Saturday, 27 August 2011

Bayan time (8)

Good result on the public performance front: this afternoon I busked for charity on Topsham Fore Street (it's Topsham Carnival Day, when they close the road to traffic after lunchtime). Being far less in the spotlight than at the Passage House Inn event, I didn't find anxiety a problem. The chief sensation was of needing to concentrate on staying "in the zone"; I did fluff a few notes when my attention drifted on to something else, but I even managed to keep playing when one of the shoulder straps on the bayan came unhitched. That would have thrown me only a couple of months ago. The proceeds came to £14.40: first paid gig - even if it's not for me - and not bad for 40 minutes or so (I have about 20 minutes of rehearsed repertoire now, and did two slots at the beginning and end of the afternoon).

- Ray

Friday, 26 August 2011

Glorious but gloomy

The bookshop where I work just acquired a small souvenir publication called Glorious Devon (softback, 27x19cm, 18 plates 18.5x11cm, Harvey Barton & Son, Ltd., Bristol, c. 1930).  The artist is uncredited.

The paper being thoroughly yellowed, I thought I'd photograph it and have a go at enhancing the images with GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Programme).  After correction of the overall yellow cast, the colours still look rather strange: partly, I suspect, because of different colours of inks fading at different rates; and partly because the pictures do seem to have very sombre to start with, with a distinctly chiaroscuro style.  Most, as you can see from the house and street lights being on, are moonlit night scenes, which suggests the intention of the collection was artistic rather than to produce conventional picture-postcard scenes.  Anyhow, they have a certain austere charm.

Click to enlarge.

Addendum: I just spotted a piece of artistic license in the image of Ilfracombe (here).  Whatever is the object in the sky?  The view is looking north: neither the sun nor the moon could be in that position.

- Ray

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

One kabano, two ...?

A third Salisbury-related post: I was pleased to find, on the road from the railway station to the city centre, a superb Polish delicatessen called Taste the World that sells genuine kabanosy. This is the famously delicious cured and smoked sausage: dry, faintly chewy, and flavoured with just a touch of pepper, nutmeg and caraway seed.

A year or two ago I was embarrassed on realising that for the 30+ years since I first encountered it, I'd got the name wrong. Not knowing about plurals in Slavic languages, I'd thought it was one kabano (i.e. kəbɑnəʊ), two kabanos; when it's actually one kabanos (kæbənɒs), two kabanosy. There's a saying, misattributed to Bismarck, that "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made", and the EU document Publication of an application pursuant to Article 8(2) of Council Regulation (EC) No 509/2006 on agricultural products and foodstuffs as traditional specialities guaranteed (an application for the name "kabanosy" to be granted traditional speciality status) rather does that.  It is, however, enlightening about the etymology:

The name expresses the specific character of the product. In 19th century Poland and Lithuania the term "kaban", or the diminutive form "kabanek", referred to extensively reared young hogs which used to be fattened mainly with potatoes, and the meat they produced was customarily called "kabanina". "Kabanos" is derived from the name used to designate these hogs.

There's a different sausage, cabanossi, typically made in Germany and Austria, whose texture is generally rather more like a light salami (for British readers: it's like Matteson's Smoked Pork Sausage - the Australian equivalent is called cabana or kabana). There is some overlap of styles, though; some cabanossi, such as the Greisinger brand sold by Waitrose, are much closer to kabanosy in flavour and texture. "Cabanossi" appears to be a very recent word; along with "kabanossi", it first turns up in Austria in the 1970s.  The German Wikipedia's etymology for "cabanossi" goes into rather laboured explorations of it being named after a ship's cabin or hut.  At the risk of leaping to a false cognate, to me it seems much more likely that "cabanossi" is just a straight phonetic import of "kabanosy" from Polish.

- Ray

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Voyage into the Deep

Also from Salisbury, a very nice find in a charity shop: a 75p hardback copy of Voyage into the Deep, a graphic novel written by François Rivière and illustrated by Serge Micheli (originally published in French in 2003 as Voyage sous les eaux).

