Category Archives: fun

mischievous

I’d like you all to meet Miss Chievous.
She’s got a lot of fun to give us.
With eyes so wiley and mouth so devious,
She’ll trick you to thinking she’s Miss Chievious
(She isn’t now, though you should know
She had that name centuries ago).
She’s a little imp, a sylph, a sprite,
A naughty mistress of delight;
When it comes to fun that could end in grief,
She’s the boss-girl – she’s Miss Chief.
It’s Friday evening and you’re bored stiff?
Just wave a little handkerchief,
Put on your tail coat and your waistcoat –
Or kevlar vest, and grab your mess kit –
Her boat to fun’s docked at the quay.
She’ll teach you to be wild and free!
She’ll have you dangling on a gunwale
Quaffing Cognac with a funnel,
Held inverted by a boatswain
Mostly naked till half frozen;
Sneaking peaks and stealing victuals –
Blancmanges and peanut brittles,
Caesars spiked with sauce from Worcester –
Then she’ll say, “Come meet my sister.”
If your tongue is free from injury,
Just wait till she comes out in… lingerie!
For that’s how she breeds fascination:
She ever foils your expectation.
If you make your chief Miss Chief,
You’ll end up hanging from a cliff
And see Miss Chievous just above it…
But mark my words, boy, you will love it.

I encourage you to read this through for yourself first. But you may thereafter watch this video of me reading it, if you wish:

Sci-fi/fantasy name? Or prescription drug?

My latest article for TheWeek.com is a quiz. It’s a really hard quiz (but also fun):

Quiz: Drug brand or sci-fi name?

But after the quiz I explain just why it’s so hard to tell them apart. So do it… and live long and fill that prescription!

More Poetry Minute and a Half

I’ve created four more episodes of Poetry Minute and a Half: “Out of the Business” by The Tubes (by request), “Taking Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, and one I’m particularly proud of, Rammstein’s “Mein Teil” in English translation.

Do send in requests. I’m thinking of branching out to other genres of music.

Poetry Minute and a Half

Just because the idea amused me, I’ve started a series called “Poetry Minute and a Half” in which I read (erm, excuse me, the somewhat posh Godfrey St. John-Burns reads) heavy metal lyrics as poetry. In the interests of focusing on the sound quality, I’ve made them just the sound rather than a video of the reading, but since YouTube is the best place for sharing such things around, I’ve made the sound files into videos with just the title as the image.

These will likely be more amusing if you know the songs, but I’m sure they will have some entertainment value either way.

Requests for further poem readings are welcome.

Here are the first four:

naked text

its international punctuation day so ive given punctuation the day off after all on mothers day were supposed to give mothers the day off right im also giving capital letters the day off because why not they can go and have a nice lunch with the punctuation marks

i have recently talked about how much less useful the apostrophe is than we generally believe it is i would not say the same about other punctuation marks nor capital letters although people often have a very hard time getting capitalization rules straight

to celebrate id like to present another poem from my book songs of love and grammar please buy it or ill think you dont like me

getting naked

i met a woman young and fair
who liked her skin to feel the air
now im not wedded to convention
but i felt some apprehension
when i got to know her better
and she sent me this short letter
it is time that i should tell
i keep my text au naturel
i know that this will sound uncouth
but i believe in naked truth
in every place and situation
shed the chains of punctuation
doff the clothes of upper case
and stand revealed on white space
now i dont mind it being nude
but naked text at first seemed crude
however now its plain to see
that form and sense are both more free
and so we read our morning papers
sprawled in bed we serve up capers
in the kitchen we grow flowers
in the garden we take showers
in the bathroom we go hiking
on the mountains its our liking
to go swimming every day
in the pond in a cafe
sip a coffee or just run
on the trail our life is fun
my only cause for consternation
is some miscommunication
if my lover should insist
on writing on the shopping list
get some mustard greens and tea
do i buy two things or three
and now i have this little note
that concerns me and i quote
darling i think love is great
with others i would hesitate
to give my all to none but you
i feel open can you too
as i read it twice im guessing
if shes offering her blessing
to monogamous relation
or some other situation
its one thing when going shopping
now im faced with chamber hopping
in this textual revolution
can i find a real solution

Dashing around

My article this week for TheWeek.com is on dashes – the title is rather provocative, but the text is useful:

You’re using that dash wrong

To go with it, I present another poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar:

Dashing around

My boyfriend is the dashing type.
He writes – whips off – with vim – and hype.
He goes – he comes – cycle completing –
and yet – I feel – he may be cheating.
Last week he sent a note – “Dear N –
I hope – so soon – we join – again!”
But then – missent – another too –
“Dear M—can’t wait—to meet—with you!”
From N – to M—his life’s a whirl!
He’s dashing—yes – from girl to girl!
I think I should have picked a man
with more breath & attention span.
I’ll find & marry someone bland
who’ll come & stay with ampersand.

