Reading & Writing Articles
Pedant vs Pedant (22 Apr 2014 06:42pm)
I have spent much of the last 24 hours watching dozens of episodes of David Mitchell's SoapBox, a video-cast he did for a few years where he rants about minor issues—often hilariously. It made me realize that as much as I think that Robert Webb is brilliant, David Mitchell is why I am such a b...
Better Than English (13 Mar 2014 11:11am)
Almost two years ago, I wrote an article, Pena Ajena! It was based upon an article, 25 Handy Words That Simply Don't Exist In English. The title of my article refers to a Mexican Spanish phrase. Literally it means "grief of others," but idiomatically it means, "The embarrassment you feel watching s...
Jack London and Socialism (10 Mar 2014 11:10am)
I spent much of yesterday over at the Jack London State Historic Park. Not being much of a fan of his writing, I wasn't that keen on it. But it turned out to be fairly interesting. It was also a good excuse to walk ten miles through the woods. A lot is made of how the Londons (Jack and Charmian) en...
Kant in 90 Minutes Is Enough (24 Feb 2014 02:26pm)
After having a comment discussion with JMF about Kant, I realized that I was rather unclear about just what he had done. Kant is a lot like the blind men and the elephant: it's a wall! It's a snake! Kant wrote so much that it is hard to get your head around his totality. Being a mathematically incli...
You Are Allowed to Beg the Question (07 Feb 2014 03:35pm)
It has been a while since I've written anything about grammar. And on this wonderfully rainy day in the Bay Area, one could do worse than spend a little time enjoying our great language. For some time, I've wanted to discuss the phrase "beg the question." My interest in the phrase is that it is one ...
More Evil English With Palate and Palette and Pallet (28 Dec 2013 03:41pm)
What does your choice of restaurant say about your palate and your palette and your pallet? Is it important? Well, in speaking, it doesn't matter at all. But if you don't know the difference between these words, you may look ignorant in writing. And that's a shame. Because all of these words are pro...
Pronoun Trouble (08 Dec 2013 12:40pm)
I haven't written much about grammar recently and it has begun to bother me. A few of you will understand this: grammar is a great refuge for me. If politics or my personal life are getting to be too much, I can curl up with Fowler or a number of other great writing writers and escape it all. When I...
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo (09 Nov 2013 03:31pm)
I don't know how I missed this all these years. At some point last week, Chris Hayes mentioned the sentence "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." Being the kind of guy I am, I went crazy with it. I even dreamed about it. It's all syntax so it was very much like the kind ...
Editing Cranky Girl Limerick (01 Nov 2013 03:36pm)
Over the weekend, I found this Cranky Girl comic strip. I'd never seen it and now that I've looked into it, it's pretty good. Of course, it's not quite up to Pearls Before Swine. (Rat is my hero!) What I was struck with was that it had a limerick in it. And it's not a bad one! I do think that Crys...
Econocentric (26 Jul 2013 08:14pm)
I coined a term today that I think I will find lots of uses for in the future. So I figured I would formally define it here: e∑con∑o∑cen∑tric     adjective     \ˌe-con-ō-ˈsen-trik\ a tendency to view other economic classes from the perspective of one's ...
The Color of Magic (22 Jul 2013 02:49pm)
After my experience of watching the wonderfully entertaining Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, I decided to read some of his work. So I picked up The Color of Magic, which is the first of the 39 book series (the 40th book will come out in a few months). At first, I was not disappointed. Pratchett is a...
Chris Kluwe Better Punter Than Writer (02 Jul 2013 09:43am)
Chris Kluwe is a punter for the Oakland Raiders. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by punters because their kicking legs went up so high. You've got to be flexible to do that kind of thing. And in a game as unrelentingly boring as football, the punters and kickers are kind of cool. But I had never ...
TV Machine (26 Jun 2013 10:45am)
I just saw an article over at Maddow Blog, Rachel Maddow on the TV Machine All Day. "TV machine"? I thought that was my phrase. I thought that I had come up with it independently. It is, after all, my kind of jokey philosophy. The Luddites, after all, were the Android programmers of their day. So I ...
Grammar Bullies (25 Jun 2013 08:39pm)
The following video by Matthew Rogers and Stephen Fry rather sums up my approach to writing. It reminded me of a time long ago when I allowed my father to read the first five chapters of my first novel. He gave it to his girl friend who considered herself quite erudite. She also hated me for reasons...
Grammar Problems Persist at Washington Post (19 Jun 2013 10:34am)
For a long time, I said nothing. I hid my true feelings. I resisted the impulse to scream, "Doesn't the Washington Post hire copy editors?!" Or even decent IT professionals, because the problem that most bugs me is more a technical problem than a grammar problem. And it is the kind of thing that oug...
Sardoodledom (30 May 2013 01:23pm)
Ladies and gentlemen: Victorien Sardou. He was a very popular playwright of the end of the 19th century in France. I have not read any of his plays, but as far as I can determine, he was good at his craft. But I can well see why other playwrights might not like him. He understood the art form perhap...
Two Bits (02 May 2013 05:55pm)
My sister called me the other night to ask about the phrase, "two bits." It is a phrase that I don't hear much anymore, but people of my father's generation used it all the time to refer to a quarter of a dollar. It seems kind of strange for us to use because one "bit" would be twelve and a half cen...
