Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries Tagged as 'language'

Reinventing what it means to be human

May 3rd, 2009 · Comments Off on Reinventing what it means to be human

Sky treehouse at sunrise

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Let’s be more ambitious than Freud: What do Humans want? I am putting together a college-level course on the ways that Utopia is being multiply re-imagined in digital worlds.

Second Life is well-known as a place that sets people free to imagine new faces, bodies, histories, and futures. But Wikipedia is also a second life to many of its participants. If Second Life has multiple sexual genders, including a wide range of Furry and Gorean and scientific data visualization options, Wikipedia too has “genders”; people who come there to work out different desires.

Wikipedian fulfillment may involve some very strange couplings (wrong word, since far more than two people often become involved), quite often accompanied by virtual cat-on-roof yowling. Consider, for example, the passionate encounter of article-writer with article-editor. Or of somebody who just loves enforcing the RULES with a prankster who loves to break those rules.

Agenda-pushers for any agenda X would get no satisfaction were there not advocates for agenda not-X also eager to engage in back-and-forth pushing.

Yes, I am (mostly) joking. But the part of my course on “Gratified desire” will consider material well beyond Second Life.

Tags: geeky · language · Metablogging · Reputation systems · Wide wonderful world · wikipedia

What is even worse than an oxymoron?

January 25th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Bush in flight suit: "Karl Rove told me to stick a sock in it."Mission accomplished!” said Frank, over dinner tonight. We all looked at him. “It just doesn’t mean what it used to mean now, does it?” he said.

“Neither does ‘Heckuva job,'” pointed out someone else.

There should be a word, maybe something based on “oxymoron,” for expressions that used to mean “[something]” but now mean “[ha-ha-ha-NOT-something].” Heckuva job on creating so many, Team Bush!

Since I’m suggesting it, maybe I should make up said word, but since nothing suggests itself I won’t.

But that’s OK, because what I will do is “take full responsibility.”

Tags: Editorial · funny · language · politics

All the world’s a perch

June 29th, 2007 · Comments Off on All the world’s a perch

All the world’s a perch

Originally uploaded by carpe icthus

A flock of ungendered sparrows–ungendered to me, that is–swooped into my back yard this evening. One female cardinal, already taking a bath, seemed content with their company.

Male and female cardinals look to an untutored eye like two different species–he metrosexual red, she muted soft buff colors with just that subtle hint on her beak of scarlet. Her bright-red lipstick, my mother used to call it.

Sparrows have gender-signs their mating partners decode–but they don’t broadcast their mating preferences out to the parts of the universe they don’t want to mate with. Energy that could have gone into scarlet feathers or lipstick is leftover for sparrows to do other stuff they care about–seed-crushing muscle maybe, or louder cheep-cheepers.

Now my personal dress-style is much more like Mrs. Cardinal’s than like Ms. Sparrow’s–but one of the things I’ve loved about the Web is that it’s let me try on gender-neutral identities. In places like Slashdot or an IRC chatroom, a woman can jump into the conversation using some “nickname” that doesn’t yell “Hey, I’m a female!”

I’m told that Jane Austen never wrote a scene where men were talking together without any women–because she herself could never witness such happenings. If she could have hung out in IRC, posting as “darcy,” just think how much more fun and trouble she could have created.

Tags: language · Reputation systems · Science · writing

Pearls of PR-speak: When bigshots make big mistakes

June 19th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Bad news about the Smithsonian’s path under now-ex-director Lawrence Small has been leaking out for years–as early as 2001, scientists started raising red flags about his leadership. In 2005, Congressional audit deplored the “underfinancing” of museum upkeep. In 2006, a sweet but secret 30-year pact signed with Showtime. But the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, which doesn’t seem to read the New York Times, had no clue that their oversight of Lawrence Small should include some actual–what’s that thing called again?–oversight.

Which brings us to this morning’s NY Times story and the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents “taking responsibility” for failing to keep on eye on Lawrence Small. The Board’s response is such a gem of PR-speak it bears reprinting:

“It’s never easy to do this kind of self examination, and we wish we’d been doing it on an ongoing basis.”

