Tag - language

The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book

I find it interesting that many of the scholars and intellectuals of centuries past were, in effect, bloggers:

I want to start with a page out of history—the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson, taken from one of his notebooks on religion. The words on this page belongs to a long and fruitful tradition that peaked in Enlightenment-era Europe and America, particularly in England: the practice of maintaining a “commonplace” book. Jefferson Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. It was a kind of solitary version of the original web logs: an archive of interesting tidbits that one encountered during one’s textual browsing.

The great minds of the period—Milton, Bacon, Locke—were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. There is a distinct self-help quality to the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: in the words of one advocate, maintaining the books enabled one to “lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”

This is only a small fragment of Steve Johnson’s article, which deals primarily with DRM, text, linking, and digital walls and windows. Highly recommended – follow the link …

via stevenberlinjohnson.com: The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book.

"Valley Girl" is the new language of business, apparently

You have to love this comment by an analyst on the new that Steve Jobs won’t be keynoting MacWorld this year:

“It’s like the first time in a long time he hasn’t spoken in Macworld,” said Samuel Wilson, an analyst at JMP Securities. “Why is he not speaking this year would be the question.”

Yes, the first time he isn’t speaking at Macworld in a long time is rather like the first time he isn’t speaking at Macworld in a long time. Startlingly so, in fact.

(I can’t point fingers too much – this language has infiltrated most of us to the extent that once in a while, we all use it.)

Like we were, you know, valley girls.

In the dude-change-the-name category

change nameI was assiduously building my network on LinkedIn today when I noticed the “new people from Premier” (my current company). Knowing that the “new people” are almost never from the Premier that I’m from, I obediently checked, only to find these people …

They include an unfortunate individual in the position of interim manager named Dick Slob.

I submit that he should run, not walk, to the nearest hall of officialdom where name-changing occurs. His first name is an epithet; his last a slur.

You can’t make stuff like this up – it’s just too good. Were his parents Serbs named Slobodan? Did they want to disavow connections with the infamous Milosevic? Did they think it was just easier to spell?

Guaranteed: he changes the name, the interim comes off his title.


Summer Holidays

(a poem by Gabrielle Koetsier, age 10)

Children sitting, solemn, silent.
Bell rings! Screaming, yelling, violent!
Running, rushing, up the stairs.
“Children, wait!” nobody cares.
School’s out! It’s summer! Time to play!
No more teachers! Run away!
We are going to the pool.
Perfect way to keep us cool.
Let’s go buy some lemonade!
We will drink it in the shade.
Our skin is brown, our feet are bare.
And we are free without a care.
Playing, laughing, summer days,
We’re on summer holidays!

(I typed it all out by myself too!)

delicious and nutritious

I love well-constructed and vivid language. Here’s a snippet I ran across today that inspired some memories:

A few years back, I was struggling to liberate a new Barbie doll from the almost invincible packaging that imprisoned her …

(Seen in an email newsletter from Character Counts … written by Michael Josephson.)

Lots of people say “snaining”

OK, maybe not lots. But some – Google proves it. (Yes, this is about a recent post.)

Google has 509 results for “snaining.” And the urban dictionary, bless it’s electronic little heart, has an entry for snaining.

That horrible combination of rain that is not quite snow…but soon will be.

Basically, it’s airborne precipitation that fluctuates mid-drop, and can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s rain … or snow …

Only problem? Apparently the word was invented by a Stephanie Tyler of Eaton Township, Ohio. And here I thought I had had the privilege!

[tags] snaining, john koetsier [/tags]

I love the internet

… and I hate the English language!

For every question, there is an answer. Just don’t think that you’ll necessarily like that answer. For example, I wanted to know if bi-monthly meant twice a month or every two months.

Unfortunately, it means both. As AskOxford says:

I’m afraid it means both! But in the publishing industry, it is used fairly consistently to mean ‘every two months’. The same ambiguity affects biweekly and biyearly. If you want to be absolutely clear, use a phrase such as ‘twice a week’ or ‘every two years’.

Hrm …


From Ethan’s mouth, today, to Teresa:

Mommy, if you split the word bumpy in two, you’d have two bad words.

Tonight we’re in Woodland, California – just outside of Sacramento. Two more nights and we’ll be home and sleeping in our own beds.

Tommy Nothing Fancy: Nasdijj Nothing Truthful

I recently picked up a book from the library that completely blew my mind. I was going to start a review of it like this:

Some books are from the literary catch-and-release program: you read ’em, return ’em, and remember them no more.

Others are like great bloody axes crashing through your brain like some cosmic sword of Damocles.

The book is The Blood Runs Like A River Through My Dreams by “Nasdijj,” who purported to be a half-blood Navajo with a mild form of Foetal Alcohol Syndrom (FAS) … for whom it was torture to read and even more painful to write.

It’s about the life and death (mostly the death) of his adopted son, Tommy Nothing Fancy – who had a more pronounced form of FAS – and it is seriously mind-blowing. Just a little too mind-blowing, in the aftermath of the James Frey story Million Little Lies episode. There seemed to be just a little too much pain in the book for any one man’s life, and the details were oddly gapped. For instance, his excruciating recountings of the 6 years of Tommy’s life included nothing – not even the name – of his wife at the time.

