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22 Sep 05:31

Cine-Collage - Remixing the Moving Image - Thur. Sep 25 - 8PM

by (everythingshucks)
Oddball Films presents Cine-Collage - Remixing the Moving Image, a program of collage films and animations all made decades before digital editing and youtube with works by Bruce Conner, Chuck Braverman, Arthur Lipsett, Frank Mouris, Animal Charm, Martin Arnold and even Tex Avery. Collage film began with the clever and brilliant Bruce Conner in the 1950s, recontextualizing bits of found footage and other film into a new, and completely unique message. While today, video mash-ups are plentiful and relatively easy to produce with the advent of digital editing, in the 1950s and 1960s, these films were made by spending hours and days literally cutting and pasting pieces of films together, or in the 80s and 90s, working on cumbersome non-linear editing bays. We will begin the program with Tex Avery's Daffy Duck in Hollywood (1938), in which Daffy runs amuck in the editing house and creates the very first collage film. Bruce Conner remixes the Kennedy assassination in Report (1967). With 3 works from the kinestatic collage master Charles Braverman including Braverman's Condensed Cream of the Be@tles (1974), Television Land (1971) and Nixon: Checkers to Watergate (1976) all employing Braverman's pulsating and rhythmic editing style and wit. Frank and Caroline Mouris create a moving collage of a different sort by cutting out thousands of magazine images and animating them to dazzling effect in the Oscar winning Frank Film (1973). Arthur Lipsett gives us the rise and fall of a global technocracy in his wryly crafted A Trip Down Memory Lane (1965). As video entered the playing field in the 1980s, a new brand of collage film was born, focusing more on the manipulation of single or double source clips, wherein clever repetition and the technique of "scratching" the image as in a record, yields new insights into previously discarded or discounted footage. Animal Charm's witty re-workings of found VHS predated the likes of TV Carnage and Everything is Terrible. Their hilarious short Family Court (1998, video) deconstructs family playtime into an absurd visual tennis match. Martin Arnold utilizes classic Hollywood film for his source material; In Passage A L'Acte (1993, video), he remixes a 30 second clip of To Kill a Mockingbird to highlight every single subtle nuance you might have missed in real time. Plus, an unintentional collage film, the infamous Mandatory Edits reel, compiled entirely of film clips that were deemed inappropriate for television. All films screened on 16mm film from the archive, except where otherwise noted.

Date: Thursday, September 25th, 2014 at 8:00pm

Venue: Oddball Films, 275 Capp Street San Francisco

Admission: $10.00 Limited Seating RSVP to or (415) 558-8117


Three By Chuck Braverman!

Braverman’s Condensed Cream of the Be@tles (Color, 1974)
A decade-long pop-culture revolution distilled into 15 minutes of cinematic bliss. Rapid-fire montage of song snippets, iconic clips, apocryphal stills, and animation: a prototype of the modern documentary, only without the talking heads and fourfold as fab! This non-narrative film showcases the flip, exuberant 60s to the end of the sober, socially conscious decade as we watch airport mob scenes, madcap press conferences, records, concerts, books, posters and movies, all tumble past in a dizzy spasm of bliss.

Nixon: Checkers to Watergate (Color, 1976)
Our embattled and embittered 37th president is hoisted on his 
own petard, or at least some or his own more notorious moments before the press! Braverman's playful way with two decades of sound bites captures his awkward ways and simmering resentments. Gathered together in a spry, narration-free short, they form a fascinatingly frank portrait of RMN. We still have Nixon to kick around and as Frost/Nixon and the quirky Our Nixon prove, some of us never tire of it.

Television Land (Color/B+W, 1971)
Brilliant, impressionistic, narration-free history of Television utilizing original clips, similar to the Oddball Films favorite “The Car of Your Dreams”. Directed by Charles Braverman, this snappy montage is divided into three sections: entertainment, news and commercials.

Report (Bruce Conner, 1967, B+W, excerpt)
"Report” can mean an account of events or a blast of a rifle and both meanings are apt for this incendiary work. Using found footage, footage the news coverage captured from his homeTV and even mostly blank film, Conner arranges familiar images and audio against each other in throbbing juxtapositions. Events in Dallas had a clear before and after for America, but Conner's careful structure plays with the sequence of events to shocking effect. Report ultimately fuses images of promise and plenty with those of cataclysm and oblivion.
A Trip Down Memory Lane (B+W, 1965, Arthur Lipsett)
The brilliant and troubled Arthur Lipsett created this experimental montage with over 50 years worth of found sound and newsreel footage with everything from beauty pageants to military propaganda to Richard Nixon.  The jarring juxtaposition of images create a landscape of the rising technocracy that has only escalated in the decades since.  Lipsett wrote about the themes of the film “as science grows, religious belief seems to have diminished... The new machines (of every description) are now invested with spiritual qualities. They have become ritualistic implements.

Frank Film (Color, 1973, Frank and Caroline Mouris)

An autobiography of Frank Mouris and a stop-motion free-associative collage of 11,592 media images collected from magazines, which shift and mutate across the screen as Mouris reads a list of words starting with the letter "f". The words bounce off the images and trigger memories, which Mouris recounts on a second track, interwoven with the recitation. Mouris received an Academy Award and the film was selected in 1996 for inclusion in the National Film Registry. Frank Film, because of its innovative and energetic use of collage, has exerted an influence on succeeding generations of animators.

Mandatory Edits (Color+B+W, c.1950-1965)
Unintentional collage! This wacko reel of censored film clips will be presented as found.  Marked “Mandatory Edits” and compiled presumably by the editor at the big Los Angeles TV station where this reel originated, these feature film clips were apparently deemed too violent, sexual, suggestive or shocking to be shown on TV.  Jarring edits take you from the Civil War to WWII to the old West, to Ancient times and back, and from color to B &W.  See flaming arrows in the chest, suggestive undergarments, bloody stumps, heaving breasts, and so much more!  See Gary Cooper, Buddy Greco, Burt Lancaster, Charo, and a cast of thousands together in the boldest film that never was!

Daffy Duck in Hollywood (B+W, 1938, Tex Avery) 
Watch Daffy Duck wreak havoc on a movie set by cutting and splicing together various clips into finished product of a movie contains nothing but newsreel titles and clips surrealist style. An unintentionally avant garde masterpiece!

Family Court (Color, 1998, Animal Charm, video)
An absurd re-edit of a commercial VHS distributed to sell backyard sports courts in the 1980s. It's repetition and witty juxtapositions will leave you guffawing and ready to buy!

Animal Charm, a collaboration between Richard Bott and Jim Fetterley —began using found VHS tapes to make video collages in 1995. With the advent of YouTube a decade away, the artists culled bins of dead and devalued media, including industrial and promotional videos, bargain vinyl LPs, and consumer- grade electronics. They then combined disparate footage, using early nonlinear video-editing software, to create unsettling and humorous works. The duo compose unexpected juxtapositions in an attempt to subvert the original intentions of the found videos and to expose their absurdity while eliciting new meanings from the detritus of culture. (from

Passage A'Lacte (B+W, 1993, Martin Arnold, video)
Martin Arnold, rather than piece together several films, utilizes one very small piece of a film and by moving the film a few frames forward and then a few frames back, manages to uncover hidden subtexts and create a unique dance with the characters.  It is like a DJ scratching a record, the narrative moves along ever so slightly but to mind-expanding effect.  In this seminal work, Arnold uses a clip from To Kill a Mockingbird and while this piece is wholly entertaining, you also begin to take note of heavier topics like the black maid subjugated to the background and the strange kiss between Scout and Atticus. 

About Oddball Films

Oddball films is the film component of Oddball Film+Video, a stock footage company providing offbeat and unusual film footage for feature films like Milk, documentaries like The Summer of Love, television programs like Mythbusters, clips for Boing Boing and web projects around the world.

Our films are almost exclusively drawn from our collection of over 50,000 16mm prints of animation, commercials, educational films, feature films, movie trailers, medical, industrial military, news out-takes and every genre in between. We’re actively working to present rarely screened genres of cinema as well as avant-garde and ethno-cultural documentaries, which expand the boundaries of cinema. Oddball Films is the largest film archive in Northern California and one of the most unusual private collections in the US. We invite you to join us in our weekly offerings of offbeat cinema.

