Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A debt acknowledged

Recently I’ve discussed American English and some American respondents adopted an apologetic tone regarding their native tongue. The stuff below proves that any apology is misplaced. Exceeds 300 words.

Mark Twain's Rules for Funeral Etiquette. At the moving passages, be moved -- but only according to the degree of your intimacy with the parties giving the entertainment, or with the party in whose honor the entertainment is given. Where a blood relation sobs, an intimate friend should choke up, a distant acquaintance should sigh, a stranger should merely fumble sympathetically with his handkerchief.

Do not bring your dog.

William Goldman, screen writer. As to his size: he's like the Pentagon; no matter how big you think it's going to be it's always bigger. André's publicity has him at seven feet five inches and 550 pounds (This is not a fat man remember.)... It's in his presence. André is very still... (perhaps) because he's never sure what reaction people will have to him. I've seen children meet him and go mad with glee and start to climb on him. Other children scream in fear and run away... His hands may well be the most remarkable thing about him... Shaking hands with André is like dipping your hand into a well.

Richard P Feynman, physicist, on letter censorship at Los Alamos.
I said: I have a game. I challenge (my friends, relations) to send me a code that I can’t decipher, see. So, they’re making up codes at the other end, and they’re sending them in, and they’re not going to tell me what the key is.
Los Alamos letter censor: Well you’re going to have to tell them please to send the key in with the code.
I said: But I don’t want to see the key!
Censor: Well, all right, we’ll take the code out.

The Great Gatsby. There was nothing to look at from under the tree except Gatsby’s enormous house, so I looked at it, like Kant at his church steeple, for half an hour. A brewer had built it early in the “period” craze, a decade before, and there was a story that he’d agreed to pay five years’ taxes on all the neighbouring cottages if the owners would have their roofs thatched with straw. Perhaps their refusal took the heart out of his plan to Found a Family – he went into an immediate decline.

Ross Thomas, underrated thriller writer. It could have been called a trial, I suppose… Our Star Chamber judge carefully arranged six sharpened pencils on the desk beside a fresh yellow legal pad. Next he produced his pipe, tobacco pouch and match box, and placed them within easy reach. He then adopted an expression which he may have thought was his best horse-sense look. He made his face as long as possible, showed both of us his teeth in an impartial manner, and nodded several times as if he were adjusting to some invisible halter. I almost expected him to neigh us to order.


The Crow said...

I don't apologize for my native tongue, BB. Just for my ineffective ability to speak or write well in it.

I applaud your selections to prove your point, especially Mr. Clemens, one of my literary heroes.

Plutarch said...

Six excellent pieces of writing in English! I have been asking myself where lie the differences between them and a selection of passages chosen from English English authors. If any thing the American tradition is richer and more free from constraint. But this is only something of which Americans should be justly proud. Poetry and prose in American English seems to me to be, if anything, a little ahead of our own.

Julia said...

I'd say American English versus British English is just different, not necessarily better or worse.

American music of the 20th century, well, I have more definite opinions about that!

Rouchswalwe said...

I am moved. Moved.

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: You weren't alone, but perhaps apology was too strong even for the others. Had Hell's own job choosing between MT's Funeral Etiquette and his even more hilarious essay on Fenimore Cooper's literary failings. Now there was a trashing.

Plutarch: Despite Julia's suggestion (see below) about the two languages being simply different I'm inclined to doff my hat to the greater vigour and liveliness I see in much US writing. Plus the greater geographic advantages US authors enjoy from living on a continent. Take Paul Simon's song: All Gone to Look for America:

Kathy, I said, as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now..

Inserting National Express, Woking, and Middlesex would seriously vitiate those two lines.

Julia: See above for your first bit.

As to the second: ah, but I'm never going to know, am I?

RW (zS): Any comparison is likely to be the victim of selectivity. These five pieces (three of which wouldn't be terribly familiar even to Americans) were deliberately chosen for their unexpectedness. In fact I am beholden to both literary traditions.

Lucy said...

And you'll never catch an American saying 'different to' either, which is a point strongly in their favour.

Anyone can bring their dog to my funeral.

Oh, you've got another female follower over at my place in The Polish Chick, who appreciated your comments on 'would' in the 'if' part of 2nd conditional sentences. You might get on, her language is nothing if not colourful. The French have a taunt "les 'si' n'aiment pas les 'rais'". Which is to say that you shouldn't use the conditional form of the verb in the 'if' part of the sentence. It's an error they are inclined to, I think perhaps because they use a future form with 'when' clauses.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Yes I noticed the comment from The Polish Chick. Flattered as I was I couldn't see the subject as the basis for a lasting relationship but I felt I had to check out her blog. As luck would have it, she provided me with the perfect springboard for a response which I suspect would be regarded as de trop on this side of the Atlantic but might just cut it 2500 miles away. We'll see.

Thanks for the bit about the conditional. To ensure I remember it I am having it tattooed on my wrist. As you know I have been taking private French classes (geared towards individual books), for a quarter of a century, the most recent being this very morning. In fact it was mano e mano since the other student was away. My tutor, the gentlest of Quaker ladies, acting with the best of motives, pointed to a completely unexceptional phrase, less than ten letters long, and used it to explain the most recondite and unexpected aspect of French I have ever heard of. It's at moments like that that I ask myself: Is it worth it? Who'm I fooling?

By the way, I did as you suggested and offered my piece on translating poetry into French to the Carnival site. They accepted it, provided a link, and I have received a comment. Recommending I buy a book on translating poetry into French. Less strong minded people might have seen this as verb. sap. but I have ordered the book.