In other words

Husband brought home a labelmaker on Thursday, thus making my life complete.

I’m particularly enjoying the english instructions printed above the french translation stickers you can put on the typepad:

“For your convenience, please attach properly the packed seals of French referring to the correspondent numbers.”

(“Pour des raisons pratiques, veuillez coller les vignette françaises ci-incluses, en vous référant aux numéros correspondants.”)

From “How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors”

“It’s often said that the greatest thing about being a writer is that one is able to work anywhere. Why not do a book in Italy? Why not write a chapter in Marrakech? Yes this invitation to vagabondage skates over a critical dark feature of writing: the fear that one will never be able to write again, that one won’t be able to re-create the ingredients that inspire writing in just any old hotel room, that one is not wholly in command of what one is doing and hence needs to root oneself to whatever spot was conducive to a previously successful effort.

Ultimately, my dependence on my desk can be traced back to a troubling feature of my psychology: to the wilful, erratic nature of my creative self. This timid creature is absurdly easily disturbed, by a draught, a noise (any kind of clicking or low-level hissing sound), or even the wrong quality of light. There are always any number of excuses that arise for why it would be a better idea to sleep than to write. In this fragile state, I depend on my surroundings to assist the nobler sides of myself in their battle with their profane counterparts. ”

~ Alain de Botton

How do you say it?


It’s on at least one list of 100 most commonly mispronounced words. It comes up here because a sporadic stickler I know got all snooty about my mispronouncing it. And since then, this word keeps reappearing in my world, being pronounced every which way.

Click for the “correct” pronounciation. [‘re-spit]

But, according to Merriam-Webster:

“Pronunciation: 'res-p&t also ri-'spIt, Britain usually 'res-"pIt"

Which description includes my pronunciation — the later, the one that sounds like “despite”. Y’know, the one that sounds like it looks.

So? Is this a case of a word where the original pronunciation should be preserved and niggled over, or should this be a case where we let language quietly evolve into something less nonsensical?

And on that note, some thoughts on pronunciation from Eddie Izzard:

The Shangri-La that isn’t.

I am easily distracted by fine print.

In amongst our junk mail (do “No Junk Mail Please” signs work at all anymore?), was a flyer for “Living Shangri-La Toronto”.

The back of the flyer looked like a promotion for a ROM exhibit, which caught my eye, and led me to pull it out from the stack of cheap newsprint advertising $0.99 produce.

A quick look showed that it is advertising yet another one of the ‘luxury residences on the floors above a luxury hotel’ buildings that are popping up all over Toronto.

But instead of being captivated by the majestic shiny lifestyle the material is depicting, I can’t stop reading the fine print.

Like, for instance, the disclaimer beneath the floorplans:

“Renderings photos and sketches are representational and are not accurate.”

Are not accurate. Well that’s not exactly helpful then is it? “Honey! You know how we’re in the market for a luxury condo? Well you absolutely must come look at these inaccurate model suites!”*

For a $2.3 million “Private Estate”, as Living Shangri-La Toronto describes them, I’m looking for accuracy.

I was also distracted by the fine print on the “ROM Exhibit rip-off” back page. Which explains in some detail that “Living Shangri-La Toronto” is in no way affiliated with the “Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts”. Which is very interesting. Because Shangri-La hotels are ubiquitous, and with excellent reputation, as *the* luxury hotel chain throughout Asia-Pacific. So anyone who has been to Asia-Pacific, such as, for instance, international moneyed businesspeople in the market for a high-end luxury condo, are sure to associate this Shangri-La building, with all those other Shangri-La buildings. And those people would be mistaken. Shangri-La? More like… um… Fauxgri-La? (<-lame)


*people who buy “Private Estates” always use “must” as their modal verb.

Factoid time!

“The necktie, once called a cravat, evolved from a simple scarf which kept the collar closed and the neck warm. The word comes from the French cravate, which has an interesting derivation. The French king Louis XIII hired some Croatian cavalrymen as mercenaries during the Thirty Years’ War and was impressed by the debonair and complicated way in which they knotted their scarves. This elaborate knot became the fashion in the king’s court, and was a Hrvat, which is “Croat” in Croation. Hrvat became corrupted to cravate in French. So what you are really wearing with your suit is not a tie but a Croatian.”

