Thursday, May 27, 2010


Meaning metamorphosis, viz. 1969 F. E. ROUND Introd. Lower Plants ii. 13 A characteristic of Euglena is the spirally striate pellicle which is pliable and allows the cell to assume a variety of shapes--metaboly--an unfortunate term.

Doesn't strike me as unfortunate (maybe the author thought it evoked roly-poly).

For one thing, via Greek, it's related to metabole, which in music means "A change in tjavascript:void(0)he pitch of a musical note or melody," viz. 1957 New Oxf. Hist. Music I. 373 The writer dubiously named ‘Cleonides’... first defines metabole as change from one tonos or systema or genus to another.


From a comment by one CK posted on the Tablet magazine website, in response to Ron Rosenbaum's May 25th article "Mistaken Identity?", which in part concerns the Lower East Side:

I love stories by and about old-timey Jews. Thanks, this was a fun look at a part of New York that existed before (!!!) CBGBs.

Does old-timey sound right alongside WASPs or Catholics or C of Eers? Not really. This is similar to the example of cockeyed Westport-y. Now: Are old-timey Jews in New York different than old-timey Jews in Hartford, or Buffalo, or New Orleans?

Rosenbaum refers to New York as "a Jewish city." Makes me wonder about commonalities among, say, Christians who like making New York their home. Are their perceptions of Jews or knowledge about Judaism different than those of Christians in "non-Jewish" cities?

For some time, I kept a fiction blog called the W.A.S.H. Chronicles, W.A.S.H. standing for White Anglo-Saxon Hebrew. The Jews in that world, brought up mostly secular, might or might not go to temple on high holy days, and it's likely they attend church (usually Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Quaker meetings) now and then. For the most part they are non-believers in their own faith, secular humanists, yet they are happy enough being members of the tribe and refuse to deactivate.

Rosenbaum's phrase brings to mind:

A recent Overheard in New York-worthy moment. A woman telling friends about women she met either working at or shopping at Bloomingdale's: "They were the Jewish-ist!"

The word JAP.

Last, the "30 Rock" joke:

Liz: Relax, I'm also setting up auditions in Toronto.

Jack: Canada? Why not just go to Iraq? The television audience doesn't want your elitist East Coast alternative intellectual left wing . . .

Liz: Jack, just say Jewish, this is taking forever.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


From Annemarie Colbin's introduction to her book The Book of Whole Meals, quoting Medical World News (apparently then-) editor Hara Marano as quoted in a March 5, 1979 article in New York magazine:

'On the average, we consume twice as much [protein] as the recommended amount, which itself is figured with a plushy excess. . . . The obligatory daily need of the average 154-pound male is actually no more than 23.8 grams of protein--a peanut butter sandwich.'

How about that? Plushy in the context of food and sound health, air-lifted from the world of shelter magazines.

Monday, May 17, 2010


From a recipe on the website Simply Gourmand, debatably funnier in French:

Pinky Cooler (sans alcool)
Sirop de grenadine + Schweppes + jus de pamplemousse

Noticeable, this pinky, because of its association with Tracy (Pinky) and Hepburn (Pinkie).

On a hot day, is a Pinky Cooler preferable to, say, a glass of Moroccan Lemonade (blend: juice of six lemons squozen, handfuls of fresh mint snipped fine, a quarter-to-half cup of good maple syrup, and strain: over ice)?

Thursday, May 13, 2010


This one wound up by mistake in another blog. Re-placed from 2009.

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 ones of Rilke in William Gass's book).

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's cartoons coming to mind.

Monday, May 10, 2010


From a postcard dated December 22, 1990 (15 cent stamp with image of a beach umbrella), written by J.D. Salinger to the artist Michael Mitchell, whose art work appeared on the dust jacket of The Catcher in the Rye (wouldn't it be fun to create art for a dust jacket? I believe it would. the creation would be the easy part and securing approval from "Marketing", the B&N brigade, and the Amazon people, and so forth would be the difficult part):

So many thoughts of old years, this cockeyed Westport-y time.

Jerry Salinger meets Franny Glass? As with so many words, context makes the difference. Without cockeyed, Westport-y would be twee.

On Sunday I read this card in the library (room) of the Morgan Library, a small group behind me speaking in low-toned Spanish arpeggios. It was the final day for viewing the Salinger letters (note to the Morgan: did anybody consider propping them up?), and I wished Mitchell's letters had been on hand to round out the conversation.

At one point, parents with small children entered; the toddler in the stroller went on and on (pre-lingually) about the ceiling. I thought of Morgan and his friends and Salinger and his friends, and wondered how friendships figured for both. Also, what would Salinger and Morgan have to say if they met? How would two men of such different strengths pronounce upon each other?
I imagine Salinger would have something to say about Morgan. Certainly he has much to say about John Wayne (he recommends "The Shootist").

In April 1985, he writes to Mitchell that he's not sure the result of his efforts "is any of my business." Also: "I don't know really that the kind of life I live is tellable in any of the normal ways t hat friends tell each other how things are going." And: "I don't think I've ever had any discernable real talent for being a friend to anyone." (If Henry Darger had been articulate and wordy, perhaps he might have written something similar.)

Do friends sign books for people they call friends? Can a genuine friendship be sustained in epistolary fashion over years and years? Supposedly Mitchell (now dead) sold his Salinger letters to a book dealer out of anger, after Salinger declined to sign a copy of a book ("I don't think I can sign a book anymore. . . . Most stuff that is genuine, anyway, is better left unsaid.")

Clearly Salinger cherished his Westport days with Mitchell and his wife, but so many references to them makes a reader wonder if he loved even more the act of turning the memories over and over. A.S. Byatt's novel Possession speaks eloquently to the guessing games that inevitably come into play when people begin to make literary investigations. As with any piece of reportage, a reader can venture only as far as the printed word.

"The attractive assignment or task alone is what I wanted," Salinger tells Mitchell. I couldn't help noticing how the title almost writes itself: The Attractive Assignment: An Attempted Biography of J.D. Salinger.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


The ark of the Jewish tabernacle, according to ye olde OED.

1483 CAXTON G. de la Tour Giij, Before the arch or cybory wherin was the holy bred of the manna.

Monday, May 3, 2010


From Charles McGrath's April 25th review of Muriel Spark: The Biography, by Martin Stannard, in the Times Book Review.

Spark was capable of showoffy writing, and in “The Takeover,” for example, throws in a little, seemingly just to show she can do it: “The whole of eternal life carried on regardless, invisible and implacable, this being what no skinny craving cat with its gleaming eyes by night had ever pounced upon, no tender mole of the earth in the hills above had ever discovered down there under the damp soil, no lucky spider had caught, nor the white flocks of little clouds could reveal when they separated continually, eternal life untraceable and persistent.”

This would be a case where a word performs its meaning, at least visually.

I don't know that I agree with the judgment rendered. When is writing showoffy, and when is it simply good?

A recent post by one Carol Rumens on the Guardian's book blog raised the idea of authorial reticence, specifically referring to one of Edwin Arlington Robinson's good poems: