First Person

“Are ya up for some skiing with Bethany and I?”

Oh, those pronouns. People seem to have more trouble with their pronouns when writing or speaking than they do with any other semantic, grammatical or communicative disorders (and orders). 

What causes todayʼs little peroration is, as one might easily predict (particularly for one like me who does not use Twitter), Facebook status updates. And as our title for today indicates, I want to focus on first things first.

English has three pronouns in both singular and plural forms,* not to mention also in nominative, possessive and objective cases — first, second and third person. When I was teaching, I used to like to tell the sophomores a fake bit of developmental psychology to help keep the three persons accurate…

When I was in the womb, preborn as the anti-abortion multitudes have taken to saying, if I was capable of consciousness at all,** I was only aware of one thing, one being, one oneness that comprised the all of everything — myself. Thatʼs the first person: “I,” “me” (avoiding for the moment the peculiar issues of plurality). 

Getting born introduces limitation (and probably, as Freud guessed, calamity and agony) when suddenly one is not the utter all and wholeness, totality… when oneʼs universe of self-contentment suffers contraction, eruption and expulsion… when, whether birthed into the cold air or warmed pool or whatever novel environment, one gets oneʼs breathing started, whether the midwife or doctor uses tickling, slapping or whatever method. Suddenly there is Someone Else in addition to Oneself/Myself right there, real and immediate, a second person — “you,” whoever that ever-changing other-one-who-is-here-with-me might shiftingly be through the long sequences of events that become a life.***

And when I get old enough to gossip with you about another person whoʼs not around us just now, that situation introduces the third person, whether than individual is “he, she or it.”

You and I together comprise “us,” first person plural, whereas several others around me (but not counting me) are “you” plural (that one poses few problems except sometimes in verb formulation), whereas more than one person not with us is third person plural, “them.” And with that last clause (and the first one, too, in that preceding sentence) we reach the crux of todayʼs problem, because if those other people about whom we are speaking do something, we would say, “They are doing whatever that thing is they are doing.” “They,” not “them” because in the imaginary sentence the third-person-plural are the subject of the sentence, the doers, not the objects (“them”).

With that affirmation of the distinction between nominative and objective cases (subjects versus objects), we hit whatʼs wrong with the (imaginary — all names and situations have been changed to protect the ignorant) sentence that began this post.

“Are ya up for some skiing with Bethany and I?”

We ignore the colloquial, informal transformation of “you” (presumably plural) to “ya,” and look at that final word. “With Bethany and first-person pronoun” is a prepositional phrase (a topic we have tackled before), and the noun (or pronoun) that follows a preposition (“with” in our sample case above) must be in the objective case, a rule which means nominative “I” is utterly, completely, laughably incorrect nonsense above. Leaving the second-person pronoun alone, the writer should have typed, “Are ya up for some skiing with Bethany and me?”

And thatʼs the way it is, Saturday, 11 February 2012.

* (to simplify matters for now, avoiding, for instance, the reflexive forms, et al.)

** And in a very Levi-Straussian structuralist way, I doubt that I was capable of consciousness until my being had encountered some kind of Other against which to rub my Self to trigger an awareness of myself…

*** I played with my favorite pronoun in that paragraph on second person, the indefinite “one,” which I much prefer to the colloquial (and illogical, when one puts oneʼs mind to it) indefinite, third-person-substitute “you” — a construction that just makes the clarity of first, second and third persons worthlessly confusing.

[Clip art images from websites available by clicking the pix.]

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Gramatically Speaking (and — another favorite theme — looking backward)

clip art image

Todayʼs post arises directly from yesterdayʼs. And as yesterdayʼs got a little bloated with extraneous complaints (about CenturyLink) and (in picture captions in particular) additional information about the Echo smartpen (which I am using to compose longhand right now), Iʼll try to keep this short and as sweet as possible for this human.

Yesterday I originally composed this sentence: “A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, I find it forces me to write almost legibly,” which I corrected before publication as “A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, it forces me, I find, to write almost legibly.” And I wondered if you, Gentle Reader, knew why the alteration was important (and necessary).

The difference was required because of the nature of a dependent clause. Thatʼs a clause (words that grammatically could be a sentence,* having both a subject and verb in the appropriate relationship) used to describe or “modify” a word in another independent clause, almost invariably —  because of how our language operates — describing the word right before the dependent clause starts. “I am writing the sentence which you are reading” is an example. “I am writing the sentence” is the main clause, and “which you are reading” is the dependent clause modifying “sentence,” telling you which sentence I am discussing. (I am keeping this discussion simple because in reality there are many kinds of subordinate clauses.)

In yesterdayʼs sentence, “it forces me to write almost legibly” is the clause dependent on (describing) the noun ”pen.” The “I find” is an interjected clause,** intended in its turn to modify the dependent clause (“it forces me to write almost legibly” in case you had forgotten). And if placed in its original position, immediately after “pen,” then “I think” becomes the modifier dependent on “pen,” meaning it and “pen” should somehow be related*** (and theyʼre not). “Pen” is the antecedent for “it” in the actual dependent clause (and itʼs that pronoun/antecedent relationship — between “it” and “pen” — that creates or permits the dependent clause to work and have meaning, just like “which” and “sentence” in the example I invented in the previous paragraph).

Short and sweet — “I think” couldnʼt follow “pen” logically/syntactically because that position is where the actual “it forces me to write almost legibly” clause had to fit. So in revision I did with “I think” what it grammatically did: inserted it interjectionally within the clause it modifies.

(And with that utterly roundabout and probably unclear explanation, I have created the necessary post for today.****)

* Actually my example of a subordinate/dependent clause (“which you are reading”), that I present toward the end of the paragraph, could never be a sentence on its own because it begins with a subordinating, relative pronoun. (So my example isnʼt exactly the same kind of subordinate clause as the one I used yesterday.)

** a third clause, and the shortest one of the sentences involved, having only a subject and a verb in it

*** and the meaning would be that I am a pen, and Iʼm not a pen, please.

**** And I will explain tomorrow (or one soon thereafter) what my fascination with having a post a day this week is all about.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Cur•mudg•eon

(noun)  — bad-tempered or surly person

(with my most insincere apologies, of course)

Maybe this post results just because I have had time, with our production of One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest up and running — beginning its second weekend tonight — but I have been astonished and annoyed by unimportant things lately. Like commercials. And Facebook links.

