Althouse | category: language



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"Girls aren’t fearless. Girls are terrified. And their activism isn’t naive. It’s not 'innocent.' It’s the reasoned result of the stomach-churning awareness..."

"... that girls can’t count on someone else to save them.... Of course, it’s not just girls whose fear spurs them to action. Young male activists have no less reason to feel distress over intertwined global crises. And nonbinary organizers have been on the forefront of critical social movements. But the undaunted girl — chin up, hands on hips — remains a quite literal and ill-advised avatar for progress."

Is there a myth of the "fearless girl"? There's that fearless-girl statue that stares down that Wall Street bull statue.

By the way, "fearless" doesn't mean not feeling any fear on the inside. It means — according to the OED — "Unaffected by fear; bold, intrepid" or "Showing no sign of fear."

"Hark! 'tis an elfin-storm from faery land, 
       Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed: 
       Arise—arise! the morning is at hand;— 
       The bloated wassaillers will never heed:— 
       Let us away, my love, with happy speed; 
       There are no ears to hear, or eyes to see,— 
       Drown'd all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead: 
       Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be, 
For o'er the southern moors I have a home for thee." 

"Clay is the opposite of the cellphone. This stuff is real, takes up space, it’s dirty. There’s just this physicality..."

"... that is very different from what we experience six or eight hours a day sitting in front of a computer."

What are you doing these days to get your fair share of physicality"?

I know it's not very physicalistic of me, but I looked up "physicality" in the OED. The relevant meaning is #3: "The awareness of the body or of bodily sensation; a bodily function or experience." And: "the quality of being physically demanding; physical intensity; strong physical presence or appeal." Here are the quotes to orient you:
1844    Southern Literary Messenger 10 576/1   It is a curious circumstance that in his ‘Whims and Oddities’ of by gone years, the majority of them by far turned upon some painful physicality.
1849    J. S. Mill Lett. (1910) I. 143   Take again all the delicacies respecting bodily physicalities which savages have not a vestige of.
1930    E. Sitwell Coll. Poems 126   This bestial consciousness that is desire Is the hot muscles' vast fluidity, Muscular life, not physicality.
1972    C. L. Cooper in W. King Black Short Story Anthol. 218   The trunk of her, he saw self~consciously, with a tiny tickle of physicality, was full to bursting with youth under the plain dress.
1991    Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 27 Dec. 29/4   Nolte tends to think his career comes from his ‘physicality’ and that certainly accounts for his watchability, popularity and star-power.
1994    Canal & Riverboat Feb. 25/1   Meanwhile I was operating all the locks and loving the sheer physicality of the work.
I was interested in the way I didn't get a spellcheck red dotted line under "physicalistic," which I felt I was just making up. In fact, it's a word, though it's not — as I'd intended — an adjective based on "physicality." It's an adjective based on "physicalism," which is "The theory that all reality is explicable in terms of physical properties and laws."

Me, reading out loud: "Clay is the opposite of the cellphone."

Meade: "No, it isn't. They both have the essential ingredient: sand."

(Meade did a 3-year apprenticeship at a traditional pottery in North Carolina in the late 1970s.)

AND: Here's a photo of Meade in his traditional pottery days (posted before, here):


"Dr. Ash’s old-world affect tilts and curdles, his mien shifting from twinkly 'Mad Men' gentility to something cooler and more menacing."

I'm slogging through a review of a book I would never read: "A Cabin in the Woods, Intermittent Wi-Fi and a Dead Landline/In Megan Abbott’s new novel, 'Beware the Woman,' a romantic dramedy morphs into horror" (NYT).

I'm only reading this review because Meade texted me the link. My response:


I'm only blogging this because, having ended up in "Jabberwocky," I took the occasion to check my memory — do I still have it memorized? — and wanted to ask those of you have memorized it, if you have found that there is one word that is the stubborn last holdout. For me, the word is "whiffling." If you're not like me, and it's not "whiffling," then I bet it's "uffish." 

But if you're ever trapped in a cabin in the woods and a monstrous man is trying to kill you, look around — try to find something vorpal.

