Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Clearly, We Have Different Definitions Of--Oh, Never Mind.

Standing in line at the store today, several yards of fabric under my arm, I scanned the covers of the tabloids, gossip rags, and miniature "recipie" books.

Is it wrong that I giggled about Michael Jackson being on the cover of "Jet?"

(Happy birthday, Nikolai Griffin!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Holiday Spirit Presents: Words You Only Hear In Christmas Carols

Christmas carols are funny things. Although the English language has plowed steadily forward in its life, our Christmas carols have remained much the same. Those that have been with us since long before our grandparent's grandparents were children have change little since their genesis. They do not vary with dialect or region (though some occasionally have alternate lyrics). Their lexicons can be--archaic, to say the least. And yet, every year, without fail, they find their way onto the radio and into the songbooks of various carolers, who happily blurt them out without the slightest clue as to what they're actually saying. Oh, yes, occasionally someone will spot an odd or out-of-place word--and I'm not just counting those boyish types who giggle at the phrase "Don we now are gay apparel." But for the benefit of those who would not think to turn to the dictionary for something as simple as a Christmas song, I give to you: Words you Only Hear in Christmas Carols.

The 12 Days of Christmas: "Four colly birds..."
Meaning: Very dark black, as if besmirched by soot.
Note: This line is typically rendered as "four calling birds" in English, avoiding this potential bemusement altogether.

Carol of the Bells: "Oh how they pound, / raising the sound, / o'er hill and dale, / telling their tale..."
Meaning: A valley.

Away in a Manger: "The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes..."
Meaning: To moo; the sound that cattle make.

Deck the Halls: "Troll the ancient Yuletide carol, / fa la la la la, la la la la."
Meaning: To sing, esp. in a round fashion.
Note: Let us not get into the "folk version" of this song, which contains such words as "hoar," "redouble," and "jovial." In the words of a figure famously associated with Christmas television specials, good grief.

Here We Come A-Wassailing: "Here we come a-wassailing / among the leaves so green..."
Meaning: To toast to the health of another; to pass someone drink..

Saturday, December 8, 2007

In memoriam of a man with a language all his own:

I am a frequent frequenter of the blog, The Comics Curmudgeon. It is a blog dedicated to making fun of--or as those in the blogosphere call it, "snarking"--on old, assembled-by-committee, chronically unfunny, badly-drawn newspaper comic strips. They tackle both the strips that are allegedly comical--Garfield and Marmaduke being prime examples--and the absurd "soap opera" comic strips, such as Mary Worth and Mark Trail. (Here's a tangental question: Why do all of the soap opera strips seem to be named after their principal characters? Mary Worth, Mark Trail, Judge Parker, Rex Morgan... only Apartment 3-D seems to escape this odd trope.) However, at least one strip on the blog was, despite its frequent ribbing, actually rather admired by the patrons of the blog.

They'll Do It Every Time is a slice-of-life comic strip that makes note of life's little ironies. Nearly all of its strips are based on reader submissions--a great many of which, as of late, have in fact been those of the Comics Curmudgeon readers themselves. Although initially lambasted by many for being an unfunny funny, many of the site's readers admitted that they had grown to non-ironically love the strip, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, the strip is full of amusing little anachronisms, such as an allegedly modern-day teenager blaring loud music on a record player. Right next to a lovingly-detailed flat screen computer, albiet one in "Tandy Tan."

For another thing, the art is actually quite good. The backgrounds have a lot of detail put into them, and the people are drawn in a distinctive style. Before taking over the strip (previously helmed by a man with the curious name of Hatlo) the current cartoonist got his start in, and worked for, Cracked Magazine.

For a third, the strip has a curious dialect all its own. Often dubbed Scadutoese by CC readers (after the cartoonist, Al Scaduto) It cannot be perfectly pinned down to any one geographical region or time period, though it seems vaguely relate to the 1950's. Filled with odd little catchphrases like "Howcum," "The Urge," and "Oh Yeah-h-h-h," it is nearly indescribable but immediately identifiable. It is also confirmedly fun to use in everyday conversaion, if only to pepper one's conversation with curious little phrases: "I've got the urge to e-mail him to the moon!"

And finally, the spoken-of cartoonist was a real gentleman. Friendly and affable in all of his communications with readers, he replied warmly to all of the missives sent to him and often let those who sent the ideas he delegated to strips in on his creative process--showing off sketches and the like. One CC submitted noted how he'd credited a woman with her idea even months after she'd sent it, and even though he also drew on his own experience--a real mensch was how some of the commentators described him.

