22 September 2019

Language in John Cheever's "The Wapshot Chronicle"


Not an exciting plot.  The book is a narrative describing the lives of members of a New England family, so the events recorded are domestic, conventional, and frankly rather prosaic.  It's as though you were to go to a dinner party, sit next to a neighbor you've never met, and ask them to "tell me about your life."  But Cheever does tell a story well, and he received the National Book Award for this, his first novel.  I can understand why he was a best-selling novelist and a popular writer for The New Yorker and other magazines.

So, no reason to discuss the content, but I will share some words and phrases that were new to me.

"... as if he, bred on that shinbone coast and weaned on beans and codfish..."  Despite a lot of searching I couldn't find a clear explanation of this term.  Most links came back the quote from this book.  There are scattered references to Shinbone Alleys from Maine to Missouri (discussed - but not explained - here).

"Captn Webb's little boy was trod upon by a horse and died before candlelight."  Obvious meaning in context, but an interesting phrase I've not previously encountered.

"... proud of his prowess in negotiating the dilapidated and purblind vehicle over the curving roads..."  Partially blind, or obtuse.  Not sure how it applies to a vehicle unless the headlights are inadequate.

"It is one of those [bus] lines that seem to carry the scrim of the world - sweet-natured but browbeaten women shoppers, hunchbacks and drunks."   ??? couldn't find this in anything that matches the sense of the sentence.

"Put that [lobster] down, Miss Honora," he shouts.  "They ain't pegged, they ain't pegged yet."  The Penobscot Maritime Museum explains that prior to today's rubber bands, lobster claws were immobilized with whittled wooden plugs.

"...  and they had had a brace or more of those days when the earth smells like a farmer's britches - all timothy, manure and sweet grass."   Of course I know what "britches" are, but I had to look up the etymology.   It's a variation of "breeches," which goes back to Middle English and were typically "smallclothes" (knee-length).

"On the other half was the farm at St. Botolphs, the gentle valley and the impuissant river..."  Impotent (puissant related to Latin posse [be able]); presumably means a slowly-flowing river.

"... how they would have burned the furniture, buried the tin cans, holystoned the floors, cleaned the lamp chimneys..."  "As a scouring stone... from its association with Sunday cleaning, from its users' adoption of a kneeling position similar to prayer, and (least likely) from their original provision by raiding graveyards for tombstones.

"Leander looked into the bushes and found what he wanted - an old duck-shooting battery."  Not sure how it's defined; here's a floating one.

"The rector was a pursy man in clericals, and sure enough, while they stood there, he began to scratch his stomach."   Short-winded, especially from corpulence.  "Late Middle English reduction of Anglo-Norman French porsif, alteration of Old French polsif, from polser ‘breathe with difficulty’, from Latin pulsare ‘set in violent motion’."

"Writer's epistolary style (Leander wrote) formed in tradition of Lord Timothy Dexter, who put all punctuation marks, prepositions, adverbs, articles, etc., at end of communication and urged reader to distribute same as he saw fit."   A real person (see the link).

"One more Indian.  Joe Thrum.  Lived on hoopskirts of town."  We all know what the "outskirts" of town are.  Would "hoopskirts" be under (inside) the outskirts???

"It was a chance to see the countryside and the disappointing southern autumn with its fireflies and brumes..."  Mist, fog.  "from French brume "fog" (14c.), in Old French, "wintertime," from Latin bruma "winter, winter solstice," perhaps with an etymological sense "season of the shortest day," from *brevima, contracted from brevissima, superlative of brevis "short"."

"Never told her facts in case.  Laconism, like blindness, seems to develop other faculties.  Powers of divination."  Extreme brevity in speech.  Derivation from a place name (Lakonia) in Greece, which was near Sparta.  Interesting in that "spartan" also means sparing or limited.

"Listened all night to troubled speaking; also moiling of sea.  Seemed from sound of waves to be flat, stony beach."  Churning, swirling.  From French and Lain words connoting softness.