The name derives from Jules Verne's working title for his 1870 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and the book is an SF/fantasy exploration of the creation of the novel. It begins in 1866 in the seaport of Le Crotoy, where a mysterious boy - Verne calls him 'Bert' - gives the author a cryptic letter and bottle of green-glowing water "with electric properties". Inspired, Verne begins to write, and the book tells interwoven narratives of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Verne's own adventures; these include acquaintance with an Indian self-styled Princess, Mikah, who is searching for her father; an artist called Daniel Wragg, whose architectural design for his London 'Sarcophagus Club' becomes reflected in Verne's concept for the interior of Captain Nemo's Nautilus; and a Nosferatu-like Margate medium called Robert Lee, whose seance makes direct contact between Verne and Nemo.

Rivière explains in the afterward that the story sprang from his personal fascination with Verne and the character of Captain Nemo, and the book is rich in internal allusions to Victoriana, Verne's life, and his works. Mikah strongly recalls Princess Aouda in Around the World in Eighty Days, and there's reference to Verne's repeated legal issues over plagiarism (both accused of doing it, and being plagiarised from - see Jules Verne: journeys in writing, Timothy A. Unwin, 2005 and Twenty thousand leagues under the seas, Jules Verne, trans. William Butcher, 1998). "Daniel Wragg" is fictitious, but his Sarcophagus Club appears to allude to the architecturally eclectic club of that name in Thackeray's Book of Snobs. (I did spot one anachronism here - Verne likens it to Luna Park, an amusement park near Porte Maillot, Paris, but this didn't exist until two years after Verne's death).

Any graphic novel exploring the mythos of Captain Nemo is bound to fall under the shadow of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; and Rivière's story, while interesting and evocative, is not as tightly plotted, leaving far more loose ends. Who is 'Bert', and why does he closely resemble Verne's wife? Is Mikah Nemo's daughter? What is the vicious aquatic homunculus that makes several unexplained appearances? Is the whole adventure Verne's fabulation in a fever? Some of these questions are probably answered in the second volume, Voyage sous les eaux: L’île mystérieuse, but Voyage into the Deep is nevertheless more than adequately accessible as a standalone work. It's beautifully-drawn, and thought-provoking: a good 75p's worth.

The Wikipedia article on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is worth reading for its account of the personal and bibliographic issues. These include Verne's problematic relationship with his publisher, Hetzel, that necessitated repeated changes in Nemo's back-story to steer clear of political hot potatoes; and the mangling of the book by the 1873 translator, Lewis Mercier. The Mercier translation is online at Project Gutenberg (E-Text No. 164) as are restored versions: the public domain Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by FP Walter, and (as far as I tell can tell, authorised) a PDF version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas translated by William Butcher. The last is especially worth reading for its extensive critical introduction.

- Ray

Friday, 19 August 2011

This mesto in Salisbury

On a flying visit to Salisbury for my brother-in-law's birthday party, I spotted this interesting typography for a vodka bar name (clearly alluding to the Korova bar in A Clockwork Orange) on the way into the city. I like the way the first character of the first word throws you into thinking it's a sigma, even if the second one, "БАЯ", slightly loses subtlety points by falling into the cliche of using a "Я" ("Ya") to represent "R" in pseudo-Cyrillic.

- Ray

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Utopia Britannica

A serendipitous link I found while searching on an unconnected book topic: Utopia Britannica, British Utopian Experiments 1325 - 1945.  It's the companion site to Chris Coates's book Utopia Britannica (Diggers & Dreamers Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-9514945-8-9). He explains:

Utopia Britannica began life as a history of intentional communities in the British Isles, what were called communes in the 1960s & ‘70s. As I set off on my journey down the communal memory lane with my baggage of preconceptions I thought I was clearly bound for the footnotes of history, but as I travelled through both geography and time, engaged in the research, I found myself in places that I never knew existed, accompanied by a cast of characters that ranged from the truly strange & eccentric, right through the corridors of power to the dizzy heights of fame & fortune.

What slowly emerged was a Utopian landscape stretched to the farthest corners of our country and whose influences are embedded so deep into our national culture as to be virtually invisible.I have spent a lot of time reading the footnotes of other history books piecing together a jigsaw map of UtopiaBritannica, and now when I travel I move through another country; a country of the imagination dreamt into existence by generations of utopian experimenters who refused to accept that there wasn’t a better place to be than the one that they found themselves in.

Apart from promotional pages for the print book, the website contains a gazetteer of British utopian experiments (there are plenty of Devon examples) and an index of utopian stories (a sampler of accounts from the book, some augmented with material discovered since publication).

