Saturday, January 09, 2016

Wordy Weekend

I stumbled over the word "fnord" when reading online the other day. I initially took it as a typographical error, but checked anyway.
Wikipedia: Fnord is a word used in newsgroup and hacker culture to indicate that someone is being ironic, humorous or surreal. Often placed at the end of a statement in brackets (fnord) to make the ironic purpose clear, it is a label that may be applied to any random or surreal sentence, coercive subtext, or anything jarringly out of context (intentionally or not).

So now I know.

Another look-up occurred when husband called to me "What's a pinniped?" He was in the midst of his breakfast-time read of our local newspaper. Wikipedia to the rescue again: Pinnipeds (from Latin pinna "fin" and pes, pedis "foot") commonly known as seals. Oooo-kay - but I couldn't help wondering why someone writing for a local newspaper in Oklahoma would be writing about seals, and further, why didn't they simply write "seals"?

Looking for a book to read while drying my hair I picked up a stray I didn't recognise from my bookshelves: Ella Minnow Pea. I still do not remember why I bought it, or from whence it came. It's a 2001 novel by Mark Dunn. The full title of the hardcover version is Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable, while the paperback version (mine) is titled Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters.

More look-ups!
A lipogram (from Ancient Greek leipográmmatos, "leaving out a letter") is a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting in writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is avoided — usually a common vowel, and frequently E, the most common letter in the English language. Larousse defines a lipogram as a "literary work in which one compels oneself strictly to exclude one or several letters of the alphabet."

Writing a lipogram may be a trivial task when avoiding uncommon letters like Z, J, Q, or X, but it is much more difficult to avoid common letters like E, T or A, as the author must omit many ordinary words. Grammatically meaningful and smooth-flowing lipograms can be difficult to compose. Identifying lipograms can also be problematic, as there is always the possibility that a given piece of writing in any language may be unintentionally lipogrammatic. For example, Poe's poem The Raven contains no Z, but there is no evidence that this was intentional.

I haven't read very far into the novel yet, and am not confident I shall stick with it.
From the book's back cover:
Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island's Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl's fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet.

From the little I've read, so far, I have Ella Minnow Pea categorised as a very, very twee lady's version of "1984", and suspect I shall come to the conclusion that it'd be preferable to re-read "1984".

Ella Minnow Pea is, I guess, an allegorical novel. At last, a word I do know well!
Simple Definition of allegory : a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life or for a political or historical situation.

All of which brings me nicely to this:

Flicking through my copy of "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes" (oddly named volume of selected poems by Billy Collins) I landed on The Death of Allegory. I like it! It reminded me of a couple of old posts of mine touching on the topic of allegory: Stops on a Mythical Journey from 2013; and The Rabbit Hole of a Wandering Mind from last year.

To save copy typing I've lifted it from Poetry Foundation website.

(I trust I am not going to be hauled over the coals copyright-wise - if I am breaking any law the item will be removed forthwith upon instruction to do so.)

The Death of Allegory
By Billy Collins

I am wondering what became of all those tall abstractions
that used to pose, robed and statuesque, in paintings
and parade about on the pages of the Renaissance
displaying their capital letters like license plates.

Truth cantering on a powerful horse,
Chastity, eyes downcast, fluttering with veils.
Each one was marble come to life, a thought in a coat,
Courtesy bowing with one hand always extended,

Villainy sharpening an instrument behind a wall,
Reason with her crown and Constancy alert behind a helm.
They are all retired now, consigned to a Florida for tropes.
Justice is there standing by an open refrigerator.

Valor lies in bed listening to the rain.
Even Death has nothing to do but mend his cloak and hood,
and all their props are locked away in a warehouse,
hourglasses, globes, blindfolds and shackles.

Even if you called them back, there are no places left
for them to go, no Garden of Mirth or Bower of Bliss.
The Valley of Forgiveness is lined with condominiums
and chain saws are howling in the Forest of Despair.

Here on the table near the window is a vase of peonies
and next to it black binoculars and a money clip,
exactly the kind of thing we now prefer,
objects that sit quietly on a line in lower case,

themselves and nothing more, a wheelbarrow,
an empty mailbox, a razor blade resting in a glass ashtray.
As for the others, the great ideas on horseback
and the long-haired virtues in embroidered gowns,

it looks as though they have traveled down
that road you see on the final page of storybooks,
the one that winds up a green hillside and disappears
into an unseen valley where everyone must be fast asleep.


mike said...

It's time for you to go on the Scrabble tournament circuit, Twilight! Knock 'em dead, girl. Use caution with "fnord", as I can't find it to be an officially sanctioned, dictionary inclusive, actual may not hold-up to a challenge. The "Urban Dictionary provides a number of definitions, one being a metasyntactic variable along the lines of bazola, ztesch, foo, corge, grault, flarp, blarg, and wibble [ ]. I'll be on the look-out for these words, too.

