Giving It All Away

I woke up with the cry of an eagle, circling in the crisp mountain air, and thought of early fall, of Thanksgiving.  And turned in bed, reaching for my kindle.

I’m reading All The Colors of the Darkness, by Lloyd Biggle Jr (thank you to the book brigade for recommending it, as in the bad old days when finding an out of print paper book took years and a lot of money, I’d only located two of his: The Still Small Voice of Trumpets — one of the best space operas ever written, and also a metaphor for what is going on in publishing right now — and World Menders, which I didn’t particularly care for.)

Right there, a page or two in, in what was if I judge right a pulpish solid mid list book, someone prods a loose board on the floor, and it gives “into Stygian darkness.”  (And apparently I dreamed this.  Post charging the kindle I realized it said subterranean blackness.  I have no explanation for this, except that I might have been in the wrong leg of the pants of time.  OTOH the fact such language was believable for that type of novel at that time, makes my point stand.)

I’m very aware of the level of language I use for writing, because I started out with that too erudite, faintly bookish undertone of everyone who first learned English in a classroom, then practiced it by reading mostly very old books.  (Look, the prices hadn’t been updated, and they didn’t have the ridiculous “culture preserving” tax.  They were forgotten, in a sort of little loft in the bookstore.  I spent happy hours there, selecting from Austen, Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott and a lot of now-forgotten Victorian novelists.)

One thing that has always puzzled me — though I get it less now, after years of working to stop it — is when I get otherwise cultured people telling me that my stories send them to the dictionary.

And then I stopped looking at that word “Stygian.”  Understand, Lloyd Biggle Jr. was in no way trying for literary stylings.  He’s setting up the situation for his characters and being very cadgey about it, and I get a workman sense from it.  (It’s good to read a competent craftsman.)  I don’t get a sense of “impress them with my vocabulary.”

I know what Stygian means of course. I cut my teeth on Greek-Roman myth.  Stygian darkness gave me the feel of a long way underground, in the land of the dead, of a river running through total darkness.  There is a feeling of no return and despair, attaching to that word.

And yet, if I were writing the story today, I’d have cut it on second language pass and replaced it with “cold darkness”or “echoing darkness.”  Why?  Because unless you’re aiming at a “literary fiction reading” public, you don’t want to stop the reader and make him go to the dictionary.  The problem is not only that he might not come back.  The problem is that you’ve popped him out of the story.  Instead of worrying about why these men are doing these things in an abandoned warehouse, he’ll be tracing through references to the river Styx.

The reason Lloyd Biggle Jr. used Stygian, probably unthinkingly, and didn’t cut it on second pass is that back when he wrote All The Colors of The Darkness, the word wouldn’t be unknown to most readers, raised as he had been on classical myth and references.  And because it’s so perfect, freighted with all sorts of meaning in a compact space.

But Latin is no longer routinely taught, not even in our colleges (Trust me, I’ve been looking for a class and gave up.  There are two in the region, but their hours are absurd. Though Great courses now has Latin 101 which I bought just at the beginning of the Great Move and haven’t opened yet.  It’s by my desk right now, and once I’m unpacked — looks like a week or so more — and have time after work, will start on it.)  I was the first in my family to not get it as a matter of course in High School.  Even in Latin countries, it is considered “outmoded” and who reads all those classical works with their references to Latin myth?  Or the Latin myth itself?

So what is wrong with abandoning Latin and Greek, and yes, the study of the Bible too (which CAN be done in a non-religious way.  It remains the basis for most of our culture’s patrimony.)?

A lot.  Part of it is that it separates us from the resonances and lessons of our own civilizational past.  It’s easy to convince people that women have been oppressed by men for six thousand years, due to some giant conspiracy of penis-bearing people, or that war would end if we all just decided it, or even if one side surrenders preemptively (with no bad consequences for the surrendering side.)  These absurdities would be exploded by even a brief dip into the past of our species, by reading the books written a hundred or two hundred years ago.

But the problem is that our children, hell, our middle aged people, no longer can do that.  Minor stumbling blocks like “stygian” send them careening into the recent, “approved” books, into the movies that give tendentious (always left) views of the past, into the pap that has been created on purpose to feed them.  And then they believe absurdities, and don’t realize their bright new ideas have long ago been punished by the gods of the copybook headings, which never sleep.

That is one part of the problem. It’s been a trick of conquerors throughout history.

If you want to control a great civilization, first you have to make it forget that it was once great.  As I said, I have been reading about the Muslim conquest of Europe, and one of the things they did was erase the past: they destroyed all large structures, used the elements to make their own structures (usually with captive design and labor) and then told the new generations that all the glories were Arab and their ancestors had been brutish barbarians.  (Worked too.  Recently read some historian lamenting the Brutish Spaniards taking over and living in the splendors of the Alhambra, not realizing it was built from elements stolen from earlier Visigoth buildings.)

The other problem is that you rob the future artists — writers, poets — of material that could connect their work to their ancestral civilization and make them resonate, enriched, into the future.  Even if you know “Stygian” you can’t use “Stygian” because your audience doesn’t know it, and you’re writing for beer and skittles.

So people no longer get what used to be true “literary” resonance, the mark of a work that is supposed to last more than in the moment, more than for passing entertainment.  (Well, most didn’t, but that was the aim.)  Part of the reason Shakespeare has lasted and projected is that it is full of such resonance some of which we don’t even get anymore.

Instead the intelligentsia has come up with their own “marks of literary” which mostly amount to “making sure you know I’ve gone to college.”  But the problem is that, unlike the older such marks, they don’t give a work deeper resonance.  What colleges are full of now is flawed, just-so Marxist-Leninist tales, and “more exploited than thou” contests.  Neither of which does anything but rip at the culture that originated them.  And neither of which lends a literary work more than a vague, sermonizing tone that makes one want to sleep.

Future historians, looking at before and after works will think that we were invaded and the ruins of our culture salted.  They wouldn’t be wrong.  To prevent our venturing back, even those of us who are willing to read the past, our invaders are gleefully “salting” the ground with “racist, sexist, homophobe” for any work even fifty years old.


What they don’t get is that these things have a way of not working in the long run.  Humans live not of bread alone, much less of Marx alone.  And their supposed iron-civilization-that-will-last-forever is a brittle shell built by drooling idiots.  They can rob us of our past, but they can’t give us anything in its place.  And eventually humanity will come back, digging through the cultural ruins, as it always does, for anything useful.

Our work is neither glamorous nor exciting.  We are like Walter Miller Jr’s smugglers, in A Canticle for Leibowitz.  Only what we’re doing is not burying the literal books, because well, no one has thought to burn them, they made them inaccessible in other ways.  Our work — if you should choose to accept it — is to take those tales, those echoing glories of western thought, and bury it in our work.  We can’t simply use Stygian as a throw away work, but we can write the Styx in allegory or in fantasy and use the word there, and open the door a little for past works and new minds.

It’s a lot of work.  It will take a lot of us a lot of time.  What? You thought rebuilding civilization would be easy?

Take up the keyboard and write.  We are all smugglers.




429 thoughts on “Giving It All Away

  1. Couple problems with that screed-Al Gore was not on either of the Senate committees involved in the Iran -Contra hearings and Lt. Col. North was referring to Abu Nidal – not Bin Laden.

        1. Okay. Remember I haven’t had any coffee. You had me frantically searching my post for references to Al Gore. 😀 It’s not nice to confuse the writer.

          1. Yes I was scrambling to understand what Al Gore had to do with the loss of wonderful resonate words from language because people no longer routinely encounter them.

            I’m willing to blame him for lots of things but I didn’t think he had anything to do with the loss of rich deep words.

            1. Ah, have you ever listened to one of his speeches…it is enough to put one off the language for a while.

          2. Wait, you WEREN’T talking about Gore?

            You mentioned Styx, which brought to mind Mr. Roboto, so what else was I to think of rather than Gore?

              1. A collection of Sturgeon stories had cover art depicting him as Charon steering a ferry across the Styx.

                There are places in the US, including S. Arkansas (Eldorado), that have poor communications receptivity. No cell phones, no internet etc without satellite, which will stop working during a storm. So you have to read paper books and talk to people. Whatever happened to the idea that the two most important books everyone should have are: Shakespeare and the Bible. I haven’t really studied the New Testament so I do miss some allusions there.

                1. There’s no cellular service in big swathes of the Ozarks either.

                  And for the matter, there’s the West Memphis dead zone on I-40, which has had no service since I got my first cellular phone back in 1995.

                  1. I-40 by West Memphis? I’ve never had an issue on there. Even my Sprint towers only phone got signal everywhere on 40 from Memphis to Little Rock. Now pop off an exit and head a bit south or north . . . nada.

                    When I was in West Virginia, I had that phone and an ATT phone, and I either had Full bars on both phones, or none. There seemed to be no areas with low signal, or signal on one and not the other.

                    My newer phone is a Verizon tower phone (Net10 smart phone), and if I walk across the river to Wisconsin it will not call out, and only occasionally will receive calls. Texting and network seems to still work (if it shows 3G or 1x) though going a few blocks more into Marinette I lose signal totally until down near Green Bay, but standing at work, and having a visual on the tower itself, I can only text, and often they don’t get through. At work, I am physically closer to the tower than I am here at home.

                    1. It isn’t that close, and there are two towers nearby. Crossing the river will again give me service, and I get about 85% signal when the tower connects. For whatever reason Verizon has no coverage in the town of Marinette, and having signal does not change that. If one has a Verizon phone you are roaming in Marinette. Mine is Net10, and doesn’t roam.

            1. You mentioned Styx, which brought to mind Mr. Roboto, so what else was I to think of rather than Gore?


            2. Heck, i could probably write an entire paper about how they were expecting the music censorship to come from the religious right, and it actually came from the left.

  2. PG Wodehouse is an author who is sure to fade away because people simply won’t get 50% of his jokes. In fact they probably don’t today.

    A typical Bertie Wooster story will make allusions to Latin, Greek, the bible, the (Anglican/Episcopalian) book of common prayer, various hymns and psalms and the works of Shakespeare. Some of the gross elements will still be funny but it’s not laugh a line hilarious, which it was to the people he wrote it for a century or so ago

    1. And Jerome K. Jerome. And Booth Tarkington. The current generation is impoverished – and they don’t even realize it.
      Hell, they can’t even spell properly.

        1. Ah. Well. Kipling. There’s no problem there because they are confident that anything in Kipling which they do not understand is evil, racist, imperialist, sexist and several other bad words. So they take their lack of understanding as proof of their moral virtue.

          Even if their damnations of him are valid, it does not mean Kipling was not a great writer, arguably the greatest writer of short fiction in the English language. A person can be a great artist and a vile human being, just as a wonderful human being can be an utterly uninteresting artist. That “Leni” Riefenstahl was a propagandist for one of History’s most evil (yet best-dressed) empires does not diminish the craftsmanship she exercised. One can deplore the gallows while still recognizing it is admirably well-constructed.

