Source, the delightful Mark Smith in The Herald, who kindly included a large photo so you know him if you ever see him in real life. With thanks also to Prester for his succinct rebuttal.
Proper Old English (not like what the Chaucer Twitter accounts think is Old/Middle English)! With proper Old English rules of poetry! I love this.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in Anglo-Saxon meter, by Philip Craig Chapman-Bell. Via Etymonline on Facebook, who says “An Internet classic; but I can no longer find it where I first found it (Cathy Ball’s Old English reference pages).”
Incipit gestis Rudolphi rangifer tarandus
Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor –
Næfde þæt nieten unsciende næsðyrlas!
Glitenode and gladode godlice nosgrisele.
Ða hofberendas mid huscwordum hine gehefigodon;
Nolden þa geneatas Hrodulf næftig
To gomene hraniscum geador ætsomne.
Þa in Cristesmæsseæfne stormigum clommum,
Halga Claus þæt gemunde to him maðelode:
“Neahfreond nihteage nosubeorhtende!
Min hroden hrædwæn gelæd ðu, Hrodulf!”
Ða gelufodon hira laddeor þa lyftflogan –
Wæs glædnes and gliwdream; hornede sum gegieddode
“Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor,
Brad springð þin blæd: breme eart þu!”
Rendered literally into modern English:
Here begins the deeds of Rudolph, Tundra-Wanderer
Lo, Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer –
That beast didn’t have unshiny nostrils!
The goodly nose-cartilage glittered and glowed.
The hoof-bearers taunted him with proud words;
The comrades wouldn’t allow wretched Hrodulf
To join the reindeer games.
Then, on Christmas Eve bound in storms
Santa Claus remembered that, spoke formally to him:
“Dear night-sighted friend, nose-bright one!
You, Hrodulf, shall lead my adorned rapid-wagon!”
Then the sky-flyers praised their lead-deer –
There was gladness and music; one of the horned ones sang
“Lo, Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer,
Your fame spreads broadly, you are renowned!”
This has reminded me of the time my father-in-law, Peter, called my mom for some reason and she was sleeping (I think he forgot about the time difference, wouldn't be the first time...) and he introduced himself and she hung up the phone because she thought it was a wrong number, someone talking about pizza.
From John Allison's Scary Go Round for 12/23/2016:
I'm trying to reconcile two apparently-incompatible pieces of knowledge, while simultaneously admitting to a scandalously inadequate knowledge of British dialectology:
- "Flapping and voicing" (as in liter==leader and at all==ad all) is an American characteristic
- Eye dialect of British origin often has things like get out of it==geddadavit
I get that there's a class difference between the sort of people who pronounce the /t/ in Peter as a voiceless unaspirated stop (so that it almost sounds like "pizza" to Americans), and the sort of people who pronounce it as a glottal stop.
But where does get out==geddout come in? Is it that the glottal stoppers do flapping and voicing of intervocalic /t/ before word boundaries? That would provide part of the explanation for "innit". Or is get out==geddout a different group entirely?
There's doubtless an extensive literature on this question, probably going back to Henry Sweet, but I seem to have missed it somehow.
Update — Responding to Sidney Wood in the comments:
It's plausible that some of the settlers of North American brought flapping and voicing with them. What I'd like to understand, and don't, is the historical, geographical, and social interaction among flapping, voicing, glottalization, and deletion of non-onset /t/, and the relation to lenition phenomena for other places and manners of articulation.
And Jarek Weckworth offers a partial answer from Wells (1982: 324-5) — which I ought to have checked:
"Indeed, there is another variant which also has a strong claim to be considered 'typically Cockney', namely the voiced tap (T Voicing, vol. 1, 3.3.4) [r], as [ˈbʌɾə] butter, [ˈʃæəɾɪd] shouted. It is also common intervocalically across word boundaries where the syntactic linkage is close: [(ˈ)ʃʌɾˈʌp] shut up, [ˈgɒɾɪʔ] got it. The use of [ɾ] appears to be connected with the rate at which the person is speakiɾg, since [ɾ] does not occur in slow speech, in hesitation, or before pause. Interestingly, though, Sivertsen claims that this alveolar tap (or 'flap', as she calls it; she writes it [t̬]) is regarded by her Bethnal Green informants as 'the normal, "correct" variant' (1960: 119); she continues, 'the alveolar stop, at least when it is strongly affricated in [the environment 'V V], is looked upon as being too "posh" for a Cockney to use: [ˈbetˢə] better is "posh", [ˈbet̬ə] is normal, and [ˈbeʔə] is "rough"'."
From this it follows that it's in "competition" with glottalization in some positions. Some people would understand it as "free variation" but of course there isn't such a thing as free variation IRL. Maybe speech rate is indeed the main factor. I'm not aware of studies investigating this in London…
The Sivertsen reference is Eva Sivertsen, Cockney Phonology, Oslo Studies in English 8, 1960. Our library has a copy, which I look forward to reading.
I've also found out about Susan Fox, The New Cockney: New Ethnicities and Adolescent Speech in the Traditional East End of London, Springer 2015, which I've requested via interlibrary loan.
This morning I asked my grandson, LeoDaniel SoliRain (five years old), what he wants Santa Claus to bring him tonight. Without hesitation, he replied, "faidaman". My son Thomas Krishna, his wife Lacey Michelle, his daughter Samira Lea (LD's seven year old sister), and especially I were all perplexed.
I asked LD what a "faidaman" is. He repeated emphatically and clearly, "faidaman!" The four of us started to speculate: fighter man? fireman?
LD was getting frustrated, so in a burst of zoological erudition, he explained with great precision, "it's got eight legs and spins webs".
Whereupon light bulbs went off in our heads. (Sorry for the mixed-up metaphor, but people actually say that.)
I know I should be on my hiatus but this is something I really need to share with you all; those who are intermediate can relate. Some guy called Marco Benevides visually demonstrated what it’s like to only understand 80% of a text
Here is 98% comprehension
You live and work in Tokyo. Tokyo is a big city. More than 13 million people live around you. You are never borgle, but you are always lonely. Every morning, you get up and take the train to work. Every night, you take the train again to go home. The train is always crowded. When people ask about your work, you tell them, “I move papers around.” It’s a joke, but it’s also true. You don’t like your work. Tonight you are returning home. It’s late at night. No one is shnooling. Sometimes you don’t see a shnool all day. You are tired. You are so tired…
bold = uncomprehended 2%
Here is 95% comprehension
In the morning, you start again. You shower, get dressed, and walk pocklent. You move slowly, half- awake. Then, suddenly, you stop. Something is different. The streets are fossit. Really fossit. There are no people. No cars. Nothing. “Where is dowargle?” you ask yourself. Suddenly, there is a loud quapen—a police car. It speeds by and almost hits you. It crashes into a store across the street! Then, another police car farfoofles. The police officer sees you. “Off the street!” he shouts. “Go home, lock your door!” “What? Why?” you shout back. But it’s too late. He is gone.
bold = uncomprehended 5%
Here is 80% comprehension
“Bingle for help!” you shout. “This loopity is dying!” You put your fingers on her neck. Nothing. Her flid is not weafling. You take out your joople and bingle 119, the emergency number in Japan. There’s no answer! Then you muchy that you have a new befourn assengle. It’s from your gutring, Evie. She hunwres at Tokyo University. You play the assengle. “…if you get this…” Evie says. “…I can’t vickarn now… the important passit is…” Suddenly, she looks around, dingle. “Oh no, they’re here! Cripett… the frib! Wasple them ON THE FRIB!…” BEEP! the assengle parantles. Then you gratoon something behind you…
And this really sums up how ***** annoying it can be to be an intermediate speaker. To be able to get the basic of gist of what’s happening, but never be able to get any kind of finer detail. I don’t think I’ve seen such a good illustration of intermediacy in a long time.
This reminds me of how I found reading A Clockwork Orange an interesting way of practising reading when you don’t know all the vocabulary. I haven’t done the numbers, but I’d say the first paragraph is between 95% and 80%, maybe around 90% comprehension:
‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’ There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither. Well, what they sold there was milk plus something else. They had no licence for selling liquor, but there was no law yet against prodding some of the new vesches which they used to put into the old moloko, so you could peet it with velocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other vesches which would give you a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels and Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg. Or you could peet milk with knives in it, as we used to say, and this would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one, and that was what we were peeting this evening I’m starting off the story with.
The interesting thing is that, because the book is a fictional version of English, you can trust as a reader that the author will make the story somehow comprehensible even though you don’t initially understand some of the words. (Although the book has been out for a while and I’m sure someone has made a glossary by now, that wouldn’t have initially been available.)
Whereas with a book in a language you’re still learning, you’re used to understanding basically everything when reading in your first language, so sometimes you’re tempted to go look every single word up, which takes ages and makes the story less fun.