Insulting Ayn Rand (22 Apr 2013 12:22am)
I have major problems with Christopher Hitchens. One of the biggest is that he chose to use his incredible intellect for such trivial pursuits. But when he was right about something, I was on his side. And the fact is that he was right about quite a lot. Unfortunately, he used the last ten or so yea...
Let's Eat Grandma (15 Apr 2013 07:32pm)
Will sent me a link to this t-shirt vendor that has a shirt that reads, "Let's eat grandma. Let's eat, grandma. Punctuation saves lives." This, of course, is very much in keeping with Lynne Truss' fun book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. But as much as I find ...
Is Sarcasm Dead? (10 Apr 2013 12:19pm)
This is amusing. Yesterday, Jonathan Chait wrote an article about Michael Kelly who for less than a year was the editor of The New Republic. Chait worked under Kelly and remembers him foundly as students often remember their mentors. Kelly was apparently very protective of his young writers. But tha...
The Ethics of Precrime (07 Apr 2013 09:34pm)
I just read the Philip K. Dick short story "The Minority Report." I've seen the film that is based upon it a number of times before. But as with any written story, reading gives you time to think. In this case, I began to think about the metaphysics of precrime. For those of you unaware of the plot,...
The Op-Ed Page (31 Mar 2013 08:10pm)
Will asked me what an "OpEd" was—probably because I had used the term in an article that I'd written. It was a good question, because I had been asking myself the same question. Of course, I knew what an OpEd was, just like the Supreme Court knew what obscenity was: I knew it when I saw it. B...
Canoodle (28 Feb 2013 08:34am)
I'm a pretty clueless guy in a lot of ways. So when I saw the following CTV News blooper, I immediately felt a kinship with the poor news anchorman. He was talking to the weather woman and mentioned that they might "canoodle" before she presented her forecast. She was shocked, "We're not going to be...
Righting Write (22 Feb 2013 08:11am)
Yesterday, Matt Yglesias wrote a sentence that needs to be shared, "I continue to think that conservatives are write to believe that the tax code should in fact favor the accumulation of production equipment..." I bring it up because Yglesias is a very smart man. He certainly isn't ignorant of the d...
Illiterate Howard Jarvis (09 Feb 2013 04:22pm)
This came in the mail today. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association is a vile organization started by a really vile and ignorant man—a man who has done more to hurt my home state than anyone other than maybe Ronald Reagan. And usually, these mailings that come every couple of weeks offend m...
Phrop (06 Jan 2013 05:19pm)
I was listening to the NPR show Says You! today. I quite like the show, but I don't go out of my way to listen to it. This is a little strange, because it is the perfect show for literary wannabes and pedants everywhere. The centerpiece of the show has one team try to guess which of the three defini...
Prophesy Prophecy (05 Jan 2013 07:58pm)
I've had this photo on my wall since September. There are hundreds of other pictures with other Libyans holding up the exact same message. These people probably do not speak English, but they know what they want to say. I assume they are all copying the same text because of the repetition of the sam...
Happy New Year (and Grammar) (31 Dec 2012 05:34pm)
As anyone with the smallest amount of knowledge of me knows: I do not like holidays. What's more: I take pleasure in dumping all over holidays whenever I get the chance. I'm not particularly against New Years, although I don't celebrate it. At least, not any more than I do every day: getting shit-fa...
Vatican Library (16 Dec 2012 08:03pm)
Tonight 60 Minutes reported on the Vatican Library. This is what I love about religion: history! And some of the illuminated manuscripts are stunning. Check this out, it is really good: ...
Pleaded Vs. Pled (13 Dec 2012 06:57pm)
Recently, there have been a lot of articles about people who pleaded guilty to this or that crime. This came as a bit of a shock to me, because I'm a careful reader, and I just assumed that they pled guilty. You know me: the practical pedant. And this issue is very clear. Either of these constructio...
Pun Virus Spreading at Young Turks (07 Dec 2012 11:45am)
The Young Turks is a hugely popular internet based news show. It is very good and I like to stay up on what they are talking about. In general, I find them very well informed on issues and their positions are fairly compatible with my own, even if they tend to be a tad more conservative. There are t...
Help Bobby Jindal! (06 Dec 2012 10:07am)
Bobby Jindal has published an OpEd in Politico today, Cliff Diving. In it, he says, "Today it's the fiscal cliff, but that surely will not be the end of it; next year it will be the fiscal mountain, after that the fiscal black hole, and after that fiscal Armageddon." The politics don't really matter...
Gray World Without Poetry (03 Dec 2012 11:18am)
It doesn't much matter which side of the political spectrum an education bureaucrat comes from, they want to destroy the essence of education. The reason is very simple: they want to create workers rather than human beings. Children are not taught to read so they can spend time with the greatest mi...
Veterans Day (11 Nov 2012 04:42pm)
I honor the service that individuals make to the collective. However, when Veterans Day rolls around, I have a hard time thinking of service. Instead, I think about sacrifice—even more: useless sacrifice. Almost without exception (and even those exceptions are muddled), wars are nothing but tu...
Luxembourg: You're Next (04 Nov 2012 08:15am)
Britain launched their first recorded invasion at the end of second century as part of a Roman campaign against what is today France. This was the start of a pattern: Britain has invaded France more than any other country. This is all the more impressive when you consider that Britain has invaded mo...
Stop Me If You've Heard This (19 Oct 2012 08:49am)
I just read a fun little book, Stop Me If You've Heard This by Jim Holt. It is subtitled "A history and philosophy of jokes" but I don't know how accurate that is. It does have some history and philosophy, but it is more like a personal essay about jokes. It is really good: you can ask my friends wh...
