March 10, 2015

With the possible exception of some Chelsea fans, hardly anybody likes to be called a racist. But these days it’s very easy to be called a racist, if only facetiously, when one expresses an opinion that members of a given ethnic or cultural group are more prone to certain kinds of behavior than those of other groups. I’ve done it myself (facetiously). There’s no need to give examples.

Of course I don’t want to be called a racist. I have experienced racism in its crudest form — that of the Nazis toward the Jews — and I don’t want the term to be trivialized. But like many other people I have found by observation that different ethnic, national or religious groups do in fact exhibit characteristic traits of behavior, some laudable and some not.

Whether such groups constitute “races” is a matter of semantics. Among northern Europeans and their descendants it’s common to use race in  a genetic sense, whether defined by skin color as in North America, or just by ancestry as in Europe; the Jews and the Gypsies constitute races, and to the English even the Irish were a race. In southern Europe the equivalent term (e.g. raza in Spanish) has more of a cultural connotation. Hispanics in the United States often refer to themselves as la Raza, though according to the U.S. Census they may be “of any race”. The term la Raza originated among Spanish intellectuals of the so-called Generation of 98, marked by Spain’s loss of its overseas empire in the wake of the Spanish-American war, and was intended to replace Spain’s position as the metropolis of an empire by that of the motherland (la madre patria) of all the peoples that had inherited its language and culture, be they European colonists, indigenous Indians or Filipinos, or exiled Jews; all of these make up la Raza. The greatest among these intellectuals, Miguel de Unamuno, wrote a poignant article, shortly after Hitler’s rise to power, insisting that la Raza had nothing to do with the Nazis’ biological concept or race.  Even Hitler’s friend Franco, who wrote the screenplay of a film titled Raza, meant it only to denote an ideal of what it means to be a Spaniard.

But because “race” is such a controversial term, perhaps it’s best to follow the practice of most contemporary American anthropologists and avoid using it. In my mind, what determines typical group behavior is the group’s culture, not its ancestry, and the group’s members can be expected to share in these characteristics only of they are brought up in its cultural milieu.

I thought that I would substitute the word “culturist” for “racist” to designate someone who makes generalizations on people’s behavior on the basis of ethnicity. But “culturist” already has a number of meanings: one is “cultivator”; another is “advocate of culture”. On the other hand, the unabridged Merriam-Webster has the word culturalist, defined as “one that emphasizes the importance of culture in determining behavior”. Maybe “emphasizes” is a bit strong; if we simply substitute “believes in” we get the definition of a word that pretty much describes what I mean to say.

And so, if I’m ever called a racist for saying that such-and-such is typical so-and-so behavior, I will say, “No, I’m a culturalist.”

Of course, there is also an obscure philosophical school called culturalism. I don’t know anything about it, so I don’t know if I’m a philosophical culturalist.


Realistic money

February 5, 2015

Last Sunday, in the latest Downtown Abbey episode shown in the United States, Mrs. Patmore revealed that she had come into some money, with which she was going to buy a house in nearby small town or village (whose name, like Cervantes, I don’t want to remember, since it’s probably just as fictitious as Downton). And how much money was that? £300.

Well, I wondered, what does that mean in today’s pounds?

When a news story recounts a monetary transaction that took place in the past, there is usually a parenthetical note saying “x in today’s dollars”. But, according the website MeasuringWorth, there are quite a few ways of calculating the relative worth of money over the years, ranging from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the US and the Retail Price Index (RPI) in the UK — the most commonly used measure, often called the “real price” — to the GDP per capita index (called the “income value”), with several others in between. Of course standards of living have varied greatly over the years, and some things that may have been a luxury in the past are now within almost everybody’s reach. MeasuringWorth gives the example of the Ford Model T, which was introduced in 1909 at the price of $850 and would cost almost two years’ wages of a typical worker. By 1925, however, the price was $290, and car ownership was beginning to be the norm in the US. For this price, the 2012 values “range from $3,800 (the real price) to $19,000 (the income value).” Obviously, it’s the latter one that is much closer the price of a new entry-level car, even if the car bears little resemblance to the Model T. In 2015, a Ford Fiesta is advertised at around $15,000 to $16,000 but the actual price, with everything included, is around $18,000 to $19,000. Now the ratio of 18,500 to 290 is very nearly 64, and a 64-fold increase over 90 years is equivalent to a doubling every 15 years, since 2015 − 90 = 6 × 15 and 64 = 26.

