Monday, June 28, 2010


From the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. The reader is describing the experience of reading, for a directed study, Elizabeth Bowen's short story "The Demon Lover" not in "a traditional linear-text format" but in "a version with links, as you'd find on a Web page" (unfortunately, Carr does not indicate whether those reading the story in the un-linked format did so while looking at a screen):

One hypertext reader complained, "The story was very jumpy." Continuing: "I don't know if that was caused by the hypertext, but I made choices and all of a sudden it wasn't flowing properly, it just kind of jumped to a new idea I didn't really follow."

What's nice here is that jumpy sounds the way it means. I can't quite tell what the reader of the linked "Demon Lover" was reading but of course if one clicks in and out, leap-linking within a traditionally conceived story, the experience does become a jumpy affair.

It also makes me recall how in the very late '80s or early '90s, I clicked around in a hypertext version of Ulysses for a company then testing a beta version of sorts. It was interesting but it wasn't attractive. I imagine my undermind was thinking something along the lines of "Yes, some of these links are interesting for a minute--or maybe five," but, ultimately, they're not as interesting as my own "links," my own accretive annotations and marginalia. Why would I want to follow a path I didn't create? That would be like watching a television program simply because it was on and not because I actually wanted to see it.

Somewhere in the Netosphere there are contemporary stories with links that perform particular narrative functions. For two old-media examples, the marginalia in Marianne Wiggins' novel John Dollar and the footnotes--most deftly ff. 4--in David Foster Wallace's story "The Depressed Person," gloss those texts in ways that hyperlinks should gloss current or future ones. The online narrative and its electronic medium should relate symbiotically.

Carr's book, which has only a few drawbacks, raises a number of interesting points.

One is the general idea of the Great Reading Divide and which group will wind up being the ruling "class." Will those who develop and nurture a capacity to think deeply and contemplate and ruminate--and remember--will they coagulate into a tiny coterie practicing a quaint, outmoded, and supposedly useless activity? Will power go to the scanners, the skimmers, the clickety-clickers?

Another: the value of "spending time in a quiet rural setting, close to nature." Carr states (in his characteristically sweeping fashion) that when people do this, "[t]heir brains become both calmer and sharper. The reason, according to attention restoration therapy, or ART, is that when people aren't being bombarded by external stimuli, their brains can, in effect, relax. They no longer have to tax their working memories by processing a stream of bottom-up distractions. The resulting state of contemplativeness strengthens their ability to control their mind." [I think he meant minds.] I believe this is true: Time spent away from one's BlackBerry (iPhone, iPod, television, or computer screen) and in nature actually works, even better than Google. For Homo sapiens, time + nature "deliver" a superior algorithm.

Imagine that AT&T commercial, rewritten: Where does your brain want to go today?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I wonder how often this word is misused. Can't possibly be as often as comprised.

From the Reuters Style Guide:

Autarchy means absolute power and autarky is self-sufficiency. Use plain words instead to remove the confusion.

(Seemingly related is the word autexousy, which at first glance looks anxious, and means free will.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


From Allen Ginsburg's "Howl," a poem that's too Whitmanian for my taste, though I can bring myself to admire it. It has that wordmashup thing going, the way Kerouac has in the The Subterraneans.

yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and
[two-space indentation] anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,

An exceptional y word because the end y is a starter y. Also, instead of yackety (as in yackety-yak), Ginsberg gives us the caricatural yacketay.

Friday, June 18, 2010


1697 DRYDEN Virg. Georg. II. 431 The fainty Root can take no steady hold.

I interpret this as: Be stout of heart.


I was looking up qubit and came across quey, which is charming when viewed alongside quay.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


From "Jabberwocky," in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There:

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

In Tim Burton's (wonderful, except for the too kewt bit at the end when Alice futterwackes, or however it's spelled) "Alice in Wonderland," the Hatter (is Johnny Depp the Jack Nicholson of our generation?) recites the first two stanzas of the poem (in a Scottish brogue), which is to say, he never gets to tulgey.

Tulgey means "thick, dense and dark." Possibly the author tossed turgid , bulging, bulgy, and ugly into a Mixmaster prototype, but the thing to keep in mind is that the word plays off whiffling.

He also never gets to galumphing, a word my mother has used all my life. My mother, who, it must be said, has made-up words for lots of things, uses galumphing in the later, non-exultant sense.

I was never taken with "Jabberwocky," but, this winter somebody recited it aloud to me and put a meta spin on the whole thing; so delivered as it was I liked the poem much more.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Goky and Gawney

Centuries apart (goky from the 14th century, gawney from the 19th, if the OED is to be reliable), and both meaning "simpleton" or "fool."

Strange words.

("Gimpel the Goky"? Clearly: No.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Not appropriate for describing the newspaper, and from the short piece "Fermented Surf for Your Turf," by Patrick di Justo, in Wired 18.06 (June 2010). The piece is about Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce.

The raw stuff stinks like rotting garlic, but when cooked the taste is oniony.

Interesting because of the wispy kite string of an ending. Also, in a way, the word can be read as onioni or onyony.

This issue of Wired , which I was reading on a plane heading to Asia, has an excerpt of Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows, a book I want to read.

Do you remember when every airline installed TV screens? Once they had, the assumption was that everybody would prefer to pull down the window shades; however, I wanted to read by sunlight. I didn't understand why the people who wanted to watch television were to be taken more seriously than those who preferred to not watch television, and I resented being held captive by hundreds of blue screens blinking and distracting me (at least my plane on this trip had privacy screens, which, tilted at the right angle, shielded passengers from one another's viewing choice). I also resented the way there was no escaping giant screens within the airports, a/k/a petri dishes for cultivating screen plague and blabbery.

First came the airports, then elevators (in the first part of the decade, in an elevator, a woman once pointed to a TV screen and turned to me, remarking, "Weapon of mass destruction.")

An English teacher I knew limited her son's exposure to television. She said she didn't realize until it was too late that she should also have been limiting his exposure to computer screens and the Net. I don't know what she meant by "too late," but maybe Mr. Carr's book will give me some idea.

On my trip, a woman told a story about her daughter. The daughter and her boyfriend were heavy texters. Then came a breakup. The daughter was distraught. Her mother suggested she and the boy get together and talk things over. "Talk?" the daughter said. "But that's so awkward!"