Newsweek's Dead; Long Live the Beast! (18 Oct 2012 08:06am)
The Daily Beast reports that Newsweek is going to stop producing its print version. Tina Brown, one of the top generals in the war to destroy our culture, puts a positive spin on this. They, "Are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it." That is a load off my mind. After all, without Newsw...
Kristen McHenry Tackles the Prose Poem (16 Oct 2012 09:30pm)
Kristen McHenry has just published two new poems. And by "new" I don't just mean that they are new to me; she is working in a new form. Her work up to now has been traditional "lined" verse. My earlier article on her has a good example. These two new pieces are prose poems. You can check out the po...
Djuna Barnes (16 Oct 2012 11:58am)
If you're like me, you don't know Djuna Barnes as a poet. But as you can see on the left, she was also an artist. And a prose writer and many things more. However, unlike in Paris at Midnight, where I discovered her, there is no evidence that she was a serious jitterbugger. I read through quite a l...
Newsweek Offers Crap on Crap (10 Oct 2012 05:05pm)
Newsweek is out! And what is the news on the cover? You can read it in the image on the left: "Heaven Is Real." What you can't see in this image is the subtitle, "When a neurosurgeon found himself in a coma, he experienced things he never thought possible—a journey to the afterlife." It is wri...
Winner-Take-All Politics (07 Oct 2012 12:15pm)
In a lot of discussions of income inequality, people note that the huge rise in inequality over the last 35 years happened in both before and after tax income. Thus, like Estragon in Waiting for Godot, they claim, "Nothing to be done!" Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson in Winner-Take-All Politics dis...
Matt Yglesias Pretends to Be Intellectual (04 Oct 2012 07:34pm)
If there is one thing I can spot from 3000 miles away it is intellectual pretense. Why? Because I am the fucking intellectual pretense master! And if I am willing to call myself on it, you can bet that I'm going to call that twitter happy mother fucker Matt Yglesias on his! Yglesias starts an other...
Death to Pagination and Wives Who Don't Love Fowler (04 Oct 2012 05:20pm)
If I could have a beer with anyone on the internet, tonight it would be Farhad Manjoo. I know what you're thinking, "You mean that guy who says he divorced his wife because she puts two spaces after the end of a sentence?" Yep. He's my kind of guy! Don't pooh-pooh this behavior. If I could choose b...
The Fine Print (27 Sep 2012 06:21pm)
Earlier this year, David Cay Johnston published a new book, The Fine Print. After reading his last book, Free Lunch, I just couldn't take 300 more pages about how the corporations game the system. I did, however, scan the book, reading some parts of it in depth. It's a good book, of course, Johnsto...
Catastrophize (25 Sep 2012 01:19pm)
Anyone who likes words can't help but make up new ones. This isn't that unusual. Even people who don't value words do it. Sarah Palin, word salad tosser extraordinaire, notably coined the word "refudiate." I do it all the time. About ten years ago, I coined the word "catastrophize." It turns out, i...
The Myth of Choice (23 Sep 2012 02:42pm)
I just read The Myth of Choice by Kent Greenfield. Unlike Free Will by Sam Harris, this book looks at the question of choice from a higher vantage—particularly the law. This is no surprise given that Greenfield is a law professor who clerked for Justice David Souter. Greenfield's primary argu...
Schooled by Mad Citizen Kane (19 Sep 2012 01:48pm)
Yes, yes, I've already written about Mad Kane before. But she deserves at least two articles because she won the Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor, which was presented by Bob Freaking Newhart. This is the coolest thing that has ever happened to anyone I know and I know some pretty cool and fam...
Strange Sounds in the Echo Chamber (15 Sep 2012 09:14pm)
Capt. Fogg over at Human Voices has written an amusing article about a telephone survey he did. I suspect that you've had one of these that appear not to be a survey but an advertisement. "Would you vote for Representative Popular if you knew that he ate live kittens? What about if you knew that he ...
Monsignor Quixote (14 Sep 2012 03:57pm)
There is a great deal of moral thought in Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote. I just want to finish off my thoughts on this novel, which I discussed in video form a couple of weeks ago. In modern America, I think of Christians as being selfish conservatives who think the poor are morally inferior. I...
A Late Night Babble (29 Aug 2012 12:22pm)
I've been experimenting for months, trying to create videos that don't totally suck. And I am making progress. I still don't feel comfortable releasing anything I've worked hard on. But I've decided to start releasing videos that I just throw together. It's typical internet stuff, except that they d...
Mad Citizen Kane (21 Aug 2012 11:18pm)
Via Crooks & Liars, I discovered Mad Kane's Blog. Actually, she has a few—I linked to her humor blog. I haven't spent much time with the blog, but it seems to circle around Madeleine Begun Kane's love of limericks. The limerick is an interesting art form. If you throw out all those that u...
Infinite Crazy (21 Aug 2012 12:04pm)
Recently, Jamie Peck over at The Gloss decided to see if she could get away with being topless in New York. It resulted in this picture: What is most remarkable about this picture is the book: Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace's masterpiece sort of about the search for a video tape that is so fu...
David Rakoff (18 Aug 2012 04:02pm)
David Rakoff died last week on 9 August 2012. He was 47 with a long history of cancer. Today, This American Life did a show dedicated to him. I always really liked him. Listening to him you could tell that he wasn't terribly comfortable in his skin. This I understand. At the end of the program, Thi...
