Friday, November 20, 2009


This was posted in error on another blog...on October 30th.

Looking through my Italian dictionary (Cambridge), I wish I knew how a translator would choose (or have chosen--comparisons are nice, such as those side-by-side one of Rilke which appeared in William Gass's book some years ago).

shaggy adj. di pelo lungo, ispido, irsuto; incolto, arruffato; peloso, ruvido; incolto, coperto di sterpi; folto, intonso; (bot.) vellutato, peloso.

Difficult to get through this without Koren (the cartoonist) coming to mind.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Did Bobby Kennedy Jr. really write shorty shorts in The Riverkeepers, the 1997 book co-authored with John Cronin? I am doubtful. My guess is that a ghost-writer or an editor wrote it--but maybe Robert Kennedy Jr. really does use such a term. It could be a matter of the written and the spoken and the unaccounted difference when toggling.

This morning I was reading along in an attempt to understand the background of the Marcellus Shale situation--even just a little--and to see how Bobby Kennedy Jr. told it. I also wanted to see how he would portray Al Appleton, the then-new DEP commissioner under Dinkins and a man who is now providing gorgeous swaths of testimony in opposition to drilling in the Marcellus Shale Upstate. At the DEC hearing at Stuyvesant High School, Mr Appleton pointed to a sign I was wearing--reading Haste Makes Waste. Apparently he agreed. (Later he told the DEC man what an utter put-up job (I believe his words) and travesty (mine) is the dSGEIS on the "oil, gas and solution mining regulatory program (Marcellus Shale)."

(I had other signs. The one that read DEC to NYC: Frack You! disappeared, as did the one reading Mr. Grannis, What About a Clean Outdoor Act? I had perched them in a couple of places.

One sentence so far has gotten stuck in my craw just a little (p. 210 in the paperback edition, after some background about how in January 1991 the DEP, backed by the EPA, ordered the city to construct a filtration plant for the Catskill and Delaware systems): "We believed that while filtration might be necessary in the future, it should be viewed as a last resort."

Then: ". . . we acknowledged that in a perfect world the best solution would be filtration and watershed protection. but costs and politics made this impossible."

Currently we have a situation that presents only problems knitted poorly and in ugly colors. Costs continue to make filtration laughably impossible, but somehow politics is moving things right along. Perhaps a solution will automagically present itself.

Until then, we have shorty shorts , citation below (and here I must mention that Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s childhood cup ranneth over in natural plenitude--and apparently he and his siblings were not allowed inside during the day when the weather was good--and also say what wonderful an idea it is to dive into the Croton River and hug a rock in order to watch fish come and go).

Citation: I still have a picture of myself seated across from the president in my shorty shorts looking into the large crystal vase I had between my legs.

Monday, November 16, 2009


From Arranging the Meal: A History of Table Service in France, by Jean-Louis Flandrin and translated by Julie E. Johnson with Sylvie and Antonio Roder, this word refers to a sweetened porridge that begins with soaking husked wheat overnight.

Medieval meals not only began with all sorts of fruit and other sweet dishes that today we do not eat until dessert, but included in dessert various meat and savory dishes that we would now find out of place at that point in the meal: venison in frumenty, turtledove and lark pie, crayfish, fresh herring, artichokes, porpoise, chestnuts, olives, cheeses.

It's a little funny looking, this word. It slept funny on its hair.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


As an adjective, all the way back to c. 897. After reading a little from a contemporary nonfiction work with a great premise, I discover an OED bon bon to express my feelings about the book's writing: 1599 SHAKES. Hen. V, IV. iv. 73 The empty vessel makes the greatest sound.

(Today I've been thinking a little about The Taming of the Shrew--and of course, because what else is new? about Mad Men--but Henry has the empty).

Sunday, November 8, 2009


From the mouth of Rick Moody, mentioned today as he introduced a song called "Willing Sense of Disbelief," which is by the Wingdale Community Singers (of which he is a member). They were playing at the Philoctetes Center. Not only did they sing songs with beautiful colors (I especially liked "Rock of Ages") but RM told the audience that his group traced the Woody Guthrie song "This Land Is My Land" through all its borrowings upon borrowings and learned that it was related to a Pentacostal hymn.