Having been able to watch a little TV over the past few days,* I have again realized that commercials not merely appeal to the stupidity in us all but actively cultivate vapid witlessness (the most egregious examples being the selfdestruction-instructive “Do the Dew” series from the late Nineties and early Aughties and the interminable Hardeeʼs ads from the last few years that presented consumers at those restaurants as moronic males with severe limitations not just in taste but all matters beyond the selfishly animalistic**). Admittedly, studies have shown that it is far easier to sell stuff to folks who have shut down their higher-order thought processes, thus the historical stream of “entertaining” and/or amusing commercials over the history of TV. But do advertisers have to cultivate imbecility?

Hmmmm…

I think I may have, if blogs must discover such, found my niche for Wakdjuknagaʼs Blog… and an apparently endless stream of future posts: advertising analysis and criticism. The Old Curmudgeon rides again?

But first, for today, a really minor annoyance from Facebook (yeah, the ultimate time-waste of my mostly doltish existence), which I think results from the powerfully promoted “live stupidly”*** culture of consumer commercialism.

Lack of thought enters into many phases of ordinary life, even as television casts its dull glow into every cranny of existence. And Facebook is one of those forums**** for dim-wittedness. Just in the past few days, a supposedly cute bit of humor (check the picture, above us here, to see it) has been making the regurgitation circuit in the Newsfeed. I think I have witnessed its appearance about a dozen times from as many friends.

Ignoring the subtle antiCanadianism***** of the concept, the problem with the joke is simple geography. Mt. Rushmore is in South Dakota, kids…

“A” marks the spot, with the Canadian border near the very top of the map

Imagining the enormous length of the unseen torsos between those famous faces and that quartet of historically inaccurate asses (not to mention the lack of continuous mountain between Rushmore and wherever in Canada… unless, of course, the torsos are wormholed into some alternate universe between the two distant sites…) kind of saps the laughter.

Geography — itʼs reality.

Ah, but geographical ignorance ties in so well with (evolves so neatly from?) the Dextremeʼs Big War (of lies) on science… Doesnʼt it? Talk about the power of mindless advertising.

And while I am at it, how about this example, below, of pure non sequitur? Nonsense is nonsense, even if it suggests a political perspective some would like to feel (unconsciously perhaps, probably at the urging of corporate interests, of course) is appropriate.

And so, The Old Curmudgeon raises his grisly head to utter some grumpy commentary into the digital æther again.

* (with no rehearsals or performances to attend, we can make use of the over-priced “services” of DirecTV again)

** Probably I perceive the idiocy of those commercials as a consumer of neither product… ?

*** (Which advertisers and consumers would prefer and falsely believe to be “live stupid”)

**** It still hurts slightly to use that incorrect, unLatinate plural (which should, of course, be fora). But one can only push correctitude so far, you know… After all, data serves as both singular and plural. And donʼt get me started on the loss of medium to identify one of the mass media…

***** How many well-dulled dolts seriously have taken the South Park movie premise to heart?

Map image via Viola from GoogleMaps™

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Strange Mix

Little quiches — packaged for freezing and more cooling to be packed

I’m cooking today. Yes, itʼs another mini-breakfast-quiche-making marathon. I actually started on Tuesday, but thawing and wringing dry and separating the chopped (formerly frozen, eight boxes of) spinach, cutting up the veggies (peppers, carrot shreds, mushrooms and onions), and then mixing all that with eggoid (“egg substitute” for all of you not part of this household) and cheese (two parts shredded fat-free to one part simply shredded cheddar) took me just about all morning, once I got myself disconnected* from the computer, so that I only baked four or five batches (twenty-four quiches to a batch, six daysʼ of breakfast eating in a container). The process continues today, starting even before The Lovely One left for work.

This morning, I am four batches in, with most of a huge bowl of mixture to go, each baking (at 375°, or as I am doing today, 380°) requiring my attention twice, once at the twenty-minute mark to remove the two muffin pans from the oven and tenderly extract the metal muffin tins of little quiches onto cooling pads before inserting new cups to fill with more mixture and place back in the oven for the next twenty minutes. And once mid-baking-cycle to remove the twenty-four cooled quiches from their tins and place that batch in a plastic container for freezing.**

So why not finish yesterday/Wednesday, as I had the whole humongous four-mixing-bowls of (I am not sure… what would you call it?) batter prepared and partially cooked already on Tuesday? Why not? Because yesterday was my first full day at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque, working on the set, props, special effects, lights and whatever-else our scene and lights designer/technical director Keith could use me for. I left here at 8:00, arriving in Dubuque not much more than a half-hour later, around a massively piled-up detour to avoid five ethanol-filled, overturned, derailed train cars right off downtown.

Muh-muh-muh — my Makita (three jokes — okay, perhaps not funny, so: three “allusions” — in one package there)

I brought along my big red notebook, but there was enough to keep me busy, even on my own at first — devising a special prop/set piece, the electroshock machine, and switching out some furniture. I roamed freely through the basement bowels of the building discovering usable stuff and even almost wrestling a large electronics housing module (destined to become the electroshock machine) out of its storage spot and upstairs (it was the upstairs part that made my efforts there “almost”) until Keith arrived with a load of lumber and we set to work — him cutting boards and me utilizing both the Grandʼs and my own (nearly identical) Makita powerdrivers*** to assemble some Hollywood-style flats to then attach those into a unit for the Up Center wall, a section between two yet-to-be-finished windows. Keith also had me help create an oddly shaped platform to finish off the front end of the nursesʼ station Up Left. In the pre-Keith hours, I also developed the list of sound-effect cues and a list of those sounds for Keith (a sage and crafty sound designer/technician as well). He also used the midstage lift to elevate my potential electroshock machine and a big, heavy dentistʼs chair from the basement to stage level — pretty cool.

It didnʼt feel like much when we were done for the day, but my body knew how many hours and how much effort I had exerted crawling about on the stage drilling holes and driving screws. Today my hams are feeling the effects.

