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a blog by Ann Althouse

"'El Polaco' is the second of Coetzee’s novels to appear in Spanish first, but he began privileging translations much earlier..."

"... in his career: in the past twenty years, he’s seen to it that many of his books be made available in Dutch before any other language. Fêted in Amsterdam in 2010, Coetzee expressed appreciation at being 'read in a language in which I feel myself to be a somewhat more humorous writer than in the original English.' 'Humorous' is far less commonly applied to his writing than adjectives like 'cold,' 'austere,' 'rigorous,' 'spare'; Martin Amis famously described his style as 'predicated on transmitting absolutely no pleasure.' But to his enthusiasts Coetzee transmits a great deal of pleasure—in his outwardly severe, circumscribed manner—and exhibits an abiding if vanishingly subtle sense of humor...."

Writes Colin Marshall in "J. M. Coetzee’s War Against Global English/What lies behind the celebrated South African writer’s decision to publish his latest novel in Spanish before making it available in English?" (The New Yorker).

But it's not all about humor. In fact, it seems more like that predication on absolutely no pleasure that Amis talked about: 

"'I do not like the way in which English is taking over the world,' [Coetzee said]... 'I do not like the way in which it crushes the minor languages that it finds in its path. I don’t like its universalist pretensions, by which I mean its uninterrogated belief that the world is as it seems to be in the mirror of the English language. I don’t like the arrogance that this situation breeds in its native speakers. Therefore, I do what little I can to resist the hegemony of the English language.'"

"After opening the choice of Word of the Year up to English speakers for the first time in its history, over the last two weeks more than 300,000 people cast their vote.... And the winner is... Goblin mode."

"‘Goblin mode’ – a slang term, often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode’ – is ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.’ Although first seen on Twitter in 2009, goblin mode went viral on social media in February 2022, quickly making its way into newspapers and magazines after being tweeted in a mocked-up headline. The term then rose in popularity over the months following as Covid lockdown restrictions eased in many countries and people ventured out of their homes more regularly. Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life’, or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media...."

So says Oxford Languages (the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary).

Sample quote from The Guardian: “Goblin mode is like when you wake up at 2am and shuffle into the kitchen wearing nothing but a long t-shirt to make a weird snack, like melted cheese on saltines.” 

Here's an Axios article from last April: "Musk's 'goblin mode' is here to stay":

At the end of his week-long Twitter adventure — buying 9% of the company's stock, taking a seat on its board and then abandoning it — Elon Musk posted a meme reading: "In all fairness, your honor, my client was in goblin mode." Then he deleted it.
Goblin mode apparently means "I no longer care about what anyone thinks about how I look or what I say."
Don't mind me, Musk seemed to be saying. I've just been putting you on....

Ha ha. That was back in April, remember.

Musk may just be one crazy-rich guy who loves to play the trickster-troll, but the manic style of corporate disruption he is pioneering is likely to be with the tech industry for a long time....
[Musk's] idea of activist investing involves roasting the company's management in public (ideally, on their own social media platform) while frequently changing his own course.This method's strength is that it attracts attention, it hooks people on an unpredictable narrative, and it makes Musk himself look (to fans, at least) like a renegade rule-breaker.

I don't know what that has in common with  melted cheese on saltines and an oversized T-shirt. Maybe the term is evolving differently in the United States.

The bottom line: No one knows what Musk will do next, probably not even Musk himself. He could still try for a hostile takeover of Twitter, or he could walk away....

He could shuffle into the kitchen at 2 a.m. and melt cheese on saltines. Who knows?! 

ADDED: The NYT article about the Word of the Year does not mention Musk (even though there are only 2 other articles in the NYT archive using "goblin mode" and they are both about Musk). But there are a few interesting things.

First, about the vote, which pitched the little-known "goblin mode" against “#IStandWith” and “metaverse”:

In a passionate appeal, the website PC Gamer urged people to “put aside our petty differences and vote for ‘goblin mode,’” if only to thwart the milquetoast-y “#IStandWith” and the downright evil “metaverse.”

“Go vote for taking care of yourself and having joy in rejection of society’s stifling norms,” the website urged. Because “the metaverse that CEOs want to sell you is awful.”

The internet obeyed, delivering a whopping 93 percent of the more than 340,000 votes cast to “goblin mode.” “Metaverse” was the runner-up, with 4 percent.

Second, about how "goblin mode" caught on this year:

[I]t went viral last spring, thanks to a satirical tweet featuring a fake news headline that quoted the actress Julia Fox saying that she and Kanye West broke up because he didn’t like it when she “went goblin mode.” (Fox later posted a denial on Instagram Stories, saying: “Just for the record, I have never used the phrase ‘goblin mode.’”)