Being a lover of language, especially unique ones, I've been wanting to a post on "Scadutoese" for a long time. The lexicon, the unique sentence structure, the patterns it invokes--but as I admit that I lack certain faculties with regards to linguistics, I don't think I could do a proper, scholarly analysis of the dialect. Yet one can still single out particular, notable examples of the tongue--"Oh yeah-h-h-h" being a particular favorite--and wonder, thinking, "I wish I was creative enough to say things like that." One can still look at the unusual ways it organizes its sentences or toys with its words and think about how they differ from standard English. Indeed, it's something I've been wanting to do ever since I began this blog, once I had enough time to simply sit down and devote myself to such an exercise.

Alas, the dear Mr. Scaduto is no more. He shuffled off his mortal coil today, the 8th of Devember 2007, at the age of 79. Quite thankfully, his passing was peaceful--to borrow a term from not-just-for-children's author Chris d'Lacey, he simply wuzzled off, heading toward that great drawing room in the sky.

I've toyed with the idea of sending in my own They'll Do It Every Time idea, largely concerning my soon-to-be-former-roomate's obsession with opening and closing the windows of our room. Although the nearly centennarian comic strip will doubtless be picked up by another author, it just won't be the same without the same man at the helm. I hear from submitters that his written replies to ideas were in the exact same ageless, nationless tongue of the comic strips--although it was likely empty of any Dragbutts, Migranias, or Loopinas.

Perhaps now would be a good time to write that article, in honor of the man and the unique language he took with him.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Completely Unnecessary, Yet Cool

cash advance

Get a Cash Advance

As I was saying.

This is a nifty little gadget that rates blogs based on readability. It looks at the words you've chosen, sentence structure, and other dandy doo-dads and pieces together the reading level necessary to read a blog. Or any webpage with a lot of text on it, really.

Only high-school level? Clearly, I am slacking. Quickly, to the big words!

Vituperation! Denouement! Demense! Antipodes! Pismire! Crepuscular! Ineluctable! Filigree!

Did it work?

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's Sad What We Nerds Fantasize About

<...recieving transmission from human brain #600,167,966,431...>

Prosecutor: So tell me, Mrs. Wrathful, when did you stop beating your husband?
The Wrathful English Major: I have never beaten my husband, and I believe your attempts to obtain false evidence with a loaded question represent an obstruction of the justice system.
Prosecutor: Your honor, this woman is out of line--
Phoenix Wright: OBJECTION!

<...ending transmission...>

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Making Fun (Of Unnecessary Parentheticals)

Folks, I am not a punctuation Nazi. I think I've made this abundantly clear already. However, as I noted previously, I will get a little twitchy when such mistakes create some fundamental difference in meaning. Thus, watch your parentheticals around me. Misplaced parentheses can not only change the flow of a sentence, but they can alter the information that is conveyed.

This is the cover for the new single "Making Fun (Of Everyday Life)," a novelty song released to promote the new video game "Rayman: Raving Rabbids 2." In general, parentheses are used to indicate extra or unnecessary information or inserts. In song titles, they indicate name duality. A song with parentheticals in the title usually has an official, "short" title and a "longer" title, typically due to the "short" title being part of a longer line in the chorus or other prominent place. (Pulling a random CD out of my collection--"Pure 80's"--I find "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by Eurythmics. Those who've heard the song know that "Sweet dreams are made of this" is the first line of said song's chorus, but it's perfectly acceptable just to call the song "Sweet Dreams.") Occasionally, you'll find them used to show the discrepancy between a song's "official" title (what the artist[s] called it) versus what it is commonly known as. (I've seen a lot of people write "Baba O'Reilly (Who Are You)", though I don't know if any album ever referred to that song as such.)

What we are looking at here is an example of the former, certainly (I braved listening to it just to make sure), but the parenthetical is so oddly sectioned it baffles me. The whole idea behind parentheses, in song titles or in writing, is to indicate that the material contained within is optional or dropable. It can be cut without affecting the meaning of that which comes before or after.

