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When William Faulkner Set the World Record for Writing the Longest Sentence in Literature: Read the 1,288-Word Sentence from Absalom, Absalom!

Image by Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons “How did Faulkner pull it off?” is a question many a fledgling writer has asked themselves while struggling through a period of apprenticeship like that novelist John Barth describes in his 1999 talk "My Faulkner." Barth “reorchestrated” his literary heroes, he says, “in search of my writerly self... downloading my innumerable predecessors as only an insatiable green apprentice can.” Surely a great many writers can relate when Barth says, “it was...
Tags: Google, Europe, Books, Maryland, Writing, College, Washington, Literature, Guinness Book of World Records, Lincoln, Sherman, Jonathan Coe, Jones, William Styron, Facebook Twitter, Beckett


When William Faulkner Set the World Record for Writing the Longest Sentence in Literature: 1,288 Words from Absalom, Absalom!

Image by Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons “How did Faulkner pull it off?” is a question many a fledgling writer has asked themselves while struggling through a period of apprenticeship like that novelist John Barth describes in his 1999 talk "My Faulkner." Barth “reorchestrated” his literary heroes, he says, “in search of my writerly self... downloading my innumerable predecessors as only an insatiable green apprentice can.” Surely a great many writers can relate when Barth says, “it was...
Tags: Google, Europe, Books, Maryland, Writing, College, Washington, Literature, Guinness Book of World Records, Lincoln, Sherman, Jonathan Coe, Jones, William Styron, Facebook Twitter, Beckett


The “sl”-morass: “slender” and “slim-slam-slum”

Several years ago, I devoted a series of posts to the origin of English kl-words: cloud, cloth, clover; perhaps there were more (June 29, 2016, July 13, 2016, and August 10, 2016). Cleave, clay, and many other such words contain the idea of clinging to some substance or clutter. It is hard to miss the sound symbolism that unites them. Some other technically unrelated words also form groups. For example, fly, flow, flatter, flutter, and flicker suggest unsteady movement, even though each of those...
Tags: Books, Salt Lake City, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA, ENGL, Walter W Skeat, Skeat, Wikimedia Commons My, Ablaut, Otto Jespersen, NadègeNN CC BY SA, Efraimstochter Pixabay License, Schlamm


Up at Harwich and back home to the west via Skellig

A few more travels, and we’ll reach our destination. Last week (February 20, 2019), we spent some time in Coventry, where no one dispatched us: we went there driven by curiosity. It turned out that the melancholy idiom send one to Coventry may not have anything to do with that town. To reinforce this unexpected conclusion, I’ll relate another story. At one time, the phrase up at Harwich existed; perhaps it is still known in the eastern counties. Harwich is a port in Essex, and up at Harwich mean...
Tags: Europe, Books, England, London, China, America, Canada, Ireland, Catholic Church, Essex, Norfolk, Johnson, Coventry, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Warwick


Schizophrenia and ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky

Schizophrenia is the most iconic of all mental illnesses but both its conceptualization and causes remain elusive. The popular image portrays patients convinced of being persecuted and hearing voices that nobody else can hear. In reality this complex brain disorder presents an endless variety of psychotic (delusions and hallucinations) and non-psychotic symptoms. This complexity is at the heart of a century-long debate about whether schizophrenia is a single illness or should be conceptualized a...
Tags: Europe, Books, London, Barcelona, Budapest, Paris, Switzerland, Zurich, St Petersburg, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA, Nijinsky, Pixabay, Theatre du Chatelet, Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky


Contemporary lessons from the fall of Rome

It’s a time-honored game, and any number can play. The rules are simple: just take whatever problem is bothering you today, add the word “Rome,” and voilà. You have just discovered why the mightiest empire in Western history came to an end.In 1969, Ronald Reagan blamed it on “the twin diseases of confiscatory taxation and creeping inflation.” In 1977, Phyllis Schlafly said it was due to “the ‘liberated’ Roman matron, who is most similar to the present-day feminist.”And (a personal favorite), in ...
Tags: Europe, Books, England, Featured, History, World, Rome, Ronald Reagan, Supernatural, Playboy, Lincoln, Christians, Central America, Joan Collins, Jews, Ancient Rome