Third, about other dictionaries' Word of the Year (not chosen by a vote):

This year, Merriam-Webster chose “gaslighting” (based on a 1,740 percent surge in look-ups on its website). Cambridge Dictionaries went with “homer,” which was among the many five-letter words that surged this year thanks to Wordle. (On May 5, when “homer” was the winning word, look-ups — many presumably by non-Americans — spiked to 65,000.)

Homer?! That's crazy. Maybe it got looked up by people who don't know baseball and think it's just a proper name and therefore mistakenly used by Wordle.

Fourth, the idea that "metaverse" was a good word before it became a Facebook brand:

[T]he prefix “meta” has already gone from being a highbrow philosophical word to something corporate and, for many, suspect. “Is the concept of people sitting around in goggles going to pollute the concept of ironic self-referentiality?” [asked Katherine Connor Martin, product director at Oxford Languages].

She cited the usage expert Bryan Garner’s concept of “skunked words” — words that have become unusable, because of disputed meanings or problematic associations. “We wondered if that would happen to the verb ‘trump,’” she said. “But it didn’t.”

"Attempts to find a gender-inclusive pronoun equivalent to 'they/them' are also complicated by the fact that the German equivalent to 'they' ('sie') sounds identical to..."

"... the formal form of 'you' ('Sie') and the word for 'she' ('sie'). Carolin Müller-Spitzer, a professor of linguistics the Leibniz Institute for the German Language, in Mannheim, said that adapting existing pronouns 'doesn’t work in German, so we need to create something new. And creating a new pronoun is difficult.' Müller-Spitzer added that since the end of the Third Reich, debates about inclusive language in Germany often become a forum for people to express views about gender or race."

From "Bending Gender’s Rules, in Life and in German Grammar/The victory of Kim de l’Horizon, a nonbinary writer, in a top literary prize stirred a debate about how the German language can accommodate people who don’t identify as male or female" (NYT).

The article drops that reference to the Third Reich then goes back to discussing this one writer, Kim de l'Horizon. I would really like some elaboration of the "difficult" problem!

In that context, this quote from de l'Horizon is unsettling: "Life is messy, it’s sweaty, it’s dirty, it’s playful and fun. And that’s what this whole process should be."

"It’s called lenticular fabric. It’s based on queer semiotics, specifically around cruising in bathrooms. The silhouette is modeled after a toilet seat."

Said Brandon Chu — who was wearing a very strange outfit — quoted in "What Julia Fox and Hillary Clinton Wore to Parties Last Week/Top outfits from the parties for Thierry Mugler, Air Mail, Pioneer Works and the National Portrait Gallery" (NYT).

Lots of wild photos at the link. Why Hillary Clinton is mixed in, I don't know... other than it's what tipped me into clicking. Chu and Clinton were not at the same party. Chu was at the Thierry Mugler party, and Clinton — who posed snuggling up to Nancy Pelosi — was at the National Portrait Gallery party. Hillary's got on a very roomy caftan. As for Chu's "lenticular" fabric, you don't really need to know. His quote stands on its own. Just a silly quote that's even sillier with Hillary on the same page.

"Lenticular" means "Having the form of a lens or of a lentil." Duckweed and red blood cells are lenticular. Is a toilet seat lenticular? Maybe he meant the toilet lid. Who knows? Who needs to know?

IN THE COMMENTS: Rabel says (correctly, I think):

I believe Mr. Chu may have been misquoted.

The "silhouette" refers to the stick figure characters. They are modeled on bathroom/toilet door male/female indicators, not toilet seats.

The lenticular fabric is, as noted above, a reflective material which reveals multiple images when viewed from different angles.

If you look closely at the photo you'll see that many of the figures are blurred as they are in mid-change when the photo was snapped.

Mr. Chu should demand a correction. This is important!

I read Chu's statement as  absurd, but with Rabel's interpretation, it makes perfect sense. A detail of the photo at the Times:

"Some Latino voters say the Republican Party supports their hopes for economic advancement."

"That is the case for Luiz Oliveira, 63, an immigrant from Brazil who owns three coffee shops in the Las Vegas area. 'I came here with a dream to live the American dream, and many other immigrants have the same dream,' he said. He said he is wary of Democratic policies that seem too much like socialism. 'Socialism will kill my dream, kill my business,' he said. The Journal poll, which included a large sample of Latino voters, found that views within that group differed by education level. Latino voters with a four-year college degree substantially favored a Democratic candidate over a Republican—61% to 32%—whereas Republicans led or were at parity among those with lower levels of formal education.... 'Black working-class and Hispanic working-class people have a lot more in common with white working-class people than many people have been willing to believe,' said Ruy Teixeira, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute who writes often on the subject." 