The problem here (similar to my "rebel against/revel against" quandary several posts ago) is that "Making Fun" means nothing by itself in English. Well, literally, it would mean the process of creating fun, which is not quite semantically nonsensical. But it is clearly meant here to be part of the compound verb "to make fun of," which has a clear and definite meaning that is quite distinct from simply "making fun." "Making fun" by itself cannot be used to mean "to tease or mock." It is a transitive compound verb, and you can't split it, either (I temporarily forget my jargon). Just try and say "When I was little, I got made fun." Sounds awkward, doesn't it? "When I was little, I got made fun of." Better. "They made fun me." "We made fun the bad movie." O where O where has my little preposition gone?

Of course, if they rescued the "of" from the innards of the Parentheses Jail and put it back where it belongs, it'd still sound pretty strange. Prepositions without modified noun phrases sound pretty weird all by their lonesome. (But again, ending sentences with prepositions is perfectly normal. You do it all the time when you ask questions. If a preposition is at the end of a sentence, it just means that its noun phrase has moved somewhere else in said sentence or is implied.)

Why is the parenthetical even necessary here? "Making Fun of Everyday Life" seems like a pretty satisfactory song title to me. It's not even that long. There are plenty of even longer song titles that make do without.

In the vein of the original Rabbids promotional videos: "Bunnies Can't Use Parentheses Properly."

[Via GoNintendo]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Today's Post is Brought to You By the Atomic Symbol "Bi"

Which, by the way, has nothing to do with bisexuality.

In the "I Never Noticed That Before" department, I was picking up some Pepto-Bismol up at the store for a stomach complaint I'd recently had. I was reading the front of the box (because there's not much else to read in the OTC meds aisle) and noticed that the official, chemical name for the rancid anti-barf bubblegum is "Bismuth subsalicylate."

Subsalicylate? Oh, there's aspirin in this stuff. Does that mean that you shouldn't give it to kids? I used it all the time when I was a kid and...

Wait. Bismuth. Bismol. Duh.

Medicine brand names are weird stuff. But it's interesting to see where they come from.

And yes, my stomach feels much better now.

Milk dispenser UPDATE!

Yes, folks, someone finally complained to the people in charge! Either that, or they wised up on their own. I strongly suspect the former, however, due to the nature of the edit.

One of the milk dispensers now bears a sign saying:

"For your convenience, soy milk is available inside THIS milk dispenser."

And now I know to avoid that dispenser like the legumy plague.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

No Grammar For You!

I always find it funny when people who claim to be snobs are completely ignorant of the thing they're trying to be snobbish about. A few fortnights ago, I posted a rant in my deviantArt about this very subject. To sum it up, for those of you who don't want to read it and/or couldn't care less about my opinions about the anime community, I was lamenting the fact that the majority of the Internet's many gaggles of Howl's Moving Castle (the movie) fans don't even seem to know that Howl's Moving Castle (the book) even exists. I got a little vituperate about it, I will admit. I then conjectured that this ignorance was due to anime snobbery--"true" fans never watched dubbed anime, thus they had never seen the note in the title logo of the English version of this movie, which says, quite prominently, "Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones."

Now I turn my ignorance-seeking eyes on a different Internet target: The vast battalions of Grammar Nazis, stationed in platoons across the many message boards of the World Wide Web, eager to ambush those unwary souls who dare to forget the captalize proper nouns. You know them, I guarantee you do. You have seen them ravage the digital flesh of many an unwary newbie before; their savage fangs, dripping with crimson correctional ink, severing the bulging jugular modem sticking out of their necks, causing bytes to spurt into the...

Alright, this metaphor is quickly descending into the disgusting. It's unnecessary too. You know EXACTLY whom I'm talking about, and I don't think I need to elaborate on this. Now let me explain why I, an English major who aneurysms over word choice and sentence organization, hate them.

These people have absolutely no idea what "grammar" actually is.

(Those of you with sensitive stomachs or allergies to ch4tsp34k should look away from the next paragraph.)

Believe it or not, the sentence "cn u come 2 c me l8r 2day" is completely grammatically correct. The sentence "Can you comes to sees me latest today?," easy as it is on the punctuation-parched eyes, is not. However, most Grammar Nazis will at least begrudgingly accept the later, possibly even as a jovial jape. Yet say the first example out loud. Yes, really. Ignoring the vowel slashed out of the first word, it is phonetically identical to the properly-typed "Can you come to see me later today?" Those of you who know a little bit about linguistics already know what's happening here, but for the rest of you, let me tote out my handy dandy Bag O' Definitions.

