Moving out

It’s the old left hand, right hand problem.

I now know that I’m moving out of the flat on Monday. I’d been told a couple of weeks ago that the plan was to put me up in accommodation near the International School in town, but I sent a mail message to Central Command (the people who told me what was meant to be happening in the first place) and learnt that I was, supposedly, staying in the flat over the summer. That was news to me. In the end, I left it to the school to speak to Central Command, and was told today that the original plan is back in effect.

We had lunch with the school, but the High Commander never showed. The excuse was that he was at a meeting in Changzhou. He might’ve been, but I suspect it was a calculated snub. The man is merely a high school headmaster and, therefore, someone who’s prone to believe in his own importance. Lunch was a decent enough affair, though.

I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to get Internet access over the summer. I’m hoping I’ll be able to go on line from the school at least once a day, but it’s going to be a nuisance not having ready access to Cyberia.

19.01.13 Tidied up HTML mark-up, added tags, and replaced the ugly ASCII apostrophes. Spaces, when it existed, didn’t have tagging.

Rome

Ex historia, fabula.

I’ve been watching Rome, HBO’s series about the last years of the Roman Republic. Of course, the tale is told with the sort of embellishments you might expect from HBO. Octavian (the future Augustus Caesar, first emperor of Rome) is an evil, girly swot. Caesar’s daughter, Julia, ends up in a lesbian relationship with her father’s ex-mistress. Cleopatra is now some nympho teen stoner.

I’ve now watched the whole series and realised that some aspects of Caligula’s personality seem to have been grafted onto Octavian. I assume that the second series (if there is one) will be about Octavian becoming the first Roman emperor.

It’s possible to get several sword-and-sandal miniseries here on DVD. I have one called Julius Caesar (starring Richard Harris) and another called Augustus (starring Peter O’Toole), which cover the same sort of period as Rome. On the back cover of the latter it says “A gorgeously filmed study of homosexuallust” [sic, one word]. That sounds like the HBO version.

All things considered, Julius Caesar and Augustus aren’t that dreadful.

Greek myths tend to get severely mauled. Helen of Troy was abysmal; Jason and the Argonauts was abysmal; Troy was so abysmal, I stopped watching it in the first five minutes and had a snooze instead – a much better use of my time than sitting through a complete pile of poo.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt that any film or miniseries has ever done justice to Greek mythology. The makers seem too tempted to add their own twists, and there does seem to be this tendency for the dialogue to be pseudo-Shakespearian.

One thing that really irks me, and this goes beyond the sword-and-sandal genre, is the way characters address each other. They’re seldom ever called mum and dad; it’s mother and father. You always address your siblings as brother or sister. It’s stilted and unnatural, but writers seem oblivious to it.

Dead many times

But I bet he actually gave her a fur bikini. And it was the wrong size.

The Guardian has an article about some 100,000 year old jewellery which was found in Israel back in the early 30s, although no one recognised the significance of the find.

“There is the implication that there was probably complex language there…”

I believe it’s been shown that earlier species of hominids had language, a capability which, you think, would have been part of our genetic inheritance from our ancestors. That is, Homo sapiens didn’t suddenly appear in Africa saying, “Ugh ugh eek ugh” one day; the next “Ugh eek ref ugh ugh blind”; and the third

“Happy birthday, darling.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a bikini. Go on. Try it on.”

“Perhaps on a special occasion.”

A few days later after everyone’s got bored with taking about metaphysics and existentialism.

“I haven’t seen that necklace before. And what happened to your bikini? You haven’t worn it yet.”

“Er, it was the wrong size, so I took it back to M&S and exchanged it for the necklace.”

And there you have all the proof you need that early Homo sapiens could speak. The dialogue also shows that Mr Sapiens had no idea what Mrs Sapiens might really like as a birthday present, although we may have proof that language still had to evolve a little. A few days earlier, they’d had this conversation:

“What would you like for your birthday?”

“Surprise me.”

What she meant to say was “Surprise me with a necklace”, but in the language of the time, that was ungrammatical. Some scholars argue that she actually said, “Surprise me with a necklace”, but speech perception hadn’t properly evolved so that he heard, “Surprise me with a sexy fur bikini”.