For some time I have found the rule of a doubling every 15 years to be a handy guide to a realistic (not “real” in economists’ terms) measure of inflation. Going back to the time when I became an adult, about 60 years ago, I remember that a first-class postage stamp was 3 cents and a cup of coffee 10 to 15. Today first-class postage is $0.49 and a cup of brewed coffee (except in specialty cafés) ranges from $1.50 to $2.50. Now 60 = 4 × 15 and 24 = 16. Note that this factor works quite well for both coffee and postage.

For the last three decades, the Big Mac Index has been a popular measure for synchronic purchasing-power comparison between currencies. But it can also be used diachronically within a given currency. The Big Mac was introduced by McDonald’s in 1967 in a few locations at $0.55, but by 1970 it was popular worldwide, and cost an average of $0.60 in the US. Today it is said to average $4.80 — a factor of 8. Now 2015 − 1970 = 45 = 3 × 15, and  23 = 8. Bingo!

Doubling in 15 years corresponds to an annual inflation rate of about 4.73% (since 21/15  = 1.0473). But this rate also means that the value of money decreases by a factor of 10 over 50 years (since 1.047350 ≈ 10), and by a factor of 100 over 100 years. This last is a convenient, easy-to-remember result, and I like to call my formula the one-hundred rule.

For other time periods the following results hold: 1.6 over 10 years; 2.5 over 20 years; 6.35 (6 can be used, since this is not an exact measure) over 40 years; and 40 over 80 years.

The rule I have described applies, of course, only to the US dollar, which for at least the last century has been the global hallmark of monetary stability. In countries with fluctuating currencies prices for most commodities are usually set in dollars (even in countries nominally hostile to the US, such as Cuba and Iran) and converted to the local currency on a day-by-day basis. What about the pound sterling, then?

The simplest way to deal with the problem of non-dollar currencies is to convert to dollars according to the rates of the comparison years. Until 1940 the pound held fairly steady at $4.86. Now it’s at $1.50. Since the episode takes place in 1924 or 1925, we have to multiply the 90-year inflation factor of 64 by 4.86/1.50 = 3.24, getting around 200 (there is no point in using anything but round numbers). This means that Mrs. Patmore’s £300 is now worth around £60,000. Is it possible to get a three-bedroom house in a North Yorkshire village for about that amount?

Here’s what I found on Zoopla after searching for 3-bedroom houses in North Yorkshire and discounting Middlesbrough, a big city where the real-estate market seems to be depressed:


Skelton-in-Cleveland is, according to Wikipedia, a small town rather than a village, but with a population of around 6,000 it’s close enough. I rest my case.




Multilingual label

January 27, 2015

The eminent sinologist Victor Mair, a frequent contributor to Language Log, likes to post about linguistic oddities to be found  on signs, labels, menus and the like that are written at least partly in East Asian Languages, especially when Chinese characters are involved.

I have before me a box of cookies of the type called mandelbroyt in Yiddish (literally ‘almond-bread,’ sometimes anglicized as mandelbread). They are pretty much the equivalent of what are known as biscotti in North America and cantuccini in Italy, one of many instances where an Italian culinary term is used with a different meaning from what it has in Italian (latte, gelato, prosciutto, marinara, pepperoni…).

Here is the label, with some cookies in the background (the box is made of clear plastic):


The label seems to be bilingual. The Hebrew characters on the second line do, in fact, represent a translation of the English on the first line (kehilla is a Hebrew word meaning ‘community,’ and specifically, at least historically, the organized Jewish community of a city). But a translation into what?

Reading from right to left, the first two words,  השגחת קהילה, mean ‘supervision of kehilla’ in Hebrew. So far so good.

The next character, ד, is a one-letter word pronounced [də] and meaning ‘of,’ but in Aramaic, not Hebrew!

It’s a rule of Hebrew writing, by the way, that one-letter words (mainly prepositions, conjunctions and articles) are attached to the following word. This is not the case if the letters represent abbreviations, but then they must be followed by a period or an apostrophe; most notable are the abbreviations ’י  and ’ה  representing יהוה (Yahweh, which of course must never, never be pronounced).

Now, what follows ד is לאס אנדזשעלעס, which is Los Angeles; but it is transcribed in Yiddish, not in Hebrew, in which it’s  לוס אנג’לס. In the Los part, note that Hebrew uses ו (vav) and Yiddish א (aleph; strictly speaking it should be אׇ) for the vowel represented by o. In Angeles, Yiddish has ע (‘ayin) for the vowels represented by e while Hebrew does not show them. And, finally, for the “soft g” ([dʒ]) sound Hebrew uses ‘ג, while Yiddish uses the trigraph דזש (something like dzsh).