Grammar is the set of rules or properties which govern the usage of the language. I imagine that you are now a bit confused. "But how is that different from...?" Ah ah ah. Sit down. I'm getting there. Grammar concerns things such as... verb-subject agreement, tense, word order, verb valency... the like. Most of the rules of grammar you know without having to think of them. You have to actively think to break most of them. If you are an English speaker, you do not say things such as "I have a cat brown" or "I'm thinking of" unless you intend to do so for some specific reason (such as right now, when I consciously broke the rules of English to bring you those examples). You say, "I have a brown cat" or "I'm thinking of going for lunch."

Now say the following, grammatically correct sentence out loud: "I can't imagine it, Suzie."

You did NOT say, "Capital-I can-apostrophe-T imagine it comma capital-S Suzie period."

This was meant to illustrate to you the difference between grammar, the rules governing the structure of a language, and conventions, the prescriptions made for the use of written language. Conventions concerns the the standards we make for writing. They concern things such as capitalization, punctuation, et cetra. Conventions are things that we, as writers, have invented for the ease of reading. They help us divide up ideas into sentences. They help us mimic the patterns of speech in writing. They help us do many things. But they have nothing to do with grammar.

Conventions Nazis, as they should properly called, have an artificial job. Punctuation and conventions have no real bearing or presence on language. They only apply in the sphere of writing, which is in itself little more than a pale analogue of actual, fluid, dynamic human speech. Many of the thousands of languages spoken in the world today don't even have written forms. Oh, yes, I suppose, you will get the occasional hound who has a problem with sentences ending in prepositions. But this is as far as they'll generally go. (That is a nasty, artificial rule, by the way. It was invented by pompous snobs who were embarrassed to be seen speaking English--the language of common folk!--and tried to "dignify" it by making it more like Latin, instigating passels of odd "rules." But English is not a Romance language and it never was, despite the many words of Latinate origin we've picked up over the centuries. Face it--our closest linguistic cousins are lederhosen, kilts, and, far back enough, saris.)

The truth of the matter is, very rarely will anyone flub up true grammar. If they're not making a Felines that Laugh Out Loud caliber I-can-has joke, they're probably using a dialect with different rules than the "prestige" version of whatever they're speaking. Or they're not a native-speaker. There are many possibilities. If you're going to be a Grammar Nazi, there's really not much to persecute. But if you like to nitpick, there's plenty of work to be found in the camps of the Convention Nazies. But "Convention Nazi" isn't a catchy title, so their spies have covertly snuck into the enemy Grammar Nazi camps and stolen their identity. Now thousands of these disguised Convention Nazis walk among us, sullying the name of Grammar wherever they dare raise their heads.

There are a few convention-related gripes that I will side with the Convention Nazis on, but they are few and far between:

1) The use of the apostrophe-s suffix as a pluralizer is abhorrent and needs to stop.

This is not a simple matter of punctuation, however. Apostrophe-s is one of the Seven Sacred Inflecitve Affixes that serves a distinct grammatical purpose. Using it in place of a regular s IS a grammatical error, because pluralization and possessives are matters of grammar. Also, it causes me to mentally aspirate at the end of words. "Chicken Pot Pie-eh-s" just sounds silly.

2) Two, to, and too; their, there, and they're, all that junk.

Again, using the wrong word causes a substantial difference in meaning, so this one occasionally irks me. It's usually not worth being a pedant about, but if it's in a register where correctness is necessary and expected (such as academic writing), I will point it out. I usually don't bother getting my dander up over it, though.

3) OK, there really isn't a number 3. The two issues listed above are more or less it.

If they would call themselves what they are, I might not have a problem with them--well, OK, this is a lie. I have a problem with officious, bloviating jerks(for lack of a better word) with holier-than-thou attitudes wherever they spring up. But even more so when they claim to enforce a standard they scarcely understand. I don't think the informal register of the Internet demands perfection, and while I myself tend to use my prestige dialect here, this is simply the way I speak. And I use "like" as a quotative, too.

Of course, neither Grammar Nazis nor those they pursue will bring about the downfall of civilization. So long as we humans can communicate--which we are notedly adept at--society will chug steadily on.

But I'd be wary of anyone you see wearing a schwa armband.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

T'su Kipasium Biblium Zihio

I get bored. (Incredible but true.)

I am also quite adept with language. (Incredible, yet also true--really, I'm far too modest.)