22 Jun 16:54

We have the means to make you happy

by Regine
With Smile, The Fiction Has Already Begun, Zoe Hough explores what happens when happiness becomes a political target. In her scenario, not only is the happiness of a UK town closely monitored and assessed but active measures are also taken to almost enforce happiness upon its inhabitants continue
22 Jun 16:34

Introducing the Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group

by Mark Liberman

For those who enjoy botanizing in realms of material culture:

This site contains several years of research in the classification of occlupanids. These small objects are everywhere, dotting supermarket aisles and sidewalks with an impressive array of form and color. The Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group has taken on the mantle of classifying this most common, yet most puzzling, member of phylum Plasticae.

Class Occlupanida (Occlu=to close, pan= bread) are placed under the Kingdom Microsynthera, of the Phylum Plasticae. Occlupanids share phylum Plasticae with “45″ record holders, plastic juice caps, and other often ignored small plastic objects.

[Tip of the hat to Mac McLemore]

Note that there are alternative taxonomic geometries that were popular in pre-Darwinian days, such as William Sharp MacLeay's Quinarian System. For some discussion, see "Trees spring eternal", 11/23/2003, and "Missing link: The early years", 10/16/2009.

16 Mar 16:05

Free Bassel Day

by Elliot Harmon

#FREEBASSEL / Kennisland / CC BY-SA

As of today, CC Syria community leader Bassel Khartabil has been in prison for two years. Today, we join the worldwide open community in honoring Bassel and insisting that he be freed.

Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders have produced this excellent video about why Bassel’s story is important to our community, featuring interviews with CC co-founder Lawrence Lessig and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jillian York.

“Bassel could have gotten out, but he chose to stay. And that decision was very costly for him, and it was an important decision for us. It symbolized his commitment to making this democracy possible, and to continuing the work to spread that message. And we owe him for that, and we have an obligation to do as much as we can to keep the world aware of this incredible person.” – Lawrence Lessig

In honor of Free Bassel Day, our friend Niki Korth has compiled a cookbook in honor of Bassel, featuring recipes submitted by people who know Bassel or are involved with the #freebassel campaign. You can read the cookbook online or download a PDF (469 KB).

Niki is planning to release a Version 2 of the cookbook, so it’s not too late to submit a recipe.

We honor Bassel today and look forward to the day he is freed.

16 Mar 16:04

Never uttered before

by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Last week a former Royal Marine who is the boyfriend of the model Kelly Brooks crashed into a bus stop while driving a van carrying a load of dead badgers.

I mention this solely to remind you that linguists are not kidding when they say (as they often do in introductory lectures) that your command of English enables you to understand sentences that have never occurred before in the entire history of the human species.

You don't just understand the meanings of things people have already successfully and meaningfully used in the past (I'd like to speak to the manager; Do you come here often?; I'm afraid I can't help you with that; Take your hand off my leg; Could you tell me the time?; I'll have a ham and swiss on rye; and so on); you understand things you've never heard before — and can hardly believe even after you've heard them. (See this press report for confirmation of the story.)

01 Mar 17:57

Liam Neesons, Though!

by Wesley Morris

Anyone planning to see Non-Stop should probably just go see it. This is one of those near-perfect, peeled-onion, airplane-hijacking thrillers in which each removed layer brings you closer to a single, happy tear. The level of ridiculousness is equal to the care put into making the ridiculousness possible. It isn’t just the plotting (although the plot goes happily nuts). It’s the sense that a director actually directed, writers actually wrote, and a producer kept the movie together. It’s the idea that a genre movie this generic could have been done with mannequins and still almost have worked. Instead, it’s staffed, cockpit to coach, with good actors having a good time looking suspicious.

Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, an American Irishman and federal air marshal, and even that bit of information takes 20 minutes to reveal and is treated like Deep Throat’s identity. He’s on a flight from New York to London, and not long after takeoff, he exchanges taunting messages with someone on the plane who’s feeling greedy (give me $150 million!) and murderous (or someone dies every 20 minutes!). People do die, in part because Bill can’t get his TSA contact to believe his story. You see, he used to be a cop and a drunk, and he’s still miserable about the death of his daughter. The account intended for the $150 million has been opened in Bill’s name (please don’t ask how; this movie is the opposite of “how”). It’s much easier for everyone on the flight to believe it’s Bill who’s trying to hijack the plane. So not only does he have to catch a terrorist, he also has to persuade the passengers and crew to help him. That takes most of the movie.

This is Agatha Christie doing the nasty with Alfred Hitchcock. One reason to just go see for yourself is the surprising pleasure of the small details. The enjoyment being had at every level of this movie is contagious. The filmmakers love the junk they’re making. Neeson’s incoming texts ding like a bell and spin around him the way stars and birds do around clobbered cartoons. At some point, the phone has a broken screen, and so the spinning text window appears to be on the fritz, too. And the main flight attendants — played by Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o — wear snazzy sleeveless uniforms, a kind of fitted boiled wool with leather accents along the shoulders.

Non-Stop is like a hamburger that would’ve been fine as just meat on a bun. But the accumulation of fixings starts to blow your mind. There’s mustard and cheese and mushrooms and jalapeños? Are you kidding me? You come for another helping of Neeson avenging while under siege and get Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey and Patsey from 12 Years a Slave? Plus: Corey Stoll, Nate Parker, Linus Roache, Omar Metwally, Scoot McNairy, Shea Whigham, and the tonic-like presence of Julianne Moore. There are a couple of Germans, a surly B-boy, an accidental daredevil pilot, and a tiny unaccompanied minor who’s scared to fly.

Any one of these people could be guilty, and director Jaume Collet-Serra creates the sort of high-suspicion environment that frees you to cast and recast your doubts. He’s the Spaniard who directed Neeson in Unknown. That was an inane paranoia thriller, too, but it barreled its way to a big, nonsense conspiracy ending. The finale of this movie might be more laughable. The explanation for this hijacking is like Scooby-Doo agitprop. The script is credited to John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle, and it culminates in a lot of “Let’s roll,” 9/11, do-it-yourself heroism. But it does so in a way that feels more apt than exploitative, given the makeup of the passengers. You get over the baffling, loony, quasi-libertarian politics of personal freedom. There are more absurdly stressful, explosive matters at hand, like landing intact while flanked by a pair of fighter planes.

This is the best of these Liam Neeson post-traumatic-action-hero films. He’s expanded his career fighting terrorists and wolves. Previously, they’ve kidnapped his daughter (Taken), stolen his memory (Unknown), ruined his suicide plans (The Grey), and kidnapped him (Taken 2). At 61, he’s about a decade older than Charlton Heston was at the height of his disaster-and-apocalypse run in the late 1960s and ’70s, and Neeson’s not risking as much as Heston did.

This stretch of Neeson’s career is comparable insofar as it’s possible he’s playing different offscreen sorrow. With Heston, it was how the movies had changed right under his nose. A repeatedly decimated planet seemed like the right place for a classic-Hollywood star to lose and regain his bearings. Neeson’s assumption of the melancholy-avenger role began the year before he lost Natasha Richardson in a ski accident. Part of the appeal of him in these movies — two of which come from Luc Besson — is that you want to say, “Put the gun down,” and pour him a cup of tea. Since Taken, he’s played a deep ache instead of action. It’s shrewd strategy that’s kept Neeson from complete self-parody. It’s kept him from becoming Heston.

The muscularity on Non-Stop holds the suspense and comedy together. The blasts of air turbulence catch you off guard (they send characters to the ceiling) and make you laugh, like when they prevent Neeson from detecting who, in the main cabin, is texting him. The last big-bang thriller of this kind — a conceptual Hitchcock riff — was 2011’s Source Code, with Jake Gyllenhaal trying over and over to save an exploding train. That movie came with a surprise dose of look-over-your-shoulder science fiction (it had a better script, too). But both movies leave you with the sense that somebody cared about how to pull off plots so potentially risible. Collet-Serra has a talent for sustaining the thrill of action sequences beyond what’s reasonable, and the last sequence in the movie is highly unreasonable. When it’s over, your adrenaline crashes and you can see Non-Stop for the illogic-riddled nonsense it is. But the adrenaline is like a drug. And the drug is something you want again immediately.



Christ movies can give you allegory and parable. They can give you a director’s biblical interpretation. Or they can give you 138 minutes of concentrated Scripture that ends with Jesus urging an audience to “Go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” People will always want to spend money for this sort of thing, even if they’ve already seen it. And in this case, they’ve literally already seen it.

Television producer Mark Burnett and his wife — Touched by an Angel actress Roma Downey — helped take five Jesus-oriented episodes of The Bible, which was a big hit last year on the History Channel, and turn them into Son of God, a movie that’s like watching the flame of a giant Christmas candle flicker unto eternity. Their abridgment begins with nativity, culminates with betrayal and then crucifixion, and concludes with resurrection. Meanwhile, the Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado plays the title figure as a precious holy instrument, wrapped in muslin, his arms outstretched, forever proclaiming his instrumentality. The movie proceeds with stiff staging, stiff acting, and the stiff, tear-streamed face of Downey as the Virgin Mary. You don’t need camp or campiness with a movie like this — one based on ancient, familiar material. Cecil B. DeMille isn’t called for (although, under the circumstances, he’d be welcome). All you need is a competent production that takes some risks or has a point of view.

