Thursday, April 18, 2019


Once upon a time

People whose first language isn't English speak its imperfections charmingly --- the person who calls a Forget-me-not a "Do not forget me,"  the person who asks which subway train runs to "the Yankee Station."

In a letter dated November 17, 1941, the artist Saul Steinberg wrote to cousins (as quoted in Saul Steinberg: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair) that he was aware of
the very goods English like Punch and Humorist, but I think The New Yorker is the top. Is very flattery for me.
The New Yorker had recently purchased one of Steinberg's drawings.

Eritrichium aretioides (Alpine Forget-Me-Not)
native to Colorado
(cf. blue blob on the left-hand side of the
mountain wild flowers sign, below)


At the Monarch Crest tram station, Continental Divide
June 2016
Tramway car view of another country, not my own
June 2016

Saturday, February 23, 2019


What a homely word this is, this adjective, to the eye.  Yet it also has a bit of an inviting pot belly.  I want to poke it the way one would poke the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  (N.B. The more endearing purplely, almost ugly-beautiful, is an adverb referring to a purple manner.)

From the audio commentary of the DVD version of Lady Bird with masterful enunciator / writer / director Greta Gerwig and cinematographer Sam Levy.

Gerwig (about 12 minutes in):  This is Odeya, who plays Jenna. This is her introduction . . . . She’s one of the . . . popular kids, the fancy kids, and we always wanted it to have this sort of purply, kind of—what did he* say?—violet shadows? . . . Without being too obvious about it, we wanted it to feel like, uh, like there was a consistency in, in the color of each story telling, each strand of the world, that you would be unconsciously picking up on.

16 mm. film, via

Levy:  Yeah, each time you see the cool kids, there’s this subtle differentiation in the image . . .

Later in the commentary (about 42 minutes in), about the scene in The Deuce parking lot (which follows one of my favorite scenes in the film, with the football coach diagramming the school play and the teenagers seated on the floor dutifully taking notes on his directions and bobbing their heads as if to say, "Okay, yup, got that down on paper."):

Levy:  You see the difference between the violet shadows and this kind of papery feeling that we designed for the cool kids versus the lack of paper—little bit more inkiness in the blacks—and [presence of ] warmth, with the theater kids.

* He is Alex Bickel, a colorist.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


From the CBC Being Erica Wiki

From a scene in Being Erica, Season 3, Episode 10, "The Tribe Has Spoken."  Describing the manuscript that will keep 50/50 publishing as a viable concern, Brent tells Julianne and Erica:

It's crisp, it's pacey, it's going to be huge.

What a funny word.  I like it.   Heard it today for the first time in my life.

It's colloquial British, and means both fast-moving and fashionable.  Quotation evidence of it in the OED dates to 1906.

There is also the derivative pacily (adv.), which pleasures the eye as much as pacey pleasures the ear.

Traces of paces near Soward Ranch, Creede, Colorado
early spring 2018

[ Random bonus tidbit from August 2018, a nod to words ending in -y. ]

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Imaginary II

    My young cats explore. 

If you were reading in 2010 you'd have read this post.

In the years between, I have learned of the work of Henry Giroux.  Professor Giroux is a cultural critic who teaches in Canada. He also runs the public intellectual project at Truthout.

A couple of years ago, his voice came on the radio while I was driving near Breen, Colorado.  My car had picked up the signal of an unusual station, and it lasted for about 10 minutes.  Whatever Professor Giroux was talking about (possibly about Huxley and Orwell) led me to purchase his book The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine.  I became especially saddened while reading about the lockdown following the Boston Marathon bombing.  [Editor's regret: The sentence to the left corrects an egregious error, on December 29th.]