          1. I’ve heard of an SF con panel abusing Kipling until his sole defender asked what they had read of his. Stunned silence and a change of topic.

              1. And calling a writer names one has not read ought to be made punishable by making them copy out the collected works of said writer. In longhand. Without erasures. Make a mistake, start over.

      1. Tom Sawyer’s aunt had an eye to his best interests. She knew that spelling properly actually is a somebody-cared-enough marker, as is good grammar. And that ain’t no lie.

        Vocabulary per se is a tribal signifier, to be used judiciously when traveling ‘midst the Danes. Overdriving one’s vocabulary to the point where homonyms escape the spell checker signifies membership in the Aibiafaik tribe,

        Who has not shivered and quivered at tales of chthonian underground (birm) adventure? Brian Aldiss sent me to the dictionary with that one, back in the day. But it wasn’t that that made me stop reading him.

    2. The loss of some elements of the references in Wooster will not ruin the pleasure of the underlying stories of people being people.

      Sir Terry Pratchett does much the same in claiming cultural memes far and wide. Thankfully, so far he is still being enjoyed as well, but I don’t know how well his work will age.

      1. The loss of some elements of the references in Wooster will not ruin the pleasure of the underlying stories of people being people.

        Well you’d hope so, but it isn’t always the case. For example someone decided that “Yes Minister” would be a suitable program to be dubbed into German and broadcast on German TV in the mid 1980s. It was embarrassingly unfunny. I watched an episode when I was staying Germany as part of a language exchange. My host family simply didn’t get the jokes, even when they were translated well.

        1. Ooh, *ouch*. Yes Minister really only works where there’s a parliamentary style system of Government, although it’s becoming sadly more relevant here as well.

          From what I can tell, German culture is different enough that “Yes Minister” would simply fall flat.

        2. Actually, the very different humor of South Park didn’t do all that well in the Dutch language region (Holland and Flanders). People got the rude language (which is not particularly novel to the potty-mouthed Dutch), but missed the satirical reference points (which are somewhat opaque to somebody who hasn’t lived in the US or at least the Anglosphere, I suppose).

        3. Many years ago (when I was in the US Army) I was on leave in Vienna with some friends when we saw that a local movie theater was going to show the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup.” We decided to go and watch it. It was shown in English with German subtitles. As pretty much everyone knows, the Marx Brothers jokes were extremely heavy on word play of every sort, which is inherently untranslatable. We were screaming with laughter at some of the jokes, while the Austrians were looking at us in puzzlement, only to laugh a bit later at some joke in German that we didn’t quite get. Of course the slapstick worked for everyone. 😉

    3. T.S. Elliott. There was a review of the “Cats” revival that claims the modern kids won’t put up with Elliott’s poetry. He cited “I have a gumby cat in mind/Her name is Jenny-Anydots./ The curtain cord she likes to wind/ and tie it into sailor knots,” or some other verse from Gumby Cat. *blink, blink* Are we so far from 1982 that word and sound play is boring to kids? The reviewer thought “Hamilton” is much better. Oh, and “Cats” has no plot. *blink blink* Um, I saw two, although there’s not an enormous, clear, overarching blatant STORY in 60-foot tall letters.

      Um, yes, ‘Cats’ was my first intro to Broadway modern and I still love a lot of the music. Why?

      1. I bought Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats in part to show the kids that poetry wasn’t all woo-woo, So was an introduction to Kipling, and showing how song lyrics are poetry. Alas, by then the damage was done. The problem wasn’t T.S. Elliott, the problem was how poetry was introduced in school.

        1. Robert W Service is also readily accessible.

          Probably why so many moderns disparage him.

          1. And the auto-caption on the vid is word salad hash! A fitting comment on the FaisseBook Age.

        2. Same thing with chemistry, and probably almost all subjects. I am so very grateful Pa left his old 1950’s “descriptive chemistry” text out. I read that and it was great (some obvious errors, obvious now…) but the school courses? Yeah, those bored all too easily.

      2. My wife and I saw a road-company version of “Cats” several years ago (perhaps before we wed). As it stands, our anniversary treat to ourselves is the community theater version, showing tomorrow. An explosion of “Cats”, since the PBS is showing a Great Performances of “Cats” at 1PM tomorrow, too. (Interesting bit; the community theater is having a Mrs. Mistoffelees.) I think I need to dig out my copy of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” for completeness. I’ll skip “The Hollow Men” this week.

          1. I’ll pass; it’s been an “interesting” several weeks and yesterday had the added thrill of a sick dog. (Our dogs have a loose definition of food, and even the fenced kennel gives them opportunity to get into trouble. One dog can more-or-less handle it, the other not so much. Sigh.)

    4. I know — and it’s just tragic. Look, I can understand why trying to read 18th century stuff and backwards from there can be a bit of a slog. I wound up taking a class in Greek and Roman lit so that I could grasp the sense of some of the Restoration and Georgian-era writers without having to look to the footnotes every second sentence. But having to do it for the 19th century and the early 20th is just pitiful. Not being conversant with the Bible-as-literature, the Book of Common Prayer, Shakespeare and all that … this is how cultures die, not in one fell swoop, but in little nibbles of willful ignorance.
      OTO – having TV series made of them, may keep the flame alight for a little longer.

      1. … having TV series made of them, may keep the flame alight for a little longer.

        I expect we can all agree that the success of the HBO adaptation of Game of Boobies Thrones has resulted in many more people reading about the Tudor Wars.

        Of course, in this case “many more” might merely mean another dozen or two.

      2. It was the boiled shirt that threw me. I was reading a Science Fiction story from maybe 1940, where the setting was a college campus and boiled shirts part of attire. Apparently the term was well known in 1940; not so much now. More recent is the Niven story that starts with Louis Wu becoming distracted on his way to buy a battery for his lighter. Things change. Truth be told, the language of Shakespeare is increasingly archaic, though not as alien as Chaucer or the original Beowulf. Even today it’s mostly read for study, not pleasure. And we are so removed from the more earthy life of the past that some bible commentaries completely miss the significance of the dart through the liver in Proverbs.

        Does all this mean our culture is dying? Sure it is. All culture is constantly dying, replaced by another, usually in a seamless process. The real question is whether what is lost is something of value. Not knowing the meaning of a boiled shirt is inconsequential; not knowing the meaning of liberty is disastrous. The same can be said in moving into a post-Christian society, and not only from a spiritual standpoint.

        Our decedents won’t suffer if Hamlet isn’t performed or if people go “Huh?” at a reference to Bacchus. They will if they ever forget that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that power comes from the consent of the governed.

        1. I was stopped dead in the middle of a very good Robert Aickman story when the narrator said, “he scratched a Swan vela” until I realized it was just an unnecessarily specific Britishism for “he lit a match.”

              1. I remember the days when I was utterly confused as to why ‘fag/got’ was supposed to be insulting. I knew the terms as either the cigarettes, or the sticks/bundles of firewood.
                On that note, my darling Rhys showed me this recently:

                  1. A quote from James D. Nicoll:

                    “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

  3. I first read all three of those Biggle books when I was nine or ten years old. I didn’t know what “Stygian” was, and my parents’ house never contained a dictionary. But I got the nuance from context, and connected the dots later.

    The Darzek books vary widely in quality, but some of them are still quite good. I wish he’d written more of the Cultural Survey books.

    1. How long will it be before the cultural baseline changes enough that people read a statement like your first paragraph and wonder why whoever made the statement weren’t smart enough to Google it on his smartphone, or ask his digital assistant, or use the built-in lookup functionality on the device on which the story was being read?

      1. That has already hit the mystery and action/adventure writers. It’s hard to come up with a scenario that someone can’t bail out of by using their phone.

        Not impossible, but enough that “the battery went dead” is becoming equivalent to “the butler did it.”

        It’s not just the smartphone thing… there’s now a generation of adults who don’t remember when a short phone call could cost a day’s pay.

        1. Indeed. I am just young enough to have been on the borderline with respect to phone call costs. I remember the long distance carriers’ TV commercials, trying to get people to switch to their networks because they were less expensive than AT&T. I remember as a child my parents waiting until a certain hour of the evening (9 PM?) to make the long distance calls to their mothers, or some of their siblings and cousins. By the time I was about ten that didn’t seem to be much of a concern – I was easily paying for long-distance BBS calls with lawnmowing money.

          1. I remember how the breakup was followed by grumbles about how you had to put in this numeric soup to get a different carrier — and how someone had the bright idea to advertise the NUMBER not the CARRIER, which is what made it fly.

        2. Easy enough if you set the story in rough and rural terrain. On the 25 mile trip to one town, there’s a 10 mile stretch where the road goes through a canyon and cell service doesn’t happen. The 40 mile trip to the biggest city in the county (pop 20K for the city, 60K county) is better, but there’s a few miles where the service is spotty.

          In the north end of our county, emergency communications is spotty, with rocky terrain that raises hell with the 150MHz band radios, and the new 850MHz radios are worse. More-rural counties are worse, with 100 mile stretches with no cell service. Satellite would work, but car satellite equipment wasn’t more or less ubiquitous until recently.

          We have friends who don’t get any TV or internet faster than dialup because a nearby mountain blocks satellite signals. DSL and cable are just rumors out here. At least they have wired phone and power. In good weather.

  4. > when I get otherwise cultured people telling me
    > that my stories send them to the dictionary.

    …aaaand… what? It’s somehow your fault that their vocabulary isn’t up to snuff? It’s not like they have to write the word down so they can look it up in the library’s dictionary next week.

    I once read one of Fred Hoyle’s books, where the plot depended on “a canon with a crown.” Near the end of the book I found that a canon was a kind of priest. Obvious to a 1960s Brit, which was the audience he was writing for. It caused me considerable consternation, but it wasn’t his fault I have no clue about the hierarchy of the Anglican church.

    If continuity of the story depends on the reader’s knowing the exact meaning of some obscure word, you might try adding something to help give them an idea of what you’re talking about. If it’s not critical… just keep on truckin’.

    Now go forth and read some Jack Vance…

    1. Ah, but the gatekeepers would then classify you as “literary” and give you no promo.
      Yeah, I built most of my vocabulary by context, but it doesn’t make you popular these days. And unpopular means poor.

      1. One of the things I enjoy about reading Charlotte MacLeod is that she does send me to the dictionary. I actually enjoy expanding my vocabulary in entertaining stories.

        1. Another MacLeod fan! Galandaria! Landsman. If you really want to expand your vocabulary try reading William F. Buckley. His tv interview show Firing Line, is wunderbar! Try listening to WFB’s dicussion with Malcolm Muggeridge! There riches there!

