10,000 miles

One of the items my local choir is singing is a medley of the American folk songs Shenandoah (which I previously knew) and He’s gone away (which I didn’t). Because of the folk origins of both songs, information about them is confused and confusing. Shenandoah might be the Oneida Iroquois chief (“I love your daughter”) or the river in Virginia and West Virginia (“Away, you rolling river”) or both. On the other hand “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter” might just be a poetic way of saying “I love a young woman who lives in the Shenandoah Valley”.

The only information I could find about He’s gone away is that it’s from North Carolina. It contains the line “Look away over Yandro”. Where is Yandro? It probably isn’t. There is a possibility that it’s a local name for a local watercourse or mountain which (the name) didn’t survive, but the consensus of opinion on a discussion site for choral directors is that it’s a local pronunciation of yonder (indeed some versions of the words render it “over Yondro”, which might have originated as “over yondro”). One participant linked to what looks like a personal blog which claims that yandro means “the place we put our hopes and our longings. It is the place of reunions dreamt of fondly. It is the place, wherever it may be, that we meet our hearts”.  Yeah, right. That blog is private, so I can’t check its writer’s credentials. Continue reading

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You is all I want for Christmas

A few days before Christmas 2009 a colleague at the college arranged for all the students to join together and watch a video of the movie Love Actually.  Towards the end of the movie, the character Joanna (Olivia Olson) sings the song All I want for Christmas is you, which a) is not really about Christmas – it might as well be All I want for any occasion is you, b) I am likely to have in my head all day now, and c) you are likely to have in your head all day now.

After the movie, a student said to me “She was singing ‘Is you?’. Should that be ‘Are you?’?”. I said (I paraphrase) no, because she was singing about “All I want for Christmas”, not about “you”. “All I want for Christmas” is singular, even if “All I want for Christmas” is “five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and partridge in a pear tree”. The singularity or plurality of the gift(s) doesn’t affect the the form of the verb. On the other hand, if we invert the sentence and say “You _ all I want for Christmas”, then “you” determines the form of the verb.

Also late in the movie, the character Jamie (Colin Firth) travels to Portugal to make a declaration of love to Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz) … in very bad Portuguese. A student from Brazil was sitting in front of me (maybe he was the one who asked the question afterwards), and he cracked up completely during that scene. 

right speech

I have just been editing an article which refers to “The negative and discriminatory rhetoric of the current same-sex marriage debate [in Australia]”. For the target readership, I wanted to change “rhetoric” to something simpler. But what?
Thesuarus.com lists as synonyms for “rhetoric”: hyperbole, oratory, address, balderdash, bombast, composition, discourse, elocution, eloquence, fustian, grandiloquence, magniloquence, oration, pomposity, verbosity, big talk, flowery language, hot air. Most of these have moderately or extremely negative connotations. Even rhetoric, which includes “the art of prose in general as opposed to verse”, “the ability to use language effectively”, “the art of making persuasive speeches” and “the art or science of all specialized literary uses of languages in prose or verse” has as its number one definition (according to Dictionary.com) “the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast”.

Because the passage already has the adjectives “negative and discriminatory”, I don’t need a noun with negative connotations, so I simply changed it to “negative and discriminatory language”.

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Blade Runner 2049

I have just seen the movie Blade Runner 2049 (no link to Wikipedia to avoid spoilers). After reading several online resources, I’m still not entirely clear about who was who and what was what.

This movie’s world of 2049 seems vastly different from 1982’s world of 2019, partly because so much of this movie takes place in daytime – we actually see city- and landscapes – and there has been a massive change of climate, as explained in the opening text. Language-wise, the scriptwriters don’t envisage any major development in language in the next 32 years. The original movie introduced City Speak “gutter talk, a mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you”. One resource refers to one line of this movie as City Speak; another says it’s the actress’s native Finnish.

At one point Ryan Gosling’s character visit a back-street technician, who speaks in another language which no resource specifies. His speech is subtitled for us, but there’s no hint as to how Gosling’s character understands him. Either he just happens to understand that language, or there is an instant translator hidden somewhere.

