Tag Archives: Language

Beautiful words

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner quotes this passage from Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings and asks us simply to savor the language:

At around age six, perhaps, I was standing by myself in our front yard waiting for supper, just at that hour in a late summer day when the sun is already below the horizon and the risen full moon in the visible sky stops being chalky and begins to take on light. There comes the moment, and I saw it then, when the moon goes from flat to round. For the first time it met my eyes as a globe. The word “moon” came into my mouth as though fed to me out of a silver spoon. Held in my mouth the moon became a word. It had the roundness of a Concord grape Grandpa took off his vine and gave me to suck out of its skin and swallow whole, in Ohio.

Mmmm, yes.

The rest of O’Conner’s interview, with Leonard Lopate, here — a great discussion about beautiful words: the beautiful sounds of words, apart from their meaning. Seersucker. Jejune. Waxwing. Chevrolet. Azerbaijan. And Henry James’ favorite phrase, summer afternoon.

Yum.

Christopher Hitchens’ candidate for the most beautiful English word here.

My own favorite: susurrus, and all its variants. Loved it ever since I encountered it as a child, in Jack Prelutsky’s “The Dance of the Thirteen Skeletons.” Not the place I’d have expected to find an exquisitely lovely word, but serendipity (a lovely word itself) is a beautiful thing.

(Image by Dan Bush)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jenny Holzer rocks so damn hard

I’ve loved Jenny Holzer’s work ever since I discovered her “Truisms” — “Lack of charisma can be fatal,” “Confusing yourself is a way to stay honest,” “Children are the cruelest of all” (or, conversely, “Children are the hope of the future”), “Any surplus is immoral,” “Change is valuable when the oppressed become tyrants,” and so on — aphorisms designed to challenge (or reinforce) your assumptions, and spark some interesting and perhaps heated conversations.

And now she’s got a Twitter account, in which she filters her experience as a mom through some very funny riffs on her own work. Some choice tweets:

DIGNITY IS AN ABSTRACT CONCEPT BUT IT WOULD BE LESS ABSTRACT IF YOU WORE A CARDIGAN OVER THAT TOP

THE REVOLUTION WILL STILL BE HERE AFTER YOU’RE DONE STUDYING FOR YOUR GEOMETRY FINAL

A WELL-MEANING LIE IS A KIND OF TRUTH AND ON THAT NOTE YOU CAN BE ANYTHING IF YOU BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

DON’T GET CYNICAL AND DON’T LEAVE THE OVEN ON AND DON’T STAY UP LATE AND IF THERE’S AN EMERGENCY LAURIE AND LOU’S NUMBER IS ON THE FRIDGE

HISTORY TEXTBOOKS CAN TEACH YOU A LOT ABOUT THE SELECTIVE MEMORY OF IMPERIALISTS AND ALSO A LOT ABOUT WHAT’S GOING TO BE ON THE HISTORY TEST

PICKING AT SCABS CAN LEAD YOU TO TRUTH AND BY TRUTH I MEAN AN INFECTION

TRYING TO BE POPULAR IN HIGH SCHOOL IS LIKE TRYING TO BE MAYOR OF A CITY THAT WON’T EXIST IN FOUR YEARS

IT’S A COLD WORLD BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE AND THAT IS WHY I TOLD YOU TO WEAR LAYERS

MISTLETOE ONLY HAS AS MUCH POWER AS YOU GIVE IT

I SAW AN ENTIRE GENERATION OF ARTISTS LOST TO AIDS, BUT NO, PLEASE GO ON ABOUT HOW DIFFICULT YOUR LIFE IS WITHOUT AN IPAD

SUFFERING FOR YOUR IDEALS IS A PRIVILEGE, AS IS USING THE FAMILY NETFLIX ACCOUNT

IGNORING THE ADVICE OF YOUR MOTHER IS A KIND OF CONFORMITY

THERE IS NOTHING MORE TERRIFYING TO HIGH SCHOOL BOYS THAN A WOMAN WHO WON’T APOLOGIZE

And a zinger against the many shirts displaying her own “truisms”:

MASS-PRODUCED IRONIC T-SHIRTS ARE A POOR ARGUMENT FOR A REBELLIOUS SPIRIT

Absolutely brilliant. Lots more here; can’t wait to read more.

(via Adam Savage; image via Creative Time)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Farewell to Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens has died.

It seems appropriate to quote here, as I’ve done earlier, something he said in one of his many debates against religion and unreason:

I don’t know if you really think that when you die you can be corporeally reassembled, and have conversations with authors from previous epochs. It’s not necessary that you believe that in Christian theology, and I have to say that it sounds like a complete fairy tale to me. The only reason I’d want to meet Shakespeare, or might even want to, is because I can meet him, any time, because he is immortal in the works he’s left behind. If you’ve read those, meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment.

And as I wrote then:

What a tower of courageous, unsentimental intellect. Perhaps our consolation after his death — which will happen sooner or later, after all, to him and to all of us — will be the same consolation he finds in communing with Shakespeare through his works: that Hitchens’ own spoken and written words will remain with us, engaging us in the endless conversation about what is good, beautiful, noble, pure, and true, “the only conversation worth having.”

The words indeed remain. And through them his wit and conviction and ferocious intellect live on.