Anyway, my hypothesis is that Homo sapiens has been talking fluently since day one and that there’s a seamless transition from whatever species of hominid preceded us.

The Deliveing Room

Another story from the Chinglish Files.

We’ve been moved from our old classrooms to rooms over on the first floor on the south side of the school. As I was coming back from class this afternoon, I noticed that the sign on the door of a small room next to the stairs seemed to say Delivery Room, but when I had a closer look, it said Deliveing Room.

In Chinese it says 报刊分发室 (baokan fenfa shi). So, is it a room out of which they carry you feet first in a box? Er, no. It actually says Newspaper and Periodicals Distribution Room. The Chinese is nice and compact, but English can’t quite match it.


Meanwhile at the movies.

I was going through some DVDs earlier this evening and came across Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I couldn’t help but noticed that the Chinese title literally said “dream – ? – ? – happy star”, which, of course, got me curious. The Chinese is 梦城兔福星 (mengcheng tu fuxing), which appears to be “Dream City Rabbit Mascot”.

As for Tomorrow Never Dies, the title clearly lacks the villain’s megalo­maniac pretensions and becomes 明日帝国 (mingri diguo) – “Tomorrow Empire”.

Unbeknownst

Quick! Throw it in the rubbish!

Over the past couple of days I’ve kept seeing the word unbeknownst, a word that seems to belong to that set of lexical items which adolescents and twentysomethings appear to believe belong to the domain of formal written English.

I’m sure I’ve probably used it once or twice in my life – the folly of youth – but I’ve had the good sense never to use it again.

If you search for the word via Google, you get 3.15 million hits, but 2.36 million if you search for unbeknownst to.

According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of English Etymology, unbeknown is dated to the 17th century, although there was the Middle English verb beknowen “to acknowledge, confess” (OE becnawan). -st doesn’t turn up in the 19th century. Probably one of those 19th century fictions such as walking the plank and Vikings with horned helmets.

Unbeknown(st) is clearly adjectival in origin, but I started to find links referring to it as an adverb. It’s not an adverb, but I’d agree that in certain cases, unbeknownst to is probably a preposition.

Adjectival:

Ok, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I have randomly started writing haikus instead of studying like a good girl.

Prepositional:

Unbeknownst to Naruto, the story of his birth is dark and ominous and great power lies dormant within him hidden behind his foolish pranks.

In the first example, unbeknownst is dependent on reasons; in the second, there’s no such relationship. It’s kind of like a nominative absolute which is easily reinterpreted as prepositional in nature.

But take my advice, stay away from this word. It belongs in the dustbin of linguistic history. Even Spenser didn’t want it and he’s the biggest archaic-word slut in the history of English lit.

In technical terms

Lazy vowels?

I really hate it when amateurs try to describe linguistic features. It’s usually done in subjective terms which leave the reader with no clear idea of what’s being described. I was reading this article in The Guardian where I find

Laura speaks in a high-strung register, all Antipodean phrasing and lazy vowels.

My dear Libby Brooks, what is a lazy vowel? For that matter, what are “a high-strung register” and “Antipodean phrasing”? I must’ve missed the lectures about those when I was at university. Why didn’t you just say that Laura has an Australian or New Zealand accent?

Hypothesis: Libby Brooks can’t spell “Australian” and can’t remember New Zealand.

A Brief History of English Literature

Very brief.

I was thinking that I’d bore the Senior 3s under the guise of note-taking practice by giving them mini-lectures on the history of English literature, a subject about which, it seems, I perhaps only know marginally more than they do.

I like to think that I’ve read a historically wide range of works from English lit. in their original language (which means I’ve read stuff in Old and Middle English rather than in translation). But when it came to saying something about prose and verse from each period of the English language, I found my knowledge was somewhat wanting.

For example, I got to Middle English prose and could only think first, of Chaucer’s translation of Boethius or the Treatise on the Astrolabe, and second, of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. One or two other things drifted into my mind such as Ancrene Riwle, but who, apart from a philologist or linguist, whose interests wouldn’t be in the actual content of the texts, would want to read a book of rules for anchoresses?

The same goes for early Modern English prose to the end of the 17th century. My first thought there was The Old Arcadia, and little else until Aphra Behn, apart from minor prose works that I’m only vaguely aware of.

