The Story of English, by Mario Pei (this edition from 1952), was an interesting, but really long, tour of the English language. From its Anglo-Saxon roots, up through its long period of reckless appropriation of words from essentially any source.
Some of the great metaphors from Beowulf are listed by way of defending the Anglo-Saxon literature from charges of un-sophistication, grimness, and lack of thought-progression, and I found them delightful. The sea is called the "road of whales" or "playground of the winds," and woman the "ornament of the home."
Apparently it was estimated that Shakespeare used a lexicon of about twenty thousand words in his works. Fewer than six thousand appear in the King James version of the Bible. Milton apparently reached eleven thousand. Some interesting scale: comprehensive dictionaries of Anglo-Saxon fall short of fifty thousand words. Not a whole lot! In the 1950s, it was thought that only about twenty thousand English words were in widespread and consistent use... of them, about twenty percent were of Anglo-Saxon origin ,and about sixty (!) percent of Latin, Greek, or French origin!
The word "remacadamized" (basically this means to repave, in a particular way) can be broken down through its prefixes, suffixes and whatnots, and through that process be revealed to be of Latin-Celtic-Hebrew-Greek-English origin. (re-, Mc-, Adam, -ize, -ed, respectively). Similarly, "Torpenhow Hill," a place near Plymouth (in England), means "Hillhillhill Hill."
To return to a hobbyhorse of mine-the personal names of Puritans-here is a doozy: If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone. For convenience, he was known as Damned Barebone. In the same vein, a man named Breech Loading Cannon fought in the Revolution, and a fellow named Genuine English Tweed in the war of 1812.
In 1646, St. Isaas Jogues related that the 500 souls of (what would be come) New York City spoke eighteen different languages.
Interestingly, the author held out hope in the 1950s, that professionalization of school teachers would not yield a persistent jargon that would find its way into the popular discourse. "Despite PTA meetings and much drum-beating on the part of 'progressive' educators, there seems to be little likelihood that this class jargon wil to any great extent infiltrate the general language." Some examples of the dreaded pedageese? Motivation, frustration, ambivalence, workshop, and K-9.
Library: an Unquiet History by Matthew Battles (0XY), was actually very interesting. Overwritten and laggy, but pretty interesting. I enjoyed some of the anecdotes about biblioclasms--the destruction of books and/or libraries. The possibly apocryphal story of the final burning of the library of Alexandria was cute... the Caliph was asked what to do with the books. He replied "If the books agree with the Koran, they are not required. If they disagree, they are not desired. Therefore, destroy them."
Also, the author has an unhealthy obsession with the Widener Library. Just... ick.
The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, by Jacob Bronowski (1XY) was disappointing. I was hoping for a much better account of epistemology. Or an epistemology. Instead, was treated to a lot of outdated material devoted to the obvious proposition that our sense-impressions are not necessarily in close congruence with reality, and a half-hearted disavowal of reductionism in either science or philosophy. Oddly, the most interesting bit, to my mind, was when he gave account of the McCarran act and the difficulties it created for intellectuals visiting or living in the U.S.
I was led to read a bit about it and found that before he became Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau was unable to enter the U.S., because of his political leanings. The world was a crazy place when we were all terrified of communism.
Currently I'm reading The Story of English, by Mario Pei (4XY). Pretty good! Frisian!
Despite the relative economy of exposition, I learned quite a bit, and enjoyed this one a fair bit. Interestingly, among the first translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into Old Greek, the Septaguint, was later repudiated by Talmudic scholars, who declared that the day on which the Law was translated into Greek was as awful as the day the Golden Calf was cast. They appointed a fast day to remember the day of infamy.
Another important translation, called the Codex Argenteus, dating from the sixth century, was written on purple parchment in silver ink. Only about a half of the leaves remain, but: silver ink. It narrowly survived a watery demise during a shipwreck in the seventeenth century; the protective wrappings served their purpose.
Translation is tough, make no mistake: in the translating the King James Bible the translators utilized many English words for the same Hebrew or Greek words, without necessarily taking into account the denotations! An interest in "equity" led to katargeo, appearing twenty-seven times in the New Testament, is rendered as eighteen English words. The opposite problem also occurred: the translators made the word "trouble" represent a dozen different Greek words; "bring" took on the duty of translating thirty-nine Hebrew words; "destroy" served for forty-nine Hebrew words: weaksauce
Time prohibits much of a recounting here, but I also learned about the remarkable Julia E. Smith and her Bible: impressive lady!
Finally, there was a neat tabular accounting for changes between the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version. In order to reduce ambiguity, for example, Psalm 50:9 was changed to "I will not accept a bull from your house" from the delightful "I will accept no bull from your house." I know I think the latter would be better: the Psalmist as Shaft.
This book, People and Politics: an Introduction to Political Science, by Herbert Winter and Thomas Bellows (DDC = 32W.XYZ) , was terrible. Puerile and poorly written, it is easy to understand why it took so very long to read (even leaving aside the fact that I've only been reading a few minutes a day in the evening). The few passages and footnotes worthy of... well... note, are noted below.