From "GOP Gaining Support Among Black and Latino Voters, WSJ Poll Finds/Republicans appear to be in a better position with both groups heading into the midterms than they were in 2020 or 2018" (Wall Street Journal).

For more from Ruy Teixeira, here's "Hispanic Voters on the Eve of the 2022 Election/Hispanic Voters Are Normie Voters and Normie Voters Aren’t Happy." I was going to blog that a few days ago, but I got so sidetracked into the use of the term "normie"! He writes:

In short, they are normie voters. And like other normie voters, if they feel Democrats are falling short on the things normie voters care about, they are more than willing to punish the party they hold responsible.

I know the word. It's not difficult, but it seems disparaging — both to the "normies" and to the "non-normies." It does get your attention though. In my case, a word that sticks out gets way too much of my attention, and I was rooting around in the OED. It's defined as "colloquial (originally U.S.)/A conventional or ordinary person, typically as contrasted with members of a specified group or subculture; spec. an able-bodied person as contrasted with disabled people."

And the first published use of the word is in a 1950 article in The Atlantic by Al Capp. Al Capp! This is an American pop culture hero I've followed since childhood. I had to read the story "Young Van Schuyler's Greatest Romance," an account of Capp's own life:

To the Simple — that is, to adults — there are two kinds of kids: Normal Kids or “Normies”— that is, kids with the normal number of legs, arms, eyes, or pounds — and “Poor Kids” — kids with something terribly wrong with them, some instantly recognizable and terrible handicap that makes it impossible for Normies to associate with them as fellow beings, like being stone-blind or completely paralyzed or racially ridiculous.

But to Kids there is a third kind of kid: those “Other” kids who have handicaps that aren’t quite shocking or pitiful enough to prevent them utterly from being considered as fellow beings by the Normies, but whose handicaps make this consideration a tiresome and unwelcome effort; handicaps that don’t quite take them out of the cheery and untroubled Normie world, but keep them hovering uncertainly around the fringes of it things like having only one leg, or being grotesquely fat, or being racially peculiar.

The Normies are the lucky and blessed, because while there doesn’t have to be anything particularly right about them, there isn’t anything particularly wrong. The Poor Kids aren’t really so badly off either, because their handicaps are so spectacular that, long since, they have given up any hope of ever being admitted to the world of Normies, and their own special world is made pretty comfortable for them by the special treatment given ’em by everyone. It’s the Others that have the bad time; for the things that are wrong with them are not wrong enough to destroy all hope of ever being admitted into the world of the Normies — just wrong enough to make Normies uncomfortable when they are around. Not that the Normies aren’t darned nice to the Others. They are extra polite to ‘em; they are extra careful to avoid any subject remotely related to the [thing] that makes the Other not quite a Normie; and they are always in an extra hurry to get away from them to the untroubled company of other Normies.

And so while Bootsie and I were both Other kinds of kids, only I knew that we both were. She was looking at me as though I were a Normie. And so I behaved as no Normie ever behaves, except with another Normie. I treated her like a girl....

What made Capp an "Other" was the loss of a leg. From Wikipedia:  

In August 1919, at the age of nine, Capp was run down by a trolley car and had his left leg amputated above the knee. According to his father Otto's unpublished autobiography, young Capp was not prepared for the amputation beforehand; having been in a coma for days, he suddenly awoke to discover that his leg had been removed. He was eventually given a prosthetic leg, but only learned to use it by adopting a slow way of walking which became increasingly painful as he grew older. The childhood tragedy of losing a leg likely helped shape Capp's cynical worldview, which was darker and more sardonic than that of the average newspaper cartoonist. "I was indignant as hell about that leg", he revealed in a November 1950 interview....

"King Charles and Queen Camilla... occupy three bedrooms: one shared room and an individual private boudoir each."

"The arrangement has been hailed as a recipe for marital harmony: no recriminations about toast crumbs on the duvet or arguments over whether to invite the Jack Russell terriers aboard, and plenty of space to starfish. And it turns out that King Charles is a bedroom trendsetter. The latest YouGov sleep study reveals that one in five couples have switched to separate beds (or opted for sleep divorce, as it’s cheerily known), with women (41 per cent) more likely than men (33 per cent) to say they sleep better alone...."

From "Are you ‘sleep divorced’? Here’s why single beds are back" (London Times).