The dark magic of drug generic names

My latest article for TheWeek.com is about the generic names for drugs and where they come from:

How do prescription drugs get such crazy names?

Inspired by the topic, I made a video for your entertainment:

parenthesis, parentheses

Sometimes in the tall grass of your text you will find – or insert – subtle interruptions, like panthers gliding through, making momentary disturbance and then leaving all as before: places where the author may slip little side theses between pairs of parabolas to set them apart from the parent clause. Asides, in short.

A parenthesis is an aside: it is something put in beside. The word parenthesis was assembled in Greek from παρα para ‘beside, around’, ἐν en ‘in’, and θέσις thesis ‘placing’. Originally, parenthesis (singular) refers to the aside itself, the text that is indicate by a shift in vocal tone, a turning away of the head, a setting apart in the text, before a return to the tone, position, or flow as before. When the practice came about of setting it apart with these curves ( ), the entire assemblage was first called a parenthesis, but since the bumpers travelled in pairs it just made sense, ultimately, to refer to them in the plural. And the plural in this case is a Greek-derived plural: just as we say theses rather than thesises, we say parentheses.

Or you could just call them panthers if you think you could get away with it. They do have that sleek, sometimes predatory nature. Allow me to cover parentheses in greater depth with a poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar (available at lulu.com or amazon.com; also available as an ebook from the same sites).

A parenthesis

Parentheses: cradled hands holding your message,
neatly bestowing a soft little blessage
(so much more peaceful than the visual rackets
that may be created by using square brackets).
They’re a velvet ink bag to soften hard words
(or a little surprise gift, loaded with turds).
Say your friend (a co-worker) sends you an email
suggesting (or foisting) an unattached female –
a little blind date (or myopic at best)
who’s eager to meet you (or willing when pressed).
Are you free (it’s been set up) on Friday at 9?
You can meet (if she shows) at the Savoy to dine.
She’s heard all about you (it goes without saying)
and she says you sound nice (she’s been told that you’re paying).
So you put on your suit (Goodwill, $10.98)
and comb down your hair (not much work) for your date.
She’s awaiting, with perfume (or bug spray) anointed,
and she seems quite demure (probably disappointed).
You order some drinks (loosen up things a notch);
her tastes are refined (she takes single-malt Scotch).
You make conversation (one word at a time);
you find she’s quite eloquent (just like a mime).
You think that she’s pretty (the drink’s kicking in),
and she smiles dreamily (she has moved on to gin).
The food comes (at last) and it’s simply divine
(like food offered to gods – burnt and sprinkled with wine).
Your date has filet mignon (charcoal briquette);
you went for the chicken (to stay out of debt).
For dessert, it’s Napoleon (from water loo)
and the chef’s special (leftover) tiramisù.
The mood is romantic: you look in her eyes
(or, anyway, somewhere ’twixt forehead and thighs).
You feel that she’s warmed to you during the meal
(it’s the closeness that comes from a mutual ordeal).
You call for the cheque and slap down your gold card
(two full meals and twelve drinks, tax and tip, damn that’s hard).
You offer to walk her home (can’t hurt to try);
she accepts (she’s afraid she’ll fall over, that’s why).
When you get to her door, you make as to kiss
but she blushes and turns (she’s afraid she would miss).
But the evening ends well – witness plans that you make
to talk in the morning (she’ll nudge you awake).
Ah, parentheses – they let you keep your composure
and charm (while still offering total disclosure).

by

A word such as by is really too basic and multifarious to do a tasting of the usual sort on it. Instead, I present a poem – another from Songs of Love and Grammar.

