Archive for May, 2010

Sundance is an angel when he flies

May 31, 2010

I should have been doing useful work on this holiday weekend, but my posting on Phoebe Anna Traquair led me to revisit some writing I did starting in 1994: a magical realist (and gay gay gay and very sexually explicit) recounting of the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, from Sundance’s point of view. Sundance and Butch, a fiction with interpolated poetry. I’m going to now inflict the poetry on those of you who are willing to brave the subject matter and the very plain language (you’ve been warned) — because Sundance is an Apollo figure of sorts, with some godlike gifts (the ability to fly, healing by the laying on of hands, just knowing things), and of course there’s the name Sundance, with its nod to Apollo the Sun God, and in the couple he’s the fairer, more beautiful one, while Butch is the darker, rougher, more butch (names again!) one, so we have Apollo paired with Bacchus.

Once again, a posting that isn’t really about language.


Progress of a Soul

May 31, 2010

(This isn’t really about language, though there are some connections.)

Not long ago I bought a box of colorful notecards from Pomegranate Communications (in Petaluma CA — Pomegranate in Petaluma, how can you beat that?) which turned out to be the work of yet another artist I didn’t recall knowing anything about, Phoebe Anna Traquair, described in some places as “the leading female artist of the Scottish Arts and Crafts Movement”, but without the “female” qualification on the Pomegranate site itself:

A leading artist of the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement, Phoebe Anna Traquair (Scottish, b. Ireland, 1852–1936) earned international recognition for her murals, paintings, embroideries, book illustrations, and jewelry; she also played a significant role in promoting decorative art in public buildings. In 1920 she became the first woman member of the Royal Scottish Academy. Originally from Dublin, she moved to Edinburgh following her marriage to Dr. Ramsay Traquair, keeper of natural history at the Museum of Science and Art, later renamed the Royal Museum.


Disney creepitude

May 30, 2010

Zippy finds a visit to the Magic Kingdom unsettling:

Rather too much enthusiastic personal interest for Zippy’s taste, especially from larger-than-human cartoon figures. No doubt there are guys who would welcome a same-sex liaison with such a creature — the world of fetishized sexual attraction is big and diverse — but it’s not Zippy’s doughnut.

The verbing of the proper noun Disney by suffixation with -(i)fy (in the title of this strip) is not especially notable — lots of people have complained about the Disneyfication of this or that — though as with verbings in general (of all kinds) the specific import of the derived verb is very context-specific, beyond causing a change, in the referent of the verb’s object, that is somehow associated with the referent of the base noun. I’m not sure what’s involved in Disneyfication in Zippy’s case: giving a sexual come-on a Disney twist?

The attributes of god, repeated three times

May 30, 2010

Zippy likes to repeat expressions he savors three times, as here:

This time around, each expression is a single word alluding to a characteristic of god: god is all-knowing, god is all-powerful, the name of god has four letters, and there is only one god (the godhead appears in the last panel)


The Two Z’s and innovation

May 30, 2010

A triple feature for (U.S.) Memorial Day weekend, from the Two Z’s of the cartoon world. First, from Zippy World, Dingburgers reacting to the decline of print and hand-written communication:

Then, from Zits World, Jeremy rockets into the electronic future, past cellphones and on to txtng:

Waltzing with Bears

May 25, 2010

A couple of days ago, my random playlist on iTunes brought me the tune “Waltzing With Bears”, as performed by Patricia Herdman (and a singing audience) on the Keepers album (from Minnesota Public Radio’s Morning Show, which came to an end in 2008), and I reflected, once again, on a possible gay subtext in what is usually presented as a children’s song — “nursery music”, in the spirit of “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” — or an Irish folk song (or frequently both). Here’s the version from Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir, and Ed Trickett’s 1987 recording, on their collection The First Fifteen Years (Vol. II):

[CHORUS] Wa-wa-wa waltzing, waltzing with bears,
Raggy bears, shaggy bears, baggy bears too.
There’s nothing on earth Uncle Walter won’t do,
So he can go waltzing, wa-wa-wa waltzing,
So he can go waltzing, waltzing with bears.

[1] I went upstairs in the middle of the night;
I tiptoed in and I turned on the light;
But, to my surprise, there was no one in sight.
My Uncle Walter goes dancing at night.