Step one: We are already suffering, please don’t be mean to us.

“But it is what it is,” she added. “Certainly the importance of assuring the public trust — and the Congressional trust — is why we moved at such a pace. We met every week since Larry’s resignation to try to make sure we brought forward this set of recommendations so that we can turn the page.”

Step two: Talk about what we did right–even if what we did right was mainly cooperating when forced to take a look at what we did wrong. Step three: Describe future goals with metaphors that imply your forgetting our misdeeds is a necessary prelude to making things better.

Ms. Stonesifer said the governance committee’s report was aimed at ensuring accountability. “There is a need for ethics and transparency in everything we do,” she said.

Step four: Talk about “accountability” as something that will happen in the future and to people other than the current wrongdoers. Step five: Give lip-service to ethics and transparency and any other virtues that sound good.

“Yes, we had a problem,” she added. “The Regents accept responsibility, and we’re ready to move forward.”

They accept responsibility! Not guilty, your Honor! Let’s give that brave, honest, already-suffering Smithsonian Board of Regents a hearty handclasp of thanks and “move forward” and “turn a page.”

Time for all us taxpayers to stop being mean to these so-sorry millionaires and reach deep into our pockets for some tax money to start repairing seven years worth of misgovernance of the Smithsonian, which is or was and hopefully will be again a proud national treasure.

Tags: Editorial · language

Race? Class? Gender? Ooo, scary stuff, hide me!

June 14th, 2007 · Comments Off on Race? Class? Gender? Ooo, scary stuff, hide me!

Just finished writing a (rave) review on Amazon–thought this bit on its author might have general interest:

.. June Howard can discuss race, gender, and class while assuming a reader’s intelligent, sensible interest. Far too many academic authors treat these issues as if they were glowing chunks of kryptonite that might damage the morals of ignorant readers everywhere unless placated by an Author’s whimpering and trembling on our behalf.

The book is Publishing the Family by June Howard. To summarize my review: if you liked Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club, you will enjoy reading Publishing the Family.

Tags: language · writing

Some of my favorite poetry is Cary Tennis

June 5th, 2007 · Comments Off on Some of my favorite poetry is Cary Tennis

Cary Tennis, you might think, writes advice columns for Salon–not poetry.

But some of his writing–all it needs to be blank verse is chopping a few line breaks into its punctuation:

You take your place at the table and you do your part.
You do your part in the ancient chain of being and history and fathering,
of war and redemption and wounding,
of burdens too heavy to carry and roofs too old to keep the rain out,
of hardy shrubs aspiring to be trees and old warriors wandering lost among their medals.
You take your place at the table and you do your part.

That fragment was part of Cary’s advice to an adult son unsure how to help his increasingly troubled Vietnam-veteran father.

Only part of what makes Cary Tennis “poetic” is his use of wording and cadence. His work runs in the old (Old-Testament old) tradition of poet as prophet and healer, poet as expositor of the Big Picture.

  • A young couple kvetches about their nightmare cat–Cary says that the really big issue here isn’t a cat but “whether you cringe with shame or beam with pride when you think of this years from now.”
  • An anxious mother wonders how to explain to her already-troubled eight-year daughter that Dad plans a sex change? Stop with the verbal reassurance and throw a party, says Cory–let the family celebrate that Dad can be happier being who he really is.
  • A young woman agonizes over being guilt-tripped toward inviting difficult but pushy friends to her in-laws’ lake house. Cory’s advice helps her figure out how to say no “ the traditional sense of its meaning no. Or, as Albert Einstein replied when asked if he wanted some coffee: no.”

If some of the problems above seem a bit exotic, not to say borderline twee, here is Cory’s response (expurgating one word you won’t find in my blog) to the modern but heart-breaking question “How long will it take me to get over my divorce?” Cory says healing arrives, but not on schedule, only…

… in due time,
and you will receive it as a gift;
you will see that this was not
some .. accident on the way to an appointment with life
but life itself,
your life, your fate,
with bloody scratches from your own fingernails dragged heavily across its back.