Joined by fate by April

Last fall I was hit by a stop sign
by a truck that failed to stop;
the driver was caught by a red light
and sent off to jail by a cop.
I was taken away by an ambulance
and laid by a nurse in a bed
in a hospital built by a river
and by morning was back from the dead.
I was kept in a room by the river
by the nurse to heal and stay.
I was seen by my bed by the window
by the nurse twice every day.
I was healed by the power of beauty:
I was struck by the nurse’s face
and blown away by her lovely lips
by the time I left that place.
The nurse was known by April
by friends and by people about
and, by George, she was called by the next month
by me to ask her out.
By April she had been courted
by me for half a year
and by then it was time for a ring
to be given by me to my dear.
We were wed by a tree by a lake
by a hill by the moon by a priest
and the joining by God was feted
by the stars by our friends by a feast.
Now I’m joined in my life by April
and by fate we will never be parted,
and my wall is bedecked by the stop sign
by which this all was started.
By the wall a cradle’s been placed,
and by April all will know why:
by and large, my April’s grown pregnant,
and we’ll have a child by and by.

Clichés and picturesque language

Originally published in The Spanner, issue 0008.

At first glance, English may seem to be going through a paradigm shift, with a  dizzying array of ways to put lipstick on the pig. This naturally provokes some push-back, even withering criticism, as we struggle to wrap our heads around it. But the upshot remains to be seen. Should we just run with it? Or should we step up to the plate and think outside the box? If you talk about the elephant in the room, will that mean you’re not a team player? Will you get thrown under a bus? And, on the other hand, at the end of the day, are we even truly at a crossroads?

More to the point, did that paragraph provoke you to hyperemesis?

We Anglophones have an apparently inexhaustible facility for creating clichés. A sharp turn of phrase or a particularly engaging image sparks interest and spreads like wildfire, and soon enough it’s tired and stale. This is not a new thing. Some hackneyed clichés of yesteryear have become so cemented that we continue to use them even though we no longer quite remember the literal reference. The result is sometimes what are called eggcorns: misconstrual of idiomatic words or phrases into things that make more sense to the modern eye and ear. This is how just deserts becomes just desserts, tide me over becomes tie me over, strait-laced and strait and narrow get straightened, sleight of hand gets slighted… Forget about trying to nip these in the bud in the nick of time; many of them are as old as the hills. You may look for the silver lining and try to make lemonade, but…

What? Oh, fine, I’ll stop. What I’ve really been doing is illustrating a central point of all of these: they’re all picturesque. They all involve metaphors. But in many cases the imagery is etiolated. The words are still there, and we could play with the images if we want, but for general use they are like posters or pin-ups that have been on the wall too long and are now faded to pale shades of cyan.

But that is how language works. Most language you use is made of metaphors and images that have lost their vividness and, in many cases, are no longer recognizable as imagery at all. Let us look at some “plain” words that could replace the clichés. Going through a paradigm shift – well, we could say changing, but that comes (much changed!) from a Latin word for bartering and exchanging, and may deriver further from an older word for bending or turning back. We could replace push-back with rejection, but reject is from Latin for “throw back.” If we prefer to understand rather than wrap our heads around, it ought not to take us too long to see the under and stand in understand. And if we go with comprehend? There’s the Latin again, meaning “grasp, seize” (remember that anything that can grab things is prehensile, from the same root). If you prefer betray to throw under a bus, you may want to know that the tray in betray conceals a Latin origin in trans plus dare, meaning “hand over.” And so it goes. Look back over this paragraph and try to find one verb I have used that isn’t a figurative use of a word with a physical reference: work, make, look, go… even prefer comes from Latin for “put in front, carry forward.”

In this way (as in a few others) English is like Chinese. I’m not talking about the Chinese use of imagery and metaphor, which is considerable; I mean the written form, the Chinese characters. People who aren’t familiar with Chinese characters may think of them as pictograms, resembling closely what they refer to. People who try to learn Chinese find very quickly that the characters generally give the reader nothing obvious to grab onto. This is because the characters are like our words and phrases that have had the imagery worn off them.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Look at the character for “look”: 看. Does that look like looking? How about after I tell you that it’s made of two parts, and the 手 was originally a hand (see the fingers? it has changed somewhat) and the 目 was originally an eye (it rotated 90˚ a long time ago; make the outside box curved and see the inside lines as making the edges of the iris)?

Now look at the character for “good”: 好. How does that look good, or like anything good? Well, the 女 part is the character for “woman,” and originally looked like a line drawing of a standing woman with her hands held in front of her. The 子 part is the character for “child,” and if you curve the top part and bend the crossbar down, you might begin to see an infant in swaddling clothes. It seems that, to the scribes who determined this character, the epitome of goodness was a mother and child.

Such is the way it goes, too, with our picturesque language. Time and tide, change and overuse, leave the imagery behind. But if you know how to look, it’s still good – and not altogether lacking in character.