Heart of Darkness as Frame Story (17 Aug 2012 11:46pm)
I just read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness again—the first time I've read it since I was forced to in college. My reason for reading it was that I had remembered that it was written almost entirely in quotes. In other words, that the story itself was the story of a guy telling the story tha...
Blond On Blonde (15 Aug 2012 11:50am)
Recently, I wrote about female TV conservatives who are blond. Immediately, the phone rang. It was Andrea. "That's not how you spell blond," she said, but with an -e on the end of it. "It is blond without an -e for men, and blond with an -e for women." If it weren't for Andrea's large stockpile of...
The Art of the Opening (04 Aug 2012 10:05pm)
I know what's been on your mind this last week, "Did Frank read Foucault's Pendulum last weekend like he said he would?" Alas, no. Well, a little. I read the first 15 pages. Twice! Let me explain. I don't have a copy of The Name of the Rose, but as I recall, it started well. William and Adso are w...
RIP: Gore Vidal (03 Aug 2012 12:16am)
I got a few minutes today, so I went looking for video of Gore Vidal, who died the night before last. He was very important to me when I was a teenager—and beyond. I particularly remember his essay Sex Is Politics, which he published in Playboy in 1974. (Ah, for the days when intellectuals cou...
Making Don Quixote Dramatic (24 Jul 2012 05:04pm)
I just finished reading two translations of the first part of Don Quixote and I've begun to see it in a whole new way, at least in terms of theatrical production. Cervantes does something that was greatly improved upon by later writers: he brings a number of subplots together with the main plot. It ...
Conservative Quixotes (23 Jul 2012 07:17pm)
All-star fucktard, Jonah Goldberg has something to say about the United Nations. You know conservatives: they don't like the United Nations because it represents the promise of cooperation. And it goes against this ridiculous notion of American Exceptionalism. This is why conservatives get apoplecti...
Fitzgerald on Rich Boys (20 Jul 2012 11:18am)
In Paul Krugman's column today, he quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella The Rich Boy—twice! That's one of the reasons that I like Krugman: he's not only an astute political observer, he's also an interesting and knowledgeable guy. Anyone who quotes Fitzgerald (other than about second acts...
The Bane Also Rises (17 Jul 2012 02:35pm)
Rush Limbaugh said today, "Do you think that it is accidental, that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in [The Dark Knight Rises] is named Bane?" Here's the whole 4 minute bit: The problem, of course, is that this comment shows a complete lack of fami...
Raffel's Unique Don Quixote (16 Jul 2012 12:50pm)
As I read through Don Quixote, I try to mix it up in terms of translations. As readers know, my favorite translation is Putnam for various reasons, but most especially because his translation is distinctly better than previous translations and no translation since is distinctly better than his. None...
Chris Hayes' Pen (14 Jul 2012 03:55pm)
I do a great deal of writing, and I prefer using a pen. In fact, I find it easiest to write fiction when I'm not in front of a computer. And I am very picky about the pens I use. I'll use anything, but if I'm going to get into the groove, I need a good pen. What does that mean? The pen must posses t...
And Shakespeare Wrote "And" (07 Jul 2012 10:37pm)
Here is a quote I got from The Great Divergence. It is Willford I. King in an article for American Economic Review: [H]ow many germs you consumed at this morning's breakfast, or how many times per page Shakespeare used the word "and," rest assured that the data are awaiting your examination. Two th...
Twisted Stretched (28 Jun 2012 11:48pm)
I was recently reminded of Jonathan Kellerman's novel Twisted. It came up in a conversation about Ayn Rand's novels. There are many things to dislike about them: bad plots and ridiculous characters come easily to mind. But without doubt the most annoying thing about her novels is how she puts her ph...
Foxy Grandpa and Walter Johnson (27 Jun 2012 12:58pm)
I am researching the great baseball pitcher Walter Johnson for a book I'm writing. This involves reading Henry W. Thomas' Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train, which is the only really good biography of Johnson. The book relates some newspaper accounts of his early years that seem to amuse Thomas, b...
We Are All Change—and Not (20 Jun 2012 06:31pm)
I just read Jerzy Kosinski's novella Being There. Its studied deepness is strangely compelling. The book is very short: 140 pages with loads of white space. I'm a slow reader, but I think it took me less time to read it than it had taken to watch the filmed version. The film is very true to the n...
Great Brain Still Great (19 Jun 2012 09:02pm)
When I was a kid, I loved John D. Fitzgerald's The Great Brain series. So I thought I would revisit it to see if I had any taste whatsoever when I was a youngster. I couldn't find the original The Great Brain nor my favorite, The Great Brain at the Academy. But I did find More Adventures of the Grea...
Dormouse is a Dormouse (11 Jun 2012 07:23pm)
Is it necessary to note that a rat is not a mouse? Or a squirrel? Yet it seems to be news that the dormouse is not a mouse. Admittedly, if rats were called ratmice, there might be more confusion. And rightly so! But there are 29 species of dormouse. What is going on?! There are a couple of things...
People Make Typos; People Can Stop Them! (06 Jun 2012 11:05pm)
Joseph Stiglitz has written an excellent article, The Price of Inequality over at Project Syndicate. He argues that economic inequality makes the economic system less stable. I've been seeing this point argued a lot more over the past year. It should come as no surprise that I find the argument comp...
