Darrien and Derrick Were Twins

Friday Night. Photo, JMN.

Friday Night. Photo, JMN.

Darrien and Derrick Wortham were twins. They looked as much alike as any two children could look. Played varsity ball together under Spunk McGruder. Spunk replaced Moon Wattles after Moon had that little problem in the locker room. Nice boys. Juneau thought she had a crush on Darrien, but it turned out to be Derrick.

Longhorn graduated before Spunk took over. His knee was just too messed up for him to play ball at Tarquin like he wanted to. He said, “Momma, what am I gonna do? All I’ve ever wanted to do is play sports.” I said, “Well then, honey, see if you can get a degree in education.” Sure enough, he switched his major from Agricultural Economics to Sports Psychology and Marketing. He’s applying for the assistant coach opening here at Stag High. He’ll have to teach Social Studies, too, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Heck, gimme the book and I could teach it.

Juneau has her heart set on rushing the Gamma Omicrons at Tarquin — that’s the cheerleading sorority. I said, “Sweetheart, Juneau darlin’, that’s just fine, but I’m gonna suggest you wait until your sophomore year to rush the Gamma Omicrons. Freshmen have a lot of adjustments to make. Plus — and I told her this point blank — you need to help raise this baby girl of yours. She’s just three months old now, but Bree Lynn needs her momma on weekends and holidays. I expect you to come home and help me out, especially until Derrick gets paroled. Hopefully he’ll lend a hand to raise the fruit of his loins. And it wouldn’t hurt if ya’ll got married while you’re at it!”

That’s what I told her. Juneau went off and sulked for awhile about it, but I think she’ll come around. There are too many mommas in this town who are raising their grandkids. I wish I’d put Juneau on the pill sooner, but that’s spilt milk. Thank goodness for modern medicine.

[Stag Country, Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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This Is Akin to That: Scoping Language

Law West of the Pecos, Tom Jones drawing,

Law West of the Pecos, Tom Jones drawing.

“Gun rights groups have vowed to fight such moves [to limit the unfettered sale of bullets]: ‘Raising taxes on bullets to offset the cost of gun violence is akin to putting a levy on prescription drugs to pay for the price of heroin addiction,’ one critic said.”
(“Your Monday News Briefing…”, NYTimes, 9- 10-18)

Certain analogies, in my cautious opinion, can be disingenuous. They may possibly deploy a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that reminds me of a magician who dexterously draws the viewer’s eye away from where the trick is actually being pulled off.

The formula is akin to putting something made essentially for one purpose on an apparent equal footing with something else made essentially for a different purpose — guns with pencils, bullets with antibiotics, for example — then to proclaim (or imply) an ostensible absurdity deriving from similar treatment accorded the two things.

Here’s a rough paraphrase of two samples:

A. Disparate items joined in shotgun marriage: Guns [made to launch projectiles that make holes on impact] are like pencils [made for marking on various surfaces].
B. Ostensible absurdity: Saying guns kill people is like saying pencils make spelling errors.
C. Simplistic conclusion: It makes no more sense to impose controls on guns than to impose them on pencils! People are the problem!

A. Disparate items joined in shotgun marriage: Bullets [made to explode from a tube in order to deliver a hole-making payload] are like antibiotics [made to fight infection in people and animals].
B. Ostensible absurdity: Taxing bullets in order to offset the illicit harm they inflict is like taxing medicinal drugs in order to offset the harm inflicted by illicit drugs.
C. Simplistic conclusion: It makes no more sense to tax bullets than to tax penicillin! People are the problem!

Maybe it’s simply true after all that people are the problem behind all our problems. That, to almost quote Winston Churchill, is a proposition up with which I shall not fuck.

I’d like to try my own hand at the this-is-akin-to-that type of argument, though:

—> Proposition: Taxing sugar because it can contribute to diabetes is akin to taxing baby toys because they can get thrown out of the cradle.
—> Proposition: Imposing term limits on congressmen is akin to slapping governors on Ferrari engines.
—> Proposition: ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c.’