      2. “The Road,” Cormac McCarthy’s literary SF end-of-the-world novel, ends with a paragraph that has way too many obscure words. “Wimpled.” “Torsional.” “Vermiculate.” (The online spell check doesn’t even have that one.) I could roughly figure them out before looking them up, but they somewhat spoiled a powerful ending. It’s as if he realized, right at the end, that he’d made this novel way, way too easy to read. I had given up on his “Blood Meridian” after a couple of chapters because it has lots of dialogue and his no-quotation-marks policy just made it impossible to keep straight.

      3. I don’t think you need to fear that, so long as it as it contains any rebellious bits of unorthodoxy.

        You”ll be “too stupid” too write Real Literature!

        Although on the downside, in addition to losing the promo, you might also find yourself the target of an international hate campaign.

        Good times…

    2. I know I’m weird but I actually get excited when I’m reading a book and a word used in it sends me to the dictionary. (And yes, I have a big old paper dictionary even if I am more likely to search for word-meanings online these days).

      Brains wear out when they’re not used regularly.

      1. Nothing earned Tony Randall so much of my respect as seeing him on the Tonight Show display the joy of a little boy on Christmas Morn upon learning from Johnny Carson some new fact. The intellectually secure mind is capable of, eager for, learning from any source — while the intellectually insecure will always and forever cite authority lest they be accused of having thought for themselves.

        Not the sequence I recall, but strangely suitable.

        1. Many still delight in learning new facts, if they can be reasonably assured ahead of time that the fact isn’t some species of BadThought. See Mrs. Hoyt’s LOL post just previous.

          It’s not entirely *intellectual* insecurity.

      2. If you really want to expand your vocabulary try reading William F. Buckley. His tv interview show Firing Line, is wunderbar! Try listening to WFB’s dicussion with Malcolm Muggeridge! There are riches there!

    3. That’s a good point. Perhaps these otherwise-cultured people need a little more culture. I’d hate our vocabularies be limited to what people read on Facebook or Twitter!

  5. And their supposed iron-civilization-that-will-last-forever is a brittle shell built by drooling idiots.

    The legs may be of iron but the feet will be shown to be clay… and the civilization based on it will fall.

    Yes, we are loosing much in loosing the stories from our past, not just vocabulary and tales, but hard fought for wisdom and knowledge.

    1. Oh Hades — you do realize that the “feet of clay” allusion will likely be lost on all but a few slope-browed, slack-jawed, bitter Bible-clingers?

      These days most “educated” folk think Lincoln’s “House Divided” remark was an original observation.

      1. I made a feet of clay reference recently and no one appeared to know what I meant. ::sigh::

        I would ask what are they teaching people these days but I know what they are teaching them.

        1. Try telling an employer, when asked about working overtime, that you prefer not to work on Sunday, but you understand Ox-in-the-mire situations.

      2. *Snicker* I reported a water leak to the city by starting with
        “Either there’s water main leak or Moses visited the [redacted] Baptist Church parking lot last night and tapped it with his stick, because water is bubbling up from their parking lot.” The tech chuckled and took the location notes. Yes, the water line had a small rupture.

        1. I had a problem when I was working in the legal field of secretaries wanting to write my given name as “Erin.” (As a male of the species I find that a little annoying.)

          So once I explained to a secretary that “Erin” as a girls name came from Irish Gaelic, and that “Aaron” was a Hebrew name, and the brother of Moses. She had no idea of the cultural origins of the names. (I blame ABC for not running “The Ten Commandments” during the Easter season anymore.)

          1. Years ag, I noticed that an absurd number of Allied generals in WWII were named “Evelyn.” Yesterday I found that the inventor of the Owen submachine gun was also named “Evelyn.”

            Absent a “boy named Sue” situation, that wasn’t a girl’s name around 1900…

            Nowadays we have the ambisexual Codys, Dallases, Robins, Hunters, and whatnots… Along with all the myriad misspelled Caitlins / Kaylas / Caelynns / etc…

            1. No, Eveline and Evelynn seem to have been the girl’s names. Evelyn, as in Evelyn Waugh, is exclusively the male name.

            2. It never seems to go the other way, either. Evelyn and Ashley went from being male names to being female names in the past century or so, and I’m sure there are others that I could come up with if I thought about it. But can you think of any formerly-exclusively-female names that have now become male names in that same time span? I can’t.

              1. Girls’ names in our culture are largely picked for their euphony. Thus a pleasant-to-the-ear boy’s name is likely to drift. But when it reaches a certain point, the “boy named Sue” effect kicks in. We’re not that PC yet.

                As a Terry married to a Robin, I am quite familiar with the phenomenon…

                1. Well, that’s not quite as bad as the people with two first names, or two last names…

                  Which is particularly fun when they decide they’re going to write their names last-name-first, which is evidently some Euro thing. And then wig out when you don’t use the correct name.

                  After that, I usually use George Carlin’s generic reference for people like that. “Hey you, ***hole…”

                  1. I’ve heard of someone given her mother’s maiden name as a first name. Family tradition.

                    She was something like Taylor Jane.

                2. At a conference I met a historian (female) who uses her initials as her name. Why? She’s from a Welsh family and was named Morgan [Middle Name] [last name]. She married a gent of Welsh ancestry, surname . . . Morgan. Apparently it drives administrators, computers, and telemarketers nuts.

                  1. A good friend of mine is named Robert. So are his brothers, his Dad, and uncles and some of his cousins.

                    They all have different middle names, but they all start with the same letter.

                    Apparently Grandpa had some kind of beef with the Feds long ago…

              2. Julian May mentioned that Julian was a female name (she’s female) in the Middle Ages.

              3. can you think of any formerly-exclusively-female names that have now become male names


        2. Yes, the water line had a small rupture.

          Better it experience a minor rupture than a major rapture, eh?

          1. Indeed. If large swaths of our municipal water supply network abruptly disappeared, there would be . . . problems.

        1. When I was in hospital after my first surgeries The Spouse read to me. Initially I was not able to follow anything long, but we found that a collection of William Safire columns worked splendidly. Later, when I was back in the hospital for another surgery one of the nurses, a quiet young man, excitedly remembered us as ‘the ones with the interesting book.’

      3. A columnist attributed it to Lincoln, I pointed out “creeping theocracy!”, and another commenter observed that he had not known that.

    2. I got that allusion — was going to comment on it. Glad to see I’m not the only one who saw it! Also glad I know how this Story ends. (I’m one of those bitter clingers….)

      1. Well, you know, this crowd. Give us a feet of clay reference, and my immediate impulse is to debate it with something like:

        I’m pretty sure the vast and trunkless legs and feet were stone, not clay – so that future travelers could gaze upon the decay round that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, where nothing besides remains.

          1. Or so they could write graffiti on it!

            (Have you ever seen the poem that’s “with apologies to Shelley”, that goes something like this? I can’t find it again.)

            And on the pedestal these words appear —
            “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
            Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
            …and “Joe and Jane Smith from New York were here”

            1. There’s a Pictish tomb on Orkney in which the Powers of Historical Preservation have historically preserved a set of Viking runes.

              They read something like “Hrothgar was here”

              1. The best evidence that the Pyramids of Egypt were built by humans using physical labor and lever devices is the graffiti that’s been found on the stones. The gangs that quarried them sometimes left their mark on their work: “The friends of Khufu Gang” and “The Drunkards of Menkaure” (they sound like fun, hard working, hard drinking dudes, don’t they?)

            2. I wrote the fandom version once upon a time

              I met an editor from an SF house
              Who said: Two vast and plotless tales of heroes
              came in the mail. Next them, in the pile,
              Half ripped, an illiterate scrawl whose errors
              And stilted prose, and ignorance of basic sense
              Tell that its author too much Tolkein read,
              Which yet arrive, printed in countless fonts
              The hand that plagiariased and the brain that fled

              And in the cover letter these words appear
              “My name is Ozyfandias, ‘Writer-man’
              Read my works, best-sellers and despair!”

              It would not fit the bin. Yet in the rest
              of that collossal parcel, We’re unaware
              Of hints to the return address

  6. To my sorrow I spent some years doing commercial writing (business & marketing stuff). It took me away from my first love – fiction – but paid well and immediate, if not continuous.
    I learned the lesson that the message has to match the audience, or you have no communication.

  7. Yeah, I’m surprised at Lloyd deploying Stygian, too. He was a midlist writer, and words like Stygian were too pulpish for his work. Typically he would have left such a word for the likes of Howard and Lovecraft.

    Snobs used to complain abut America’s “Middle-Brow” culture but I don’t see this as progress.

    1. Speaking of Lovecraft, experience suggests that if you want to convince a young boy to read a book with language and references he has to look up, all you need to do is put a monster on the cover. Won’t work on older or mixed audiences, of course.

      (The monster can’t be the “funny” kind, it has to be the “parents will worry the book will give him nightmares” kind. Absolutely essential that the monster be in the book, though.)

    2. words like Stygian were too pulpish for his work.

      In the early 1960s, Amazing Stories had not completely shed its pulp roots. Biggle may not have used it in this story, but I should not be surprised to find it somewhere in the corpus.

  8. Two years of Latin in high school. Only good it did was exempt me from any foreign language requirement in college.
    And I’ve mostly gotten my vocabulary through context as others have said.
    One of my writers (I beta read and copy edit for several for those who don’t know) is inordinately fond of the use of colloquial language and foreign phrases in her stories. Well done, appropriate, and meticulously footnoted. And I always have to badger her to tone it down. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but she’s trying to reach a mass audience, and much as it pains me to admit the fact, your observations on the current state of reader knowledge are spot on.

  9. I’m heart broken that you would have to give up the use of the word stygion. It has such a sonoros toll to it when you read it. And damn if you wouldn’t have to give up sonoros as well I’ll bet.

    Apparently I’m to well red I very very rarely get sent to the dictionary on words even when reading older books. But then I’ve been reading since the late 60′ and grew up reading books from the 30’s and 40’s along side the newer stuff.

    1. Speaking of books from the 30s and 40s my girlfriend and I found a partial set of old 1931 dated music books, and apparently she has been regaling herself by singing the operas therein.

  10. > Stygian

    Awright… are you yanking our chains?

    My ebook version of “All the Colors of Darkness” doesn’t contain the word “Stygian.” The closest thing I can find is:

    “Perrin was poking the toe of his shoe at a floor board. The board responded to pressure by bending sharply into subterranean blackness.”

    1. I wonder if someone edited the ebook for readablity. Remember when Ryk Spoor had a mini war with Eric Flint over Flints editing of

      1. Ack the editing of Schmitz’s books. It was their introduction and now they write a series together.

        1. My copy says:

          First Published in Great Britain by Dobson Books Ltd in 1964
          (c) Lloyd Biggle Jr 1963

          Maybe “Stygian” found its way into a later printing.