So reading Clockwork Orange many years ago was the thing that made me stop reading books in French with a dictionary in hand. Instead, I started reading a chapter or more at a time and then going and looking up a much shorter list - the words that had appeared often or importantly enough that I still remembered them and yet hadn’t managed to figure them out from context. It was much easier to retain these words because by the time I looked them up, I already remembered what they looked like in French and had formed a couple loose hypotheses about their meanings. The ones that didn’t stick in my mind by the end of the chapter, I probably wouldn’t retain them even if I did look them up.
And other deal breakers
There’s this very disappointing Reddit thread, titled “You’re on a date. What is the one thing the other person would have to say to make it an immediate deal-breaker?” My friend Rebecca asked me what some of mine were, and I remember thinking, “Well, shit, I am a kind and mega-tolerant soul. Bet you I will be able to think of two or three MAX.” Lolol.
(A caveat: I cannot speak for Rebecca, but I am All Too Aware that my very existence constitutes a deal breaker for all sorts of people. Somewhere someone is writing a similar list and at the top it just says “BEING LIKE ROSA.)
(Another caveat: the fact that the following does not include the real deal breakers such as being unkind or a racist or a bigot of any description means that these things go without saying.)
Some obvious ones, basic crowdpleasers:
- People who are only ever able to enjoy things in an Ironic Way
- 9/11 truther
- People who are the self-appointed Tell It Like It Is participants in any group
- Anyone who would EVER, EVER, do ANY FORM of Austin Powers impersonation
- People who warn you about their Dark Sense of Humour
- anyone who wants to show me lengthy youtube clips of anything.
Bizarrely specific stuff obviously based on bitter experience:
- People who you can see are too pleased about being Nimble
- men who are too serene from meditation
- People who say mean things about Justin Bieber like it’s an original observation
- Anyone who is still proud that they were a prefect
- Anyone who thinks a jester isn’t intrinsically embarrassing
- Men who make a big showy deal of brushing the tears from their eyes when they watch The Shawshank Redemption
- Anyone who sees a piano and plays chopsticks like it’s funny or a marker of talent,
- “Cares too much about coffee”,
- “TED Talks”
- someone who talks seriously about anarchy as a viable political solution
- anyone who would say foreign words the right way, like CWASSONG for croissant.
(There is some stuff which is too mean to write down here, but you can email me and ask me about it if you need.)
In the course of compiling this list, I stumbled upon what is perhaps my biggest and most pettiest deal breaker of all: PEOPLE WHO MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY LOVE READING/PEOPLE WHO GO ON AND FUCKING ON ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY LOVE THE FEEL/WEIGHT/SMELL OF A BOOK.
You guys. This is the big one. I did not know how true it was until I wrote it down. It is my worst. I don’t why it is my worst but it is. It is the fucking pits. Remember when e-readers first came out and we all wanted to kill ourselves because there was always some ghastly person holding forth about how TECHNOLOGY could never replace THE TEXTURE OF THE PRINTED PAGE? Jesus. E-readers are useful and good and you can go on holiday with them and how is this even up for discussion? Remember this? Also THIS? Fuhhhhhhhhhh. Full-on deal breaker. If I had to be on a date with someone and they started waxing all lyrical about The Smell and Feel Of A Book and being Transported Into Another World and how sick it is to be an introvert, I would call for the bill immediately, and then after that I would make myself invisible so that I could go up to this person at a later date and whisper in their ear that they were a nerd. Sorry but that’s just how I feel.
How is it that here in late-stage 2016, we are still fetishizing reading like it is an activity only performed by sensitive woodland creatures with cool glasses on and their hair tucked behind their ears? An activity performed by people who live on the moon? You guys, we all love reading. If you are reading this, I think it is safe to say that you love reading. I think it is further safe to say that we can all move on with our lives now, safe in the collective assumption that reading is fine and ok and absolutely not a thing to get boasty about. Everyone likes books.
Also, if you don’t like reading, that doesn’t make you dumb. It just means that you don’t like reading, because reading actually is a morally neutral act. I believe this. Also, most books are about how to make money, or they are about murders, or they are aimed at teens. You know what is a book? Mein Kampf. You know what else is a book? It’s Not About the Bike. Liking to read doesn’t make a person smart or good, it just makes them literate. Reading in itself is not an intrinsically dreamy activity, and I think we should stop pretending that it is. How are we still getting away with this, here in the end times?
Reading is fine. It is fine to read. But here in late-stage 2016, let’s stop making it a thing. Let’s all never say anything again about how we love the smell of books and so on. We need to stop resting on our laurels, and come up with better and more intimidating ways to make ourselves seem interesting to others. Sorry but that’s just how I feel.
People Who Make A Big Deal About How Much They Love Reading was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
An interesting article on how statistical methods of author identification work (the same method that identified J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith) and how they were applied to Hamilton’s writing in the very early days of computers:
“Alexander joins forces with James Madison and John Jay to write a series of essays defending the new United States Constitution, entitled The Federalist Papers…In the end, they wrote eighty-five essays, in the span of six months. John Jay got sick after writing five. James Madison wrote twenty-nine. Hamilton wrote the other fifty-one!”
Aaron Burr in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
* * *
Good guess, Mr. Burr.
Back in 1788, when Alexander Hamilton was churning out Federalist Papers like he was running out of time, he and his two co-authors, James Madison and John Jay, published their eighty-five arguments in support of the U.S. Constitution under a shared pen name, “Publius.”
Who was this Publius?
Years later, after the Constitution was ratified and the Federalist Papers came to be seen as more than just long-form political advertisements, but among the new nation’s most treasured founding documents, people began to wonder. Which founding father wrote which of these papers? Burr’s operatic tally notwithstanding, this was not public knowledge at the time and Burr famously shot and killed Hamilton before the question could be settled.
Though some of the essays were attributed and claimed without controversy, the debate focused on a dozen. Madison claimed the twelve were his, Hamilton’s political allies insisted otherwise, and because this was one of many things that the two camps disagreed on, the case of the disputed Federalist Papers became a partisan, political controversy. […]
In this article, the word “to” appears 98 times—or at a rate of about 27 “to”s per 1,000 words. It is easy to figure this out because the article was written on a computer in 2016.
But counting the frequency of different words in the Federalist Papers wasn’t quite so easy in 1959.
“The words in an article were typed one word per line on a long paper tape,” Mosteller recounts. “Then with scissors the tape was cut into slips, one word per slip. These were then alphabetized by hand. We had many helpers with this.”
The process took months. Every once in awhile, someone would open a door too quickly, sending a gust of air through the room and setting everyone back a few days. […]
“These function words are much more stable than content words and, for the most part, they are also very frequent, which means you get lots of data,” explains Patrick Juola, a professor of computer science at Duquesne University and an expert in text analysis.
“That’s opposed to the word ‘rooster,’ which I believe occurs roughly one word out of every million words in written English,” he says. “If I were waiting for you to say ‘rooster’ so that I could identity something that you wrote, it could be months.”
Some of these non-contextual discriminators discriminated better than others.
For example, both Hamilton and Madison used the word “from” at roughly the same rate, while Madison was almost twice as likely to use “by.” So Wallace and Mosteller tossed out “from,” but kept “by.” After a couple years of work, the pair had identified thirty words that consistently distinguished the two founding fathers. […]
Finally, it was time to test the dozen disputed papers. With apologies to fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the results all pointed in the same direction: James Madison was almost certainly the author of all twelve.
(h/t Chris Waigl)
[Update: Mark Liberman suggests this might be some artful fakery. See: "Another fake AI failure?"]
An interesting long read in The Atlantic about the development of the Adlam script for the Fulani language, and what it means to be a digitally disadvantaged language:
Fulani’s sounds were rendered imprecisely by the Arabic alphabet, the script most often used to write it; the Latin alphabet presented similar problems. Neither the Arabic nor the Latin alphabets could accurately spell Fulani words that require producing a “b” or a “d” sound while gulping in air, for example, so Fulani speakers had modified both alphabets with new symbols—often in inconsistent ways. […]
So, in 1990, the brothers started coming up with an alternative. Abdoulaye was 10 years old; Ibrahima was 14.
After school, they’d shut themselves in their rooms to draw, filling blank composition books they brought home from the classroom with the shapes that would make up their new alphabet. They’d take turns drawing letters, and together, assigned sounds to the shapes they came up with.
Six months later, they had a working script. Like Arabic, its 28 letters were written right to left. But unlike Arabic, whose short vowels are written as diacritical marks above and below letters, the script assigned its five vowels proper letters. It looked something like a cursive version of Ethiopic. Ibrahima and Abdoulaye’s parents started taking their project seriously, and invited one of their father’s relatives, who had an influential post in the local government, for a demonstration.