Kafofell? Kerfuffle! (03 Jun 2012 02:49pm)
Like Michael Steele, I like the word kerfuffle. Unlike Michael Steele, I know how to pronounce it: Yes, as a matter of fact, I am a pedant. ...
Pena Ajena! (24 May 2012 08:45pm)
So Bad So Good published an interesting article a few weeks back called 25 Handy Words That Simply Donít Exist In English. It says, "We look at 25 words that simply donít exist in the English langauge (and yet after reading this list, youíll wish they did!)" It is a fun article, but I have a few tho...
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing (15 May 2012 05:37pm)
Elmore Leonard is not one of my favorite writers, but I will allow that he has talent. And if forced to choose between Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Danielle Steele. and Leonard, I'd pick Leonard. Faint praise, I know. It's no wonder that so many of his novels have become films, because that is about...
Um... (24 Apr 2012 04:36pm)
Last week, I read Michael Erard's exceptional Um... Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What they Mean. It is the kind of book that changes you. At least, it does so if you care about language. Regardless, the subject of the book was very much on my mind in the months leading up to reading it....
Sarah and Kory (19 Apr 2012 11:43pm)
Hidi-ho gentle readers. For once, I haven't been writing here because I've been in a good mood. Fancy that. Now, that doesn't mean that I've been happy by real people standards. Every day starts with my lying in bed hoping the day will go away. When this doesn't work, I put on They Might Be Giants[...
Cardenio (08 Apr 2012 07:57pm)
The first philosopher I ever read was Arthur Schopenhauer. I have no idea why. However, his thinking seems to have infected me. I keep thinking about his basic view of the futility of life. Basically: I keep doing the things I do so that I can keep doing the things that I do. I eat today so I will b...
Postmodern Comedy (28 Mar 2012 11:52am)
People often ask me what postmodernism is, give that I refer to it a lot. This is an uncomfortable question because I use the term because I think it is largely meaningless, except as it is that thing that came after modernism. In general, I think those in the field mean to imply a lack of any absol...
Story Spoilers (26 Mar 2012 12:38pm)
I prefer to know the plot of a story before I read it. There are a couple of reasons for this. On a visceral level, I don't like uncertainty; I like to know where I'm going. More important, however, is that on a professional level, I'm pretty good at anticipating plots. So when I'm reading a novel f...
Art is Not "Good" or "Bad" (22 Mar 2012 03:02pm)
I was going to write at length about Wallace Shawn's Essays, which I recently read. Unfortunately, I've now forgotten what I was going to write about. It is an excellent book and well worth a read. You can check out one of his essays (not in the book) over at Huffington Post: "Why I Call Myself a So...
Totebagger (02 Mar 2012 10:08am)
I learned a new word today from Atrios: Totebagger. The word (actually "tote-bagger") is defined by Urban Dictionary as, "A left-winger, an antonym of 'teabagger,' from the tote bags offered as premiums for donations to public TV and radio stations." This definition is, as is typical of Urban Dictio...
Then and Than (29 Feb 2012 08:56pm)
Reading slowly has its advantages. In general, I'm a good copy editor. And I know what you're thinking: if that's so, why are there so many typos on your website? There are two issues here. First, there is the cleaning paradox: people never see the spot you cleaned, only the spot you missed. In oth...
This is Not Cervantes (24 Feb 2012 02:23pm)
I've written before about Melveena McKendrick's exceptional biography, Cervantes. I just want to finish it off by providing a few quotations that I thought were very good. Probably the most important thing I learned about Cervantes in this book is that the portrait of him (seen on the left), is not...
The Down and Down on the Up and Up (22 Feb 2012 11:53am)
Many years ago, This American Life did an episode about things we know that we don't. In particular, there was a guy (show producer Alex Blumberg) who, when he was a kid, got the idea that Nielsen Families were people named Nielsen. The TV industry used them to gauge the popularity of shows because ...
The Redemptionless Story (17 Feb 2012 12:12pm)
The great affliction of the 20th century was the redemption story. You know it, because you've seen it during every episode (and I do mean every episode) of E! True Hollywood Story and Biography. Mr. Neutral does something bad and becomes Mr. Bad. Mr. Bad stops doing bad thing and becomes Mr. Redeem...
The Other BrontŽs (14 Feb 2012 05:35pm)
I decided, for reasons not all together clear to me, that I ought to read a little Anne BrontŽ. I certainly wasn't going to read any Lord Byron wannabe poetry, so that left me with her two novels: Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Andrea told me that the latter was better and so I picked u...
Fragments of Reality (10 Feb 2012 09:10pm)
William Gibson's brilliance was to take the sex out of William S. Burroughs. For years, I thought that Gibson had combined Burroughs and science fiction, but this isn't true because there really is no science fiction in his writing. Sure: he pretends to write science fiction, but it is really all ab...
Quixotic Justification (10 Feb 2012 07:32pm)
The word quixotic means "foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals." However, when I think of Don Quixote, this is not what I think. Instead, I think of wonderfully twisted logic to justify crazy behavior. There is no better example of this than in Chapter 21 of Don Quixote. In it, ...
Lope and Cervantes: the Feud (09 Feb 2012 08:06pm)
Back in 1980, Professor Melveena McKendrick wrote a stunning biography of Miguel de Cervantes. I went through several biographies before landing on this treasure that is written in a more lively and engaging style than most modern novels. I'm no expert, so I don't know if the research in the book is...
