Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Monday, December 9, 2013
He saw what he had been, what he could have been, what he should have been, what Ihenever was and never could have been, and why he did not become those things. You should not need to stand on a mountain to find such things, for they are not beneath you but within you. But the mountain helps you to understand what is too close to see.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Friday, September 27, 2013
Ahah! I said, no doubt a cheap artificial fabric that lived a short and unlamented life in the middle of that decade. But no one had heard of it, Even the Internet only had references to the series itself. So it is probably a nonce-word, created by the writers in order to avoid using the commercial name of a real cloth. I'm not sure why they would need to do that, but they certainly seemed to have done it.
This, naturally, led me to idly think about rare words (and split infinitives). There are several ways of defining rareness of words. There is the Googlewhack which, if I have understood it correctly, is an expression contrived in such as a way as to produce exactly one result on Google. They are usually combinations of otherwise unexceptional words, and so could be considered nonce-terms, rather than nonce-words. It's a kind of game, I suppose, for those who are bored with Mornington Crescent.
A nonce-word is a word that is created for the nonce, a word which did not previously exist but whose meaning is made transparent by the context. They can be very effective in the right hands, and they usually need a particular aesthetic to make them work. They must feel right, as well as working semantically. Such words are rarely picked up by anyone to be used again, and so remain as unique examples in the written (or spoken) language.
Then there is the hapax legomenon, which classically educated readers will recognise as meaning spoken once. This refers to a particular text or body of language, so it is possible to say that '...' is a hapax in the King James Bible, or that 'Honorificabilitudinitatibus' is a hapax in Shakespeare. There are also hapaxes in the whole of a corpus of language used for linguistic research, which these days are very large, or in English literature generally.
Here the OED comes in, since it covers just about everything ever written since English was identifiable as such. They use a superscript -1 to indicate a word which has only been found once in the surviving corpus of the language. It doesn't apply to unique variations on other words, of which there are many, but to words which appear to have no brethren of any kind. Sometimes a meaning can be inferred from the context in which they are found, sometimes not.
The OED also has a superscript -0, for a word of which no instance at all is found in the language. This rather esoteric category could, in theory, either be empty, or arbitrarily large, depending on how you interpret it, but in fact it refers to words which have only been found in dictionaries or other kinds of word list, and never actually used in text.
Spanish has a word, jitanjáfora, which means a fanciful neologism of euphonious phonology or prosody, with a meaning that may or may not be transparent. They may be nonce-words, hapaxlegomena or complete phrases, and like other such terms, they may be picked up and more widely popularized.
The Owl and the Pussycat contains a famous neologism, runcible, applied to a spoon, which is more nonsense word than nonce-word, as its meaning is not transparent and is almost certainly not intended to be. Oddly enough, the word became so popular that it was given a meaning a posteriori, because it seemed to need one, though it was surely not what Lear had in mind.
Guy Clark's song Bunkhouse Blues contains the line 'At the Broken Heart Ranch you can always get work as a cowfool'. The word appears to be his, a nonce-word used to suggest someone who looks after cattle as a way of hiding from the world. In the song it works.
Talking of good Southern music, Jenny Lewis, in Acid Tongue, refers to being '...in the depths of the godsick blues'. This appears to mean 'sick to god', although I suppose it could mean 'sick of God', in some way. There is also a surname Godsick, which I was surprised to discover, but I don't suppose it's relevant here.
This has been a series of random thoughts on rare words, for no particular reason, which is often the best reason there is.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
It climbs steeply through the trees for a few hundred yards, a rocky, pebbly path very hard to ride on. There is an area beside it that was once used for baking rocks to make quicklime, which was then mixed with water and used for coating houses mainly. There is an old oven still visible, and some other structures that look like more recent attempts to imitate the procedure.
Nearby there is a cave, but it's set into a rock face that is hard to climb down to (especially in the presence of Mrs Hickory who has third-party vertigo), so I know where it is but I haven't seen it yet.