- Ray

Monday, 15 August 2011


Not at all books - but this is a music blog too. Via Yahoo! Answers I just ran into Elisa Toffoli (who sings as Elisa ... official website). Her work, such as Dancing (above) is extremely nice; unusually for an Italian singer-songwriter, she mostly performs in English.

But I'd never have guessed her background; until the final "Grazie" in the above video, I would have thought her accent American (she sounds rather like Alex Winston), French-Canadian or Irish. The inconsistent rhoticity is interesting: check out the strongly rhotic "r" in words such as "far" (0:42) and "scared" (2:43) versus the completely non-rhotic "tears" (1:27) and "arms" (3:07).  It must have taken considerable work to develop this pronunciation, as this video interview shows her speaking voice in Italian to use the entirely different trilled and flap r, and Italian singers (as far as I can tell) preserve this when singing in Italian (check out examples from Andrea Bocelli and Mina).

- Ray

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Henry Sweet

Yesterday I mentioned the predominantly prescriptive approach of 19th century grammar books. There was a hungry market for such books, driven by the continuing growth and social anxieties of the middle class that gave rise to English prescriptivism in the first place. The sheer awfulness of them was summarised by Ian Michael, who catalogued 856, and concluded:

Most grammars of English published in Britain during the 19th century are dull ... There were a great many grammars, issued in very large numbers. They were repetitive; many were merely commercial ventures, scholastically naive ... The vast number of grammars contrasts with the uniformity of their contents. Of all the subjects in the school curriculum English grammar was the most rigid and unchanging ... Teachers had insisted, for two centuries, on writing grammars which added little or nothing to what had gone before.
- Michael, I. (1991), "More than enough English grammars", in G. Leitner, English Traditional Grammars. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 11-26.

However, a radical exception to the bunch was that by the English philologist, phonetician and grammarian Henry Sweet. Among other works ranging through Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic and phonetics, his 1891 A New English Grammar is unusual in taking a robust descriptivist stance:

... it must be borne in mind that the rules of grammar have no value except as statements of facts: whatever is in general use in a language is for that very reason grammatically correct.

Pullum & Huddleston's 2005 A Student's Introduction to English Grammar comments:

The prescriptive grammars of the twentieth century might have been more useful if they had paid more attention to Sweet instead of simply trying to transmute personal prejudice into authority.

Sweet's work is commemorated by The Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas, and all his works are online at the Internet Archive (search on "Henry Sweet"), including A New English Grammar (Vol 1 / Vol 2). His 1890 A Primer of Spoken English (adapted from his 1885 Elementarbuch des gesprochenen Englisch) is particularly interesting as the first phonetically notated description of educated Southern English (what's now called Received Pronunciation). It contains observations from 120 years ago of features of RP, such as that of intrusive/linking r below, that are commonly thought to be recent:

The fact is that the statements of ordinary educated people about their own pronunciation are generally not only valueless, but misleading. Thus I know as a fact that most educated speakers of Southern English insert an r in idea(r) of, India(r) office etc. in rapid speech, and I know that this habit, so far from dying out, is spreading to the Midlands; and yet they all obstinately deny it. The associations of the written language, and inability to deal with a phonetic notation, make most people incapable of recognizing a phonetic representation of their own pronunciation.
- A Primer of Spoken English, 1890, Preface, page viii.

Sweet's expertise in philology and accents, plus highly abrasive personality, made him a strong influence in the character of Henry Higgins in Shaw's Pygmalion. The preface to Pygmalion - A Professor of Phonetics - describes Sweet as a talented scholar with a major chip on his shoulder about academia, and especially Oxford.

Pygmalion Higgins is not a portrait of Sweet, to whom the adventure of Eliza Doolittle would have been impossible; still, as will be seen, there are touches of Sweet in the play. With Higgins's physique and temperament Sweet might have set the Thames on fire. As it was, he impressed himself professionally on Europe to an extent that made his comparative personal obscurity, and the failure of Oxford to do justice to his eminence, a puzzle to foreign specialists in his subject. I do not blame Oxford, because I think Oxford is quite right in demanding a certain social amenity from its nurslings (heaven knows it is not exorbitant in its requirements!); for although I well know how hard it is for a man of genius with a seriously underrated subject to maintain serene and kindly relations with the men who underrate it, and who keep all the best places for less important subjects which they profess without originality and sometimes without much capacity for them, still, if he overwhelms them with wrath and disdain, he cannot expect them to heap honors on him.