          I have a paperback, but it’s packed waiting for the Big Move.

          1. No. It’s “subterranean blackness” — maybe I dreamed it, or was in another leg of the pants of time. The point is the use was believable for a book of that time and category. I’ll annotate my post.

              1. Assuredly the mind has its ways of communicating to its servants, and such substitution made Freud a household slip.

                Last night I was reading Prof. Reynold’s USA Today column about Higher Education I inadvertently processed the phrase “student loan debt” as “student koan debt” — an error that, when I considered the content of so much of what students are fed in college seemed particularly apt.

                I’ve no idea what caused the slippage — while I have frequently typed “l” for “k” (and semi-colon for “l”) it isn’t the sort of reading error I tend to expect. But when you view the definition (MW: a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.) it seems more accurate a description.

                Not that I believe enlightenment is what such education provokes.

            1. Much really good SF from the Fifties has varying text like this. “The Man Who Lost the Sea” comes with either the original last paragraph, or the one reworded to make it very, very clear.

      2. And that there is why I don’t trust e-books. If “they” can change words in them, “they” could also change ideas in them.

      1. Your Voices may be more literary than most. Mine seem to be from the redneck zone of wherever Voices come from…

        1. Yes. And some of the ones I really want to find and read again I suspect were dreamed.

        2. Books, TV shows and once a pager tripping for a 911 call. Sad thing is I rarely remember dreams…and how straw Sarah and Larry ended up in one I have no clue.

            1. You and Larry were berating me for something I wrote online. I think I had been very inebriated the night before.

      2. “Fahrenheit 451” comes in a maddening number of different texts, Bradbury was told by a fan that most of the mild profanity and anything current readers might find objectionable had gradually been removed, a few words each edition, till the edition at that time had quite a few passages slightly changed. Bradbury demanded the original text be reprinted. This edition is the one with the great postscript. Maybe your reader has an edition from which “Stygian” was removed? You might not be mistaken.

      3. You are clearly a victim of what the cool kids are now calling the Mandela effect. I prefer calling it the Play It Again Syndrome. Basically it IS that you are remembering another leg in the pants of time.

          1. So named because apparently a lot of people ‘remember’ Nelson Mandela being killed in the 1980s. I don’t myself. They also remember other things that are not so. Some can be explained by common repetition of the the wrong fact, like “Luke, I am your father.” No one seems to mention “Play it again Sam” but that seems to me to be the same thing from a previous generation. People recall beloved childhood brands that they can’t just find now, but can’t even find any proof they existed. People remembering places on the globe that aren’t there or are different and then find some obscure map that shows the world wrong in exactly the way they recall. That sort of thing. The obvious answer is something psychological, but the pet theory online seems to be that they are remembering correctly, but for a different past… or that it is a different present… or some other such multiple-reality quantum effect. Many of these people blame CERN and/or quantum computing, though I prefer to blame commies (as I do with anything I’m not sure of the villain for… just playing the odds). While I don’t believe it, it would make for a cool story setting.
            see, for example:

            1. The Berenste/ain Bears!

              (I think I remember reading an article addressing the “Play it again, Sam” thing in the 80s.)

            2. Weird. I’m a Lindberg baby victim, and also a 22/23 November (not September) victim, in that I used to have trouble remembering younger son’s bday. (Yeah.)
              BUT I just lost several minutes on this and want to say there might be post.

                  1. Proof of the power of the unseeable Hand that guides all reality, this bit of codswallop turns up the same day as the preceeding discussion:


                    The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. That’s why Scripture says, “God traps the wise in their own cleverness.”

                    Sheesh. Everybody knows it is cats who travel through Time.

                    1. All dogs travel through time, but not the way we do, at 1 year/year. They travel at 7 years/year (or as physicists say 1 dog-year/year ) .

                      Heaven (and dogs presumably’) knows where they spend the other six years/year.

            3. Y’know, that’s funny — I was looking at a map the other day which had no Israel in the Middle East … probably slipped in from an alternate reality.

              BTW – Han shot first.

  11. Though Great courses now has Latin 101 which I bought just at the beginning of the Great Move and haven’t opened yet.

    That is one of their courses I have eyed. Once you get to it please do let me know how it is.

  12. I’m even older than you are, and had a similar upbringing in Mexico, in that my English reading was literature of the old school.

    But I write for the people who won’t blink at Stygian, who know who Job was in the Old Testament and what happened to him, who don’t mind complex layers in their stories, even if they don’t necessarily get them all on the first pass.

    Not because I’m trying to show my erudition – God forbid! – or that I know some Latin and Greek and have read all the old stuff – but because that is who I already AM, and dammit, if you can’t write the book you want to read, at least when you’re starting out (and in my case, not likely to write that many because it takes me so long), what’s the point?

    I have resisted the tag ‘literary,’ though Amazon has forced me to use it, because it now means something I don’t like, precious, plotless, and complicated rather than complex. Navel-gazing.

    My writing should have resonance in it – I certainly put it in there – but it’s meant to make you feel you got it, not that I put one over on you.

    And when I get around to writing mysteries and science fiction, it’s going to be the same thing. So there. I still think it can be done without being pretentious or obscure.

    1. “But I write for the people who won’t blink at Stygian, who know who Job was in the Old Testament and what happened to him, who don’t mind complex layers in their stories, even if they don’t necessarily get them all on the first pass.”

      Thank you, Alicia. And bless you for your intransigence.

      I am constantly being chastised not just for including Latin phrases in my writing, but in my everyday speech. Mea culpa for using foreign phrases that express a thought more succinctly — and as I’m fluent in French, German and Afrikaans, I scatter words and phrases from those languages as well — even if I have to take the time to explain them to others. Sorry, but expressions like “joie de vivre”, “schadenfreude” and “veldt” are more enriching than their (inadequate) English approximations. So, like Alicia, I will continue to write (and speak) using evocative phrases that convey my meaning or mood more precisely, regardless of linguistic origin. If people don’t understand me and/or are too accustomed to being spoonfed with pablum [sic] language (see how difficult it is to stop?), that’s their fucking problem.

      I see that English writers are being “encouraged” to stop (soon: forbidden from) using abbreviations like “etc.”, “e.g.” or “i.e.” because nobody knows anymore what “et cetera”, “ex gratia” and “id est” mean. And here I always thought that the purpose of writing was to inform, educate and entertain.

      Mea maxima culpa,

      1. Can I get an “amen”?

        It frustrates me to no end when I see college courses dumbing down language. On the other hand, it works in my favor during seminar discussions. When you arrive at an argument with a large, employable vocabulary on your hip, you’ve just brought a gun to a knife fight. It may not be fair, but I win my debates in class.

        Besides which, I think there is something to be said about the process of learning vocabulary and learning erudite turns of phrase. Even if a person never employs foreign phrases or a five dollar bit of vocabulary, just learning the knowledge helps strengthen the person’s ability to think.

        Yeah, I’ll never use my Latin for anything practical outside of my academic field and, yeah, nobody gives a damn about my ability to translate it. That said, the mental exercise that is learning Latin has been greatly beneficial for me.

        I refuse to repudiate my knowledge just because others don’t understand or appreciate it. I’m not asking others to disavow their sources of learning, why in the name of all that’s holy should I walk away from mine? It’s ungrateful to turn your back upon that which has given so much to a person, and I will not be ungrateful.

        Will I be poor? Probably. But I’ve been poor my entire adult life (by American standards, I should add). I don’t think leaving my vocabulary or penchant for obscure allusions at the door would have made me any wealthier. So I accept my financial poverty as I continue to build my knowledge. I can’t take either with me when I go, but I maybe I can have a great conversation with Tacitus as we occupy some hot corner of Hell.

        1. So, you are asserting that you repudiate any requirement to be niggardly with your vocabulary?

          Good for you.

          On occasion I have been charged with acts of intimidation upon unleashing the full sesquipedalian aspects of my linguistic capacities, but I says, if big words intimidate youse thats your problem, not mine. All that such words signify is a happy talent for retention and, in my case, a lifetime frittered on crossword puzzles. Only a pretentious twit would find such phrases intimidating or perceive them as intellectually determinative of the validity of an argument.

            1. When I can, although I would prefer to brush up my Shakespeare than be told to “sit down, you’re rocking the boat.”

              Some books are a delight for the phrasing, alone. The narrative voice of Portis’ <I<True Grit* and Mark Harris’ The Southpaw** share a common vernacular that invariably charms me.


              “Every time I ever been in a fight I usually always just covered up and left this other chap, whoever he was, just whale away at my wrists and elbows and the spaces between. Pretty soon somebody would break it up. Just to see 2 guys fighting makes me weak. When I was a senior at Perkinsville High we had this military training where the class would split into 2 groups and fight over Callahan Hill in the lot on Callahan Avenue with bayonets with boxing gloves on the end. We must of fought this fight 100 times and I was always the first 1 killed. Not killed really, but I would just lay down and die, too week to fight, crouching around until somebody stabbed me with a boxing glove. The fellows used to call this my Coward Crouch. Actually the trouble was it give me loose bowels and how in the hell can you go on fighting with loose bowels?…This used to bother Pop a lot, but Aaron said to Pop, “Why should it bother you? Is it not better for a fellow to go down in his Coward Crouch and live to fight another day?” and pop said he supposed it was.”

              There is something about that manner of speech, flat and formal, that just draws me in.

                1. Did you know that “Hamlet” has been translated into Klingon?

                  Though I didn’t find that quite as mind-bending as when I found out there’s an official Lucasfilm edition of “Star Wars” in Navajo… and that they held Star Wars conventions on the reservation.

      2. English, especially its American subsidiary, has a long tradition of looting words from other languages. It is why we have multiple words for flowers — fleur, blumen — and it allows us to incorporate words — such as schadenfreude for which there is no “local” equivalent, nor any need for one.

        Attention to precision of thought requires careful use of vocabulary, else we are in danger of thinking that prohibitions against paying ransoms for hostages mean it would be unlawful for a planeload of cash to coincidentally arrive at the time and place of a release of hostages non-voluntary guests of a foreign power.

      3. The only thing you have to do is explain, quietly and without insulting the reader who does NOT get the original reference or foreign language quote.

        I do that instinctively now – the more subtle I can be in explaining, the better – so as not to insult those who got it right away. That’s one of my tiny little pet peeves about literary – and I’m not going to do that to readers of mine.

        1. In honestly, it’s like jargon now, sadly. Do specialist fields and you need to use it but not sledgehammer it. No different than not writing to bludgeon readers with sex, color, etc.

      4. Auch ich (to Kim). Sarah alludes to a rich resonance that the callbacks to our cultural foundations give a work. I also find that resonance enhances my enjoyment of a work. I write for people who find delight in realizing the connections between my work and Shakespeare, the Bible, Kipling, Byron, et al.

