A few days ago, an intense Benno Thoma postcard from Max Vasilatos (in an envelope), with the note: “This could probably go in the regular mail, but I’m taking no chances.” The issue is whether the image counts as X-rated or not; Max and I fairly often puzzle over the categorization of images, sometimes for the purpose of mailing and sometimes for the purpose of posting in certain places on the net (like this blog). The line isn’t clear.
First, the case at hand. Then, some general discussion.
… or, at least, attracts readers. From WordPress stats yesterday on my most-viewed postings during the previous week, the top six:
The agapanthus posting, about a plant and the etymology of its name, has been at the top of the charts for quite some time, for no reason I can fathom. But the next five all have sexual content.
Now I do post fairly often on sex- or sexuality-related topics, though most of my postings are on other things — only one of my last twelve postings had to do with sex or sexuality — but these are the postings that attract attention.
From a posting that started with the shapenote song Family Circle (#333 in the Sacred Harp, Denson Revision):
At shapenote singing on Sunday (which was Mothers Day), we sang a fair number of songs with mother in their texts. Some are decidedly odd, but one was an old friend, Family Circle (the music is included in my posting on “Come Thou Fount”; “And rejoice, O my mother” is in the chorus).
On to two of the odd songs: the sentimental The Dying Boy (#398) and the touching The Bride’s Farewell (#359b) — two songs that are very rarely sung.
In my last foray into insult crimes, the legally actional insults were directed againt religion (the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam). Of course, in many countries, speech that’s perceived as denigrating a ruler is actionable. Which brings me to this NYT news flash on the 16th:
A Bahraini court jailed six people for a year on Wednesday for insulting King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in messages on Twitter, the official news agency said.
The six were accused of posting remarks “undermining the values and traditions of Bahrain’s society towards the king on Twitter,” the head of the public prosecutor’s office, Nayef Youssef, said in a statement reported by the Bahrain News Agency. He said freedom of opinion and expression were guaranteed by the Constitution, law and international conventions, but should not be used in a way that contradicted the norms of society. The news agency gave no further information about the six.
Of course, the agency gave no information about what they said on Twitter, because that would be to disseminate the insult.
What struck me especially was the claim that Bahrain guaranteed freedom of opinion and expression — but only insofar as people conform to the norms of society. There is a genuine tug here between two different core values (a great many jurisdictions regulate obscenity in certain contexts, for example), but an appeal to “the norms of society” can easily be stretched to ban any unpopular or embarrassing expression of ideas. So just citing norms in a general way won’t do.
Just went past me on KFJC (Foothill College in Los Altos Hills CA), in an aural montage, this exchange from the 2007 movie Blades of Glory:
Chazz: Mind-bottling, isn’t it?
Jimmy: Did you just say mind-bottling?
Chazz: Yeah, mind-bottling. You know, when things are so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped, like in a bottle? (link)
A lovely eggcorn for mind-boggling (noted on the Eggcorn Forum, but not yet in the database), complete with the mark of a great eggcorn find, the speaker’s rationalization for the form they use.
(Mostly on artifactual phallicity.)
From Steven Levine on Facebook, found on eBay, a pair of
DEPRESSION GLASS SALT & PEPPER SHAKERS-PINK GLASS WITH PLASTIC TOP
It must have been a more innocent era. These are described as “a peachy shade of pink”. Um, yeah sure.
For some purposes, you can function fairly well with material in another language, so long as the topic stays within domains that are familiar to you — like linguistics, say. But when you wander into other domains, especially those that are closely tied to sociocultural conventions, things get messy, even if you stick to nouns; there’s just so much to know about cultural artifacts and customs, for example, and a huge vocabulary to acquire in these areas, in the names of animals and plants, etc.
I can deal pretty well with technical material in French, for example, but I’m easily stumped when it comes to artifacts, animals, plants, and the like. By way of illustration: my daughter gave me a big box of postcards on The Art of Instruction, with images of school materials from the 1950s, from mostly French but also some German sources. The German items have no text, but the French material (from Éditions Rossignol — the name is great; rossignol means ‘nightingale’) is heavy with text. For animals and plants, much of the vocabulary is technical teminology from zoology, anatomy, or botany, and that’s fascinating, but I can’t be expected to know these expressions. However, there are also the common names for animals and plants, and they contain many surprises.
That brings me to the tadpole.
In the letters section of the May 20th New Yorker, this piece:
In “Draft No. 4,” [April 29th], John McPhee writes that a copy editor sometimes provides a writer with a word like “a rare gold coin.” He recalls how Mary Norris, copy editing one of his pieces, suggested “Mancunians” for “Manchestrians.” McPhee goes on to rank it on a selective list of names for residents of specific locales. Readers wrote in with their own demonyms: