Some Days I’m Angry AND Disappointed

Those are stay-big-picture days: paint, write, read, think about language. If gender is fluent, so are the other language markers which assert us. What if I don’t always identify as a first person? I may feel like a you, for example, besotted with empathy for us. How many I am can also be in flux, neither singular nor plural quite doing the job, leaving me like a numberless child, forsaken by the grammar that traps me.

This isn’t one of those days. I flaunt a tenuous Scottish heritage today because of this news: Period products are now free in that country to anyone who needs them. My mother’s husband’s forebears’ home was Scotland, saving contrary evidence. If men in skirts be fable as some claim, / long live of fabled men in skirts the fame! (It’s hard to talk of Scotland without metre.)

The initiative makes Scotland the first country in the world to provide free sanitary products, part of a global effort to end “period poverty” — or a lack of access to tampons or sanitary pads because of prohibitively high costs.

(Remy Tumin, “Scotland Makes Period Products Free,” 8-15-22)

Northern Ireland is considering a similar measure; New Zealand and South Korea offer free menstrual products in schools. I was deprived of a girlhood by the fact of my birth, but if I could have one, I know where I would choose to be born: Edinburgh, Belfast, Wellington or Seoul.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Versicles & Dangleberries

Wrath of Thrones
Thee 8TH of Henrys did decree
bad wyves &&& Thomases must meet
their Heav’nly Fodder sharpishly,
ahead of shedjewel, toote sweet.
Thee Archfellowe of Hi Kirk
For proper fayth
Thee others bee
don’t ye see?
Saint Peete 
Monarkee & Papacee
a-sittin’ in a tree,
kay, eye, ess, ess,
eye, inn, gee.
Tory Pun Ditty Tree
Lordies & theyr Laidesses
a-puttin’ on the Ritz,
knaveree & wokeree
a’throwin’ hissy fits.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Failure Foretold: Manifesto of Translation Excuses

The physics of a tiny bead driven by a puff of air towards a miracle on airy wing guarantees that a kid plinking at dragonflies with his BB-gun will never bag one. That’s the comfort built into the action. So it goes with translating poetry — done because it can’t be done. The lost cause fallacy cushions the effrontery.

I’m not a poet but gravitate to poems for translation practice and vocabulary acquisition. A decent poem’s language is economical, concrete, precise and uninflated. If it’s flowery or obscure — and there’s plenty of that — it may suffer qua poetry but is still fit for purpose as long as it can be held in the mind and on the tongue, and interrogated at word level

Carmen Giménez, Graywolf Press’s new executive editor, has said she became a poet and not a fiction writer because she is “attracted to the granular level of language” Me too. My view of translation will be myopic in the sense of being literal-minded.

Here are the two poles of the dialog:

How literal must a literary translation be? Nabokov, who was fluent in three languages and wrote in two of them, believed that “the clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase.” Borges, on the other hand, maintained that a translator should seek not to copy a text but to transform and enrich it. “Translation is a more advanced stage of civilization,” Borges insisted—or, depending on the translation you come across, “a more advanced stage of writing.” (He wrote the line in French, one of several languages he knew.)

(Jiayang Fan, “Han Kang and the Complexity of Translation,” The New Yorker, 1-8-18)

If I had to pick a side, heaven forbid, I’d have to call myself of the Nabokovian persuasion, but not as proud or thunderous.

With Arabic, I can’t profit from having rubbed elbows with the culture such as I’ve done with Spanish and, to some extent, French. Tant pis. I won’t be denied a gander at the sources in company with my dictionary and grammars. Most fascinating is when other translators depart from the literal sense of texts as I’m able to glean it. The how and why are paramount, with due respect to whatever “spirit” and authorial intention they presume to have captured floating outside the rude language matchups that can be established.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Fun With Man-Words

In 2013, 52 Atlantic spotted dolphins migrated from the northern Bahamas to Bimini, 100 miles south, where a community of 120 of their species already lived. The encounter could have gone badly.