What's the difference between hiking and walking?

I'm trying to read "Hiking Has All the Benefits of Walking and More. Here’s How to Get Started. Exploring the great outdoors offers a host of mental and physical benefits. But there are a few things you need to know first" (NYT).

Hiking offers all the cardiovascular benefits of walking, but the uneven terrain does more to strengthen the leg and core muscles, which in turn boosts balance and stability, said Alicia Filley, a physical therapist outside Houston who helps train clients for outdoor excursions. It also generally burns more calories than walking.

I'm guessing there's no clear line between a walk and a hike, and it's more of a state of mind. Or does it all come down to whether you wear a backpack?

Every hiker should bring the 10 essentials, which include food and drink, first aid supplies, a map and compass and rain gear — all inside a supportive backpack with thick shoulder straps and a waist belt.

I thought I went hiking just about every day, but if it's all about the backpack, I never go hiking.

I liked this comment over there from Kjartan in Oslo:

I was born and raised in Norway, but have lived in Poland, the Netherlands and Tanzania. In these three countries, I was surprised that most people did not go on trips. Throughout my upbringing in Norway, it was a tradition on Sundays to pack a small lunch, dress appropriately (wool underwear in winter, hiking boots all year round), put on your rucksack and go for a walk, preferably in the mountains, but at least in nature. "Out for a walk, never sad", it said, and "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes". In retrospect, I have thought about how good this tradition has been. We moved at least one day a week. We experienced nature and knew the difference between birch, oak and willow. We learned to identify hare tracks in the snow. And we heard a difference between the most common birds. And how nice it was! When we arrived at our destination, we sat down and ate slices of bread with salami, goat's cheese and eggs, and we drank blackcurrant juice or coffee. A little chocolate to raise the blood sugar was also included. And when we got home this delicious tired feeling in the body that guaranteed a good night's sleep.

My favorite phrases: "most people did not go on trips" and "we drank blackcurrant juice."

ADDED: Reading the OED, I'm going to say that all hikes are walks but not all walks are hikes. What distinguishes the hike from a non-hike walk is the energy: It's laborious or vigorous. It's like the way all strolls are walks but not all walks are strolls. There's a continuum of walking, with hiking at one end and strolling at the other. 

And "hike" is a pretty recent word, both as a noun and as a verb. It's of "obscure origin" and began as U.S. dialect, first noted in the mid-19th century, when it was spelled "heik": "I ascended the Grand Pyramid, Lucretia got half-way..and Susie didn't try. It is a fearful heik."

"Hike" meaning an increase — e.g., a wage hike — wasn't observed until the 1930s. 

The expression "take a hike" was first observed in writing in the NYT in 1944: "Anybody who doesn't believe it can take a hike." And I like this quote from Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" (1970): "I remember once leaning over the dugout trying to tell Al Dark how great he was..when he looked over at me and said, 'Take a hike, son. Take a hike.'"

"My life goes on... I will go on living in this tiny cabin. But one thing has changed. I am going to dedicate myself to somehow figuring out a way for the women..."

"... who don’t have my platform to hold men accountable. Robbie and I are going to put our heads together. That’s how my life is going to change. I’m a crone. I’m an elderly woman on a mountaintop. But I think we’ve got a few good years left to figure out a way to end the culture of sexual violence. That’s what I want to do."

We're told:
Carroll is seventy-nine. She just adopted a new dog, a Great Pyrenees. “She’s right here, Miss Havisham, Sham for short,” she said, gesturing offscreen.

"Robbie" is the lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, who's quoted saying she considered seeking a gag order when Trump, having lost in the defamation case continued to repeat the defamation. But she didn't want the "First Amendment concerns," and she's seeking additional punitive damages instead.

The dog is named Miss Havisham — that is, the character in "Great Expectations" who devotes herself extravagantly to her disappointment in men. At trial, there was an unsuccessful attempt to introduce evidence that she'd once named a dog/cat "Vagina." 

