Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

In the mail: The sleep of reason produces snowmen

December 3, 2022

In today’s e-mail, announcing the holiday issue of the New York Review of Books:


(#1) The text is all about Marcel Dzama’s cover art,The sleep of reason produces snowmen — an explicit homage to Goya, with a touch of Krampusnacht (12/5); not your daddy’s jolly Xmas snowman

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A kiss before dying

November 6, 2022

My interpretation of Susie Bright’s complex feelings before Election Tuesday, as she reported them on Facebook yesterday by re-posting her FB image from 11/5/14 (cropped here to focus on the crucial bits):


(#1) From a theatrical poster for the 1969 cowboy dinosaur movie The Valley of Gwangi: on the one hand, exhilaration (above, on being kissed by, omigod, the young James Franciscus in cowboy gear; in the election, on exercising the power of the vote, which has been a big thing for me since 1961); on the other hand, fear of looming devastation (above, in that rapacious death-dealing giant reptile, a vicious allosaurus; in the election, on what could happen if (delusional and malevolent) brutes and bullies take over the government) — is this a kiss before dying?

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What I’ve been writing

October 9, 2022

… an interview for the Linguistic Society of America’s COZIL, the society’s LGBTQ+ committee Z, for Gay History Month (October, this month), to be posted — in some form, but probably not this one — on COZIL’s site on October 11th, NCOD, National Coming Out Day (this, omigod, coming Tuesday).

(I note that NCOD is also the day my man Jacques and I chose, decades ago, before the US had same-sex marriage, to count as our wedding anniversary date. NCOD is a very big thing in my household.)

What’s below is a standard questionnaire from COZIL, with the responses I’ve spent four days (minus yesterday, which was mostly taken up by an extravagant breathing disorder) sweating out and chopping down. It’s very much in my eccentric and highly personal style; I didn’t have the time to re-work it into something more conventional, so the young colleague at the University of Hamburg who got the task of readying this for the COZIL site has to deal with it somehow. Meanwhile, with permission from COZIL, I’m letting you see the raw stuff.

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All about /aj/: the trisyllables

October 4, 2022

The Zippy strip of 9/29 interjects:


(#1) The strip is all about eyeglasses (with the wonderful name Thelma Nesselrode as a bonus), but this posting is about oh!, interjections / yeah!, exclamations / and, like, discourse markers and stuff

So, what’s up with eye-yi-yi!? This is presumably an orthographic representation of an English exclamation /aj aj aj/, with the accent pattern /àj aj áj/, and pronounced as a single phonological word /àjajáj/. In fact, I’m aware of — and at least an occasional user of — three English exclamations /àjajáj/, with three syllables: one a borrowing from (Latino) Spanish; one in Yinglish (taken from Yiddish); and one in PDE (Pennsylvania Dutch English, taken from Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, that is, Pennsylvania Dutch / German). (There are probably more, in other German-based varieties of English, in particular.) They have somewhat different contexts of use and a wide variety of ad hoc spellings, though ay-ay-ay seems to be the closest there is to a conventional spelling for all three of them (my childhood spelling for the PD and PDE exclamation was ai-ai-ai / ai ai ai, and it’s still the only one that looks right to me).

So: something about the range of the phenomena in this exclamatory domain, with special attention to my personal history. In this posting, just about the exclamatory triples, but folding in the de facto national ballad of Mexico, “Cielito Lindo”, and some Texas klezmer music.

Then, in a later posting (bear with me, my life is over-full), my discovery that OED3 has relatively recent entries for the interjections ai, aie, and ay, and my subsequent disappointment in the content of these entries — as against, say, the rich OED3 entries for the interjections oh and ah. And finally, some aimless wandering about in the world of interjections, exclamations, discourse markers, and related phenomena.

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Briefly: exocentric V + N

September 20, 2022

(Warning: a vulgar term for the primary female sexual anatomy will end up playing a big role in this posting.)

Where this is going: to an alternative name for an American President (#45, aka TFG); and to an alternative name for a classic American novel (by J.D. Salinger) — both names being exocentric V + N compound nouns, the first in English, the second in French. (I’ll call them exoVerNs for short.)

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Cartoon-cat fame-naming your cat

September 5, 2022

From my 8/15 posting “Fame-naming and family history”:

My intention was to get on with Cats 4, about naming cats for / after famous cats — in particular, famous fictional cats; in further particular, cats in cartoons and comics. If I name my cat Stallone (after the actor) or Rocky (after the fictional pugilist), I’m fame-naming a cat; if I name my cat Cheshire (from Alice in Wonderland) or Pyewacket (from the Salem witch trials and then various films, for example the wonderful Bell, Book and Candle (1958)), I’m cat-fame-naming my cat; if I name my cat Garfield or Sylvester, I’m cartoon-cat-fame-naming my cat. This is intricate, but pretty straightforward. And the topic of Cats 4 will in fact be the cartoon-cat-fame-naming of cats.