A Charming Fuck Variation (08 Feb 2012 08:40pm)
When I recently discussed fucktard, I was sad to see that the tard ending was short for retard. (I know! I'm dense! Go read someone else if you don't like it!) Up to that point, I had thought that fucktard was a charming linguistic invention. It is true that retard is not generally a word used to de...
All is Clarity (30 Jan 2012 09:29pm)
A long time ago, I wrote poetry, just like too many sensitive young people. But I was marginally successful, reaching the height of my art with a couple of things published in Andrei Codrescu's Exquisite Corpse (now just known as The Corpse). But in looking back at my work, on balance, I would have ...
Some Thoughts on Fucktard (28 Jan 2012 11:21pm)
There are currently 403 definitions of "fucktard" on the Urban Dictionary. Of course, many of them are like number 402: The fucktard that wrote definition 201 is a fucktard. A fucktard is anybody whom makes up their mind before hearing the issue at hand. Love that "whom" don't you? Just so you know...
How Good is Scott Turow? (25 Jan 2012 06:34pm)
Scott Turow is about the only modern "Best Selling" novelist who I will read. I give him credit for teaching me how to write a mystery/suspense novel, and to some extent how to write a novel at all. So while in the Hong Kong Airport, I found myself without anything to read. So I picked up a copy of ...
Full Sentences Inside Parenthetical Enclosures (23 Jan 2012 09:54am)
Because I am a freak, I suffer some considerable anxiety about the proper way of dealing with complete sentences inside of parenthetical enclosures. Most of this is purely aesthetic. For example, I hate constructs such as "XX XX (XX XX.)." I just hate the period-parenthesis-period. Or anything simil...
And Lizzie Borden (21 Jan 2012 01:28pm)
This is something I hear a lot, "But isn't it wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction?" (When I read it, there is no conjunction at the beginning of that sentence.) And I always reply, "You learned that in grammar school, didn't you?" And they always respond in the affirmative. I don't know wh...
Carole Slade Saves Tobias Smollett (09 Dec 2011 09:11pm)
For years, I've noticed these special classics published and sold by Barnes & Noble. I've never bought one, probably because the bindings seemed to be poor. But yesterday, over at Treehorn Books, I found a used copy of their Don Quixote for $5—only half its already low cover price of $9.95. I ...
Lucky's Spam (06 Dec 2011 02:17am)
I was cleaning out spam earlier today and I noticed another bout of random acts of spamness: "If youíre not acceptable at this ratio, afresh either you are traveling afterwards the amiss projects or youíre angle and presentation abilities charge a tune-up..." I now see them in a different light, how...
Word Processing (25 Oct 2011 07:55pm)
I found a delightful little poem in The Grammar Bible by Strumpf and Douglas. I plan to write a write more about little gems I've found in this fine book. But for now, here is the poem of unknown origin: I have a lovely spelling check That came with my PC, Witch plainly marks, four my revue, Miss t...
The Sentence as Will and Idea (13 Oct 2011 05:46pm)
I just read Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence. It is an interesting and often enjoyable book. Fish writes beautifully and is very funny. Unfortunately, his whole philosophy is utterly contrary to my own untrained, intuitive approach. Yes, it is true that I love reading about writing and grammar...
There, There, There (04 Oct 2011 02:02pm)
I have always been a poor speller, although I've improved greatly over the last decade. However, because I am a careful writer, I am less likely than most to write an incorrect homonym like "beat red." This must be a point of pride to many intelligent bad spellers. In general, spelling is arbitrary....
Don Quixote and the Death of Culture (18 Aug 2011 12:04pm)
In Chapter VI of Don Quixote, the protagonist's friends decide to burn the chivalric books that they believe were responsible for his insanity. In this chapter, roughly 32 books are specifically mentioned—books such as Adadis de Gaula and The Knight Platir. In Putnam's translation, he provides...
Don Quixote Abridged: Putnam's Omissions (14 Aug 2011 05:12pm)
I have been reading Samuel Putnam's The Portable Cervantes, which contains an abridged version of Don Quixote. I hadn't thought about this until I came to the Chapters XI Ė XIV—"A Pastoral Interlude"—because the novel had been complete up to that point. It turns out that it is only sligh...
Quelle Surprise! (09 Jul 2011 07:56pm)
Today, on his blog, Paul Krugman wrote: And quelle surprise [sic], as Yves Smith would say, the economy is sputtering. When I first read this, I thought he meant to write, "quell surprise," as an ironic, "Stop the surprise!" But this was not what he meant. The first thing I did was to see if there ...
Don Quixote in Pieces on the Ground (02 Jul 2011 01:58pm)
Don Quixote is roughly a half-million words long. The average modern novel is about 100,000 words. My first novel was 60,000 words. My current novel was supposed to 120,000 words, but it is becoming clear that it will have to be roughly double that length. The point is that Don Quixote is long. It i...
Clarity, Convenience, and the Serial Comma (01 Jul 2011 02:35pm)
Jay Ward created Hoppity Hooper, George of the Jungle and Rocky and Bullwinkle. Confused? If you didn't know all these shows, you might think that "George of the Jungle and Rocky and Bullwinkle" somehow modify "Hoppity Hooper." Or you might think that that the three shows Jay Ward created were "Hopp...
Anthony Weiner Pronounces Name Wrong (08 Jun 2011 01:07pm)
When Anthony Weiner spoke at Congressional Correspondents' Dinner, I thought he was very funny. This is especially true when he spoke about living with his last name. It is at the beginning of this 12 minute talk (which is worth watching in full): Weiner is wrong about how his name ought to be pr...