When groups of social mammals meet, things can get tense. Run-ins between chimpanzee communities, for instance, are known for their violence. Adult male mammals, especially, are keen to defend territory and access to females.

(Carolyn Wilke, “Dolphin Strangers Met in the Bahamas. Things Went Swimmingly,” NYTimes, 8-6-22)

As it happened, for reasons that included lots of steamy dolphin sex, the newcomers were assimilated with relative ease.

What’s arresting for this reflection is mention of the general propensity of man-males to defend access to femme-males. In tribal contexts, the integrity and purity of the son-bearing pool are paramount. Womb-men are a brood stock managed by male-men like any vital resource — such as a watering hole, a salt deposit, a grove of pippins. Post-Roe, a purdah-torial direction of travel is discernible in America, where resurgent he-men tighten the reproductive and behavioral screws on non-men. The tribe is on the move.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Also Good With Cheese on a Biscuit

Anyone who has twisted the cap off an opened jar of Marmite rimmed with dried product will know why it’s used to glue the tiles on the heat shields of Elon Musk’s rockets. The shields enable the craft to withstand the searing stresses of passage through Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. Until they discovered Marmite’s aptitude for the purpose, Muskovite engineers had experienced frustration with conventional adhesives’ failure during flight, causing tiles to fall off and pose potential disaster for the rockets and their crews.

As often happens, a breakthrough in a billionairian space program sparks advances in adjacent industries — in this case, the development and manufacture of a wide range of edible glues.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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‘Trsf yjr timr/‘

When I tried to be a writer I was too young to have interesting thoughts. Rimbaud was a freak to be worshiped despairingly. Why couldn’t I be an ancient soul at nineteen like him? I could not find impassive rivers to descend on my Smith-Corona portable.

Now that I have a mature outlook, touch typing may rescue me. The skill requires assuming the home position from the onset of attack, index fingers bookending ‘G’ and ‘H,’ no droopy wrists, eyes on your copy — and sit up straight! My attractive high school teacher was emphatic. Her impact on my keyboarding endures.

In the throes of afflatus my occasional failing is to be carelessly right-shifted from home position by one key. My index fingers rest on ‘G’ and ‘K’ instead of ‘F’ and ‘J.’ A glance at the screen after a spate of keying reveals gibberish. For example, “Read the rune.” comes out as:

Trsf yjr timr/.

In point of fact, this isn’t true gibberish. Train wreck of a false start, yes, but it’s also a map to a message. Knowing the state of affairs, you could decode it yourself if you had half a mind. But what you deciphered would be less interesting than what my delinquent fingers had wrought.


Fun is ahead in shifting right expressly. I could type something disobliging here on my blog, say a snatch of billingsgate, and my reader would be none the wiser. She would take it to be a citation from Welsh or a Transcaucasian language.

I’m calling this gift rhapsodic typographicalism and its specimens typo rhapsodies. The best ones are destined for submission to the poetry journals.

z0vz0 3-33 zk,m == Ryjovs;Fsyobr/ S;; tohjyd trdrtbrf [<— rhapsodic copyright line]

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‘What rough beast, its hour come round at last…’

“We’re going to draw a hard line in the sand for morality,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Clint Ives said… “I applaud their efforts to defeat liberalism…”

(George Coryell, “Victoria County [Texas] sides with group that wants city library books removed,”, 8-1-22)

The commissioner refers to a group of citizens who want 21 books about LGBTQ children and teens banned from the public library.

“America is being reintroduced to what preliterate or highly ethnically divided societies that have tried to implement the American model have known all along… All politics are tribal and zero-sum. You have created tribes and the tribes aren’t talking to each other anymore.”

