Thursday, May 28, 2015

Doff, don

At some point in our recent travels, it occurred to me to wonder: could the verbs doff and don be related to the prepositions off and on ? Nah, I thought: too neat, too obvious, too much like false etymologies. But I was wrong.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates doff to approximately 1375: “to put off or take off from the body (clothing, or anything worn or borne); to take off or ‘raise’ (the head-gear) by way of a salutation or token of respect.” The Dictionary describes the word as the “coalesced form of do off ,” meaning “to put off, take off, remove (something that is on).”

The Dictionary dates don to 1567: “to put on (clothing, anything worn, etc.).” The Dictionary describes this word as “contracted < do on ,” meaning “to put on.” Both do off and do on originate in what the OED calls eOE, the operating system also known as early Old English. Do off is now archaic; do on, obsolete.

So if you’ve ever wondered about doff and don: there you have it, or them. I am not putting you on.

Joseph Mitchell and small words

From an interview with Norman Sims:

“I do believe the most commonplace words are the ones that in the end have the most power. . . . The commonplace words are the strong ones. It reminds me of those old paving stones the fishermen use to weight the nets. Those words are like stones. I’ll search endlessly for the right small words of a few syllables that hold something up. A foundation.”

Quoted in Thomas Kunkel’s Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of “The New Yorker” (New York: Random House, 2015).
Related reading
All OCA Joseph Mitchell posts (Pinboard)

[How many would like to see Sims’s three interviews with Mitchell in print? Raise your hands.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Joseph Mitchell the collector


[Poster for The Collector: Joseph Mitchell’s Quotidian Quest, a 2009 exhibit of photographs by Steve Featherstone, at Duke University’s Kreps Gallery.]

Here is an article about the exhibit. And here is an article, slightly fuzzy, with more photographs of Mitchell’s finds. My favorite detail: the wedding-day doorknob.

A related post
Joseph Mitchell and things

Joseph Mitchell and things

Bricks, posters, forks, insulators, menus, matchbooks, hats, jars, vacuum cleaners:

He was fascinated by architecture and building materials, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to return to the tiny Greenwich Village apartment he shared with his wife and two daughters with bricks (all the manufacturers had their distinctive signatures), or discarded posters from the Fulton Fish Market, or pickle forks from hotel dining rooms (Mitchell wound up accumulating nearly three hundred), or the colorful glass insulators from telephone and electric lines. He saved restaurant menus and matchbook covers and the tiniest of receipts, and he was a faithful member of both the James Joyce Society and the Gypsy Lore Society. He was fastidious to the point of mild eccentricity. He never went outside without his hat, even if he was taking out the trash. If that trash included discarded razor blades or the lids of opened tin cans, he wrapped these carefully and then put them into Mason jars to protect the garbage collectors from accidental cuts. He routinely dusted his extensive book collection. He also enjoyed vacuuming, so much so that, later in life, he was known to turn up at his daughter’s apartment having lugged his own Hoover onto the train.

Thomas Kunkel, Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of “The New Yorker” (New York: Random House, 2015).
A related post
Joseph Mitchell, scissors, paper clips

[This short New Yorker film shows Gay Talese wearing a hat to descend the stairs of his townhouse to an underground office. Found via Submitted for Your Perusal.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

One more piece of paper

My piece of paper of choice is an 8½″ × 11″ page folded into eighths and scissored across the middle — a design made popular, or at least semi-well-known, by the PocketMod. I use a blank page, no lines or grid. A PocketMod has been in my pocket for many a concert, many a film. When I travel, I keep one in my shirt pocket, the better to collect addresses, subway info, bits and pieces learned along the way. Everything in this recent post went into one little PocketMod, cleverly titled Summer 2015 .

Related posts
Joseph Mitchell, paper and pencil
William Shawn, paper and pencil

William Shawn, paper and pencil

Charles McGrath, writing about the New Yorker editor William Shawn:

Shawn carried a list inside his breast pocket — a piece of copy paper folded lengthwise and covered with notes in his tiny, feathery handwriting — and sometimes he would pull it out and consult it, crossing off items one by one with a silver mechanical pencil.

“Remembering Mr. Shawn” (The New Yorker, December 28, 1992).
A related post
Joseph Mitchell, paper and pencil

Joseph Mitchell, paper and pencil

The everyday carry:

He overhears snippets of conversation off to one side or another, and once in a while, maybe catching a well-turned phrase, he removes a folded piece of paper from his jacket and makes note of it. (His note-taking regimen has never changed: Before he goes out for the day, he takes a piece of New Yorker copy paper, folds it in half, then neatly folds it again into thirds — the perfect size to slide in and out of a coat pocket, where he also keeps his ever-ready pencil.)

Thomas Kunkel, Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of “The New Yorker” (New York: Random House, 2015).
A related post
Joseph Mitchell, scissors, paper clips

[See also Gay Talese: “I Don’t Use Notebooks. I Use Shirt Boards.”]

Monday, May 25, 2015

On Campus, worth reading

The Summer 2015 issue of On Campus (a publication of the American Federation of Teachers) has worthwhile reading for anyone who cares about American higher education. Virginia Myers’s “University Inc.” looks at corporate influences on academic life, with particular attention to the brothers Koch. Lakey’s “Koch case study” documents the Koch influence at Florida State University, “from the president’s office to content in the classroom.” “UnKoch your campus” offers guidelines for doing just that. And an unsigned article on Pearson PLC, “The power of Pearson threatens academic integrity,” examines one company’s role in publishing, testing, online instruction, and teacher education.

A related post
Boycott Koch Industries (With a list of products)

[Nothing missing: it’s just Lakey.]

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, one hundred years ago in New York City:


[“Torn Battle Flags Cheered by Crowds: Veterans of the Civil War Hailed with Enthusiasm All Along Their Line of March.” The New York Times, June 1, 1915.]

Sunday, May 24, 2015

adjunct world

“Primary texts shall not be taught in this department. What do you think this college does?” From adjunct world, “a comical odyssey detailing the fortunes of the Disposable Adjunct.”

The idea of a course without primary texts is not exactly new. I remember from many years back the (true) story of a course in medieval thought with no primary texts. How would the students know what Aquinas, Scotus, &c. were saying? “The professor will tell them.”

I appreciate the grim comedy of adjunct world, but it makes me want to reach for Lewis Hyde’s observation: “Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.”

[The sentences from Hyde appear in “Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking,” American Poetry Review, October 1975.]