Son of God just politely omits the televised sequence with Satan (people complained he looked too much like Barack Obama), adds deleted scenes, and divides its villainy between the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate (Greg Hicks) and the Jewish high priest Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller). Otherwise, it’s miracles, misery, and Jesus’s greatest hits (“I Am the Way,” “Peter, Turn the Other Cheek,” “One of You Will Betray Me”). You’re permitted to believe the Son of God spends a lot of time predicting the apostles’ bad behavior, leaving them with no option but to sit around with guilty and bewildered looks.

There are museum walls populated with more riveting accounts. I recommend those. Son of God is grueling in its mildness. It doesn’t even come alive for the Stations of the Cross. Morgado mostly smiles and stands and appears. He makes faces of exasperating beatification, faces that remind you another word for muslin is “cheesecloth.”

01 Mar 17:48

Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and the death of God

by Adam Kotsko

In my Humanities capstone class, we just finished a unit on music, interweaving key modern classical pieces — Wagner’s “Prelude to Tristan und Isolde,” Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun, Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Symphony of Psalms — with Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy. We concluded with Symphony of Psalms yesterday, and though it’s a piece that may not have the overtowering obviousness of the others, I assigned it because Stravinsky is the composer I know best and because Symphony of Psalms is a major piece of his that I don’t know as well as I’d like to.

As I discussed it with my two sections, it became less rather than more comprehensible to me, particularly the lengthy final movement on Psalm 150. The first two movements, which are paired as a kind of prelude and fugue, seem to fit together smoothly and to display a clear relationship between the text and the movement. The Wikipedia page quotes Stravinsky as claiming, “it is not a symphony in which I have included Psalms to be sung. On the contrary, it is the singing of the Psalms that I am symphonizing.” The quote came up in both sections, and I think it’s pretty plausible with the first two movements — he’s trying to get at what Nietzsche might call the Dionysian impulse that motivated the composition of the text we now have.

In the third movement, however, the emotional content seems strangely out of sync with the text of Psalm 150. It is particularly jarring in the lines about the cymbals, where the music is calm and meditative — “the exact opposite of cymbals,” as I told both classes. There are more upbeat passages, and those are the ones that always stood out to me most in previous listening, more or less in isolation from the remainder of the movement, which often faded into the background. Listening intently and placing them in context, however, the more memorable passages can seem almost shrill or desperate, or at least forced. The slower portions, with their slow and steady repetition of “Laudate Dominum, laudate Eum…,” can seem mechanical, almost evacuated of emotion.

Some have viewed this symphony as a testimony of faith on Stravinsky’s part, and I could perhaps see that for the first two movements — but the last seems almost to evacuate the psalm of meaning. It may not be a coincidence here that the texts of the initial pair of movements are both focused on the subjective experience of the worshipper, while the latter seems to evoke a more purely Dionysian absorption in the worship of God.

Perhaps it’s from this perspective that we can begin to understand the strange ending of the first movement, where the choir belts out the final words of the text, “non ero, I will be no more.” The subject is “no more” in the final movement, which consists of a repeated impersonal command to praise God in various ways — a situation that might initially seem to be just the opposite of that predicted in the text of the first movement, where the subject was afraid of being abandoned by God. Yet if we look more closely at the text, there’s a strange decoupling between the course of the human life and recognition by God: whether God answers or not, the speaker still has a limited sojourn on earth and will eventually return to the nothingness from which he came. The final movement, then, can be read as a final enactment of that decoupling, allowing the worship of God to gradually wind down and run out of steam and allowing the subject to live in the abandonment of God.

Filed under: Hebrew Scripture, music, Stravinsky
25 Feb 23:54

Alejandra Pizarnik: from Uncollected Poems (1962-1972)


Translation from Spanish & commentary by Cole Heinowitz

[The eight poems posted here are taken from the 17 typed manuscript pages Pizarnik brought to the home of the poet Perla Rotzait in 1971, less than a year before her death.]

read more

25 Feb 23:51

It Might Blow Up, and It Will Go Pop

by Sean Fennessey

Last week, the fastest-rising addition to Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart was neither a rap song, nor a hot song. It had been released just a week prior, and there was rapping. But Buck 22’s “Achy Breaky 2” — a literal sequel to Billy Ray Cyrus’s hit, “Achy Breaky Heart,” featuring Miley’s 52-year-old dad on the hook — bears none of the hallmarks of the genre. It is, however, remarkable in that it is remarkably bad: Built upon that massively successful 1992 country-pop hit, it is outfitted with peun-peun EDM lasers and bass drops, hollow drum programming, cynical lyrics, and the sub-Timbaland grumble-raps of Buck 22. Oh, and an incessant whistling, straight from the lips of a succubus. In less than a week, the song shot to no. 11 on the Hot Rap Songs chart. Its Larry King–and-alien-Playmate-starring video has logged 7.3 million YouTube views in less than two weeks. “Achy Breaky 2” is emblematic of a genre in disrepair. It is an abomination, or, at least, a practical joke inflicted upon an unwitting public. And they love it.

Damon Elliott, the seasoned producer and songwriter who performs as Buck 22, has had a long career working with artists like Pink, Destiny’s Child, and Keyshia Cole. He’s also the son of Dionne Warwick and jazz drummer Bill Elliott. The Buck 22 project is a new and strange one for the 40-year-old Elliott, who has worked mostly in R&B-pop, but also with Willie Nelson and on the score for films like The Lincoln Lawyer. Until now, he has been a music-industry gadfly, rustling projects together and swinging his production stick at any piñata that crosses his path. Sometimes he whiffs. But sometimes he strikes it cleanly, as with his 2001 Grammy-winning reboot of “Lady Marmalade,” with Pink, Mya, Lil’ Kim, and Christina Aguilera, for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. With “Achy Breaky 2,” he’s busted the thing open.

Elliott is not shy about his intentions with the song: “Next to BRC,22 up on TMZ / Got everybody wonderin’ who I am,” he raps. Elliott says he’s at the forefront of a “new revolution of Country Music mixed with Hip-Hop,” which is not entirely true. From Cowboy Troy to Nelly-and–Tim McGraw duets, the groaning parody of T-Swift to Bubba Sparxxx’s extraordinary “Deliverance,” these genre cross-pollinations are far from new. In fact, trend pieces about such confabs have been pinging around the offices of peg-hungry editors for more than a decade. This is different. Buck 22 has arrived at a time when rap is more vulnerable than ever to interlopers and synthesists eager to run their sound through the Vitamix of popular music with such speed and force it’s impossible to determine the ingredients. “Achy Breaky 2” is a copy of a copy of a Xerox of a guy’s ass. It’s juvenile, and we’ve seen it before. But the quickness with which it grew makes me wonder whether it’s more than a novelty song. If you’ve heard Pitbull and Ke$ha’s “Timber” — and seeing as it is spending its 20th consecutive week on the Hot 100, you probably have — you know that propulsive, empty, country-influenced pop-rap is one of the most powerful forces in commercial radio. Mike Will Made It and Miley Cyrus’s “23” does the same work, as does Florida Georgia Line’s Nelly-featuring remix for “Cruise.” A little twang. A harmonica or banjo signifier. An A-B-A-B verse structure. A wink, and a nod. Here is your rap now.23

Rap has been the viewfinder through which other genres have been looking for nearly 20 years. The same way the Rolling Stones used Chuck Berry and Chicago blues as a vector for their English grind, Justin Timberlake integrated Pharrell and Timbaland’s Virginia swerve to become the biggest white pop star of the millennium. Without hip-hop, there is no JT. Or Rihanna. Or Beyoncé. Or Miley or Katy Perry. Likewise Linkin Park, Kid Rock, Skrillex, Lorde, Imagine Dragons, and more. The pace, the rhythm, and the vernacular of rap has codified the system these artists operate in. Rap energy is pop energy. But what is happening now is the opposite: Actual new rap songs are ceaselessly weighing down the genre itself with the junky detritus of other styles.