I also handled rehearsal on my own later on, last night. The Lovely One, having injured her back over the past weekend, finally took off a bit early from work to head for home and seek medical attention. Even though we took the two acts in reverse order (Two, then One), the cast sparkled brilliantly. We had felt awed by the outpouring of excellent talent at auditions weeks ago, and the cast Janet and I selected has amazed us ever since with their astonishing prowess, flair and panache.**** I left for home last night excited and delighted, optimistic that the group had some special insights and new performance twists to exhibit to Janet tonight.

And now I am nearly finished with the quiche-baking procedure. The composition of this post has been a four-batch process, and I hope to have this online before the last batch is done.

Then maybe I can get myself back to Dubuque to spend more time in an ill-lit auditorium preparing for our show.

One Flew over the Cuckooʼs NestSeptember 23 through October 2 (with the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in between off, Sundays at 2:00 PM) at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque, tickets available at the Grand ticket office and online, www.thegrandoperahouse.com/tickets.cfm).

* Rather than the wrongly regular disconnection from the internet that bad old CenturyLink¹ provides on such an irregular but frequent basis — roughly eight to more times a day nowadays.

¹ For those like me, not quite in the know, CenturyLink bought up rotten, lousy Qwest Communications some months back, so now itʼs the miserly, scrounging, despicable CenturyLink CEOs and out-of-touch Upper Management dweezils that I curse so often every day.

** And I just took off to do exactly that in reverse — pack up the cooled ones and then immediately pull the hot ones from the oven to to cool and then refill the muffin pans to cook again.

*** (Are they just power screwdrivers now or still considered a cordless power drill, too?)

**** Yeah, I know: all three of those nouns that conclude that sentence are mere synonyms. But synonyms donʼt have to slave identically in meaning, “synonym” just indicates similarity, and those three words each suggest quite different possibilities. The wonderfulness of the English tongue isnʼt that we have twentyteen ways to say the same thing, but that each synonym has shades of meaning missed by any other. Usually, not invariably.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Doorway to Nowhere, 1

We have some unusual decorations in and around our house. I can take no credit (or blame) for these eye-catchers and conversation-makers. Theyʼre all Janetʼs doing. But I can write about them, and thatʼs what I intend to do, today and tomorrow, on one specific set of adornments. (Yes, I have only scratched the surface of the pointlessness to which I can descend to devise something to post each day this year. Even with the earlier home décor discussions Iʼve made you endure, there is more I can say. And I will.) And having opened the door on this subject, let us continue…

a photo of Mary Nevans-Pedersonʼs “Morning Glorious” photograph, soon to hang next to our own rough and peeling door in our bedroom — below right

There are several amusing decorative items I could discuss. First, (and maybe I will explore this topic one day) thereʼs the tale of the squirrels and the decorative pumpkins — a sorry and sad story in which the squirrels win, defeating Janetʼs best efforts to preserve her purchases, the pumpkins she liked to use as outdoor ornamentation, from the rodentsʼ predations. But thatʼs for another day, as I just said. Thereʼs the horribly rusty Fifties lawn chair that serves to support a plant in the summer and fake pumpkins in the fall, which her dad still enjoys ribbing her about paying ten bucks for, in its rusty condition, at an antiques/gift store. (And I want to know: what distinguishes a “giftable,” horrible word*, from a “gift”?) Thereʼs also her piece of fence that fences out nothing, and which she erects against the chainlink fence that separates us from Creosote Hell, aka Gasser True Value. And there are lots more, just on the outside of our house. Her creativity knows only outer limits. But every passer-byʼs favorite has to be her door to nowhere.

And “doors,” as our title clearly tells us, is the subject for these two posts. We have two doors used decoratively that serve to close off or open onto nothing and/or nowhere. One shifts around outside (thatʼs tomorrowʼs door), and another dwells more permanently within.

One might wonder where or how we were able to acquire any door whose only purpose is to open onto empty space, hingeless and unframed. Let me simply say that being almost the only continuing active members of local theatre for twenty years (and I did say “almost,” decidedly not the only) gave us access to many citizensʼ unwanted stuff. People like to donate old clothes, hats, shoes, and household items to the theatre. In the years before we abandoned it (in reality sold the building), Kirchhoff Theatre housed several old stoves, a refrigerator that (I think) did not work, bicycles, bedding, chairs, lawn mowers, grills, sofas, end tables, old paneling and dry wall sections… I hope you get the point. (The Andrew School theatrical storage was just as accumulative under my weak and accepting supervision, and evidently yet today just as disorganized and messy.) Any junk people couldnʼt dump got offered to us; and, of course, “you never know what a play might need.” As a theatre person you usually just keep it all (like old deck shoes), thinking one day this thing or that may come in necessary (and as my current costuming situation proves, periodically oneʼs needs work out just that way). Until you run out of space, or others in your group run out of patience. In several clean-ups in the final years at Kirchhoff, we twice filled huge trash containers, twenty or thirty feet long and at least ten wide and taller than me, finally canceling the lives of those unwanted appliances and other stuff. Among the many items stored in the theatre basement were many doors.

Our decorative Door on a Corner in our bedroom — Maryʼs photograph will hang over the chair on the right. The two black-and-white photos are of Janetʼs parentsʼ and my parentsʼ weddings.

Onstage, a door needs to be pretty light to be useful. Stage sets, even faced with lauan, as I learned to do in modern times (thanks, Kevin), rather than traditional canvas, canʼt support big, heavy, old-fashioned doors. No one wants to watch your canvas flats ripple with the air surge from slamming a sixty-pound door, thus proving beyond anyoneʼs doubt that wall onstage is not actually a wall, or have a heavy door pull the whole set over. Hollow-core interior doors are the thing to use, painted artistically to look like a big old exterior portal if thatʼs what the scene requires. On the other hand, Peace Pipe Players had accepted more than a dozen old doors far too solid and therefore heavy to be useful, including even a pair of old barn doors (and all of which had sat in stacks leaning against the basement walls, taking up space, never getting moved, gathering inches of dust and worse filth, for more years than I was involved). When all the unwanted stuff got pitched in several spasms of eviscerating reorganization, Janet, rather than throwing out, just claimed a couple of doors… Well, at least one. I am not entirely sure both the doors we have as decorations came from that source.