So I did some searching, and guess what: it’s another Frey all over again. LA Weekly broke the story just a couple days ago – The Blood Runs Like A River Through My Dreams was published in 1999.

Just a few days after that, “Nasdijj,” who is really a sordid little man named Timothy Patrick Barrus, admitted fabricating the story. If you look at his archived blog posts, Barrus appears to be a misogynistic pedophilic anti-Semite.

He was actually born in 1950, as the book states, but is not Navajo, never adopted a child named Timothy Nothing Fancy, and actually gets multiple details about contempory Navajo life and customs completely, idiotically wrong.

This is just now hitting the blogosphere, with bloggers like Bill Doskoch helping to publicize the “Najahoax.”

“Nasdijj” kept a blog, appropriately enough titled “Deserving Death For Evil Deeds,” but most of the archives have been deleted or unpublished. However, he has some new content up, and if you look at it today, you will get a sense of what an odd, twisted, paranoid mind is behind the farce.

Here’s the saddest part of the whole thing:

The book is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. The fact that it is a lie cannot alter the concurrent fact that it is an absolutely mind-blowing heart-shredding story.

Why, why do these talented writers throw away the truth they have in stupid little lies?

Top 10 Winston Churchill Quotes

What we often forget about good old Winnie is that he wasn’t just a politician, statesman, and leading figure of the 20th Century. He was also a prolific writer with more than 43 books in 72 volumes.

In those books – as well as in his speeches – Churchill has dozens, hundreds, even thousands of pithy, memorable quotes. I ran across them the other day when researching a speech.

Here’s my top 10 favorite Winston Churchill quotes:

10) “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”

9) To a woman who said: “If I was your wife Sir, I’d poison you!” “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d let you!”

8) “Don’t talk to me about naval tradition. It’s nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash.”

7) “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

6) “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

5) “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

4) “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

3) “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

2) “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

1) “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”

And, because I can’t help myself, a bonus quotation:

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

And one more which I hope is not true of this post:

“The length of this document defends it well against the risk of its being read.”

And that’s the end.

. . .
. . .

Thanks to BrainyQuote for the quotes.

Clicks and cliques

I am so tired of Americans talking about how horrible “clicks” are.

A click is a small noise, often caused by something hard tapping on, hitting, or sliding past something else that is also hard. A clique, on the other hand, is a small, inward-focused, exclusionary group of people.

The two words do not rhyme … the second one being of French derivation and being pronounced ‘cleek.’

That’s my rant of the day.

Jargon watch

I recently participated in a training session led by some fairly top-notch consultants. Besides the actual training that you get, it’s always interesting to hear the new jargon.

Consultants, of course, are always up on all the latest jargon. And even if it isn’t new, it may be new to you.

Here’s two I enjoyed:

BBQ: Big Burning Question

T.H.U.D. manual: This is a manual full of all your company’s policies and procedures. You drop it on a co-workers desk, and it goes thud, and that’s all the use you get out of it.


Tonight I heard the one of the best definitions of leadership I’ve ever encountered:

“Leadership is the ability to achieve your goals through the efforts of others.”

– Pastor Elisha (a Vietnamese pastor)

It’s perhaps a bit one-sided … and you’d have to be careful that this kind of leadership wouldn’t deteriorate into manipulation, but it’s a pretty powerful way of thinking about what it means to lead.


This is absolutely huge. Somebody buy it, quick.

I’m talking about Podscope.

This is a search engine for podcasts, and if the technology they are building actually works, it will be enormous. I’ve tried searching on Podscope for a variety of topics, and have been getting very good results.

Software that automates spoken language transcription to text quite reliably: very cool.

For Immediate Release: Gabrielle Koetsier Wins Major National Writing Award

Sparkplug 9 would like to congratulate Gabrielle Renee Koetsier, age 8, on winning the prestigious Scholastic Canada Lucky’s Magic Treehouse Be An Author Contest!

One of only 10 recipients in Canada, Gabrielle (who recently turned 9) received a Magic Tree House Bookshelf Collection complete with 28 books from this favourite series and a treehouse bookshelf to store them in, pictured below:

gabrielle koetsier

Unfortunately, Scholastic has prematurely deleted the contest page from its website, but a Google cache is still available here.

Asked about her future prospects, Ms. Koetsier says she expects to win the Booker Prize next year, the Newbery medal after that, and, as an encore – sort of like the cherry on top of the most perfect desert imaginable, a Nobel Prize for literature.

Read on to see one of Gabrielle’s seminal achievements in literature.

Read More

Water is wet and other interesting facts

BBC is usually very clueful, which makes it even more annoying to see unmitigated drivel like this.

A brief quote, from the sub-lead:

Deafblind people find technology difficult and frustrating to use, a survey has found.

Who woulda guessed!

The other reason I’m blogging this is because this is the first time I’ve seen the word deafblind. What on earth does that mean?