        After all, my characters are drawn directly from myth.

        I remember, from back in fifth grade that certain abbreviations (and outlining terms) used by Doyle in A Study in Scarlet (which, yes, sent me to a dictionary) when understood fully giving me that little frisson of discovery, which is part of that which I attempt to bring to my readers.

        I suspect that those — who garner a little joy from learning new facts — are the ones for whom we should write, and not the lumpenproletariat who seem incapable of comprehending, e.g., the Gods of the Copybook Headings, even when exposited with pellucid clarity.

        1. And yet, it is that lumpenproletariat whom we must win, whom we must infect with the idea that narratives are to be understood rather than just accepted, to be judged on their true merits and resisted if necessary, not by Marxian memes but by educated onderstanding, by looking at consequences and causes.

      5. But… but… schadenfreude and veldt are perfectly good English words. They even appear in the Scrabble dictionary.

      1. When I was reading the Shakespearean version, that term struck me. Because, of course, if an actual Shakespearean character had used it, they would have meant “suffering from a scalp disease.”

      2. I dislike picking grammatical nits in a casual blog environment, but shouldn’t that be “For whom is Scruffy looking?”

        Whomever it is better hope Scruffy doesn’t find him. Last one Scruffy buried we didn’t find until months had passed.

  13. The Still Soft Voice of Trumpets: Review: ”
    This is a short read, but an extremely thought provoking title. Biggle manages to show how one small act can change the course of history.

    This is a marvelous book from the early days of science fiction, a great one to add to any collection. ” Yes, ’68 WAS so early!

      1. Under the new dispensation, temporal relativity is being employed to be more sensitive to the chronologically-challenged. Anything from before the reviewer’s own nativity is thus “early” and anything from before the reviewer’s parents is “ancient.” 😉

        1. And anything that does not fully support the current progressive narrative is obviously lies perpetrated on us by revisionist old white male historians.

          1. Alas, I’ve had no exposure to Thomas Pynchon, but a surplus of exposure to the works of Progressivism.

      2. At work, “That was before my time.” I reply with, “As was Shakespeare, Beethoven, Elvis, the Beatles, and the atom bomb[1] – but you probably know at least little about them.”

        [1] 71 years old this year. Ponder that.

  14. On the Latin course topic, some home-schoolers are giving their children a ‘Classical’ education (or as close to one as they can manage — if I was home-schooling now instead of in the 1980’s when we started, I would be doing a Classical program). So if you look through home-school materials you should be able to find a good assortment of Latin course work at several levels.

    1. The Trivium (the pedagogical concept, not the heavy metal band) is a popular Home School course of study, being the basis for more than one curriculum package. One explanation of it defines the Trivium thusly:

      [1] General Grammar, [2] Formal Logic, [3] Classical Rhetoric

      [1] GRAMMAR — (Answers the question of the Who, What, Where, and the When of a subject.)
      Discovering and ordering facts of reality comprises basic, systematic Knowledge

      [2] LOGIC — (Answers the Why of a subject.)
      Developing the faculty of reason in establishing valid [i.e., non-contradictory] relationships among facts yields basic, systematic Understanding

      [3] RHETORIC — (Provides the How of a subject.)
      Applying knowledge and understanding expressively comprises Wisdom or, in other words, it is systematically useable knowledge and understanding

      [Source: ]

      1. The Grammar portion is heavy on memorization of facts, which really makes it odd in modern teaching.

          1. SERIOUS. That’s why it’s a home-school thing. Parents don’t grasp the signficance of it.

    2. Indeed. And more are doing Great Books, or Thomas Jefferson, or any number of other curricula that demand some acquaintance with the lingua franca of the past. But no one I’ve talked to is really happy with their Latin program. Part of that is that the parents teaching it frequently have no Latin at all, so it is all on the program to teach. (I have some. I’m the exception: I had access to a university library through my dad’s job, and learned some from 100+ year old books in elementary school.)

    3. Shadow was asking about homeschooling for elementary math recently. (Those bastard Australian teachers are doing common core math.) I forgot the very important times table. Drilling is tedious, but you eventually get it down second nature. That makes the rest of math much less scary and confusing.

      1. Yes, drilling the times tables is deadly boring, but it has beneficial aspects.

        I realized this upon considering that push-up are a bloody useless exercise, in themselves, but they develop upper body strength very well, and that translates neatly into other tasks that demand upper body strength. The times tables are only mildly useful knowledge, but memorizing them develops mental “muscles” of concentration, of holding “larger” concepts and thoughts in the present and other attributes which are of great benefit to the mature mind.

        “Sand the floor” offers, we all know, uses beyond a smooth walking surface.

        1. Doing push-ups develops both upper body and core strength, requiring as it does both abdominal and back muscle (down through the gluteus maximus) involvement to hold the proper plank position. Jumping jacks require a dancerly coordination of different body parts doing different things at the same time repeated over time to create aerobic endurance.

          I drilled my daughters on multiplication facts as soon as they could count on their fingers to add. It kept them busy and well behaved in the car when they were toddlers — a fun game full of small triumphs, so they never realized it could be boring.

    4. I frequently regret not home-schooling from the get go (yes, sadly, even knowing how inadequate our public school systems are it too me several years of beating my head against it before I plucked up the courage to just do it ourselves, mea maxima culpa) and one of the biggest regrets is that my kids were old enough that a true classical education was no longer practical, as they’d lack the necessary grounding in Grammar to move on in to Logic and Rhetoric when they should be ready for it. We do our best and will be focusing even more on critical thinking and independent learning this year than we have in the past (we already focus heavily on literature and history as those are familial obsessions regardless of formal instruction), but I really wish I’d been grounded in the HS culture much earlier, I’d have had a much better sense of the direction we wanted to go, rather than feeling like I’ve been faking it as we’ve gone along. Also I wish I’d never studied formal pedagogy in my undergrad, there is nothing more unconducive to successful homeschooling than a degree in education.

  15. At one of the places I worked, late ’80’s/ early 90’s, the last day at work before Christmas was for food, fun & games. Someone started an early computer version of “Jeopardy!”, which drew a crowd. As some of the younger people in our department were playing, a friend and I watched. So many times that we lost count, a question would cause blank stares among the contestants, and my friend and I would mouth “They don’t know THAT?” to each other. When we grew up, these things were common knowledge, things that “everybody” just knew. It was one of the early indications to me of what we were losing.

    I never finished college, and “only” have a 2 year Tech degree. But later, during my turn to play, I got way ahead, and even blew $25k on a Daily Double, and still won! Somehow, I was only allowed to play the one round.

    Working with Engineers, I amused myself by adding lists of large numbers in my head, announcing the answer before they could finish entering them on their HP calculators! Helps to be taught how numbers work, and not just how to enter them into a machine. Long before smartphones, I wondered how most people would get along, if power went out and they ran out of batteries.

    Even with that said, I sometimes struggle with the “Classics”, and other older works – but will still make the attempt.

    1. Asimov wrote a book on doing arithmetic in your head. I mentioned it in one discussion to the amazement and derision of some gen-Xs.

      Pocket calculators didn’t exist when Asimov wrote the book, but even if they had, it still takes time to key the numbers in. So all that wasted time is available…

      As for “Jeopardy”… most of the episodes I saw dealt primarily with Hollywood, art, or sports trivia. I’m enough of a cultural outcast I was at a complete loss for most of the questions…

      1. I recall a short story where the warring factions had developed the technology to knock out the calculating machines that directed their rockets and bombs. So someone reinvented math in your head which was considered a terrible weapon of war.
        A bit fuzzy on the details or I’d give a title and author.

        1. I think it was an Asimov short, although it might refer to Heinlein’s Andy Libby — it has been long enough since I read his introduction that I am not clear on the tale. But Asimov certainly used something like that in a story even if I would now find it to tedious to read through the probable candidates.

          1. I wonder if any math or engineering department in the country still teaches how to us a slide rule?

                1. It is used to measure the amount of fantasy in a work of fiction, its name coming from Jules Verne.

                2. The last I saw was on a theodolite. It was replaced by an electronic version. At the time, the electronic theodolite was cheaper than the strictly optical with engraved dial.

                  1. I saw it on a very special aviation engine maint. micrometer that the instructor kept in a padded, locked box and would only let us use under very close supervision. He said it cost about $$$ to have recalibrated if someone fouled it up.

            1. I saw a slide rule once. My calculus teacher brought it to class so we could say that we had seen one.

              1. Still have several. I learned to use one and did until pocket calculators replaced them. A friend, who was a year behind me, has never used one.

                There were mechanical calculators you could slip in your pocket. One, that used a stylus, could add and subtract and I think could do multiplication and division.

                1. In 1970 I was working for GE. The office bought a four function calculator. It was the size of an electric typewriter and cost as I recall $2500.

              2. I have a nice one. I still intend to make a glass-fronted box for it, with a brass hammer on a chain.


                Somewhere I have an original IBM PC motherboard with a whole 64K of RAM and a cassette port. I may do something similar with that.

                1. My brother acquired several slide rules while in high school and used to go to math contests and array them on his desk, mostly for the double-takes.

      2. Feynman had a few occasions where he and other super geniuses in the Manhattan Project developed all sorts of neat tricks and shortcuts for doing really complex math in their heads.

    2. It can be disheartening to realize so many people haven’t the slightest idea what is being sent up in this cartoon …

      Not only that, the creators of the cartoon had full confidence that the vast majority of their audience (aka, “Middle America”) would get the references.

        1. I’m going to inflict, er, introduce it to my students this year when we do mass culture in the late 1800s. Ruined me for Wagner forever. 🙂

          1. A former co-worker’s kids called all classical music “Bugs Bunny Music”.
            These days, your heavy metal fans often know some of the classics because of Apocolyptica and others like that playing a combo of classicalized metal covers to rocking renditions of Flight or Hall Of The Mountain King etc.

            Oh, and knowing Wagner will ruin Wagner for most people (~_^)

            1. As Mark Twain reportedly said, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

              It turns out that Twain didn’t say or write this. In his autobiography, he quoted this as coming from the younger humorist Edgar Wilson, a.k.a. Bill Nye (1850-1896). Over the years, people became confused and attributed it to Twain himself, probably because the Man in the White Suit cited it approvingly in his memoir.

          2. When I was working at a Post Office (feeling better now, thanks) Saturday nights/Sunday mornings would be slow and there would be me and the (acting) dock supervisor on the dock often. So, being utterly tired of Top 40 radio, I brought in a tape (yeah, it was a while ago) for the boom box that was there.

            “What’s on that tape?”
            “Some Big Band, some cartoon stuff, some classical.”
            “Aww, not classical.”

            A while later, the tape gets past the Big Band, past the Animaniacs stuff and into the classical… but very carefully chosen selections.