As for "LMNOP", it sounds like a fun read written by a logophile. I prefer to live in freedom and retain the ability to use full-on pangram sentences, should I choose.

Twilight said...

mike ~ sigh...look-up time again: metasyntactic.
Right - got it!
Well, that forage brought up another similar, though not exactly of the metasyntactic breed perhaps - I rather like this one:
Boobalang is a generic word that can stand in for any other noun in a sentence. It is commonly used to replace a word that has momentarily eluded one due to a failure of memory. It is, in many ways, a companion word to linkmy and serves the same purpose, to whit that of a metasyntactic variable.

Failure of memory - done that more than a few times - a name or clever word escapes me more often than they used to these days. I now have a "one-size fits all" remedy!

mike (again) said...

I'm going to challenge "boobalang" in this game of Scrabble, Twilight. I think you're bluffing. You lose a turn...LOL.

I did find a "person" named Boobalan Boobalang:

Urban Dictionary lists Clyde Framise as the creator of boobalong and Ching Me (April 13, 2011). Have you been corresponding with Clyde?

I thought "duh" and "uh" were stand-ins for forgotten words...sometimes "err" or "uhm".

mike (again) said...

"20 Weird English Words"

1. Erinaceous

Like a hedgehog

2. Lamprophony

Loudness and clarity of voice

3. Depone

To testify under oath

4. Finnimbrun

A trinket or knick-knack

5. floccinaucinihilipilification

Estimation that something is valueless. Proper pronunciation based on Latin roots: flock?-nows?-n?k?l?-p?l?-f?k-ation.

6. Inaniloquent

Pertaining to idle talk

7. Limerance

An attempt at a scientific study into the nature of romantic love.

8. Mesonoxian

Pertaining to midnight

9. Mungo

A dumpster diver – one who extracts valuable things from trash
[or reclaimed wool]

10. Nihilarian

A person who deals with things lacking importance (pronounce the ‘h’ like a ‘k’).

11. Nudiustertian

The day before yesterday

12. Phenakism

Deception or trickery

13. Pronk

A weak or foolish person

14. Pulveratricious

Covered with dust

15. Rastaquouere

A social climber

16. Scopperloit

Rude or rough play

17. Selcouth

Unfamiliar, rare, strange, marvelous, wonderful. For example: The List Universe is such a selcouth website!

18. Tyrotoxism

To be poisoned by cheese

19. Widdiful

Someone who deserves to be hanged

20. Zabernism

The abuse of military power or authority.

mike (again) said...

Happy New Moon...moments away...19* Capricorn! Did you and anyjazz indulge in a Powerball ticket? I me a pronk, but I couldn't resist a chance at 900 million dollars! Should there be no winner this evening, there will be so much excitement that the nation won't be able to focus on The Donald.

Bob said...

Mike, I think The Donald could use every word in your list in a single campaign speech. Maybe in a single sentence.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~

"Limerance" - I thought he was that guy who played piano rather well?

"Tyrotoxism" - Well - that's a word that's needed a lot in the USA - due to the kind of yukky synthetic cheeses they come up with here! Dang!! ;-)

Powerball? Never heard of it. Must be a pronkish Texas thing?

Happy New Moon to you too!


Bob - Hi there!

mike (again) said...

I happened on the word "noughties" on an astro-site last week:

Definition of noughties in English:
plural noun
chiefly British
The decade from 2000 to 2009: [as modifier]: late-nineties/early-noughties girl groups

You might be very familiar with this word, Twilight, as it has a British origin, and it was a UK website that I encountered the word.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Yes, I'd come across that one myself while reading around. I don't recall whether it was on a British site, but that's quite likely. I expect some Brit journalist coined it.

From Truthdig website yesterday I watched an hour long video of a British comedian & writer's rundown of 2015 - mainly from the British point of view, but US is mentioned sometimes, particularly in the later section. The narrator, Charlie Brooker is, by the way, the writer of a favourite of yours - "Black Mirror" (now on Netflix).
I got many chortles and a few LOLs from it.

"The 2015 Wipe"

mike (again) said...

Astrology the way it looks from Earth vs the way it really is:

mike (again) said...

A surprisingly supportive essay about Bernie from Bloomberg Business:

"Why Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Want Your Vote
On the road with a man so angry he scares Democrats, too."

mike (again) said...

"Men Who Bern" calendar is a link in the above Bloomberg article. You only have until January 15th to place your order!

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Thanks for the link - that's a l-o-n-g piece, I skimmed through it but will certainly read it properly tomorrow. Saw the name of James Inhofe - even he likes Bernie - on some level (dang!!)

The calendar - yikes! Not for me - I sit opposite our illustrated calendar for meals and that'd give me indigestion for sure! ;-)

Twilight said...

mike ~ Have now read the full article by Joel Stein - thanks again - what a great piece!