So this simple-looking label is in fact quadrilingual!


January 23, 2015

When I first read about the car-sharing entity called Uber, I assumed that the name would be pronounced as Yuber, in accordance with the usual English way of pronouncing word-initial “long u“: union, usage, uterus, utopia,… But I’ve never heard it pronounced as anything but oober, which makes me think that this is how the company calls itself, and that the name is meant to be interpreted as Latin. Now uber as a Latin adjective means ‘fertile’ or ‘productive’ and as a noun it can mean something like ‘fertile ground,’ but by far the most common meaning is that of ‘(female) breast’ or ‘teat.’ Why a company whose goal is to transport people would call itself that, I don’t know.

And whenever I think of Latin, I think of the many terms used to denote a person of (at least partly) sub-Saharan African descent, especially in America. Such people have been called darkies, Negroes, colored, black, Afro-American, African-American, and in the more distant past also Moors, Abyssinian, and Ethiopian. The geographic inaccuracy of the last three designations doesn’t really matter, any more than the actual color described as black (or, for that matter, white; chessboards and chessmen are not always strictly black and white either). Of course, negro is just the Spanish or Portuguese word for  black.

But then there is the Latin word for black: niger. This, two was commonly used in English to designate people in or from Africa from about the end of the 16th century onward (as was pater for father — it must have been a kind of affectation by educated Britons). Around the end of the 18th century some (but not all) writers began adding a second g, presumably in order to insure a pronunciation closer to the Latin one, rhyming with bigger and not, at least in English, with tiger (though Robert Burns rhymes nigger, vigour and tiger).

And, around the same time as the spelling change, the Latin word became offensive, both in the mouths of those saying it and in the ears of those hearing it. What is it about Latin?

Incidentally, the word nègre plays a similarly offensive role in French, but perhaps not to the same extent. The English version of Jean Genêt’s play provocatively titled Les Nègres  was given the inoffensive title The Blacks. (Conversely, black is now an OK word in French for referring to people of African origin or descent.)


January 7, 2015

Yesterday (January 6, 2015) was, according to the media, a momentous day for California. A hole was dug that represents Jerry Brown’s long-time wet dream: the groundbreaking of the California High-Speed Rail line. I will call it CHSR for now, though I’m sure that in time a more speaker-friendly moniker will be made up.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Jerry Brown. I liked him in the 1970s as Governor Moonbeam, and I like him in the 2010s as Mr. Pragmatic, a role he prepared for in the 2000s as mayor of Oakland and Attorney General.

I also like high-speed rail. 25 years ago I rode the Tokaido Shinkansen from Kyoto to Osaka, and since then I have ridden the TGV in France and the AVE in Spain several times. But, as far as I remember, in none of those trips did I simply go from one high-speed rail station to another. For example, when a few years ago my wife and I traveled on the AVE from Zaragoza to Barcelona, we first took a bus from Jaca that took us directly to the intermodal Delicias station Delicias(where the bus station is integrated with the rail station), and after arriving at Barcelona Sants it was a simple matter to go to another track and board a suburban train (Cercanías/Rodalies) to Barcelona Estació de França, from where we had a pleasant walk to our hotel.

What I am saying is that in the countries that have working high-speed rail lines, these lines are part of an integrated rail system that includes long-distance lines, regional lines and suburban lines, and bus lines as well. California has no such system, and none is being planned, as far as I know. There is a hodgepodge of individual rail lines with little or no connectivity, the nearest thing being Amtrak’s bus service. Even when several lines meet at the same station, the frequency of trains is so low (some run only once a day) and their punctuality so abysmal (since most passenger trains share tracks with, and give way to, freight trains) that making connections is, for the most part, out of the question.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the only station where our suburban system (BART) connects with other rail lines is Richmond, a location that’s convenient for me (I live in El Cerrito) but not for the bulk of Bay Area residents. And, of course, Richmond is not along the planned route of CHSR. If I am still around when CHSR is complete, as is its full extension to the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco (scheduled for completion in 2029 — I was born in 1935 — and we know what scheduled completion dates mean in California), then I could, in principle, take BART to Embarcadero, walk to Transbay and take CSHR to Los Angeles. Otherwise I might have to go to Richmond and take the Capitol Corridor to the San Jose Diridon station — a 54-mile (87-km) trip that takes an hour and three quarters. High-speed rail indeed!