I did not have a pen, and therefore can offer only the fragment:

". . . is a song that went terribly awry"

Awry, as it turns out, is simply a knight's move of (prepositional) a plus wry (so says the OED). To the eye-minded and ear-minded, it's a keeper. It's up there with earnest as a noun (E.B. White: "His elbow patch an earnest of/The fellowship of tweeds.").

Another of the Wingdales used the word stripey, viz., "she was both stripey and spotted" (granted, I have no idea if the singer was using an e before the y) but somehow it brought to mind only Tigger, who bounces, and I suppose awry is more appealing to me in its elegance than stripey is in its cuteness. Awry provides thinking room, whereas stripey is a rather linear affair.

Willing sense of disbelief is just to the left of that Coleridge crib-sheet quote for all sitters of Romanticism exams ("willing suspension of disbelief for the moment"). When I think of Romanticism, I think first and foremost of the Romantic's Credo (ably demonstrated by Cary Grant in "Charade"--see if you can guess which line--and currently being twisted into something profitable by the globe-trotting Landmark Forum and, no doubt, other "human potential movements" whose leaders like to trademark all sorts of seemingly ordinary phrasings in the English language): When you can give a reason, there is no longer a preference.

On Tuesday I plan to attend a rally to protest hydraulic fracturing in the New York City watershed. It is safe to say that I will be attending with neither a willing suspension of disbelief nor a willing sense of disbelief. I will be attending simply with a sense of disbelief. People (read: the DEC) who willingly and willfully (lustily?) and with anything approaching comprehensive baseline monitoring of water quality and ozone? not--but certainly plenty of gobbledly-gook and hurry-up urgings actually welcome the likely end of clean water in this state and the beginning of what will likely be a slow-drip public health disaster, which is to say, they welcome the natural gas companies and their hydraulic fracturing drilling process (propriety chemical cocktail and all) to the Empire State--these people must have some kind of belief in the supernatural.

In the "Saturday Night Live" skit titled, say, "Hark," Wordsworth goes a-walking around Tintern Abbey, and his overflow of emotion is drowned out by the sounds of people cursing dead fish, diesel trucks, chainsaws, and the attendant sounds of mini-earthquakes. It's a short skit and it's all in the delivery.

By the way, Bradley J. Field is the Director of New York State's Division of Mineral Resources (518.402.8076). He and DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis saw fit to snub New York City (well, we're only about eight million people) when holding the first round of public hearings on drilling Upstate in the Marcellus Shale (but they were within the bounds of the law, dontcha know--inviting the city would have counted only for common courtesy). I realize: it strains the bounds of credulity, leaving the city out. I will myself to believe it, because it happens to be true.

I'm sure lots of people would be happy to dust off Woody Guthrie's "a folk song is whats wrong and how to fix it or it could be whose hungry and where their mouth is or whose out of work and where the job is or whose broke and where the money is or whose carrying a gun and where the peace is" and tack on something like "whose sick with a funny sort of mystery cough and where the doctor is."

Natural gas drilling is a nationwide (and worldwide) phenomenon, and so it's no surprise that the drillers have landed here. What is a little bit of a surprise is how politicians who supposedly care about our indoor environments (Bloomberg, Grannis) could give a flying fish about our outdoor environment once this business gets under way.

Again, baseline measurements? Comprehensive soil testing? Does Pete Grannis really know how water (contaminated water, that is) flows underground? Even computer models have shown that fractures can behave differently than predicted. Perhaps Mr Grannis is in close touch with an old Upstate family of worms, lo these many generations, who can report on what kind of soil is where--and perhaps have heard what a royal pain in the water supply this drilling business can be as told to them by other worm families in Arkansas, Montana, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Ohio, Washington, Texas and British Columbia. And Colorado. Perhaps the worms are hydrogeologists or hydrologists. (Or perhaps the worms only discuss such matters as the male fish-turning-somewhat-female, who live in the Seine and Rhône rivers downstream from Paris and Lyon; their exposure to endocrine disrupters is resulting in unwanted sex-change operations.)