Utilizing both my boredom and my faculties in the language department (ho ho--wordplay), I have created my own language. (So what? Some guy callin' himself Dr. Espera-something did the same thing like a century or two ago.)

One which has significantly different grammatical rules than my mother tongue, English. (Um, yay?)

The benefits of having your own language, however, are quite limited when no one but you knows how to use it, and even I admit that I lack fluency in conversational Valencian. The Valencia in this case having nothing to do with anything Spanish (although the verb conjugation system owes a few dues to the Hispanic way of going about verb/subject agreement), but rather refers to the Valencia, the goddess to whom the mythical peoples who spoke this language prayed. One can, however, translate random things into one's personal language just for fun. Which is incidentally what I have been doing for the past half an hour.

I am merrily working away at translating Fine, the sarcasto-go-lucky, synth-happy tune from Lemon Demon, into Valencian. Naturally, the translation is not exact. Few translations are. Colloquialisms and idioms have to be localized, adjectives must be modified to fit the Valencian way of things, oh me oh my... But it is enjoyable, and a chance for me to stretch my linguistic muscles.

It's not done yet, but here are the first two verses for you.


Today has a way
Of scarring your eyes
With negative light
But it’s a disguise.
I put on my shades
And see through the lies.

The convenient truth is:

Light is on the way;
We’ll be having a fun time.
It’s such a lovely day
We should pocket the sunshine
And never give it back
Even if there’s a heat wave
Or terrorist attack
It’ll just be a close shave.


Aleut mediuo
Cul raduo foruo di t’su
Pepii mul
A paal cul piimul.
Suum velan liuln
I opiu faru ul ninvarinh.

Ul varin tesiol cul:

Pii cul adderon;
Cul ale olplisuo
Sostiaut deus nurius piira li valesolot
I ninrio genus pepaal valesolot
Jinin paalut oligiuo
Re olrad tu “terrorist”
Sostia widi ato a pesirit.

You don't have to know how to pronounce words in Valencian to know that it doesn't quite have the same flow.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Of creatures of the piscene persuasion and cylindrical liquid storage devices

I've been debating with myself as to whether or not I want to feature bad translations in this blog. I decided as soon as I had formulated the idea that "engrish" and other similarly mangled speech would be right out. Although it is often humorous, the goal of my blog is to make fun of people who should know how to speak English properly, but don't--I.E., befuddled native speakers. It is amusing when nonnatives err, but any second-language-learner will make those kinds of mistakes. Have you ever tried to learn a second language? It is guaranteed that, at some point during your education, you will sound like an idiot. This is going to happen whether you want it to or not, because it happened when you were 2, and such mistakes are hardwired into your cranium.

That said, I think that professional translations are fair game. Be they books, movies, or (heaven help us) video games, there are people who get paid to convert these works into English, for consumption by an English native-speaking audience. We expect these translations to express a level of language competency that we ourselves possess. We can tell when they've been bungled, as they don't quite "read" right to our minds. If done well, they can take what made the original text lively and engaging and successfully recreate it in another language.

If you have any experience with video games, however, I'm sure you know that that is one big "if."

It's almost too easy to pick on them. I feel kind of bad about doing it. But these are multimillion-dollar corporations here, producing products in dozens of cultures worldwide. How is it that they consistently manage to avoid finding translators who don't let these little errors slip through?

This particular error comes to us from the Game Boy Advance game "Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town." The Harvest Moon series, for those of you not familiar with it, is all about farming. You are a farmer and you run a farm. You grow fruit and vegetables. You milk cows. You cook homemade food. You make friends with townspeople, get married, and have children. It's a simple, docile experience, one that plays well with children (as my younger sister will attest), and it's great fun if you need to wind down after a long day. It's a surprisingly popular series, especially when you consider the fact that most folks' ideas of video games and the gamers who play them involve pouch-eyed losers and virtual robots that like to shoot one another.

The translation values of the games, however, are notoriously dodgy. Some games in the series, like the GameCube and PS2s' A Wonderful Life, are well written with clever dialogue and impeccable grammar. More Friends of Mineral Town, not so much. It's usually fairly comprehensible, but every once in a while, it heads solidly into bizarro territory.

My character in the game, "Farmer Ally," lives on the cheerfully-named Rainbow Isle farm with her husband Rick, daughter Vivian, and an entourage of cows, sheep, and chickens. One farmy morn, she rose sleepy-eyed from bed and gave her usual farmy greeting to her farmy family.