The planning of a high-speed line that is not an integral part of an interconnected system reminds me of a similar situation in North American soccer.

There is an organization, called Major League Soccer (MLS), which functions as the Division I equivalent of the likes of the Premier League, La Liga and the like. There is also a Division II North American Soccer League (NASL) and a Division III USL Pro. But, unlike most other soccer-playing countries, these entities don’t form a league system, with promotion and relegation as a key ingredient (though there has been some “self-relegation” from NASL to USL Pro). The system of promotion and relegation is what makes it interesting to follow games in the lower divisions and those involving low-ranking teams  (at least for people who are not fans of the teams). Without it, one quickly loses interest. Since its lousy record over the past two seasons I have not followed the team that, by dint of geography, I should be a fan of — the San Jose Earthquakes. (I have actually been a fan of the LA Galaxy, partly because I grew up in Los Angeles and partly because their star was my namesake Cobi Jones [the fact that I write my name Coby is an arbitrary choice on my part], though my loyalty faded when he retired and David Beckham joined the team.)

There is also the matter of MLS’s name. With sports leagues in the English-speaking world, if the word league is part of the name, it generally comes at the end (no need to give examples), even when the “league” is not actually a league but a tournament (e.g. Champions’ League). Why does MLS have it in the middle?

My guess is that Major League Soccer is a calque of the very prestigious Major League Baseball (MLB). But MLB is, at least historically, an umbrella organization for the two major leagues, the American League and the National League, which until 2000 were separate legal entities; it was only then that MLB actually became a league.

MLS was formed well before that, in 1995. But then it isn’t really a league either, at least in the conventional sense of “an association of teams or clubs that compete chiefly among themselves” (American Heritage Dictionary); the “teams or clubs” of MLS are not entities that are voluntarily associated with one another, but units of “a single-entity structure in which teams and player contracts are centrally owned” (Wikipedia) by it. So perhaps Major League Soccer should be read as “Major-League” Soccer; a soccer organization that wants to look like a major league but isn’t really.

The Wikipedia article also notes that “one aspect that had alienated fans was that MLS experimented with rules deviations in its early years in an attempt to ‘Americanize’ the sport.” It isn’t just rules deviations; it’s the fact that a 20-team “league” does not, as do other such leagues, play a standard home-and-home schedule of 38 games with the winner as champion, but follows other American sports in dividing itself into “conferences” with post-season playoffs for the championship, and not allowing (as I mentioned above) relegation and promotion. Since real soccer fans like me can follow European and Mexican football on television, it’s no wonder we feel alienated by MLS.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s columnist Jon Carroll wrote in his column today that, as he was riding the TGV, “[he] thought: Wasn’t this supposed to be our future? Wasn’t the United States supposed to produce the best ideas in commercial transportation? Those are rhetorical questions.”

Perhaps smilar questions can be asked about professional sports organizations.



Graph and gram

November 22, 2014

A telegraph is a device or system for sending written messages over long distances. The technology is called telegraphy, and the printed message itself is a telegram.

If the logic of Greek grammar were to be followed, this kind of relationship would hold in general for compounds in which the final element is derived from the Greek verb γράφειν meaning ‘write.’ But it doesn’t. In the technology called photography, it’s the printed result that’s called a photograph, not the device (which is called a camera).

An epigraph is an inscription, or (in literature) a motto or quotation at the beginning of a book or chapter; an epigram is a short, witty saying or poem.

A radiograph is an x-ray photograph; a radiogram is (in American English) a telegram sent by radio.

A pentagram (or pentacle) is a five-pointed star. The word pentagraph is not found in most dictionaries, but it’s found in Wikipedia and means, by extension from digraph, “a sequence of five letters used to represent a single sound (phoneme), or a combination of sounds, that do not correspond to the individual values of the letters.

The best-known example is the German tzsch, which stands the simple sound /tʃ/ (represented in English by the digraph ch), as in Nietzsche. The usual German way of representing this sound is the tetragraph tsch, itself a combination of t and the trigraph sch representing /ʃ/ (in English the digraph sh).

In French, the pentagraph eaulx is one of the many ways of representing the simple sound /o/ a the end of proper names, as in Meaulx, in addition to the tetragraphs eaux and ault (as in Renault) and numerous trigraphs (auxaudaut) and digraphs (os, ot, od); there are probably others. Sometimes one even finds a simple o, as in the case of the actor Jean Reno. But that would be too simple for French; Jean Reno is originally a Moroccan-born Spaniard named Juan Moreno. (Of course, there are many French people with Italian or Spanish surnames ending in o, like the former director of the Metropolitan Museum, Philippe de Montebello, or the current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.)