Rap is changing. Buck 22 is a pop flashbulb, but his instant, anonymous success is an indicator of a bloated and abused genre — that moment when commercial instinct overpowers all good taste. Think of rock’s freight train settling into the hair-metal holding station. Is rap outta control, as Erick Sermon once harrumphed? No, rap is a category. Its import as a lifestyle has been siphoned off one Macklemore at a time. It’s gone wider, and its purpose is shrinking. What has become the dominant form of American music — a sonic shift that started some 20 years ago — is becoming something new and more confusing with each passing “Achy Breaky 2.” Increasingly, rap consumers don’t identify with rap, they identify with consumption.


What does it mean for rap to enter an age of bloat? In times like this, a savior is often summoned by a desperate media. An avatar of a revolution perhaps, like punk, or grunge, or the rap-abetted new jack swing, which redefined R&B. I wouldn’t count on that here. Still, weirdos, aesthetes, and fundamentalists persist.24 Sometimes they even float down from the ether and into our weather system. Just one week before Buck 22’s incursion, another new song launched into the top 15 of the Hot Rap Songs chart. It’s called “Stoner” by Atlanta’s Young Thug, and it is a wonder. A sickly sweet pull of strawberry Laffy Taffy, the song showcases Thug not so much rapping as incanting from the Book of Wayne: Psalm 1, Chapter 2006.

Thugger Thugger, you
I want Michael Jackson laying, ohh
All on my cash out on it
I’m high as hell, I ain’t got no satellites on me
I told her bitch I feel like Fabo ,
I feel like Fabo, I feel like Fabo
I feel like Fabo, I feel like Fabo
I feel like Fabo, I feel just like Fabo

What do those words mean? They’re mostly a salute to Fabo, the great, underrated D4L front man and Atlanta bon vivant. But they’re also pure Thug, whose approach is physical. His vocals are violent. He is not a verbal tactician, but he is a stylist. His beloved and similarly growing “Danny Glover” has an even more addled and enrapturing quality — it feels like rappelling down a giant Styrofoam cup of lean. Buck 22 is an artist supported by the industry — Larry King and Billy Ray Cyrus cosigns, while bizarre, are hard to come by for any artist. Young Thug is also supported by conglomerates; he recently announced that he’s signed with Cash Money after rumors he was linked to Gucci Mane’s label. Some have speculated that “Stoner” has been bolstered on radio playlists and YouTube25 by a shadowy major record label, perhaps Atlantic Records. Now with Cash Money, he is officially a company man. But Thug still offers the illusion of independence, a rogue operative working the system like a speed bag.


There are others creating in the margins of industry, curiously mixing personal vision with mainstream modes of delivery. Last week, I talked with A$AP Nast of A$AP Mob, the New York crew that will release an EP, L.O.R.D., on RCA next week. Nast’s “Trillmatic” is a DeLorean ride straight to 1994, complete with a transporting Method Man guest verse, a woozy War sample, and the kind of snarling and chippy rhyming that defined a type of East Coast rap that was long ago both popular and respected. It was 20 years ago that Redman, Onyx, and Lords of the Underground were chart-topping artists, too. That moment is exactly what Nast is hoping to conjure, and the detail with which it’s executed is surreal. It is almost necrophilic.

“There wasn’t nobody better for the job,” says Nast, who is 23. “We were in the studio, reminiscing on the golden era … the Wu-Tangs, the Tribes, the Big Puns. We were trying to get back in touch with that. Honestly, I just want to put people back in that time. I want you to see a sunny day in New York. I’m trying to re-create that insight.”

A$AP Mob quickly assumed a reputation for fetishizing a particular kind of ’90s nostalgia, marked by leader A$AP Rocky’s nimble, cross-regional goulash and A$AP Ferg’s blustering, galumphing anthems. Both have achieved a polished version of success that’s become rarer as the rap star-machine has slowed. But Nast is less a character, more a channeler: “I’m very conscious of what’s going on in hip-hop today,” he says. “I follow it. But we don’t need to be that.”

Nast is not purely a traditionalist — he mentioned Kid Cudi and Animal Collective as primary influences on L.O.R.D. “Feel-good music,” he says by way of description. “‘Go out and have a time’ music, but also ‘sit in the house and think’ kind of music.”



Between the pop squalor of Pitbull and the time-frozen curiosity of A$AP Nast lies rap’s red meat — the hard commodity of the industry, unchanging and ever present, often from the South or the West. This week kicks off a steady stream of albums in this vein: Today comes Schoolboy Q’s26 major-label debut, Oxymoron. Next week is Mastermind, the sixth album from Rick Ross. Then L.O.R.D., followed by Young Money: Rise of an Empire, a Drake and Nicki Minaj–fronted compilation from Lil Wayne’s label that is apparently inadvertently (or advertently?) doubling as a marketing tool for the 300 sequel. These are the first-quarter clearinghouse releases of the major labels, ledger-fillers.27

March 18 brings the most interesting release of the spring in My Krazy Life, the debut from YG. He is all curriculum vitae: The Compton rapper has a massive hit in “My N—-,” produced by the ascendant DJ Mustard, as well as the imprimatur of Jeezy. He’s been touted as the first West Coast MC signed to Def Jam since Warren G.28 YG isn’t a terribly compelling rapper, lyrically speaking,29 but he is pugnacious, and after sniffing around the edges of fame for at least five years, and repping for L.A.’s Tree Top Piru Bloods, he’s building a loyal fan base and a deep Rolodex. His is an old-fashioned attempt at star-making — a confident, patient brick-building. Right producer, right mentor, right label, right single worked at radio, right remix.

“My N—- (Remix)” is one of the best rap records of the young year, but aside from Mustard’s sproingy bounce, it says almost nothing about what rap is right now, where it’s going, what it means. Crew records come, crew records go. Likewise, another anonymously massive Mustard-produced single, Kid Ink’s “Show Me.”30

Last year, rap was defined by its weight in stardom — erratic transgression from Kanye West, corporatized smooth from Jay Z, clenched-teeth formalism from Eminem, wounded braggadocio from Drake. The artists that excited on the periphery — Chance the Rapper, Action Bronson, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Ka, Migos — didn’t feel like stars so much as equal parts signal and noise from an alien planet, unconcerned with pop success. The number of high-anticipation star projects is significantly lower this year. And while rap’s middle class — J. Cole, 2 Chainz, B.o.B, Big Sean,31 Wale — do everything they can to step on each other’s heads, precious few have taken the next step.

There are Kendrick Lamar, valorized “real” rapper, and Macklemore, supposed pale-faced imitator and Grammy thief. Whether you buy the narrative peddled about them, or are a fan, both are rap’s best hope for new superstardom. They already seem as big as the genre itself. There are figures like Chief Keef, too, a human thunderbolt of charisma and self-destructiveness. His odds are worse, and yet more intriguing. He could be gone by this time next year, or he could be positioned at the head of a new beast. There is also, of course, Nicki Minaj, who seems to understand that rap credibility and pop centrality are equally important — the minute she leans too heavily on one, she will tilt. After scorching appearances on the “My N—-” and “Danny Glover” remixes and her song “Lookin Ass,” I expect a candy-colored single soon. No one is more talented, or more culturally overwhelming. She can change the trajectory of the genre with one commanding moment. Nicki’s also her own worst enemy as an artist. She has watched too many short-lived rap careers — particularly those of female artists — burn up and fade away. Nicki Minaj won’t make that mistake. Rap’s worse off for it.



Perhaps 2014’s best chance for an artist who can change the scope and shape of rap is Future, a crooning MC who fancies himself an astronaut of love. His 2012 album, Pluto, is one of the more strange pop successes in recent rap history, mixing decaying Auto-Tuned odes to the universe with aggressive Hadouken raps. Future is the cousin of Dungeon Family architect Rico Wade and apprenticed under Rocko, Gucci Mane, and other hale Atlanta figures. He has legacy, but he doesn’t really have a musical forebear. He easily glides from his fiancée Ciara’s slink-soul to pump-up hard-rap burners with Lil Wayne and astrophysical sonnets with Miley. His latest song, essentially a street single for his new album, Honest, is “Move That Dope.” Fast, possessed, dexterous, malevolent, funny, endless — it is the raw rap of my dreams. But I know well enough that a song like “Move That Dope” is no conquering hero. It’s a strategic noisemaker; enough spins and it’s New Year’s Day. Then what?

More of “Achy Breaky 2,” most likely. Which means rap is without a custodian — it’s a ghost ship, piloted by the swaying waters of What’s Hot. A genre can withstand only so many novelty songs before it becomes a novelty.