"It was after supper and the latrines were being fired and the smoke rose up through the coconut palms."  (U.S. armed forces in South Pacific).  Does anyone know if it was a military custom among U.S. (or other troops) to set fire to latrines??

"... for here all the random majesty of the place appeared spatchcocked, rectified and jumbled; here, hidden in the rain, were the architect's secrets and most of his failures."  A way of preparing eel or chicken meat by splitting it open - but the term also means "a rushed effort."

"... like West Farm, a human burrow or habitation that had yielded at every point to the crotchets and meanderings of a growing family."  Whim or fancy [archaic].

"At another turn in the path a man as old as Leander, in the extremities of eroticism, approached him, his body covered with brindle hair.  "This is the beginning of all wisdom," he said to Leander, exposing his inflamed parts."  Streaked or striped when referring to animal coats.



Quite a few interesting words in a rather brief novel.  By contrast, Stephen King's Doctor Sleep yielded only five new words in 500+ pages:

"Let's see if Danny's up and in the doins."  Probably awake, active, doing things.

"... Walnut, the True's jackleg doctor..."  Amateur, incompetent.

"Once away from I-80 and out in the toolies, they spread apart..."  A Canadian expression meaning out in the boondocks "It is a respelling of "tule," one of a couple species of bulrush, found especially in California. The word is from the Aztec "tullin." So "the tules" are swamps. "Tule fog" is fog over swamps or other low ground."

"... when the True Knot moved across Europe in wagons, selling peat turves and trinkets."  Plural of turf.

"The key to survival in the world of rubes was to look as if you belonged, as if you were always on the goodfoot..."  Meaning implicit in the usage, but I couldn't find any info elsewhere.

Happy birthday to great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma


(She was a "hundred-and-one" years old.)

Via Neatorama.

Related:  It takes guts to make a cake like this.

Half of all Canadians live south of the red line


Yes, I know this projection distorts the relative size of subpolar regions, but the population distribution is still striking.

Via the MapPorn subreddit, where the discussion thread seems to focus on who stole the Great Lakes.

Google Streetview map


Almost no coverage of Germany and Austria except for major urban areas.

This gives me an excuse to ask a question.  I thought there was an app or a website or a command one could execute in Google Maps that would automatically scroll through the images from point A to point B without having to go click-by-click (which can be tedious).   If so, I've lost the link or the knowledge of how to do this.

Via the Europe subreddit.

"He Stopped Loving Her Today" - George Jones


I understand that not everyone likes country music - at least not when they're sober.  But this is a classic that I've just added to a CD of favorite music.  The most extensive discussion of the artist and the song I could find was at Mix:
Born in 1931 in Saratoga, Texas, Jones was the youngest of eight children. During the Depression, his family was the kind of poor that no one born post-World War II can really imagine... In the late '60s, Jones met and fell in love with Tammy Wynette, who also became his third wife... By the time he met Wynette, Jones already had a serious drinking problem...

“In the 1970s, I was drunk the majority of the time,” Jones writes. “I had drunk heavily for years and had pitched benders that might last two or three days, but in the 1970s, I was drunk the majority of the time for half a decade... By the end of the decade, Jones was psychologically and physically a shadow of his former self; he was broke and alone, and his pitiable condition was being perpetuated by managers and pushers who were living off of what was left of him. It took a career record... to help Jones begin to climb out of that hole...

One thing kind of funny about it was that the melody was so close to ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ [by Kris Kristofferson] that George kept singing the melody to ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night.’ He couldn't get that out of his head. That gave him a bit of a problem early on, and they took their time to get the narration just right.”...

The narration part of the song consists of four lines Jones speaks rather than sings: “She came to see him one last time/And we all wondered if she would/And it kept running through my mind/This time he's over her for good.” “Pretty simple, eh?” Jones asks in his book. “I couldn't get it. I had been able to sing while drunk all of my life. I'd fooled millions of people. But I could never speak without slurring when drunk. What we needed to complete that song was the narration, but Billy could never catch me sober enough to record four simple spoken lines. It took us about 18 months to record a song that was approximately three-minutes long.”...