Actually there are more than "touches" of Sweet in Pygmalion; Bertrand M Wainger's paper Henry Sweet - Shaw's Pygmalion (Studies in Philology, Vol. 27, No. 4, Oct., 1930) notes strong similarities:

It is evident that Shaw took Sweet as a model for some of the major lineaments of the portrait of the Professor Higgins of the play. It was Sweet who invented the Broad Romic system of phonetic notation; it was Sweet who sent postcards in that script and in his shorthand script to his friends; it was Sweet who was able to pronounce distinctly seventy-two vowel sounds. Sweet would often turn his back on a group of speakers and jot down a phonetic record of their conversation; Sweet was engrossed in his studies - as is Professor Higgins - to the exclusion of the social amenities; and Sweet alone, in England, was sufficiently the master of the science of phonetics to have been able to transmute Liza into Miss Doolittle.

Sweet's grievance may well have been to do with getting a fourth-class degree from Oxford (effectively a "fail"). Accounts of him in later life variously describe his "cantankerousness and embittered attitudes" (page 421, The History of the University of Oxford: The Nineteenth Century, Volume 7, Part 2) and his "embittered isolation, which developed virtually into a form of persecution mania in the years before his death in 1912" (page 48, The real Professor Higgins: the life and career of Daniel Jones).  See Against the establishment: Sidelines on Henry Sweet for more of the same.

It's tempting to suspect that Sweet's emphasis on descriptivism was somewhat driven by his hatreds: its opposite, prescriptivism, is heavily associated with the Establishment (a point argued by Geoffrey Pullum in the paper Ideology, Power and Linguistic Theory). Nevertheless, Sweet's contribution to the study of linguistics was immense, paving the way to the "Great Tradition" of 20th century descriptive linguistics; he was an inspiring teacher for those who weren't on his hate list, and Otto Jespersen (see previously) was one of his pupils.

- Ray

Friday, 12 August 2011

I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest

I've just been reading Jens Otto Harry Jespersen's 1905 Growth and Structure of the English Language (see the Internet Archive, ID growthstructureoesp00jrich). Though Danish-born, Jespersen was one of the classic documenters of the English language at the start of the 20th century, and a founder of the "Great Tradition" of descriptive linguistics that broke away from the predominantly prescriptive approach of the 19th century.

Growth and Structure of the English Language is very readable as an early account, essentially modern in approach, of the roots of English. The introduction, however, goes overboard with its highly Anglo-centric praise of the merits of English, and is remarkable for the number of sexual and national stereotypes that get an airing.

Jespersen writes:

