Sunday, August 30, 2015

Oliver Sacks (1933–2015)

There is a paradox here — a delicious one — which I cannot resolve: if there is indeed a fundamental distinction between experience and description, between direct and mediated knowledge of the world, how is it that language can be so powerful? Language, that most human invention, can enable what, in principle, should not be possible. It can allow all of us, even the congenitally blind, to see with another person’s eyes.

“The Mind’s Eye,” in The Mind’s Eye (New York: Knopf, 2010).
The New York Times has an obituary. Sacks’s three recent pieces for the Times : “My Own Life,” “My Periodic Table,” and “Sabbath.”

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Did ballpoints kill cursive?

Did the ballpoint pen really kill cursive, as Josh Giesbrecht suggests in a piece at The Atlantic ? Giesbrecht finds the strongest support for this claim in the work of handwriting expert Rosemary Sassoon:

She explains that the type of pen grip taught in contemporary grade school is the same grip that’s been used for generations, long before everyone wrote with ballpoints. However, writing with ballpoints and other modern pens requires that they be placed at a greater, more upright angle to the paper — a position that’s generally uncomfortable with a traditional pen hold.
Certainly strain is possible when one writes with a ballpoint — or with a fountain pen, if one writes for a long enough time. But I’m not persuaded by the argument from angles. I just photographed myself writing with a Bic, a T-Ball Jotter, and a Cross fountain pen, and I see virtually no difference between the ballpoints and the fountain pen. If anything, I hold the ballpoints slightly less upright.

I think that declining ability in cursive might be better explained as a matter of writers’ lack of interest in, or lack of care for, the handwritten word.

A sidenote: in the short film The Art of Hermann Zapf , Zapf does calligraphy with a ballpoint pen (at 14:38). Says Zapf, “Maybe I am going a little too far away from calligraphy with a broad-edged pen. But the ballpoint is also a good tool if it is used in the right way.” He goes on to produce some Spencerian script with his ballpoint.

Related posts
Ballpoints, not for writing?
Five pens (My life in five pens)
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)
All OCA pen posts (Pinboard)

“[N]ow I travel with my photographs”

Gabrielle Longstreet speaks:

Willa Cather, “The Old Beauty,” in The Old Beauty and Others (1948).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Friday, August 28, 2015

“Is Your Grammar Holding You Back?”

A quiz by Bryan Garner: “Is Your Grammar Holding You Back?” (Harvard Business Review ).

One of the quiz’s ten sentences (I’ll leave it for the reader to figure out which one) is troublesome: the quiz says the sentence is grammatically incorrect, but Garner’s Modern American Usage marks the idiom in question as Stage 5, “Fully accepted.” I’m scoring myself ten of ten.


1:31 p.m.: The sentence that tripped me up is no. 7. I e-mailed Bryan Garner about it, and he changed the scoring. (Is he a diligent guy, or what?) The answer for no. 7 now begins: “This sentence is grammatically correct, but you’ll get a point for either response,” with an explanation following. So ten for ten!

Related reading
All OCA Bryan Garner posts (Pinboard)

Our mutual frown

I was moved to read Our Mutual Friend when someone assured me that it, not Bleak House, is, but of course, the greatest Dickens novel. (It is a truth universally acknowledged, &c.) But no. Our Mutual Friend feels like the work of a tired writer, and it was making us tired. (Falling-asleep-between-sentences tired.) We made it almost halfway through before acknowledging that we just didn’t care enough to continue. Back to Willa Cather, The Old Beauty and Others .

Bleak House is the greatest Dickens novel I’ve read. Elaine, who hasn’t read Bleak House, chooses Great Expectations .

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Mac app Acorn

John Gruber at Daring Fireball wrote a post yesterday recommending the Mac image editor Acorn, now on sale for $24.99 (half price). Gruber’s closing words: “Just buy it.” I did, and it made editing the advertisements in the previous post a breeze, or a piece of cake, your choice.

To my mind, Acorn is a far friendlier app than the free (and, like Acorn, powerful) GIMP. And Acorn makes it possible to rotate and crop images with greater precision than is available in Apple’s iPhoto and Photos apps. (Those comic-strip panels appear on an angle in the original advertisements.) I’ve barely begun to explore Acorn’s possibilities, but I am already a happy camper.

[The cake is yellow, with chocolate frosting.]

Dressing for school

Another search for homework: five sentences about dressing. I’ll bite.

[Life, June 17, 1940.]

[Life, September 29, 1941. Click for larger views.]

These sentences will also work for five sentences about mayonnaise or real, and they offer at least a start on five sentences about Peg or Clare or starchy filler.

Other “five sentences” posts
Bleak House : The cat : Clothes : The driver : My house : Life : Life on the moon : Orange : The past (1) : The past (2) : The post office : The rabbit : The ship : The sky : Smoking : The telephone : The world

[People of the world: do your own homework.]

Playing policy

Another Mencken footnote, from a brief discussion of Italian loan-words:

The word policy, which was used in the United States from about 1885 to 1915 to designate the form of gambling now called numbers , was from the Italian polizza . But it apparently came in by way of English, though with a change in meaning, and it is now virtually obsolete.

H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States , 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937).
The term policy certainly persisted in African-American culture. Here is an episode of the podcast Uncensored History of the Blues about playing policy.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the gambling sense of policy to the Middle French police, “written proof, certificate.” The Dictionary traces another meaning of policy , “ a voting paper; (also) a voucher,” to polizza.

Also from The American Language
The American v. the Englishman : B.V.D. : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking : The verb to contact

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

5 sentences of orange

More homework! Here’s a start:

Orange you ashamed to be cheating?

Other “five sentences” posts
Bleak House : The cat : Clothes : The driver : My house : Life : Life on the moon : The past (1) : The past (2) : The post office : The rabbit : The ship : The sky : Smoking : The telephone : The world

Five sentences on the sky

Ever since I wrote a post about five sentences from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House , Google searches for five sentences (that is, for pre-fabricated homework) have been ending up at Orange Crate Art. Recently: five sentences on the sky . Consider it done:

Your thighs are appletrees whose blossoms touch the sky. Which sky? The sky where Watteau hung a lady’s slipper.

The Sky is an immortal Tent built by the Sons of Los.

Surrender Dorothy.

Other “five sentences” posts
The cat : Clothes : The driver : My house : Life : Life on the moon : The past (1) : The past (2) : The post office : The rabbit : The ship : Smoking : The telephone : The world