The visitor tested them: With Abdoulaye in the other room, Ibrahima would take dictation. When Abdoulaye returned, he read aloud what his brother had written. They switched and repeated the test. Over and over, the brothers consistently read out the right sounds, even those unique to Fulani. Crucially, they spelled the same complicated words in the same ways, independently of one another.
The visitor turned to their father. “Oh, yes, these kids are being serious,” he said. […]
“A script is not a biological entity,” said Kamal Mansour, a specialist in non-Latin typography at Monotype who represents the company on the Unicode Consortium. “It doesn’t live alone. It has to have acceptance from people.” […]
During the decade after that first big test in the brothers’ house, their new alphabet—yet unnamed—spread at an astounding rate. Eventually, it would come to be called Adlam, after its first four letters: the equivalents of a, d, l, and m. The word is also an acronym for a phrase that translates to “the alphabet that will save a people from disappearing.” […]
In between work and school, the brothers saved up enough to pay for the development of the first Adlam keyboard and font. They found a software company in Seattle that makes specialty fonts, and, in 2008, they were able to type in Adlam for the first time. It was a huge step, but it came with disappointment: Since Adlam was not yet supported by Unicode, if they sent a document written in Adlam to someone without the font installed, the recipient would see only a nonsensical jumble of random, disconnected Arabic letters. That’s when the importance of being included in Unicode sank in. […]
Abdoulaye and Ibrahima traveled to the 2014 meeting of the Unicode Technical Committee in Sunnyvale, California, to iron out the last kinks in their proposal. That same month, the committee voted to approve Adlam.
“I can’t even describe the feeling,” Abdoulaye said. He tried anyway: “When we got the email that we were officially encoded, we were very, very happy.”
Open up the settings on any smartphone and scroll through the keyboard options. If you’re holding an iPhone, you’ll find Macedonian and Telugu and Catalan—but not Adlam. The alphabet was included in Unicode 9.0, which was published this summer, but technology companies haven’t leapt at the chance to use it in apps and keyboards. […]
Instead of waiting for official support for Adlam to arrive, some Fulani speakers have gone ahead and created their own apps. Two Android apps already allow smartphone users to text each other in Adlam (as long as both have the “Adlam SMS” app installed) and learn the Adlam alphabet on their device. […]
Mansour, the Monotype designer, has been involved in type development for decades. He says it’s easy to forget how far things have come since the ’90s, when the internet was dominated almost entirely by the basic Latin alphabet.
“You couldn’t even type Baltic languages like Estonian or Lithuanian. You couldn’t! You had to buy an Eastern European supplement [software package],” Mansour said. “Now, nobody thinks of that. We collectively forget the stages of development that have happened. Now, you could even type Icelandic on an Arabic system, if you wanted.”
i’m so upset
I just realized that the reason ghosts say Boo! is because it’s a latin verb
they’re literally saying ‘I alarm/I am alarming/I do alarm!!
if it comes from the latin word, they’re actually saying “I’M YELLING!” which is even cuter
do they speak latin because it’s a dead language
I looked this up on Etymonline just in case it was actually true, and I found this pretty delightful etymology:
Boo - expression meant to startle, early 15c., boh, “A combination of consonant and vowel especially fitted to produce a loud and startling sound” [OED, which compares Latin boare, Greek boaein “to cry aloud, roar, shout.”]; as an expression of disapproval, 1801 (n.), 1816 (v.); hence, the verb meaning “shower someone with boos” (1893).
Booing was common late 19c. among London theater audiences and at British political events; In Italy, Parma opera-goers were notorious boo-birds, but the custom seems to have been little-known in America till c. 1910.
To say boo “open one’s mouth, speak,” originally was to say boo to a goose.
To be able to say Bo! to a goose is to be not quite destitute of courage, to have an inkling of spirit, and was probably in the first instance used of children. A little boy who comes across some geese suddenly will find himself hissed at immediately, and a great demonstration of defiance made by them, but if he can pluck up heart to cry ‘bo!’ loudly and advance upon them, they will retire defeated. The word 'bo’ is clearly selected for the sake of the explosiveness of its first letter and the openness and loudness of its vowel. [Walter W. Skeat, “Cry Bo to a Goose, "Notes and Queries,” 4th series vi Sept. 10, 1870]
So if ghosts are anything like geese, perhaps this means that the correct thing to do is to say boo back to the ghost, to show you’re not afraid. (Or even that ghosts are really just plucking up their courage to face us.)
That nameless and yet very particular feeling.
My parents found this bird. She fell out her nest and into their back garden. Look at her. Look at her beak and her claws and her huge, bonkers, staring eyes. Look at her, all hunching around. She knows she is not cute. She knows that she is probably not great to have to pick up, all with her weird wet feathers and those feet of hers, but what can she do? This bird is trying her best. Look at her. Look at her face.
Now. Look at my face and tell me that you don’t sometimes feel like this bird. Try tell me you don’t, on occasion, feel distinctly like this bird. You cannot. Admit it. You, me, everyone: we all sometimes feel a little bit like this bird.
Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep last night, or you are hungover, or you have some bad jeans on, or you bumped into someone who thinks you are a nerd, or you have to do some public speaking and you hate it and you are right to hate it because you suuuuuuuuuuuuuck at it, or you tried to introduce yourself to someone and you said their name instead of your name, or you got out of a car in a weird way, or you slipped and fell down in a manner that was not painful and only embarrassing, or you had food in your teeth for many hours and you didn’t know, or you accidentally recommended your own article on Medium and then when you tried to undo it you recommended it again, or you smoked weed even though you should never smoke weed because it is not suited to your temperament, like, at all. There are many reasons to get that feeling. That nameless and yet very particular feeling of being wrong in this world. You have tried to describe it to yourself and to your friends, and you have never quite got there. It’s fine. We have a name for it now. It is called “feeling like this bird.”
Here is a text from my dad, re the bird:
Sadly we have given her over to a bird rescue sanctuary. I miss her already. And the sadder thing is that this morning her parents (hadedas mate for life) were standing on the lawn for aaaages. We discovered the next at the top of the mahogany tree (that one against the fence next to the washing line) so she obv fell out. The parents can’t put them back in the next and nor could we. 😢
POOR BIRD. Poor parents of the bird. It is tempting to think of this as a fully tragic story, like the story of Buddy. But we have enough sad stories to go around for now, thank you. I put it to you that this is not, actually, a tragic story, but rather a story of hope. Take another look at the bird. She is not cute and she knows it. She is maybe worried that no one can love her, on account of her claws and her huge, insane, frightening eyes. But she can rest easy, because you know who loves her? My parents. They think she is a complete legend. They think she is just great and they appreciate her demeanor. My dad sent me many texts about her this morning, in which he went into great detail about her behaviour and movements. He literally described her as “my friend.” My dad’s friend, the bird. He also said that she was “beautiful,” and that if he had kept her as a pet, he would have called her Harriet. I suggested that there was something of the baby dinosaur about her, and he said “she is just trying her best.”
My mum sent me some texts, too, asking me what I thought Harriet the bird was thinking about, and worrying about her parents and what they were thinking about, and wondering what kind of a life Harriet was going to have now, given the unexpected turn it had taken. She thought she was going to probably meet all kinds of interesting people and “probably learn a bit of English.” They took her to the bird sanctuary because they knew it was the right thing to do, but they both miss her so much. They are thinking, even now, that they should just go get her. HARRIET THE BIRD. Their lives are the richer for knowing her.
This is a story of hope. Harriet the bird, with her creepy vibe and her weird personality, is proof that everyone has someone who loves them. Everyone has someone who cares about them, and who thinks they are great, and who will take them to the bird sanctuary when it is necessary. It’s true. Next time you are feeling like this bird, remember that.
Your answer will say a lot about you
Clowns are in the news lately; specifically scary clowns (Rolling Stone has a good primer). It started in the Carolinas and it’s become some kind of pandemic across America—there have been reports of scary clowns in Texas and Virginia and even the seemingly sedate Pacific Northwest. Even New York is shook.
I guess I don’t care about whether you think clowns are scary or not. It is not original to say that you think clowns are bad, here in 2016. It is not sassy or contrarian and no one will get a crush on you because of it. I guess the party line on clowns, here in 2016, is that they are generally sinister and that no one loves them and why would you have a clown at your birthday party. Why would you? When was the last time you met someone who loved clowns? It was a long time ago, I bet. It was a long time ago and probably they were lying anyway, because there was a clown standing right there and they did not wish to hurt its feelings. Let’s all agree that no one can love a clown, and let’s move on to what is important.
But there is an important question here as well, and a lot of people are already talking about it. It’s such a good question it can actually serve as a party game. Try it out with you friends. Ask yourself! Your answer will reveal a great deal. What do you think a clown is?
