Archive for May, 2010

Language Police

Why correct grammar =/= fluency from, “Why I’m not Proud of You for Correcting Other People’s Grammar:

Grammar too often gets confused with what it is designed to produce, which is fluency. Fluency here is defined not just by your ability to speak or write in a particular language but by a certain facility with that language, the ability to make words do exactly what you want them to do, to make them sparkle and titillate and inspire, to not just say the right thing but to sound good doing it. And that may or may not include utilizing proper grammar. . .Fluency is the ability to say exactly what you mean exactly how you want, which is harder than it sounds.

Exactly.  The expanse and variety of atrocious writing in the world should be enough to convince anyone that correct grammar is not a panacea.  Now, I enjoy grammar for the same reason I enjoy reading and writing–I like tinkering with sentences.  However, I’m not a big fan of  l’académie française-style language regulation, mostly because I don’t understand the desire to treat language as a fixed entity.  Granted, we treat language as fixed all the time for pedagogical purposes, and that’s fine.  Knowing the conventions of grammar, style, and punctuation is important for both practical and aesthetic reasons.  I also think it’s good to know the conventions before asking philosophical questions about what language means.  You’ll end up asking better questions that way.

On a grander level, language police irritate me because they imply that language is a set of external rules people must conform to.  Individually, that implication is partly true, since we’re all born into languages not of our own making. But, like the post’s author says, the rules of grammar were not delivered on Mt. Sinai.  Usage ultimately determines convention, not the other way around.  Of course, your usage is more likely to become convention if you are rich and powerful, doubly so if you use your power and riches to colonize other people with guns and laptops.  Still, language is ours to modify, and that’s pretty awesome.


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Carrion Comfort

The other day I was thinking of how I miss reading and thinking about poetry, so I’ve decided to start reading poems again and posting them here.  If you have something to say about them, say it.

First, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Carrion Comfort.

NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

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This surreal, creepy cartoon–especially the Cab Calloway intro and the electrocuted ghosts–is so so great.

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Since this year is the 50th anniversary of the pill, there are lots of interesting retrospectives on its history and significance.  TIME has a cover article with some really interesting tidbits.

In 1873 Congress passed a law banning birth control information as obscene. So women seeking ways to limit the number of children they bore had to know how to read the papers. Through the turn of the century, advertisements for potions to treat “female disorders” or menstrual irregularities carried a bold, bright warning: “Portuguese Female Pills, not to be used during pregnancy for they will cause miscarriage.”

The warning, of course, was the ad.

One of the researchers instrumental in developing the pill was a conservative  Catholic who was certain that the  Church would approve it:

Rock thought the Pill provided an exquisite chemical escape hatch. With the Pill, there was no barrier preventing the union of sperm and egg; all the Pill did, Rock argued, was mimic naturally occurring hormones to extend the safe period, so that sex was safe all month long. The church wouldn’t need to change its historic teaching, he suggested; the Pill just fell outside its definition of contraception.

Yeah, well, if he only knew how many single celled babies he was about to kill, he’d be sorry.

As I read the TIME article, I was reminded of something I found a few days ago in the bowels of the internet somewhere.  It’s an excerpt from a book  called Eco-Sex (seriously!) by some greener-than-thou woman who thinks the pill is going to kill us all:

. . .a woman’s cycle should not be trifled with. We ovulate, and then we menstruate in order to cleanse our bodies of eggs that haven’t been fertilized. This natural process is inhibited by the Pill, which serves to trick the body into thinking that it is pregnant all the time. It shuts off ovulation. Many women, after years of being on the Pill, find that they can’t get pregnant for months or years later—their fertility can be impaired over the long term.

Misinformation and outright lies aside: what the fuck,  lady?  The pill gets enough flak from social conservatives already.  Why are you lying and using science and environmentalism as cover?  Also, why are you writing in italics?

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I just read this LA times article about one of downtown Seattle’s strip clubs preparing to close in June.  Weirdly, the club’s owners blame the internet:

The Internet has been the main culprit in driving down business, the establishment’s owners have said, along with the loss of a nearby parking garage and the collapse of Washington Mutual, the bank once headquartered across the street, whose expensive suits and wingtips were often seen slinking into the Lusty over lunch hour.

It seems more likely that The Lusty Lady is going out of business because a) it is in Seattle, and thus cannot serve alcohol, and b) as one of the dancers points out, it’s really more of a peep show:

But, she conceded, peep shows aren’t to most people’s taste anymore.

“It’s just an outdated notion,” she said. “This is not what people want. They want a strip club where you can get a lap dance, or places where you hang out with your buddies and drink. Or you go on the Internet.”

While I think she’s right about peep shows v. strip clubs, I’d still be very surprised if more traditional strip clubs were less lucrative because of internet porn.  They aren’t the same thing at all!  Strip clubs have real live women who can like, look into your eyes and stuff.  Maybe there’s a subset of men who think  of porn as equivalent or even preferable to being in the same room with a real live naked woman, but I still think it’s an odd comparison.  Also, I hope never to have the misfortune of dating a guy who thinks porn >= live naked ladies.

I do think it’s likely that the clientèle of strip clubs (or peep shows, burlesque, or whatever other antecedents there were) has changed in the same way the clientèle for prostitution has probably changed.  Since men were traditionally permitted to be sexually experienced prior to marrying virginal, respectable women, and since they obviously couldn’t have sex with the good women they planned to marry, they had sex with the bad women, the prostitutes.

Now that women have more sexual freedom, and the sexual double standard isn’t quite as exacting, having sex with prostitutes falls further outside the realm of an average guy’s sexual experiences.  Why have sex with a prostitute when it’s easier* (and more rewarding) to have sex with your girlfriend?  And so the men who still have sex with prostitutes might be considered a niche market.  They aren’t just really desperate for sex; they have other options, but they get off on the illicit nature of prostitution itself, and maybe they want the opportunity to control and dominate women.

Of course, I am not a man, or a prostitute, so I can’t verify any of this.  But it is pretty plausible.

*By “easier” I mean that it’s easier for the average twenty-first century guy to have sex with his girlfriend than it was for our hypothetical middle-class nineteenth century guy to have sex with his lady love.  Not that it’s always easier to get a girlfriend or a hook-up than it is to, say, pay for an escort service.

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