[2] I gave Uncle Walter a new coat to wear;
When he came home it was covered with hair.
Lately I’ve noticed several new tears.
I’m sure Uncle Walter goes waltzing with bears

[3] We told Uncle Walter that he should be good,
And do all the things that we said he should,
But I know he’d rather be out in the woods.
I’m afraid we might lose Uncle Walter for good.

[4] We begged and we pleaded, “Oh please, won’t you stay?”
We managed to keep him at home for a day,
But the bears all barged in and took him away
Now he’s dancing with pandas,
And he can’t understand us,
And the bears all demand at least one dance a day.
CHORUS, twice


Short shot #48: this week’s most arresting simile

May 25, 2010

A parenthesis from Graydon Carter’s review of Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow, in the May 23 NYT Book Review:

(I sat beside [Kingsley Amis] years and years ago at a Private Eye lunch at the magazine’s regular spot … He was funny and raffishly rude, and had the thinnest, whitest skin I’ve ever seen on a man — like a condom filled with skim milk.)

A most unpleasant image, with its parallel between semen and milk — and surely intended to be unpleasant (and to evoke Kingsley Amis’s famously womanizing ways, though Carter describes Amis with a certain degree of admiration as “an accomplished womanizer”.)

(The digression from Martin Amis to his father Kingsley seems to be routine in writing about Martin’s books. We would have felt cheated if Carter hadn’t taken us down that side path.)

Annals of taboo avoidance: the white rectangle of modesty

May 21, 2010

Cartoonist Keith Knight (under the name Keef), in his K Chronicles of April 27, uses a scheme for avoiding taboo words that was new to me:

(Thanks to Ben Zimmer for an improved image of the strip.)

The strip was circulated under the title “Sh_tless Babies”, which uses the common technique of an avoidance character (here, the underscore) in place of a letter. The strip itself uses a technique borrowed from visual modesty — the white rectangle superimposed on the offending material, which in the case of visual images is the “naughty bits” of the body (women’s breasts, both sexes’ genitalia).

Here the white rectangle of modesty covers not only the letter I, but the sequence IT. All is not hidden, however; Keef has left the dot on the I and the top part of the T peeking over the top of the rectangle, rather like bits of suggestive pubic hair (most clearly the last time through, in “No shit, Sherlock!!”).

we need to V

May 21, 2010

Bizarro brings a formula of social life (especially the life of couples) into the modern age:

“We need to talk”, “We have to talk”, “We’ve got to talk” — all ways of starting a two-person discourse about some potentially troubling topic. It’s become a kind of formula for couples-talk, often initiating a decoupling conversation (taking things easy, seeing other people, breaking up). Here it’s brought up to date in the age of txtng and friending.

Famous first words

May 17, 2010

A Zippy on Little Zippy’s cognitive development, including his first words:

Stories of “baby’s first words” abound, many of them obviously tall tales, in which a baby speaks not at all for several years, then comes out with some complex, and perfectly well-formed, utterance, explaining that they hadn’t said anything before because they didn’t have anything important to say, or because they wanted to wait until they could get it right. Nice stories, but utterly implausible, since perfecting a linguistic system requires not only practice (which they might have managed in secret), but in fact practice with other people.

I think I’ve said this several times in various places on the net, but there is such a tale in my first family-in-law, which I heard from Keene Daingerfield, my first father-in-law. It’s about his daughter, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky (who died, alas, 25 years ago in January; she surely would have told it better than I’m about to). The story bears every mark of sheer invention on Keene’s part; the Daingerfields were given to embroidering on family stories to make them better in the telling, and were not above just making things up.

Ann’s “first words” (at roughly age 2) were reported to be:

I hear a train but I do not see it. Pa tells me it is far, far away.

Students of language acquisition, feel free to discuss.

[People are going to ask me about the name Keene Daingerfield, so here goes…

Keene’s paternal grandfather Foxhall Daingerfield (ok, both Foxhall and Daingerfield are originally Anglicized Norman French names — Vauxhall and D’Angerville) trained race horses for James R. Keene (this is a story from the Virginia/Kentucky horse country), and the two became best friends, to the point of each naming his first son for the other. So in time Foxhall Daingerfield Keene and James Keene Daingerfield came into the world. Ann’s father was James Keene Daingerfield, Jr., and went by J. Keene Daingerfield, Keene for short, so as to distinguish himself from his father.]