About those clown sightings? Police always go and say, "Nope, it was a hoax, just someone DRESSED as a clown." What... is a real clown?
What’s not important: Do I Love Clowns?
What is important: What Do I Think a Clown Is?
Preliminary research shows that this is a more complex question than it appears to be. Bear with me, and read this letter very carefully:
My friend D. showed me that letter, and directed my attention to the following sentence: “There have been several conversations and a lot of complaints to the office regarding a clown or a person dressed in clown clothing…” (emphasis mine)
The next thing D. said was: “The idea that a clown is something other than “a person dressed in clown clothing” blows my mind and makes me laugh the most.” This made immediate and intuitive sense to me. For the likes of me and D., there is no difference between “a clown” and “a person dressed in clown clothing.” Yes obviously you can go to clown school, and you can learn the ways of the clown, but what makes you a clown is when you put on clown clothes. Yes? You aren’t a clown inside. You aren’t born a clown. The person who wrote this letter is making some kind of distinction between a born clown, an innate clown, and a person who just bought some clown clothes at the shops. For me and D., this distinction is unimportant. You become a clown when you put on the clothes of a clown and everyone looks at you and goes: oh, a clown. There they are: a clown. Yes? Apparently no.
I put this to S., and she immediately took the opposite stance. For S., being a clown is like being a centaur, or a mermaid. You don’t stop being a clown when you take off your clown clothes, even if you might wish this to be the case. You just are a clown, the way a leopard is a leopard. I put it to J., and he said the same thing. What he said was: “I don’t believe clowns ever break character.”
So. Preliminary research reveals that you get people who think of clowns as a Thing Apart, as clowns eternal, and people who think of clowns as just “a Man In Clown’s Clothing.”
The question is: which one are you?
Think about it.
What do you think a clown is?
Do you believe that the characteristics of a clown are inherited, or do you believe that they are acquired? Is a clown still a clown when he is not in his suit? This is veering into the territory of philosophy, don’t you think? Like maybe it could be in a textbook? Just a drawing of a clown and then a big question mark above its head. A whole chapter in a textbook called “What Do You Think A Clown Is: The Big Question.”
Please think about your answer to this, and then tell me. Think about it HARD.
This year's was a bit British-heavy, though in looking back on previous years, I noticed that some had more American ones, so perhaps it all works out in the end.
BrE rough sleeper 'homeless person who's sleeps outside, as opposed to in a shelter or other temporary accommodation'. Suggested by John Kelly (@mashedradish)
BrE gongoozler originally, 'an idler who watches canal activities', now more broadly, 'a person who stares for long periods'. Suggested by Andy M. (on Facebook)
AmE to t-bone '(for a motor vehicle) to crash into another vehicle perpedicularly'. Suggested by Rhonda (on blog). (This one has started to have currency in UK--but the steak cut that it's named after is not traditional in UK butchery.)
BrE busman’s holiday 'leisure time spent doing something very much like what you do at work'. There are some variants used (a little) in the US, but the ultimate source is this phrase. See World Wide Words. Suggested by @meringutan
AmE to kick the tires 'to determine the worth or "health" of something by testing it'. Suggested by @SimonKoppel. This has spread beyond the US, with some people (Australians, in my correspondence) interpreting it specifically as something done by people with no intention to buy. I liked the OED entry that says it's orig. U.S. Not with that spelling, it's not!
BrE (to give someone a) backie (also backy) '(to give someone a) ride on the BrE parcel shelf of a bicycle'. Suggested by @formosaphile. Responses to this tweet brought up a lot of variants: Australian dink, dinky, New Zealand dub, and a number from the UK, which Moose Allain has put together into a slide show. But none from the US, as far as I've heard.
AmE third base (etc.) as measures of sexual accomplishment. Covered previously here. Suggested by @Mburked
BrE love rat tabloid term for a male adulterer. Here's Collins Dictionary on it. (Sorry, someone suggested this, but I failed to note who!)
AmE candy striper a usually female, usually teen-aged hospital volunteer. Suggested by @CityMelzer A bit more on the term from Wikipedia.
BrE to blot one's copybook 'to do damage to one's own good reputation'. Here's the discussion of it at World Wide Words.
BrE Johnny Foreigner '[pejorative] personification of non-Britishness', often used satirically. Here's the Collins entry for it.
AmE big box store 'box-shaped single-company retail building at the edge of town'. Possible BrE translations discussed at Wikipedia. Ta @smylers2
BrE for in, for example, 7:00 for 7:30, which means 'come after 7, but by 7:30, when things will get started'. Or, as Andrew Caines defined it: "You'll be rude if you arrive up to and including 7:00, or any time after 7.29".
AmE condo(minium) 'building consisting of residential units that are individually owned' or 'an individually-owned unit within such a building'. In AmE condo generally contrasts with apartment (building)--the former is rented, the latter owned. In UK, they're called (blocks of) flats regardless of owned/rented status. In some parts of the US, there are also co-ops. The difference between condos and coops is explained here. I'd tried to conceptualise this in terms of the difference between flat ownership with a leasehold versus a share of the freehold in England, but that's not right (see comments). Suggested by @RebelePublisher
BrE I’ll be mother 'I'll serve the tea [or other food/drink that needs serving-out]' Suggested by Rhonda on the blog.
BrE graunch used as a verb or noun onomatopoetically for a grinding/crunching sound, as when gears in a car grind. (OED lists this as [UK] dialectal & New Zealand.) Suggested by April23rd on blog.
AmE (esp. Californian) lookie-loo (and spelling variants) 'nosy person who goes to (AmE) real-estate open houses with no intention of buying'. It's also used (esp. in other parts of the country) as a synonym for (orig. AmE) rubber-necker. Suggested by Michèle, seconded by @cynderness.
BrE paddle 'go into water (especially the sea) without swimming, particularly walking in up to the knees or so'. In AmE, I'd just say wade, which isn't specifically about getting your feet wet for fun. Suggested by @simonkoppel.
AmE Monday morning quarterback 'person who criticizes others using hindsight the others couldn't have had'
BrE ready reckoner 'quick-reference table that gives solutions to simple calculations'. AmE has things like cheat sheet, quick reference, but those could be, say, lists of definitions, rather than a table of calculations.
BrE glamour model euphemistic expression for 'woman who poses topless' (particularly for certain UK newspapers and BrE "lads' magazines").
Will I find enough for a seventh year in 2017? I've already started the list, so maybe. Feel free to keep suggesting them! Thanks to everyone who's helped this time.
lIn 2000 my Scottish wife and I moved to England from South Africa with our two sons. As I was born in the Netherlands our sons were registered as Dutch when born in SA; they are not entitled to British citizenship as my wife was not born in the UK. Our sons completed all of their schooling here and the youngest has recently gone to university.
I am a highly skilled worker and a chartered physicist in an industry which requires degrees in physics. I have not taken anyone’s job by being here as there are very few people in the world with my skills. I have mentored others to do the same work. I also contribute to my employer’s STEM activities to ensure that a new generation of UK students consider STEM subjects as these are important for the UK economy. In my 16 years here I’ve paid a fortune in tax and my family have barely troubled the NHS.
My children speak with local accents and know no other country as home but it is possible that leaving the EU will mean they are no longer entitled to live and work here. They have been educated in the UK, have friends here and want to make a life here. Of course, they could become naturalised British citizens but this costs over £1,000 which is a crazy amount of money for people just starting out as adults.
The decision for the UK to leave the EU will leave many young people like my sons in a state of limbo. Before this decision they were EU citizens living in the UK but after the decision they suddenly lose rights they have expected to continue without even having a say in the decision.
I’m OK – I have a British wife, but my sons may be seriously impacted by this absurd decision.
Want to share your own story? Shoot us an email at email@example.com
Andrew, don't you think her dad sounds like Plok? :)
Lolita renewed his respect for fiction, but Middlemarch made him fall in love.
My dad and I are enthusiasts. We are two punchy salespeople, and we would like to interest you in this book. It is Middlemarch, or All My Puny Sorrows, or A Brief History of Seven Killings, or the last thing we really liked. Please read it right now. You might as well, because we will not hush until you do. Just get it over with, and then come back and tell us that you loved it.
We are blind to the faults of the things that we love. My dad will not, for instance, hear a word against Bach. If you get into his car and start it after he has been driving around by himself, you will be immediately pinned to your seat by the wall of Bach coming out of the speakers. It’s Bach at levels far beyond what I presume was intended. Bach is for when you are at home, surely, and you are putting together your elegant supper, and your friend arrives and says Wow what’s this, and you say It’s the Goldberg Variations, man. The Goldberg Variations are for when you are a Count in the Saxon court, and you have sleeping problems, and so you get Bach to compose something to help you relax and ease the misery of your insomnia. Is Bach intended for driving to the beach with your daughter, and it’s so loud neither of you can hear a fucking thing, and she says, DAD THIS IS AWFUL I HATE IT, and then you scream the story of the Goldberg Variations’ origins over the distorted sound? N.O.