November 3, 2014

Every so often — too often, alas — I find myself forced to refer to the CIA or the FBI as the Central Incompetence Agency or the Federal Bureau of Incompetence, respectively.

But the government agency that to me represents the ultimate in bureaucratic incompetence has, unfortunately for me, no I in its common designation. I am referring to the California Department of Transportation, commonly known as Caltrans. I have yet to find a derogatory name for it that would properly show what I think of it.

The department’s disastrous mishandling of the rebuilding of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge following the Loma Prieta earthquake (almost exactly 25 years ago!) has been thoroughly documented in a long series of articles by Jaxon Van Derbeken  in the San Francisco Chronicle, and I don’t think I need to dwell on them. What I’d like to write about is the many little ways in which a driver on California’s freeways can be annoyed or inconvenienced by the department’s incompetence. I had thought, at one time, that I would collect a long list and write about its items in one fell swoop. That is impractical; I can’t very well take notes or pictures while driving. So I’m going to do a few at a time. I will begin with three illustrations gleaned from the Web.


report-drunk-driversThis electronic sign is ubiquitous along California’s freeways. What does it mean?

First off, it’s illegal to use one’s mobile phone while driving, so that only passengers can comply with the request. And what does it mean to “report drunk drivers”? Drunk driving is a felony under the law, and one therefore does not become a “drunk driver” unless duly tried and convicted. So what it possibly might mean is, maybe, “seemingly drunk drivers” or something like that. And how is someone in a moving car to determine who seems to be drunk? Obviously weaving might be an indication, but this is very rarely observed. So, all in all, the sign is meaningless at best and confusing at worst.


fractionIt’s nice that the distances to nearby exits are posted on signs. But how is one to use this information? For an engineer there’s of course no problem: we can convert ordinary fractions to decimal ones in a flash, and use the odometer. But this is an example of what the linguist Geoff Pullum has called nerdview, characterized by the way that “people with any kind of technical knowledge of a domain tend to get hopelessly (and unwittingly) stuck in a frame of reference that relates to their view of the issue, […] not that of the ordinary humans with whom they so signally fail to engage.” Odometers, of course, register only decimal fractions of miles, but a great many people are not able to convert ordinary to decimal fractions in a matter of seconds, and so signs like the one above are useless to them. Not to mention that other distances are sometimes shown as 500 or 1000 or 2000 feet!


interchangeHere we are on an eastbound street and are told that to take the southbound freeway we need to be in the right lane in order to make a right turn. Great! To take the northbound freeway, we go straight. But then what? If the interchange is a cloverleaf, we would need to turn right and therefore stay in the rightmost lane that goes under the overpass. If, on the other hand, it’s a diamond, we would need to turn left and therefore be in the leftmost lane. In most cases we don’t find this out until we are very close to the on-ramp. Note that there no markings on the roadway, only the overhead sign. And often (I have no picture to illustrate this now, but I’ll try to find one) the road is a curving one so that the lane that the sign appears to be over is not the one that it refers to.

Silly, niggling things, aren’t they? But they show a culture of not doing the work competently.

More in future posts.

What X-ists do

October 17, 2014

I spent most of my adult life as a professor of engineering science; I still have the title, with “emeritus” thrown in. My work involved primarily teaching, doing research in, and writing papers and books about the mechanics of solid bodies. Now most people know that mechanics is a branch of physics, usually the first subject matter that is taught in physics classes. But the kind of mechanics that I worked in — classical or Newtonian mechanics — stopped being of interest to physicists early in the 20th century, when relativity theory and quantum mechanics came into play. And so, in accord with the maxim “physics is what physicists do” (of unknown origin, though often attributed to various famous physicists), the work that I did was not physics. Applied physics, perhaps, but not just-plain physics.

Now, of course, most physicists do a great many things in their lives that non-physicists do as well. “What physicists to” has to be construed as “what physicists do when they are doing physics,” which is almost circular, or “what physicists do as physicists”: teach physics classes, perform experiments in physical laboratories,  publish papers in physics journals or present them at physics conferences.