Was my knowledge of poetry any better? Only sort of. In the mid-17th century there’s a bit of a hole. I suppose Andrew Marvell was knocking around, but there seem to be no major literary figures before the Restoration whose names instantly spring to mind. In other words, whoever was writing then, probably doesn’t see the light of day outside postgrad English lit. courses or some MPhil/PhD thesis.

Even during the Restoration, you know there’s Dryden and the Court Wits such as Rochester. You recall Milton, although he was a major player during the Interregnum rather than after it. All else is pretty much in eclipse.

Hit the Augustan Age and Pope dominates the scene. The latter half of the 18th century sees the rise of the Romantics and the firm establishment of the novel as the dominant literary medium.

Thus my knowledge of the history of English literature is rather patchy, though perhaps there’s much I’ve also forgotten.

I was browsing through The Cambridge History of English Literature on Bartleby to give me a better picture of the field. Now and then I’d click on a link and skim through a section only to find the observations tended to be flowery and opinionated. As for Saintsbury’s comments on 17th century verse, I’m sure the poor old dear must’ve had a fit o’ th’ vapours every time he got near a metrically regular line.

The Da Vinci Code: Banned?

At least in cinemas.

I was over on ESWN (02.10.14. No guarantee the link works any longer) this morning where I see that The Da Vinci Code, after a reasonably suc­cess­ful run by Chinese standards, is being pulled from the cinemas. There seems to be no apparent reason for doing this, unless Nanny is trying to kiss and make out with Papa Ratzi in the Vatican. Another theory is that it’s been pulled in favour of home-grown content. I know it’s been on at the cinema in Changzhou, and it’s been out on DVD probably since the film was released here.


In related news…

The FCE-level writing exam has a Q.5 from which pupils have to choose a question about a set text. We don’t read set texts, but thanks to Mrs Tiggywinkle we got a special dispensation which we never got the chance to do anyway. In other words, the little dears should’ve left Q.5 alone, but a few did it anyway, including this on The Da Vinci Code which I now reproduce for you in glorious monochrome. This will be based on a Chinese translation of the book which, unlike the film, has been freely available in bookshops here for quite some time.

This is my favourite book written by Dan Brown. The book include art, history and anyother elements which the readers like, so it is very exciting.

I thnk the most interesting moment in the book is that Dr Robert talk about the famous picture: Davic’s «Monalisa».

As is known to all, «Monalisa» is so famous is because the smile of the woman in the picture is so scriety.

The opinion of Dr Robert is so strange and interesting.

He said in the book that «Monalisa» was famous because Davic said that this was his best picture and he also taked it with him wherever he went. And the woman’s smile was not scriety because she was not smiling. She was not a woman. Half of the people in «Monalisa» was a man and another was a woman!

Dr Robert said the Monalisa’s name come from Amona and Lisisy, It also seemed that Monalisa was not a woman.

Oh. these are so unbelieved and interesting!

This is a reference to Chapter 26. Of course, the word the candidate really wants is “hermaphrodite”, which is in the English original. It’s probably in the Chinese translation, but that won’t help on this occasion.

Out on DVD

Beowulf and Grendel

Two guys share a flat in New York. One’s totally OCD; the other’s a slob. It’s that much-loved American genre, two gay guys pretending to be straight. [Er, you do realise that that’s the plot to The Odd Couple, don’t you? Looks like I’ll have to do this one myself. –ed.]

The film is based on the Old English epic poem, Beowulf. The elements are there in one form or another, but now we have the girl as well. The filming was done in Iceland often at dawn or dusk (the latter seems more likely) which gives the lighting a rather harsh quality for no apparent reason. The monsters, namely Grendel and his mum, were more human than I would’ve portrayed them, although they’re meant to be the descendants of Cain. If you don’t see it, you won’t miss it.


Melissa P.

Italian schoolgirl lives with her mum and, predictably, dotty gran. Her father is always away on business. For some reason (to do with the absentee father?), the girl turns into an überslut. (It runs in the family because granny seems to have been an überslut in her day.) Predictably, things get out of hand when she ends up in the clutches of some Net perv just at about the time granny dies. (Now who wasn’t expecting that to happen?) Melissa stops being an überslut. Yawn. This is another one of those sorts of films which Italian directors seem to have a penchant for.