From the Wikipedia article on Miss Haversham: "The condition of the 'Miss Havisham effect' has been coined by scientists to describe a person who suffers a painful longing for lost love, which can become a physically addictive pleasure by activation of reward and pleasure centres in the brain, which have been identified to regulate addictive behaviour – regions commonly known to be responsible for craving and drug, alcohol and gambling addiction."

Calling oneself "a crone" is an old feminist trope. It was big in 1979, when Mary Daly published "Gyn/Ecology," discussed contemporaneously by Rita Mae Brown in The Washington Post in "The Croning of a Woman":

The opening section of the book, "Processions," pretends to restructure language by reclaiming negative terms such as "hag," "crone," and "harpy," and giving them positive meaning. Really, though, it is an elaborate defense to ward off criticism. To my mind, Mary Daly doesn't need to justify what she's doing; she need only write clearly what she thinks.

One thing she thinks is that men are the enemy. True women, or, as she, "wrenching back some wordpower," refers to them -- Hags, Crones, Harpies, Furies, Spinsters -- represent life. Men are death. In this system of thought "the basic Sin of Phallocracy is deception -- the destruction of process." While this, like many of her other neologisms, is not adequately explained, one assumes she means the blurring of connections between events. 
Nonetheless, Daly, in her righteous anger at the total rape of womankind, still does not address the question of why so many women comply in their own "living-death." By way of explanation, she writes "The Myth Masters [that is, men] are able to penetrate their victims' minds by seeing to it that their deceptive myths are acted out over and over again in performances that draw the participants into emotional complicity."...
According to Daly, if we can only find our "True Crone Selves" we can refuse to be destroyed. And if we can break away from male rituals and wars we will hear "the healing harmony of Hags, the cacophony of Crones."...

DeSantis uses Warren G. Harding's word, "normalcy": "We must return normalcy to our communities."

A couple hours ago, I put up a post that began to go through the transcript of yesterday's DeSantis event. I casually noted 2 things that called to mind former Presidents: 1. The Reaganesque "well," and 2. JFK's favorite word "vigor."

Getting back to the transcript just now, the next sentence I read is "We must return normalcy to our communities."

Normalcy! I can see wanting to resonate with Reagan and JFK — so presidential! — but Warren G. Harding? Here you have one of the famously bad Presidents, and the word is absolutely associated with Harding.

Harding said: "America's present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration."

From the "Back to Normalcy" chapter of the 1931 classic "Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s":
[Harding's] liabilities were not at first so apparent, yet they were disastrously real. Beyond the limited scope of his political experience he was “almost unbelievably ill-informed,” as William Allen White put it. His mind was vague and fuzzy. Its quality was revealed in the clogged style of his public addresses, in his choice of turgid and maladroit language (“non-involvement” in European affairs, “adhesion” to a treaty), and in his frequent attacks of suffix trouble (“normalcy” for normality, “betrothment” for betrothal). It was revealed even more clearly in his helplessness when confronted by questions of policy to which mere good nature could not find the answer. White tells of Harding’s coming into the office of one of his secretaries after a day of listening to his advisers wrangling over a tax problem, and crying out: “John, I can’t make a damn thing out of this tax problem. I listen to one side and they seem right, and then—God!—I talk to the other side and they seem just as right, and here I am where I started. I know somewhere there is a book that will give me the truth, but, hell, I couldn’t read the book. I know somewhere there is an economist who knows the truth, but I don’t know where to find him and haven’t the sense to know him and trust him when I find him. God! what a job!” His inability to discover for himself the essential facts of a problem and to think it through made him utterly dependent upon subordinates and friends whose mental processes were sharper than his own.

In the transcript, DeSantis only said "normalcy" once — and never "normality." He also said "normal" twice: 

If there’s no accountability over any individual or entity of course they’re going to behave differently than if you have normal accountability....

My grandfather worked in the steel mill in western Pennsylvania. I just know instinctively what normal people think about all this stuff. I have a good sense of when the legacy media and the left are outside of where the average American is....

I myself am hungry for normality, but I don't trust people who keep saying "normal." I always think of Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty in "Lolita" — "It's great to see a normal face, 'cause I'm a normal guy. Be great for two normal guys to get together and talk about world events, in a normal way...."