City Lights, which published the book in July of 2014, offers a download of an excerpt of the book. This is an excerpt of that excerpt.
The stories we tell about ourselves no longer speak to the ideals of justice, equality, liberty, and democracy.  The landscape of American politics no longer features towering figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., whose stories interwove moral outrage with courage and vision and inspired us to imagine a society that was never just enough. A culture that once opened our imagination now disables it, overwhelming the populace with nonstop marketing that reduces our sense of agency to the imperatives of ownership, shopping, credit, and debt.  But these are not the only narratives that diminish our capacity to imagine a better world. We are also inundated with stories of cruelty and fear that undermine communal bonds and tarnish any viable visions of the future.  Different stories, ones that provided a sense of history, social responsibility, and respect for the public good, were once circulated by our parents, religious institutions, schools, and community leaders.  Today, the stories that define who we are as individuals and as a nation are manufactured by corporate media that broadcast the lifestyles of celebrities, billionaires, and ethically frozen politicians who preach the mutually related virtues of an unbridled free market and a permanent war economy.  The power to reimagine, doubt, and think critically no longer seem possible in a society in which self-interest has become the “only motive force in human life and competition” and “the most efficient and socially beneficial way for that force to express itself.”2
Especially for children who consume most of their narratives unsupervised and online, I wonder about how hyperrealities and electronic delivery systems are affecting each one's curiosity, and sense of identity, and (alert!) comprehension of morality and ethics.  I wonder about their understanding of time.  I wonder about young people's capacities for pretend play, for observation, for reading and responding appropriately to social cues.  I wonder about their powers of expression among live 3-D human beings.  And I wonder about their abilities to think in terms of contexts and overviews.

During the 1980s, before the phrase "media diet" became popular, the publisher Carroll & Graf produced a promotional poster.  The image was of a cake slice made of pages, and the text declared YOU ARE WHAT YOU READ.

From, "a sometimes blog about mostly libraries."
On flickr the author, Char Booth, has linked a set of visual cards related to this one.
Booth is listed on a website as Associate Dean of the University Library, California State University San Marcos.

The following excerpts, from Louis de Bernières's slender delight titled Labels, celebrate the immediate, the unmediated life:
I was brought up in the days when there was electric light but no television, and consequently people had to learn how to amuse themselves.  It was the great heyday of hobbies.  People made entire villages out of matchboxes, and battleships out of matches. . . .
As a toddler:
My first hobby was saying good morning.  I had a little white floppy hat that I would raise at any time of day, in imitation of the good manners of my father, and I would solemnly intone 'good morning" in a lugubrious tone of voice that I had probably first admired in a vicar.  After that I developed an interest in drains, and would squat before them, poking with a stick at the limp shreds of apple peel and cabbage that had failed to pass through the grate outside the kitchen.  I noticed that in the autumn the leaves turned grey, and I discovered the miraculous binding qualities of human hair when it is intermixed with sludge. 
. . .
As infancy blossomed into childhood, so my interests multiplied.  I made catapults, tormented the cat, pretended to be a cowboy, made boxes with airholes so that I could watch caterpillars become chrysalides, made a big collection of . . .
The narrator eventually enters his adolescence, by which time the television screen has entered everyday life.
Like everyone else I was reduced to extreme torpor and inactivity by the advent of television, but found that I was becoming increasingly depressed and irritable.

Lichen on the grounds of The Glass House in Connecticut.
This image was the "wallpaper" on my iPad for at least a year.
(I admire lichen and moss.)

When I was a girl, imaginary was an adjective.  I didn't know it could be a noun.  Since then it's become popular in academic circles, as a noun.

An example of this usage appears in an article I'm reading this week, "Historiography's Two Voices: Data Infrastructure and History at Scale in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB)," by Christopher N. Warren, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University.  The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which was released in 2004, represents "the work of roughly 10,000 scholars, runs to 60 volumes in print, and is made up of more than 62 million words," as described by Professor Warren.  Find the article here, in the Journal of Cultural Analytics (November 22, 2018, 10.31235/, and the excerpt with today's word below (click on the excerpt to enlarge it --- previously the tagging symbols and the word geocult within had disappeared when I published the post).