Tags: Editorial · language · Learn to write good

Good Good-Friday advice and un-jellybean Easter

April 6th, 2007 · Comments Off on Good Good-Friday advice and un-jellybean Easter


Originally uploaded by The Department.

I get Google traffic looking for “E.B. White essay“; AKMA gets it for Good Friday sermon advice. He just posted some very good Good Friday sermon advice, so keep pointing there, Google!

For more (if more pagan) inspiration, I love the Marge Piercy poem Kalilily just posted.

…The soil stretches naked. All winter
hidden under the down comforter of snow,
delicious now, rich in the hand
as chocolate cake: the fragrant busy
soil the worm passes through her gut
and the beetle swims in like a lake.

As I kneel to put the seeds in,
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we are, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you…

It’s worth reading more of, as is Kalilily, so be your own angel and go check it out!

Tags: Heroes and funny folks · language · Metablogging · religion

“Blog” was a new word of the year, in 2002?

March 15th, 2007 · 2 Comments

Thanks to the American Dialect Society for remininding me just what words were new, way back in 2002, when I started blogging:

2002 Word of the Year: weapons of mass destruction or WMD, sought for in Iraq. Most Likely to Succeed: blog, from “weblog,” a website of personal events, comments, and links. Most Useful: google (verb), as in “to google someone,” to search the Web using the search engine Google for information on a person or thing…

Think that’s pretty funny? When they started in 1990, a most-useful new term was “laptop computer,” which they thoughtfully defined as “a portable personal computer weighting 4-8 pounds.”

When did the tipping point come for “blog”, “blogging”, “blogger?

When was the last time your Uncle Norbert said, over Thanksgiving pie, “Lucille tells me that you’ve now got something called a blob?” And now, didn’t Aunt Tillie suddenly friend you in Twitter, asking to be blogrolled? I think comments are open here, though I’m still not totally sure how WordPress works…

Thanks to Resource Shelf whose link to new words just added to the OED sent me on that trip down memory lane…

Tags: funny · language · Metablogging

Swedish language emergency kit

August 22nd, 2003 · 1 Comment

“Language Emergency Kit”–ten rock-bottom minimum sentences for any trip:

  1. Where’s the bathroom? (vahr air too-a-lett’-en?)
  2. Thank you very much. (tuck saw mewcket)
  3. Please. (var so good)
  4. Yes. (yah.)
  5. No. (nay.)
  6. No, thank you. (nay, tuck)
  7. I’m sorry. (fur-lawt’ may).
  8. My husband is vegetarian. (min man air vegetaree-ansk’.)
  9. Without meat? (eutan churt?)
  10. Where can I access the Internet? (vahr kun yahg komma in paw internet?)

Two bonus sentences, in case you don’t have a vegetarian husband:

“Can we sit in a non-smoking area?” (kun vee sitta veed boord fur ickeh-rurkareh?)
“That’s beautiful.” (den air vack’-er)

Tags: language · Stories · Travel · Useful

On beyond “Ya, youbetcha” and “Bork bork bork?”

August 22nd, 2003 · 11 Comments

I’ve long been a fan of the Swedish chef school of linguistics, but since I leave for Sweden on Tuesday it may just be time to gather my Swedish language emergency kit.

Those who remember my
quest for instant Czech won’t be surprise to hear that–thanks to the LCS Hockey Association’s website–I now can say things in Swedish that would surprise you:

Han finns de action? – Where is the action?

Har du sedd min kaslonger? – Have you seen my pants?

Langa de vin. – Pass the wine.

Jag var i Cleveland den vecka, officer. – I was in Cleveland that week, officer.

Du ar a illa skona kvinnor. – You are a very beautiful woman.

Skulle du lik att se de hem av a ensam, ensam man? – Would you like to see the home of a lonely, lonely man?

Nej, nej, ej de paprika sprej! – No, no, not the pepper spray!

At least I don’t have to learn Viking-coping phrases like “What a big ax!” and “I have no gold coins, but may I offer you this fine Timex watch?”

Tags: funny · language · Pilgrimages · Travel