For a longer version of that quote, read my post from June 2010, "Barack spent so much time by himself that it was like he was raised by wolves." The post title is a quote from Michelle Obama. There was also this quote from Maureen Dowd: 

Of the many exciting things about Barack Obama’s election, one was the anticipation of a bracing dose of normality in the White House.

That was back when the abnormality was George W. Bush. The idea of a President as weird as Donald Trump was nowhere in sight. It's hard even to remember what was supposedly so un-normal about Bush. Remember when his brother Jeb stood on the debate stage next to Trump and pathetically relied on the assumption that we'd have to pick him over that unacceptably weird guy Trump? It didn't work, though it worked when Joe Biden stood on the debate stage next to Trump and argued, essentially, you'll have to take me over Trump because I'm the only thing here that approaches normality? That did work though.

Are we just alternating between weird and normal — perceptions of weird and normal? If so, then 2024 is Trump's turn again.  

"I quirled an egg into my instant noodles and it turned gray."

Says someone at Reddit (with a photo of the gray noodle broth), and the discussion is less about why the egg turned things gray than about that unusual verb: quirl.

The OED says the word is a regionalism of the American south that somehow developed out of "curl" and "coil." I would think "twirl" and "swirl" and "whirl" also played a part. And why not "squirrel"? What's up with "-irl"? Why does it suggest a spiraling movement? There's also "furl" and "circle."

Of course, the most important "-irl" word is "girl." Did you know there is a verb "to girl" in Scottish English? It means "To thrill or tingle, esp. with fear or in reaction to a harsh noise."

But back to "quirl." Here are some of the OED's examples:

1823 Sat. Evening Post (Philadelphia) 4 Jan. 1/5 More than once I have seen an infant nearly suffocated by a cat quirling upon the face of the little sufferer....

1910 Anaconda (Montana) Standard 18 Dec. ii. 5/3 Querling his moustache to show that our interview was deceased....

1969 in J. A. Burrison Storytellers: Folktales & Legends from South (1989) iii. 73/1 It looked like a dog, only its body was as long as a rail and its tail was querled over its back and it had a head on it like a bulldog.

"His films are marmoreal, solid to the point of opacity, with more or less no offscreen aura; his images have a frame around them—one that is, in effect, black, like a funeral portrait."

Marmoreal? It means "Resembling marble or a marble statue; cold (also smooth, white, etc.) like marble" (OED).
1798    W. S. Landor Gebir in  Wks. (1846) II. 494   Looking recumbent how Love's column rose Marmoreal.
1817    P. B. Shelley Laon & Cythna  i. xlix. 25   Paving with fire the sky and the marmoreal floods.
1869    R. Browning Ring & Bk. III.  ix. 178   Marmoreal neck and bosom uberous....
1932    J. Buchan Gap in Curtain iv. 191   Miss Cortal was of the marmoreal blonde type.
1964    ‘N. Blake’ Sad Variety iii. 45   Her face looked marmoreal now, petrified in grief.
Uberous?! I rarely run across 2 words I don't know in such close succession. Marmoreal and then uberous. Browning wasn't presaging the car-ride app Uber. "Uberous" means "Supplying milk or nourishment in abundance. Said (a) of animals, etc., or (b) of the breasts" (OED).

Here's the full sentence — from this poem — containing the phrase "Marmoreal neck and bosom uberous":
Each feminine delight of florid lip,
Eyes brimming o'er and brow bowed down with love,
Marmoreal neck and bosom uberous,-
Glad on the paper in a trice they go
To help his notion of the Mother-Maid:
Methinks I see it, chalk a little stumped! 
ADDED: Imagine yourself a student tasked with understanding that sentence. Imagine yourself a teacher judging the work of a student who will have gotten the answer from ChatGPT in a trice:

What's the difference between encouraging someone and egging him on?

I'm trying to read "Scoop: How Trump's team egged him on during CNN town hall" by Mike Allen (Axios).

