Saturday, October 26, 2019


The idea of a destination. 
Credit: Stanford University

Today's post word entered my mind while I was seated and viewing the "Vergangenheit" episode of The Crown (Season 2).  Speaking to the Reverend Billy Graham, Queen Elizabeth says:

. . . You do speak with such wonderful clarity and certainty.  I find it very reassuring. . . . In an increasingly complex world, we all need certainty, and you provide it. 

The Crown, Season Two, "Vergangenheit"

Her line stays with me because I wonder about the extent to which the need for certainty and the discomfort with, the contempt for, uncertainty, has shaped the collective unconscious in the current United States of America.

What kinds of practices would foster attitudes of acceptance about ambiguity, nuance, doubt, uncertainty?

Copyright: The Institute
for Earth Education

Friday, September 27, 2019


From the courtroom scene in the movie Sommersby, James Earl Jones on the bench (italics mine):
But I must warn you, you proceed at your own jeopardy.
It's the phrasing that tipped jeopardy into the post slot.  Seldom do we hear people say "at your own jeopardy."  Usually we read "at your own risk."

Does a nonsense poet read this word and summon the word leopardy. ?  (Not to be confused with Leopardi.)

For me, it takes me back to a poem I liked in third grade:  "Eletelephony," by Laura Elizabeth Richards.
Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I've got it right.)
Howe'er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee—
(I fear I'd better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)
To my eyes the exclamation points were off-putting, and "Dear me!" was as jarring, since I had never heard the phrase in real life.  I doubt I knew the poem dated to 1931.  I had no concept of 1931.  I was in third grade.

And circle now back to Sommersby

Sommersby has its problems, but the idea of people deciding to willfully ignore the truth of a man's identity in order to receive the fruits of his generosity:  This is interesting.  They are saying, We will collectively lie out loud to hold onto the decency this man has conjured.  His decency has improved our lot immeasurably.  We see that he's about to die for a crime committed by the real Jack Sommersby, whose definition of decency was likely "A sound in the air."

The courtroom scene pings around in my head with some sentences Arthur Miller published in the New York Times in 1950, upon the occasion of the first anniversary of Death of a Salesman:
A time will come when they will look back at us astonished that we saw something holy in the competition for the means of existence.  But already we are beginning to ask of the great man, not what has he got, but what has he done for the world.  We ought to be struggling for a world in which it will be possible to lay blame.  Only then will the great tragedies be written, for where no order is believed in, no order can be breached, and thus all disasters of man will strive vainly for moral meaning.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Fruitland Mesa, Colorado, July 2016

From an extraordinary passage in "Death of a Traveling Salesman," by Eudora Welty, in The Viking Critical Library collection Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman, edited by Gerald Weales (New York: Penguin Books, 1967, 1977), italics mine.
"Sonny," said the woman, "you'll have to borry some fire."

"I'll go git it from Redmond's," said Sonny.

"What?"  Bowman strained to hear their words to each other.

"Our fire, it's out, and Sonny's got to borry some, because its [sic] dark an' cold," she said.

"But matches—I have matches—"

"We don't have no need for 'em," she said proudly.  "Sonny's goin' after his own fire."

"I'm goin' to Redmond's," said Sonny with an air of importance, and he went out.

The story is from Welty's collection A Curtain of Green and Other Stories (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1941).

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


On the Quad at Stanford University, October 2017
Possibly the most important invisible risk to our cultural heritage is more of a mindset, I'd say.  It's one that makes us prone to creating a knowledge monoculture, what I think of as a knowledge monoculture.  The idea prevalent today [is] that there is such a thing as progress, which renders knowledge obsolete.  This is particularly true in science and engineering, with the idea that new discoveries actually make other things obsolete.  Well:  They make them not very relevant in the near term but there isn't any piece of cultural information, cultural learning, which is truly obsolete in the sense that we can flush it away.  

Because in fact we know from our friend Biologist that there are lots of things that animals carry around that are useless — limbs that are never used, for example — that when environments change, they can use that useless limb, that thing, that fin, [garbly], and turn this kind of maladaptation into what we call an exaptation, turning it into something that can be useful in a new environment.  You know that mammals didn't evolve legs to walk on land; they were able to walk on land because they had something that could evolve into legs.

And I think that particularly given how much we ourselves, our species, is radically changing the natural environment, we need to actually be scrupulous in keeping as much information about that environment, and about how indigenous peoples understood that environment — whether it's scientific understanding or not.  We can't afford to flush knowledge away because we don't know what we're going to need when the world changes, as it is, changing very rapidly.  

Abby Smith Rumsey, "When We Are No More: How Digital Memory is Shaping Our Future," delivered March 9, 2016, as part of Talks at Google.


The scholarly future of Stanford University Press is not assured. I wonder if the university's "leaders" are suffering from a serious lack of imagination. 

If you want to find out what's going on, click into this June 6th KQED News radio interview with Michael Krasny.