Anyway, one big old wooden door decorates our external reality around the house. Another resides in a corner of our bedroom, and The Lovely One installs pseudo-antique hooks to hold pictures and other items and memorabilia for display on its surface. Although I questioned its presence originally (and I still wonder how much endlessly drifting dust has silted in behind that barricade), itʼs familiar now, a friendly item embellishing our lives. We even bought a photograph at the art exhibit we attended last Friday (a week ago tonight) because of this bedroom adornment-door. Mary and Clayton have a wonderfully extensive garden around their hillside house (a huge garden on many terraces up the hill that somehow wrap around their dwelling), and their home is an old one. One day Mary noticed a morning glory blossom located right in front of one of the doors, and she took a picture. Thatʼs the photo we bought, framed (and which I still have yet to install in its new home beside the bedroom door — not the actual door but the decorative one with pictures on it, naturally, to provide the appropriate visual pun/reference/imagery). Maryʼs is a great photograph, unlike my illustration included here. So our one pointless door now has a photographic partner soon to hang beside it.

But I really wanted to talk about the outside door. Itʼs really the one that opens to nowhere (although actually it doesnʼt open at all). And thatʼs our subject tomorrow.

* “That’s an ill phrase, a vile phrase; ‘beautified‘ is / a vile phrase” (Hamlet II, 2, 111). Iʼve been waiting for someone to accuse me of becoming a tired old windbag, a regular Polonius, and nobody has. So Iʼll do it myself.

On the other hand, if anyone can calm my quandary about the distinction between a “gift,” a perfectly sound word, and the homely neologism, “giftable,” which seems to me an unnecessary elaboration on gift from insensitive and perhaps unconfident craftmakers (lacking the self-assurance to call their products directly “gifts”), I would be pleased to hear from you. Is there a difference somehow? Or am I right in thinking “giftable” just fancies up the basic word?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Popular Post (Stats)

To end the month, letʼs take a moment to explore some amusing facts about the blog. Amusing, to me, at least.

As we probably went over 5000 separate visitor locations — as the ClusterMaps widget counts them — yesterday, certainly not a memorable nor significant accomplishment, however much I have been eagerly anticipating the moment, I thought I’d spend a few words on statistics. WordPress features a lot of statistical information for us bloggers/administrators, including their own count of hits on the blog (more than ten times greater than the ClusterMaps count of visitations, by the way, but I know I’ve been fudging and artificially increasing the WordPress count myself), websites referring users to my page, search terms used that led to my page, and a daily count of pages receiving hits. Depending on my state of mind, it can all be very fascinating and time-wasting.

However, in the past three months I have noticed a dramatic increase in hits on a certain page, not one I could have imagined becoming popular. For most of this year, one of my earliest posts held the greatest interest (among my modest little collection of drivelings) for websearchers, also unexpectedly for me as well: “January is for Janus” (I made it a link there, so go ahead and click it to see which post I am referring to). Pretty modest indeed, actually pretty lame (but this is Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog, and we have no reputation to live up to (“up to which we must live” perhaps to avoid that duo of prepositional adverbs at the end?).

Can you guess what made that January 6, 2010, epistle-to-the-world so popular? Thatʼs where the WordPress search terms stats come in; internet users have a regular, repeating interest in Gödel, Escher, Bach (in many weird and alternatively spelled variants), and my poor post received its modest but continuing share of hits from their webquests (whether for information or images I cannot tell). For awhile in March and April, even “Janus” got a share of visitors to that post, but Professor Hofstadterʼs book remains the more popular reference.* —What an epiphany!

However, that page has been left in the dust since mid-August by another post, coincidentally the next day after Epiphany. As it is the single longest essay I have posted (at 14,500 words altogether) and a tediously academic creation to boot, I was at first astonished that “Artificial Realities” has now been visited more than a thousand times. I like the essay, particularly that opening narrative that serves as the introduction (and the story is true, too), but I cannot believe anyone would want to read it (other than your ʼumble author)!

And then I realized what the time period from that middle of August on indicates — the start of school. Whether for the various images that I scoured off the internet myself or for a source to cite (or simply steal), art students were searching the Net in order to complete research assignments. Evidently Impressionism is a popular art history topic these days (even as practicing artists feel they must sneer and diminish the Impressionistic achievement, now — perhaps always — such a bourgeois favorite). And the pace of hits on my regurgitation of my own research keeps climbing! I begin to wonder how many art professors are going to get/have to read my excessively prolonged consideration of nineteenth century art, artists and artistic movements later this year…

It almost tempts me to list a bunch of artists by name to acquire the worthless hits today — Renoir, Manet, Monet, Pissarro…

But instead, I have just received a phone call (it is 11:15 yesterday/Wednesday morning as I type) asking me to substitute (for as long as I can, since my medical appointment is at 3:00) at Andrew. Money calls, and I must go, so after two humongous posts, this one is nicely brief. However, as I have tingled your interest in the statistics available about the blog, I will include some of Wednesay morningʼs information that prompted this discussion, and so set this topic down.

* Perhaps now this page, today, will get its own unworthy collection of visits by re-mentioning the book and author.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

