All posts filed under: Language

Publicly Shaming a Musician for Calling a Composition by Its Name

Over the long weekend of May 30 to June 2, my wife and I attended the eclectic OBEY music convention in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which I was covering for the British magazine The Wire. After the first two days passed without incident, the final day featured a set of distressing events that led to the cancelation of a concert by American composer Mary Jane Leach, in which she had been scheduled to present her compositions Pipe Dreams and Dowland’s Tears. While these events have been discussed on social media, they have never, to my knowledge, been systematically described in the press. I am hoping that this report will help provide some clarity, even for those who may not agree with my opinions. On the afternoon of June 2, Leach gave a talk on the work of composer Julius Eastman (1940-1990). Leach was friends with Eastman, who died three decades ago, at the age of 49. She also is co-editor of the book Gay Guerilla: Julius Eastman and His Music, published by the University of Rochester …

How the ‘Underground Grammarian’ Taught Me to Tell Reason from Rubbish

Thought control, like birth control, is best undertaken as long as possible before the fact. Many grown-ups will obstinately persist, if only now and then, in composing small strings of sentences in their heads and achieving at least a momentary logic. This probably cannot be prevented, but we have learned how to minimize its consequences by arranging that such grown-ups will be unable to pursue that logic very far. ~Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say In January of 1977, New Jersey’s Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) saw the publication of a new campus journal. Sporting handset type and quaint nineteenth century line-drawn imagery, it was called the Underground Grammarian. On the front page of the first edition of the four page newsletter, the anonymous editor printed its “Editorial Policies”: The Underground Grammarian is an unauthorised journal devoted to the protection of the Mother Tongue at Glassboro State College. Our language can be written and even spoken correctly, even beautifully. We do not demand beauty, but bad English cannot be excused or tolerated in …

On Its 70th Anniversary, Nineteen Eighty-Four Still Feels Important and Inspiring

Nineteen Eighty-Four is divided into three parts, the second of which is structured around Winston Smith’s love affair with Julia, a co-worker at the Ministry of Truth. Their romance begins with Smith offering Julia the sort of smooth talk that would send any woman’s heart aflutter: “I’m thirty-nine years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got five false teeth.” Moments later, he seals the deal by telling Julia that she’d always been in his thoughts. “I hated the first sight of you,” he tells her. “I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago, I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.” Naturally, Julia is seduced. Several pages later, Winston “pressed her down upon the grass, among the fallen bluebells.” It is a symptom of George Orwell’s genius that, taken in context, this sequence makes perfect sense. In his life, Orwell seems to have been somewhat mortified by the sex act. And one can almost see him squirming …

Tolkien—A Review

Alas, poor Tolkien the movie. The adjective “tepid” most accurately describes the critical response to this biopic, reverently directed by Dome Karukoski, which explores the early years of the author of The Hobbit (1937), the Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954–1955), and countless other works of medievalist fantasy. The idea behind Tolkien is that nearly every key theme in these novels had its origins in some episode of the young John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s life, first at the prestigious King Edward’s boys’ school in Birmingham (where, as the gifted son of a cultivated but impoverished widow, he had a scholarship), then at Oxford University (another scholarship), and above all, in the trenches of the Somme, where he was posted as a second lieutenant in 1916 and had ample opportunity to experience all the horrors of World War I before succumbing to trench fever carried by the lice that infested the cramped and filthy bunkers. Thus, Tolkien, presented as a series of flashbacks playing inside the brain of the fever-stricken junior officer, trades heavily in one-on-one …

Conspiracism at the Atlantic

In his short story The Portrait of Mr W.H. (1889), Oscar Wilde depicts a quest to identify the mysterious dedicatee, known only as Mr W.H, of Shakespeare’s sonnets. On purely internal evidence, his protagonists “prove” that it must have been an enchanting boy actor called Willie Hughes. The conceit, clearly deriving from Wilde’s own sexual interests, is compellingly written and completely fictitious. Last weekend the Atlantic magazine published a long article that I initially assumed must be a similarly imaginative parody of misplaced literary ingenuity. The piece, titled “Was Shakespeare a Woman?”, suggests that the works attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford may have been written by a woman. The author, Elizabeth Winkler, maintains: “Doubts about whether William Shakespeare … really wrote the works attributed to him are almost as old as the writings themselves.” She accuses what she calls orthodox Shakespeare scholars of “a dogmatism of their own” on the issue, whereby “even to dabble in authorship questions is considered a sign of bad faith, a blinkered failure to countenance genius in a glover’s …

Headline Rhymes

Pulling Jordan Peterson’s book off the rack In the wake of the New Zealand mosque attack Is like banning the Don’t Look Back in Anger song After the Manchester concert bomb “12 Rules” is a balm to calm the dangers That might drive one to kill innocent strangers The next time a terrorist act hits Might they ban the Ten Commandments? Views on the news, delivered so smooth. Click for last week’s edition. And for more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

Headline Rhymes

Trump was over the moon For his buddy Kim Jong Un This squabbling’s picayune For the Loon and the Buffoon I hope they make up soon Stay tuned Views on the news, delivered so smooth. Click for last week’s edition. And for more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

Headline Rhymes

Have you heard ’bout the horrible hate crime? A TV star is beat up by two white guys But the whole thing turns whack When the white guys turn black And YOU are racist for not buyin’ Views on the news, delivered so smooth. This week’s inspired by the confusing story of Jussie Smollett as it continues to unspool. As it does, perhaps sober thinking about race is in order:  Racism and Underdetermination by Evidence The Racism Treadmill Click for last week’s edition. And for more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

The Boy Who Inflated the Concept of ‘Wolf’

One of Aesop’s fables is about a shepherd boy who, out of boredom, repeatedly cries “Wolf!” when no wolf is present. As a result, the villagers lose faith in his testimony, and no one listens to his warnings when a real wolf shows up to devour his flock. The story shows why it’s bad to lie and why it’s in our interest to be honest. But lying is not the only manipulation of language that degrades trust. Consider a slightly different story. Suppose that instead of one shepherd boy, there are a few dozen. They are tired of the villagers dismissing their complaints about less threatening creatures like stray dogs and coyotes. One of them proposes a plan: they will start using the word “wolf” to refer to all menacing animals. They agree and the new usage catches on. For a while, the villagers are indeed more responsive to their complaints. The plan backfires, however, when a real wolf arrives and cries of “Wolf!” fail to trigger the alarm they once did. What the boys …

Headline Rhymes

The Oscars without any host? That’s like avocado without any toast Or an eWoke with no one to roast Or a VIP with no dick pic to post Views on the news, delivered so smooth. Click for last week’s edition. And for more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.