Aw hey, it’s all in good fun. This mouse doesn’t roar.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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Gun Jumping

Ben Silbermann, the chief executive of Pinterest, “measures twice, cuts once,” said one early investor in the company.CreditCreditAnastasiia Sapon for The New York Times

Ben Silbermann, the chief executive of Pinterest, “measures twice, cuts once,” said one early investor in the company. Credit Anastasiia Sapon for The New York Times.

“In technology, people are very, very fast to declare something a winner or loser, like, ‘That’ll never work,’ or ‘That’ll take over the world.’ The truth is always somewhere in between.”
(Ben Silbermann, CEO of Pinterest, quoted by Erin Griffith, “Pinterest Is a Unicorn. It Just Doesn’t Act Like One,” NYTimes, 9-10-18)

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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Plaza Mayor de Soria. Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=1928281

Plaza Mayor de Soria. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1928281.

“Soria” by Antonio Machado, Spanish poet, 1875-1939
From “Campos de Castilla,” Antonio Machado, Biblioteca Anaya, Edición de José Luis Cano, 1964.

(English translation by James Mansfield Nichols)

The shield of Soria has the following heraldic description: [3]
In a field of gules (red), a castle, of argent, crenellated with three battlements, lined up and marbled with sabre, rinsed with azure (blue) and a king’s bust crowned with gold and with its attributes coming out of his homage, in its colour; silver embroidery loaded with the following legend: “Soria Pura Cabeza de Estremadura”, written in saber letters. (Wikipedia)

The poem “Soria” is a sequence of exclamations. (I reproduce the punctuation of my printed text.) The speaker evokes the somber beauty on a cold, moonlit night of an ancient provincial city fallen from its former glory. The details he describes aren’t beautiful in themselves — indeed, they depict decrepitude, decay and impoverished neglect of which the marauding, starving Spanish greyhounds (galgos) are an emblem. However, embellished by moonlight and the late hour, the scene adds up to loveliness for the
speaker, as he asserts in the ending twist: ¡Tan bella bajo la luna!

Note: Soria today is at a considerable remove from Extremadura. A footnote in my Spanish edition says (I translate): Here “Extremadura” is used in a broad sense referring to ancient Extremadura.

Draft literal translation:

¡Soria fría, Soria pura,
Soria cold, Soria pure,

cabeza de Extremadura,
head of Extremadura,

con su castillo guerrero
with its warlike castle

arruinado, sobre el Duero;
in ruins, upon the Douro;

con sus murallas roídas
with its walls eaten away

y sus casas denegridas!
and its blackened houses!

¡Muerta ciudad de señores,
Dead city of gentry,

soldados o cazadores;
soldiers or hunters;

de portales con escudos
of doorways with the shields

de cien linajes hidalgos,
of a hundred landed lineages,

de galgos flacos y agudos,
of sharp and skinny greyhounds,

y de famélicos galgos,
and of famished greyhounds,

que pululan
that swarm

por las sórdidas callejas,
through the squalid byways,

y a la medianoche ululan,
and at midnight howl,

cuando graznan las cornejas!
when the crows caw!

¡Soria fría! La campana
Cold Soria! The bell

de la Audiencia da la una.
of the Courthouse strikes one.

Soria, ciudad castellana
Soria, Castilian city

¡tan bella! bajo la luna.
so lovely! under the moon.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]


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Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, at her home in Auckland. CreditMark Coote for The New York Times

Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, at her home in Auckland. Credit Mark Coote for The New York Times.