SearchTerm Stats ‹ Wakdjunkaga’s Blog 09/28/2010

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Home page 23,100
Artificial Realities 1,028
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“Mistakes by Moonlight” 489
The Book of Seasons 407
January is for Janus: Looking Both Forwa 383
Independence Day 311
How Wrongheaded Can We Get? 282
Annoyances Update 275
Morte Saison 274
Grumping for Thursday 263
Lipoma 260
Tarzan the Rebel 260
True Americans 255
Death or Damage by Creosote 252
More Outdoors 251
Not an FHF®, Really… Itʼs Not… 250
A FoxHunt Friday® — Mosque Madness 243
Whatʼs Race Got to Do with It? 238
Rebellious Tarzan, 2 233
Digital Time 229
My Longest Poem 227
Heat and Bugs 227
Dreaded Jobs 219
Weekend Cleanup 218
Watercolors of Your Mind 218
The Ugly Toe 216
One Dark Night in Sepharad 216
Dear Diary… 216
Lay Down Your Burdens Now 216
Longest a third time 216
Excellent Weekend 215
Television Novelites and Quandries 214
Let Summer Begin… 212
A Weekʼs Worth of What? 209
Sweet and Milky Coffee Goodness 208
Show Me the Money! 208
Little Quiches 208
Dreams of a Storytelling World 207
Falling 206
Freeze Warning 206
Rambling from My Mind 206
Taming the Natural World 205
Here, Kitty Kitty… 205
“Iʼm a substitute for another guy” (or g 204
Nonpresidential Shrub Update 204
Books 202
Stars in Heaven 201
Work, Work, Work… 199
The Book Junkie 199
Whatever Works 198
A Day for Leopold 195
Religious Reconnoitering 195
A Lump 194
Freedom of the Open Road 193
TreeStory, part 2 192
End of that Job 192
Nothing Much 192
Chill Wind 190
A Weekend at Snake Hollow 190
Worthwhile Writing 188
“Two Steps Back” 185
The Nine of Stars 185
Driveway Done! 185
Pleiades 184
Kill the Wabbits! 184
Recollections of Travel: Vehicles 183
Thursday, Bloody Thursday (on Saturday) 182
Frustrations! 181
Stormy Weather 181
More Villon 180
Tile-Removal Tuesday 180
Ending the Longest 180
Another Story 179
Decisions and Choices 179
A Whole Lot of Nothing Much 178
Eighth Stars 178
Some More from Sepharad 177
Now Add an Eerie Touch of the Supernatur 174
Donʼt Fear the Borer? 174
Seasons of Poseidon, or the end of a bad 174
A Snowy Eveningʼs Summer Cousin 173
Finis 171
Happy Birthday, Will! 171
Consequences of Discrimination 169
WordWine 168
Lovers and Friends 167
A Grammatical Conundrum (That Shouldnʼt 166
Being Lazy, 165
Magickal Monkey Madness 163
The Other Published Poem 163
more on Judah of Sephard 162
Publication news (after a fashion) 161
Reflections… 161
Anniversary Fun 160
Out Here in “Cyberspace” 160
What About Those Other Blogs? 159
Saturday — Good and Termagant Together 158
Advice 157
Rain 157
Tax Dollars at Work 156
Super Zuppa for Supper 154
Good Eats (apologies, Alton) 153
The Corporate Monicker 153
Just Some Stuff… 153
Randomness from Midday 152
More from the Seventies (and further Ret 151
Change and Relax 150
Nobodyʼs Sap 148
Overwritten? 147
Longer Items 147
Five “Stars” 146
Tavern Plots and Plans 146
Taxation 145
Stars Three 145
Wakdjunkaga in Cedar Rapids, section the 145
Not Getting Creative 145
Weather Report 145
More Reading 144
Of Wind, Trees, Mirrors and Stars 144
Nothing Much to Report 143
More Food 142
Electricity, part 1 141
More Villon 139
Pain = No Gain? 139
Continuing… 139
Fourth Stars 135
Fools Waltz In 135
An Act of Desperation 134
Couldnʼt Care Less 133
Quetzal County Capers continue 132
Completely at Random 132
Something for Monday 131
A Sixth of “Stars” 128
Spring Signs 126
Tough Guy/Good Guy 126
Working? 125
TMI 2 124
Longest Continued 120
Villon I 120
Wakdjunkaga? 120
Electricity Amplitude 118
Working for a Living 115
Back to the Seventies (or Return to Neve 115
Weekend Update 114
The Stuff that Dreams Are Made of… 112
How Many Villanelles (am I going to find 111
800 Words for Wednesday 111
News from the Work Front 110
The Cold Wins? 109
Career Fail Update 109
Mantorville, part 11 108
Movie Review! 108
Unfinished Business 108
Definately (sic) alot (sic) 107
More Kitty 107
Homework without pay 103
Electricity, Too 103
Pushing at the Limits 102
The Rest of the Incompleteness 101
A Frosty Look 99
Pockets (maybe, sort of) 98
Thursday? Really? 98
The Eyes Have It 97
Labor Daydreams 96
A Hundred Bucks 92
Sunday (Quick Note Again) 90
Why Wakdjunkaga 90
Neighborhood Envy 90
Honoring Paul 87
A Week in Review 86
TANSTAAFL 86
Pockets, part five 84
The Maltese Falcon critical essay 84
About 84
Recent Reading 82
Uncertainties 80
Three Apologies (not amigos) & Garbl 80
Feeling Afraid 79
Mantorville part 12 78
The Rest of the Road 77
Wakdjunkaga in Cedar Rapids, continued 76
Pockets, part one 75
Mantorville, part ten 74
Digital Hell, one 74
Pockets, part four 74
Spring Blech 71
a villanelle 71
Brave New World(s) 69
Wakdjunkaga in Cedar Rapids, concluded 69
the other villanelle 68
Whence Wakdjunkaga 68
TMI 65
Several Short and Sweet 64
April Fools Melange 62
Check Your Understanding… 60
for Shark: less is more 60
On to the Tavern! 59
for the survivors of English II (since a 56
Briefly 55

Another Lost Cause, Hopefully

a cop

Languages change every day. Itʼs inevitable and evolutionary. Language adaptation can occur so rapidly that the same language can diverge into two or more over just a few generations, as spoken Latin decayed (or developed, depending on your point of view) into the distinct Romance tongues in the earliest middle ages (as English evolved from German, both languages changing differently under different circumstances once those fifth and sixth century Angles, Saxons and Jutes had made the big voyage from southwestern Denmark and northern Germany to the old Roman province of Britannia). English accepted a lot of Latin influence fairly quickly, especially after conversion to Christianity about 700, that German did not undergo, then came the Vikings and the Old Norse repercussions and of course eventually Norman French. Meanwhile German went through a whole history of its own changes (unknown to me, by the way: I was an English teacher).