19 Feb 05:22

The Dictionary as Data.

by languagehat

Lexicographer (and jazzman) Peter Sokolowski (Time called his one of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013!) invited me to a talk he gave this evening on the UMass Amherst campus, just five minutes’ drive from here (though we allowed half an hour lead time for snowy roads and unfamiliar geography, and needed every bit of it); as the announcement put it, “His talk, ‘The Dictionary as Data’ examines not only the transition of dictionaries from print to digital, but also what we have learned about English from having over a billion words looked up per year on the Merriam-Webster web site.” It was fascinating, as you might imagine — not only is the topic intrinsically interesting to anyone who cares about words and dictionaries, but he had wonderful stories about discovering there had been a sudden spike in look-ups of some unexpected word and trying to find out why. Usually it turned out to be a news story that was easily found on the internet (when Michael Jackson died, everybody and his brother looked up “emaciated”), but once it was a word used on a TV show that a lot of people were watching but that left not a trace online. Peter is a wonderful speaker, and it’s no wonder M-W has him doing their Ask the Editor videos (here he is, for example, on “hopefully”).

However, I wanted to take mild issue with a couple of things he said, and since I didn’t get a chance in the Q&A afterwards I figured I’d do so here. One was when he said (in the context of Bill O’Reilly’s use of uncommon words) that snollygoster (“A shrewd, self-interested but unprincipled person”) was “one of the rare words dropped from the Collegiate.” Now, as a professional editor I have used the Merriam-Webster Collegiate for over a quarter of a century (I have copies of the last four editions), and one of my little hobbies when a new edition comes out is to go through a few pages comparing them with the corresponding section of the previous one to see what’s in and what’s out, and (as is only logical) there are quite a few words dropped each time. If that weren’t the case, the Collegiate would be almost as fat as the Unabridged (though it does get a bit bigger each time; the eighth edition had 1,568 pages, the eleventh has 1,664). [As des von bladet points out in the comments, “one of the rare words dropped” probably means that the words that are dropped are not often used, rather than (as I took it) that words are rarely dropped from the Collegiate; my apologies to Peter for my misunderstanding, assuming that's what it was!]

I’m sure he’d agree with me on that; he wouldn’t agree on this next point, and neither (I presume) would any other M-W editor, but I insist that their hallowed tradition of putting the senses in chronological order is a bad one and should be dropped. He made a point of saying how nice it was to see the historical progression, and yes, that is nice — as a lover of word histories, that’s exactly the sort of thing I want to know. But most people are not lovers of word histories, they just want to know what a word means, and they assume that the first definition the dictionary gives is the main one and often don’t bother with any of the others. Don’t take my word for it; go ask a random sample of people. I have had to explain how this works to professional editors, never mind laymen; people simply don’t read the prefaces to dictionaries, and they don’t care about how Noah Webster or Philip Gove did it. If you want your dictionary to be the great democratic institution it can be, you need to aim it at the average user, not the aficionado of lexicography. If people want more word history than they get in the etymology, well, that’s what the OED is for.

Update. I’m pleased (and astonished!) to report that M-W is changing its position on word order; Peter wrote me:

And about the word order: it’s already changed as you indicate in the new work ongoing for the Unabridged online. Going forward, that’s the way we’ll do things. This is already the policy in the most recently edited M-W dictionary, the Learner’s (check out the definitions at For the Unabridged, when the word’s date refers to a sense that is not the first one, the oldest sense will be listed in parenthesis.

Changing the Unabridged and Collegiate will take some time, but that is our ultimate goal.

The most useful U.S. dictionary is getting even more useful!

19 Feb 01:56

58 Facebook genders

by Mark Liberman

Facebook Diversity 2/13/2014:

When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self. An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just “male” or female.” So today, we’re proud to offer a new custom gender option to help you better express your own identity on Facebook.  

We collaborated with our Network of Support, a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations, to offer an extensive list of gender identities that many people use to describe themselves. Moreover, people who select a custom gender will now have the ability to choose the pronoun they’d like to be referred to publicly — male (he/his), female (she/her) or neutral (they/their).  

We also have added the ability for people to control the audience with whom they want to share their custom gender. We recognize that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and this setting gives people the ability to express themselves in an authentic way.

Here's the current list of 56 custom options, from which you get to choose up to 10:

Agender, Androgyne, Androgynous, Bigender, Cis, Cis Female, Cis Male, Cis Man, Cis Woman, Cisgender, Cisgender Female, Cisgender Male, Cisgender Man, Cisgender Woman, Female to Male, FTM, Gender Fluid, Gender Nonconforming, Gender Questioning, Gender Variant, Genderqueer, Intersex, Male to Female, MTF, Neither, Neutrois, Non-binary, Other, Pangender, Trans, Trans Female, Trans Male, Trans Man, Trans Person, Trans Woman, Trans*, Trans* Female, Trans* Male, Trans* Man, Trans* Person, Trans* Woman, Transfeminine, Transgender, Transgender Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Man, Transgender Person, Transgender Woman, Transmasculine, Transsexual, Transsexual Female, Transsexual Male, Transsexual Man, Transsexual Person, Transsexual Woman, Two-spirit

When you go to edit your gender description, the top-level menu is Male/Female/Custom. If you choose Custom, Facebook doesn't show you a menu of 56 checkboxes or whatever. Instead, you're shown a blank field:

However, when you start to enter a description, you're immediately presented with a list of all the available options containing the letters you've entered:

Some other examples:

My favorite gender identity is missing. It was the brilliant invention of a four-year-old of my acquaintance, some years ago, as a way of protesting traditional gender-role options (or at least resisting the attempt of a somewhat bossy six-year-old to assign him one):

Child_#1: Let's play house! I'll be the mommy, you'll be the daddy, and Thor will be the baby.
Child_#2: OK, but I have a better idea: You be the mommy, Thor can be the daddy, and I'll be the squirrel.

"Squirrel" is not one of Facebook's new gender options, alas — when I enter it and try to save the result, I'm told that

But the impulse to re-define the game seems to be similar, even if the options are still limited.

25 Jan 08:17

The Problem With Facebook

by David Crotty
A look at how Facebook increasingly filters the content you see, and how its business model is at odds with the needs of its users. Continue reading »
11 Jan 23:30

Can "[adjective]-ass" occur predicatively?

by Ben Zimmer

One of the highlights of this weekend's Saturday Night Live was a "Weekend Update" appearance by Taran Killam playing Jebidiah Atkinson, a 19th-century speech critic.

(Apologies to those outside of the U.S. who can't view Hulu videos.)

After thoroughly panning the Gettysburg Address, he moves on to other historical speeches (allowing for a bit of time travel), including FDR's Pearl Harbor address. Killam flubs the line and breaks character, which also cracks up "Weekend Update" host Seth Meyers, leading to a bit of improvisation.

Killam: You know what date will live in infamy for me? December 8th, 1941, when FDR gave a speech that was so boring-ass.
(Pause.) I think I misquoted myself.

Meyers: Yeah, I think you did. I was gonna say, that wasn't your best written one.

Killam: That was a rough draft. Coulda used a couple of kamikazes after that.

It's hard to say what line Killam was supposed to deliver. Perhaps it was written as "FDR gave a boring-ass speech," followed by the bit about kamikazes. Or perhaps the boring-ass was improvised entirely but inserted in the wrong place. Either way, the problem that Killam faced was that boring-ass sounds just fine when it's used attributively (pre-modifying speech), but sounds wrong as a predicate adjective.

We've looked at the "[adjective]-ass" combining form a few times in the past: "The intensified crack of dawn?" (ML, 6/7/05), "Root haughtiness" (GP, 8/20/11), "Is it a prosodic-ass constraint?" (GP, 8/25/11), "Rachel Jenteal's language in the Zimmerman trial" (JR, 7/10/13). But I don't think we've ever addressed the attributive vs. predicative issue. Neal Whitman tackled this on his Literal-Minded blog last year in his post "Ass/Fucking Intensification," in part inspired by a classic xkcd strip:

Neal writes:

Ass, however, can intensify only attributive adjectives. Put it with a predicative adjective and it's just silly:

*This car is sweet-ass.
He has a sweet-ass car.

Constraints on the predicative use of "[adjective]-ass" were noted as early as 1998, when Diana Elgersma presented a paper entitled "Serious-ass morphology:
The anal emphatic in English
" at MILC 2. Elgersma's observation was limited to backward-ass, however:

Although the origin of the '-ass' suffix is unclear, it would seem to have spread from a more restricted nominalizing morpheme, which attaches not only to adjectives, but also to verbs: bad-ass ('Check the dude in the leather jacket – he's a total bad-ass!'), hard-ass, slack-ass, whup-ass ('If you don't shut up, I'm gonna open up a big can of Texas-style whup-ass on ya.'), lazy-ass, stupid-ass and kiss-ass, for example. Note that many of these can also be used as emphatic adjectives (stupid-ass, lazy-ass, slack-ass, hard-ass).

