Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Writester Stuff


Number 250

November 1, 2007



Heard on Dennis Miller’s radio program: “in TER necine battles” (referring to Screen Writers Guild strike). I didn’t think that was the correct pronunciation but I didn’t know the correct one. It is “inter NEE cine”. Miller questioned the use of “actor” to refer to females. I’ve written about this before, and how this change has followed the pattern of eliminating words such as aviatrix, editrix, poetess, Negress, Jewess, and so on. But Miller rightly pointed out that we still have Best Actor and Best Actress categories in the Academy Awards. It would be clumsy to change them to Best Male Actor and Best Female actor. One of his callers suggested the example of “waitron” which replaces waiter and waitress in some restaurants: how about “actron”? “Waitron” beats “waitperson” because it has one less syllable, and sounds like an android. But I think we might use “ster” to better effect: the waitster. Then we could have the mailster (but not the poster), the chairster, the firester, the salester, and so on. We already have teamsters and tipsters and hipsters. Not to mention hamsters.

Also heard on Miller’s show: When Hunter Thompson was young, he typed verbatim entire works of Hemingway and Faulkner. I once gave my composition students an assignment to use a particular essay as a structural pattern on which to impose their own topic. One student complained that he didn’t want to learn to write like someone else. But that wasn’t the point. It was a way to really pay attention to the way a piece of writing is built. I thought it was more useful than asking them to outline the essay and point out the topic sentence.


The Fredster noted that I misspelled segueway in an e-mail (I wrote segway). But both of those words are highlighted as misspelled in MS Word. Neither do I find it in the dictionary, but I’ve heard it a lot on TV and radio. Segue appears in, but though a Latin root is given, how did we get this media term from Latin? From modern French? Anyway, I was wrong, the word segue is pronounced seg-way. Which I found hard to believe, but it’s true.


Florence King wrote in a 1992 review of two biographies of Sylvia Plath that “creative” was a big buzzword of the ‘50s.

“Being creative” was a perfect excuse for majoring in English, an airy-fairy way of saying you liked to read, and a rationale for free-floating discontent and unfocused rebellion. Creative’s twin was intense, a code word for superiority used by intellectual snobs who wanted to recuse themselves from American egalitarianism without doing anything illiberal.

You know Florence King, mean in all the right places. A big word of the ‘60s was “aware”. I had a college boyfriend who said he’d been looking for a girl who was “aware” but he didn’t say aware of what. I ultimately became aware that he was a lyin’ cheatin’ dog, but that’s another story.

In another 1992 essay, “Huggee”, she said that the Jacobins banned the formal word vous (formal you) and made everyone tutoyer (use the informal tu). In English, we’ve lost the informal you (objective thee and subjective thou); it remains in the Bible and Shakespeare (and I think the Quakers were using it at least until the 19th century). I guess the Jacobins threw out religion too so how to address God was not an issue. But think of the theological implications of using the familiar you to address the Deity.

In “Two Kidneys in Transplant Time” King commented on the use of “harvest” to refer to taking body parts from a dead person to transplant into another. It’s a creepy euphemism. When we harvest corn and wheat, the corn and wheat were specially planted for that purpose. Not so with body parts. I wrote a creepy novel about this very topic (unpublished).


Dave wrote in his Caring Bridge blog about visiting a friend:

I'm not sure which one's the contrarian here: him or me. (... he recently said 'I see your politics haven't improved'!) You see, John's an inveterate rightist and I'm an inveterate Liberal, proud of it, capital L. We sorta torture each other, now and then. :)

In years long gone, it wasn't a problem for someone to disagree with you. Even *Senators* with seriously differing views were known to be long-time friends ~ things like that. Somewhere in the 90s it changed ~ it became hateful to be on the other side. We could argue forever about who started what, but I don't care ~ I just want to get back to the way America was, back then.

I don't want to wait for anything to get 'fixed'; I just want my world to be the way it was back then. Discourse, respect, even love for each other (though folks didn't openly talk about love as much as we do today, I must say).

Though some of my specific opinions and general world-view have changed over the years, I refuse to label myself right or left, although no doubt others do. But the changes have made me more aware of the hostility ~ and of my own hostility when I was younger toward others who had opinions that I now have. I’ve lost friends and readers and alienated family members because we no longer see eye to eye and stand shoulder to shoulder on every issue. And it cost me some internal argument to even listen to arguments that I simply ignored in the past. But I find that the most hostile people do not want to discuss specific issues. They want to pass judgment on what they perceive as a monolithic world view. Parvum Opus is my practice in breaking discourse down into small manageable bits.

Here’s one of them: why do some people object to the term islamofascism? It does not imply that all Muslims are fascists. It means that there is a particular strain of fascism associated specifically with some Muslims, just as there was a German fascism with the Nazis and an Italian fascism under Mussolini (and, I suppose, so on, with other brands). But perhaps the whole concept of fascism is too broad. It’s a general concept based on acts and ideas. Where is the common ground of factual knowledge? And if islamofascism pertains to only a small percentage of Muslims, how many is that out of the estimated 700 million to 1.2 billion in the world? One percent is a lot. One-tenth of one percent is a lot. Is it right or left to ask this question? Or to question what’s meant by calling the U.S. fascist? Which facts and history and ideas are we talking about? As I told a former reader who quit the PO for this very reason, when I talk about Islamic terrorism, I’m not referring to the sweet dancing Sufis he thinks of when he thinks Muslim. I’ve read Rumi too.


||| Here’s an oldie from Dave Barry, Mr. Language Person.

||| If you want karaoke at home, you can sing online at karaokeplay. (No, I didn’t record anything there.)

||| William Shatner starred in a 1965 horror movie called Incubus, the only movie made totally in Esperanto (available in VHS and DVD). I’m going to have to buy it. One of the reviewers on Amazon said there are eight different Esperanto accents in the film. I have no idea ... does this mean an English Esperanto accent, an Italian, a French, a German, etc.?

||| Check out the world’s greatest dancing cockatoo (thanx and a tip of the beak to Dave DaBee).

||| Cool freebie: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. At least some of the web site is free. In Brewers of Britain I learned there was a Bass behind Bass Ale. Michael Thomas Bass was born in Burton upon Trent, referred to by A. E. Housman in “Terence, this is stupid stuff”.

||| From David Rogerson across the pond:

Bob's your uncle ~ an expression of reassurance that things will turn out to your benefit. It owes its origins to real life "Bob" the Conservative P.M. Lord Salisbury whose first name was Robert (Bob). During his administration in the 1880s, his nephew A J Balfour was rapidly promoted through the cabinet until he was made Sec. Of State for Ireland. Few could deny that Uncle Bob had served his nephew well.

||| I heard a great song the other day by John Gorka, “I’m from New Jersey”:

I'm from New Jersey

I don't expect too much

If the world ended today

I would adjust.

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