            “Hey! That IS cartoon music!”

        2. When both the Hoyt boys were little, I took them to the theater see two programs of Warner Brothers classic cartoons, one hour forty five minutes each. Yeah, “What’s Opera Doc?” included. I wish they’d do more such collections, those two barely scratched the surface of Warner Bros looniness.

          1. The old Cartoon Network show Toonheads was great at showing the rarer ones and those made by the greats. There were some even then one would not see, like Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves, though some of the other anti-German or anti-Japanese were shown from time to time.
            I showed Coal Black to some former co-workers (both black, but bemoaned not seeing Inky on tv anymore) and they loved it, though they admitted it was likely today to be viewed in the worst light, but anyone who knows real history and society around the times would know it was milder than some of the stuff made for and in some cases by blacks of the time.

      1. Oh, yes — there were so many classical references smuggled into things like cartoons, once on the day…
        I know this because – I was raised on classical music. I even worked for about a decade as a classical music DJ for the local public station.
        Yes, I have passed off some of this to my daughter … but sigh …

        1. The old school cartoons like bugs usually worked on a few levels. Now they are for stoned teens.

          And sometimes you get lucky in music. My Brit lit teacher brought in iron maiden after we read rime of the ancient mariner. But mostly it seems detached from history.

  16. when I get otherwise cultured people telling me that my stories send them to the dictionary.

    I’m not particularly cultured (I suppose I could swab myself and go down to microbiology to see what grows out), but I think I’m fairly intelligent. You do occasionally have me looking up a word to confirm or refine what I’m taking from context. And I’d like to thank you for that.

    Dictionaries are good. And with almost all of my reading being done on a kindle, easier to use than ever.

    1. Current estimate of # words in English as of 2015:

      Many people estimate that there are more than a million words in the English language. In fact, during a project looking at words in digitised books, researchers from Harvard University and Google in 2010, they estimated a total of 1,022,000 words and that the number would grow by several thousand each year. When you see a massive number like this, though, it’s important to remember that this includes different forms of the same word. It also includes lots of words that we could call archaic (they are not used in modern English).

      In the second edition of the Oxford English dictionary, there are approximately 600,000 word forms defined. Again, this includes many old-fashioned words that are not in common use any more. The dictionary also expands every year to keep up with new words that are invented to describe the world around us, or to include new meanings for words that already exist in English. A more useful number from the Oxford English Dictionary would be the 171,476 words that are in current use. That means there are examples of each of these words being used recently.

      That’s still a lot of words, though, and doesn’t reflect the number of words that English speakers actually use. For that number, let’s look at a recent study by the people at testyourvocab[DOT]com who say that most adult native-speakers of English have a vocabulary of 20,000-35,000 words. Obviously, these are not the same words and everyone’s vocabulary will include different words according to their career, education and interested.

      It would be interesting to see a graph of the average number of words in the vocabulary of the average “educated” American over the last 100 years.

  17. John Ringo (& Linda Evans) wrote a Bolo Novel titled “The Road To Damascus”.

    I commented in the Tavern that the title gave me a very good idea about how it would end.

    Sadly, there were people in the Tavern who didn’t know what a “Road to Damascus experience” was. 😦

    1. I was watching a documentary on the atomic bombs, and one of the things that they talked about was finding non-military uses for the bombs. They called it Operation Ploughshare.

      The documentary didn’t explain why, of course, but my thought was “Somebody probably thought they were being clever there.”

  18. Honestly, the number-one difference I’ve noticed between “literary” works and everything else, even over overborne, juiced-up prose, is that literary works are almost all tell. As little show as possible. They want none of it. It’s like showing the reader something is an anathema. It all has to be tell.

    Balancing show and tell is one of the older rules of writing, but I guess if you want to be “sophisticated” you need to adopt the language style of a dry documentary.

    1. “Showing” implicitly assumes readers capable of reaching conclusions without being grasped by the ear and led to them.

      That “Literary” writers have no confidence in their readers’ ability to reach such conclusions without being told is very telling of their contempt for their readers.

      Their contempt for those who won’t bother to read them is even greater.

      People who do not need to be lead to conclusions have long since reached their own conclusions by now.

      1. “Showing” also assumes that something is occurring in the ‘story’ besides navel-gazing.

  19. Had you grown up in the USA, you would have been teased out of using your vocabulary by fourth grade, I suspect. I certainly picked up on the social unacceptability of words unused by Hollywood in my younger years.

    1. Fortunately it didn’t work on me. I still have my vocabulary and I love my vocabulary.

    2. They’ll take my vocabulary when they pry it from my cold, dead brain.

      OTOH, I have stopped using some words in work emails, because even if the word was concise recipients often didn’t understand it. [sigh]

      1. Yep, it’s always a joy when you can let your hair down and use all the fun words.

        One of the reasons its more fun to work with teens than grown ups.

      2. A manager once told me that some of our ESL engineers complained that I used too many big words. I asked if he was accusing me of erudition. He said “I guess so.”
        On that same assignment, I once complained that a certain management directive would “play merry Hob with our schedule.” For the next month my team found every chance to use that phrase at me.

    3. Oh, yes, fellow classmates called me dictionary and encyclopedia, that is when they were not already teasing me for my rather unusual name. There were even teachers who gave me a hard time over my name. That name made it impossible to conform. So, in the end I have never really learned to put on a front, there was no getting around who I was.

  20. UNM actually teaches Latin and Greek. I took one semester of Latin about a year and a half ago. The grad student teaching it wore her Hufflepuff scarf to class and talked about how she had to do her Greek translations…

    1. I have to wonder if she read these books:
      Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis
      Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Ancient Greek Edition)

      1. I find it a telling commentary on the level of esteem our publishers hold for their customers was their insistence that the American edition of HP and the Philosopher’s Stone be renamed to Sorcerer’s Stone as they felt the masses wouldn’t get the reference.

        1. And yet I distinctly recall learning of the Philosopher’s Stone from reading Flash comics in the early Sixties. (Doctor Alchemy, a criminal also known as Mister Element)

          Thank you, John Broome.

          1. Yes I was often coming across ye olde philosophers stone in books until the late 80’s.

        2. Silly publishers. One of the most popular of Anime series in the USA is Full Metal Alchemist in which a major plot line involves the search for a Philosopher’s Stone.

          1. Yes, but they were looking for a broader audience.

            (sigh. I’m afraid that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, despite some wonderful moments, came across as fanfic to me.)

          2. Though I suspect the one in the Harry Potter tale didn’t work quite the same as the one from the FMA manga/FMAB anime. I hope. O_o;;

            1. Well, immortality and turning lead into gold are the two traditional ones. (Because gold doesn’t rust, corrode, tarnish, etc.; it’s immortal.)

            2. Well yes, in Potter there was no issue of such a manufactured stone … cough! cough! — now explaining that would require a major spoiler alert.

  21. But Latin is no longer routinely taught, not even in our colleges (Trust me, I’ve been looking for a class and gave up…

    The Latin instructor at my local community college just retired, at about age 85, so my local community college no longer offers Latin. He was unusual in that he also taught Russian. He quit teaching Russian a few years ago.

    Doesn’t mean he no longer teaches, he just now does it unofficially with a group of die-hard students more as a weekly social gathering than formal instruction; we’re working our way through the Aeneid. Tough slog for me. Not quite so tough for the others in the group, who have been doing it longer (I’m the newb in the group).

    Never expected the Latin I took to come in handy, but then the wife got me involved in genealogy. The particular line I’m researching is full of Catholics, so the records are largely in Latin.

  22. I use a lot of Latin and Greek (and some Hebrew) to create words for my invented creatures–I have orthovores and ambimorphs and actinaphages and a brontophanies. I do define the terms in the text, but I sometimes wonder how many of my readers can recognize the roots and understand how I came up with these names. Or if it even occurs to people that I’m not just stringing together random syllables.

  23. Of course, since I was reading Robert E Howard at the age of 14, I had a very different meaning of “Stygian” in mind. And it was my interest in learning the sources of Howard’s names that led me into learning quite a bit about history, language and mythology. I wonder if Harry Potter has helped modern kids do the same?

    1. I learned about condottiere and other bits of history reading Gordon Dickson. I think that he was the last English Lit major who wrote fun, accessible fiction.

  24. I’m grateful when a writer introduces me to a new word or two. (But not too many in one chapter.) My vocabulary is large enough already that it’s hard to feed me new words, large enough that it’s making it hard for me to learn Pitman shorthand. (Pitman has lots of alternate ways to write the sounds, so you have to learn to spell all over again. But the alternative is Gregg, which requires perfection in the cursive forms, and I’m a southpaw with a disconnnect between my verbal and geometric faculties. My handwriting has always been abysmal.)
    Go ahead and use the better word. Just make sure that you don’t use an obvious reference to our myth when you are writing about a made-up world!

    1. Oh, forgot a point: If you can get the readers, slipping them new words will help to thwart the Newspeak partisans who are chipping away at our language as though it was an ancient Buddha.

    2. I’m a lefty, and used to be moderately proficient in Gregg.

      When a co-worker picked up some of my notes and asked what they were, I told him it was Minbari script. For some reason he didn’t question that…

      1. You’re lucky, or you had teachers who knew how to teach southpaws. I looked at Gregg and decided that I could deal better with the hooks and the heavy strokes. (It helped that my mother was a Pitman writer and there is a terrific blogset for it run by one person.)

  25. On a happier note, writers can include references to Greek & Roman mythology for the next generation or so of readers thanks to Rick Riordan.

    He seems to have fallen under the influence of the SJW establishment recently, so we may end up with another John Scalzi, more’s the pity. Once the “relevance” and “lit-rah-chur” crowd get their claws into popular writers (as they did with Mary Stewart or Georgette Heyer), you can kiss great storytelling goodbye.

    But until then, and for the next few decades as the millions of Percy Jackson fans pick up novels, when it comes to that part of our heritage, all bets are on.

      1. They convinced them to quit writing their trivial little romances, and spend their time and talent writing something that mattered.

        Neither one’s output fully recovered from the assault.

  26. Lovecraft, Clark Aston Smith, and Frank Belknap Long are big offenders of using words of brobdingnagian proportions and recondite status. (Otherwise known as big words not many people know)

    For years when I read Lovecraft I thought ‘squamous’ meant ‘squishy’ until I finally bothered to looked it up and found it meant ‘scaly’.

    In context I think squishy makes more sense.

    1. Wellllll, okay, I confess: a lot of those types of words reside in my data base because of Stan Lee, especially Dr. Strange.

      1. One of my favorite words-that-describe-itself. I like to say that one of the things that call for explanatory comments in a computer program is the recondite algorithm. (Felonious erudition is fun.)