I have often though of “X is what X-ists (or X-ians) do” (with the qualification I just discussed) as a kind of meme that can be applied not only to other sciences but to other fields of activity. For example, religion: one could say “Judaism is what Judaists do,” except that that the saying would have to apply to each of the several Judaisms ( in North America, for example, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform), and one would have to emphasis Judaists and not Jews (who may or may not be Judaists).

Similarly — and this is my main point — one could say that “Islam is what Islamists do.” I used to say “Islam is what Muslims do,” but there are many people who think of themselves as Muslims by cultural heritage but do not practice the tenets of Islam, and so the distinction between Muslims and Islamists becomes useful. But what practitioners of Islam as such do can be used to define Islam; not what a supposedly objective reading of the Qur’an or the Hadith might say, but what those who teach and preach Islam claim it says. And so, whatever political correctness might dictate, I am afraid that female genital mutilation, the execution of Christians on charges of blasphemy, and the various practices of Islamic State are Islam. The fact that IS’s propaganda readily finds recruits wherever there are Muslim communities is only one indication of many.

I have been meaning to write on this topic for a long time. What has spurred me this time is the currently ongoing debate on Islamophobia and “Islamorealism,” which seems to have split the left in the United States into acrimoniously opposing sides. I don’t think of myself as  -phobic in any way: I have no irrational fears that I know of. I do think of myself as a realist: I like to see things as they are. That puts me on the side of “Islamorealism,” I suppose, except that I have no sympathy with Pamela Geller and her ilk, who are the spearheads of the fear-mongering movement brandishing this banner. And, if Islamorealism is what Islamorealists do, then I am not an Islamorealist.

More yanking

September 23, 2014

I live in El Cerrito, California, and I often drive through the adjacent city of Richmond. One of the exits on Interstate 580, along the way to the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge, is Harbour Way. Yes, that’s Harbour, spelled the British way, not Harbor. It’s the name of a street, coined in that form for some reason or other, and the freeway sign reflects it faithfully.

It’s the same way with Centre (not Center) Street in Lower Manhattan, New York. In English, one does not change form or spelling of proper names. If a woman’s name is written Katherine or Kathryn, we don’t change it to Catherine (or vice versa), any more than we would change Antwan to Antoine (or vice versa).

But I am now reading the American edition of a novel by Tana French, titled Broken Harbor. The original title was, of course, Broken Harbour. It is not about a harbor that’s broken; it’s about a murder that took place in a locality that was once called Broken Harbour. The title is, in other words, a proper name, just like that of Tana French’s previous novel, Faithful Place (the name of a street). Why in the world would an American publisher (in this case Viking) change a place name in a novel that takes place in Ireland, not the United States?

I have written about this before, in connection with the Americanization of the texts of the novels of Ian Rankin, which I called yanking so that I could title the post “Yankin’ Rankin.” The process ranges from routine changes of spelling to significant word changes. The extreme was reached in the retitling of Fleshmarket Close by its American publisher (Little, Brown) as Fleshmarket Alley. Now, close is a Scottish word that means, more or less, alley. But Fleshmarket Close is, for God’s sake, the name of an actual alley in Edinburgh. (Tana French’s placenames are fictitious, not that it matters.) If an American tourist tried to find the place and asked someone for the location of Fleshmarket Alley, they might have a hard time getting the information.

As Elizabeth George has shown, it doesn’t have to be this way. She is American, and has gone through several American publishers (Bantam, HarperCollins, Dutton), but they all respect her chosen British usage and even spelling; the only things that marks her original editions as American is the punctuation (double rather single quotes, period before end quote, closed em dash rather than open en dash).

For myself, I prefer to read the original British editions, if I can get them, or else American ones that leave the text intact. Just as I prefer Chinese food cooked by Chinese for Chinese (something that El Cerrito has plenty of) rather than Chinese-American. There’s something about the flavor (or flavour)…

Marxist, chauvinist

August 19, 2014

There is a well-known quote attributed to Jean-Luc Godard: Je suis marxiste, tendance Groucho  (I am a Marxist of the Groucho wing). I have long thought that it was said by a character in one of his post-1968 films, but I have just found out that the film in which a character says it is not by Godard but by Claude Lelouch, L’aventure, c’est l’aventure (1972). It must have just seemed to people to be the kind of thing that Godard would say.

I had assumed that somebody, somewhere, might have coined a similar phrase: Je suis chauviniste, tendance Ingrid (I am a chauvinist of the Ingrid wing), that is, a fan of the beautiful French actress Ingrid Chauvin. But a Google search for the phrase came up empty. So I am hereby offering it to the world. And I don’t care to whom it will be attributed.


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