What, exactly, is a boudoir? I get it that there are 3 bedrooms, and like the idea of 3 connected rooms, which could work very well in a house to accommodate the varied sleep patterns of a married couple and also be usable as guest bedrooms, but what makes an extra bedroom into a "boudoir." That sounds exciting, but why?

I see — in the OED — that the etymology is "< French boudoir lit. ‘a place to sulk in’, < bouder to pout, sulk." Is pouting exciting? Not really, but a room designed for pouting is hilarious. Were women accused of pouting when they just wanted to be alone? Was the word (and the room) used to get distance from a family member who was depressed?

Anyway... a boudoir is "A small elegantly-furnished room, where a lady may retire to be alone, or to receive her intimate friends. Formerly sometimes applied to a man's private apartment."

The OED has a quote from the diary of the second United States President, John Adams: "In what he calls his Boudoir, a little room between his Library and Drawing Room."

Here's the whole quote — in case you wonder who "he" was. It's incredibly boring (seriously... do not read what follows... or do read it, out loud, to someone else, after you've led them to think you're about to read something delightful):

I should not omit Alderman Bridgens Nuns, and Verses. About 30 Years ago Mr. Bridgen in the Austrian Netherlands purchased a compleat Collection of the Portraits of all the orders of Nuns, in small duodecimo Prints. These he lately sent as a Present to the Hide, and Mr. Hollis has placed them in what he calls his Boudoir, a little room between his Library and Drawing Room. Mr. Bridgen carried down with him a Copy of Verses of his own Composition, to be hung up with them. The Idea is that banished from Germany by the Emperor they were taking an Asylum at the Hide, in sight of the Druid, the Portico of Athens and the verable [sic] Remains of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Carthaginian Antiquities.

"A bill to permanently 'spring forward' has been stalled in Congress for more than seven months, as lawmakers trade jabs..."

"... over whether the Senate should have passed the legislation at all. House officials say they’ve been deluged by voters with split opinions and warnings from sleep specialists who insist that adopting permanent standard time instead would be healthier, and congressional leaders admit they just don’t know what to do."

 From "Clock runs out on efforts to make daylight saving time permanent" (WaPo).

Great! I wish there'd be more of this admitting that they just don't know what to do. 

There... are regional differences in who would most benefit from permanent daylight saving time. Lawmakers in Southern states such as Florida argue it would maximize sunshine for their residents during the winter months — but some people who live in the northern United States or on the western edge of time zones, such as Indianapolis, would not see the sunrise on some winter days until after 9 a.m.

Yeah, I've already seen little kids waiting for the school bus in darkness, and it's a month and a half before the solstice (the darkest day). So that would be 3 months of kids going to school during the nighttime. 

But Marco Rubio, of Florida, says: "This isn’t a partisan or regional issue, it is a commonsense issue." He's a co-author of the inanely named Sunshine Protection Act. No, Florida man, you are not offering sunshine... or "commonsense." 

I'm blaming Rubio for invoking common sense when he's lacking it, but the spelling "commonsense" is the responsibility of The Washington Post. It strikes me as wrong and I'm not used to seeing it that way, but I'm thinking about "commonplace" and "commonwealth" — how did those words congeal? By common use, I presume. But you can't jump to close up the spaces between words. I just wrote "common use," and it would be plainly wrong to attempt "commonuse."

As you might imagine (if you read me very much), I went poking around in the OED, looking at words that begin with "common" and checking out the long entry on "common sense." I won't belabor that. I'll just cherry-pick one thing, a quote from the 1974 novel by Alison Lurie, "The War Between the Tates" (about a married academic couple):

"He believed their courses to be composed of equal parts of common sense and nonsense—that is, of the already obvious and the probably false."

"Museums are indeed the churches of progressive-minded people, since they celebrate just the qualities that fanatics and dogmatists want to quelch..."

"... the vigorous acceptance of uncertainty that lets us ask new questions and leaves us unsure about which way is up. Not knowing which way is up is indeed part of the point. 'If I turn the work around, I risk destroying it,' the curator in charge of the exhibition where the Mondrian was to be shown said... adding that 'maybe there is no right or wrong orientation at all?'... Abstract art was meant to interrogate premises... The reason that pictures of Mondrian’s kind are inestimably precious to the human spirit... is that they are the last place where individual purpose and human pluralism are so ferociously honored. The values that are most important—and ones which progressives are most inclined to honor—are those which empower the greatest range of people to self-expression with the greatest possible individuality."

Writes Adam Gopnik in "The Case of the Upside-Down Mondrian/A great work of art always produces a vital disorientation" (The New Yorker).

Why does Gopnik keep saying "progressive"? It doesn't sound like the so-called "progressives" in American politics today.