The birth of exoplanetary science

The University of Geneva’s Michel Mayor and his graduate student Didier Queloz were the first to discover a planet orbiting a distant star much like our own Sun. Meticulously ruling out, one after the other, alternative interpretations of their measurements, in October 1995 they announced the discovery of the planet designated 51 Pegasi b, now known as Dimidium, orbiting the star 51 Pegasi, since named Helvetia. Michel Mayor presented the discovery to an international assembly of astrophysicists...
Tags: Books, Astronomy, Technology, Featured, France, Physics, Sun, Switzerland, Geneva, Jupiter, Exoplanets, Astrophysics, Hot Jupiters, La Silla, Observatory, Florence Italy


Etymology gleanings for December 2018 and January 2019

In December and January, the ground, as we know from the poem about two quarrelling little kittens, was covered with frost and snow, so that there has not been too much for me to glean, but a few crumbs were worth picking up. However, first I wish to thank those who have been sending questions, correcting and enlightening me, and wishing me another happy year of dealing with language history. It is better to lie down and sleep than to quarrel and fight. Image credit: Two kittens by Unknown. Pub...
Tags: Books, London, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Tare, Tagen, Franck, ENGL, Walter W Skeat, Unknown Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons, Johannes Franck, Ernest Weekley, Chloe So, Matt XIII, Evelyn de Morgan Demeter, Rob ~ Rab


How to see inside a pyramid: the power of the mysterious Muon

By the mid-1930s, just five fundamental particles were known. This concise collection of building blocks revealed the true nature of matter and light. Three types of particle: electrons, protons, and neutrons, formed the wide array of atoms known to chemistry. Photons composed the whole electromagnetic spectrum, including light. The fifth particle was the positron, the anti-particle of the electron, predicted by Paul Dirac and discovered by Carl Anderson in cosmic rays. The interactions between ...
Tags: Books, Japan, Featured, Earth, Chemistry, Physics, Egypt, King, Cairo, Giza, Khufu, Mount Fuji, Wikimedia Commons, Large Hadron Collider LHC, LHC, Hokusai


The rightful heirs to the British crown: Wales and the sovereignty of Britain

The Mabinogion is a collective name given to eleven medieval Welsh tales found mainly in two manuscripts – the White Book of Rhydderch (c. 1350), and the Red Book of Hergest (dated between 1382 and c.1410). The term is a scribal error for mabinogi, derived from the Welsh word mab meaning ‘son, boy’; its original meaning was probably ‘youth’ or ‘story of youth’, but finally it meant no more than ‘tale’ or ‘story’. The title was popularized in the nineteenth century when Lady Charlotte Guest trans...
Tags: Books, Featured, Wales, History, Britain, Literature, Cornwall, Norman, Tolkien, Tennyson, Arthur, Lloyd Alexander, Gwynedd, Wikimedia Commons, Usk, Arts & Humanities


Protest songs and the spirit of America [playlist]

In a rare television interview, Jimi Hendrix appeared on a network talk show shortly after his historic performance at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. When host Dick Cavett asked the guitarist about the “controversy” surrounding his wild, feedback-saturated version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Hendrix gently demurred.His performance wasn’t “unorthodox,” he protested. “I thought it was beautiful.”But Hendrix’s ominous, bombs-bursting version of our national anthem, in fact, would be interpreted...
Tags: Books, Music, Politics, Featured, White House, America, History, Jimi Hendrix, United States, Bob Dylan, Civil Rights, Ferguson, Protest Songs, Vietnam, Vietnam War, Dick Cavett


How sibling rivalry impacts politics

Was Ed Miliband right to stand against his brother David for the leadership of the Labour party in 2010? Or should he have stepped aside to give his elder brother a clear run? There was much media debate over his decision to challenge David, and relations between the brothers have remained cool and distant to this day. Half a century earlier, John Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Ted were all viewed as potential American presidential candidates. But Robert waited until after his elder brother...
Tags: Books, Politics, Featured, History, Ted, David, Britain, Labour party leadership, Ed Miliband, Harry, Catholic, British, Shakespeare, Election, Labour Party, Edward