Warren's article interests me because of how knowledge-making and story-making are interdependent.

See "Branches of Knowledge," above.

Thursday, November 29, 2018


"The Woolenpoof Song (bah, bah, bah)"
J.C. Penney 1965 Sales Meeting Industrial Musical LP. 

My first viewing of the film was in Denver, during its film festival; I laughed.  The man on my left cried. 

My second viewing was in New York; I cried.  The man on my right laughed. 

Throughout the second viewing I kept wondering at how much I was weeping, and how much I had laughed throughout the first viewing.  But I also recalled how much the man on my left had cried then, and how it was his second time.  

What had caused such reactions? A documentary called Bathtubs Over Broadway, by a director, co-writer and editor named Dava Whisenant.  

I do say right now that this picture deserves the Oscar for the documentary category.  My reason for saying this is threefold.  

Beyond its sheer entertainment factor, the film is a piece of original, expertly conducted reportage about an unrecognized aspect of corporate America and its link to the entertainment industry.

Secondly, the film brings the labors of brilliant, unrecognized composers and lyricists to unanticipated fruition—past the point of musical production, past ego, and into an arena of wide-eyed appreciation and acknowledgment, both on the film crew's part and Mr. Young's (and, subsequently, the audience's).

Thirdly: Mr. Young's transformation.  If you have even an inkling of what comes with the territory of a comedy writer at "Late Show with David Letterman," or indeed any successful TV comedy writer, then you will struck by the transformation of a man scorched by 25 years of writing for Dave.  (You may also be utterly charmed by watching Mr. Young, while visiting with an archivist, smile in two movements, first on one side of his mouth, then on the other. This beats ear-wiggling by two leagues.)   Note to the members of the Academy: The transformation of Mr. Young as witnessed by the filmmaker and crew over four years is exactly the kind of transformation that facile Hollywood films have been bringing to market year after year.  To actually witness Mr. Young's changes is marvelous in every way. 

It's difficult not to sense something of the depth and simplicity of "Death of a Salesman" running throughout the film, as we watch audiences of (mostly) company men witness their lives celebrated in song and dance; and then watch the whole show-on-the-road culture dry up.  (Make America sing and dance again?)

For me, the most poignant scene features a composer in his later years wondering at Mr. Young's devoted obsessiveness.  The camera frames him from above, so that his stance is that of a child looking up to an adult.  His eyes express a child's wonder, as if to say to Mr. Young, many years his junior, How is it that what I've done matters so very much to you?  (Tissue-crumple.)  

Ms. Whisenant has created a film as finely disciplined as one of Rose Levy Beranbaum's gorgeous cakes (the final musical scene being the fluffy icing; see Muppets, below) and balanced between levity and gravity.  

Any number of American companies really did spend up to three million dollars to produce musicals for the benefit of their salespeople.  Corporate America really did feel upbeat and hopeful about its future.  And Broadway-quality industrial musicals really were the unsung family members of the musical theatre world.

From Mr. Young's website, Steve Young World

At a New York party after a screening of the film, Steve Young pulled a dampened, crumpled tissue from his pocket and showed it to me.  I saw his tissue and raised him one, which in the movie version would be my unspoken way of telling him that I want the film to be shown to every person in America who has an interest in the history of corporate America, and that his quest as viewed by Ms. Whisenant's eye pays unique homage to idiosyncrasy. [Ed. note: See Fowler's Modern English Usage, Second Edition, regarding the -sy in idiosycrasy.]

Not long before that crumpled-tissue moment, and well before a woman (shouting over blaring music spun by Don Bollesinvited me aboard her boyfriend's boat (and it was tempting), Steve Young and Dava Whisenant spoke to the audience about the making of the film. 

