May 22, 2013
Edna O’Brien’s book Girl With Green Eyes has a romantic line involving bicycles:
Ah, the bloom of you, I love your North-Circular-Road-Bicycle-Riding-Cheeks.
It’s a sweet declaration ending in an impressive hyphenated string, though if I were editing it I would separate cheeks from the compound and reduce the capitalisation: North-Circular-Road-bicycle-riding cheeks.
In a modest correspondence between books decades apart, Declan Hughes’s detective novel The Dying Breed has another elaborate compound phrase constructed with the help of bicycle imagery:
I made a face at that, my d’you-think-I-cycled-up-the-Liffey-on-a-bicycle face.
When I tweeted that sentence I was treated to a few variations on the theme: Belfast’s D’you think I floated down the Lagan in a bubble? (@charlieconnelly), and Glasgow’s D’ye think ah came up the Clyde on a water biscuit/banana boat? (@ozalba; @Yanbustone).
There are many versions of this idiom, often beginning Do you think…, You must think…, or I didn’t… More (or less) familiar lines include: Do you think I came down in the last shower?, You must think I was born yesterday, and I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.
I love the water biscuit one, but for some reason I relate most strongly to cycling on the Liffey – so long as I steer clear of Gogarty’s swans.
May 20, 2013
Alison Dye’s novel The Sense of Things (1994) has a conversation between the narrator, Joanie, and her friend-to-be, Jesus, in which Jesus nervously corrects himself twice in an effort to speak more properly.
Joanie has gone to Jesus to order new flooring for the shop she works in, and Jesus is explaining the sheet approach to her:
‘Installation is slightly easier with the sheeting and therefore cuts down on your labour costs. We would unroll it and cut as we go, from the wall out. However, with a sheet you are stuck with the one colour or print except for the borders which you can be a little creative with, if you like. I mean, with which.’ He coughed.
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May 16, 2013
Mick Jagger has appeared on Sentence first before, in my post about “bad” grammar in song lyrics. But I was surprised to learn that the Rolling Stones singer and occasional actor is something of an amateur linguist. Here, from Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless, is a note written in Camisea, Peru, in February 1981:
We shot some footage with Mick [Jagger] and the little Indian boy who is called McNamara in the film, and both of them did such a good job that the team broke into applause. During the scene Mick was bitten on the shoulder by one of the monkeys and laughed so uproariously about it afterward that it sounded like a donkey braying. Whenever we take a break he distracts me with clever little lectures on English dialects and the development of the language since the late Middle Ages.
Herzog’s book is a darkly poetic account of the director’s protracted attempts to film Fitzcarraldo, the centrepiece of which involves hauling a ship over a mountain in Peru. At one point Herzog, faced with the “obscene, explicit malice of the jungle”, describes feeling “like a half-finished, poorly expressed sentence in a cheap novel.” There are no such sentences in the book, which I highly recommend.
And in case you were wondering: Jagger’s role was later cut from the script, through no fault of his own.
May 14, 2013
It’s a couple of months since I made a bookmash, so here’s a new one.
Click to enlarge:
Cat and Mouse Semantics
Cat and mouse semantics,
Walkabout to school
Through the fields
In the land
Of invented languages.
Thanks to the authors: Octavia Butler, Jane Austen, Günter Grass, F. H. George, Erik Davis, James Vance Marshall, Alice Taylor, Arika Okrent.
More in the bookmash archive. From an idea by Nina Katchadourian.
May 10, 2013
Caxton is a new blog about language from Barrie England, an Oxford graduate who has studied English literature, foreign languages, and older varieties of English. It is named after printing pioneer William Caxton, who, as Barrie writes, “by using technology to reach a wider public . . . can be seen as the progenitor of the digital age”.
Barrie wrote Real Grammar before its host pulled the plug; I’ve linked to it here in the past, most recently to his post on the rise of Swiss German dialect. Some of you may also know him from his insightful comments at Sentence first.
Since setting up Caxton and importing his old posts, Barrie has been blogging regularly, offering astute and balanced observations on such subjects as the value of linguistics, the early shapers of English, education, reflexive pronouns, dialects, grammar, and Jacques Brel. Rummage around and you’ll find all sorts of good material.
If you’re interested in the usage, history, politics, and beauty of English – or language generally – I recommend visiting and bookmarking Caxton. I’ve also added it to the links in the sidebar of this blog.
Updates: More thoughts on Caxton: Language Hat wishes it a “long and prosperous career”, while You Don’t Say celebrates “a new voice of sense and informed judgment”.
May 8, 2013
Remember Story Bud?, the video of Irish slang and colloquialisms I shared here in February? Director Jenny Keogh has filmed a second clip, How’s About Ye?, in the same style, and it’s great fun altogether.
There are on-screen glosses for the phrases, but because the delivery and editing are rapid-fire – and some of the accents are strong – I’ve added Jenny’s transcript below, with a few tweaks.
In related news, Jenny is working on a feature-length film comprising more of these videos along with expert interviews and other footage. She’s holding “Phrase Donor Clinics” around Ireland to collect phrases from the public to use in the film.
Jenny is crowdfunding this on Fund it, an Irish Kickstarter-type website, so if you’d like to support this very worthy project, you can. There’s two weeks left to contribute; pledges from €15 up earn a reward, and if funding falls short, you won’t be charged. You can find out more at JennyKeogh.com and on the Story Bud? Facebook page.
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May 7, 2013
To keep at bay the ever-present danger of running out of things to read on the internet, here’s a selection of language-related links I’ve enjoyed in recent weeks.
For hardboiled hacks and editors: Grammarnoir 5.
How pointing makes babies human.
Cucumber map of Europe.
Animated pop-up books.
Kán yu andastánd wot aim seiing?
A classical alphabet in rhyming form.
The genealogical etymology of scalawag.
Instead of awesome.
The psycholinguistics of CAPTCHAs.
Anzac, possie, furphy: words from Gallipoli.
Paper vs. screens: the reading brain in the digital age.
GloWbE, a new 1.9b word corpus of global web-based English.
Real rules vs. grammar myths (PDF).
Our many synonyms for death.
On newspapers’ use of illegal immigrants.
What’s the collective noun for collective nouns?
Language structure is partly determined by social structure.
Analysing elephant signals and gestures.
Language, like immigration, is “thoroughly untidy”.
How Vesalius’s anatomical metaphors broke the mould in 1543.
Archive of the indigenous languages of Latin America.
Twitter language map of Melbourne.