"Mama... nigh-night," said the rather confused toddler Vivian. But this particular piece of canned babble, though anachronistic with regards to the fact that it was 6 A.M. in game time, is not the focus of our confusion.

Farmer Ally conversed cheerfully with Rick, and he remarked on how fast dear Vivian was growing up. Also a fairly standard piece of speech. However, attempting to talk with him again, the good farmer ran into something far more peculiar.

I dearly wish I had the ability to make a screenshot of this. Alas, I lack even a cell phone camera to document this. So you'll just have to take me on faith when I report that Rick said...

"Oh... but girls always revel against their fathers..."

Let us ask our good friend what went wrong here, shall we?

rev·el /ˈrɛvəl/ [rev-uhl] verb, -eled, -el·ing or (especially British) -elled, -el·ling, noun
–verb (used without object)
1. to take great pleasure or delight (usually fol. by in): to revel in luxury.
2. to make merry; indulge in boisterous festivities.
3. boisterous merrymaking or festivity; revelry.
4. Often, revels. an occasion of merrymaking or noisy festivity with dancing, masking, etc.

I don't know about you, but I've never heard of someone taking great pleasure against someone. I'm certain one could go so far as to say that revel in is a compound verb.

Obviously, poor Rick meant to say "rebel," but the disastrous closeness of the vowel sound /b/ to the vowel sound /v/, as well as their vexing closeness to one another on the standard QWERTY keyboard, have caused him to stutter in a most childish fashion. I don't suppose I blame him. It was early in the morning, and I doubt he'd had his Turbojolt XL yet.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Clearly, We Have Different Definitions of "Playschool"

I am one of those people who tends to accumulate more reading material than I have adequate leisure time for. Eight out of twelve months of the year, I live within walking distance of a very reasonably-priced used books store that will happily purchase all the dreck I have accumulated over the year, the proceeds from which I will use to obtain new dreck at 4 bucks an 800-page hardcover. The other four months are spent within a $1 bus ride away from two other stores in the same local chain, the cost of which is at least four times the amount I can expect to pay for the cheapest paperback. This alone is enough to make me a regular customer, but when you throw in the fact that they also tend to have difficult-to-find video games and 10-cent CD's in little bins, well, you can expect me to be perusing the place at least once every other day.

Goodness knows I try to be egalitarian with all those 50-cent pulps, but inevitably, my mind will turn to the most interesting-looking tomes first. So it happens that I end up with a pile of books that I've owned for ages, but have yet to crack into the spines of. Luckily, sometimes the well of interest will dry, and I will delve into my emergency rations. This happened recently, and I found myself packing Pendragon: The Merchant of Death, by D.J. MacHale, into the "book pocket" of my backpack. The series is one I often see in the children's section of book stores, and the cover of something like the eight novel in the series piqued my interested. Of course, you can't start in the middle, so I dug up a copy of the first book and had proceeded to chivalrously ignore it in favor of a re-read of the fantastic (by my tastes, anyway) Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Of course, no book will let you ignore it forever, especially if you leave it in plain sight. I sat there in my desk, waiting for my Spanish professor to arrive, scanning over the pages.

When the following gem of a paragraph, found on page 68 of the Aladdin Fantasy paperback edition, leapt out and caught my eyes. Spontaneous giggles erupted and made the red-haired kid near the blackboard look at me funny.

Mark tossed his bunch of socks out one window and quickly threw open a window. Courtney surveyed the room, stopping in front of two posters on the wall. One was a colorful Hentai-animation superhero cartoon, the other was a gorgeous girl lying on the beach in a leopard-print thong.

Courtney said, "Looks like you've got kind of a conflicted puberty versus playschool thing going on."

...Which is fine, if your version of playschool happens to involve girls in tight bikinis.

Allow me to explain.

Clearly, the author is trying to appeal to the hip anime subculture here. "Hentai" is clearly a Japanese word, with legitimate meaning in the realm of the genre, and Japanese cartoons (anime) and their general style have become very popular in the West as of late. It's gotten to the to the point where American- and Canadian-made cartoons are starting to try and emulate that particular drawing style. (Irony springs eternal here, as the "anime style" as we now know it began as an attempt to replicate the facial features of Walt Disney characters, but that's not the point.) In Japan, there are anime targeted at all audiences--from small children to adults--but here in North America, cartoons are still largely considered to be for children. Hence why might label Mark's cartoon poster "playschool."