As if for the benefit of this blog's tiny readership, Mr. Young dropped a -y word into the mix, saying:
I've never been a musical theatre guy, and suddenly I'm in a spangly jacket singing.
What he was referring to, literally, was his appearance in the film's closing number, which in Denver Ms. Whisenant had referred to as the film's "Muppet Movie" big finale. 

Spangly—"resembling spangles; covered with spangles" according to the OEDstrikes me as perfect word to describe the tone of the film, which is so much about a shiny American cultural moment.  But it also is a much underused word, and so how fortunate for it to be given an airing. 

For most people the word likely brings to mind images of parades or baton-twirlers, or marching band costumes, or the finale of A Chorus Line.   It's also quite likely that in the minds of Americans who know the national anthem the word spangle would summon that war song, or, at least, the word America.  As you know, I think mainly of consulting the OED and then proceeding.'

Helpful to know is that a spangle, unlike a sequin, does not have a hole in the center. 

According to my online dictionary of choice, the word spangle dates to 1420 (!) and has at least six meanings, from a piece of glittering metal to a star to a kind of game fowl.   The OED dates the first usage of spangly to 1818, but a quick dip into Google Scholar shows it appearing in 1734 in an "enquiry" concerning a mineral-water.  The 18th-century sense concerns particles that glitter (think of how some sidewalks in New York tinkle with mica bits).

Via  Listen to the instrumental here, on YouTube. 

I think about the improbabilities of life. 

During the bathroom song (you'll see), one man in the New York screening, overcome with incredulity, laugh-shouted "No!" into the darkened movie house.  

Consider the improbability of songs about products being plucked from near-oblivion (the songs, not the products) and then doted upon; the improbability of the value of the Library of Congress being put on full view; the improbability of a hard-edged, brilliant comedy writer being touched to the core by the talents of a man who wrote songs about J.C. Penney; and the courage of that comedy writer in allowing a sensitive filmmaker to reveal him to be an earnest appreciator who can set life a-glittering.  

I, who do not watch "The Simpsons" or Letterman, did not know until the Denver Film Festival who Steve Young was.  It makes me smile to think that so many people will have the opportunity to be buoyed up Ms. Whisenant's remarkable film, which will open in New York and Los Angeles on November 30th—tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Nick Higgins. Courtesy of Cactus Flower Films

Sunday, October 28, 2018


Henry Clay Frick's Music Room at the Frick Collection, in New York City, soon
to be silenced.   Did the soprano ever visit here?

Decoding Music-Speak

Maria de Montserrat Bibiana Concepción Caballé i Folch, a legendary Spanish soprano, died in Barcelona on October 6th.   Three music critic-reporters at the New York Times reported her death and life's work for the Obituaries section of the paper.

Despite my liking opera sets more than opera music, I wish I had heard this woman sing.   Maybe she would have changed my mind about opera.   Also I might better understand what is meant by the word vowelly in this excerpt from the Times obituary.
At times she would actually substitute nonsense syllables for a song’s text, when she appeared to feel that the words as written, with their congestion of consonants, would impede the flow of pure, vowelly sound. 
I can make a guess, but it would be nice to be certain.

The word vowelly dates to the early 18th-century, and means "having many vowels."  However, I believe the sense intended in the obituary also n pertains to vowelling.   Once spelled vowellynge, this is an obsolete word which refers to "the articulation of vowels in singing."

After checking the OED further, I learn that a vowel is "a sound produced by the vibrations of the vocal cords";  that vocalic refers to a language rich in vowels;  and that there are such compounds as vowel-coloring, vowel-laxing, and vowel-glide.

Vowelly is a flowy, raglan sleeve of a word. Although it rhymes with owly, e.g, "Happy b-day, Izikel. (Sorry this b-day greeting is so owly.)" (quoted from the classifieds section of the January–February 1988 issue of Spy magazine) and growly, and so on, it's quite a bit more scenic to the eye than those two, likely because of the double-ell.   It occupies at least two peaks and one valley, whereas owly is a hole in the ground, and growly is not on a map at all.   Vowelly sounds, behaves, like liquid and yet appears substantial.