  27. One major advantage to having read Latin, besides being able to giggle at naughty texts in old medical books or to read medieval inscriptions, is that the grammar will save you if you learn other languages. After four years of high school and college Latin, German grammar slotted very easily into my mental framework, ditto Spanish. A dative is a dative, an ablative is an ablative, the perfect and the imperfect subjunctive do the same things . . .

    1. I took Spanish and French in junior high. I found a self-study book in German, and worked my way through that too. Oddly, the smattering of German turned out to be immensely helpful in chemistry class later…

  28. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around people not understanding the word “Stygian”.

      1. You know, I thought of suggesting we reroute the Potomac to improve our situation, but then I realized: it’s DC. It’d have to be a union job.

        1. Hey, we should encourage them going green! Remove all the air conditioning in government buildings! (Except the Smithsonian)

          1. That was my stance back during the “Energy Crisis” of the early 1970s. Why should *we* sweat or freeze when *they* were chauffeured to their offices in air-conditioned limousines?

        1. Ye cin say what ye will about comic books, but back in the Silver Age they stole from the best … and expected their readership to recognize it.

        1. And the Cuyahoga is too far away – and has been cleaned since that fire-catching notoriety. A fire-river might be just the thing for some parts of DC.

      2. Thankfully, enough people still read (or watch) Tolkien that people will realize what is referred to if you refer to it as Mordor on the Potomac instead.

  29. Now I want to add “Arma virumque canto” as an inscription in one of my upcoming books. I’m already using a quotation from the Vulgate as the series start and end. ( Psalm 120: 1 canticum graduum levavi oculos meos in montes unde veniet auxilium mihi 2 auxilium meum a Domino qui fecit caelum et terram )

    1. Ooh – I like “canticum graduum”, since departures (even nasty SIDs) are (mostly) the easy part, but now I need something good for the vexfulness of the approach at the end of the flight…

      1. “Magnificat anima meum Dominum”? I also lean on: Dominus reget me et nihil mihi deerit

        2 in loco pascuae tibi; me conlocavit super aquam refectionis educavit me

        3 animam meam convertit deduxit me super semitas iustitiae propter nomen suum

        4 nam et si ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis non timebo mala quoniam tu mecum es virga tua et baculus tuus ipsa me consolata sunt

        Yes, I’ve spent waaaayyy too much time singing mass settings and lectionary passages, why do you ask?

        1. Well, plenty of approaches I’ve seen qualify for the “valley of death” part…

          “Yea, though I’ve been cleared for the approch into the valley of death, I will fear no decision height, since I can slam the levers and go missed really really fast…”

          1. Yeah, but have you ever noted that on the plates, the “Go around past MAP improbable” is in 6-point light grey font that’s impossible to read in turbulence… like any kind of approach that would result in trying a go-around after the missed approach point?

            1. Oh, like the MAProcedures going into Aspen, CO? IIRC they are basically “Emergency power, climb at max AOA, invoke deity of choice. If still alive after one minute, proceed to ***** intersection and . . .”

        2. There’s supposed to be an ATM machine at the Vatican that has its menus in Latin. Makes sense when you realize that might be the only common language for the officials there…

          A couple of years ago I picked up a prescription and had to “sign” for it with a stylus on a customer terminal. I noticed it had a language menu. English and Esperanto. I commented on it to the clerk, but she didn’t know what Esperanto was… I think she was alarmed at my attempt to explain it, so I took my bag and left.

          1. Esperanto’s reputation as being pointless is just a cover for the fact that Espers speak it. Most of them are nasty pieces of work you don’t actually want to speak with. If someone asks you if you speak Esperanto, deny it and leave.

              1. I eagerly await the Klingon edition of How To Pick Up Girls.

                9 Klingon Pickup Lines Better Than “Hey Girl”
                Classic Line: You know, it’d be a lot easier for me to sweep you off your feet if you stood up.
                Klingon Version: bIQamQo’chugh, chay’ qapummoHlaH?
                English Translation: If you won’t stand up, how can I knock you down?

                And for a little taste of the Klingon language of love that has no Earthly comparison . . .

                Klingon Pickup Line: che’ron ‘oH parmaq’e’ ‘ej DaHjaj SuvwI’ jIH!
                English Translation: Love is a battlefield, and today, I am a warrior!

            1. Back in the Seventies, National Lampoon did an article called “How to Talk Dirty in Esperanto.” As I recall, they said Esperantists were too high-minded to deserve having their mouths washed out with soap, so they recommended anise and rose water instead…

          2. I remember at least one scientific journal that allowed you to submit papers in Latin, and once in a blue moon people did so to make a point.

            If they had pushed Interlingua (based on simplified Latin) harder instead of Esperanto, maybe it would have gotten some traction as an international auxiliary language. Nowadays, bad English seems to serve that purpose 😉

            1. If you cannot speak Latin you are at a terrible disadvantage in White Council meetings. It would also be an at least minor impediment for practitioners in the Potterverse.

              And of course there is crossover fanfic.

            2. In one of his books, Feynman mentioned he’d been invited to present a paper in Brazil. So he got out his dictionary and found some students who knew Portuguese, and practiced delivering his paper until his accent wasn’t wholly unintelligible.

              When he got to the conference, he found that all the Brazilians were presenting his paper in Portuguese. From the lectern, Feynman apologized for not having a copy of his paper in English, so he would have to present it in Portuguese.

              After that, the next speaker announced that he, too, would present his paper in Portuguese…

        3. Sigh:

          I only know three songs in Latin: Panis Angelicus, Ave Maria, and Adeste Fidelis. I don’t know Latin, but it’s clear there are departures between Adeste Fidelis and O’ Come, All Ye Faithful. The second verse of Ave Maria is interesting in the Latin word used for prayer, which seems quite literal.

    2. I just put my quotations in the form of the King James version, and asked Cambridge U. to approve me using them. See, I could have gone far older, and didn’t.

      Though there are a few bits of Latin. I’m low brow literary.

      And as someone said, “If the King James version was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

      1. The characters are Catholics from 1913, so what they learned is the Vulgate. I’ll include the KJV, if permitted, the first time, but the second time the MC is reciting to himself as he looks down from the Matra Mountains toward the Danube Plain in Hungary.

        1. Congratulations to you for having Catholic characters – I’ve allowed myself ONE, plus an agnostic who was born and brought up Catholic, and one who really hasn’t thought about it.

          1. I tend to write my stories in sorta medieval milieux. And put a lot of Catholics in them. Not even by default.

            1. If it’s a continental Western Europe setting of a certain time frame, the characters would have to the Roman Catholic or, if further west, Muslim. Further north they’d have to be Norse. That series I did for the kids had the character shocked when encountering the worship of Norse gods, but they are adjacent to a nation where Christianity is a minor religion.

          1. They’re Hungarian of a certain class that would have known enough Latin for the liturgy and for political discussions (Latin was the lingua franca in Hungary and the official government language until the 1860s.)

      2. I haven’t studied Latin but I have studied Hebrew (4 types) and Aramaic. That was more than 30 years ago but I’ve retained a bit.

          1. The Talmud, and some parts of Jewish liturgy (the Kaddish, for example) are in Aramaic. I had an Assyrian Christian coworker who said they still use Aramaic for services, and there are obscure corners of the Mid-East where Aramaic is still spoken, but those are somewhat different dialects.

      1. 🙂 No. This is for the Powers books, the ones that involve Helmut Eszterházy’s grandfather and (very tangentially) Joschka’s father-in-law.

        1. Will those help explain any of the slightly-altered history we see in bits from Rada and Joschka’s time on Earth?

  30. Honestly, I think you can put just about anything in that you want, but you’ll have to end up providing context for all of it. I learned a lot of vocabulary by reading unfamiliar words that could be sussed out with context – but without context, it just threw me out of the story.

    HP Lovecraft was a great one for throwing you out of context – exactly what is “squamous and rugrose”?

    The king of them all, though, for me was Gary Gygax, and his “Temple of Elemental Evil” campaign. We were doing just fine, struggling along, until we got into the dungeon. The description was read in an atmospheric voice by our DM, right up until it broke on “the vermiculated walls… What’s vermiculated? Anyone know?” Heads shook all around the table.

    “Is that going to attack us?”
    “Ummm…. hold on….”
    “Okay, while you read ahead, I’m going to go check the oven.”
    “Cool! I need to get something from my jacket…”
    “Hey, I’ll check the dictionary! …. how’s it spelled?”
    “Can I dial up the BBS while you guys are looking?”

    And that was the end of that session. We did finally meet up again, and the GM said with a tone of defeat “I dunno what vermiculated is. It doesn’t come up again.”
    When the party died shortly thereafter, we concluded that Vermiculated had killed us all.

      1. I thought it was segmented, until I checked.

        I must redeem myself by finding a dread gazebo to slay.

          1. I was probably forty when I found out… they’re not a thing where I live, and while I’d seen the word in books, it wasn’t worth looking up.

      2. Meanwhile, staffers at Google, having noticed the sudden upsurge in searches for vermiculated, have notified the Hillary R Cyborg campaign to insert that in her teleprompter, STAT.

        1. The Hildeborg does not need a teleprompter – “her” prompting routines are all bult right in, once they get the right memory chip into the slot behind “her” left ear.

          The problem, as on display with Chris Wallace, is that “she” shorts into a loop mode, simply repeating whatever the last line was as answer to any question.

          As her systems continue to degrade, we can expect “she” will start launching into that open-mouthed gape thing at random, blink repeatedly, and stutter “her” lines a la Max Headroom.

    1. That is one of the reasons our household has two unabridged dictionaries and, ere the internet, lusted after the Oxford English trove.

      1. Some years ago when I thought about touring Europe; I thought about a great libraries tour. A well stocked university library with ILL service is a joy forever.

      1. I figured it had something to do with worms (any gardener type should recognize the same root as in vermicompost), but sans context, I thought it was “ver-mi-cu-layt” I.e. A verb, rather than “ver-mi-cu-lat”, I.e, an adjective.

        1. I’ve been oddly amused for some years now that the pasta section of a grocery store has “angel hair” and “vermicelli” but it seems I often have to explain why this amuses me.

  31. I am a high school dropout and I work at a University as the guy who changes lightbulbs and unclogs toilets. I find myself frequently needing to explain references in my conversation to tenured professors.

    For example, recently we were moving some offices and I had some members of the sociology department ask me who was going to be moving into room 101. I answered “Winston Smith, of course.” Turns out that none of them had read Nineteen Eighty Four, and only about half of them had ever heard of it.

    Shakspeare is almost never recognized, and poetic references are a waste of time. (I did have someone pick up on a line from Paradise Lost I tossed out, but it turned out she thought I was quoting some Metal band who had lifted the line for a song.)

    I have learned that the Registrar is incapable of figuring out how many folding chairs are in a 12×20 array, and will not believe my answer until she counts each one individually.