I’ve told him so many times that I hate it. He looks at me, startled. But it’s BACH, he says. Just LISTEN. I say that I don’t want to, and he pretends to understand, but really he doesn’t. It’s BACH.
He is similarly bewildered by slights against the books he adores. My dad is a great one for tirelessly recommending books about Shackleton, or Poor Old Captain Scott of the Antarctic, or Darwin, or Roger Casement. He is very persuasive, and, as a result, I have read fifteen more books about Captain Scott than I need to.
For a long time, these books were non-fiction only. My dad studied English at university (lectured by the apparently terrifying J.M. Coetzee), and assures me that he read heaps of novels when he was younger. At some point, though, he just stopped. Maybe he got a few duds in a row, or he read a book that was too sad, but at some point before I was born, he hardened his heart against fiction and turned exclusively to non-.
This happens sometimes, I think. Mostly to men. They begin to feel that there is something vaguely unsound about fiction. That it is charming, but will ultimately let you down, in the manner of a guest who chatters effusively at dinner but who did not bring any wine, and who ignores all the unattractive people at the table. That it could not teach you anything that wouldn’t be more effectively learned via a book about the Dyatlov Pass Incident.
He ditched fiction altogether, for about twenty-five years, and he was happy with this arrangement. Then, he put his back out — classic dad move. He was immobilized for weeks, and all he could do while he recovered was lie there and read. He burned through three books about Stalin, I was told, two books about George Mallory, one about the Bloomsbury group, two about what a monster Cecil John Rhodes was, and two about epidemics that went especially out of control. He read every piece of non-fiction his house had to offer, and then he ran out. He panicked, and my mom said Why don’t you read a book. He said that he was, and she said, A real book, I mean. A novel. Like what, he said. I don’t know, she said. Like this. She handed him Lolita.
It’s not that he loved Lolita, understand — he is a nice man, and a dad, and the whole exercise was ultimately too gross for him, but he could not deny its impact. Here is an excerpt from an email he sent me while he was reading it:
“I’m just taking a well deserved break from Lolita. It’s so intense that its making me agitated. I feel that I may not be able to carry on, even though I know I will.”
Lolita renewed his respect for fiction, but it did not make him fall in love. Middlemarch did that. I was visiting my parents for the weekend when he was about halfway through, and he walked around the house like a man in a trance. His eyes were all misty, and he kept raising his hands to his head. When I got back to Cape Town, there were emails waiting, with subject lines like “DOROTHEA”, and “Oh God, Lydgate”, and “I think Mary Garth is great.” It was all we spoke about for months.
He felt very strongly about Middlemarch, but he was not totally sure about Dorothea. He liked her fine, but he could not really commit. He thought that she had it too easy, overall. Dorothea knows little of suffering, or at least not the polar explorer kind of suffering that my dad reveres: cold, sad, starving to death, etc. Crying out for help and no one even notices, etc. The suffering of a friendless orphan, a trembling reed of a person.
Enter Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre the novel, but also Jane Eyre the character, who my dad speaks about as if she is a real woman — the best woman to ever exist. Jane Eyre blew my dad’s mind, and Jane Eyre broke his heart. Subject line: JANE EYRE IS THE BEST. Subject line: I WISH I COULD HAVE BEEN BEST FRIENDS WITH CHARLOTTE BRONTË. Subject line: Didn’t you love the bit where she puts her foot down? Subject line: Didn’t you love the end?
The problem is, I didn’t. I didn’t really like any of it. Being the salesman that he is, it is hard for my dad to resign himself to the fact that I don’t love his favorite book ever. I just don’t. It’s too long, and too dense with stuff I can’t care about. I find Mr. Rochester creepy as the dickens. Most importantly, I have difficulties with Jane herself. I respect her, but I cannot warm to her. Something about her self-control, I think, her ability to make decisions and then turn them over in her mind, altering them if required. I like to make decisions and then shoot them out of a canon straight away, so it’s difficult for us to relate to each other.
Also, Jane isn’t too keen on laughter. She doesn’t seem like she would be very funny. The main laughter in the novel done by Bertha Mason, and her laughter is mirthless — tragic and evil, the laugh of a goblin. Laughter is also used to illustrate Jane’s exclusion: the woman is always hanging around in the shadows to watch other people gaily throw back their heads and bray into the faces of their splendid companions. She is skeptical of laughter, and knows that there are more important things in life. I am at a total loss to describe what those things might be.
Jane’s entire personality serves as a rebuke to mine. We would never be friends. She would find me flippant and too hell-bent on having fun, and I would find her rectitude awfully trying. She is so hardy and stoical and brave and independent! She never complains! She is thinking the most potent thoughts imaginable, every minute of the day. Jane Eyre is heavy, and extremely intense.
My dad, naturally, admires all this without qualification. He doesn’t find her weird or boring in any way; he just thinks she is magnificent — a woman to look up to. He once sent me an email with the subject line “Jane Eyre: I love her.” He likes her spirit, and her independence, and how she doesn’t let anyone push her around. He even thinks she’s funny. He read Jane Eyre twice in a row, and then he read Villette (subject line: AAAARGH BELGIUM). He read Wuthering Heights (subject line: What is Hindley’s problem?), he read Agnes Grey (and then, of course, he read twelve books about the Brontës, and has ordered several more), and he will read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall before the month is out. He is probably reading Wuthering Heights again as we speak.
Check out my dad, urging these books onto all of his friends, and phoning his daughter to tell her that he wishes he could have met Emily at least once. I ask him why he loves them so much, and he sighs happily. Think of them, he says, up at that awful old parsonage, churning this stuff out. Just think of how clever they were. I do think about it. I think about how the Brontë sisters’ response to poverty and privation was to write some of most beloved novels in the Western canon. Until well into my twenties, my response to adversity of any kind was to phone my dad, and to listen while he told me how to fix it.
This sounds bad, maybe, or pathetic. I don’t mean it to: I just grew up with a dad whose whole metier is looking out for people. He knows that I can teach, and write, and talk to pretty much anyone, and that I am trying my best. He is also aware, however, that I probably shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car, that I frequently forget my own address, that I cannot tell left from right unless I hold up my one hand to spell the letter L and even then it doesn’t always work, that I get lost every single day, that I can break a phone charger just by looking at it. He recognizes all this, accepts it, and, from when I was a very little kid, has tried to make the world an easier place for me. He has always been on my side.
Jane Eyre grew up scared and alone, with no one on her side and no one to phone and say Help, please. She is serious, a little anvil of a person, because her world made her like that. This is perhaps part of the reason for my dad’s deeply respectful crush on her. He is pained by suffering, and has worked all his life to alleviate it where he can, and he knows what it means to be good when the world is so bad. He loves Jane Eyre because of her resilience, but he wishes it hadn’t been so hard for her. He knows that she doesn’t need protecting — she is way too tough for that. He just wants to be on her side.
My Dad Reads ‘Wuthering Heights’ For The First Time was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
“No” Reason to Fear Tonight’s “Safe” Black Moon, Which “Doesn’t Signal the End of the World,” Yeah Right
Give me a break.
“No” Reason to Fear Tonight’s “Safe” Black Moon, Which “Doesn’t Signal the End of the World,” Yeah… was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
A true story
It was October in Chicago. My friend Sara and I stepped out of her apartment and into her popular, bar-lined neighborhood with purpose.
“If they can’t do it, we’ll just have to leave,” I said.
Sara nodded. “There’s no other choice.”
That night, we had one goal: to get a drink at a sports bar while watching the do-or-die Chicago Sky playoff game.
That’s right…. we wanted to watch a women’s basketball game. At a bar. In public.
“I mean, they’ll probably have the game on, right?” Sara said.
I’ve been watching the WNBA since it was started in 1997, when I was a seven-year-old girl baller, strangely unafraid. And I’ve made the hour-long trek alone to Rosemont (the Chicago suburb where the Sky play home games) to watch bands of breathtakingly strong female athletes compete — across the way from a restaurant equipment warehouse, in a the stadium pockmarked with fans.
And though 2016 is pretty much the first time I’ve ever heard the WNBA get a compliment, largely because WNBA teams — yes! whole! teams! — have protested racial inequality & police violence against Black Americans with a solidarity unparalleled by any other professional sports league — I was still nervous about asking a bar to change the TV channel to a WNBA game.
Buzzing with adrenaline, Sara and I ducked into a cavernous sports bar. Before I could even check the TV monitors, Sara had asked the bartender, “Excuse me, would you mind changing one of these to ESPN2?”
“What’s on ESPN2?” he said.
“It’s the Chicago Sky playoff game, and….”