A screen shot of Thomas More's Utopia,
opened to "the woodcut map of Utopia,
with the invented Utopian alphabet on the facing page,"
as described on the website of the Georgetown University Library.
The volume was purchased in 1892, "with the library of John Gilmary Shea."
(Which are, where are,  the vowels?)

Vowels in Action

When a radio report titled "Every Year the State Fair Honors Colorado's Oldest Family-Owned Farms and Ranches," by CPR general assignment reporter Xandra McMahon, aired on September 4, 2018, a pronunciation of cauliflower struck my ear pleasantly.
Years ago, my grandpa planted, uh, cauliflower, and lettuce, and when I was a little boy, I remember that. 
Pete Vigil, Jr.,  (Vigil is pronounced VEE-hil), a farmer whose family started farming in 1876, spoke the words.   Mr. Vigil pronounced cauliflower as if the cauli were spelled colly.   It turns out the word was spelt that way in the 17th and 18th centuries.   The OED cites instances (hyphenated and not) of collyflowers published in 1634, 1664, 1734, and 1769.

Shameless Plug for Brilliancy

Vigil Farms is located in Capulin, in Conejos County, in the singular San Luis Valley.   Mr. Vigil told Colorado Public Radio that he raises "grain and alfalfa and oats," and I add that he does so in a singularly beautiful and relatively dark-skied region of the state of Colorado.

To my eyes, the Valley is ripe for tapping its potential as an economic driver of astro-tourism in the American West.   People increasingly crave darkness and quiet, and even candle-lit (read: screen-free) nights.   I imagine the Milky Way seen for the first time would give birth to many vowel exercises, primarily in the form of ooh and aah.   Hold on to the night, people, while you still can.

C.W. Pritchett, Morrison Observatory, November 1878
The Observatory, Vol. 2, pp. 309–310 (1878)

Monday, October 8, 2018


George Frederic Watts, The Minotaur, 1885, 
digital image © Tate, released under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0

Writing about this painting in the Autumn 2013 issue of Tate Etc. magazine, 
artist Ed Atkins voiced the perspective of the minotaur: 
"I’ve always-already forgotten the bird I killed so absentmindedly."

The cutesy-ness of the terminal y applied to great advantage.

Explaining how showman Donald Trump* has succeeded in fomenting feelings of victimhood, especially during the period of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, Trevor Noah tells his studio audience:
I don't know if you saw that rally that he [Trump] hosted, where he came out and he mocked Dr. Ford.  I don't know if you saw the little press-conference-y moment he gave outside the White House where he, where he talked about men, and he said, 'You know, it's a really scary time to be a man right now—really scary time for men, worst time ever to be a man.' . . . . And then they asked him later, they said, 'What about, what about women, what is it for them?', and he was like, 'It's a great—women are doing great.'
And, you know what I realized in, in that moment, just, just looking at the sentiment and the message that, that Trump was conveying:  it's a really powerful thing that I, I-I think people take for granted, and that is, for me, personally, I find Trump's most powerful tool is that he knows how to wield victimhood.  He knows how to offer victimhood to the people who have the least claim to it.
via Daily Kos

What is comical about Noah's use of the term press-conference-y is how it aligns with X's (see bottom of post) opinions about the gravitas that comes with the office of the president of the United States.  To match with the man who reduces almost any situation to gallstones, who mocks the very idea of public office, and who vilifies our nation's free press, Noah adroitly alights upon press conference-y, which is a most suitable inflection of the phrase press conference.

Noah goes on to ask:
How many men, percentage-wise, have been falsely accused of a sexual assault, and How many women have actually been sexually assaulted?

Into my mind floats that well-known quotation from Carl Jung:
Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.

* What if from now on we simply refer to Trump as X ?