To view the "vigorous acceptance of uncertainty" as the central quality of progressivism runs directly counter to the idea Biden proclaimed in his speech last night. Am I progressive if I vigorously accept that we can never really know who won the 2020 election or am I a dark demon of chaos? Is Biden a fanatic or dogmatist for wanting to quelch those who won't embrace the "right" answer?

I had to stop and say out loud: "Do you 'quelch' a person or thing?" (I wanted to write "quelch those [people]" but Gopnik said "quelch the vigorous acceptance.")

Meade questioned whether "quelch" is a word at all. Shouldn't it be "squelch"? Did Gopnik mix up "squelch" and "quench"? There's also "squash" and "quash."

The OED calls it a "rare" word, "An imitative or expressive formation" influenced by "quell" and "squelch." There's an example from the 17th century that seems to presage Mondrian:

1659 A. Wood Life & Times (1891) I. 280 Some hang swinging on the gallery..and then come quelshing downe on people's heads.

But let's get back to Gopnik and the Mondrian picture — don't say "painting" (it's colored adhesive tape). Some expert recently decided it has been hanging upside down. And look, Trump rears his head:

Uncertainty about an artist’s intentions—including, but not limited to, which way she intended the picture to be top and which bottom—is not a sign of what a certain man would call a “hoax”; it is a sign of originality of purpose and a tolerance for open-ended inquiry....

So... your "vigorous acceptance of uncertainty" displays originality and tolerance, but the Trumpists who say those legal procedures —that said Biden's belonged on top — well, they hung the picture of the 2020 election upside down... those people... they're not like the fine people who tolerate uncertainty about the orientation of the Mondrian.

The entire controversy puts one in mind of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s wondering why people said that it was natural for humans to think that the Sun went round the Earth—what would they have thought it looked like if it were the other way round?

"At the point of 'Pump It Up,' he obviously had been listening to Springsteen too much. But he also had a heavy dose of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues.'"

"'Pump It Up' is a quasi-stop-time tune with powerful rhetoric, and with all this, Elvis [Costello] exuded nothing but high-level belligerence.... With tender hooks and dirty looks, heaven-sent propaganda and slander that you wouldn’t understand. Torture her and talk to her, bought for her, temperature, was a rhyming scheme long before Biggie Smalls or Jay Z. Submission and transmission, pressure pin and other sin, just rattled through this song. It’s relentless, as all of his songs from this period are. Trouble is, he exhausted people. Too much in his songs for anybody to actually land on. Too many thoughts, way too wordy. Too many ideas that just bang up against themselves. Here, however, it’s all compacted into one long song."

Writes Bob Dylan in "The Philosophy of Modern Song" (published today).

Here's the song — with a very cool video (I want to stand on my feet like that):


I was listening to the audiobook as I went on my sunrise run, and as soon as I heard the title of the song Bob was about to discuss, I called on Siri to play it for me. Listening, I thought, this is so much like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" — if Bob praises it, is he praising himself?

I went back to the audiobook and enjoyed Bob saluting himself — and reinforcing me — when he said Elvis "also had a heavy dose of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues.'" Yes, he also had the good stuff, though he "obviously had been listening to Springsteen too much." 

By the way — "tender hooks" — do you think Bob was mixing up "tenterhooks" and "tender hooks" like an ordinary ill-informed person? Or was he somewhere else entirely, where songs have hooks and of course the hooks can be tender?

AMPLIFICATION: It's a pun. The first line of "Pump It Up" is "I've been on tenterhooks, ending in dirty looks." I shouldn't have missed that when I had just listened to the song, but Elvis's articulation falls far short of Bob's. With Bob, you always hear the words. On the records.

ADDED: If Bob praised himself there, didn't he also criticize himself? All of his songs from a certain period were relentless....

... he exhausted people. Too much in his songs for anybody to actually land on. Too many thoughts, way too wordy. Too many ideas that just bang up against themselves.

Isn't he telling us that he knows that was the case with him, beginning with that "Subterranean Homesick Blues" album and extending for the next 15 months?

AND: How disrespectful was Bob's sideswipe of Springsteen? There's only one other mention of Springsteen in the book. He's talking about Dion and says he was "a template for his fellow Italo-rocker Bruce Springsteen." "Italo-rocker" — is that how you think about Springsteen?

"It’s called lenticular fabric. It’s based on queer semiotics, specifically around cruising in bathrooms. The silhouette is modeled after a toilet seat.""At the point of 'Pump It Up,' he obviously had been listening to Springsteen too much. But he also had a heavy dose of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues.'"

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