Archive for the ‘Language and politics’ Category

The hand that cradles the tree

May 3, 2019

… and the monster that guides the elderly. Both pieces of outdoor art in Switzerland, the first in the town of Glarus (in my ancestral canton of Glarus), the second in the city of Zürich.


(#1) The Caring Hand in Glarus

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The May flower

May 1, 2019

Yesterday, the flowers of the season were still yellow — les jaunes d’Avril — but today they are white — les muguets pour le premier Mai — also (on the plus side) delicately pretty and highly scented but (on the minus side) both poisonous and rampant, while conveying beginnings, affectionate respect, and the power of unions marching in the streets. Hey, they’re just colors, and just plants — It’s Just Stuff, as I say every so often —  each capable of symbolizing pretty much anything, in some sociocultural context or another.

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Annals of cultural cluelessness

April 8, 2019

The grand old city of Baltimore has been suffering mightily in recent times, and now there’s an old-school scandal to add to the roster of municipal woes. Mayor Catherine Pugh has published a set of “Healthy Holly” children’s books, ostensibly to show kids the way to a better life through exercise and diet. From the Washington Post story “Critical Carlos reads ‘Healthy Holly’: Inside the children’s book that has landed Baltimore’s mayor in a political scandal” by Carlos Lozada on the 5th:


(#1) “Copies of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s self-published “Healthy Holly” illustrated paperbacks for children. On April 1 Pugh announced an indefinite leave of absence, just as a scandal intensifies over what critics call a “self-dealing” book-sales arrangement. (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun via AP)”

There’s the political story, which appears to involve an elaborate influence-trading scheme. There’s the books themselves, which “Critical Carlos” and his three critical children savage in Lozada’s Sun book review as examples of the very worst sort of stilted writing for children. And there’s the title Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow, which, with a stunningly tin ear for English in its various sociocultural contexts, disregards alternative understandings of the noun fruits, the verb come, and the rainbow as a cultural symbol.

I’m mostly after the title here. But it’s all connected.

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Mandolin Orange

February 4, 2019

Alerted by NPR this morning and entertained by the band’s name, I checked out Mandolin Orange and really liked what I found.


(#1) Mandolin Orange recording “Wildfire” 11/2/16 at Paste Studios in NYC

And they’ll be playing at the Fillmore in SF next month:

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Swiss art supplies in the morning

August 31, 2018

Today’s morning name: Caran d’Ache. A Swiss art supplies company specializing in pencils. With a complex linguistic and social history behind its name. There will be cartoons as well. (No food, sex, music, or plants, but you can’t have everything. On the other hand, there will be clowns and some chemistry / materials science.)


(#1) The box for a 40-color selection of pencils, proudly flying the Swiss flag

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Eskimo N in Britain

May 3, 2018

Yesterday’s Matt cartoon by Matt Pritchett, alluding to the travails of Brexit:

(#1) Eskimo words for snow, leading to the the ur-snowclone Eskimo N

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Song for the day: rabbit rabbit rabbit

May 1, 2018

Rabbits round the workers’ maypole,
Rabbits round the workers’ maypole:
Máy-ó, may-yáy-ay-ay-ó
Maylight come and me wan’ go home

Trochaic tetrameter to welcome in the month of May. Allegro agitato, then andante desideroso.

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Sein Dopelgänger

April 19, 2018

Not a typo. The man in question is the elusive David Dennison, a pseudonym of the notorious American sociopath Helmet Grabpussy (who is generally referred to on this blog as [REDACTED]). And his Dopelgänger is the distinguished David Denison, Professor Emeritus of English Linguistics at the University of Manchester (on the other side of the Atlantic).

There’s the 2-n DD and the 1-n DD, and they are laughably, horribly, distinct. The 2-n DD is a creature, the 1-n DD is a teacher. (Apologies to Ogden Nash, llamas, and lamas.)

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It was 53 to 55 years ago today

March 26, 2018

A bit of intellectual and social history, plus a lesson in the fragility of memory. Set off by the British scholar Chris Knight on his Science and Revolution website, in two postings there:

from 2/18/18, “Chomsky’s Students Recall their Time at the MITRE Corporation”

from 3/4/18, “The MITRE Corporation’s project to use Chomsky’s linguistics for their weapons systems”

I come into this because I was one of those students of Chomsky’s who worked at the MITRE Corp. (in Bedford MA), in 1963-65 (53 to 55 years ago). Some of us have been trying to reconstruct those days, for Chris’s sake but also for our own.

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100 years of independence

December 6, 2017

Though today is one of the dark days of early December alluded to in my recent posting — it’s Mozart’s death day, a sad occasion indeed — it’s also St. Nicholas’s day (gifts!), and Chris Waigl’s birthday (eggcorns, remote sensing of wildfires in the Arctic, Python, knitting, and more, in three languages!), and Independence Day in Finland. As Riitta Välimaa-Blum reminds me, this year’s Independence Day is something spectacular: the centenary of Finland’s declaration of independence from Russia.

(#1) The Finnish flag

So raise a glass of Lakka (Finnish cloudberry liqueur) or Finlandia vodka, neat, to honor that difficult moment in 1917 — the year should call to your mind both World War I (still underway then) and the Russian revolution, and these enormous upheavals were in fact crucial to Finland’s wresting its independence from Russia.

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