Fowler V. Strunk&White (26 May 2011 11:42am)
A reader wrote to asked how Fowler compared to Strunk & White's Elements of Style. I wrote back cavalierly saying that Fowler was fun—implying that S&W was not. That was unfair because I tend to find any grammar book fun. I am not the kind of man who hunts for grammatical errors in his...
Everybody Sings the Body Electric (24 May 2011 09:52pm)
In 1855, Walt Whitman self-published the first version of Leaves of Grass. This version of the book was only 95 pages long and did not include the poem "I Sing the Body Electric." It would have to wait for the 120 page, 1871 edition. (The final edition was 438 pages in 1891.) Don't believe the many ...
Writing is Not Grammatical Analysis (16 May 2011 06:22pm)
As I was browsing through Strunk and White[1] for an upcoming article, I noted some examples of the "wrong"' way to write a sentence and the "right" way. And, of course, I agreed; even though I am not a "Strunk and White" man[2], it is hard not to agree with them on most matters grammatical. There i...
Kory Stamper is Ugly? (16 May 2011 07:53am)
I got an email message from the guy who has the name and the address that was listed at Internic for korystamperisugly.com. He said, "I would highly appreciate it if you would remove the below post from your website. That domain is not related to me in any way, shape or form. I also do not appreciat...
What in the Hell is Emily Brewster Doing Anyway? (14 May 2011 10:53pm)
About a month ago, I sent a letter to Merriam-Webster because a reader mentioned that Kory Stamper might now be a Full Editor (whatever that is) and no longer an Associate Editor. Hi- A few months ago, I wrote a cheeky article about the fact that Kory Stamper had changed her hair color. I didn't t...
"Why Ms. Brewster: You're beautiful!" (26 Feb 2011 10:53pm)
Ever since writing Kory Stamper Lightens Hair! I have been getting a lot of visitors searching for information about Ms. Stamper's collegue, Emily Brewster. And the searches are not as neutral as one would expect; I'm getting a surprising number of visitors to the site who are searching for things ...
Librarians: Be Afraid; Be Very Afraid (11 Feb 2011 05:24pm)
When a writer is poor, he makes great use of whatever free libraries are available to him. In my case, it is the Sonoma County Library, which is, as they say, "Free to use... not free to operate." And I do donate to the cause—just not anything close to what I get in return. I figure that rough...
Zombies (and Kory Stamper Fans) are Attacking! (11 Jan 2011 06:36pm)
When I was a kid, no film frightened me like The Last Man on Earth. Most people had a similar reaction to Night of the Living Dead, George Romero's excellent fright-fest (which itself was based at least upon Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, if not its first film adaptation—that Matheson c...
Kory Stamper Lightens Hair! (23 Dec 2010 07:13pm)
For those of you soulless masses who lead unimaginably boring lives, I will explain that Kory Stamper is an editor at Merriam-Webster. I have a terrible crush on her as well as her two colleagues at the dictionary company: Associate Editor Emily Brewster and Editor-At-Large Peter Sokolowski. How do ...
Amongst Us, Among Them (19 Nov 2010 12:12pm)
Based upon the title of this article, regular readers of this site will most likely think that I am here to kill off "amongst." Or maybe "among" if I am in one of those moods. But both assumptions are wrong. I think there is good reason to keep both words around—the same reason that we keep "a...
Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences (05 Oct 2010 08:23pm)
Janis Bell's Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences is a grammar book for people who don't like grammar but still must occasionally write. I've read it at least two times—and I don't even own it! I had been planning to write about it; on my first read, I found that I disagreed with her on a few issues....
Practicable Practical (25 Sep 2010 11:29am)
Some time ago, I promised that I would write about Janis Bell's Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences. And I haven't yet. And I won't today. The truth is that I had an idea for an article about this book and some disagreements I had with it. Unfortunately, I never wrote them down. So now I've read the book ...
Don't Read German, But My Ancient Greek is Great! (23 Sep 2010 09:48pm)
So here I am reading "Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and Real" in Philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, translated by Belfort Bax and Bailey Saunders. And it is well translated: very clear English with not a hint of German syntax. Then: bam! Schopenhauer starts to discuss the ideality...
El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote De La Mancha! (01 Sep 2010 12:25pm)
Yesterday, I dropped into Twice Told Books in Guerneville, California—a very cool little store that just happens to be be for sale for just $25,000. This sounds like a deal to me, and if anyone wants to loan me $15,000, I think I can make a go of it. (Or if you want to buy it, you can contact ...
On Evil by Terry Eagleton (16 Aug 2010 10:32pm)
When I checked out On Evil from the library, the librarian asked me, "Do you believe in it?" I stared blankly for a moment before realizing that she was referring to "evil." I gave her my best intellectual answer, "I guess it's definitional." And then I added that I might have more to say on the sub...
Palindrone (08 Aug 2010 06:57pm)
If I remember anything from the 2008 Presidential Campaign, it is Sarah Palin answering questions. She was easy to fear, but hard to hate. She always seemed to me like a small animal in the middle of the road not sure where to run to escape a fast-approaching car. Much later, when she spoke more coh...