One interesting case is the word backward. There are several variants with this particular base, including bass-ackward, backasswards (infixation), or the prefixed ass-backward. This latter variant can potentially be explained as an iconic reversal; that is, putting the normally suffixed '-ass' in a prefixed position is in itself backward. It is possible to have the attributive variant backward-ass ('That's one backward-ass idea'), however, this particular construction cannot occur as a predicate adjective: * 'That idea is backward-ass.'

A more nuanced statement of the constraint is given by Daniel Sidiqqi in "The English intensifier ass" (Snippets, May 2011):

Ass seems to have a requirement that it appear right of the adjective that it is modifying AND left of the head the adjective modifies (i.e. it cannot be phrase final):

a. The night is very cold. *The night is cold-ass.
b. I am very happy. *I am happy-ass.
c. I am hottest in leather. *I am hot-ass in leather.
d. I run quickly. *I run quick-ass.

The only time that ass can appear phrase-finally is when attached to bad (e.g. That receiver is badass), but, in such cases it is always stressed (otherwise it is not). I expect badass is the source of the affix rather than an exception.

If the constraint is just that "[adjective]-ass" cannot be phrase-final, then that would allow predicative uses of this type (found on COCA):

The father would talk about how backward-ass the medical school was in its, say, treatment of severe high blood pressure…
—Brock Clarke, "The Son's Point of View," The Southern Review, 39(3):556 (Summer 2003).

…and possibly also this boring-ass example from Urban Dictionary:

That physics lecture was so boring ass, I fell asleep with my leg behind my ear and my finger in my ass.

If the UD example is acceptable (it's pretty borderline for me), then I wonder if Killam wanted to say:

FDR gave a speech that was so boring-ass (that) I needed a couple of kamikazes afterwards.

If he intended to phrase it that way, then he got into trouble by pausing after boring-ass, as if that were the end of the sentence. (Blame the cue cards?) But I'm glad he did pause, since breaking character made the bit even funnier, and also provided excellent material for another boring-ass Language Log post.

[Update Welcome, Geekosystem readers!]

11 Jan 15:55

Getting Open Access Embargoes Right: Rational Policy Must Be Evidence-Based

by David Crotty
A new study, out today, takes a broad look at the usage lives of scholarly journal articles. The information it contains is vital for achieving the balance necessary for Green OA policies to work. Continue reading »
11 Jan 15:41

Thomas Meyer – From the Beowulf translation: Fit Nine


Portrait drawing of Thomas Meyer by David Hockney
Portrait drawing of Thomas Meyer by David Hockney

[NOTE.  After two years in public view (the project goes back some forty years before that), Thomas Meyer’s translation/transcreation of the Beowulf poem stands out as an extraordinary example of the transposition of a major poem from one language or epoch to another.  It’s my contention further that translation, as here, can serve as a form of composition, to make a new work in which the presence of the old is a necessary underpinning or shadow, as in the words of Gertrude Stein, rather than Pound in this instance: “As it is old it is new, and as it is new it is old, but now [she adds] we have come to be in our own way, which is a completely different way.”

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03 Jun 18:36

"No homo"

by Mark Liberman

In a sign of the times, "Hibbert's Remarks Result in a Fine", NYT 6/2/2013:

The N.B.A. fined Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert $75,000 Sunday, hours after Hibbert apologized for using an antigay slur and an obscenity in a news conference after his team’s victory against the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. […]

In his postgame comments Saturday in Indianapolis, Hibbert used the term “no homo” when answering a question about defending the Heat star LeBron James on a play in the second half that resulted in James’s being called for an offensive foul. He later directed an obscenity toward reporters after being questioned on another topic.

The "no homo" aside:

I- I don't block a lot of shots all the time
but you know I try to alter as much as possible
not to give up any uh easy plays because you know
the momentum could have shifted right there if he got an easy dunk and
you know uh
you know there was what, game- what was it- game three here?
I really felt that I let Paul [George] down in terms of
having his back
whether LeBron was scoring in the post or
getting to the paint because he was stretching me out so much
no homo
and uh- and uh- {laughs}
but you know I want to be there for him
you know he's the future
I mean I think he has the chance to be mvp of this league next year
you know uh every- every guard needs to have a big guy to have his back
so you know I- I'm that guy

For some background, see "An Old Person's Guide to 'No Homo'", 8/18/2009, with an explanation by Jay Smooth that's worth featuring again:

Here's the later obscenity "directed towards reporters", which came in response to a question about why he finished only tenth in Player of the Year voting:

y'all- y'all motherfuckers don't watch us play throughout the year, to tell you the truth
all right? so that's fine, you know?
I'm gonna be real with you, and I don't care if I get fined, because
you know what, we play, we're not on tv all the time, reporters are the ones that uh
that are uh voting and
you know it is what it is
and if I don't make it, that's fine, I'm still gonna do what I have to do

The interesting thing about all of this, in my opinion, is that media coverage has stressed the "no homo" remark more than the "y'all motherfuckers" remark: "Hibbert apologizes for gay slur", ESPN; "Roy Hibbert reaches out to Jason Collins after using gay slur", USA Today; "Pacers center Roy Hibbert apologizes for gay slur", NY Daily News; etc. This might be because of the way that Roy Hibbert framed his apologies; or maybe the public is more sympathetic these days to gays than to reporters.

25 May 08:28

The 8 best poet-on-poet profiles in Jacket's first 5 years

by afilreis


From left to right: Ann Waldman, Lytle Shaw, Rob Wilson, Marjorie Allen Seiffert

I took the pleasure recently of re-reading nearly everything published in the first 17 issues of Jacket magazine. Then I went back through quickly, identifying eight poet/critic-on-poet profiles that I found most impressive and memorable. Many of these I recalled from the first time I’d read them in the magazine. For what it's worth, here are — to me — the eight best essay-profiles published in the first five years of the magazine:

1. Eliot Weinberger on James Laughlin (#2; 1998)
2. Rob Wilson on Jack Spicer (#7; 1999)
3. Lytle Shaw on Frank O’Hara (#10; 1999)
4. Stephen Vincent on Joanne Kyger (#11; 2000)
5. Tom Orange on Clark Coolidge (#13; 2001)
6. Brian Kim Stefans on Ian Hamilton Finlay (#15, 2001)
7. Ann Waldman on Kenneth Koch (#15; 2001)
8. Catherine Daly on Marjorie Allen Seiffert (#17; 2002)

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18 May 17:50

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hall and Oates by John Peck




Welcome, gentlemen; our urgent need did provoke
Our hasty sending.


Both your majesties
Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,
Put your dread pleasures more into command
Than to entreaty.


But we four obey,
And here give up ourselves to be commanded.


You’ve got to know
What my head overlooks
The senses will show to my heart;
When it’s watching for lies
You can’t escape my
Private Eyes.


(long pause)

(clears throat)

That will be all.


Ay, amen!


(places her hand on HALL’s chest)

Stay, you lion-maned pair, tell me
Of your distant City of Brotherly Love,
That we may, as they say, get to know
The heft and measure of each other’s thoughts.


I can’t go for that.


No can do.


I can’t go for that, can’t go for that, can’t go for that.


- - -




My excellent good friends! How do ye four?


As the indifferent children of the earth.


Happy, in that we are not over-happy;
On fortune’s cap we are not the very button.


Mmmm, yeah. Mmmm, yeah, hey.



There is a kind of confession in your looks
Which your modesties have not craft enough to colour:
I know the good king and queen have sent for you.


Don’t you know
That it’s wrong to take
What he’s giving you;
You can get along
If you try to be strong
But you’ll never be strong.

(long pause)

I… sure.
Now, make haste to the king’s chamber,
To his chamber, go!



Stay, dusky Oates, for your silence doth seem
The still surface of the deepest waters, and I lack gall
To make oppression bitter for this tyrant,
This remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
O, vengeance!


Vengeance, whoa-oh.


Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
I fall a-cursing, like a very drab, a scullion!


A scullion, woo, scullion, whoa-oh.


Abuse me to damn me, but I’ll have grounds
More relative than this: the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience—


Conscience, whoa, conscience, whoa-oh.

OATES vamps for eight more minutes; HAMLET waits awkwardly.

- - -




They are coming to the play; I must be idle:
Get you a place. Where be Ophelia? My own person,
Like the sun, doth daily rise to greet her.


I wouldn’t if I were you,
I know what she can do,
She’s deadly, man, she could really rip your world apart.
Mind over matter, ooh, the beauty is there,
But a beast is in the heart.