Notice how I mentioned that "hentai" has actual connotations within anime? Well, as evidence that the author clearly did not study for his vocabulary test, the actual meaning of the word is completely at odds with Courtney's statement--and with what I think Mark's parents would want him to have displayed in his room.

Hentai, my friends, is anime pornography.
(Warning: So very not work safe. Don't look at me, look at the people who edit Wiki pages.)

To be fair to the author, the word hentai is extremely similar to the anime term sentai, whose meaning is probably much closer to what the author intended. It means, roughly, "task force," but is often used in the anime subculture to refer to superheroes or superhero-related anime. (This association stems from the Super Sentai, a series of corny Japanese superhero TV shows that frequently get repackaged for the US as the corny Power Rangers.) However, the original sentai in Japan are live-action, not cartoons, which still displays some confusion on the author's part.

Even as I pondered this, I still felt like banging my head into my desk. This is such an impossibly easy error to correct. I don't know who would even know of the existence of the word "hentai" without being an anime enthusiast (which probably explains how this one slipped through editing), and I don't know how said enthusiast could know the word without knowing what it means. The only thing I can imagine is the author rifling through a random list of anime terms (quite possibly on Wikipedia), spotting one, saying, "Hey! This is cool!" and plugging it into his story without bothering to look it up. But this violates not only proper loan word etiquette, but the rules of good writing--heck, the rules of language in general: Do not use a word if you do not know what it means. Do you hear that? It's the sound of Grice's Maxims screaming out in pain! O Logic! O Quality! How the system has failed you!

A simple Google search could have rectified this problem. I don't want to know what turns up if one Googles "hentai," but I'm betting it could have cleared up any uncertainties about this word reeeeally quick. I realize that even the best authors can't meticulously research every minor detail they put into their novels, but is it so much to ask that pornography doesn't end up inside our children's books?

Let us not consider the possibility that this "misuse" was intentional. I don't generally enjoy speaking ill of people, especially those I don't actually know, but if this was the case, I'd be far too squicked out to read further.

For All It's Worth

My school cafeteria is insane.

You would think that, once you leave the ranks of pub ed behind you for an illustrious career in higher education, that infamously bad school food would be obliterated. And it is. Kind of. It's nothing you'd find in even a low-key restaurant, but the creamed corn isn't going to crawl across your plate and start dissolving your mashed potatoes with its free-flowing digestive juices.

Sadly, the increase in quality is paid for by a decrease in sanity. A significant portion of my student union underwent reconstruction over the summer, and is now officially one clichéd line away from Sparta.

Like most student unions, ours is composed of a hodgepodge of cafeteria-style eateries and a number of brand name take-out places, such as Pizza Hut and Chik-fil-A. (It also houses one of our campus' three Starbucks.) The cafeteria is the main part that underwent renovation, though the Starbucks moved out of the sandwich shop and assimilated the Mexican place no one ate at--so now we have a Starbucks with confetti-esque wallpaper and the lingering smell of burnt refried beans, though that's neither here nor there. Similarly, the "main" cafeteria and the "takeout" cafeteria fused, becoming a singular bloated amoeba of horror. For some bizarre reason, our delightful Board of Bewildering Students decided that something was inherently wrong with our cafeteria. So they gave it a complete overhaul. Now, it is no longer a true cafeteria, but something our school pamphlets refer to as a "diner-style" eatery. This means that, instead of grabbing a plate and pilling random quantities of limp fettuccini, marinara sauce, and pudding on a plate, you pick out pre-prepared meals from beneath a heat lamp. There are several "stations" set up for this purpose.

I'm sure this sounds nice in theory, but it makes dining incredibly inconvenient. You can no longer pick and choose your food, compiling your dinner as you go--it's their way or the stairway. (Specifically, the one that opens out in front of the aforementioned Pizza Hut, which thankfully hasn't changed much, so you can still be in an out in as long as it takes for the pokey employees to finish making the breadsticks.) Quite puzzlingly, they've also abolished the salad bar, which seems quite a curious thing to do for an institution that puts standees on every table proclaiming the merits of a balanced diet yet only grudgingly provides fresh fruit. And you can forget about veggies--unless you like yours boiled to a gummy, rubbery consistency. You may have to resort, as I do, to munching baby carrots out of a bag like potato chips. The only food they serve with any consistency are pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Everything else is either an American-Chinese-Food recipe of the day, something with mushrooms in it (which I'm no great fan of) or sandwiches, which, although custom made, you must wait in an impossibly long line for. I've defaulted to the grilled cheese many a time. On the rare opportunity that they have one of their "lunch specials" available--which is usually just another type of toasted bread product--I pounce. The day they served plain cheese ravioli with canned spaghetti sauce, I practically wept. Largely because they only gave me three pillows of ravioli.