How women really got the vote

In 2018 we commemorated property-owning women over the age of 30 getting the vote in the United Kingdom. Two years later we will mark 100 years since all women received the vote in the United States.These are important parliamentary milestones but the lauding of campaigners has given priority to organised women’s movements in gaining the vote. This edges women’s suffrage off the main stage of world politics and makes it a pressure group issue; interesting enough in its way, but of no great conse...
Tags: Europe, Books, Politics, UK, Featured, Indonesia, Australia, China, Russia, India, Africa, US, History, World, United States, New Zealand


The Future of the NRA is Change

Opinion New threats will need to be addressed. This will require changes – and some of those changes will be difficult, but necessary to preserve our Second Amendment rights.(Wikimedia Commons photo by Gage Skidmore) Fairfax, Virginia – -(AmmoLand.com)- The year 2019 will mark the 148th anniversary of the founding of the National Rifle Association. This organization has a long legacy of not just protecting our rights, but also for a host of other programs that serve law-abiding citizens who ...
Tags: Guns, Reagan, Gun Control, Silicon Valley, Gun Rights, Second Amendment, Nra, McDonald, Harold, Owens, National Rifle Association, Wayne Lapierre, Wikimedia Commons, Heller, Gun Rights News, National Rifle Association This


From “odd,” “strange,” and “bad,” to reclaiming the word “queer”

How has the word “queer” been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community? This adapted excerpt from Keywords for Today: A 21st Century Vocabulary explains its evolution.The adjective queer poses etymological problems. Its sense of “strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric” is given an initial Oxford English Dictionary (OED) date of 1513; thus John Bale in 1550 writes of chronicles that “contayne muche more truthe than their quere legendes.” There is then another sense, recorded as obsolete, with a date of 1567: ...
Tags: Books, Paris, Los Angeles Times, Stephen, Walter Scott, Thomas, Bennett, LA Times, Alfred Douglas, Wikimedia Commons, Times Literary Supplement, Wikimedia Commons If, Ted Eytan, John Bale, Radclyffe Hall, Arnold Bennett


The evolution of the word “terror”

Terror comes into English in the late fourteenth century, partly from Middle French terreur, and partly directly from Latin terror. The word means both “the state of being greatly frightened” and “the cause of that state,” an ambiguity that is central to its future political meanings. In Early Modern English, terror comes to stand for a state of fear provoked on the very edge of the social. That state is associated with the god Pan and the fear that grips men when they feel themselves removed fr...
Tags: Books, Politics, Featured, Russia, US, Post Office, History, Munich, Terrorism, Language, Linguistics, Terrorist, George W Bush, Stalin, Franz Ferdinand, Social Sciences


Making music American: a playlist from 1917

The entrance of the United States into World War I on 6 April 1917 inspired a flood of new music from popular songwriters. Simultaneously, the first recording of instrumental jazz was released in April 1917, touching off a fad for the new style and inspiring record companies to promote other artists before year’s end. Victor and Columbia, the industry leaders, developed technological innovations that made possible the first recordings of a full symphony orchestra. These recordings are a sample o...
Tags: Spotify, Europe, Books, Music, Featured, Congress, France, Germany, US, Indiana, History, United States, Paris, World War I, Manhattan, Jazz


Plato’s mistake

Happy Hanukkah from OUP! This year we’re celebrating with a series of eight books celebrating Jewish history and culture over the eight nights of Hanukkah. As your menorah candles burn bright, take this opportunity to honour both the endurance of the Maccabees and the Jewish people.In this blog post, Norman Solomon, the author of Judaism: A Very Short Introduction, considers how ambivalence towards past violence comes out in the way the rabbis told the story of Chanukah.It started innocently eno...
Tags: Books, Featured, Religion, Jerusalem, Peace, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Oxford, Brighton, Philosophy, Violence, Hanukkah, Jewish, Aristotle, Jew


