Sunday, April 22, 2018

Daffy Dactyls

Headline in today’s  New York Times:

Incursions by Turkey
put Greece on Alert

(Chant to the beat of  “To market to market / to buy a fat pig”.)

Politico-prosodical footnote:
While world history is being made on the fly,
POTUS is venting  unedited -- and without scansion.
At the least, he should be required to phrase everything
in dactylic measures.
That would also  give time  for reflection.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The World’s Scarcest Resource

What -- oil?  water?  tungsten maybe?
No -- linguists!  Satisfactory intepreters and translators.

We earlier outlined Germany’s shortage of adequate translators, in a CT context:

There, the unmet need was for Arabic.  And now, in the more general context of the massive influx of immigrants to Germany, today’s Die Zeit documents how, since 2017, over two thousand interpreters had to be let go -- in large part, owing to inadequate command of German:

So:  Should you ever have the good fortune to run into a practicing, credentialed philologian -- Be nice to them!  Do them little kindnesses -- Bring them coffee!  And managers -- Double their salary.  A really good linguist is hard to find.

For further True Life Adventures of these rare beings,  try this:

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Faith and Ceremony

G. K. Chesterton, originally Protestant, then a convert to Catholicism, defends his church against Iconoclasts;  his remarks do equally well in defense of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Though of course these shows and pageants  meant immeasurably much to me, and profoundly affected my emotions,  yet I do not base my belief on such emotions, still less on such pageants or shows.   I was myself received into the Catholic Church  in a small tin shed, painted brick-red, which stood among the sculleries and outhouses of a Railway Hotel.
-- G.K. Chesterton, The Resurrection of Rome (1930)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Eschatological Monostich

The soul   does not die by sin,  but by impenitence.

-- G.K. Chesterton, The Resurrection of Rome (1930)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Journée mondiale de la procrastination

Bienvenus sur notre site, pour célébrer  la Journée mondiale de la procrastination !

Actually it was yesterday -- no wait, several days ago, by now.  We’d meant to post something, but didn’t get around to it until now.

Tableau neige et lumière

… lifted into a clearer  and a colder air …
a phase where light has transcended colour,
as in the hueless dawn of creation 
when the first light     was as strange
as the first snow …

-- G.K. Chesterton, The Resurrection of Rome (1930)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Feasts of Spring

We had breakfast guests this morning on the deck;
some with feathers, some with fur.
Sunflower seeds bright black  atop the snow.

[For a similar vision  from around this time two years ago, try this.]

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Substitutionary atonement

It is a repeated motif of the thriller-series “24”, that Jack Bauer offers himself up as a sacrifice -- in Season Six, for one specific hostage.   We marveled at that them here:

Against the background of all the other whiz-bang implausibilities of that show, this one was not the most far-fetched, but it still seemed a stretch.

And yet now we have a real-life authentic hero of law enforcement, who did exactly that during yesterday's terror attack in France, and died for his pains:

Arnaud Beltrame

The  Christian doctrine with which such acts are blessed, is called “Substitutionary atonement”.  

Jack Bauer received no thanks for his gambit; les gendarmes de France are likewise best appreciated by the bobos-gauchos  when letting themselves be stoned or shot at, rather than firing back.   A few of them have been getting somewhat annoyed:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Butch monostich

    … le sévèr-e Char-lus    tout de noir  habillé …

[ -- Proust, La Prisonnière (1919), p. 212]

Code Red !

            Code -- Red!
            Rest in bed.
            Time to soothe
            your sleepy head.

{ for more about the lovely snow,
   gently press …    here …. }

{ for further glimpses into the wonderful world of Office Life,
    zestily press ...  here ... )

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Journée internationale de la francophonie

In celebration, we link to our roster of over a hundred essays relating to French language and literature:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Devonshire mini-hemi-monostich

… the thin   Devonian   rain 

[--Edmund Gosse, Father and Son (1907)]

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Lost Lament of Sir Walter Ralegh

Re banished Ralegh’s  unpublished plaint to Elizabeth, known as “Cynthia”:

There are many fine passages,  none finer than the line

     Of all which passed,  the sorrow only stays

-- Ward & Waller, eds. The Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. IV: North to Drayton (1909), p. 54

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Scenes from Office Life

Today -- March 14 -- our office celebrated International Pi Day(***), by bringing in a whole bunch of pies.  (March 14 --  3   1   4 -- get it?   Not funny, just fun.)  Apple, cherry, banana cream, pecan -- you name it.   And amazingly, for every single one of those pies, the ratio of its circumference to its diameter was -- you’ll never guess -- more or less 3.14 !!   Thus proving the theorem.

