Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category


The Moral of the Story Is Probably Extraneous

April 17, 2015

Detail of 'Mary Death' by Matt Tarpley, 17 April 2015.There really isn’t much I can add; Matt Tarpley makes the point well enough.

Still, though, maybe that isn’t fair. Let this be the moral of the story: Among the rites of spring, this might well be the most important.

Be well. Read well.

Something about a thousand words and more. Or for every star in the sky. Still, it is not enough to encompass every dream we carry with us.

Oh, my. See me prattle on.



Image note: Detail of Mary Death by Matt Tarpley, 17 April 2015.


They Rises

April 15, 2015

The ACES conference is getting more attention; we had cause to take a moment in order to wonder about pet peeves, but one of those questions persists. Ben Zimmer explains for Wall Street Journal readers why copy editors need to get over themselves and accept the “singular they”.

Detail of 'Bug Martini' by Adam Huber, 1 April 2015.According to standard grammar, “they” and its related forms can only agree with plural antecedents. But English sorely lacks a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun, and “they” has for centuries been pressed into service for that purpose, much to the grammarians’ chagrin. Now, it seems, those who have held the line against singular “they” may be easing their stance.

Mixed feelings are fair enough; my objection to the singular they is simply that while the larger academic argument about the lack of a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun is exactly useful, it is also true that the singular “they” has always, in my experience, been simply about sloth, and much like “transition” as a verb, is intended to improve people’s vocabularies by reducing them.

I cannot speak for the copy editors; I do not and cannot count myself among their numbers. Still, though, if the increasing acceptance of the singular they Mr. Zimmer suggests is actually occurring, we can still expect our manuscripts to flame with red ink over that many of our singular theys. If this is the reason we should adopt the term, then let us adopt the term; but let us not replace “he” and “she” entirely. The evolution of language is supposed to improve communication, not muck it all up.



Image note: Detail of Bug Martini by Adam Huber, 1 April 2015.

Zimmer, Ben. “Can ‘They’ Be Accepted as a Singular Pronoun?” The Wall Street Journal. 10 April 2015.


Indulging Necessity: Yeah, That’s an Excuse

April 13, 2015

Detail of 'xkcd' #1510, by Randall Munroe, 9 April 2015.Honestly, I tried to work this into the last post, because, you know, really, who doesn’t need a picture of Napoleon with an octopus on his head?

Still, though, it just didn’t work. You know, thematically. Motif. Ambience. All that.

And the image of a stick-figure Napoleon with an octopus on his head is, in fact, a detail of xkcd #1510, by Randall Munroe.



Something, Something, Something, Whatnow?

April 13, 2015

According to Averi Clements

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

―”this is a completely gramatically correct sentence”.

And when you’re done reading through the list Ms. Clements has crowned “The 20 Strangest Sentences in the English Language”, you can always have fun with one of the greatest poems of our language:

Erthe toc of erthe erthe wyth woh,

erthe other erthe to the earthe droh,

erthe leyde erthe in erthene throh,

tho hevede erthe of erthe erthe ynoh.

It’s true, I adore that one.



Clements, Averi. “The 20 Strangest Sentences in the English Language”. Distractify. (n.d.)

Anonymous. “Earth Took of Earth”. ca. 1000.


A Brief Note on the Philosophy of Story

April 12, 2015

If at first you don’t succeed―

Detail of cover art for 'The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of the Earth's Rarest Creatures' by William deBuys.The quest is perhaps the oldest story in human literature, whether it’s the Odyssey or Gilgamesh or the Jews leaving Egypt and looking for the Promised Land. We have quest stories deep in our cultural bones. But in many cases the quest doesn’t end with finding the thing that was initially sought. That was true of our quest in Nakai Nam Theun. But we found something else. We had an encounter with deep beauty. And this encounter changed my life. I learned something I hadn’t known before about the balancing of fatalism with optimism in life, and making those two opposites cohabit peacefully in my own heart.

Wiliam deBuys

―it probably wasn’t a total loss.