    I’ve given up trying to explain that having a six outlet power strip plugged into a 20 amp breaker does not mean that you have more power available–instead I just say that the outlets are designed not to accept power strips because computer companies want to force you to buy more cables–that explanation is accepted without question.

    1. “Of course there’s a lot of knowledge in universities: the freshmen bring a little in; the seniors don’t take much away, so knowledge sort of accumulates.” Attributed to Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Ogden Nash, and Will Rodgers in various forms. (I think Lowell and this version is the original)

    2. Depressing but completely plausible, based on my own experiences. I used to think many of my exact sciences colleagues in the US were “Fachidioten” (priceless German and Dutch word for somebody who is a specialist on one issue and an ignoramus on everything else). Then I learned the same was true of my supposedly more broadly educated colleagues in the soft subjects.
      As for the metal band 😉 I wouldn’t want to feed the number of people who first heard of the Flight of Icarus or the Rime of the Ancient Mariner from Iron Maiden 🙂

      1. It might have been “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” now that you mention it. I just remember that the instructor I was talking to had no idea that the line was a quote from something else.

        1. Well, think about it. Actual poetry lends itself to musical adaptation.
          Lines of regular length, with a set stress pattern, alliteration, consonance, assonance, and rhyme.
          Plus, the best majority of the good stuff is public domain.

          If you can’t fit a heavy bass line and snare drum to “Danegeld”, you’re refusing to try.

          1. Please say it ain’t that quote. Migawd, I remember studying that poem in 10th Grade English and I was attending a very mediocre school. If those low standards are now unhurdleable for professors … civilization is over.

            We’re doomed! Doomed! DOOMED I TELL YA!

      2. I went backwards. Brit lit introduced me to maiden. Knew a bunch of the mythril stuff before. The R101 surprised me somehow.

    3. I’ve given up trying to explain that having a six outlet power strip plugged into a 20 amp breaker does not mean that you have more power available–instead I just say that the outlets are designed not to accept power strips because computer companies want to force you to buy more cables–that explanation is accepted without question.

      Oh. My.

    4. Ox not know Latin. Or not much Latin. Ox also not read 1984. Lived though the year – heard so much was sick of it. Preferred 2001, though was of course disappointed. And even ox manage that simple arithmetic. Not even need slipstick.

    5. 1984 isn’t some hard to read tome and was written as social commentary. How can sociology profs not have read it.

      And can’t even blame it on piled high and deep syndrome. This all should be common knowledge.

  32. Related cultural note:
    Last night we went out to a new ‘version’ of G&S The Mikado (Lamplighters, Walnut Creek). Now, this is the San Francisco Bay area, and the ‘new’ version moved the locale and the associated names from Japan to a small town outside Milan, about 1500. It’s that ‘cultural appropriation’ thing; but that’s OK, it worked really well. (Example: ‘Ducato’ for ‘Mikado’; the actor had a wonderful bass voice and excellent light-opera acting skills.)

    But I was counting the house, and there were just a couple in the audience who seemed under 50 years old.

    We took our kids to G&S a couple times; at least they have been exposed.

    But where, oh where are the younger audience members now?

    1. Oh,dear. And only back in the ’60s The Walloping Window Blind was one of the songs the fam sang on long car trips. Most of our friends in school could pretty much join in. Nowadays, you’d be lucky to find one in a thousand who recognize the song, let alone can sing along with it.

  33. Alii alios dicunt – some say one thing, others another. Marvelously dense, heavily inflected languages are. And it pretty much summarizes our political season, with particular emphasis on the last syllable. Which may explain why that particular fragment of grammar school has stuck with me lo! these thee-score years.

  34. At a recent meeting of my writer’s group, I surprised everyone by knowing what a “Ruritanian romance” was. My thought was: “And you don’t?”

    1. 19th century adventure fiction involving some minor European country that never actually existed? Probably doesn’t have enough explosions, mecha and communists vomiting blood in the gutters.

        1. I think it is more a matter of life has too many commies not vomiting blood in the gutters. I am cheerfully indifferent to the actual number vomiting blood except as a ratio of the total commie population.

          1. Gutter, fields … so long as it doesn’t get in the water or poison the crops. Nor care I much by which route they exsanguinate.

      1. Now I have an anime-style steampunk Ruritanian plot story stuck in my head:

        Communist insurgents attack Ruritania using steampunk weapons, attempting to overthrow the existing regime. Explosions ensue. The remnants of the military and a number of valiant civilians join a resistance led by the Ruritania heiress. She’ll be the heroine of the piece, and they’ll win a few victories, but the Communists are enjoying outside support, and the resistance is hard-pressed.

        An eccentric old inventor in the resistance manages to cobble together a steam-powered mecha. He’s getting ready to unveil it when a small Commie force discovers and attacks his laboratory, and he’s mortally wounded. His teenage son is forced to pilot it, defeating the attacking Commies and escaping to the main resistance where the heiress is, destroying a small Commie patrol that was about to uncover it. They flee to a new location.

        There, they consider what to do. The mecha isn’t magic, and it can’t win the war by itself. The military works out a plan to use the mecha as part of a larger battle plan, but only the inventor’s son knows how to pilot it. A climactic battle ends with commies defeated and vomiting blood in the gutters. Somehow a romance between the inventor’s son and the heiress will of course figure in.


          1. Does it have a blond man with a mask working for the bad guys?
            (actually, a steampunk Gundam variation would be pretty fun)

              1. Given that a blond man in a mask working for the villains does seem a Gundam staple (Char, Rau Le Creuset, brainwashed Mu La Flaga) and I was steal– er, borrow– er, inspired by elements from Gundam, it would be appropriate.

                1. Don’t forget Full Frontal. Unicorn is up on the official Gundam Youtube channel now. Also Iron Blooded Orphans, and Build Fighters. Build Fighters is in my opinion the best Gundam. Orphans is lighthearted and heartwarming compared to following politics now.

        1. So, how much are you going to charge and can I pre-order? It sounds a lot more fun than that WWI series with steampunk mecha and bioengineered flying whales.

          1. I am actually considering writing something like that, nevermind that I was trying to outline something else entirely, as this idea keeps running through my head. Ruritania facing an internal and/or external Bolshevik problem in the aftermath of WWI would be reasonable enough. (Thinking about it, NOT facing such a problem would be unreasonable, given Ruritania’s location.) The heiress would be the young adult daughter of Queen Flavia of the House of Elphberg, which works out timeframe-wise if you assume The Prisoner of Zenda novel occurs when written. As to the mecha, I’m thinking the inventor is a displaced Englishman and the pilot is his son.

            There shall be no bioengineered flying whales. There very well may be airships.

            1. Ok, so you’ll write it… get someone to do concept art… i can find animators… we’ll have it on kickstarter or indiegogo win a few months.

              Only about 1/4 kidding.

      2. Well, there is the little problem that history marched on and Ruritanian romance retreated into the past — and over into fantasy as well. I personally have read only five Ruritanian romances in my lifetime. (And, of course, noticed the references in Have His Carcass.)

        1. So is there a series of Ruritania books, or is it used to refer to a style/subgenre? Because I’m only familiar with The Prisoner of Zenda. If there are more, I need to know!

          1. Well, there’s Hope himself. There’s the sequel to Prisoner and I’ve also read Sophy of Kravonia. There was also the Graustark books, of which I managed to read only the first. The Prince Commands by Andre Norton, her first published work; it’s the best non-Prisoner one I’ve read, despite the unfortunate scenes where producing fingerprint evidence is a point of great drama.

            Oh, yes, I’ve also read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince.

            I must observe that in many ways it’s like the flood of fantasy that ripped of LOTR — what I’ve read did not inspire me to read more.

            1. Many of them are so old they’re in the public domain, and can be legitimately downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

          2. Andre Norton wrote one. And there is Graustark, of course. (Hence the other phrase for the subgenre, “Graustarkian romances.”

            Does Islandia count? I never got far enough into it to find out.

          1. The character arc that I wrote between two of my Necroid characters (based on Clive Barker’s Cenobites) is one of my favorite bits of writing.

            Their relationship is almost literally Stygian, since their “magic” comes from harnessing the energy of pain–kind of like Tantric magic, but with extreme S&M. And one of them ends up betraying their mutual employer and gets himself killed, leaving the other to preform a rather gruesome last rites ceremony. So it’s a very dark kind of love story.

            However, I think it works on an emotional level. I set out to challenge myself to write events that were, on the surface, horrible but were preformed as acts of love. From the reaction of my readers, I think I accomplished it.

  35. Ah, ha! Perhaps this explains why one Goodreads giveaway winner of Devouring Light thought the novella was about astrology. I was mystified by her review, since the story draws on Greco-Roman mythology and the ancient cosmological model of the celestial spheres. I’m guilty of simply tossing out terms like Stygian without thinking twice. Mea culpa!

  36. It probably tells you something that the word “Stygian” doesn’t even strike me as unusual, nor would not have struck anybody who’d grown up in Europe with a classical education as unusual. I was 11 when I first saw the Dutch equivalent (“stygische duisternis”), reading Eric Frank Russell in translation. (It may have been “Next of kin”/”De kosmische bondgenoot”.)

    For a substitute that preserves the flavor, how about “underworldly”? Not a dictionary word, but one “Orwell’s Six Rules of Writing” would approve of.

    To this day, there are few things that irritate me more when reading than dumbed-down language — which is not the same as deliberate economy of style.

    1. This is English. If you don’t feel like stealing a word from another language, you can Frankenstein one out of pieces of other languages, or just make one up.

      We don’t have any “Academy” or “College” that defines the One True English. Well, other than a dozen publishers and their competing English texts. “Standards are wonderful; there are so many to choose from.”

      1. My front-of-the-book disclaimer: I make words for a living. Some of them are even original to me.

      2. I’ve always said, “This is English; of course it’s a real word. I said it, you understood it, that makes it a real word in English.”

  37. For a high-end, heavily used instrument like a theodolite it makes sense, but it’s one more thing to fail and one more thing whose batteries will die before the next time you need it. And tiny electronic packages need button cells, maybe different button cells from anything else you have.

    It’s worth knowing how to read a vernier scale.

    1. My eighth grade Latin teacher was so old, we used to say she taught Latin to the 10th Legion.

  38. BTW, it occurs to me that a quite likely influence to adding stygian to one’s vocabulary might be Edgar Rice Burroughs. At least the Tarzan books come to mind on hearing the word. (And, BTW, the entire Tarzan collection is available free on Amazon at the moment and who-knows for how long.

  39. The University of Cincinnati still offers courses in the languages of Greek and Latin, as it still possesses a Classics department. Alas, this information is probably of no use to anybody, a the Classics department is a relic of the past, and all their classes tend to be weekday, daytime hours, normal semester (i.e. not summer), in person classes only.

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