Sunday, February 18, 2018

What did you do in the Linguistics Wars, Daddy?

Awhile back I offered an essay in Mathematical Lexicography:

It led off with this:

    First, a sociological/tautological non-definition:

  What is mathematics?  One proposal, made in desperation, is ‘what mathematicians do’.
  -- -- Ian Stewart,  How to Cut a Cake (2006), p. 27

That stab in fact fails to offer even the virtue of a tautology, since it isn’t even true, without the further qualification that it is what mathematicians do… when they are doing mathematics.  -- If you’d tried similarly, without qualification,  to define linguistics based simply on the activities of linguists (ex officio: faculty and students in the Linguistics Department) at Berkeley during the years I was there, you would conclude that the field consisted of:  fixing your Volkswagens;  eating Chinese food;  and dabbling in neighboring fields like psychology and philosophy (later all these fields hopped into the hot-tub together and were newly baptised as Cognitive Science) -- all this while studiously ignoring most of the work done in the previous centuries of philology and language-sciences.

[For further reflections on Berkeleyana, click here.

For the place of linguistics among the sciences, here.]

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Jack Reed’s deathbed

Moscow, 1920:

In the early hours of October 17,
the heart stopped beating,   the body grew still,

and nothing     became all.

[Robert Rosenstone, Romantic Revolutionary: a biography of John Reed (1990), p. 382]

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Jack Reed monostich

He whispered to her  in the night:
I thought your fire was crimson,
but you burn blue in the dark.”

[Robert Rosenstone, Romantic Revolutionary: a biography of John Reed (1990), p. 138, citing the testimoney of Reed’s love-conquest, Mabel Dodge]

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Jimmy Hoffa’s last minute alive

Told in the words of his longtime friend and assassin:

When Jimmy saw  that the house was empty,
that nobody came out  of any of the rooms  to greet him,

he knew right away
what it was.

limina mortis

[Charles Brandt, I Heard You Paint Houses (2004), p. 257]

The Lost Notebooks of Dashiell Hammett

The author Dashiell Hammett  paid his dues before he published his classic noir stories and novels:  first, as a detective with the Pinkerton Agency, based in the rough-and-tumble West, and secondly, as an observer of underclass American speech, which he scouted out in the dives of the era immediately after the first World War, recording what he heard  in unlined, now-yellowed notebooks.   It has been our good fortune to have located and purchased one of these, from a shady bibliophile in Istanbul;   and here present previously-unpublished excerpts.


Overheard at the Sangsue-ci Lounge, in Cicero, Illinois:

So he shows me his .32.
I sez, Dat all ya got?

A nod of the head indicates a customer loudly holding forth at a table across the room.

“So who’s t’ wise-guy?”
“Some cit  thinks he’s the cat’s own jockstrap,
but   fact is,  he’s from hunger.”

Job interview:

“I hear you paint houses.”
“Oh yeh?  Who toleja dat?”

The Darwinian origins of Altruism:

“So why would I help you out, a rat like you?”
“You’ll do it for my bright blue eyes.”

~         ~

For an additional glimpse of the hard-luck life,
back in the railroad days, try this:

~         ~


Friday, February 2, 2018

Tableaux noirs

The light from the funeral parlor
                    made a       
golden wedge on the sidewalk

-- William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley (1946)

Si cela vous parle,
savourez la série noire
en argot authentique d’Amérique :


the smoke of her cigarette   whirling back over her shoulder
like a sweet-smelling  scarf    in the wind

-- William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley (1946)

Fais-moi mal, Johnny

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Stakeout: tableau

Dillinger glanced at the parked cars.
Several, he noticed, were pointed the wrong way.
-- Bryan Burrough, Public Enemies (2004), p. 160