Friday, May 14, 2010

Parvum Opus 369: Transgressive Gravitas

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere


The Latest in Spam Stylings

Spammers are running words together (as in the following) to get by spam filters:

GirlsLikeAuthorsBecauseTheyMakeUse ofBig words duringSex”

I picked this example because of the literary sensibility, of course.

This spammer also uses an old technique of throwing in random quotes from some unknown source to throw off the filters, so you get a short spurt of intriguing prose before clicking on the link (which I did not):

The idiots rousted me out of bed before daylight. There's nothing wrong at all in being born out of that room.


Seven years ago he had her raised as a zombie. As if answering her query, the tiger raised a paw.

Did Drummers Drum?

I’ve heard it in old movies and read it in books: traveling salesmen used to be called drummers. We still say “drumming up business” but I can’t find any source of the word “drummers”. I always imagined traveling salesmen used to beat a drum to attract attention, but can’t find a history. Anybody know?


More on Shakespeare, it can’t hurt:

Shakespeare’s innovative vocabulary

Book titles from Shakespeare

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ? — a book I’m currently reading, by James Shapiro. Professor Shapiro thinks it was Shakespeare, but in this book he discusses when and why the question arose in the first place. (I think it was Shakespeare too.)

Jane Austen

More on Jane Austen, you can’t have too much:

Humorist Fran Lebowitz talks seriously about Jane Austen and about reading (it’s on YouTube), and she is excellent as always and mainly correct. Not so sure about her point on irony, which is indeed lacking in optimism, but I think she confuses Austen’s Christian sense of sin with pessimism. Why, by the way, has Lebowitz not published any books for years?


The other day I encountered a malfunctioning weight machine at the gym and informed a young women working there, telling her I’d tried to insert the weight pin in several slots but it wouldn’t go in.

“No problem,” she said.

“Yes, problem,” I answered.

I presume that she meant well at the same time that she didn’t mean anything.

“No problem” wasn’t a reasonable response to my explanation of what I’d done (and she wasn’t responding to the broken machine, which was a problem). Did she think I was apologizing? Was it the usual substitute for “You’re welcome”? I wasn’t thanking her.


Recent headlines in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

It’s a newspaper. Isn’t everything in there reported? How else would they have anything to write about? We’re used to criminals and crimes being “alleged” but there’s a sort of legal excuse for that. All those reportedlys make the paper sound as if it’s passing on a little gossip and the reporters have no way of finding or confirming any believable facts for us. I hope this doesn’t presage a move to ironic headline writing.

Feeling Drowsy

A TV ad for an allergy drug features a young child asking for something that won’t make him feel “drowsy”. Do your kids say that? Don’t little kids always say “sleepy”? Maybe the children of drug manufacturers and ad writers say they feel drowsy.

EB Mike

Mike Sykes wrote regarding the subjunctive “be” (as in “He be trippin’”):

I've heard "be" used for all persons, singular and plural, though usually only in humorous contexts, such as comedy sketches. Given that OBE means "Order of the British Empire", I remember:

E B OBE, E B. B E? I, E B.

Which in turn reminds me of this.

… “this” being more examples of the same in a comedy routine. I heard some of that a long time ago, but all I can remember is: C M P N. It had something to do with ducks, I think. The memory is a mysterious thing. Anyway, I found something along the same line called Redneck Readin’ Test.


A typo from a spam mailing:

nontact me

I think we should adopt this as a new antonym for contact: “Please nontact me.”

No, Really

A blogger posted this about new job titles in the Tempe Arizona school district. No joke, I actually found a job ad online for #1.

Dear Beloved Readers,

From the state that begat the governor who begat the catchy phrase, "Overseas Contingency Operation," we are now blessed with the following job titles -- see if you can translate: 1) Transporter of Learners, 2) Director of First Impressions, 3) Director of Human Capital and 4) Executive Director of Exceptional Customer Experiences. Okay, so you quickly figured out that number 1 is a school bus driver and that number 3 is the old head of personnel. Number 2 is actually number 1's boss. As for number 4? No clue....and it doesn't matter. It is dumb no matter what it means. These are actual titles for jobs in a school district in Arizona -- a wealthy one, by the way. Since tax dollars fund schools, we the people paid for the study, paid for the new signs, paid for new badges and new letterhead. I wonder if the Recipient Population of Brilliance and Inspiration will be any smarter now.

Yours Sincerely,

S.E.'s Mom

School districts now have customers? Raising kids is hard enough. I wouldn’t want my kids to go to schools in Tempe. Or learning centres or whatever they call them.


I thought I wrote about this some years ago but I can’t find it in PO, but there’s more to know now anyway. Alan Sokal wrote "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" and published it in Social Text #46/47, pp. 217-252 (spring/summer 1996). The article is a parody of incomprehensible post-modernism, and was even more outrageous because it supposedly “deconstructed” physics, but it was accepted by Social Text in all innocence. (Their web site does not carry issues that old.)

Since then, the article has spawned a massive amount of commentary (last updated May 4). Sokal wrote a book about it, Beyond the Hoax. His article was discussed in many intellectual journals. You can even listen to Sokal talk briefly on the scientific method on YouTube. Can’t agree with him on religion (his idea of “evidence” is limited, important to science but it does not cover all the varieties of human experience, knowledge, and thought), but he pulled a clever piece of wool over the post-modernists’ even fuzzier eyeballs.

I’m waiting for a mathematician to publish an article on post-modernist math, and explain why 2+2=4 should not be privileged over 2+2=5 or even 2+2=3.

The Weekly Gizzard: Moi on

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Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2010. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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