(***)   Actually Interplanetary Pi Day, since the value of that transcendental constant  is invariant throughout the universe.

[For further glimpses of our office life, click here.

For more mathy funnies,  here.]

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

More on “the Eternal Feminine”

Das Unbeschreibliche
hier ist getan.
Das Ewig-Weibliche
zieht uns hinan.
[-- Goethe, Faust]

A late-Elizabethan version:

Nó wórds fór it --
Yet ‘tis done.
A woman’s Forever
beckons us on.

[ -- Anon.  The “B” manuscript substitutes “Whatever” for “Forever”:
scholars are divided upon which is the valid reading.]


To the psychologist, the emotional differences etween the sexes  appear small in a laboratory,  but enormous during a quarrel with his wife.
-- Theodor Reik, Of Love and Lust (1949/1957), p.412

Monday, March 12, 2018

“Like Shining from Shook Foil”

Portrait of Lawrence : 

The eyes were blue and piercing,
and the very fine hair,  a little on the reddish side of golden,
fluttered up  at every movement, every breath of wind,
like wisps of blown flame.
[--Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point (1928), p. 93]

Sunday, March 11, 2018

mournful monostich

the cheese


a-lone  . .    .      .      .

[For additional  minimalist glimpses
 into scenes of desolation,
 here .]

Tableaux de nostalgie

   Across the grass,     a peacock stalked,
   dragging its tattered tail

-- P. D. James, The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982), p. 121

   Beyond the half-open window,
   a tideless Mediterranean
   lay open to the moon.

-- P. D. James, The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982), p. 134

Saturday, March 10, 2018

“Dottie’s Dimple” hemi-monostich




        [--Mary McCarthy, The Group (1963)]

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Tableau avant-tempête

au-dessus de la ville …
un de ces immenses ciels crus  et gros de menaces
amoncelées de drame,
pareils à certains ciels,
de modernité presque parisienne,
de Mantegna  ou de Véronèse,

et sous lequel  ne pouvait s’accomplir
que quelque acte  terrible et solennel,

comme un départ en chemin de fer
ou l’érection de la Croix.

--Marcel Proust, A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919)

A hard rain’s gonna fall

Pour une vue d’ensemble cinématographique 
de la psychologie (in)tempestive,
consultez :


Monday, February 26, 2018

God monostich

On the seventh day He rested:

le calme du créateur
qui a accompli son œuvre,
et ne se soucie plus  du reste

(--Marcel Proust, A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919) )

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Pacific Theatre reconnaissance tableau

They left in mid-morning sunlight,
with great shafts of gold
dancing across the waters of Tulagi bay.

-- James Michener, Tales of the South Pacific (1946)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

lime/light monostichs

The lime-tree:

its fragrance,     fresh  from the late rains

Julia and I  stood at a window …
watching the wind at work
stripping the lime trees …

[From:  Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (1945)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Volkswort du jour: Morgestraich

We earlier saluted the German “Schoduvel” festival:

and likewise the Swabian Schowo.

And now here’s a new one:  

Das freut Fasnächtler und Beizer gleichermassen: Kalte Temperaturen und trockenes Wetter sorgten für einen wunderschönen Morgestraich. Tausende säumten die Strassen und wärmten sich mit Mehlsuppe auf.

Seine Magie verdankt der Morgestraich dem Augenblick: Innert einer Sekunde, präzise dann, wenn Schlag vier Uhr morgens die Lichter ausgehen, erlebt Basel seine einzigartige Metamorphose. Die Verwandlung ist total – auch an diesem Morgen: Die Strassenbeleuchtung erlischt (die Schaufenster müssen ohnehin verdunkelt sein), aus allen Gassen ist der Befehl «Morgestraich, vorwärts marsch!» zu vernehmen. Überall ertönt der gleiche Marsch: der «Morgestraich». Er wird während der ganzen Fasnacht nur einmal gespielt. Tausende Trommler und Pfeifer intonieren ihn gleichzeitig, jedoch nicht synchron. Die Züge setzen sich in Bewegung: Jede Clique hat ihr eigenes Tempo, ihren eigenen Rhythmus, so dass sich Chaos und Einheitlichkeit in einem unendlichen Meer aus Klängen und Lichtern vermischen. Dieser Cocktail für die Sinne lässt selbst abgebrühte Basler erschaudern.

Morgestraich, vorwärts marsch!

Prosit, Fasnächtler !

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.

[**]  Sprawling supine beneath one's VW Beetle or Bus  was known locally as the "Berkeley lotus position".

[Note:  The title of this post  alludes to an insightful, delightful sociohistory of the era,
Randy Allen Harris, The Linguistics Wars (1993)]

[For further reflections on Berkeleyana, click here.