Travels with “gorse” in search of its kin

The previous post on gorse (November 21, 2018) was mainly about the unclear connection between Engl. gorse and German Gerste “barley,” but, as we will soon find out, our shrub has a broad claim and pretends to be a citizen of the world. On the one hand, gorse seems to be isolated (no cognates anywhere or a single German plant name at best) and on the other, a crowd of suspicious relatives lays claim to a rather useless inheritance.For many decades, language historians have been developing so-cal...
Tags: Books, Normandy, Norfolk, Norman, Grimm, Robert Burns, McMahon, Cumberland, Chris Williams, Fay, Finlayson, Wikimedia Commons, Royal Ontario Museum, Falk, ENGL, Altaic


What Matthew Shepard’s interment taught us about religion

On 26 October 2018, twenty years after two men in Wyoming brutally murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard, the Washington National Cathedral hosted a service to inter Shepard’s ashes in a permanent memorial. More than four thousand people attended the service that was co-led by the Reverend Gene Robinson, the first openly-gay elected bishop of the Episcopal Church. Robinson announced to the assembled crowd that Shepard had “come back to church.” During the service, Shepard’s father declare...
Tags: Books, Featured, Congress, White House, Religion, America, History, Wyoming, Homosexuality, Bill Clinton, Christianity, Lgbtq, Hate Crime, Ellen Degeneres, Westboro Baptist Church, Gene Robinson


The unbroken etymology of “bread”

Some preliminary conclusions about our subject appeared last week (see the post for November 7, 2018). Those are not particularly promising. It appears that once upon a time the product we associate with bread was called hlaif-; its modern reflex (continuation) in English is loaf. What that hlaif– looked like is unknown. In any case, some time later, bread appeared and was called brauð– (ð = th in Engl. the). The hyphens after hlaif– and brauð– mean that those are the roots of the two words, wit...
Tags: Books, Egypt, Murray, San Francisco California, NC, Wikimedia Commons, Broadview, Brocken, Seattle Washington USA, Weekley, Wharf, ENGL, Boudin Bakery, Brot, Kluge, Eduard Sievers


Dealing with Social Stigmatization of the Second Amendment

The effort to get companies like FedEx to cut ties with the NRA is part of an effort to stigmatize the Second Amendment and those who defend it. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Raysonho) U.S.A. –(AmmoLand.com)- The good news on the Second Amendment is that the courts have been shifting in a pro-Second Amendment direction. With the Heller and McDonald rulings, the Supreme Court has formally ruled what we all knew was the truth: The Second Amendment is an individual right. However, the bad news is t...
Tags: Guns, Supreme Court, Eric Holder, America, Reagan, Gun Control, Andrew Cuomo, Gun Rights, Fedex, Clinton, Mainstream Media, Nra, McDonald, Harold, National Rifle Association, Holder


Stan Lee on what is a superhero

What is a superhero? What is a supervillain? What are the traits that define and separate these two? What cultural contexts do we find them in? And why we need them? Editors Robin S. Rosenberg, PhD and Peter Coogan, PhD collected a series of essays examining these questions from both major comic book writers and editors, such as Stan Lee and Danny Fingeroth, and leading academics in psychology and cultural studies, such as Will Brooker and John Jennings. The following essay by legendary comic bo...
Tags: Books, Comics, Featured, Marvel, Superman, Orson Welles, Stan Lee, Smith, Alec Baldwin, Superhero, Comic Book, Reed, PHOENIX Arizona, Ben, Johnny, Wikimedia Commons


Remembering the final moments of The Great War [excerpt]

11 November 2018 marks 100 years since the end of The Great War. Victory came at a great cost, seeing millions of fatalities in one of the deadliest wars in history.In the below excerpt from The Last Battle, World War I historian Peter Hart shares testimonies about the war’s end from the men who fought until the eleventh hour.That morning, the 2/15th London Regiment was released from the haunting prospect of an assault over the River Scheldt at Avelghem.When this bloody war is over / Oh, how hap...
Tags: Books, Featured, US, History, World, Veterans Day, World War I, Armistice Day, WWI, Trade, Excerpt, Wikimedia Commons, Peter Hart, Wikimedia Commons They, Arts & Humanities, Guerre