My plan will be, first to give a rapid sketch of the language of our own days, so as to show how it strikes a foreigner — a foreigner who has devoted much time to the study of English, but who feels that in spite of all his efforts he is only able to look at it as a foreigner does, and not exactly as a native would ...
it seems to me positively and expressly masculine, it is the language of a grown-up man and has very little childish or feminine about it ... .In dealing with the English language one is often reminded of the characteristic English hand-writing; just as an English lady will nearly always write in a manner that in any other country would only be found in a man's hand, in the same manner the language is more manly than any other language I know.
First I shall mention the sound system. The English consonants are well defined; voiced and voiceless consonants stand over against each other in neat symmetry, and they are, as a rule, clearly and precisely pronounced. You have none of those indistinct or half-slurred consonants that abound in Danish ...
Besides these characteristics, the full nature of which cannot, perhaps, be made intelligible to any but those familiar with phonetic research, but which are still felt more or less instinctively by everybody hearing the language spoken, there are other traits whose importance can with greater ease be made evident to anybody possessed of a normal ear.
I select at random, by way of contrast, a passage from the language of Hawaii: 'T kona hiki ana aku ilaila ua hookipa ia mai la oia me ke aloha pumehana loa.' Thus it goes on, no single word ends in a consonant, and a group of two or more consonants is never found. Can any one be in doubt that even if such a language sound pleasantly and be full of music and harmony, the total impression is childlike and effeminate? You do not expect much vigour or energy in a people speaking ouch a language; it seems adapted only to inhabitants of sunny regions where the soil requires scarcely any labour on the part of man to yield him everything he wants, and where life therefore does not bear the stamp of a hard struggle against nature and against fellow-creatures.
7. The Italians have a pointed proverb: "Le parole son femmine e i fatti son maschi." If briefness, conciseness and terseness are characteristic of the style of men, while women as a rule are not such economizers of speech, English is more masculine than most languages.
Business-like shortness is also seen in such convenient abbreviations of sentences as abound in English ...
This cannot be separated from a certain sobriety in expression. As an Englishman does not like to use more words or more syllables than are strictly necessary, so he does not like to say more than he can stand to. He dislikes strong or hyperbolical expressions of approval or admiration ... An Englishman does not like to commit himself by being too enthusiastic or too distressed, and his language accordingly grows sober, too sober perhaps, and even barren when the object is to express emotions. There is in this trait a curious mixture of something praiseworthy, the desire to be strictly true without exaggerating anything or promising more than you can perform, and on the other hand of something blameworthy, the idea that it is affected, or childish and effeminate, to give vent to one's feelings, and the fear of appearing ridiculous by showing strong emotions. But this trait is certainly found more frequently in men than in women, so I may be allowed to add this feature of the English language to the signs of masculinity I have collected.
It is worth observing, for instance, how few diminutives the language has and how sparingly it uses them ... The continual recurrence of these endings [in other European languages] without any apparent necessity cannot but produce the impression that the speakers are innocent, childish, genial beings with no great business capacities or seriousness in life ... Then, of course, there is -y, -ie
(Billy, Dicky, auntie, birdie, etc.) which corresponds exactly to the fondling-suffixes of other languages; but its application in English is restricted to the nursery and it is hardly ever used by grown-up people except in speaking to children. Besides, this ending is more Scotch than English, and the Scotch with all their deadly earnestness, especially in religious matters, are, perhaps, in some respects more childlike than the English.
The business-like, virile qualities of the English language also manifest themselves in such things as word-order. Words in English do not play at hide-and-seek, as they often do in Latin, for instance, or in German, where ideas that by right belong together are widely sundered in obedience to caprice or, more often, to a rigorous grammatical rule.
No language is logical in every respect, and we must not expect usage to be guided always by strictly logical principles. It was a frequent error with the older grammarians that whenever the actual grammar of a language did not seem conformable to the rules of abstract logic they blamed the language and wanted to correct it. Without falling into that error we may, nevertheless, compare different languages and judge them by the standard of logic, and here again I think that, apart from Chinese, which has been described as pure applied logic, there is perhaps no language in the civilized world that stands so high as English.
In praising the logic of the English language we must not lose sight of the fact that in most cases where, so to speak, the logic of facts or of the exterior world is at war with the logic of grammar, English is free from the narrow-minded pedantry which in most languages sacrifices the former to the latter or makes people shy of saying or writing things which are not 'strictly grammatical'.
The French language is like the stiff French gardens of Louis XIV, while the English is like an English park, which is laid out seemingly without any definite plan, and in which you are allowed to walk everywhere according to your own fancy without having to fear a stern keeper enforcing rigorous regulations. The English language would not have been what it is if the English had not been for centuries great respecters of the liberties of each individual and if everybody had not been free to strike out new paths for himself.
This is seen, too, in the vocabulary. In spite of the efforts of several authors of high standing, the English have never suffered an Academy to be instituted among them like the French or Italian Academies, which had as one of their chief tasks the regulation of the vocabulary so that every word not found in their Dictionaries was blamed as unworthy of literary use or distinction. In England every writer is, and has always been, free to take his words where he chooses, whether from the ordinary stock of everyday words, from native dialects, from old authors, or from other languages, dead or living.
Now, it seems to be characteristic of the two sexes in their relation to language that women move in narrower circles of the vocabulary, in which they attain to perfect mastery so that the flow of words is always natural and, above all, never needs to stop, while men know more words and always want to be more precise in choosing the exact word with which to render their idea, the consequence being often less fluency and more hesitation ... Teachers of foreign languages have many occasions to admire the ease with which female students express themselves in another language after so short a time of study that most men would be able to say only few words hesitatingly and falteringly,but if they are put to the test of translating a difficult piece either from or into the foreign language, the men will generally prove superior to the women. With regard to their native language the same difference is found, though it is perhaps not so easy to observe. At any rate our assertion is corroborated by the fact observed by every student of languages that novels written by ladies are much easier to read and contain much fewer difficult words than those written by men. All this seems to justify us in setting down the enormous richness of the English vocabulary to the same masculinity of the English nation which we have now encountered in so many various fields.