For the place of linguistics among the sciences, here.

For sociohistorical reflections on other 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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Baby-Face Nelson repartee

“Why… Jimmy Burnell!” Negri exclaimed, using Nelson’s old alias.  “Where’d you pop from?”
Nelson grinned.  “Oh, I just blew in from the east.”
-- Bryan Burrough, Public Enemies (2004), p. 175

(The noir aesthetic  meets a Mary Poppins meme.
 For a Carl-Sandburgian take on such lingo, try this:   Rootabaga.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Hope-Springs-Eternal monostich

“Maybe a new deck    will change my luck”
-- William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley (1946)

Monday, January 29, 2018

monostich of preternatural detection

“Lately  I get the feeling
someone is messing
with my investigation.”

-- Laird Barron,  The Imago Sequence (2007), p. 134


For hard-noir detective stories,
try these:



Sunday, January 28, 2018

bug’s-eye view

the antenna-twitch of a bug

in the descending shadow

of some colossal hand

-- Laird Barron,  The Imago Sequence (2007), p. 189

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Deserted-Landscape monostichs

The sea-gulls had gone,  all at once,
as if they had spotted a better place.
-- John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), p. 50

the sky was black   with waiting rain
-- John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), p. 246

Friday, January 26, 2018

Король, дама, валет tableaux

Caught by the corner of the eye:

sudden flashes of zigzag light   cast by passing windshields
-- Vladimir Nabokov, King, Queen, Knave (1968; originally published 1928, in Russian), p. 213

Contrastas seen full-on.

and lo -- through the crack of the door, one glimpses the long back of the cleric, representative of a boundlessly charitable Church, in the act of bending over the white, white bed.
-- Vladimir Nabokov, King, Queen, Knave (1968), p. 172

An audial analog of a tableau might be la petite phrase.   The following, more like an earworm:

She stared   with her fingers pressed to her temples 
at the white,  white,    intolerably white    tablecloth.
-- Vladimir Nabokov, King, Queen, Knave (1968), p. 160

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Gedicht: Strengstens Verboten !!!

There is so much that our German cousins  are forbidden to view nowadays, beneath the glare of the PC Police (wie damals die Stasi).  Here is the latest, a 1951 poem that -- despite its Hispanic aspect -- proved too rich for thinning German blood:

Falls Sie Deutscher sind --
Augen gefälligst zumachen !!

Extensive further exemplification here.

[Note:  It's awfully minimalist, as poems go -- just a noun or two here and there. 
Imagine the wrath of the Politically Correct, if it had gone so far as an adjective or a verb!]

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Logic of Yea and Nay

The Senate has just shot itself in the foot;  with shrapnel ricocheting onto masses of bystanders.  The move might enter the annals as “Shumer’s Self-mate”.

In the face of such legislative absurdity, the Administration floated the idea of reducing the minimum to pass a Continuing Resolution  from 60%  to a bare majority.    Worth discussing;  but there is a more general logical point behind the whole debate, which seems to have garnered little or no notice in print.

The point is, across the board, the status quo is the default.   As the cock crows, the Senate (to take that as an example, but the point applies to any established body) begins its busy day with various activities.   Everyone shows up for work with teeth brushed and appropriately dressed (men as men, women as women);  there is some sort of opening ceremony (in my primary school, these were Flag Salute and Lord’s Prayer);  a roll-call is taken;  citizens are admitted to the visitors’ balcony; interviews are given to the press;  and so forth.   It would be legitimate to question any one of those activities:  require unisex attire; ban the prayer or the flag salute (some of this has already happened in this venue or that); skip the time-wasting roll-call; exclude spectators (for security, or whatever).  To do that, you introduce a bill, which for passage requires a majority of some weaker or stronger preponderance (say, 60%), depending on the nature of the proposed bill.   What is not required is that,  in order to continue to wear normal clothes, or salute the flag, or what have you, the body must, every morning as the cock crows, pass a brand-new bill (with the required 60%) to continue the status quo.   The burden is on those who would change or disrupt the status quo.

Now, allowing the government to continue putt-putting along, for better or worse, is simply the default, and should be so considered.  It’s the government’s job.   So it is truly not logical that Congress should be obliged to seek a super-majority, simply to keep the government open for business, fulfilling the promises made.    Anyone who would disrupt that scenario, at so fundamental a level, should be obliged to propose doing so, in a measure  -- say, the Government Shutdown Circular Firing-Squad bill -- that itself would require the supermajority.   Instead, the quite radical maneuvre of wrecking the government   is relieved of what should logically be its burden, as though that were the default.

[Update 22 Jan 2018]  The Washington Post today has a good article on the logical/structural parameters of such situations.