September 30, 2014 · 11:59 pm
Frequent readers will know about my particular obsession with mis-used cliches. The latest one that I ran across involves someone saying that she was “getting her hands wet”. In the context, I think she meant “getting her feet wet”, as in learning some new skill or trying out new things, easing into it as you would water that you might be unsure of. It was possible, of course, that she meant she was “getting her hands dirty“, or diving right in and working at something, rather than standing back and keeping her hands neat and tidy. Most likely she was mixing up the two sayings, at any rate.
Or perhaps it was a deliberate combination, suggesting that she was new to some task, and also rolling up her sleeves and getting right into it! That would be pretty clever, actually.
Or come to think of it, maybe we’ve got a Lady MacBeth situation on our hands.
Uh, I better go make a call.
September 25, 2014 · 11:21 pm
An important message for minor characters, anyway, and probably protagonists as well. It can also be useful to stay close to the dog, although you have to be careful, since dogs have a way of coming through disasters unscathed that can kill people.
September 23, 2014 · 11:07 pm
Alison Bechdel has won a MacArthur “genius” grant. T o celebrate, I wrote a short story fictionalizing the events leading up to the award, but I realized there were no female characters in it, which didn’t seem appropriate. So I wrote a second draft, which had a couple women in it, but they spent all their time talking about John D. MacArthur.
This is tougher than you’d think, man.
September 18, 2014 · 11:16 pm
As we all know, International Talk Like a Pirate Day is upon us. It’s an important day, well worth celebrating, but please people, don’t say “argh” and think you are properly entering the spirit of things. The proper pirate exclamation is “arrrrr” (with as many “r”s as you like – go nuts!), or, if you prefer, “yarr”. But not, “argh”.
“But you don’t understand!” I hear you shouting, “When I say ‘argh’ the ‘g’ is silent! Also sort of the ‘h’, though really, who can tell? I mean, sometimes I sort of let fly with a breathy ‘hu’ sound at the end when I’m going for a sexy pirate sound, but really, the ‘gh’ is basically a unit. And like I said, I don’t pronounce it.”
Well, look. For one thing I see poor misguided souls lurching around in eye patches with stuffed parrots on their shoulder saying “argh” with the trailing ‘g’ all the time. Think of those folks making fools of themselves and try to set an example, would you? For another thing, “argh” already clearly fills the role of a general exclamation of distress, while the piratical “arr” is more of a generalized interjection. I am by nature a descriptivist, but clearly we need both words, and it is in the best interests of the language to properly differentiate them. English is confusing enough as it is.
September 11, 2014 · 12:37 am
Personally, I plan to go for the “Author with dog” genre of author photo, as exemplified by these guys here
(though this dog is frankly not properly into the “noble hound” look, and there is a shocking lack of tweed with leather elbow patches). But it seems that the trend is away from pipes and toward cigarettes, at least for Very Serious male writers, as shown here by Szilvia Molnar.
September 8, 2014 · 10:50 pm
I just got an email telling me that Amazon is sending me a pair of shoelaces by FedEx. I didn’t pay to have shoelaces rushed to a turboprop plane waiting on a runway in the dead of night, and I don’t feel any particular urgency about getting these laces because I figure the knot in the old pair will hold for a while, but by Jove they’re sparing no expense.
The only problem is that while I understand that sending shoelaces winging around the country at great expense is part of the grand plan that will eventually allow Amazon to dominate retail sales (1. Pay shippers about $6 to mail things that cost less than $5 and aren’t needed soon 2. ??? 3. Profit!), I just … really don’t want to be someone who gets shoelaces by FedEx. I hope the shipping label isn’t obvious, because I don’t know if I can look the driver in the eye if he knows what he’s handing me.
September 5, 2014 · 12:55 am
There’s an interesting article at the Chronicle of Higher Education about how the body relates to consciousness. I’m sure ya’ll will read the whole thing, but the thrust of the article is about how literal versus metaphorical versus idiomatic speech. It seems that human language is so littered with metaphors that we may not even not notice that it may be vital to consciousness. This has even led to the theory that artificial intelligence may not even be possible because of the lack of bodies on the part of these theoretical AIs – if they can’t properly think of stocks rising and looking forward into the future they may not be up to snuff, smarts-wise.
I was interested, though, to see that when neuroscientists study the brain to see what happens when they think of different phrases, idioms cause confusion. When people think of metaphors, the brain basically does the same thing it would if the body was acting the metaphor out, but things get all confused with idioms. Well, no one asked me, but clearly that it because large numbers of people don’t understand the idioms they use all the time. Heck, even the great Stephen King sometimes gets confused. If Steve’s brain had been scanned while he talked about about “getting up on his hobby horse” that time, he probably would have been envisioning not a hobby horse but a noble high horse. Then someone else saying it might have envisioned a little wheely horse and someone else a stick horse, and, well, try averaging all that together and getting something consistent.