“I went from a twenty-five-hundred-dollar act who promoters feared wouldn't show up to an act who earned twenty-five thousand dollars, plus a percentage of the gate receipts. That was big money for a country artist 16 years ago… To put it simply, I was back on top. Just that quickly. I don't want to belabor this comparison, but a four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song.”

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” earned Jones a Grammy Award for Best Country Male Performance in 1980. It also resulted in CMA Awards for Best Male Vocalist of the Year in 1980 and 1981, and it was the Academy of Country Music Single of the Year and Song of the Year in 1980.
Reposted from 2012 to commemorate George Jones' death today at age 82.  And reposted again from 2013 because it's still one of my favorite songs.

Monarch at a baseball game



One announcer seems to think the Monarch is attracted to the color of the glove.  The real reason is almost certainly the presence of old salt (dried sweat) on the glove.

Students opting out of standardized testing

As reported by the StarTribune:
One by one that morning, his students came to his office at the charter school in the Iron Range community of Warba and handed him the same thing: a form, signed by a parent, opting them out of taking the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs.

“I had a line of kids out the door, just [handing in] the forms,” he said.

By the time he reached the end of the line, Hamernick had excused nearly all the school’s students from testing: Out of about 50 students eligible to take the exams, only 10 sat for the math test and four for reading. The rest were put on a bus and sent to the town’s community center, where teachers scrambled to put together an impromptu day of classes...

Around the state, the rate of students choosing to bypass the state’s largest standardized exams has been steadily rising for more than a decade. Though the overall number of students opting out statewide remains low — just under 2% declined to take the math test last year, and about 1.5% opted out of reading — there are a growing number of schools where more than half the students don’t take the MCAs...

And perhaps of greater concern: When opt outs reach a certain level, the usefulness of the test score data becomes a serious question. Minneapolis has already reached that threshold, at least in some schools. A 2017 report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor found that the rate of opt-outs among Minneapolis high school students had already “reached the point where it is no longer appropriate to endorse the test results as a valid measure of districtwide student learning.”

Saying goodbye to cameras


And note the different vertical scales for the two datasets.  Via.

Posted because I'm in the process of deciding what to do with my old hiking companion of the 1970s - a Minolta XE-7 with 28-80 wide-angle to zoom macro lens, plus a padded holster, extension tubes, and assorted filters and accessories.  I enjoyed a couple decades of wildflower and nature photography, but now practicality trumps sentiment.  Really sorry to see this stuff go (if I can find a place for it to go).

Beagulls

Via.

18 September 2019

Fondly remembering Cokie Roberts

Excerpts from a tribute at NPR:
Veteran journalist Cokie Roberts, who joined an upstart NPR in 1978 and left an indelible imprint on the growing network with her coverage of Washington politics before later going to ABC News, has died. She was 75.  Roberts died Tuesday because of complications from breast cancer, according to a family statement.

A bestselling author and Emmy Award winner, Roberts was one of NPR's most recognizable voices and is considered one of a handful of pioneering female journalists — along with Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg — who helped shape the public broadcaster's sound and culture at a time when few women held prominent roles in journalism...

Liasson said it wasn't so much that NPR had a mission for gender equality but that the network's pay, which was well below the commercial networks of the day, resulted in "a lot of really great women who were in prominent positions there and who helped other women."..

Roberts, the daughter of former U.S. representatives, grew up walking the halls of Congress and absorbing the personalities, folkways and behind-the-scenes machinations of the nation's capital. She became a seasoned Washington insider who developed a distinctive voice as a reporter and commentator...

"She liked people on both sides of the aisle and had friends on both sides of the aisle," Will told NPR. "If you don't like the game of politics, I don't see how you write about it well," he said. "She liked the game of politics and she understood that it was a game."

Born in New Orleans as Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, she was given the nickname Cokie by her brother, Thomas, who had trouble pronouncing Corinne.

Roberts' father was Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., a former Democratic majority leader of the House who served in Congress for more than three decades before he disappeared on a campaign flight in Alaska in 1972. Her mother, Lindy Claiborne Boggs, took her husband's seat and served for 17 years...

