February 2007 Archives

Blog future

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I've been thinking for the past couple weeks, intermittently, about what to do with this blog.

It was originally going to be a place for me to post early cites of newly coined words, but that hasn't worked out so well; among other things, as I noted recently, most newly coined words that I see are obvious portmanteaus that don't strike me as especially interesting. (I should note that it was also originally going to be an experiment; I would try stuff out and see what worked and what didn't. I didn't have a fully formed plan from the start.)

So it's become mostly a place for me to post about words that I don't recall having encountered before, regardless of how old they are, and about interesting new-to-me etymologies of words I already know, and about a few other particular topics. But as is obvious to regular readers, I've been sporadic at best about posting. I have probably two or three dozen words lined up in my notes files to post about, but each one takes a little time to write up, and I delay and then before I know it it's been three or four weeks since my last post. Then I do a burst of posts all at once (set on a scheduled automatic release of about a day and a half between posts), and then the blog falls into neglect again.

Meanwhile, I've been occasionally going through some old mail related to my old Words & Stuff column, and noticing again that I never replied to or posted a lot of old reader comments.

And that the columns themselves have little or no context. Someone arrives at a column via a web search, and assumes that it's the only thing I ever wrote, and drops me a cryptic note about it. There's no easy navigation from one column to another, and no framing to make clear that each column is part of a greater whole.

So a couple of weeks back, it occurred to me that I could port all the old columns into this blog (and probably rename the blog), which would provide all sorts of useful advantages at once. And furthermore, I could repurpose this blog to become a sort of Words & Stuff 2.0; whenever I had a language-related note to post, even if not at all related to new words, I could post it here instead of in my regular journal.

I have also, on occasion, thought about having guest bloggers here. I think it's an interesting and probably good idea, but the control freak in me cringes at the idea of letting someone else into my blog.

I'm still not sure about any of this. Porting the old columns would take some time and work, so it's not likely to happen anytime in the next few weeks. And is it better to separate out language-related stuff, or to post it as part of my regular journal, one topic among many? And would the language blog lose a lot of its particular flavor if the entries here were regularly longer? One of my goals has been to generally keep entries here short and to the point, making this blog perhaps a little more friendly to those with limited reading time than my regular journal is.

Anyway. Haven't made any decisions yet, but thought it was worth posting to let y'all know what I'm thinking about.


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A piece of spam this morning led me indirectly (by way of a quotation) to Mark Twain's 1880 essay "The Awful German Language," an entertaining complaint about the difficulties of learning German, which apparently appeared as Appendix D from Twain's book A Tramp Abroad.

I was particularly amused by the section on German verb placement, which contains such lines as:

in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all.

(He also mentions that in English, overuse of parentheses "is the mark and sign of an unpracticed writer or a cloudy intellect." To which I say, hmph.)

A couple of other bits I liked:

Personal pronouns and adjectives are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six--and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. But mainly, think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.


I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective.

And another sally against verb order, from the section toward the end about how to improve German:

You may load up with ever so good a Verb, but I notice that you never really bring down a subject with it at the present German range--you only cripple it. So I insist that this important part of speech should be brought forward to a position where it may be easily seen with the naked eye.

See also my entry from a few months back on Latin verb placement.

What a to-do to die today


Someone just encountered my 1997 Words & Stuff column on elocution and wrote me to ask about elocution. Which led me to look at the column again, which led me to the following warmup exercise:

What a to-do to die today, at a minute or two to two;

a thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do.

We'll beat a tattoo, at twenty to two

a rat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tattoo

and the dragon will come when he hears the drum

at a minute or two to two today, at a minute or two to two.

And I'm still curious about where that comes from, so I Googled it. Sadly, all the online information I can find about it indicates that it's simply a vocal warmup exercise, not a quote from something.

Which seems unlikely to me. The dragon line isn't particularly hard to say and doesn't contain any particularly unusual speech sounds; if this really were simply a warmup exercise, I doubt that line would be there. There's also more backstory/plot than in most warmup exercises.

So I remain steadfast in my belief that it's a quote from something. But what? Anyone have any ideas?

As noted in the addenda page for the column, it's not from The Court Jester.

The search for info on that did lead me to another tongue-twister/warmup I hadn't encountered before:

Give me the gift of a grip-top sock,

A clip drape shipshape tip-top sock--

Not your spinslick slapstick slipshod stock,

But a plastic, elastic grip-top sock.

None of your fantastic slack swap slop

From a slapdash flash cash haberdash shop;

Not a knickknack knitlock knock-kneed knickerbocker sock

With a mock-shot blob-mottled trick-ticker top clock;

Not a rucked up, puckered up, flop top sock,

Nor a super-sheer seersucker rucksack sock;

Not a spot-speckled frog-freckled cheap sheik's sock

Off a hodgepodge moss-blotched scotch-botched block;

Nothing slipshod, drip drop, flip flop, or glip glop;

Tip me to a tip-top grip-top sock.

I cobbled that version together from various web sources. I wonder if that, too, might be a quote from something; anyone know?

freeze victims

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I was very amused by this headline from One Bakersfield Online today:

Bills would provide $1.2 billion to freeze victims in California

Turns out it's referring to money that would be used to help out "growers and workers affected by a recent crop freeze." But every time I look at the headline, I think they're planning to take people who are victims of something or other and freeze them.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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