The bartender stared back, then got his act together quickly: “I’m sorry, we have trivia tonight, actually, and we need to have the Blackhawks on this TV, and this one, this one, and this one, and this one.” He pointed to all the screens in the bar.
“Hmmm, okay….” said Sara. Is it worth peeking around, I wondered, in case there’s an undesirable corner with a crappy monitor from 1992? That’s where I’ve historically enjoyed a WNBA game in public.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that we have trivia tonight,” the bartender shrugged, almost generously. “It’s just that we just can’t.”
Sara and I spun around and bolted outside.
“What about over there?” Sara pointed to the next sports bar, a little more excited now. We were on a real journey!
Next, we approached the High Dive, a bar known for its insanely good chicken wing special. Now I really hoped this would work — and declared immediately to the bouncer, “So! We want to watch the WNBA, would you guys be willing to put it on the TV?!”
“Oh, I’m down with that, definitely down with that.” said the bouncer guy, who was not actually a bouncer guy at all, but an angel. “But they just wanna watch ‘hockey’ and shit here. You gotta ask the bartender.”
We. found. an. ally.
Sure enough, inside there were a bunch of dudes scattered around the bar, the Blackhawks (pre-season) game shining on all four television monitors.
Then we noticed: the greatest sight we’ve witnessed all night… the bartender. She was a woman!
Sara and I launched at the bar, all at once. “Hey could we — do you think — ESPN2?! Any of the — yes! Over there?! Yes!”
Just ten minutes later (I forgave her, the remote was acting funky), voila! We were watching Chicago’s very own professional women’s basketball team battling with all they’ve got to keep their playoff run alive — all while getting paid a measly salary, decades behind the earnings of players in the NBA.
And yes, the hockey-watching men scoffed and smirked. And yes, I already knew the Sky would get pummeled by the Los Angeles Sparks. And yes, Elena Delle Donne (whose fiancée Amanda Clifton posed for an adorable engagement photo with their dog just before Elena finally came out to Vogue, Yes!!!) was still out of the game with a thumb injury.
I did not care. WE GOT TO DRINK CHEAP BEER AND EAT CHICKEN WINGS AT A BAR WHILE WATCHING WOMEN — MOST OF THEM BLACK AND MANY OF THEM QUEER — COMPETE IN SPORT ON A NATIONALLY OVERRATED, I MEAN BROADCAST, SPORTS NETWORK.
As soon as the server came to take our order, we offered to buy her a shot. She agreed. “To women!!!” we toasted.
It was — I think? — a small, bright victory.
I Found A Bar In Chicago That Let Me Watch the WNBA in Public was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Reflecting on the first season of “Atlanta.”
That maths suggests as much as 10% would turn up and think homophobic abuse toward their own team was the right thing to do. Manchester United's ground has a 75,000 capacity apparently: if half of them are supporting the home team and one in ten of those are good with yelling (whatever), that's nearly 4,000 voices from your own fan group telling you to **** off for being gay. What a welcoming environment.
And we don't get the more meaningful questions - if the other team had a gay player would you incorporate that into the degrading shit you yell at the other team? And if someone next to you was shouting homophobic abuse, would you tell them to STFU or try to report them for a hate incident, or let it go because it's banter against the opposition?
My understanding of football crowds is coloured by the ones I've encountered in the street as someone who doesn't look like "one of us". It also comes from the one game I attended: Manchester United v Red Star Belgrade in 1991, where the UK fans were yelling abuse around the slide into war that was happening all around the Serbian team back home. Your homeland is imploding and you're about to endure years of bloodshed and terror: but you're on the other team so we think that's fair game. What lulz. I didn't go back.
It's 25 years on. I am not convinced the attitude and behaviour on the terraces has evolved since then, though I'd be glad if it has.
When a doll is more than just a doll
Recently my five-year-old son caused me to revisit one of the most painful scenes of childhood literature: when Ma forces Laura to give away her beloved rag doll, Charlotte, in On the Banks of Plum Creek. To briefly recap for those few who do not have the scene burned into their psyches: the Ingalls’ neighbors, the Nelsons, come visiting, and their awful toddler Anna demands to bring the doll home with her. Ma forces the exchange, only for Laura to discover days later that Anna has discarded the beloved toy in a freezing puddle of water. When we got to the moment where Laura comes upon darling abandoned Charlotte in that puddle, my son welled up with tears.
I asked him what he was feeling: what did he think about Ma making Laura give another child her beloved doll? “Ma is mean,” was his emphatic reply, as he clutched his own lovey, a little square of fabric covered in tags, to his chest. And with this interpretation, he joined a long line of readers who agree: Ma’s directive is over-the-top generosity at best, cruelty at worst. She is wrong to make such a demand of her child. As I reread the book this time, though, a huge neon finger appeared above my own lifelong complaint about Ma’s thoughtlessness over the doll. Flashing red at me, it begged me to reconsider.
The reason we don’t like Ma here is not so much that she fails to empathize with her child, but that she stands in the way of what Laura wants: to be possessive and individually sated, rather than socialized. Our fantasy is that society’s needs and the individual’s desires aren’t opposed to one another; Plum Creek not only reminds us that they are, but also that, historically, mothers have borne the brunt of navigating the abyss between the individual and the social. And that further! mothers do this work all while navigating their own desires and taking care of social systems that only precariously ensure their survival.
The drama of Charlotte the Doll shows how our culture crafts mothers into socializing and civilizing forces and then calls them killjoys for doing the work of managing the derangements of individual desire. Our desires — to possess, to act as if unencumbered by others, to be selfish and sated — more often than not hurt others. This isn’t news to Ma Ingalls, a woman repeatedly brought to the brink of death and starvation by Pa’s cheerful belief that what he wants for himself — light out for the territories! take this land for my own! no town in sight! — harms no one. Ma is the person across eight books with the most intimate access to the cruelty inherent to individual desire, and a pretty deep understanding of what might happen if those desires were given free reign (total social breakdown!), and we sit back and call her a bitch. Let us inquire into this.
The clearest explanation for why Ma would ask Laura to give her beloved doll away is a version of socialization that subordinates the self to others. “We must not think only of ourselves. Think how happy you’ve made Anna,” Ma asks Laura to consider. Put this way, Ma’s request feels like good, or at least recognizable, parenting and like some of the justifications I’ve offered my own kids for why they should share or take turns with toys.
Today’s “sharing” might be the weaksauce version of the nineteenth century’s “giving,” but both are ways that humans try to assuage the force that individual desires can wield. My house is full to bursting of conflicting desires: I want a minute to myself, the five-year-old wants ice cream, the three-year-old wants his little hands to work better. The end result is often everyone sitting in a huddle together wailing and gnashing. We all want so much, so differently, and those desires rarely align.
This is a bleak vision, underscored by the even bleaker passage in Plum Creek where Ma finally notices what losing Charlotte has done to Laura: “[Laura] did not cry, but she felt crying inside her because Charlotte was gone. Pa was not there, and Charlotte’s box was empty. The wind went howling by the eaves. Everything was empty and cold” (232). Ma apologizes; she hadn’t known that Laura felt so deeply about the doll. Together they stitch up the rescued doll that Ma gives Laura a pass for “stealing” back, and the episode ends on a creative, rather than destructive, note.
But I want to pause here to note the detail that exacerbates the conflict between Ma and Laura over Charlotte the Doll in the first place: Pa is gone. He’d walked on foot hundreds of miles to earn money helping with a harvest elsewhere because the Ingalls’s crops were decimated by a plague of grasshoppers. Ma and the girls don’t know where he is and when he’s coming back.
To put it another way, winter is fucking coming and it’s not that the doll becomes a trivial concern in such circumstances, but that it becomes intensely meaningful for both mother and child under these conditions of scarcity. The doll, then, is safety and home for a child whose sense of safety and home is eroded with each day her father fails to return. But for Ma, the doll is also an item to barter for good will from a neighbor woman under whose (meager) protection she might find herself, should her husband fail to come home. Is it right for Ma to demand this sacrifice of her daughter? Probably not. Is it likely related to her own womanly and motherly instinct for survival? Definitely. Have generations of readers read her as a bitch for acknowledging that we have to labor daily in a hundred small ways to take care of society unless we want to starve? C’mon.
A doll is never just a doll, ask Freud or Ferrante, or Esther Summerson who so creepily buries hers in Bleak House. The Little House series abounds in dolls: Ma’s little china shepherdess, Nellie’s china doll, Mary’s rag doll Nettie. Dolls and loveys are opportunities to practice love, to transfer the overwhelming drives a young child feels toward a parent to something outside the immediate family system. They offer ways to navigate relationships with other children and caregivers, or to mark life stages or even class status.