Here, for instance, is a passage from his Letters to a Young Contrarian; it’s as good a passage as any with which to honor Hitchens’ memory on this day.

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the “transcendent” and all who invite you to subordinate and annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.

I shall leave you with a few words from George Konrad, the Hungarian dissident […]:

Have a lived life instead of a career. Put yourself in the safekeeping of good taste. Lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses. . . . If you don’t like the style of others, cultivate your own. Get to know the tricks of reproduction, be a self-publisher even in conversation, and then the joy of working can fill your days.

May it be so with you, and may you keep your powder dry for the battles ahead, and know when and how to recognise them.

Previous posts on Hitchens here, here, here, here, and here.

(Image via Thiago Lins)

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Speak with conviction

A fantastic spoken-word piece by Taylor Mali, animated by Ronnie Bruce:

Bravo.

I’ll post more by Mali soon. If he and Sarah Kay are examples of the caliber of talent coming out of the spoken-poetry world, I’m seriously going to have to check that scene out. You know?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How many continents are there?

An excellent example of the imprecision of our language, and of how our definitions and categories tend to get fuzzy around the edges:

Reality may literally be too complex for words.

(via The Dish)

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

So what be humanism, me hearties?

Aarrrr! In honor o’ International Talk Like a Pirate Day, here be one o’ me old posts on humanism, done pirate-style. (A taste below.) Want t’see what me whole blog be like in pirate talk? Click ‘ere. An’ ye can try it on any blitherin’ site ye please, usin’ this pirate translator. Have at it!
__________

So What Be Humanism?

Good question.

Isn’t humanism just a blastedly fancy word fer atheism? Isn’t a humanist simply some lubber what don’t b’lieve in God?

Well, aye an’ no. Atheism be th’ larger category; all humanists must be atheists, but nay all atheists be humanists.

I thought o’ an analogy this morn’n, which, though probably imperfect, seems useful enough:

Think o’ th’ world an’ crewmate society as a house that we find ourselves liv’n in. A religious swabbie tidies it aloft — sweep’n aloft dust, do’n th’ dishes, mak’n repairs, perhaps fix’n more serious damage like leaks an’ rott’n floorboards — cause he thinks his parents be monitor’n him, or maybe lustily even plann’n t’ visit soon, an’ he wants t’ make a blistering good impression. We can make lots o’ qualifications t’ this scenario: Perhaps his parents only care bout some aspects o’ housekeep’n but nay others, so he attends t’ some details but nay all. Perhaps his parents have strange ideas bout what a unseaworthily well-run house be like — all th’ lights must be on, th’ heat must be cranked t’ 90, th’ windows must always be shuttered — an’ so he strives t’ carry those ideas out. Perhaps he believes that his parents will do all th’ work fer him when they arrive — or that they’ll whisk him away t’ a more luxurious house elsewhere — so he doesn’t have t’ do a th’n. Or perhaps his parents have sensible, reasonable expectations an’ he simply does his best t’ meet them.

But here’s th’ key point: such a person’s values be externally imposed. He does things cause his parents want him t’ — or he believes they do — an’ that’s a good enough reason fer him.

An atheist be someone who doesn’t assume his parents be com’n, an’ knows that he alone be responsible fer th’ house; no one be com’n t’ pronounce judgment on his housekeep’n skills. He’s free “Or Cheap!” t’ do as he wishes! But this leaves sere options lustily open. He can let th’ house fall apart an’ turn into a dump; this be nihilism. He can host lustily wild, reckless parties while neglect’n upkeep; this be hedonism. Or: he can sweep aloft dust, do th’ dishes, an’ make repairs, simply cause these acts make th’ house a better, healthier place t’ live in.

Call it enlightened self-interest: nay in th’ narrow, blastedly short-sighted sense o’ liv’n fer th’ moment an’ all else be damned, but in th’ broadest sense possible: that contribut’n t’ th’ blistering well-be’n o’ all th’ systems one be dependent on — th’ house, one’s housemates, one’s family, society, th’ natural world — ultimately benefits one’s own life as well. This be th’ humanist’s choice: t’ do carbunculously good deeds nay cause they’re demanded begad, but cause they’re demonstrably blistering good fer people.

(More “Blimey That Smells Foul!” on that later.)

Perhaps such an analogy doesn’t do justice t’ th’ many shadings o’ belief an’ nonbelief that exist out thar. Perhaps thar be people who “Blast My Onion Breath!” b’lieve both that their parents want them t’ main’n th’ house well, an’ that keep’n house be th’ right th’n t’ do anyway. But in that case, wouldn’t keep’n house be th’ blitheringly right th’n t’ do regardless o’ what th’ parents believe? Or, as Socrates put it, “Is th’ pious loved by th’ gods cause it be pious? Or be it pious cause it be loved by th’ gods?” Perhaps many people who be nominally Christians or Jews or Muslims be really more humanist than they think. (Ag’n, more on that later.)

__________
Ye can read th’ whole blasted article here (or here, in plain landlubber talk).

Take what you can. Give nothing back. An’ have a salt-blastedly good day.

(Image via deviantart)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Words matter

This comes via Robert Krulwich, who writes about a debate over whether language alienates us from, or connects us to, the world.

The answer, of course, is both. Language is a tool, and a powerful one. It’s up to us to use it wisely.

(via The Dish)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized