had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Google N-gram to track the expression (but reported a Google Books hit from 1969, alas an artifact of the screwiness of GB searches) and now was asking me what I knew about the matter.

First, McPhee’s account, coming in the middle of a history of fuck at the magazine. Then, some usage data.


A Proustian moment

June 23, 2012

(About my life, not language.)

Benita Bendon Campbell writes from Colorado:

Not too long ago, while cleaning a bunch of neglected desk drawers, I happened upon a few sheets of faded pale-green scratch paper from your days at The Reading Eagle. Pure Proust.

Ah, the green headline pads!



December 30, 2011

The New York Times yesterday had its annual report on baby names in the city (“Prediction: You Will Meet Many Jaydens and Isabellas” by N. R. Kleinfeld). On top: Jayden for boys, Isabella for girls. Michael continues to decline (though it remains on top in New York State), as does Ashley.

Meanwhile, I’ve been coping with name puzzles in my research on the Daingerfield family and their kin: many names repeated over and over again across the generations, and many people referred to by different names.


Dream linguistics

December 21, 2011

In an extended vivid dream last night, some colleague said, bitingly, of a paper of mine:

I dislike what you say and how you say it, but I like that you said it.

The paper was about a dozen specific words (none of which I can remember, of course; I never think to take notes in dreams), but I can’t recall what aspect of them was at issue, beyond its not being their phonology: morphology, syntax, usage, sociolinguistic status, etymology, whatever.

In my dream, I did mount a reply, but that too has vanished in the mists of memory. I don’t think I commented on the metacritique — that there is value in clearly saying things that the critic believes to be wrong.



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