They also allow children to practice cruelty. Consider the troubling end of Little House on the Prairie, a book that tracks the Ingalls’s lives while they live on Osage land in Kansas. (We’d thankfully skipped this relentlessly racist and colonialist book at my son’s request.) During the entirety of LHOP, Pa has been promising Laura that she would be able to “see a papoose,” as if a “papoose” were a sort of doll one could buy at a store or see in a museum. Laura finally gets her chance as her family lines up to watch the exiled Osage process pass their homestead. Laura sees a mother with a young child in a basket, and utters one of the only loudly voiced demands she’ll make across eight books: “Get me that little Indian baby.”
Like the horrid Anna Nelson who bawled and cried until she got her way, who ripped precious paper dolls in half and discarded beloved rag dolls in the freezing cold: Laura, too, is an acquisitive, bad-acting horror, ravaged by the currents of the broken and cruel world in which she lives, and she wants what she wants.
Parenting provides amazingly unfiltered access to states of desire because children are so good at expressing theirs and at thwarting our own. The daily labor of parenting requires navigating those desires without looking at them too intently: we are not meant to give children most of what they want and we simply cannot inquire too deeply into how many of our own desires are going unmet. The work of socialization has to be done, but the force of the desires that it tames doesn’t exactly dissipate. We might not ever know exactly what Ma Ingalls wanted, but we do know that she intimately understood the power of want, and how combustible social and familial experiments are in the face of that power.
“Mommy,” my son said as he softly caressed my face one day during nap time, “I want to poke my fingers into your skull.” I’m not looking for recognition for not always giving him what he wants. Rather, I’m taking my own notes on how close we always are to going up in flames of our own making, and whispering a little thank you to Ma Ingalls for always being there with a bucket of cold water.
“Parenting by the Books” is a series about parenting and classic literary texts.
Parenting by the Books: ‘On The Banks of Plum Creek’ was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Well, it is an interesting question. Why don't all those people from other backgrounds come forward? Why - to pick the topical strand for today - aren't the bisexuals (and so on) stepping up? Or the unspoken side question: why do the people who do step up not mention their bisexuality?
This is one of the big challenges for bisexual organising, too. We know, and Bi Visibility Day events and materials work hard to remind us, how things are different for bis. Not in the "double your chances of a date on a Friday night" kind of a way. If only. No, in the way that our mental health statistics are worse than those of gay and straight people. Our experience of being victims of domestic violence and other abuse are worse too. Economically, we earn less than gay, straight and lesbian people. We might be in the closet at work with all the negative consequences that has; but we might be in the closet at home too.
Now these are terrible facts and figures: issues where a lot of work is needed to change the way our world works. But I know what you are thinking - the vacancy on your board of trustees isn't going to wait for that to happen.
But those facts should be telling you things about the pool of people of whom most of your bisexual volunteers, bisexual organisers, bisexual group steering committees, are made up.
Those statistics aren't just there to frighten us. They ARE us.
So when you ask: can we have a bisexual person with free time, great qualifications and experience in these demanding roles from which they will have skills that our charity's board needs, and why aren't they coming forward?
Those people you would be looking to are the people who didn't get those promotions because of how biphobia limits their career. That lower income means they're worried whether they can afford to come to all your meetings and fundraising shin-digs.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who don't get to be out and proud because it upsets their non-bi partner if they "keep going on" about being bisexual.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who don't "look the part" perhaps because the intersectional identities they have mean they don't have the right professional look-and-feel that you warm to, or whose bisexuality you are oblivious to because they tick some other box.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who have those mental health challenges you have read the statistics about and who aren't sure your organisation would be tolerant when their health meant they needed to take some time out. Who use up their mental and social energy holding down that job and don't have the extra to spare that you need, because they are weaving their way through a gay-straight world.
This is not meant to be a counsel of despair, though it does read that way. And I know some will be saying: there are plenty of burned-out or fighting-health-issues gay and straight people. Yes there are, far too many. But like for like, more of the bis are dealing with those problems.
We can change this.
Well, you and your organisation can change this.
I'd love to see more mentoring and support rolled out for bi people. Don't ask for a new treasurer or chief exec; invite the groups who never get represented on your boards to shadow and be mentored by the person already doing it. They may wind up volunteering for some other organisation instead: so be it.
We can't do it on our own. But we would benefit from it, and so would you. Let's have a programme across business and the heavyweight end of the voluntary sector to give the bis who should be on your boards the skills and authority they need to take their seat at the table. Who's up for it?
For a long time I've been talking about biphobia. Back in the mid 1990s, as I have surely written here before, someone asked me to define biphobia for them. They wanted a snappy soundbite: treating bisexuals as lesser or something like that.
Instead I talked about four flavours of biphobia.
There's institutional biphobia. The way organisations work can marginalise bi people. You have an LGBT group, and it holds gendered meetings... the bi attendee wonders whether they can bring their other-gendered partner along to a social. When they let off steam about their relationship it gets less sympathy than if only they were dating someone of the same sex. Slowly they are squeezed out and leave. This can be more calculated too: the LGBT organisation that will give you support about relationship problems, provided you're in a same-sex relationship. The big sign on the wall promising to challenge homophobia, that assumes biphobia to just be the lite version, a subset of the big bad.
Next there's internalised biphobia. This one's a big challenge for our communities and organising. Yougov reckoned last year that 23% of people were... well, somewhere between straight and gay. Just 2% owned the label "bisexual". So ten times as many people who could call themselves bi didn't, as did. Whether an internal narrative of I'm not bi enough or I don't want to be one of 'those bisexuals', people shy away from the word that perhaps best describes their atttractions.
Then, that biphobia which is analagous to heterophobia; we get this chiefly in the gay community. "Just here as a tourist", they'll say. Or warn you off dating bis as "they'll always leave you for a member of the opposite sex". This isn't the main thrust of this thought piece so I shall move on...
There's that which is analagous to homophobia. For women, that the sex they have with other women is less 'real' than sex with men. For men, that having slept with another man makes you dirty, undesireable. There is probably still a bit of taint from the fear of bi men that was raised during the 1980s there.
The last two though have a curious overlap, in the way that homophobia-like and heterophobia-like patterns operate too often in our relationships.
I used to hear it from the couple next door. They've moved now, and most of the time their relationship seemed calm and happy, but when things kicked off... well, usually you can't make out the details through a thick pile of bricks, but every so often "At least I know which -----ing gender I'm attracted to" yelled from one of them to the other gave a remarkably good clue as to what they had been arguing about this time.
It's a common thread of bi experience too; running bi outreach stalls at events there's always someone who comes over looking interested and friendly but is then pulled away by a partner; sometimes with a breezy "he used to be bisexual before he met me".
On its own this is a problem, but in the workplace it has an added dimension. Suppose your employee, Sam, has been dating a woman for months and breaks up with her, and after a few weeks is now dating a man. Work colleagues give Sam a ribbing about switching teams, being confused, greedy or what have you. It goes on a bit too long for "good-natured banter" and Sam complains.
"Aha!" the LGBT Staff Network eager-beaver in HR thinks. "A bisexual for us to recruit! We need bi role models!"
But the staffer you offer support to may not be able to be your out bisexual, even though they are on the recieving end of biphobia and even though they brought it to HR to deal with: quite possibly Sam's new partner knows nothing about their previous dalliances with women. Or indeed, whenever that part of Sam's life gets mentioned, the crockery starts flying.
People who always date people of the same sexual orientation as themselves are rarely made to feel bad about their sexual orientation by their partner. For bis, most of our "dating pool" are not bi: most of the people who might fancy us identify as straight or lesbian/gay. The closet door may be being pushed shut by the person who is most important to us in our lives. And some of us have at the back of our mind that even if that is not the case now, it might have been different in the past, and might be different in the future.
Which means that, when you seek out bi role models, it's that bit harder for us to stand up than for our lesbian and gay counterparts.
This is the second blog post around a "we can't..." theme. Don't get me wrong. We can. It is a slightly provocative title about why bi people are under-represented.
Lisa Feldman Barrett, "Hillary Clinton's 'Angry' Face", NYT 9/23/2016:
When Hillary Clinton participated in a televised forum on national security and military issues this month, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, tweeted that she was “angry and defensive the entire time — no smile and uncomfortable.” Mrs. Clinton, evidently undaunted by Mr. Priebus’s opinion on when she should and shouldn’t smile, tweeted back, “Actually, that’s just what taking the office of president seriously looks like.”
The implication of Mr. Priebus’s comment was a familiar one: A woman making stern-looking facial movements must be angry or upset. A man who looks the same, on the other hand, is focusing on the important matters at hand.
