Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reviews & Links

1. The judge ruled in favor of Cal and its new athletic facility in the tree-sitting case.

2. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Fish and Wildlife's de-listing of wolves. Good.

3. I listened to James Donovan's A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn. First of all, I must admit that when I got this from the library I only saw the "Bighorn" in the title and thought "Oh cool, the story of Chief Joseph [and the Nez Perce]" but alas, I am retarded. ANYWAY, the book, as the title clearly implies, is a reappraisal of George Armstrong Custer's life and career, the battle with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse of the Sioux at the Battle of the Little Bighorn where ~270 men from the 7th Cavalry, including Custer himself, were killed, and the aftermath. The author's take is that Custer, although sometimes a flamboyant and cocky SOB, was actually not all that bad (he led the first Union cavalry to hold the field against Confederate Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg), and in the battle that took his life, was not outrageously more incompetent than any other officer that day, but it's pretty easy to blame the dead guy, so he ended up with the bum rap. Having only read one book about the incident, I don't hold a strong opinion on the matter, but I'd say the book was well written and seemed to be well researched, so I enjoyed it. But really, the book was only interesting from the standpoint of military strategy. Military blunders that the Nazis made (Dunkirk, bombing London instead of RAF fields, invading Russia) and Russia's mistake of invading Afghanistan are interesting strategically, but they're not interesting emotionally because we're all glad those losses happened. Similarly, I couldn't get excited about efforts to clear Custer's name as a military man, because regardless of whose fault the defeat was, the US Army was deliberately starting a war with Indians that had been peaceful of late so that the Army would have an excuse to open up parts of the Black Hills reservation to settlers because gold had been found nearby, and if the 7th deserved any sympathy, they lost all hope for it with the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Regardless, let's all hope I never have any children, because Crazy Horse had an aunt named They Are Afraid Of Her, and, well, I think that's pretty cool.

4. What's it going to be then, eh? I just read Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, which I loved. I saw the movie a while ago when I watched the entire AFI top 100 list, and I loved that too. It has interesting things to say about violence, free will, and youth--especially if you read a post-1986 printing that has the final chapter that was left out of earlier US editions and the film. I also found that the invented slang was actually rather enjoyable. (Normally I think the invented slang in movies like Heathers or Juno totally doesn't work, but I loved Clockwork's slang from the very first "malenky bit poogly.") For some reason I read a small part of the book with a concordance nearby, and I'd recommend against that; it's a much better experience to let if flow and just pick things up from context.

(HP, as a linguist and big reader, I'm interested if you have anything to say about making up slang like this.)

5. This isn't anything you haven't already heard, but The Dark Knight? Amazing. The only reason I didn't like it is because, well, I have no idea how you top it, so if they do a sequel it will most probably disappoint. The only way to top it would be to have Frank Miller bring his The Dark Knight Returns to the screen. (In case you were unaware, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen are the two best graphic novels ever. If you have some irrational anti-superhero bias, then try Craig Thompson's Blankets.) A great little unexpected bonus was the premier of the Watchmen trailer, below.


  1. What sort of insights are you looking for from me? I'm pretty sure I fail--I read the book years and years ago, and remember far more being disturbed by the casual violence than impressed by the slang.

    I did love "Blankets," though. How's that for deep?

  2. Oh, I don't know, I guess I'm looking for a "Some Famous Linguist or Author says it's always in fictional portrayals of teens that we see made up slang, which makes sense because some linguistic study shows teens do make up words" or something like that. Maybe because teens talk on the phone and don't want their parents to overhear. Or they're trying to fins some new way to express themselves. Or something.

  3. I just wrote a long comment which then promptly got lost in this stupid series of tubes, as it were. You probably didn't want to read me blabbing on anyway, so to summarize:

    1. Slang is really common among teens, not because they don't want parents to overhear (at least, not specifically--that may be an incidental benefit) but because language is an identity-creating tool, and unique or new words (or accents, or syntaxes, though the latter is fairly rare in spontaneous language innovation) both marks an individual as having a unique identity and as belonging to the community which uses that slang. Since teenagers are often experimenting with identities and communities in other ways--music, movies, food, fashion, hobbies--experimentation and innovation in language (ie, slang) is to be expected.

    2. Teens are obviously not the only group to make up words; specialized argots are features of any in-group you care to name, and we could rattle off examples all day long: gay slang, Leetspeak, surfer talk, Mormonese, etc.

    3. I'm not convinced, however, that the slang usage in A Clockword Orange is entirely because the book focuses on adolescents; from a novel-internal perspective, yes, it makes sense that Alex and his friends have slang words incomprehensible to outsiders, because they're a group of teenagers. From a reader's perspective, though, the slang both marks Alex as a teenager (and one within a distinct clique, as well), but also set the novel's scene as a strange future dystopia: the impulse of teenagers to use incomprehensible slang is recognizable, but both the source and the extent of that slang serve as much, I think, to alert the reader to the setting as to differentiate Alex and his gang from the adults in the novel. (Of course, the two purposes work in tandem, given that the adult characters in the novel, if I remember correctly, don't use Nasdat.)

    Or maybe I'm wrong--it has been forever since I've read it. But I'll stick to my story about the slang stuff: expression of individual and community identity. (And there I pretty much just summed up all of sociolinguistics.)

  4. yep, that's what I wanted to hear. I'd never heard of leetspeak before. Obviously I'd heard it, I just didn't know it had a name.