To sum up: The English language is a methodical, energetic, business-like and sober language, that does not care much for finery and elegance, but does care for logical consistency and is opposed to any attempt to narrow-in life by police regulations and strict rules either of grammar or of lexicon. As the language is, so also is the nation,

For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

Phew... The Flanders & Swan song sprang to mind:

The English, the English, the English are best.
I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest.
- The English, Flanders & Swan

- Ray

Thursday, 11 August 2011

O fat white woman ... or white fat woman?

Yahoo! Answers ain't Notes & Queries - but it often turns up interesting topics, and one a couple of days ago involved adjective order: when you have a string of adjectives before a noun, what order do they go in? For instance, in Frances Cornford's ...

O fat white woman whom nobody loves

... why is it not "white fat woman"?

As a native English speaker, I'd never given adjective order much thought. I don't recall ever being explicitly taught any rule - though we were taught it was bad style to string too many adjectives together - yet some adjective orders "feel" better than others, which suggests that whatever fuzzy rule exists I probably acquired unconsciously during early language learning. For ESL learners, however, it's not so straightforward. This does somewhat impinge on one of my language peeves, as if you try to find guidance on adjective order, especially on ESL teaching sites, you find this is an example - like the previously mentioned extreme adjectives and choice of comparative form - where you find statements of rigid rules that don't actually reflect real native usage. In the case of adjective order, the usual format of rule stated is:

opinion > dimension > age > shape > colour > origin > material
(from Kenneth Beare, Adjective Placement)

... and some extend it further, as in:

Determiner or article
Opinion adjective
Size, including adjectives, comparatives and superlatives
Noun used as adjective
(from Adjective order, Centre for Independent Language Learning, Hong Kong)

The better web sources admit that there's some flexibility. For example, if words are semantically bound, the order may alter: because "a red German car" fits the scheme, but "a German red wine" is idiomatic because "red wine" is a semantic entity. But from a skim of the top Google hits for "adjective order", surprisingly few examine this possibility. The reality is that no definite algorithm exists, and I was quite pleased to find a book discussion of this that matches my opinion that any underlying ruleset that may exist isn't consciously learned.

In fact, there are discernible patterns to adjective order, even though it would be misleading to think in terms of a rigid order. In this sense, this issue illustrates many of the points I made in my introductory chapter. There, I suggested that many of the so-called "rules" of grammar are better understood as descriptions of patterns or regularities that are found in the language of competent speakers. It is also worth noting that the appropriate order of adjectives is something that native speakers seem to know intuitively, (ie, it is part of the procedural knowledge that they have built up over a lifetime). It is not something they consciously learn. Most native speakers could not offer a declarative explanation of the sort we are about to consider.
- page 96, Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar: a Guide for EFL Teachers, Martin J. Endley, 2010.

Linguistically, adjective order is interesting because native speakers have a strong and generally agreed sense of what order is idiomatic (unlike the situation with comparatives, where speakers strongly disagree, often having been taught explicitly to believe some forms to be correct/incorrect); and a lot of linguistic research has gone into trying to work out what factors drive that order. There's an extended summary here:

In most publications that discuss adjective order, the semantics of the adjectives is presented as the main factor determining their ordering, although phonological and pragmatic factors (like euphony, idiomacy and emphasis) are generally thought to have some influence as well.1 The publications do not agree, however, on the nature of the semantic factor that is responsible for the order of the adjectives.
- pages 94-97, The Noun Phrase in Ancient Greek, Stéphanie J. Bakker, 2009.

The upshot of all this, anyway, is that "fat" (with its multiple connotations of opinion, dimension and shape) has several factors that give it priority over colour ("white").

However, not all such cases are clear. You can show with Google Books that different orders often coexist, and would be outright wrong to to teach that one or other is incorrect for not fitting the rule. Forms particularly seem to coexist when the adjectives all have similar semantics.  For example, in these the negative judgement implicit seems far more powerful than the actual quality described:

"a fat old man" 4190 hits / "an old fat man" 1390 hits
"stupid fat ugly" 70 hits / "stupid ugly fat" 94 hits / "fat stupid ugly" 292 hits / "fat ugly stupid" 263 hits / "ugly stupid fat" 17 hits / "ugly fat stupid" 31 hits

Frances Cornford's poem - in which the poet criticises the subject for being unsensuous - runs in full:

To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
     Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
     And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
     Missing so much and so much?

