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September 13th, 2006

Normally I would give you today's Forgotten English as a present -- but it's too dull. So instead, here's yesterday's Forgotten English!

bibliobibuli
There are people who read too much, bibliobuli. I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.
--H. L. Mencken's Notebook 71, 1956


[September 12] Birthday of Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1958),
American journalist and social critic, who is well remembered for his annotated compilation of idioms and expressions, The American Language (1919). In The Smart Set, the influential magazine featuring work by emerging writers that he coedited from 1914 to 1923, Mencken noted caustically about himself and other critics, "It is impossible to think of a man of any actual force and originality, universally recognized as having those qualities, who spent his whole life appraising and describing the work of other men." Mencken's New Dictionary of Quotations (1942) contained more than seventy passages on critics and their critiques, including one from Hector Berlioz: "Poor devils! Where do they come from? At what age are they sent to the slaughter house? ... How many of them handled the brush before being reduced to the broom?"


-The Gneech

Ignoramigentsia

I've always been boggled by the fact that, at school at least, I was regarded as something of a dangerous intellect. I certainly don't deny that I have some skill with words and a brain that craves diversion, but like Greg, I have always thought of myself as a muddleheaded chump. Show me an easy, impossible-to-screw-up task, and I'll find a way to make a complete hash of it.

I was in various "honors" programs at school and I did very well on my SAT's (even on the math section, and anyone who knows me knows that math ties me in knots); the last time I had an IQ test I was just shy of the Mensa minimum. In short, I'm good at taking tests. I'm good at looking smart and making teachers go "tsk" about how I don't live up to my potential. But whenever I encounter somebody who really is smart I just stand there gablinkblinking and wondering how they manage to pull it off. And I frequently find myself wondering, if a vast ignoramus like me is considered "smart" what life must be like for the people who aren't good at taking tests. 0.o

What prompted this little ramble was an article I found on Arts & Letters Daily about David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. I had to read this article with Google close at hand, because it blithely tossed out references all over the place to people and events I'd never heard of. Admittedly some of that was because it ran in The Guardian and I'm not English -- so there's no particular reason I should know who "Little Ant and Little Dec" are nor what was significant about their interview with Tony Blair. But on the other hand, as an American with at least aspirations to be among the literati, I feel like I should know who Harold Ross or Philip Roth are. I did at least get the Fred Astaire reference, so maybe there's hope?

Nobody can know everything, obviously. I doubt that David Remnick knows half of what I do about programming web pages, for instance. But that's about as far as I'm willing to bet.

-The Gneech

An Idea Ahead of Its Time?

Y'know, I always thought Paul McGann got a raw deal on the whole Doctor thing. The only gripe I had with Fox's attempt to resurrect Dr. Who was the whole "Doctor/companion love interest" thing; otherwise, I thought it was just fine. So why was it a flop, and the new ones are getting praise and accolades all over the place?

Oh well. People are arbitrary!

-The Gneech, randomly

Creepy Pants All the Time Get Some

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