The only institution in that destitute cafeteria that remains comfortably familiar is the cereal bar, which is consistently well-stocked with various varieties of processed, fruit-and-sugar-flavored grain. If all else fails, there are always Frosted Flakes and milk. And yet... The most puzzling addition yet has taken up its fungal residence there.

Naturally, the cereal dispensers are right next to the milk machines. These are ridiculously confusing and awkward contraptions, but they seem to have been there for years, so I assume most students have come to put up with them. Near the beginning of the year, a sign appeared on one of the rectangular chrome devices.

"For your convenience, soy milk is available inside the dispenser."

As an English major, I am both confused and intrigued.

Both dispensers bear this signet, yet neither one actually contains soy milk. Soy milk is generally described as having a taste that resides somewhere between "a handful of dirt" and "two handfuls of dirt," and the milk inside these machines is rather lacking in that gamy flavor. So where is this mythical soy milk? I would like to claim that the issue with the sign lies in ambiguous structure, as that's generally the problem when sentences are unclear, but I am an English major, and I know better. The real issue lies within its frame of reference.

The beauty of language is that it is abstract. We can refer to things outside of ourselves with ease. We can replace entire phrases and clauses with pronouns and still retain all of our meaning, provided there is context for it. In writing, this context usually comes from the previous sentences. In everyday speech, we can point and gesture to our its and hes and shes, and we can use ambiguous determiners in the presence of multiple objects because we can indicate which we mean. A sign, gifted with neither fingers nor hands, has no such faculty. Thus the simple, everyday word the turns this sign into an enigma.
I admit it would be more humorous in its grammatical uncertainty if the sign said "Inside a dispenser" without bothering to mention which one, but the "the" is no less mystifying. There are a total of three milk dispensers that I know of in the cafeteria, making the "the" ambiguous. If the signs are meant to refer to any milk machine outside of themselves, then any determiner at all really isn't a good fit for the sentence. If the sign were meant to refer to the machine it's on, then a good "This dispenser" would suffice. But if the sign is meant to refer to something else--serving as a deterrent for eager vegans, I suppose--then it really ought to be giving directions in order to avoid ambiguity.

In order to be fair to the sign, I checked the labels over the machine's spigots to see if any of them were marked "soy." One machine bears skim milk and 2%, the other two contain both of those and chocolate. No clear indication, then, that any of these machines was a soy-bearing load. I sampled from each to try to determine their origins by taste. All seemed to be firmly bovine in origin. Somehow, I think I would be less incensed if the sign were a complete lie than if it were merely bad at giving directions.

Of course, it is entirely possible that Advanced Soy Milk Technologies have been put in place here, and the beany brew has been rendered invisible next to the real thing. I have never suffered from lactose intolerance, so my stomach does not serve as an accurate barometer in these issues. I may have been pouring legume juice over my cereal for weeks now and been completely unaware of it. If so, I commend the soy milk manufacturers for making it taste more like milk and less like soy; I was able to enjoy my pastrami on rye last week with a tall pale glass of lactic acid, and if I was in fact consuming raw liquid tofu, my taste buds are none the wiser.
Of course, spooning soggy Froot Loops into my mouth, I am inclined to wonder where in fact the real Fountain of Soy Milk lies. Is it hidden behind a counter some where? Must you request it specially, as they do for the omelets they serve at breakfast? Is it part of the secret menu at In-N-Out? If it doesn't exist, why the signs? To give disenchanted lact-ints a second lease on dairy? To convince the vegans that they have not completely forgotten them? Or are they merely there, as a strongly suspect, to confuse the living daylights out of English majors such as myself?

But if that is their purpose, they are awfully subtle. Today's Dinner Special sign commits a far more egregious error, certain to cause ringing in the ears of this university's collective English department.

"Chicken Pot Pie's"

Oh, how I weep.