(clears throat)

Go, bid the players make ready.


We will, my lord.



Whoa-oh, here she comes.


Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up.


Whoa-oh, here she comes.


She’s a maneater.


Let the show begin!

Enter a dozen SAXOPHONISTS.


Gods, no! Give me some light: away!

Exeunt all.

- - -


HALL and OATES stand graveside. Enter LAERTES.


What news? Hast seen Ophelia this day?


Everybody’s high on consolation,
Everybody’s trying to tell me what’s right for me, yeah,
My daddy tried to bore me with a sermon,
But it’s plain to see that they can’t comfort me.


Come, what news, knave? Out with it!


Sorry, Charlie, for the imposition,
I think I’ve got it, got it, I’ve got the strength to carry on, yeah.
I need a drink and a quick decision,
Now it’s up to me, ooh, what will be.


Come, you devils! Out, out with it!


She’s gone.


She’s gone.


Oh, I, oh, I,
I’d better learn how to face it.
She’s gone.


She’s gone.


Oh, I, oh, I,
I pay the devil to replace her.
She’s gone.

Enter SAXOPHONIST, playing.


She’s gone.


She’s gone.

HALL, OATES and SAXOPHONIST continue thusly for sixteen minutes; LAERTES waits awkwardly.

- - -




This quarry cries on havoc. O proud death,
What feast is toward in thine eternal cell,
That thou so many princes at a shot
So bloodily hast struck?


The sight is dismal;
And our affairs from England come too late:
The ears are senseless that should give us hearing,
To tell him his commandment is fulfill’d,
That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hall and Oates are dead:
Where should we have our thanks?


Not from his mouth,
Had it the ability of life to thank you:
He never gave commandment for their death.


The saxophonists, too, are rightly hanged.


Rejoice! Prepare the table for feasting!

A heavy blues-soul march. Exeunt, bearing the dead bodies.


18 May 17:50

The enigmatic language of the new Windows 8 ads

by Victor Mair

Everybody has been puzzling over the language of the series of online ads for Windows 8 that it recently released in Asia.

Native speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, and Korean declare that it is not any of those languages.  The first time I listened to them, the ads sounded as though they contained elements of some Wu topolect, a bit like mangled Shanghainese, but I could also definitely hear bits of Mandarin, albeit with unusual tonal contours and slurring.  What was most perplexing of all to me was that, although I was certain that the ads contained Chinese phrases and sentences, every Chinese person to whom I showed them emphatically maintained that they could not understand a single word!  In contrast, several non-native speakers of Mandarin said they could pick out a word of Chinese here and there.

Here is a sampling of the scores of replies I received from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean speakers (all native except where otherwise noted):

Mandarin speaker:  It's a made-up language.

Speaker of many Chinese topolects:  It's gibberish.  My wife and I together know all the major non-Mandarin dialects. We listened to the ads, but did not understand any. Who are Microsoft's consumers? Who does it target at?

Mandarin speaker:  The kids have invented their own language.

Mandarin speaker:  They do not sound like any Chinese language.

Shanghainese speaker:  I don't understand any of the words in these ads. They're not like any Wu languages that I know. I guess they speak Microsoftish.

Korean speaker:  I'm not sure but I don't think it is Korean. It's funny that MS declined to say what language these commercials are in!

American speaker of Mandarin and a bit of Shanghainese:  It does have hints of something Wu but I can't place it.

Speaker of Mandarin and Cantonese:  I am too busy to be bothered with those strange ads.

Fluent American speaker of Japanese who also knows a little Korean and Mandarin: First one is Chinese, second one is Korean, third one is very mumbly, probably Japanese based on the actors.

Korean speaker who also knows some Mandarin and Japanese:  I have no idea. They aren't speaking in Korean for sure, and it doesn't sound like Japanese either. I only can think that they are speaking in a Chinese dialect (including Taiwanese) or South Asian language.

Korean speaker who also knows some Mandarin and Japanese:  I don't recognize the language either. But it will be definitely one of Chinese dialects. Funny commercial though.

Fluent American speaker of Japanese who also knows a bit of Mandarin:  Sounds like make-believe Chinese for non speakers. In Italy there's a big tradition of comedians "speaking" various regional dialects by catching just enough of their sounds and rhythms to sound plausible. What was that poem? Mimsy are the borogoves….

Korean speaker who also knows some Mandarin and Japanese:  They surely are funny, and I don't know what language they are speaking either. ^^; Microsoft is being weird I guess.

Fluent American speaker of Japanese who also knows some Mandarin:  No idea whatsoever.

Speaker of Taiwanese and Mandarin:  I could not understand them, either. However, the tones and pronunciation indeed remind me of Korean language. I am not sure whether they are trying to imitate Koreans or not.

Japanese speaker: If you, an outstanding polyglot, can't tell what language they are speaking, how would I know!?????  Clever ads.  The boys in the 3rd ad are bad pianists but terrific pingpong players!

Fluent American speaker of Korean who also is very advanced in Japanese and Mandarin:  No kidding, Victor. Just crazy. A real mystery! Well, the language is definitely not Japanese or Korean, or Mandarin Chinese or any other variety of Chinese I've ever heard.  Still, here's my guess: Although it's not Chinese, in the first video there's a ma at the end of a clause, isn't there? And I hear yihou (with the wrong tones) introducing a clause in a set of instructions. That's why I think Microsoft just got some Chinese speakers to start making things up. What I'm saying is that I think it's made-up language, gibberish. Oh, and by the way, the styles of clothing, etc. look Chinesy, at least to me. They don't really look Japanese or Korean.

Speaker of Mandarin and a Hunan topolect:  I asked several friends about the three ads. We think the first one may be a Wu topolect 吴方言 (maybe Shanghainese 上海话), the second one like a southwest topolect 西南方言 (maybe Sichuanese 四川话). And we really don't know about the third one. However, we can not confirm with the guess.

Speaker of Mandarin and Hangzhounese:  All three ads speak Korean.

Speaker of Shanghainese and Mandarin:  Are they foreign students trying to speak Shanghainese?  I can't understand any of it.

Fluent American speaker of Mandarin who also know Shanginese and other Wu languages:  The ads are entertaining. But I think the language is fake. Though it seems intended to sound like some incomprehensible Chinese dialect. I guess that there is a remote chance that it is real. But I will be really surprised if someone identifies any of it as a real language. The ads were probably filmed in the U.S., maybe the west coast, all in the same room, which if you look closely has hazard signs all printed in English and no Chinese at all.

Speaker of Taiwanese and Mandarin:  I do not understand any of them. Quite creative!

Fluent American speaker of Mandarin who also is conversant with Min topolects:  There's only enough to listen to in the first one. I hear 人 and 一點 in what sound like Wu forms. I'm surprised, however, not to hear the ubiquitous Wu form of 不.

Speaker of Mandarin and several Wu topolects:  It is none of the Yangtze Delta dialects I understand. Check with someone from Fujian or native Tawanese?

Fluent American speaker of Mandarin who also knows a lot about many of the topolects:  I do not speak any Wu dialect, but it should be fairly easy to find someone who does and ask them about it. There are Shanghai speakers all over the place in the US now, and Philly must be full of them.  I can understand some words and phrases in it, which leads me to suspect that it could perhaps be some form of Mandarin. Southern Mandarin of the Yangtze watershed would be a possibility, it seems to me. Or even some sort of Central Plains Mandarin (中原官話).  My wife says she cannot understand a single word of it, which I frankly think is a gross exaggeration due to a psychological block of some kind. (Some people totally shut down when they hear a speech form that is even slightly unfamiliar to them.  My wife is one of those people. For example, she also says she can't understand a word of Chaozhou/Shantou, but even I can sometimes catch entire phrases of it when I hear it, and I am not a native speaker of Southern Min. I think she just doesn't want to understand these things.)

A couple of people from China suggested to me that the language might be that of Ruian (near Wenzhou) 瑞安的温州话, which has about 5,000,000 speakers.  But I only think they said that because the speech of Ruian is famous for being virtually impossible for outsiders to comprehend in the slightest, so much so that (along with other Wenzhou topolects) it has supposedly been used in wartime as a secret language (e.g., when the Chinese fought against the Vietnamese in 1979).

For references, see here, here, and here.

And, in this Wikipedia article, there is a section about the legendary incomprehensibility of Wenzhou topolects:

Due to its long history and the geographical features of the region on which it is located, Wenzhou Chinese is so eccentric in its phonology that it has the reputation of being the "least comprehensible dialect" for an average Mandarin speaker. It preserves some vocabulary from classical Chinese lost elsewhere, and has noticeable grammatical differences from Mandarin.