This is Cats 4. Where you could, if you were so moved, name your cat Garfield:


(#1) A lined notebook / journal for cat lovers (available via Amazon)

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The character of a creature

September 5, 2022

… as explored in the playful animal artwork of photographer Yago Partal, available for inspection in his 2017 book Zoo Portraits and for sale from his on-line site. The book cover, which shows a panda character holding a portrait of a koala character:


(#1) The portraits are meant to bring out characteristic features of a creature — not, however, as abstractions, but as embodiments in highly individual animal personages, with their own personal names: Bao the giant panda, Cooper the koala

Yes, I’m playing with two senses of character. From NOAD:

noun character: 1 the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual: running away was not in keeping with her character. … 2 a person [AZ: perhaps, better a personage / a figure / an individual] in a novel, play, or movie: the author’s compassionate identification with his characters.

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Who was that winged man?

August 31, 2022

🐅 🐅 🐅 (three tigers for the last day of the month, ultimate August) In search — not for the first time — of an attractive image of Apollo Resplendens, I fixed on this guy, who’s only roughly one-quarter Apollo and (for my Sacred Harp purposes in the search) regrettably lacks a musical instrument:


(#1) Apollo, Mercury, Eros, and Mars (well, at least these) folded together in Richard de Chazal’s homoerotic conceptualization of the Zodiacal sign Virgo (late August through late September — like, right now), the province of people who are intelligent, analytical, and attentive to detail, but also practical and commonsensical

Apollo’s male beauty surmounted by rays of sunlight, the messenger Mercury’s wings, Eros’s wings and heart, the bellicose Mars’s bandolier and metal armguards (on his left, topman, arm). But no musicality.

Why do I care about the musicality of my Apollo figures? In my 8/29 posting “Sacred Harp numerology for my birthday”, I report on a Sunday (8/28) Sacred Harp singing in which I produced

the strongest, most sonorous singing I’ve managed in years. Utterly surprising, and totally fabulous. … Weep not for me, my friends — for a little while yesterday I was Apollo Resplendens.

I’ll get back to de Chazal in a while. First, musical Apollo and Apollo Resplendens, as represented in artworks of various kinds.

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Eat Your Woolly Mammoths!

August 27, 2022

I was in the middle of singing along (at home, by Zoom) to the Palo Alto All-Day Sacred Harp Singing (10-4 today), when the following appeared on my screen, representing a fellow electronic participant:


(#1) Image identified as belonging to James Solheim, who I happened to know was actually singing along from Omaha NE, using technology much cooler than Zoom

But whoa! Is this a slogan? Is it a thing? I appreciated that it was surely intended as an exhortation to ingestion, not fellation. But still… The woolly mammoth is my chief totem animal, and Woo(l)ly Mammoth is one of my pseudonyms; I am W M, I am. And I take these things personally.

As it happens, I’ve met Solheim, who sang with the local Harpers a while back, when he was visiting his daughter Jenny, who’s a recent addition to the set of local singers (more on her below). But I had no idea what he did for a living. Turns out he’s an artist and an author, specializing in books for kids. Of which Eat Your Woolly Mammoths! is one.

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Fame-naming and family history

August 15, 2022

My intention was to get on with Cats 4, about naming cats for / after famous cats — in particular, famous fictional cats; in further particular, cats in cartoons and comics. If I name my cat Stallone (after the actor) or Rocky (after the fictional pugilist), I’m fame-naming a cat; if I name my cat Cheshire (from Alice in Wonderland) or Pyewacket (from the Salem witch trials and then various films, for example the wonderful Bell, Book and Candle (1958)), I’m cat-fame-naming my cat; if I name my cat Garfield or Sylvester, I’m cartoon-cat-fame-naming my cat. This is intricate, but pretty straightforward. And the topic of Cats 4 will in fact be the cartoon-cat-fame-naming of cats.

Fame-naming is a special case of after-naming. I am named after my father (Arnold Melchior Zwicky), and he was named (in a complex way) after his father (Melchior Arnold Zwicky), but no famous persons or characters were involved in these namings. On the other hand, my grandfather was named after one of the Three Wise Men, or Magi (Melchior; and his brothers Balthasar and Kaspar were named after the other two); this is fame-naming.

Meanwhile, my daughter, Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, is named after two forebears: her mother’s mother, Elizabeth Walcutt Daingerfield; and her father’s great-aunt, Elizabeth Pickney Daingerfield. That’s just after-naming. On the other hand, according to her mother, my mother Marcella Zwicky was fame-named (not merely after-named) for the fictional character Marcella in the Raggedy Ann books for children.

I was about to go on to compare schemes for the naming of pets (in modern American culture) to those for the naming of children — given our attitudes towards pets, the two are unsurprisingly similar — when I went to get illustrative material about Marcella and Raggedy Ann and discovered that, sadly, my grandmother’s story about my mother’s name could not possibly be true.

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