New words (slang and other neologisms), novel grammatical constructions (“me and him went downtown, bro”), misuse of grammar and syntax through simple ignorance (same example?), and the impact of other languages (as in Spanglish or the history of English in any period) all contribute to continual change. Add to that, novelty for its own sake (and subcultural exclusion — the need to appear “cool” and have usages that uncool others donʼt get, which personally I think is the essence of all slangisms) and contemporary txtsp3lln (a small sample: “not 2 cauz fiten& its nice 2here ppl say nice thngz back or put thngz n2 prspectiv”), and you get linguistic evolution slamming up the conversational highway today at well over the speed limit of mutual (fuhgeddabout universal) comprehension.

the evidence for the permissive…

And who is out there to try keeping all this wild growth in check (so we can actually understand each other — as best as that is possible at all)? English teachers — oops, apologies: language arts facilitators (I forgot to mention deliberate obfuscation among the multitude of semantic impediments), although that oneʼs pretty dated, “so last century.” The language cops are the language teachers, tirelessly (thatʼs a lie) devoting their lives to restraining freewheeling linguistic experimentation, judiciously pruning the sap-draining exotic growths forever leaping from the basic patois. Just like actual cops, some English teachers (itʼs my blog, and Iʼll use my own terms, thank you kindly) are loose and permissive while others are stern watchdogs ceaselessly snarling at the smallest linguistic innovation, clitic or contraction.

Just as everyone knows that theft is wrong, even the folks who regularly say it know that “ainʼt” is incorrect (which is pretty strange for a construction  originating among effete uppercrust snobs a few hundred years ago), such is the impact of the language cops patrolling their tumultuous linguistic beats. On the other hand, although there is no legislature to determine when itʼs time to change the language laws taught in classrooms, if enough people make a mistake without self-conscious hesitation, then the language has undergone another tiny evolutionary tick, and the educators just have to give up on the once dubious usage. A few hundred years ago, that happened with “mob,” originally so shuddersome to the educated elite for its ignorant truncation of the Latinate mobile vulgus. But the mob won, and the wordʼs legit, even a little old-fashioned nowadays (and of course, “legit” is boating the same muddy waters, apparently with equal success).

…and a fop

Sometimes the lingo cops just have to give up and accept the change. (Maybe that sentence should start with “often” or even “usually.”) And for me, one such lost cause in the language slow-volution wars (gotta love those neologs, huh?), is the word “hopefully.”

Somewhen I got trained that one should not use “hopefully” to mean “it is hoped that” but instead limit the word to indicating only “full of hope” (like the suffix -ful is meant to mean). I donʼt remember who taught me that lesson or when, but plenty of other authorities disagree: the word may have begun by meaning just “full of optimism,” but it now has the other meaning, too, perfectly legitimate at this late date. Merriam-Webster considers the first, “evil” use a sentence adverb (as you can read for yourself in todayʼs little image I created from the Dictionary entry), so clearly M-W (or Appleʼs New Oxford American Dictionary) is one of those permissively easygoing coppers. But the rigid restrictors have lost the war, whether they wish to admit the defeat or not. Everyone uses “hopefully” at the beginning of a sentence to mean “I/we hope,” almost all without hesitation or self-consciousness (maybe I should point out that I am a periodic exception there) — the indication that the change is complete. (And besides, check out those dates in the Dictionary entry above — this one should have been declared over back when only Restoration fops were nasally “ainʼt-ing.”) When the language cops come up with a name for a usage (in this case “sentence adverb”), you know the usage is accepted. After all, no one misunderstands when someone says, “Hopefully, FoxNews will one day tell the truth.” (And thatʼs completely unlike trying to read far too many choices vapid nitwits make texting!)

Hopefully, we can all agree on that.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Weekʼs Worth of What?

A week feels long sometimes, but alternatively (I keep using those other hands so often, letʼs just play the variety game today) lately for me the weeks seem to rush by, as do most days. For instance, I totally wasted Thursday, although I donʼt really know how or why. Too much Facebook for one, I am sure, and other online investigations. Also, having performed the evening chores — the next dayʼs lunch, supper, even watering the driveway (faithful readers should know what I mean) — I sat down to read and catch the evening news at 5:00, and promptly dozed off until about 6:30. A nice little nap for the guy who stayed up too late watching a rental movie the night before but still hauled his fat-engorged body from bed to take a morning waddle around town about 4:30 in the predawn morning. But that doesnʼt really explain where the rest of the day vanished without me having accomplished anything.

The week blew by with hardly a whisper, too. Sure, I got posts written and dancing out into the digital ether, including this one (actually written yesterday just before noon) and yesterdayʼs hesitations and reconsiderations (and all the others, too). I started the week worried about my ingrown toe (yep, you have now heard about it for the third time), which is still there but better, better. By Friday, other health issues had taken precedence in my thoughts (but thatʼs Mondayʼs post, heh heh), and I got the chance to show the toe to the doctor promptly at 8:00, along with the real problem. (He said it was still infected some but I should keep doing what Janet had gotten me to do earlier — soak the foot for a few minutes in Epsom salts morning and evening — with no more treatment needed unless the infection did not go away soon. As I have only taken antibiotics once in my life, for bronchitis a couple of years ago, right around my birthday, I will gladly forgo the drugs, as undoubtedly I have repeatedly throughout my life, unaware that I was perhaps seriously infected, as the lung infection felt no different to me than the extended cold I usually suffered wintertimes during most of my years of teaching.) He also got to renew my meds for blood pressure and cholesterol (might as well cover all my bases while I was in the office). By the end of the work days, I had switched what was foremost in my mind, although still in a medical rut.

I gave…

Even so, this was a powerfully unproductive week. Yes, I wrote some more on Judah and Søren while in Dubuque on Wednesday (more on that little trip next week, too), awaiting both my big appointment (thatʼs the news next week one day) and the strike of noon to pick up Janet for lunch (this time at Star, a favorite of ours, especially for their soups of the day — Wednesdayʼs was sweet-pepper chowder — and all-you-can-eat salad and biscuits). And I added a couple more paragraphs in the waiting room for the doctor Friday morning. I paid bills and balanced the checkbook against the bankʼs monthly statement, filed documents, investigated some issues online, kept up with all my Facebook friends and with my followed blogs (even contributing a comment on one thought-provoking post here), and… not a lot otherwise. I didnʼt get/have to sub, so no money came in. The driveway got its unveiling on Wednesday evening (and Janet was the first to drive upon the virgin surface; I held off until after she was home to put away the truck). And I watered every evening. But literally hours and hours leaked away without any special notice or record. Heck, I didnʼt even read much this past week (a post on that upcoming, too). On the other hand, I did give blood again (this time, for the first time, here in Maquoketa), having been prompted a while back by an e-mail from the Mississippi Valley Blood folks.

