« 22 days? | Main | Book Report: Our Lives Are the Rivers »

complaints, complaints

Sometimes the writing in the New York Times Arts section just gets right up Your Humble Blogger’s nose.

From Chimney Sweep's World, With No Mary Poppins, an article by Ben Sisario on Colin Meloy: “His lyrics giddily engage a Scrabble master's vocabulary; one song on the Decemberists' latest album, "Picaresque," rhymes folderol, chaparral and coronal.” Um, huh? Has Mr. Sisario never played Scrabble? A Scrabble master’s vocabulary is about knowing that it is OK to spell adze without the e, or that fid and fil and fiz are just as legitimate as fib, fie, fig, fin, fir, fit, and fix. Well, more about knowing that ba and bo are as good as be, bi and by, but that *bu is right out. Oh, and that qua is a word, but that *quo isn’t, for some reason. I have known a couple of genuine Scrabble masters, and have played Scrabble with some players a lot better than I am, and I doubt that any of them would have played chapparal under any circumstances, even if there was room after chap. Dumping a rack with folderol is possible, if I left the board open, and I could easily imagine somebody supplying the l after I foolishly played corona (for almost no points). Yes, I know, I’m quibbling, but really. That’s aside from the fact that folderol and coronal do not rhyme, nor does either rhyme with chapparal, which is not a dactyl but an anapest, and therefore possibly wouldn’t scan. Not that I’m knocking Mr. Meloy; I have no idea how those words are actually used. I’m just saying.

And while I’m whinging, may I point out that Ben Brantley, in It Only Hurts When You Don't Laugh, a review of Major Bang (which, bye-the-bye, looks quite good), refers to the present as “four years after Americans were deprived of the assumption that their days were unlikely to include terrorist attacks.” Now, Mr. Brantley doesn’t mean assumption; I think he means illusion, but he may mean belief or something like that. At any rate, the word choice wouldn’t make me pick up my head and look around for a Gentle Reader to complain to. No, but I really hope most Americans don’t currently think their days are likely to include terrorist attacks. I know I’m always on about how humans are lousy at risk analysis in any frame longer than a minute or so, but this is beyond me. As far as I can tell, Mr. Brantley wanted to intimate that before the attack on the World Trade Center (the second one, you know, the one that worked), Americans (erroneously) thought themselves immune from terrorism, that is, they thought it was impossible that their days would include terrorist attacks, and now not only is such an idea conceivable but it’s hard (Mr. Brantley says) to keep it out of your head. So perhaps he means something like four years after Americans were deprived of their ability to ignore the possibility that their days would include terrorist attacks. Or something. Anyway, it’s a lousy sentence at the top of the review, and (as with many lousy sentences) fixing it wouldn’t help.

Hmf. Just to show that (a) I am capable of liking something, and (ii) I really am a pathetic Anglophile, I will recognize that the Guardian has a fascinating report on, as they say, the “slow transition from contemporary controversy to historical fact” of the Limehouse Declaration and the SDP. YHB particularly enjoyed the last section, written by Michael White, on the disagreement within the (left-leaning) Guardian at the time. But really, I don’t demand particularly good writing from my newspaper. I just want to finish the article without complaining about anything but the content.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,