Paul Goodman, "The First American Party System" in William Nesbitt Chambers and Walter Dean Burnham, eds., The American Party Systems: Stages of Political Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), does not refer to some awesome entertainment manual compiled by George Washington.From a British MP's letter to a constituent:
You know, and I know, that I bought this constituency. You know, and I know, that I am now determined to sell it, and you know what you think I don't know, that you are now looking for another buyer, and I know, what you certainly don't know, that I have now found another constituency to buy.
About what you said about the excise [tax]: may God's curse light upon you all, and may it make your homes as open and free to the excise officers as you wives and daughters have always been to me while I have represented your rascally constituency
Robert Bendiner, Obstacle Course on Capitol Hill (New Your: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964). An obstacle course on Capitol Hill would be rad. I'm picturing something like Double Dare, with legislators rooting through slime to get at the phone numbers of wealthy donors.
Got back from Ft. Benning this afternoon. It was pretty neat. For part of the exercise I was in the gunner's seat in a Bradley fighting vehicle. Fired off a bunch of rounds of its 25mm Bushmaster cannon--and its 7.62mm coaxial medium machine gun--at some old tanks down range. Here's a picture: (photo by Spc. Rodney L. Foliente, 4th Inf. Div. PAO, here)
Also exciting was firing the M240B light machine gun, pictured above.Super cool, and kicking like a mule, the .50 cal M107 sniper rifle was a lot of fun. I put my shots where I was aiming, at 450 meters. Here's what that lovely lady looks like. It was highly amusing.
The Dewey Decimal System is a library indexing method developed in the 19th century by Melvil Dewey. You know the one--a three digit number followed by a decimal sign, some more numbers and possibly a few letters. The first digit sorts the books broadly into categories: Generalities (0XY), Philosophy and Psychology (1XY), Religion (2XY), Social Sciences (3XY), Language (4XY), Natural Sciences & Mathematics (5XY), Technology (6XY), The Arts (7XY), Literature & Rhetoric (8XY), and Geography & History (9XY).
Of course there are deeper levels to this rabbit warren. Each of those classes is subdivided and then divided some more. This attempt to classify all knowledge is, of course, flawed. However, it gives me an idea: read your way 'round the library!
I made a foray to the nearby branch of the Alexandria public library last weekend to assess the plausibility. I checked out the following volumes:
- Library: an Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles. DDC = 02W.XYZ
- The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, by Jacob Bronowski. DDC = 12W.XYZ
- The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions, by Bruce Metzger. DDC = 22W.XYZ
- People and Politics: an Introduction to Political Science, by Herbert Winter and Thomas Bellows. DDC = 32W.XYZ
- The Story of English, by Mario Pei. DDC = 42W.XYZ
- The Astronomer's Universe: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmos, by Herbert Friedman. DDC = 52W.XYZ
- The Tower and the Bridge, by David Ballington. DDC = 62W.XYZ
- Elements of the Art of Architecture, by William Muschenheim. DDC = 72W.XYZ
- A History of English Literature, by William Neilson and Ashley Thorndike. DDC = 82W.XYZ
- The Borgias, by Ivan Cloulas. DDC = 92W.XYZ
Now, be it known: finding books that represent the classes is not necessarily straightforward. For one thing, I decided that I might want to do more than just the ten books. I might want to do the full century. Another: the library's holdings are limited, and not all librarians classify the same book in the same way; some books can be shelved as multiple classifications. They didn't even have Life of Samuel Johnson, which I really wanted to get for the 92W.XYZ classification, as 92W.XYZ is the clearest opportunity for biography--and I've never read it! Last: if you are willing to specialize a bit, you need to remember that the different subclasses aren't necessarily analogous maps into the classes.
Anticipating that I might decide to do the full hundred, or at least give it a real shot,I chose to arbitrarily go with the W2.XYZ call number, but one could chose others, or not worry about the division.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Also, I read Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, recently: pretty good. I'm reading Thinking in Time: the Uses of History by Decision Makers, by Richard Neustadt and Ernest May: really pretty neat.
- Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell--ok, interesting vignettes.
- Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen--very funny.
- Friday Night Lights by H.G Bissinger--bad writing, engrossing story.
- No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley--we've made a lot of progress.
- Spin by Robert Charles Wilson--slow start, gets engrossing.
- Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace--really good. The footnotes get a bit obnoxious after a while.
- Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman--fun. The system of magic is based on quantum mechanics. Sort of.
- Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson--ok, an interesting premise.
- A Short History of the 20th Century by Geoffry Blainey--not bad so far. Reading it during my commute.
- The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Susskind--it is horrifying and terribly written. Reading it before bed.
Thus far, my experience has been good. There was a minor bureaucratic snag in the first couple of days. A lack of coordination left me computerless, but I found some pertinent documentation left by my predecessors and went through it for a couple of days so I wasn't completely at loose ends.
I spent some time interacting with some of the contractors involved with what I ought to be working on, which was useful.
My immediate colleagues seem like nice folks. A couple of long time guys and another new analyst from my same school (different option; she studied chemistry).
I have questions for you, if you ever see this.