Simply amazing, the amount of time one (and by that pronoun I mean “I”) can utterly waste. Because I did.

However, most of this weekʼs posts (if not all of them prior to this) ran well beyond the thousand-word limit, so Iʼll do the usual Saturday thing and keep this one brief(er). Did you find even this post an utter waste of your time? (After all, I really just kept hinting at what I plan to write about next week. What was it? Three times?)

Hopefully (a word I abuse just as badly as the next person — I should have said, “I hope that”), you each accomplished much more in the week gone by than I did. And feel free to let me/us know what it was that you achieved through the comments section below…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

WordWine

My own visual realization of the topic (get it?), which I left only slightly scaled-down so that if you click on the picture you can see the enlargement. The (actually empty) fountain pen is inscribing, supposedly, on my actual handwritten text for “Mistakes by Moonlight,” somewhat further along than my posting of pieces here has gotten. I have always insisted that my penmanship is atrocious.

I have many favorite things (one of my notes-to-self for the blog is to discuss my favorite things). I listed some of the addictive (or at least noticeably unproductive) ones yesterday. Youʼre going to read more about some of those in posts to come, unless some unlikely stroke of genius sends the blog in directions as yet unguessed. And I have other things I like, that I donʼt feel are bad for me, to discuss in future posts as well, including (no, I wonʼt succumb to a list for a third day in a row) my preferred music(s), favorite books and movies (topics I have tapped oh-so-very-lightly several times already), interesting websites, religious musings, and pleasant activities (I nearly typed “pleasurable” before my inbuilt censor indicated the potential problem there).

But I realized in creating the daily posts this week that thereʼs one subject/activity that tops all the rest and in which I indulge myself without hesitation or regret (although not necessarily to your indiminishable joy). I love our language, words. I really enjoy stringing together sentences and exploring just what kaleidoscopic mash-ups may evolve. That was the fun of those days when I wrote poetry regularly. That was the heady glory glimmering behind the verbosity of the old poem I posted once and which explodes in all the other poems and prose I treasure, whether present on this forum or otherwise. My linguaphilia, not to coin a word although I thought I was (and the spellchecker didnʼt know the term either), conspires and smiles in all the elongated, perambulating and parenthetically interrupted sentences that I have made for these many posts (242 of them today, evidently). Erupting into strings of (somewhat) logically connected words is unrestrained pleasure for me, and I enjoy nearly as much finding (or rediscovering/remembering) new, exciting (hopefully appropriate) words to use (gotta love electronic thesauri).

Although I donʼt mean my verbal conduct to be offputting, I know how decisively many oppose the use of abundant and profuse words (not to mention floridly expansive and convoluted periodic compound-complex sentences). After all, one might have to look up an unfamiliar locution or even reread a lengthy and winding statement. Hemingway would hate my style, even moreso his fanatic and dutiful disciples. I bet ditto for Hammett, although I have benefited and learned from both men and the supposedly straightforward school of writing. The regimenting and rigorously Rightist bigwig bosses of contemporary “conservativism” donʼt like complexity, either (even the Dextral deference and reverential obescience to Respectable and Almighty Latin adheres to easy words and simple phrases, requiring little or no declension or conjugation, even as their English usage prefers brief and easily misunderstood AngloSaxon generalizations). Complex ideas are too difficult, simply, to impose and purvey, no matter that the truth is multiplex, intricate and difficult (particularly in politics). “Lock and load” sells so much better in the twilit land of troglodytes than ponderous, expansive, actual contemplation and reasonable discussion of knotty issues. Easy answers for simple minds. Forever. Amen.

(Sorry about that. A friend posted something on Facebook a few days ago [referencing this document, for those of you not on FB], as I was composing this post, that got me laughing — at its overt Rightism which slavish friends of the originator simplistically misinterpreted in their regimented, docile compliance with the accepted and enforced Right attitudes — and outraged that anyone should believe U.S. citizens could be so blatantly, but apparently successfully, manipulated. I took an Evernote of the post and its initial responses, perhaps fodder for a future rant. On the other hand, as George Orwell so vividly determined, limiting language is the firmest form thought control [short of successful torture, if we include his perceptions expressed in Nineteen Eighty-Four], and the paranoid Lords of the Right are clearly learning lessons in exploitation and “persuasion” from the fallen Soviets: Keep It Simple for the Stupids.)

Perhaps I should have entitled this post “Freedom of Speech” the way things have developed (but I think that title should belong on a later, more thoughtful and profound post), because what I love about language and spinning out phrases and clauses to weave together is the unqualified freedom of such creative personal expression. (And now I find a theme intertwining this weekʼs posts — freedom, as opposed to obligation, if we want to include Sundayʼs bit of Stars in Heaven. Look back — I  love the hits, which by the way are nearing 50,000 according to the counter to the right — and see for yourselves.) Liberty is what language provides to me (in an almost christian way, philosophically, as one must sacrifice oneʼs childhood abandon to acquire and master as best one can the semantic, linguistic and grammatical regulations — and a whole lot of words — in order to enjoy the radical liberation of unconstrained articulation, as churchly folk say one should submit to the savior to find spiritual disenthrallment), and whether that logico-linguistic freedom is real or paradoxical (as the previous parenthetical interjection indicated) or whatever, itʼs fun for me. And I hope not utterly alienating for my readers.

As all the recent posts have run long, I kept this one almost short (-ish). It is a weekend, after all. I hope someone appreciated my redirected (or spatially dyslexic) allusions to one of the most over-the-top political speeches of the modern era — Safireʼs (intentionally?) excessively alliterative words for Agnewʼs obedient mouth.

And I hope everyone appreciates the florescence of incidental puns on “utterlately, including the one above.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Lay Down Your Burdens Now

This plump guy is lying — not laying — in his hammock.

On Wednesday I made a fast, huge adjective out of a series of words (lay-you-somnolent-and-ill-at-ease-in-a-webbed-hammock), which is of nearly insignificant import, except that, in reading over the post for errors after it went up that morning, I started thinking about the key verb in that vast, hyphenated phrase: “lay.” And therein lay (heh heh) the seed for another post.