It's clear that people concerned about drilling Upstate must prove that such operations are dangerous. It's clear that the burden of proof is not on the drillers, that it is not incumbent on them to prove that their methods and fluids are safe over the span of a generation.

Our Upstate water supply system was secured in part by Myndert Van Schaick, one of the founders of New York University. The idea was to provide fresh, clean water for citizens who were drinking polluted local supplies.

Something is definitely awry.

People receiving large checks from the gas companies are thrilled. They feel fortunate beyond belief. But if they and their descendants have no clean water to drink, they may feel otherwise. If, one day, they find that as U.S. taxpayers that they have to spend money for a, say, 25-year cleanup operation (environmental cost accounting?) in their area, will this have been worth it? Then again, they may feel nothing.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


From an article by Diane Solway (with photographs by Stephen Shore) in the November issue of W magazine:

Furious after waiting five minutes, Bergman charged up the steep belfry to ring the bells himself and then chewed out the minister for the lapse.

What's interesting about belfry is how easily somebody whose first language is not English (note how hopeful I am here about this probability [stand your non-English speaking ground, non-English speakers]) might mispronounce this. It might clunk, or it might sound charming in the way the woman trying to get to know the deaf man in Four Weddings and A Funeral was charming when she said something was "mice" instead of "nice." I also heard a woman finding photos for a man ask if the pickup name was spelled A-n-n-y. No, he said, A-n-n-i-e. End of digression.

Belfry is perhaps a chosen word today because I like bells so much (apparently there are lots of us--but does this necessarily mean that there now has to be a Facebook group I "can" join? What has happened to serendipity? I miss the days before Caller ID. I miss being able to be out of touch. I might have to join the uncellphoned) and because (for somebody who is eye-minded and ear-minded and in possession of opinions) it is, simply, a pretty word. It's a handsome word.

Not all bel- words are pretty and handsome words.

An approximation of the word (including its association with bells) as we read it today did not even appear until the 15th century, according to the OED. Its etymological history seems as labyrinthine as a Bergman film is intense.

Monday, November 2, 2009


But not furry.

Appropos of nothing, and only because they're near the keyboard, one might consider phlox and flocks, which have little, if anything, to do with words ending in y (although they have something to do with firry and furry).

A suffix primer, just to set me straight

After seeing drinky in a back page Times Book Review piece by Colson Whitehead (I still think of parts of The Illusionist, Colson Whitehead), and then thinking about diminutives, I decided it was time to get some of the what's what down.

Some of what's what is this, Latin suffixes-wise, via my Winston:

-acy n. quality, state, or office (accuracy)
-ary n. forming names of persons, places or things (library)
adj. relating to, pertaining to or characterized by (literary)
-cracy n. a government or method of ruling (logocracy)
-cy n. forming abstract nouns (captaincy)
-ery n. designating: 1. place of business, storage, breeding (hatchery) 2. qualities, conduct, practices, principles, etc. (trickery) 3. a class of goods (millinery) 4. art or employment (archery) 5. state or condition(drudgery). Also, the shortened form -ry (revelry).

-fy n. to cause to be or to form into (liquefy). Often, with connecting vowel, -ify (personify)
-ory n. place where, place for: added to Latin roots (factory) adj. pertaining to, characterized by: added to Latin roots (obligatory)

-ty 1. [Lat.+ Fr.] n. forming abstract nouns denoting quality, state, condition, or character(loyalty) 2. [Eng.] times ten: a termination of numerals (sixty)

More :

-y [Eng.] n. suffix, forming diminutives and also written -ie.

-y [Eng.] adj. suffix 1. Of, pertaining to, having, full of: added to nouns and spelled -ey when added to words ending in y (stony, clayey) 2. inclined toward, almost shading into: added to adjectives of color (taupey brown) 3. with intensive force but no change of meaning: added to adjectives: chiefly poetical (stilly)

-y [Lat. + Fr.] n. suffix, in words from Latin and French, originally participial adjectives (deputy, army . . . originally meaning deputed, armed)

-y [Lat. + Fr., or often Gk.+Lat.(+Fr.)], n. suffix forming abstract nouns (glory, antipathy, victory, theology, therapy)