Then it rises out of the trees and follows the ridge several miles with views of haof a dozen lakes and also the valleys on the other side, some of which are rather wild. The best views are at the beginning and that's where the photos are from. It rejoins the waterside again much further up at one of the higher lakes, passing out through some farm buildings hidden among the trees.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
This is a thing so mind-boggling that it quite literally makes me giddy to think about it. There are many more complex creations of the human mind- in fact the space elevator is a remarkably simple idea- but I think it is true that nothing that approaches its breathtaking scale has ever been seriously imagined. Imagine a cord so strong that it can resist the tension over tens of thousands of miles. Imagine a vast block of concrete flouting in the ocean somewhere with this cord attached to it. Just imagine what it would look like for a moment. Imagine climbing up that cord, hand over hand for tens of miles, out of the Earth's atmosphere, then for thousands more miles into orbit, and then some part of the way to the Moon. At the end of that cord is a giant counterweight, circling the Earth exactly once a day, a man-made moon fixed in the sky, 60,000 miles above the equator. Imagine feeling your weight pulling away from the Earth and towards that great block of metal. I defy anyone not to feel vertigo at contemplating this. My head spins, and I have to hold onto something. When what you are holding onto is a bicycle, this is a problem, so I only think about it when I'm sitting safely in a comfortable armchair.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Greyhound racing is taken very seriously in the village. They buy and sell them, know a great deal about them, what to look for and how to train them, they race them whenever they are arranged, and organize races themselves. Like anyone with a passionate for anything, they get together as much as possible to talk about dogs. They eat, sleep and breathe greyhounds. Their conversation can probably get rather dull. Fortunately I don't know any personally. I do know a lot of hunters, though, which is the other great passion in this region, and they can be very boring indeed. I imagine Mrs Hickory feels the same way when my father and I start to reminisce about that great Essex team of the '80's under Keith Fletcher…
Anyhow, despite their love of greyhounds, there are no dog tracks. The great stadiums of Romford and White City are not to be found in this region, or anywhere else in Spain (or even in Romford any more, I believe), rather the races are run in fields, from end to end, over some length that probably depends more on the space available than on any characteristics of the dogs, but those I have seen are over about 800 yards. Every summer, by tradition, we allow a morning’s racing on one of the fields nearer the village, at Festival time (now), in exchange for which we get tickets for the bullfight. (There used to be a ploughing competition as well, but since a dispute with a previous mayor it’s now held somewhere else.) So I sometimes go and see what the atmosphere is like and how it all works.
There is nothing complicated in the mechanics of greyhound racing- you point them in the same direction and let them go at the same time, much as though they were horses or Ethiopians- except that the motivation is provided by a hare, which they chase. The way in which they get the hare to operate is quite interesting. A long, thick stake with a kind of capstan on top is driven into the ground beyond the finish line. Through this threaded a steel cable which is then attached to the hare. A motorbike takes the hare down to the bottom of the field where the starting line is. The other end of the cable is wound round a spool attached to some kind of engine. In the photograph the engine is a car engine and the spool is adapted from the wheel of the car. This year the spool was mounted on the back of a van and had its own engine, which makes it easier to move around and gives you finer control over the hare. He was also somewhere about the middle of the course, so the cable must have been well over half a mile long. Once the race is underway, the hare driver keeps his wits about him and his eyes on the dogs, and keeps the hare at whatever the appropriate distance is considered to be. It looks to be about ten yards, though I assume he uses his judgement.
When the dogs reach the top of the field, such members of the organizing council as are still sober will have been deputed to judge the finish, and then everyone involved, and probably idle spectators as well, will argue at length about the result. In the end agreement will be reached and they begin to prepare the next race. It looks fun, and in fact, despite the picture I may have given, it is not chaotic or disorganized at all. As I said, they take it very seriously. Whenever I have seen it everything has gone off as intended, and the crowd has had a good time. Then everyone hides under the trees to eat sausages and drink a lot of wine until about one o’clock when it starts getting too hot and they drift home, doubtless nursing grievances about decisions gone against them, voicing suspicions of nobbling, and planning the next meeting.
Monday, August 12, 2013
nd the rug. Adults came and went. I understood nothing, but I got the impression there was magic and spirits involved.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Friday, August 9, 2013
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
I have just read Somerset Maugham's 'Of Human Bondage'. Many sources seem to consider it his masterpiece I really can't agree. It is in not a masterpiece, and Maugham himself has written better books. 'The Moon and Sixpence' is much better, in the literary sense, and a better read, and some of his short stories are innovative and compelling, which this isn't. It seems a bit unpolished to me. There are good and interesting characters, some well-painted scenes, some sections are genuinely captivating, but the whole doesn't work. The beginning, the childhood and school, is dull and might well have been left out. It would have some purpose if it created the character of Philip from the details that he experiences, but it doesn't do that. When we need to learn something about his character the narrator simply tells us what he is like. The end is predictable in part; it is obvious he is being set up for settling down with a specific girl, and obvious he is going to get on with the crusty old doctor. I wonder if it for moral reasons that the narrator doesn't let Philip travel as he wished once he is qualified. It seems strange in Maugham to care about that, but I don't see any other reason, unless he was just tired of the whole thing and wanted to finish it.
I wish we had been able to follow Paul's travels in Spain and the East before he was sacrificed to the demands of normality and maturity. But it is Maugham's book, not mine, and he conceived it that way. The central relationship is very powerfully created and the tension is maintained throughout. I repeatedly experienced an empty feeling in my stomach when I feared he was going to fall for Mildred once again. That is a sign of good storytelling, when it has you shouting at the character not to be a bloody fool.
Saturday, August 3, 2013
It was a pity to have to navigate all this stuff in order to see the simple beauty of the town.