It has been a long time since I last developed a grammatical post, although the so-called proper usage of our language is a subject dear to my (onetime) English-teaching heart. I have even had a note to myself to write on the tormented and tormenting subject of lie and lay for a few months now. Finally, I guess, the day has arrived. Previously I have pontificated (with no more assurance of infallibility than I had when I preached thus as a teacher) on the issues of then/than, “couldnʼt care less,” the proper spellings of “definitely” and “a lot,” gobbledygook jargon (and I am far from finished on the issues of garp, let me tell you), less/fewer and like/as. With smaller side steps into such usage cowpies as ending a clause with a preposition (a casualism of which I am still not fond, but I had better get used to — Insanely clever just previously there, huh? Covering both sides in one compound sentence?), semantics and linguistics (lots more to be said there), and the identity linguistically of journal and diary. But letʼs lay all that aside for now, as todayʼs subject still lies ahead of us to tackle.

The English language has two verbs that cause tremendous confusion for speakers and writers: lie and lay, using the infinitive/present tense form of each. Lie has a twin which means to tell falsehoods, by the way, and those two verbs are truly twins in all the forms I am about to discuss, differing only in meaning. But back to the two verbs weʼre actually discussing. Lie means “to recline,” while lay means “to place something down.”

What you can get when you google “laid” (it should be “lain” maybe… ? unless…)

If you know your grammatical principles, itʼs easy to tell lie and lay apart (okay, fairly easy if you already know and understand the difference). You just need to examine the important various forms each verb can take — present and past tenses and the past participle. Lie in past tense becomes lay (the source of all the confusion, I believe), as talk in past tense changes to talked. And the past participle form of lie (the form used after the helping verb have, to create perfect tenses, just to titillate us grammatical geeks) is lain. Thus the principle parts of the verb lie are: lie, lay, lain. “Today I lie in the sun, yesterday I lay in the sun, and I have lain in the sun so long that my skin has burned.”

On the other hand, lay in past tense is laid, while its past participle is also laid. So the principle parts of lay are: lay, laid, laid. For examples: “I lay the book on the desk, where I also laid my pencil yesterday and where I have laid things often.” Notice that the meaning for the forms of lie (even the past-tense one that looks exactly like the present tense of lay) all refer to me reclining, while the various tenses of lay all indicate placing something (a book, a pencil, other things).

Both verbs do indicate creation of a state of recumbency or rest, the significant difference being that one is intransitive and the other a transitive verb. Ah, yes, the words that baffled every sophomore whom I reminded of this vital distinction annually in our (excessively brief) English II grammar review (mostly a quick introduction to the antique science of sentence analysis by diagramming). So a quick, inaccurate review: we have two kinds of verbs in English — the ones that have a direct object after them (transitive) and the ones that donʼt (intransitive — clever that little “in-” prefix meaning “not” for “not taking a direct object”).* Of course, my bit of definition only makes sense if we know what a direct object is: a noun (or pronoun, because anything a noun can do a pronoun thinks it can do better — I was always fond of personifying my parts of speech) that comes after the verb (in English sentence-order grammar) and receives the action stated by the verb. Letʼs repeat — a direct object is a noun or pronoun that comes after the verb and gets the verb done to it. At this point on the fifth or sixth day of school each fall, it was time for a little bit of acting, masochistic acting.

I would write a sentence on the board, such as “The teacher screamed,” and then scream loudly (always good fun in the uptight environs of school and easily done by one trained to use his diaphragm and project). That screamed is an intransitive verb. Then I would ask a student to come to the front of the class (always a volunteer) and provide him or her with a yardstick (actually, in these enlightened days, a meter stick — my father would have been pleased). And I asked the student to smack me with the meter stick (a safe enough ploy in the hidebound, rule-ridden environs of a school building, except for that one year when a tiny, little girl — one of the drama and speech participants — swatted me with such unselfconscious enthusiasm that I had no problem emitting the requisite scream to enact the intransitive sentence, and she left a red mark, later a bruise that persisted sorely for over a week; and before anyone arises in my defense, I did ask for it). The new sentence on the board was: “The student hit the teacher.” And the “teacher,” recipient of the hitting, is the direct object of the transitive verb “hit.” Witnessing the scene made it pretty clear that the “teacher” had gotten the verb done to him.

Now back on track to lie and lay. Lie is intransitive: you cannot ever lie something. Lay is transitive, meaning that verb in any form, is always followed by a direct object, the thing that got laid. So, the classic wrong construction (“Itʼs a sunny day, so I am going to lay out”) is wrong. It should be “lie out” (although you can legitimately say “Yesterday I lay out,” since that sentence requires past tense). Similarly, one cannot/should not “lay low” when trouble is brewing; it should be “lie low” (unless you want to get picky and introduce lying low in the past, of course). On the other hand, you always must lay something, which is another way of explaining why “lay out” is incorrect — my wicked brain always turning that mistake into a question about who got laid there by whom.

Since I usually write to amuse myself for the blog, I will provide a couple of other sites that explain the concept more briefly and directly — here and here — in case anyone actually wants to understand the distinction. And thatʼs my grammatical lesson (and trip down memory lane) for today.

*The grammar textbook that we used at Andrew, beginning in 1984 through perhaps even yet today, two teachers after my own tenure in the tiny town, insisted on a more accurate (but even more confusing) pair of definitions. Intransitive verbs are those in which the action is contained within the subject (“John screamed”), while the action expressed by a transitive verb carries over from the subject to another noun or pronoun in the sentence (“John screamed obscenities” or “The student hit the teacher”) — that other noun or pronoun being the direct object. For diagramming, I used to just tell the kids to ask “Subject verbed what?” to find if there was a direct object (and thus a transitive verb).

By the way, since knowing that the direct object must come after the verb in English, a sentence-order language, getting the meter stick back from the student, while asking him or her to linger in front, and then writing the sentence “The teacher hit the student” on the board (without following with the acting) could usually make very clear the importance of what order the words come, as seldom did anyone miss the significance of who was going to be receiving the action in the new sentence.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.