Years back some friends booked a holiday in Sardinia.
The youngest daughter was in a flood of tears. "But I don't like sardines", she wailed.
We laughed then, not knowing that the fish probably is named for the island. So she may have had a point; although sardine consumption has never been compulsory (except at some birthday parties etc. in my youth).
And what about sardonic? Perhaps it's from the same root. Homer used sardanios to mean biting humour; maybe because eating a kind of plant that grew there (what plant though?) was supposed to give you a hideous (and perhaps fatal) grin if you ate it. A rictus.
I can't put my finger on the Homer reference, and these derivations may both be mistaken.
But here is an example of a sardonic sardine, from Spike Milligan. If I get a take down notice, then of course I will comply.
A baby sardine
Saw her first submarine:
She was scared and watched through a peephole.
"Oh, come, come, come,"
Said the sardine's mum
"It's only a tin full of people."
Does a rainbow exist? It's a beautiful thought.
At any rate, don't go digging there.
Sunrise and sunset provide some of the most beautiful sights in the sky. But we only usually bother to look towards the rising or setting sun, and not in the opposite direction, and so we miss some interesting effects.
My photo below was taken at 4pm this evening, facing east.
You can see that a band of sky, and a small stray cloud above, is illuminated by the pink rays from the setting sun in the opposite part of the sky, and that below the pink band there is a blue-grey one, which I think is the shadow of the earth on the atmosphere.
The effect would be more striking given a flatter horizon and a better camera than the one on my phone, but all the same I was pleased to get this shot.
Question - What would you call the chariot of the Sun?
Answer - An awesome cart.
What can make you laugh but also stop you laughing?
After reading a number of 'jokes' or 'mottoes' that people have had the effrontery to insert in crackers and pass off as humour, I propose to set up a joke factory with stricter quality control. The start-up already has a number of visionary backers.
The investors and I hope in time to completely automate the process but for now we've had to rely on humans to craft our jokes. The first joke has just been delivered. Remember you read it here first.
Question: What do you call an angry worm that goes "Hey nonny no"?
Answer: A mad wriggle singer.
The celandines are out
A mondegreen is where a phrase is misheard and interpreted as something which sounds more or less the same, but is actually quite different from what was actually said.
For example, a speaker might say "What's that toy left on the chair?" and a listener think they said "What's that toilet on the chair?" This is a real example that occurred today, I haven't made it up.
This kind of linguistic error was first called a mondegreen by Sylvia Wright, who wrote that as a child she heard the first verse of a Scots ballad as
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
Only later did she realize that there was no lady Modegreen. The Earl was the sole victim, and they laid him on the green.
Well-know mondegreens include
"Gladly the cross-eyed bear" for "Gladly the cross I'd bear".
"Good Mrs Murphy" for "Goodness and mercy".
"Me ears are alight" for "The Israelite".
One that a friend told me was the "Potato clock". Whatever is a potato clock? Well, "We need to get a potato clock". Better set the alarm then!
Mondegreens have attracted the attention of psychologists. In The Language Instinct Steve Pinker pointed out that the interesting fact that what the listener hears is often considerably less likely than the intended version. My examples of the toilet on the chair and the potato clock certainly have this property. Pinker interprets this as evidence that we hear what our auditory systems tells us (even though it's an unlikely meaning), not necessarily what makes sense in the context.
I wondered if I could systematically generate some mondegreens and hit upon the idea of reading verse to my dictation software. The latter must try to match sounds to stored words, using some kind of "goodness of fit rule, and I'm pretty sure it will also take into account what words are the most likely ones to follow a given word. I don't think it has a model of the world though, so what it recognizes should fit together plausibly as a word sequence, but might not mean the same as what I actually said.
And sure enough it came up with some modegreens. Here are a couple that amused me. See if you can spot the originals!
"Good thing which this last looked out."
"A poor player structure in French is out upon the stage."
Went round Paris in a coach. The guide was like, "Yak, yak, yak". What an earful tour.
– Someone called Pam was giving away cake with cherries in
– No, she was a stranger
I think some nursery rhymes go back that far, they have that feel.
I tried to do a back-translation of two lines from one of my favorites. See what you think. Can you work it out?
Cyning in goldhord atellith
Cwen in rum cambe aitest.
And I like that a lot as a little poem.
Our dynasty couldn't afford to own our own snake. But we aspired to rent one.
I couldn't conform.
I couldn't shape up as a prisoner.
We never wrote poems. It could get you killed, and we were risk-averse.
Rips up the clouds
My love please help me mend them.
As you looked into my eyes
I think you knew I told you lies.
And I, looking at your mouth
Wished to believe you told me truth.
But facing loneliness again,
We struck a bargain all the same.
Hardly any families had scruples. Any neighbor needed a screw pulled, they came right round to us.
I was recently reminded about Educating Rita, a play and film which present education as a journey of self-discovery.
Watching the film anew, I got to where OU student Rita (Julie Walters) gatecrashes alcoholic lecturer Frank (Michael Caine's) seminar on tragedy, because she's just seen a performance of Macbeth, and has been blown away by it.
The literary sense of tragedy, Frank explains, is a great person brought down by a character defect, not just the popular meaning.
Rita's response is something like, "I don't understand all that. It's just such a great story!"
At this point Macbeth jumped in. I forgot about all educating Rita and straightaway watched a couple of film versions of the Scottish play.
The first was the 1978 version with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. There have been many films of the play but this may have set a gold standard.
The second was from 2010, with Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood. I'd never seen this version before but found it astonishing and compelling. It's set, not in medieval Scotland, but in some 20-centrury totalitarian country, a sort of Stalin's Scottish Soviet Union. Sometimes new settings for plays don't work, but this one succeeds brilliantly.
Macbeth is a somber play, and Macbeth's last soliloquy unrivaled in its bleak despair. I decided I would learn by heart it, though, to add it to the few bits of Shakespeare I know. Here's my test, do I have it right?
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Until the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays
Light fools the dusty way to death.
Out, out brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage.
And then is heard no more.
A tale, told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury.
On YouTube you can find an interesting clip in which Ian McKellen analyses this soliloquy, from the point of view of the actor. The audience should hear it as though for the first time. There is also a clip in which Patrick Stewart explains how Ian McKellen advised him that... it's "Tomorrow AND tomorrow AND tomorrow" — the tragic sense of time.
I think Patrick Stewart captures it well.
Frank, Rita and Shakespeare each had their own idea of tragedy. One of its classical qualities is that the downfallen character come to a realization, something learned, and this is perhaps Macbeth's education. It is a pessimistic vision, but I find it noble that human beings can stare eternity in the face.
I went upstairs for a reason
But I only came down with a poem.
Where I grew up all the families fought one another. Ours was at the bottom of the feud chain.
Destroy Troy Boy in Wife Knife Life Drama
Experts say daughter slaughter may "be contributory factor"
The price of balloons has shot up. Inflation.
The prof asked "What's a tautology?"
I was like, "You tell me, you're teaching it dude."
I was like, "You tell me, you're teaching it dude."
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