(Farah Stockman, “Kenya’s Elite Talk About American Power in the Past Tense,” NYTimes, 8-3-22)

James Mwangi, executive director of Dalberg, an international consulting firm, is quoted in the article.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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New Word: ‘Yean’

Eye-catching illustration

I’ve bumped into yean, a novel word, in the serendipitous way that study of a foreign language affords. The word is classed as ‘Archaic.’ Of course it is. Another recent discovery of mine, objurgate, is’ Rare.’ I wonder if I inhabit a superannuated mental space clogged with spent words. Should I hang out more on social media where the fast and furious lingo lives?

Here’s where yean surfaced:

Rem. c. There are some feminine adjectives of the form [fuƹlā], not superlatives, without any corresponding masculines; as [‘untā] female, feminine, [ḥublā] pregnant, [rubbā] which has recently yeaned (of a ewe or she-goat).

(Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, p. 184)
Helpful notes

Yean means to give birth to a lamb or a kid.

I had an irreverent uncle, branded Buzz, a classic middle child who was born to ranch and died broke, but unbroken. Buzz swore that the priest conducting the only Catholic mass he ever witnessed intoned “something about a game of dominos.” He (Buzz) would pass audible gas in mixed company, adopt a studious frown and murmur, “Thoughts and prayers.”

Buzz never ranched sheep nor goats; he was a cattleman. It will come as no surprise that he celebrated the arrival of each of his three children by announcing that his wife had calved. For no good reason but true to form, Buzz has the last word in this divagation.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Don’t Do to Me Whatever That Means

From the stagnant backwaters of my brain, objurgate bubbles up unsolicited. Is it even a word? Where have I ever heard or set eyes on it?


My smidgin of Latin alerts me to what the word has in common with obverse, obfuscate, obnoxious: a knobby, adversative prefix.

Google knows objurgate means “rebuke severely; scold.” It’s classed as “Rare.” The usage example establishes that it’s transitive: the old man objurgated his son.

What does the example tell us? The objurgator is male and old. The object of objurgation is his son, who must be grown, or nearly so, unless his aging father impregnated a trophy wife. Those marriages are dicey, because only a codger with great wealth lands a twenty-something bride, and after bearing him a brat she inevitably has second thoughts about the pre-nup agreement she signed in the salad days of the romance when the tycoon’s advances were ardent and flattering.

Who knows what the old man’s feelings are towards this child whom he has objurgated? His three grown kids from an earlier marriage, two sons and a daughter, have no more than a tepid relationship with their half-sibling. They are active in running the old man’s empire and have a vested interest in being his exclusive heirs as currently specified in the will.

We can’t know the outcome of this tricky situation, and we leave the example to work itself out, wishing the objurgatee and his disillusioned, bored momma the best that can be hoped for.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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The Spanish word garabato (‘scrawl’) has a staccato pop to the ear, like a spate of rim shots. It evokes line and form in a night on the town, gadabout and roguish, flirting with all and sundry, living it up, dancing on feet of Klee. Cy Twombly was a righteous garabatero. The very name — Cy Twombly — is a luscious sonic doodle, like Bo Diddly.

Why is it easier to look “abstractly” than to hear that way? I account only for my own eye and ear, of course. And I refer to the experience of listening to Miles Davis versus Cecil Taylor. If I am a string, Davis pulls me, Taylor pushes me. Somewhere I read that Taylor plays his piano like a drum. That helped me confront, if not cozy up to, what I hear. Taylor hammers the instrument with what tracks as manic zest. It gets respect at a minimum.

Then there are the gestures of word washing over, through and across the white spaces of my Poetry magazines. A monthly fire-hose of verse. Truly we inhabit an efflorescence of devil-take-the-hindmost in the kicking over of traces. Where do I find the edifying pleasure in it? — Oh, go pleasure yourself! I hear the verses retort.

No argument from me. What good is it to be sentient if your receiver’s turned off? Rigidity is the Beast. Stay curious about art that’s intrepid and aloof for as long as possible, the Oracle sighs. (She was a poet, not a fortune teller like they thought.)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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