Foreign scripts abound: I saw Russian, Japanese, Korean and ?Hindi, and I’m sure there were more. The building in which Gosling’s character (not really a spoiler) finds Harrison Ford’s character is labelled 행운 (haeng-un) or ‘luck’.

The date 6 . 10 . 21 is significant, but I can’t remember if it is specified in the movie whether this is dd.mm.yy 6 October 2021 or mm.dd.yy 10 June 2021. The movie opened here last Thursday, 5 October (not 2021, obviously).

C’mon, it’s only 16 years ago!

Oh now I feel old! The topic in the textbook was science, and as a filler I showed the students some science-related movie trailers, starting with the ‘based on a true story’ movies Hidden figures, The theory of everything and The right stuff. Then I showed some science fiction, starting with 2001: A space odyssey. I said ‘How many of you remember 2001’? I was expecting a few hands. I don’t know how old my students are, but I would guess late 20s or even early 30s for some of them. (Others are much younger, possibly late teens or early 20s.) No-one (but me) remembers 2001???? At least they could have said ‘Oh, that was the year I started school’ (as indeed one of my nieces said when I posted on Facebook about this later.)

Then I showed them Back to the future 1 & 2, and 1989’s imagining of 2015 made much more sense to them than 1968’s imagining of 2001. (In general, BttF got more right than 2001.) Along the way I found 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Right, 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Wrong and a parody by CollegeHumor made in 2015 with the benefit of nowsight. I also tried to find the American talk/comedy show which snared Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd as guests on 21 October 2015, but I couldn’t find it and couldn’t remember whose show it was on. A Facebook friend later told me it was Jimmy Kimmel.

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Merry birthday

I have a friend who habitually writes ‘merry birthday’ on our mutual friends’ Facebook pages (and mine, when it comes around). There’s nothing grammatically or semantically wrong with ‘merry birthday’, but it just sounds so weird. An internet search returns approx 353,000,000 results for ‘happy birthday’ and 2,650,000 for ‘merry birthday’, so it’s by no means unknown, but used less than one percent as much as ‘happy birthday’. Some of those are references to people whose birthday falls near Christmas. (I know two people born on Christmas Day. One is named Christa. I also know a father and daughter born on leap day.)

Google Ngrams shows many results for ‘happy birthday’ and ‘merry Christmas’ (of course). ‘Happy Christmas’ is used about 1/6th as much as ‘merry Christmas’ but ‘merry birthday’ yields only one result.

In the course of my research, I found this short extract (from a movie I watched more than 20 years ago, but didn’t remember this scene). The Wikipedia page for the movie says that the song was written for this movie ‘to avoid potential licensing issues’ (ie paying royalties to Warner/Chappell, at the time – for more information, see here).

(For thoughts about the song in Korean, see here.)

(PS after I posted this, the friend wished me a ‘happy birthday’ this year.)

 

Adventures in Numberland

Two days ago I bought Alex through the looking glass by Alex Bellos, an exploration of ‘how life reflects numbers and numbers reflect life’. His previous book was Alex’s adventures in Numberland (which the bookshop didn’t have, otherwise I would have bought it as well; I’m going to inquire at bookshops near home or work, and if they don’t have it, order it online [edit: I bought it at a bookshop in the city on Monday]), so he’s obviously got a thing for Lewis Carroll. (Unlike Alice, these books are entirely non-fiction.)

The first chapter is about numbers, and he starts with an account of a retired taxi driver with Asperger’s, whose hobby is to divide every number he sees into prime numbers. (The fundamental theorem of arithmetic states that every positive integer has a unique prime factorisation). The examples the man provides are 2761 = 11 x 251, 2762 = 2 x 1381, 2763 = 3 x 3 x 307 and 2764 = 2 x 2 x 691. (I don’t know how often one of the prime factors is so big; Wikipedia’s example is 1200 = 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 3 × 5 × 5. The bigger and the ‘odder’ the original number, the bigger any one factor might be, but the comparatively rarer prime numbers get.)

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