No, really, what am I going to say to all that? Every word I type only diminishes the … er … right.



Worrall, Simon. “How a Quest to Find a ‘Unicorn’ Changed One Man’s Life”. 5 April 2015.


Just Because

April 10, 2015

Detail of frame from Durarara!! episode 2, 'Highly Unpredictable'.

There is this:

Today I am happy to report to you that the big-wheeling cocktail-party poetry boys have gotten the word that their free verse boat rides are over, that the poet-farmer in the field, the poet-worker in the factory, the poet-businessman in his office, the poet-housewife in her home, have decided that poetry can be better written to help our children’s education and our older citizens if no poems are written at all. And they have put a man in charge of conceptual poetry to lead conceptualism to see that it is done. It shall be done. Let me say one more time, no more poems shall be written from scratch from this day forward. Only conceptual poems will be copied, cut, and pasted. That is my pledge to you because today I have stood and taken a conceptual oath to my conceptual people. It is very appropriate then that from this cradle of the Internet, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon conceptual cyber land of ours, we sound the drum for concepts and not poems as have our generations of forebears before us done, time and time again throughout history.

Let us rise to the call of the conceptual-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the lines and stanza tyrannies that clank its chains upon the conceptualist. In the name of the greatest conceptualists that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line (well, not a line like a line but, you know, a line) in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny—and therefore I say conceptualism today, conceptualism tomorrow, conceptualism forever. That from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we give the conceptualist poet’s word of honor that we will tolerate the nonconceptualist’s boot in our face no longer and let those certain judges put that in their romantic and modernist pipes of power and smoke it for what it is worth.


It’s a bit late, so I would be remiss if I failed to note that the url for this essay includes the phrase, “/look-at-the-date-first/”. Right. About ten days late, you know? But, still, ’tis fun. I mean, pause for a moment and reflect on what circumstances make satire like this even possible. Sometimes we might take comfort from first-world problems. You know, like that horrible time we all had to change the power adapters for our iPhones. Or a professional sports labor action. Or, you know, elaborately overwritten jokes about conceptual poetry.



Image note: “Because the world isn’t as terrible as you think”―Celty reminds Rio of something very important. Detail of frame from Durarara!! epsiode 2, “Highly Unpredictable”.

Biespiel, David. “A Defense of Conceptual Poetry”. The Rumpus. 1 April 2015.


Be Careful with This One

April 6, 2015

Tomi Ungerer, in undated, uncredited photograph.

So … Tomi Ungerer:

Tomi Ungerer was, for a brief reign, the king of children’s illustration. After moving to New York in 1956, the French artist and writer published a succession of unusual yet wildly successful children’s books, including “The Three Robbers,” about a trio of winsome burglars, and “Crictor,” about a rather unlikely protagonist―a lovable snake. From the start, Ungerer held a special place in his heart for the outsider, the underdog, the weirdo, the trickster. This unusual vantage point, along a ravenous imagination and wicked dark side, set Ungerer apart from the traditional “happily ever after” children’s book originator.


Illustration by Tomi Ungerer.This is hardly a mysterious phenomenon; Shel Silverstein is well known for his daring subversion, including massive drug use, venereal disease, and romancing the furniture. But Uncle Shelby is gone, now, and it is hard to know quite what to think about an eighty-three year-old man who sits down for an interview and explains, “I’m in France and I’m absolutely the youngest person here, you can’t imagine. It’s absolutely hilarious. A lady told me ‘I lost my husband in the war.’ I asked her which war and she couldn’t remember!”

Yeah, you know that’s gonna be a something-something interview, eh?

Which is the other thing: Content Warning! It is, after all, Tomi Ungerer; what seems hilarious to me might be shocking to others, but I can promise there are at least a couple of illustrations you don’t want your coworkers or kids to see. (Don’t ask about the frog, unless you can manage to get hold of Mr. Ungerer himself.)



Frank, Priscilla. “Inside the Mind of the World’s Naughtiest Children’s Book Illustrator”. The Huffington Post. 6 April 2015.


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