The format - a triolet - being rather easy to emulate, it has attracted various responses, including this rather nice riposte from GK Chesterton:

The Fat White Woman Speaks

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves as such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

Chesterton's sentiment was shared by at least one other reader; the 1996 Enitharmon Press anthology Frances Cornford: Selected Poems mentions how Cornford received an anonymous postcard, dated May 1910 and signed 'The FWW', with the following riposte:

How do you know what I lose or gain?
And what do you know of love?
O pert brown miss in the railway train
How do you know what I lose or gain?
Do five rich publicans languish in vain
Longing to kiss your glove?
How do you know what I lose or gain,
And what do you know of love?

O Fat White Woman was also parodied by AE Housman in a 1910 letter to his friend William Rothenstein:

O why do you walk through the fields in boots,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody shoots,
Why do you walk through the fields in boots,
When the grass is soft as the breast of coots
And shivering-sweet to the touch?

I guess it depends on your view of Housman whether you view it just as a mean throwaway joke or, as argued on page 88 of The Road of Danger, Guilt, and Shame: the Lonely Way of A.E. Housman, Housman's characteristic use of parody to debunk and reject sentimentalized emotion in poetry.

There were other excellent parodies and homages in The Spectator in 1973 as part of its ongoing writing competition series (a competition that has produced some fine poets and humorists such as the great Eric Oakley Parrott). You'll have to find an archival library copy or hack them out of the Google Books Snippet View if you're interested. Here's one:

I'm fat 'cos I'm preggers. Miss Cornford. my dear,
And I'm missing so much, and so much,
For this is my fifth and the dread day draws near,
O, I feel I could drop at a touch!

My gloves are thick chamois (industrial grade).
But very acceptable gear
When hunting the hedgehog my eldest mislaid
(I hope the connection is clear).

Now, as to my seemingly loveless condition.
A poet should not think it odd
That a woman who's come to the point of fruition
Didn't fiddle the thing on her tod.

I work at a mill for the grinding of grain,
Where everything tends to be white.
So, when you next pass in the 3.20 train
Use a spy-glass and get the thing right.

- AB Gething

- Ray

Monday, 8 August 2011

Bayan time (7)

The above video is not me playing, unfortunately, but Yuri Charyguine; however, it is the same instrument that I play (bayan - B system chromatic button accordion, that is) and I did play the same piece in public - rather less expertly - yesterday. It was all extremely scary: Martin, one of the organisers of Topsham Rock School, asked me a while back if I'd like to play a short slot for the Topsham Ferryman's Weekend open air music event at the Passage House Inn.

This was a great idea theoretically, but it was very different on the day.  There must have been around 60-70 people, and it was the first time I'd played amplified, but it went pretty well; I did a jazz-based set of Stormy Weather, Stranger on the Shore, and Autumn Leaves. I was majorly nervous, but it helped to go round the corner and play for a couple of minutes to warm up. In fact the anxiety didn't kick in fully until afterward, when I bought a cooling Mojito (below) and found I couldn't pick up the glass because my hand was shaking so much. Still, I can live with that: getting over public performance anxiety ("I can play this perfectly at home" syndrome) is one of the problem areas I'm having to work on, and it's definitely getting less during the actual playing.

(The act after me was Elphick the juggler, who briefly played piano accordion while riding a unicyle. I refuse to learn to do that!).

- Ray

Saturday, 6 August 2011

"You'll like this, it has buttons" #2

click to enlarge
David Mamet's play Edmond has as its central premise the aphorism that "Every fear hides a wish". Maybe this was behind my initial distaste of the pink Casio FX-83GT Plus, as I just decided to embrace my pink side and get one.