The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Existentialist

At the end of the second world war, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre launched the “existentialist offensive,” an ambitious campaign to shape a new cultural and political landscape. The word ‘existentialism’ was a popular neologism with no clear meaning. They wanted to profit from its media currency by making their philosophy its definition.Sartre’s talk “Existentialism is a Humanism” was an instant legend. The venue was packed, the crowd spilling into the street. Furniture got broken. Peo...
Tags: Books, Featured, Paris, Philosophy, Samuel Beckett, Lod, Sartre, Wikimedia Commons, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Existentialism, Political Philosophy, Arts & Humanities, Western Philosophy, 20th Century Philosophy, Beauvoir


Ypres: the city of ghosts

Visiting Ypres, or Ieper to use its modern name, is an amazing experience. First, there is the sheer wonder of wandering around a seemingly historic city that, on closer inspection, proves to be of very recent completion. Then, there is the impressive scale of the massive Cloth Hall, the great medieval trading market that attracted merchants from across Europe. But, that too proves to be a bit of curiosity when stared at, as the mix of very smooth, sharply cut stone merges with the pock-marked, ...
Tags: Europe, Books, Featured, History, First World War, World War One, Ypres, Flanders, Belgium, British, Commonwealth, Centenary, 1920s, Wikimedia Commons, Ypres Belgium, Menin Gate


The German Revolution of 1918-19: democratic ancestry or subjective liberation?

On 9 November 1918 in central Berlin, Philipp Scheidemann, a leading moderate Social Democrat, and Karl Liebknecht, an antimilitaristic renegade who was soon to co-found the Communist Party, announced the end of the German Empire and the beginning of a new political era. Both tried to give direction to a revolution that had begun as a protest movement against the war and the attempts by some officers to continue fighting in the face of defeat. However, both politicians’ speeches attest to the di...
Tags: Europe, Books, Featured, Germany, History, Weimar, Communist Party, Ruhr, Wikimedia Commons, German History, German Democratic Republic, Historical Narratives, Berlin Palace, Past and Present, Karl Liebknecht, German Revolution


Are we misinformed or disinformed?

“Disinformation” is a common term at present, in the media, in academic and political discourse, along with related concepts like “fake news”. But what does it really mean? Is it different from misinformation, propaganda, deception, “fake news” or just plain lies? Is it always bad, or can it be a useful and necessary tool of statecraft? And how should we deal with it?There are no straightforward answers not least because each of these terms provokes a subjective reaction in our minds. Misinforma...
Tags: Books, UK, Featured, History, Normandy, Coalition, Moscow, Cia, Hitler, British, Labour Party, Foreign Office, British Intelligence, Misinformation, Red Scare, Plato


Etymology gleanings for October 2018

I have received a letter with a query about whether kibosh might be a borrowing from Hebrew. Both the Hebrew and the Yiddish hypotheses on kibosh are discussed in detail in the book by Gerald Cohen, Stephen Goranson, and Matthew Little on this intractable word (Routledge, 2018). The Hebrew origin of kibosh is quite unlikely.  I may repeat what I have more than once said in this blog. Although, when a certain word sounds similar in two languages, the idea that there was a lender and a borrower is...
Tags: Books, England, Portland, Scandinavia, Wright, Mackay, Wikimedia Commons, Joseph Wright, Stephen Goranson, Charles Mackay, Embla, Gerald Cohen Stephen Goranson, Matthew Little, Askr, Tumisu, ProjectManhattan CC BY SA


Returning to our daily bread [Part II]

Bread may not be a very old word, but it is old enough, and, whatever its age, its origin has not been discovered. However, the harder the riddle, the more interesting it is to try to solve it. Even if the answer evades us, it does not follow that we have learned nothing along the way. Also, one of the conjectures for which we have insufficient proof may be partially true. Etymology is about the process of discovery: the goal looms in the distance, and who cares if in the end the explorer did no...
Tags: Books, Russia, Paris, Crimea, Mackay, Wikimedia Commons, Weekley, ENGL, Stephen Skinner, Wikimedia Commons We, Charles Richardson, Old Engl, Charles Mackay, Tooke, Wikimedia Commons As, Ernest Weekley



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