People who are both deaf and blind? I tend to assume it’s anyone with at least one of the maladies, but I don’t really have a clue.

Graduating pecadilloes

I hate, hate I say, the currently fashionable use of the word ‘graduate’ as a transitive verb.

In other words, you will hear: “Harold graduated high school last year,” or “Junie will graduate college next year” and so on. When phrased this way, what this is really saying is that Harold did something to the school – as if he had set fire to it, flooded it, painted it, or swallowed it.


If you must use ‘graduate’ as a transitive verb, what has really happened is that the school has graduated him … Harold has taken a series of courses, passes a number of tests, and the school is now acknowledging that he has achieved the necessary skills and knowledge, and therefore awards him a diploma.

The reality, however, is that ‘to graduate’ is an intransitive verb, takes no object, and therefore, the statement should be: “Harold graduated from high school last year.”

Bah. Humbug.

(More info on the incredibly hot topic of transitive and intransitive verbs.)

9 Languages and Counting: The Linguist

I’ve recently met and starting working with a rather amazing individual.

Typically, most people are pretty impressed to find out that someone is bilingual. Trilingual, three languages, is amazing. Four starts to approach the realm of the unbelievable, or the savant.

But Steve Kaufman, a former Canadian diplomat, speaks and reads in 9, yes, 9, that is NINE languages! Those 9 include 6 European languages – English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Swedish – and three Asian languages – Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

Oh and by the way, in his spare time he’s learning Korean and Portuguese.

Steve and his son Mark have started up a website for teaching language learning. They’ve started with English. Where does a lowly English speaker like me fit in? I’m going to be helping with some guerilla marketing, perhaps some product and market definition, and a few other things here and there, all on a contract basis.

My biggest question is: how on earth can a person learn so many languages, and keep them all straight? I guess this is Steve’s answer: do what you enjoy doing.

That’s the philosophy behind The Linguist language learning site as well. The goal is to make language learning as fun and painless and possible – while delivering quick results.

I’ll post more about that in a couple of days.

CNN: click me if you’re stupid

OK, I’m at a complete and utter loss.

Has the advertising industry totally and completely lost any remants of any vestige of creativity? Apparently it has – at least the portion of it that works at or for CNN.com.

What’s wrong with the picture below? (It’s a screen capture from CNN.com, taken April 12, 2005.)

click me if you\'re stupid

John on Tuesday freaked out

OK, OK, OK. Language pet peeves today.

Why, oh why, must reporter types write like this:

Sony on Thursday released its $249 PlayStation Portable (PSP) to the North American market.

Is that not one of the most awkward, twisted, and, frankly, stupid-sounding constructions in the English language? Sony on Thursday? What is that? Is Thursday some new kind of corporate drug? Or perhaps a famous street address? Come on. Just bloody well say what you mean:

On Thursday, Sony released its $249 PlayStation Portable (PSP) to the North American market.

What? Not good enough? Editors and journalistic tradition demand that the key words be close to the front of the first sentence of the article? OK, I understand that. But what about this:

Sony released its $249 PlayStation Portable (PSP) to the North American market on Thursday.

What’s wrong with that? It wouldn’t break my jaw, my train of thought, or my tongue, it has the key words near the front, and the not-quite-so-important info near the back. Much better.

Spread the meme.

Chinese is capital-H hard!

I was foaming the other day (not at the mouth, foaming is my word for trolling recent submissions to del.icio.us) when I saw this article on why it is so hard to learn Chinese.

More specifically, why it is so hard to learn to read Chinese.

This is of interest to me, because I have a friend who lives in China, married a Dutch woman of Chinese descent, and is raising his 2 kids in China. Naturally, learning Chinese is a basic necessity of life for him.

One of the most interesting parts of the article is that even born-and-raised Chinese people often have a hard time reading and writing their own language … even university-education professors of the Chinese language!

I wonder … I know that in mathematics, if you do not have basic numeracy literacy you spend so much effort on the basics that it is very hard to learn the more difficult material. I wonder if the same might be true for Chinese … would it be harder to learn when the tool that you’re using to create, organize, and disseminate knowledge is, to put it very simply, a harder-to-use tool than some others out there?

Interesting question!

Eschew nothing but food, please

I just ran across another annoying use of the word “eschew” on Slashdot. On Slashdot, of all places!

OK. Once more, for the record:

Everyone, everywhere, everywhen, should seriously and definitely eschew the usage of the word eschew. It’s silly and annoying and obnoxious, and it sounds all puffed up and nose-in-the-air and hoity-toity. You might as well ask it to pass the grey poupon. It is all things good language is not.

It certainly can’t be a Saxon word. As English schoolboys used to say,

“Latin words perplex the bean;
Saxon words say what they mean.”

Well, a quick check of the Eytmology Online dictionary suggests it is old French. OK, still not Saxon.

And still not usable by self-respecting red-blooded speakers of the English language.

MAC versus Mac

OK. I’m only going to say this once.

If you write MAC, you’re talking about an address of something on a network. If you write Mac, you’re talking about a fruit-flavored computer.

To those who are clueless out there: get it straight!