RetroGoose by David Ashley, Denver 2018
Scribere qui nescit nullam putat esse laborem.
Who knows not how to write--thinks it to be no trouble.

Come Autumn Quarter, I hope that wave after wave of Stanford undergraduates and graduates vehemently protest the parlous* decision to strip the press of its university funding.  Might a cheer be composed, to wave along at football games (enrich the press, we stand with scholarship).  Might an interpretive dance be presented in White Plaza?  Might banners be unfurled from the clock tower, from the second floor of Tresidder, from Row House balconies?

Make no mistake, this is A Moment.

Here is an entire website devoted to "saving" the press.  Here is where the Association of University Presses stands on the matter.  To see where I stand, especially as an alumna, see the banners in the center of this post.

Scholarship as advertised in The Nation magazine, December 25, 1995

 * An etymologist might note that a Middle English spelling of this word is perlis.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

© Charles M. Schulz
From Good grief, more PEANUTS!, by Charles M. Schulz
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1964
© Charles M. Schulz

Thursday, July 4, 2019


Along my visit to the CSU Fort Collins book store,
Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019.

Pithy, long absent from my eyes' paths, showed up within the approbation section for Trout Culture: How Fly Fishing Forever Changed the Rocky Mountain West, by Jen Corrinne Brown (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017):  

A remarkable book.  Brown's pithy, beautifully written prose conveys an important message: that anglers and managers need to stop imagining western lakes and rivers as wild places and start thinking about how the human history of Rocky Mountain trout has had a disastrous impact on ecologically significant native species that genteel recreationists too readily deemed 'trash fish.'
                                                        Western Historical Quarterly

Pithy is selected as today's post because it's a good, useful word, especially for a book about environmental history.  In demeanor pithy is the opposite of the cold and clinical interface. (Note to water organizations: Since interface means "to coördinate," it makes more sense to describe swimmers or paddlers as interacting with water, or just plain playing around in it.)

Bonus Western iconography

Cattle roundup, Wason Ranch, Creede, Colorado, early September 2017.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Code word–y

This two-page 1985 Dr. White's Towels and Tampons ad
came to my mind during the performance at Red Rocks.
Courtesy of the Museum of Menstruation.

The last time I was in New York City,  a blizzard came between me and a taping of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

So, when a billboard on Colfax Avenue announced Noah's 2019 Loud & Clear tour, I decided to see him live at Red Rocks. (N.B. Red Rocks employs Doug and Tim, the supervisors of my week. Also, Red Rocks, even with all its self-promotion, is probably one of the top six reasons to live in Colorado.)

Noah's ideas-driven stand-up routine was performed with spoken language and body language. He excels at imitations of public figures, and pulls in an everyday crowd by imitating his peers. I was laughing to the point of tears with his riff on the way airplane pilots make their announcements from the cockpit, and I especially liked what I consider to be Mr. Noah's defense of sharks. Doumo arigatou-gozaimasu (どうもありがとうございます), Mr. Noah. 

(During one of the opening acts, Mr. Noah's pal Vince joked about how if hunters need to use automatic weapons, maybe they're not very good. Also, how can hunting be termed a sport if the other "team" hasn't been told that there's a game on. How, indeed.)

When Mr. Noah started joking about women and men and menstruation, two references came to mind. One was a 1985 Dr. White's advertisement showing a man posed in undergarments (see above). The other was the menstruation dinner party scene in Mike Mills's film 20th Century Women.

Then came a y word. About coy advertisements for such "feminine products" as tampons, the performer, sounding appealingly nerdy, said:

Have you seen how code word-y they are? 

Many of us have noticed that, and for a long, long time.

A article about the fascinating history of Kotex Pads explains a 1920s ad campaign that ran in Good Housekeeping magazine:
For their time and place, the advertisements are almost shockingly explicit–although, like many modern ads for menstrual products, they never explicitly state their use. “All feature a single woman or a group of women in active, yet decorative poses,” Mandziuk writes in her study. The first ad to run in Good Housekeeping describes Kotex sanitary napkins as the key tool for ensuring “summer comfort” and “poise in the daintiest frocks.”
Funnily enough, when outdoors people advise friends to pack panty liners in the first aid kit for that day hike, it's a simple case of back-to-the-future.

With luck, after it pisses you off, somebody will turn it into the stuff of comedy.

Check out Steinem's essay "If Men Could Menstruate,"
published in Ms. magazine in October 1978.
That was, oh, forty years ago — almost two generations.
[ Factoid: Ms. first appeared as an insert in Clay Felker's
New York magazine in December 1971. ]

P.S.  Trevor (if I may), if you or one of your staff is among the handful of people who stop into this blog every now and then, I want you to know that foistering is an obsolete intransitive verb that means "To break wind silently."  The OED dates its first appearance in English to 1594.  In the context of wind farms, then, I'm wondering how Trump came to use it. Could he have been parroting (but in the wrong tone of voice) a very clever usage by the local Scots. ?

P.P.S. Note the en dash in today's post. It indicates that the y is distributed over code and word.