For those who wish to hear what Wenzhounese sounds like, here are some YouTube videos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

One of my Chinese friends told me that someone online stated that the female speaker in the first video was from a place in Shanxi called Lishi 離石.  But I think that he said that only because that area — like Ruian in Wenzhou — has a reputation for being hard for outsiders to comprehend.

But what do the ads really say, and in what language are they spoken?  Here I concentrate only on the first ad because the other two ads have such a small amount of speech, and it is sotto voce.

The first expression spoken in the ad is one of the most ubiquitous utterances in Chinese:  zàijiàn 再見 ("goodbye").  It is strange to me that no Chinese speakers could recognize it.  Perhaps it is because it comes right at the beginning, is totally out of context, is spoken very quickly, and is not Modern Standard Mandarin.

A bit later comes yǐhòu 以後 ("after"), though with altered tones.  The same tonal alteration of yǐhòu 以後 ("after") is heard soon again and then once or twice more later on.

Other words that I hear are the following:

wúlùn 無論 ("regardless")

néng bùnéng wǎn yīdiǎn 能不能晚一點 ("can you [come] a bit later?")

zhèyàng ba 這樣吧 ("like this")

nǐ tīngjiàn 你聽見 ("did you hear?")

pò zhège zhōngguó màozi ("ruining this Chinese hat" [?])

nǐ gàn ma 你幹嘛 ("what are you doing?")

shénme dōngxi 什麼東西 ("what thing?")

yǒu zhème hǎo fǎzi 有這麼好法子 ("there's such a good way" [not sure of the next-to-last syllable])

tèbié 特別 ("special")

wǒ gěi nǐ nòng 我給你弄 ("I'll do it for you")

N.B.:  the order of what I've written down here is not necessarily that which is the actual sequence in the video, since I just quickly jotted down what I heard during several passes through the video. I probably can grasp twice again the amount of what I've given here, but this should afford an idea of the nature of the speech.  I'm fairly certain that it is basically some variety of Mandarin.

Of  course, what the voice is saying is totally unrelated to the actions in the video, so I suppose — in addition to the fast speed and muttered, altered quality of the speech –  that is a major factor in causing native speakers of Chinese to aver that they cannot understand anything that is being said.  Another problem is that at a number of points the pronunciation is electronically modulated in an unnatural way.

My question to Language Log readers is this:  why do foreign speakers of Chinese languages seem to pick up more of these ads than the native Chinese speakers for whom they were intended?

[Thanks to Mark Liberman, Ben Zimmer, W. South Coblin, Bob Ramsey, Richard VanNess Simmons, Sanping Chen, Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Xu Wenkan, Zhu Qingzhi, Minglang Zhou, Jidong Yang, Feng Shengli, David Spafford, Frank Chance, Kellen Parker, Nathan Hopson, Grace Wu, Haewon Cho, Gianni Wan, Cheng Fangyi, Rebecca Fu, Daniel Sou, Yunu Song, Sophie Wei, Chin Yi Young, Frank Lin, Summer Hu and her parents, and Stefan Krasowski]

18 May 17:37

Racist Park

by Victor Mair

Liwei Jiao sent in a selection of signs from a Chinese website that was originally part of a collection assembled in the Daily Mail. We've seen most of these Chinglish signs before, and have already discussed several of them over the years. But this one is new, at least to me, and unusually inept:


mínzú yuán 民族园 ([Minority] Nationalities Park)

The mistake arises from making the wrong choice among the multiple meanings of the word mínzú 民族 ("ethnic group; race; nationality; people").

The reason this mistranslation is particularly inappropriate is because of the infamous (but not historically accurate) sign at the entrance to Huangpu Park in semi-colonial Shanghai — "No dogs or Chinese allowed" — which is one of the most frequent instantiations of racism from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

15 May 04:23

Etel Adnan's Paris, When It’s Naked

by elaynab

The poet's novel

A novel in which the subject is Paris.  A collage novel.  A list novel.  A novel of various forms of hopefulness and despair. 

“We’re moving towards something that does not exist.  The voyage is infinite. The passenger is not.” [1].

Where has Adnan taken the form of the novel, as a poet of many countries and languages?  She has chosen place for character. She has chosen Paris, all of Paris.  Her gaze penetrates the beauty and limitations.  She does not ignore Paris as “the heart of a lingering colonial power.”  She has taken the reader not only to the streets of Paris, but to the skies, and to the passing thoughts of the relocated Parisian who writes through circumstances, concerns, observations. 

“Some rare evenings, the glow is so strong that pink hue, an after hue, an illumination made of color and fire, seeps between the buildings, these evenings which are an illumination for the whole body, not only the eyes.”  [2].

That no other persons come into focus for more than a moment creates an experimental cinematic sense of the city.  We are lured toward  not merely a visual surface but a detailed map of luminosities and gravities

read more

28 Mar 00:07

John Cage & Kenneth Patchen - The city wears a slouch hat (1942), A Radio Play

Elliot Harmon

This is great.

The city wears a slouch hat is one of those Cage works that many know about, but few have actually heard. Commissioned by CBS' "Columbia Workshop" to accompany a radio play by "Beat" poet/writer Kenneth Patchen--a surreal script centered around a mysterious drifter known as "The Voice" and his encounters with various characters of the urban landscape. Cage's music aptly fits Patchen's texts, scored for "sound orchestra" of 5 percussionists along with live and recorded sound effects, revealing Cage's gift for orchestrating the timbres of percussion. One can only imagine what unsuspecting families, seated around the radio for an evening's entertainment, made of this bizarre script and rambunctious music in 1942.
15 Mar 17:24

Rage in Kunming

by Victor Mair

We at Language Log are already quite familiar with Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. That's where the completely fake Apple store was discovered by a blogger named BirdAbroad (see "Your friendly fake Apple Stoer in Kunming"). It's also where we located some of our most amazing airport Chinglish.

Now, in the same airport, a Chinese Communist official went on a rampage after missing his flight and thoroughly trashed a check-in station. First, a silent video which is fairly well known:

What this man is doing in Chinese would be called fā píqì 发脾气 ("throwing a tantrum; having a fit"), a kind of infantile behavior to which adults sometimes succumb. His name is Yan Linkun, and he's the deputy chairman of a mining company and a member of the Communist Party political advisory body in Yunnan, as well as a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Here is an article from the Chinese version of China Daily showing Yan Linkun apologizing to a broadly smiling higher-up who is shaking his hand amiably.

I was extremely fortunate to find a shorter video with sound, so we can hear some of the what the man is shouting:

It's hard to hear everything Yan Linkun is saying, but it seems like part of it goes thus:

Wǒ běnlái dǎ de shì tóuděng cāng de. . . Shénme yìsi a! Shénme yìsi, a? ! Wǒ běnlái shì tóuděng cāng de. . . . Tài qīfù rénle. . . Dōu jǐ cìle? ! Tài qīfù rénle. Āi, gǎnjǐn gěi wǒ kāimén nǎ! . . . Āi, nǎ yǒu zhèyàng de, tài qīfù rénle! . . . Tóuděng cāng. . .
我本来打得是头等舱的。。。什么意思啊!什么意思,啊?!我本来是头等舱的。 。。。 太欺负人了。。。都几次了?!太欺负人了。哎,赶紧给我开门哪!。。。哎,哪有这样的,太欺负人了!。。。头等舱。。。
"I originally booked a first class [ticket]…. What do you mean, huh?! What do you mean, huh?! I originally booked a first class [ticket]…. You're really bullying me…. And not just once?! You're really taking advantage of me. Hai! Hurry up and open the door!… Hai, how can you be like this? Really browbeating me!… First class…."

I have translated qīfù 欺负 ("dupe; hoodwink; cheat; deceive; bully; take advantage of") in several different ways to try to bring across the various nuances of the word.

Perhaps others who watch the video can catch more of Yan Linkun's ranting and raving or what some of the onlookers are saying.

I sent this video to a former student of mine who lives in Kunming. Here is her reply: "YouTube is blocked in China… no freedom… i could have used a VPN, but again it's not working very well and very slow to watch videos in 阻国."

She makes a very clever pun on zǔguó 阻国 ("blocking / obstructing country") and zǔguó 祖国 ("motherland; fatherland; homeland; native land").

The motherland could have used a bit more blocking right there in Kunming when Yan Linkun began to trash the check-in counter. The security forces just stood by and watched, perhaps because he's a member of the Communist Party and can behave with impunity?

[Thanks to Jing Wen, Jiajia Wang, and Fangyi Cheng.]