She wants to show that women can lead with different styles, not cast themselves in the egotistical, brash mold of many male politicians. “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak,” she said. “I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”

“I’ve been given so many [nicknames], it’d be quite hard to come up with a new one,” she said, laughing. “Back in the early days of my political career, I was called Socialist Cindy. I just hate the nickname Cindy.”
(Quoted by Maureen Dowd, “Lady of the Rings: Jacinda Rules,” NYTimes, 9-8-18)

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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“A Prayer for My Daughter” (10 — final stanza)

St Jerome, patron saint of translators, by Bellini

Saint Jerome, patron saint of translators, by Bellini

A Prayer for My Daughter by W.B. Yeats
(Spanish translation by James Mansfield Nichols)


A Prayer for My Daughter (10 — final stanza)

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Una Oración para mi Hija (10 — estrofa final)

Y que su novio la traiga a una casa
Donde todo sea acostumbrado, ceremonioso;
Porque la arrogancia y el odio son las mercancías
Vendidas en las vías públicas.
¿Cómo si no es en la costumbre y ceremonia
Nacen la inocencia y la belleza?
Ceremonia es otro nombre para el cuerno rico,
Y costumbre para el amplio laurel.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.)

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Under the Language Microscope

Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas, Juan van der Hamen, 17th century (Instituto Valencia de Don Juan)

Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas, Juan van der Hamen, 17th century (Instituto Valencia de Don Juan)

No irregularity, no solecism is too picayune to escape the insolent linguist’s busy beavering, which leads to officious palaver such as this about matters too minute to merit attention from the practical person. Even in the days before I could call myself a “former” linguist the phrase “grammatically correct” was deprecated by a certain scholarly constituency, much as the phrase “politically correct” is deprecated, or at least considered pejorative, by many today.

I tried recently to come to terms privately with what Pee Cee as a term of derision connotes, and worked my way through the following possibilities: complacent elitism, stodgy broadmindedness, stubborn tolerance of differentness, quixotic openness, naive politesse, empty etiquette observance, unexamined adherence to ritual and decorum, senseless sensitivity, queasy avoidance of vitriol and vituperation, overemphasis on the rights of others, obstinate altruism, fact-obsessed truth-seeking in the face of super-obvious opinion, and I don’t remember what else. None of it resolved the paradox of blameworthy correctness for me, so I resolved to simply set the phrase aside for now. I’m happy to do likewise for the Gee Cee phrase.

A photograph appeared in the news of a bartender printing a message on a chalkboard outside his establishment on the Mississippi coast as Hurricane Gordon approached: “Ain’t afraid of no rain.” This is a superbly expressive utterance, entirely correct for its time and place and circumstance. It draws on one of many viable dialects that are alive and well among English speakers. The old “double negative” is much maligned, but renders service that the “proper” expression doesn’t. “I can’t get no satisfaction” was a perfect lyric by the Rolling Stones to communicate young men’s frustration everywhere over lack of “girly action.” I caution my dog Bess every morning not to give way to an inopportune act of elimination in some remote reach of the house before I take her out: “Bess, don’t go do anything anywhere.” As negatives go it’s severely correct for the dialect I use, but “Don’t go do nothing nowhere” would be a linguistically acceptable alternative (though not Gee Cee).

Here’s the specimen that got me thinking about the double negative: The Voice didn’t appear to have a strong sense of identity anymore, in part because the New York that it covered — downtown, the underground, bohemia and its ephemera — didn’t exist anymore, neither in a physical sense nor as a state of mind.
(Tricia Romano, “Last Rites for the Village Voice, a Bohemian Who Stayed On Too Long,” NYTimes, 9-5-18)

I would have written “didn’t exist anymore, *either* in a physical sense *or* as a state of mind.” If the double negative isn’t a lapse, it might be justified as stylistic license to lend greater emphasis. I’m not sure that argument would have great weight in this context, though.

The second specimen that got my attention has nothing to do with the double negative: Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie star in their third season of comedy sketches. At times eccentric, frantic and always unpredictable, Fry and Laurie are a comedic tour-de-force who push the envelope with their brand of smart, irrelevant humour, memorable characters and their fantastic musical numbers.
(Amazon Prime)

I did a double take on “irrelevant.” I’ve enjoyed several seasons of these wonderful sketches, and they’re eminently relevant for me. The person who puffed the series may have intended “irreverent.” It’s a fun slip.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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