Office Space

Mike Judge’s take on life in an American office cubicle. Corporate cog, Peter, decides he’s had enough of life on the treadmill, and with his two programmmer friends rips off the company payroll alla Superman III. Things don’t quite go as planned, and Peter ends up in a senior management position after impressing two somewhat clueless efficiency experts with his honesty. As a minor subplot, Peter’s new girlfriend, played by Jennifer Aniston, is a waitress in a restaurant where her working life kind of parallels his.

Gary Cole is excellent as the boss who is a complete dick. I assume Stephen Root is Mike Judge’s best friend. Is there anything the latter has done that the former hasn’t been in?


Rat Race

My copy of this particular piece of cinematic poo appears to have been pirated from a Korean copy and has the baffling catchphrase on the cover “Let’s be made as smile”. And that’s almost the only funny thing about this film, and it’s not even in the film. A random group of people is informed that there is US$2 million in a locker at the railway station in Silvercity. First person there gets the money. In fact, a group of rich people is betting on the outcome. Hijinks ensue. Eventually, they recover the money, but then hand it over to charity. Lame.

This is dire. The best moment is when Jon Lovitz, driving around in Hitler’s limo, crashes into a reunion of WWII vets and rants at them like der Führer. But that’s it. John Cleese is dreadful, and Rowan Atkinson’s Italian was irritatingly unfunny. In fact, when was Atkinson last actually even faintly amusing?


The Closet (Le Placard)

Pignon (Daniel Auteuil) is a boring little man working in a condom factory. After he learns that he’s going to be sacked, his neighbour suggests that he should pretend to be gay. The manager of the factory doesn’t want to risk censure, and Pignon’s job is safe. Meanwhile, the rugby-playing office bully, Santini (Gerard Depardieu), is tricked by his co-workers into being nice to Pignon to save his own job.

I’d describe this as an alimony film. Ex-wives were demanding new Mercedes; the boys made this film. It’s probably a little funnier in French, but I doubt whether it’s that funny. Pray that Hollywood doesn’t do an American version.

That’s so gay

There’s nowt so queer as language.

I haven’t been paying much attention to the furore over Chris Moyles gay remark, but I happened to have a look at the related blog entry on The Guardian which has attracted so much attention.

Until the early 1980s, gay would’ve been marked [+moribund] in my vocab. The popularisation of the meaning “homosexual” gave it a new lease of life.

It wouldn’t have been until South Park was first aired that I would’ve heard the word in the other sense which I’d now regard as common – gay meaning “naff” or “rubbish”. Clearly this was derived from the homosexual sense of gay, and, in the early days, it probably had homophobic overtones.

I remember reading somewhere, online I believe, Language Log, perhaps, about some informal research on the current sense of the word gay. A number of people claimed that the “naff” sense was used in some varieties of English as far back as the 1960s, but the feeling was that this particular sense has probably been popularised by South Park.

Gay = naff has been round long enough for this to be a huge non-issue. There seems to be some belief that this meaning is kind of isolated from the way the rest of us use it because it’s part of the adolescent vocabulary. I was watching South Park when most of today’s adolescents were even that old. In other words, there will be twentysomethings and older who use the term as well.

I don’t know where the Sturm und Drang over this has come from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s coming from people who are, basically, out of touch. Language is notoriously difficult to regulate and the genii is already out of the bottle on this one; out long before Chris Moyles ever got there.

Nor is this especially new. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would sometimes come up with gay-themed humour. I think we had to invent some advertisements in English class when I was in the 4th form. There was one which started, “Are you tired of hoeing the pansies in the garden…” It was a laugh, but it wasn’t seriously aimed at anyone. Besides, when I was at school, no one would’ve admitted to being gay.

Actually, a few years after I’d left school I did hear that the guy who sat next to me in our form room in the 6th form had come out. I’d also heard that he’d got some girl pregnant, and rather suspected that the gay thing was a ploy to avoid that responsibility. I didn’t particularly like him, and his general behaviour didn’t suggest that he was even slightly gay. He may have been confused, or, more likely, clueless. He was certainly crass.

OK, that’s way too much gay-ass crap out of me on this subject.