The "scoop" is this:

Backstage during the first commercial break, Axios has learned, Trump adviser Jason Miller — as if psyching up a boxer in his corner or egging on a bully — showed Trump moments-old tweets from Democrats blasting CNN and saying Trump was winning.

Trump saw that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had tweeted: "CNN should be ashamed of themselves. They have lost total control of this 'town hall' to again be manipulated into platforming election disinformation, defenses of Jan 6th, and a public attack on a sexual abuse victim. The audience is cheering him on and laughing at the host."

And he saw that Andrew Yang had tweeted: "This #CNNTownhall is shaping up to be a clear win for Trump, certainly in the Republican field and probably overall."

So, that must have been encouraging for Trump. I'm just blogging because I think if Biden had been doing an equally strong town hall and had received the same kind of encouragement, it wouldn't be called "egging on." Let's talk about the concept of "egging on." It makes me think of Melania Trump's reaction to the Access Hollywood tape back in October 2016: "boy talk, and he was led on – like, egged on – from the host to say dirty and bad stuff."

The Merriam-Webster definition of "egg on" is "to urge or encourage (someone) to do something that is usually foolish or dangerous." So it's the end that makes the difference between encouraging and egging on. In the Axios view, therefore, Miller wasn't telling Trump to keep up the good work. He was telling Trump to keep up the bad work. 

Why does this have anything to do with eggs?, you may wonder. Surprising answer: It doesn't! The OED tells us it's derived from the Old Norse word "eggja," which means "edge." We're edging someone on. This meaning goes back to the 1500s:

1586    W. Warner Albions Eng.  iv. xx. 86   The Neatresse longing for the rest, did egge him on to tell How faire she was....
1691    A. Wood Athenæ Oxonienses II. 328   Mathew Hazard [was] a main Incendiary in the Rebellion, violently eggedon by his wife....
1852    W. M. Thackeray Henry Esmond II. x. 171   Schemers and flatterers would egg him on.

Biden on Ketanji Brown Jackson: "And, by the way, she’s brighter than the rest. (Laughter.) She is one bright woman."

Isn't that a microagression?

I'm reading "Remarks by President Biden at the Howard University Class of 2023 Commencement Address."

It's my subjective experience — disagree with me if you want — that "bright" is a patronizing word. It's used for children, and when it's used on an adult, it's looking down on the person as if they are something like a child. It expresses vague surprise that the person stands out and can do reasonably difficult tasks, but it sets them apart as not able to do the most sophisticated things that the speaker imagines himself to be doing. Older men in superior positions have said it through the years about younger associates and, especially, women. And I think it's what a racist would say about a capable black person.

Here's the context at the speech (in which Biden is openly pleading for black people to vote for him):

With your voices and votes, I was able to fill my commitment to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court of the United States of America. (Applause.) And, by the way, she’s brighter than the rest. (Laughter.) She is one bright woman.

Because of you, more Black women have been appointed to the federal appellate courts under — than under every other President in American history combined. (Applause.)

And, by the way, I mean it. I mean it. Because of you. Because of you. You turned out. You spoke up. You knew. You showed up, and the votes counted. And you made people say, “Whoa, wait a minute. What price will I pay if I don’t do the following?”

What's going on in that last part: "you made people say, 'Whoa, wait a minute. What price will I pay if I don’t do the following?'" What does "do the following" mean?

I think he's trying to say that politicians know they need the black vote, so if black people do vote in large numbers, they will cause politicians, going forward, to ask what they need to do to get the black vote. 

But "the following" is an awkward way to put it. Literally, it seems to mean that would-be leaders need to be followers. Presumably, the "price" they pay for not "doing the following" is that they will lose, because the votes of black people make the difference.

"Dr. Ash’s old-world affect tilts and curdles, his mien shifting from twinkly 'Mad Men' gentility to something cooler and more menacing.""My life goes on... I will go on living in this tiny cabin. But one thing has changed. I am going to dedicate myself to somehow figuring out a way for the women...""His films are marmoreal, solid to the point of opacity, with more or less no offscreen aura; his images have a frame around them—one that is, in effect, black, like a funeral portrait."

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