Prof. Barrett, who is co-director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory at Northeastern, cites a paper from her lab that demonstrates differences in the perceptual attribution of dispositional vs. situational reasons for emotions expressed by men and women — "She’s emotional. He’s having a bad day: Attributional explanations for emotion stereotypes", Emotion 2009:
People believe that women are the more emotional sex. This belief stems less from what men and women actually do than from the explanations given for their behaviors. In 2 studies, participants who were given situational information about the causes of emotional expression in target faces nonetheless more frequently judged feminine targets depicting emotions as “emotional” (i.e., a dispositional attribution for the emotional behavior), whereas they more frequently judged masculine targets as “having a bad day” (i.e., a situational attribution for the emotional behavior). These findings help explain the pervasive belief that women are more emotional when compared with men, even when the scientific veracity of this belief is questionable.
But her NYT Sunday Review piece focuses not on the perception of the reason for the emotion (disposition vs. situation) but on the emotion itself (anger vs. serious attention). That double standard also does seem to exist, though I don't know whether there's supporting research. In any case, this all naturally raises the question of how theories of emotion perception or emotion attribution apply to Mike Pence:
Why does Mike Pence always look like he's about to introduce legislation to outlaw the X-Men pic.twitter.com/q0FCIak5u7
— Dave Thomason (@dave_thomason) September 15, 2016
That seems exactly correct, although "about to introduce legislation to outlaw the X-Men" is unfortunately not one of the categories of emotion attribution (whether of situation or of disposition) likely to be used in a peer-reviewable research paper.
Update — Smiles are also subject to variable interpretation:
Update #2 — Anna Waters, "How could sexism hurt Clinton in the debates? These female high school debaters know", Washington Post 9/23/2016.
Botox has forever transformed the primordial battleground against aging. Since the FDA approved it for cosmetic use in 2002, eleven million Americans have used it. Over 90 percent of them are women.
In my forthcoming book, Botox Nation, I argue that one of the reasons Botox is so appealing to women is because the wrinkles that Botox is designed to “fix,” those disconcerting creases between our brows, are precisely those lines that we use to express negative emotions: angry, bitchy, irritated. Botox is injected into the corrugator supercilii muscles, the facial muscles that allow us to pull our eyebrows together and push them down. By paralyzing these muscles, Botox prevents this brow-lowering action, and in so doing, inhibits our ability to scowl, an expression we use to project to the world that we are aggravated or pissed off.
Sociologists have long speculated about the meaning of human faces for social interaction. In the 1950s, Erving Goffman developed the concept of facework to refer to the ways that human faces act as a template to invoke, process, and manage emotions. A core feature of our physical identity, our faces provide expressive information about our selves and how we want our identities to be perceived by others.
Given that our faces are mediums for processing and negotiating social interaction, it makes sense that Botox’s effect on facial expression would be particularly enticing to women, who from early childhood are taught to project cheerfulness and to disguise unhappiness. Male politicians and CEOs, for example, are expected to look pissed off, stern, and annoyed. However, when Hillary Clinton displays these same expressions, she is chastised for being unladylike, as undeserving of the male gaze, and criticized for disrupting the normative gender order. Women more so than men are penalized for looking speculative, judgmental, angry, or cross.
Nothing demonstrates this more than the recent viral pop-cultural idioms “resting bitch face.” For those unfamiliar with the not so subtly sexist phrase, “resting bitch face,” according to the popular site Urban Dictionary, is “a person, usually a girl, who naturally looks mean when her face is expressionless, without meaning to.” This same site defines its etymological predecessor, “bitchy resting face,” as “a bitchy alternative to the usual blank look most people have. This is a condition affecting the facial muscles, suffered by millions of women worldwide. People suffering from bitchy resting face (BRF) have the tendency look hostile and/or judgmental at rest.”
Resting bitch face and its linguistic cousin is nowhere near gender neutral. There is no name for men’s serious, pensive, and reserved expressions because we allow men these feelings. When a man looks severe, serious, or grumpy, we assume it is for good reason. But women are always expected to be smiling, aesthetically pleasing, and compliant. To do otherwise would be to fail to subordinate our own emotions to those of others, and this would upset the gendered status quo.
This is what the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls “emotion labor,” a type of impression management, which involves manipulating one’s feelings to transmit a certain impression. In her now-classic study on flight attendants, Hochschild documented how part of the occupational script was for flight attendants to create and maintain the façade of positive appearance, revealing the highly gendered ways we police social performance. The facework involved in projecting cheerfulness and always smiling requires energy and, as any woman is well aware, can become exhausting. Hochschild recognized this and saw emotion work as a form of exploitation that could lead to psychological distress. She also predicted that showing dissimilar emotions from those genuinely felt would lead to the alienation from one’s feelings.
Enter Botox—a product that can seemingly liberate the face from its resting bitch state, producing a flattening of affect where the act of appearing introspective, inquisitive, perplexed, contemplative, or pissed off can be effaced and prevented from leaving a lasting impression. One reason Botox may be especially appealing to women is that it can potentially relieve them from having to work so hard to police their expressions.
Even more insidiously, Botox may actually change how women feel. Scientists have long suggested that facial expressions, like frowning or smiling, can influence emotion by contributing to a range of bodily changes that in turn produce subjective feelings. This theory, known in psychology as the “facial feedback hypothesis,” proposes that expression intensifies emotion, whereas suppression softens it. It follows that blocking negative expressions with Botox injections should offer some protection against negative feelings. A study confirmed the hypothesis.
Taken together, this works point to some of the principal attractions of Botox for women. Functioning as an emotional lobotomy of sorts, Botox can emancipate women from having to vigilantly police their facial expressions and actually reduce the negative feelings that produce them, all while simultaneously offsetting the psychological distress of alienation.
Dana Berkowitz is a professor of sociology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rogue where she teaches about gender, sexuality, families, and qualitative methods. Her book, Botox Nation: Changing the Face of America, will be out in January and can be pre-ordered now.
I was waiting for my connecting flight at Chicago O’Hare, and spotted this advertisement on the opposite side of our gate. It reads:
This is an example of the use of Indigenous language and imagery that many people wouldn’t think twice about, or find any inherent issues with. But let’s look at this a little deeper:
- The use of past tense. It’s not “The Potawatomis don’t have a word for…” it’s “The Potawatomis didn’t…” Implying that the Potawatomi no longer exist or are using their language.
- The implication that “Indians” and “Global Business Center” aren’t in congruence. Which is assuming that Natives are static, unchanging, and unable to be modern and contemporary. “Potawatomi” and “Onion Field” are fine together, because American society associates Indians with the natural world, plants, animals, etc. But there is definitely not an association between “Potawatomi” and “Global Business”.
But, in reality, of course Potawotomis still exist today, are still speaking their language, and do have a word for Global Business Center (or multiple words…).
Language is constantly evolving, adapting to new technology (remember when google wasn’t a verb?) and community changes. I remember reading a long time ago in one of my Native studies classes about the Navajo Nation convening a committee to discuss how one would say things like “computer” or “ipod” in Navajo language, in an effort to preserve language and culture and promote the use of Navajo language among the younger generation.
In fact, here’s an awesome video of a guy describing his ipod in Navajo, complete with concepts like “downloading” (there are subtitles/translations):
Native peoples have been trading and communicating “globally” for centuries, long before the arrival of Europeans. To imply that they wouldn’t have the ability to describe a “Global Business Center” reeks of a colonialist perspective (we must “civilize” the savage! show him the ways of capitalism and personal property, for they know not of society!).
Thanks, Chicago, for giving me one more reason to strongly dislike your airport.
Originally posted in 2010.
Adrienne Keene, EdD is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is now a postdoctoral fellow in Native American studies at Brown University. She blogs at Native Appropriations, where this post originally appeared. You can follow her on Twitter.
Merriam-Webster's twitter account has been offering good usage advice, for example
It's fine to use mad to mean "angry"—even if doing so makes some people mad. https://t.co/Z5ClzvAnaZ
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) September 7, 2016
This particular tweet led to an exchange that went viral.
First, a series of complaints about M-W failing in its parental duties:
And then M-W's response:
The responses to the response are almost all pro-M-W, and of course include a wide selection of mic drop, shade-throwing, and sick burn memes. One example among many:
— Cherem (@Weeabastard) September 7, 2016
Buzzfeed has it: "People Can’t Get Over The Dictionary’s — Yes, The Dictionary’s — Savage Clapback (“This needs to go down in the dictionary as an example of ownership.”) Buzzfeed's URL puns on another recent meme:
Luis Gomez, "PSA: Don't troll Merriram-Webster's Twitter account", San Diego Union-Tribune 9/7/2016
Sammy Nichols, "Don't pick a fight with Merriam-Webster on Twitter. You will lose.", Esquire 9/7/2016
Hope Schreiber, "The Dictionary Clapped Back At This Hater’s Twitter Rant And It Was Epic", Elite News 9/7/2016
Update — Gabriel Roth responds: "No One Cares How I Feel, According to Merriam-Webster", Slate 9/8/2016.