As a commentator, Roberts sometimes walked a line that threatened to eclipse her role as a dispassionate journalist. In a February 2016 op-ed co-authored with her husband, they called on "the rational wing" of the Republican Party to stop the nomination of Donald Trump.

"[Trump] is one of the least qualified candidates ever to make a serious run for the presidency," Roberts and her husband wrote. "If he is nominated by a major party — let alone elected — the reputation of the United States would suffer a devastating blow around the world."..

"In covering Congress, there's plenty of times when I felt, you know, the mother line...... I don't care who started it, I'm stopping it."
That last comment deserves the larger font.  We need more mothers in Congress.

Image cropped for size from the original, credit Ariel Zambelich/NPR.

Zebra foal spotted


Via.  Not much discussion at the link, and I don't have time to look this anomaly up right now.

Addendum: another image (via) -


- which incidentally shows that zebras are black with white stripes, not white with black stripes.

Evidence for inheritance of autism

This was all new to me:
Rizzo’s children, ages 7 and 6, were at the center of one of the most ethically complex legal cases in the modern-day fertility industry. Three years ago, while researching treatment options for her sons, Rizzo says she made an extraordinary discovery: The boys are part of an autism cluster involving at least a dozen children scattered across the United States, Canada and Europe, all conceived with sperm from the same donor. Many of the children have secondary diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, mood disorders, epilepsy and other developmental and learning disabilities...

When she first found out about their many half-siblings, she consulted a genetic counselor, who she says told her the odds of so many blood-related children with autism occurring spontaneously was akin to all the mothers “opening up a dictionary and pointing to the same letter of the same word on the same page at the same time.”..

The Food and Drug Administration told her its oversight of the sperm-donor industry is limited to screening for sexually transmitted diseases.  So, after a year of fruitless phone calls and letters, she sued...

Donor H898 from Idant Laboratories looked like a winner. He was blond and blue-eyed, 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, and appeared to be smart and accomplished. His profile said he had a master’s degree and was working as a medical photographer. His hobbies included long-distance running, reading and art. And most important, Rizzo says, he had a clean bill of health, according to his profile — having scribbled “NA” and a strikethrough line on all but one of the more than 100 medical questions, including mental health ones, posed by sperm banks...

Donor H898’s sperm was offered through multiple sources. According to the mothers, court documents and genetic testing through 23andMe and Ancestry.com, he sold anonymously to at least four sperm banks (which typically pay about $100 per visit), donated to a high-end agency that matches parents with donors they can meet face-to-face, and offered his sperm for a low fee or even free on sites such as KnownDonorRegistry.com or privately...

As of August, Repro Lab was still selling vials, priced at $450-$525, from the donor.
More details at The Washington Post.

So very true...


Via.

Kids these days...


Via.

Denez Prigent & Lisa Gerrard - Gortoz A Ran


I originally blogged this song in 2009 and 2010 when it was used as the background audio for a tsunami video and for a Black Hawk Down video.  Reblogging now because the original links have undergone linkrot.  This version has the advantage of including the lyrics (in Breton and English) at the YouTube link.

Re-reposted from 2016 because the song continues to fascinate me.  I have challenged several friends to identify the language while listening to the song; nobody has been successful.  I doubt that it would help even if I had let them view the written lyrics:
Gortozet 'm eus, gortozet pell
E skeud teñval tourioù gell
E skeud teñval tourioù gell

E skeud teñval an tourioù glav

C'hwi am gwelo 'c'hortoz atav

C'hwi am gwelo 'c'hortoz atav

Un deiz a vo 'teuio en-dro
Dreist ar maezioù, dreist ar morioù

'Teuio en-dro an avel c'hlas
Da analañ va c'halon c'hloaz't

Kaset e vin diouzh e alan
Pell gant ar red, hervez 'deus c'hoant

Hervez 'deus c'hoant pell eus ar bed
Etre ar mor hag ar stered  
More about the Breton language.
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