Do you see any practical way to get where you want to go? I mean that figuratively, not literally, though of course large-scale roads are awfully hard to imagine coming about as the result of market forces. Not impossible, just... really unlikely.
If we get where you want to go, how long do you think that state will persist? Can you close the door to feature creep and still maintain responsiveness to the requirements of the constituents? That is, will there be some iron laws that will never be changed?
So there's some push-back against the economic stimulus bill winding its way through congress... Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was on Meet The Press saying she hoped (and that many like her hoped) that they could remove the "social spending," and keep the spending that is stimulative or oriented towards job creation. I think the "social spending" she referred to was expanded unemployment benefits and food stamps and perhaps direct aid to the states.
It seems to me that most people can't be blamed when their job is cut back or curtailed when they're the last domino in the line that began with Wall Street-types generating bets on whether about the bets another Wall Street-type made. Also, when folks are paycheck-to-paycheck, if you eliminate their paychecks, you cut back demand in the economy. I'd think, then, that these folks are ones you'd want to be subsidizing when you're combating a slowdown. This is, I understand, a pretty common view... So I'm a bit skeptical about the skepticism.
Similarly, the states and localities provide a lot of services that we need... garbage, sewer, a certain amount of transit-related services, jails, hospitals, etc. I guess we could eliminate all the velvet-lined foster homes... but after that, you're really running up against the fact that most places just don't spend huge amounts on things that the people don't need. I agree that I see things that might be absurd, but these things just aren't large budget items. When you cut them, you get a small savings, to be sure, but the state revenues aren't going down by a small amount--they're going down a large amount, and possibly a huge amount, depending on where you are. I'm not sure that a drastic reduction in the quality of life is what Sen. Hutchison is hoping to achieve, but that seems to be a very likely result if she gets her way.
As far as gov't investment in the future goes, well, I think that'd be nice. Certainly, we can help lay down a nice foundation for growth. Example? Reduction in road transport costs opened up new markets for internal producers--NIDA under Eisenhower probably had just a little to do with that, and it was, at the time, a public works project of an unheard-of size. We could try more things like this with the understanding that the ultimate benefits may be down the line some, but good luck getting support for that. Instead, we may have a series of smaller projects that look unimportant right now: a big push for subsidizing broadband infrastructure; modernization of utilities (especially power); increasing the penetration of rail transport and transit; improvements to educational facilities.
What's great about things like that is that they may reduce the costs of moving things and people where you need or want them to be, may reduce the costs of getting the factors of production where you need or want them to be, etc. By doing that you may make possible products and companies you never dreamed of--something that undeniably happened after the interstate highway revolution. Now, not a lot of people would argue that the quality of life decreased precipitously (or even did anything other than increase rapidly [on average]) over the generation or two after that, I think--such investments can pay off!
So I'm not sure, but I think the idea of stimulus is possibly workable. I also think that Sen. Hutchison is wrong to divorce the "social spending" from the stimulus. Will it work? Maybe, maybe not: nobody knows, and only those who experienced the depression know how bad it can and has gotten in the U.S.
- I click my teeth together and modulate the sound with my oral cavity to play little songs. In completely unrelated news, I'll probably need to get fake teeth at some point.
- Salt and vinegar potato chips are probably my favorite, but they're disgusting. Go figure.
- I read and re-read lame "swords and sorcery"-type books when I'm feeling a lot of stress.(cf. here,here, and here)
- I hate turning left (in a car, not on the runway) and think it really ought to be eliminated entirely.
- When I was a little kid I wanted for some time to be an FBI agent. I made a huge mess with fingerprint powder.
- I have a really unpleasant dependence on caffeine that I'd like to one day kick.
- My nose developed this mole right on the end in high school. Thanks, mole.
- I actually kind of like plaid flannel shirts.
- I used to wear socks around the house when I was a lad. But I kept stepping in wet stuff (e.g. drops of water in the kitchen) which made me insane. I'm doing it again, though.
- Bright light gives me a headache. Not a migraine, just a headache.
- I've only ever gotten the tiniest effect from poison oak, and only once, in the crook of my elbow. Since then I've hauled myself uphill with the stuff, spattered my face with its pulp whilst weed-whacking, etc., with no ill effect.
- I overslept and then mismanaged time on my wedding day, leading to a bit of an overly speedy drive to the site. I arrived in plenty--PLENTY!--of time.
- I had a not-bad golf-swing when I was younger.
- I swallowed LEGOs as a kid. Not just the tiny ones. It was an experiment.
- I find wood-splitting to be a ton of fun.
- These days I find it difficult to go to sleep without a pillow over my face.
- When I die I'd like to be cremated. Compress my ashes into a diamond, or something.
- I am growing more liberal, conservative, and libertarian, with time.
- I am abjectly terrified of spiders, this despite the fact I used to play with them a lot.
- I am pretty afraid of heights, but I love to fly, ride roller coasters.
- I caught a few minutes of the super bowl last night, more, I think, than the last few years.
- My favorite food is probably ribs.
- My least favorite food is probably offal.
- I love fall. I think spring may be too ostentatious.
- I have freakish luck with one-shot impersonations. I can never repeat the performance.