I confess to being a slight calculator geek, but beyond the curiosity value, this turns out to be an extremely nice calculator. As you see, it's lightweight and slimline, the battery augmented by a solar panel, and comes with a robust slip-on cover. It also features an interestingly different but highly intuitive logic.  I'm most used to the "immediate execution" style of calculator:

input ... display
7 ... 7
x ... 7
6 ... 6
x ... 42
5 ... 5
x ... 210
4 ... 4
= ... 840

The FX-83GT Plus, however, uses what Casio calls "Natural-V.P.A.M."(Visually Perfect Algebraic Method) which shows you the expression as you build it, and only returns the result when you press =.

input ... display
7 ... 7
x ... 7x
6 ... 7x6
x ... 7x6x
5 ... 7x6x5
x ... 7x6x5x
4 ... 7x6x5x4
= ... 7x6x5x4 ... 840

( ... (
7 ... (7
+ ... (7+
6 ... (7+6
) ... (7+6)
x ... (7+6)x
( ... (7+6)x(
5 ... (7+6)x(5
+ ... (7+6)x(5+
4 ... (7+6)x(5+4
) ... (7+6)x(5+4)
= ... (7+6)x(5+4) ... 117

I'm probably way behind the times in not having encountered this style of calculator logic before, but I like it a lot.

The FX-83GT Plus - see the Casio page - is aimed at the educational market and permitted for use in all UK and Irish school exams, and while it's not a graphing calculator, it does all you'd want as a basic scientific calculator for pure and applied maths up to O Level. It covers all the usual trig and transcendental functions plus stats, with a few nice bonus features such as prime factorization, exact storage of fractions and recurring decimals, assignable variables, polar/rectangular coordinate conversion, table generation from a function, and a verify mode for testing equalities or inequalities.

It has mathematical limitations - it won't do calculus, complex numbers or equation solving (for that you'd need the FX991ES Plus) - but altogether it's extremely good value. For my desktop use, anything everyday where I wouldn't use a PC maths package, I've now promoted it to be my regular calculator.

- Ray

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


The Guardian Books section had a good article recently: Westwood by Stella Gibbons (Lynne Truss, Guardian, 29 Jul 2011), an appreciation of Gibbons's 1946 novel, which is being reissued by Vintage in a few days' time.
Westwood has long been overshadowed by Stella Gibbons's much loved bestseller, Cold Comfort Farm, but this rich, mature novel deserves its reissue
Unlike Cold Comfort Farm (see previously Beyond the woodshed and Further beyond the woodshed) Westwood has the more or less realistic setting of wartime North London, and turns Gibbons's satirical spotlight on the awfulness of the Hampstead Heath literary set of the period. It looks good; there's an extended article on it, by Stella Gibbons' nephew and biographer Reggie Oliver, findable in the Internet Archive copy of the now-defunct official Stella Gibbons site: see WESTWOOD, or The Gentle Powers.

Westwood (Vintage, 4 Aug 2011, ISBN: 9780099528722) is available from GuardianBookshop.

It would be excellent if other Stella Gibbons novels were reissued; currently they're findable on the secondhand circuit, but (except for Cold Comfort Farm) scarce and expensive. One I'd especially like to see reprinted is the 1943 Ticky, a satirical fantasy about English military institutions.

Update, 21 March 2015
I just read the Vintage Books 2011 reprint of Ticky, and have moved the commentary on it to a newer post, Ticky: fine satirical fantasy.

- Ray

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Pinker Calculator

A CALCLIST reference to the Greener Calculator (nothing to do with better colour or better environmental credentials) reminded me of this photo I took recently of this pair of Casio FX-83GT Plus calculators. Gender stereotypes are still with us, it seems. If I needed one, I think I'd get the pink out of sheer perversity; and it'd be far more findable in my office, which is full of gloomy black hardware. I already have a very nice pink geometry set, one of a number of Helix maths sets that come in pink and blue gendered versions.

Addendum: I also feel that JML Dryer Balls are gendered. Whose idea was it to have a pink ball with rounded protrusions, and a blue one with angular? But as described in QI - Series G - Girls And Boys - the pink/blue female/male convention is very recent - and in fact reversed - historically.

Addendum 2: I find that the pink Casio FX-83GT Plus isn't entirely unprecedented. Texas Instruments have done a dark pink special edition of their TI-84 Graphing Calculator, and there's also a Canon pink scientific calculator.  TI do scientific calculators in various nice colours, such as the blue-cyan TI-34 MultiView. They come in lime green too, such as this Canon one. And there's a serious side beyond aesthetics: this Sci-Plus Scientific Calculator range for visually impaired users has casing in colours including ruby red, blueberry, bumblebee yellow and lime green to improve keyboard visibility.

On balance, knowing that pink scientific calculators are part of a wider continuum of colours makes me less bothered about the stereotyping angle. Anything that makes mathematical tools more accessible - especially at school and student level - can't be bad.

- Ray