Archive for the ‘Language and religion’ Category

Ignaz Moscheles

December 15, 2016

A few days ago I awoke to the sound of really sparkly Schubert piano music. Well, not actually Schubert, but Ignaz Moscheles, a fascinating figure from the transition from high classicism to full-blown romanticism in music. A man of two musical worlds, devoted to the music of Beethoven but also close to Mendelssohn. And a man of two religious worlds, Jewish and Christian. (He was given a notably Jewish personal name, Isaac, at birth, but later changed that to the notably Christian Ignaz, a German version of the Latin Ignatius, a name borne by several Roman Catholic saints, most prominently Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuit order. But he kept his notably Jewish family name — related to the biblical name Moses  — and maintained close relations with his Jewish family and with other Jewish musicians of the time.)


My tongue broke out in unknown strains

November 28, 2016

Yesterday, shapenote singing (Sacred Harp, Denson Revision 1991) in Palo Alto. The Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend (in the U.S.), so songs of thanks (there are a great many of these). And the first Sunday of Advent, so songs with come significantly in the text (pretty many of these) and, looking forward, Christmas songs (there are tons of these); meanwhile, we are now firmly into the commercial and cultural Christmas season, so of course Christmas songs. But we wandered onto other church holidays: Easter Anthem #236, and the passionate Pentecost song Conversion #297:


In the events alluded to here, on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, a group of very early Christians (among them, the Apostles and Mary, the Mother of God) are possessed, enraptured, by the Holy Spirit, manifested as tongues of flame that descend upon them, granting them God’s grace and so transforming them, making them new, and, in addition, giving them the ability to speak in all languages (earthly or divine), to speak in tongues, as this ability came to be known.

So Pentecost is one of a small set of linguists’ holidays (up there with Hangul Day in Korea and an assortment of invented occasions like National Grammar Day).


The mazel tov cocktail

November 20, 2016

From the Washington Post on the 7th, “Actually, the Mazel Tov cocktail is real. And it’s delicious” by Maura Judkis, beginning:

In what will be perhaps the last great moment of comedy this presidential campaign season has given us, Donald Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes of criticized Jay Z after the rapper performed in Cleveland on Friday in support of Hillary Clinton.

“One of his main videos starts out with a crowd throwing mazel tov cocktails at the police,” said Hughes, referencing the “Run This Town” video.

Except: The explosive is called a molotov cocktail. “Mazel tov” [more or less literally, ‘good luck’] is a celebratory phrase in Hebrew — something you say when a baby is born, or a happy couple gets married. It’s not the first time a Republican has confused the two terms — when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was a county executive, he wrote “molotov” as a greeting to a Jewish constituent. So while Jewish people were laughing at Hughes’s malapropism, everyone else began to wonder: What is a mazel tov cocktail … ?

Judkis’s piece goes on to explain the mazel tov cocktail, and I’ll get to that. But some readers were made uneasy by these mazel tov / Molotov eggcorns, with their mixture of Judaism, Russian communism, and bomb-throwing protestors (like cartoon anarchists).



November 17, 2016

In the spirit of yesterday’s posting on a Psalm 73 text in two settings from the Denson Sacred Harp, on the occasion of Helmet GrabPussy’s election as POTUS, a revisiting of another biblical text on striking down the prideful, powerful, and rich, and raising up the meek, humble, and poor.

Previously, a 1/15/12 posting “Evensong”, about the Magnificat from the Anglican Evensong service and an entertaining and spirited burlesque of (part of) it by J. Keene Daingerfield (Sr.) (Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky’s great-grandfather), with its stirring climactic phrase, “Away, you rich, you son of a bitch”. A text now worth revisiting.


November 7th, in the liminal zone

November 7, 2016

Twilight Dawn in America

Between the dark and the daylight,
Between the end of Daylight Time and Election Day,
When the light is beginning to fade,
Comes a pause in the year’s occupation
That is known as Revolution and Solidarity Day,
Or, take your pick, Freedom Fighters Killing Day.

November 7th in America. We can be pleased that today’s birthdays include Marie Curie and Joan Sutherland. But then there’s the former national holiday of Bangladesh, a sad story of rebellion and ensuing dictatorship in a dreadfully beleagured country. And of course the terrible story of one of today’s saints, Ernest of Zwiefalten, disemboweled in the wars between Christianity and Islam, for God and territory (in roughly equal measure), over 800 years ago. A bloody awful day, in several senses.



September 19, 2016

As one of the rewards of making it through eight days of a super-lowfiber diet preparing for a colonoscopy last week, Kim Darnell brought me a box of Almond Horns, looking much like this:


Massively fibrous, and delicious. Also unfamiliar to me. Though I instantly recognized the taste – like Mandelbrot, but in a different form. Kim added, in recognition of my sexual tastes, also distinctly phallic. Well, that’s not quite right: the almond horns, viewed not as crescents, but (turned the other way around) as horns (true to their name), are certainly masculinity symbols, representing stag horns. But then they are also (doubly-headedly) phallic.

Almond horns are very often presented with the horn tips dipped in chocolate, making the phallic imagery more intense, with the symbolic (engorged) cockheads standing out.


Offers #12 and #13: singing hymns of praise

June 27, 2016

More CDs on offer, free (other than shipping expenses) for the asking: two collections of hymns of praise based mostly in folk and gospel traditions: #12, singing in the various shapenote traditions; #13, singing in other traditions (black gospel, white gospel, mountain music early American music, contemporary folk, etc.).


Constructing a Voice of Authority through Persona

June 19, 2016

A highlight of Stanford’s graduation last Sunday for me was Andrea Lawson Kortenhoven’s “walking through” our departmental ceremony for her PhD in Linguistics, tentative title above. Something personal for me, since I had the pleasure of encouraging Angi when she was a BA student in Spanish at Ohio State (graduating 1995), before coming to Stanford. Her husband Matthew and their four kids were there to cheer her on; I wasn’t able to make it, but I was cheering.

First, a photo (courtesy of Lelia Glass) of Angi with her immediate academic family — her thesis advisers, sociolinguists Penny Eckert and John Rickford — then Penny’s summary of the dissertation, and then some remarks on Angi’s academic regalia in the photo (in black, green, gold, and red).



You should really look at the text

June 10, 2016

… or maybe you think that any publicity is good publicity — if you are the author of this e-mail that came to me yesterday:

Dear Arnold Zwicky, We would humbly request that you consider adding [site X] as a dating site link on your page [1/20/12, “Christians”]:

We are the largest free Christian dating site in the world and have been around since 2007. We are currently working hard on our memberships and have marketed the latest versions of our Google Play Android app and iOS app to the Christian community. Thank you for your consideration. God Bless, David



A kitten-killing God?

March 31, 2016

The t-shirt I put on this morning, taken from the top of a big pile I rotate through, happened to be the “Every Time You Masturbate, God Kills a Kitten” number, which is of course a joke — but one that taps uneasily into attitudes about masturbation. And then it turned out that the history of the slogan (with a different graphic from the one on my t-shirt) has been nailed  down. The original computer graphic: