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

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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...>