Enunciating my Thoughts About Annunciate (03 Aug 2010 11:53pm)
Earlier this evening, I sent out some email that contained the following sentence, "Paul Krugman wrote a column that I think is really insightful and enunciates a lot of the frustration that I feel about the Obama administration." But before I did, I spent a half-hour fretting over whether to use th...
spare me your teen-aged angst (26 Jul 2010 06:36pm)
My friend Andrea and I were discussing self-consciously intellectual writers and so naturally E. E. Cummings came up. We agreed that he mostly sucked, but she promised to send me two poems that she thought were okay. As a kind of header, but perhaps more of a challenge, she wrote, "Life's not a par...
Walter Starkie's Don Quixotes (25 Jul 2010 04:12pm)
I have never seen the unabridged version, so I don't know that the unabridged version is anything but a completion of it. In fact, it seems reasonable to assume that the abridged version is just a subset of the unabridged version; and thus, Starkie did not translate Don Quixote more than once....
On How You Had To Be Really Cool To Not Be a Victorian Writer In 1937 (15 Jul 2010 04:31pm)
I am in the middle of reading E. T. Bell's Men of Mathematics. It was written in 1937, but frankly, it could have been written in 1887. The thinking and style are so Victorian. I'm sure I will have more to say about Bell's thinking at a later timeófor now, take my word he has a simplistic, highly ro...
The Prologue of Don Quixote (15 Jun 2010 04:12pm)
It may come as a surprise to many that Ingmar Bergman's almost three-hour-long Scenes from a Marriage was a heavily edited theatrical release of what was originally a six-part mini-series that is five hours long. Five hours! It may also surprise many that a pretentious twat like me has never seen it...
Our Mutual Friend (01 Jun 2010 04:06pm)
Just to show that an evening spent with H W Fowler's Modern English Usage can be dangerous, I am now going to spend a little time with the word mutual. Because I am a product of the United States where the only things that really matter are commodities, my first and most profound connection to this ...
Waiting for Beckett (07 Apr 2010 12:38am)
I continue to wrestle with the contextualization of art—especially my art—even though I am getting better at not caring. If I were to create a beautiful table, there would be a shared context for that table: it's a table. No one would question the rounded corners or intricately designed ...
Multiple Drafts (03 Apr 2010 11:37pm)
You can see why I write a lot of drafts: they don't improve very much from one to the next....
First Draft Fear (03 Apr 2010 11:09pm)
Kristen McHenry has made a list of her fears. One of them is fear of someone reading my first draft. By this, I must assume that either her second drafts are final, or she is not afraid of someone reading her second drafts, or—and most troubling, she simply forgot to list the drafts that she f...
About to Read Don Quixote (21 Feb 2010 06:55pm)
Gentle reader: you already know that this article on Don Quixote—the product of my eccentric intellect—is intended to be the greatest article I could possibly write. Unfortunately, it will probably suck; but I urge you onward nonetheless. The problem is not me, you see, but Miguel de Cer...
Francois Rabelais (08 Feb 2010 12:02pm)
I have three translations of Gargantua & Pantagruel, and the best by far is the one in Complete Works of Rabelais, translated by Jacques Le Clercq. If you are up for it, it is worth a read; it pre-dates Don Quixote by roughly 70 years....
J. D. Salinger Dies 19 June 1965 at Age 46 (28 Jan 2010 10:16pm)
It is surprising that the death of J. D. Salinger should get so much press this week when he died over 45 years ago—on the publication of his last short story in The New Yorker. Okay; so maybe his heart was still beating and maybe he was continuing to be an asshole to his wife, but as far as ...
Living the Anti-Life (11 Jan 2010 06:15pm)
I get great pleasure from accumulating information. This is just because I want to become a better person. I see myself as a great work of anti-art: I will try to become my ideal until I die, and then it will be for nothing more than the joy I had while doing it. Senseless beauty and random acts of ...
Not the Bible (11 Jan 2010 06:09pm)
It was not the Bible that I was reading: it was Gary Taylor's exquisitely fun Reinventing Shakespeare. I will be writing about it soon; I had to re-supply my stock of book darts because of this book. (I don't get any money for that link; I just think that book darts are one of the greatest invention...
Spreading the Word in Mexico (11 Jan 2010 06:04pm)
When I was in Mexico recently a few people asked me if I was a padre—"a priest" one helpful questioner translated for me. I like the idea of people thinking that I'm a man of the Word. Yes, it is true that my spiritual beliefs are what people charitably called atheistic. Yes, I am a hopeless m...
Asphalt as Metaphor (03 Jan 2010 11:42am)
Yes, I know. But I like the asphalt metaphor; what can I say?...
Non-Reversible Errors (03 Jan 2010 11:39am)
I have long felt that Scott Turow taught me how to write a novel. In particular, I experienced an epiphany while reading his third novel Pleading Guity. It was probably just that it was the third novel of his that I had read, and that I had figured out his tricks. Although I have previously thought ...
Snarky (02 Jan 2010 11:14pm)
I am of two thoughts about the word "snarky", and apparently everyone else is too. First, it seems like it used to mean testy. Second, it seems like it is now mostly used to mean sarcastically pithy. Dictionary.com states that it is, "Testy or irritable; short." And the Urban Dictionary says that it...
Philomel (12 Dec 2009 10:57pm)
In Greek mythology, Philomel and Procne are sisters. Procne's husband, King Tereus agrees to escort Philomel to Thrace on vacation. But you know how it is with Greek men: Tereus can't control himself. He kidnaps and rapes Philomel. But you know how it is with Greek women: Philomel can't keep her big...

Total Articles: 140