Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Fourth

[“Washington, D.C. Government charwoman.” Photograph by Gordon Parks. August 1942. From the Library of Congress Flickr pages.]

The woman’s name: Ella Watson. The inspiration: American Gothic. You can read more about Ella Watson and Gordon Parks at the Library of Congress website.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sad candy


Having worked in the lower depths of retail while in college, I remain alert, always, to the feeling of utter loneliness in retail spaces — the sorry aisles and corners where no one shops. Spend enough Saturday nights straightening merchandise in an empty store and you’ll become alert to that loneliness too, especially if it’s 1975 and there’s Muzak on the PA system.

When I saw this candy machine in a fading mall, it brought back all that retail woe.

[I couldn’t, though, have posted a semi-decent photograph without SKRWT.]


SKRWT is an easy-to-use app to fix lens distortion and other problems in iOS photographs. Moblivious has a detailed guide. I like the app’s hashtag: #allhailsymmetry.

SKRWT is the best $1.99 I’ve spent in a long time.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


A few days of reading Everyday Carry, and I felt too ill-equipped to leave the house. The things people find necessary! Where do they think they’re going?

No harpoons though. Not yet.

[A harpoon is Queequeg’s everyday carry, even to the breakfast table. Me: keys, phone, wallet.]

“A certain semi-visible steam”

The sperm whale’s spout: what’s it all about?

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851).

Here is one of the more remarkable passages for thinking about Ishmael. “Composing a little treatise on Eternity,” as the air above his head worms and undulates: who is this narrator?

Also from Moby-Dick
“Nothing exists in itself” : Nantucket ≠ Illinois : Quoggy : “Round the world!” : Gam : On “true method”

[Elaine and I finished a first reading of Moby-Dick last night. Next stop: Willa Cather, A Lost Lady.]

A word from the Danish

“The way I define it to Americans is Thanksgiving. You’re together with family and friends, you’re eating delicious food, there’s tradition associated with it. It’s kind of an emotional happiness, an emotional coziness”: it’s the Danish word hygge.

Alex Katz, focusing

“When I’m painting, I could be painting in Grand Central Station. I’m really focused on what I’m doing”: “Alex Katz on His Painting January 3 ” (Vogue).

A related post
Alex Katz, painter, eater (American cheese on white!)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Positive anymore

Slate recently reported on the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. Looking at Yale’s map of American language use, I got excited about positive anymore, which is very much a part of east-central Illinois language use (and which I’ve been planning to post about for several weeks). I don’t use positive anymore, but I like hearing it, because it requires me to translate, ever so slightly, what’s being said into familiar terms:

Anymore I do my own oil changes = Now I do my own oil changes.

The kids are a priority anymore = The kids are a priority now.
I’m still a stranger in a strange land, amid the alien corn.

Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1989) has a good commentary on positive anymore:
This usage is dialectal. It has been discovered anew almost every year since 1931 and has been abundantly documented. The Dictionary of American Regional English reports it to be widespread in all dialect areas of the U.S. except New England. It appears to have been of Midland origin — the states where it is most common appear to be Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and Oklahoma — and has spread considerably to such other states as New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Minnesota, California, and Oregon. It is still predominantly a spoken feature, although [ . . . ] it does appear in fiction and occasionally in journalistic sources. Both the older American Dialect Dictionary and the new DARE note that it is used by persons of all educational levels; it is not substandard, and it is not a feature of speech that is considered indicative of social standing.

Bryant 1962 conjectures that the positive anymore may have come to the U.S. with Scotch-Irish immi- grants in the 18th century. There is an any more listed in the English Dialect Dictionary that occurs in both positive and negative contexts, but its meaning is different from that of the American usage. D. H. Lawrence, however, did put it into the mouth of the character named Rupert Birkin in his novel Women in Love, published in 1920:
“Quite absurd,” he said. “Suffering bores me, any more.”
And P. W. Joyce, in English As We Speak It in Ireland (1910), notes the existence of a positive use of any more in the West and Northwest of Ireland. It is also used in Canada. Modern Canadian English Usage (1974) reports 8 or 9 percent of its respondents using the positive anymore with the highest incidences found in Ontario and Newfoundland.

Although many who encounter the usage for the first time think it is new, it is not: the earliest attestation cited in the DARE is dated 1859.
Anymore I don’t need to think about anymore — just listen for it.

Reader, do you say or hear positive anymore?

Dowdy Name loves Dowdy Name

[Henry, July 1, 2015.]

Vic? Damone, Morrow, Tayback. I knew a Vic in high school, a friend’s sister’s boyfriend, a few years older than us. He owned a car and smoked Viceroys, long before they became a bargain brand. It occurs to me only now that perhaps he liked them because of the Vic.

Muriel? Rukeyser and Spark. And cigars, of course. And a Tom Waits song: “Muriel, I see you on a Saturday night, in a penny arcade with your hair tied back.” I’ve never met a Muriel.

Henry and Henrietta are pretty dowdy names too.

Related reading
All OCA “dowdy world” posts (Pinboard)
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Curses and jokes in the classroom

At Louisiana State University, Teresa Buchanan, a tenured professor in early-childhood education, has been fired for creating “a ‘hostile learning environment’ that amounted to sexual harassment.” She is charged with having done so by cursing, using vulgar language, and telling an ill-considered joke. Did Buchanan show poor judgment? I’d say so. The article at the link notes that at the time of complaints, she was going through a divorce and “was a bit looser with her language.” But do her remarks call for dismissal? Hell no. LSU’s decision serves the deepen the element of self-censorship in academic life — the fear of saying something or teaching a text because someone, for some reason, might take offense.

My language in the classroom was usually, almost always, free of curse words and vulgarity, though when struggling with inadequate classroom technology, I would occasionally tell my students (for comedic effect) that various choice words were running through my head. My proudest moment of cursing in the classroom involved a response to something left, unerased, on the blackboard. I would like to think that my curse helped create the exact opposite of a “hostile learning environment.”