~from Russell Smith’s Men’s Style

Factoid can refer to a spurious (unverified, incorrect, or invented) “fact” intended to create or prolong public exposure or to manipulate public opinion…
Factoid is now sometimes also used to mean a small piece of true but valueless or insignificant information, in contrast to the original definition.”

~ from Wikipedia

I am using the word in the latter sense (I hope), but minus the disparaging qualifiers.

“Let’s go get some fuckin’ artisanal cheese.”

There was no cussing in my childhood home.  (There were also no sweets, no Skippy and no white bread, but that’s a separate story).

I don’t remember it being an explicit rule, the swears just… weren’t there.  We didn’t do it.  You weren’t supposed to do it and you knew it in your bones.  The only person I remember enforcing “language laws” was Nanna, but I think it just wouldn’t have occured to us to swear in front of our parents (or even away from them).

I don’t know when that system broke down for me.  Probably in my mid-teens.  And I’ve never looked back.

Ready for a little reverse diatribe?

I don’t like people who don’t swear.  I think it’s contrived.  I think they’re missing out on the full texture of language.  I think they’re missing out on the full range of their emotions.  I think they’re letting certain words become taboo in their brain.  And, by extension, letting certain harmless and healthy ideas, actions, and objects become taboo.  And we’re already far too overzealous in tabooifying.

CBC’s And Sometimes Y recently put together two shows on this subject: on taboo words; and on the n-word.  They are well-thought out and timely discussions — especially in dealing with the recurring and present question of how and whether words with a negative connotation can be reappropriated.

My personal take on word reappropriation is that we can’t or shouldn’t do it in cases where the word was specifically invented to be derogatory towards a particular group of people — the n-word being a perfect example of this (<-how much do I wish I had a different way of referring to these words, than by the 1950s schoolteacher “the x-word” formulae).

So while my list of off-limits words is teeny tiny, I am not suggesting that we should start submitting reports at work entitled “The Fucking TPS Report” (<-okay, maybe for TPS reports…).  And I think that people who swear /at/ other people leave a great deal to be desired. But there are times of frustration or elation or description where laying on a little colourful language really captures the moment.  And I don’t think those moments need be too extreme.  There is something about calling something “fuckin’ great” that is just… accurate.  (And certainly not untrue to the etymology of the word.)

Right, so.  All that said, while “fuck” is certainly an active participant in my vocabulary, there are some places where I will curb its usage.  The obvious places of course.  But, somewhat surprisingly, I learned this week that those places include farmers’ market.  Where the aggressive k’s of the expletive rub up against the happy family farm atmosphere.  After sampling a scrumptious zatar-flavoured flatbread, I turned to my friend and said “that is fuckin’ delicious”.And then I said “I don’t think you can say ‘fuck’ at a farmers’ market”.  And I think I was right.

Judging a book by its couverture.

Well now.

When you’re buying a book titled “Sacre Blues”, attention to detail is very important. It is important, for instance, to note whether the copy you’re buying is called: “Sacre Blues” or “Sacré blues”. It is important not to be distracted by little details like “how pretty the book is”, and instead to focus on bigger picture concerns like “whether it’s written in a language in which you are fluent”.

When you’re buying a book with an ambiguously franglais wordplay title, about “an unsentimental journey through Québec”, by a bilingual author who lives in Montreal, it should not surprise you when you sit down with a latte, and notice that the subtitle of /your/ book is “un portrait iconoclaste du Québec”.

And it should not surprise you that the first lines on the back cover read “Sacré blues propose un voyage irrévérencieux au <<pays de la poutine>>…”. So by the time you are reading “Chapitre Premier”, you really should have noticed the small font under the title which reads “traduit par Hélène Rioux”.

Because if you buy “Sacré blues” through, the accent egu* in the written description is going to be your only real clue that you are buying the french translation of the english book /about/ french culture.

Smrt. Or rather, fté.

And I really did only buy this version because I could not resist the bright blue and black cover with a sheep wearing a crown. I know. I’m a sucker for layout.

Come on! The sheep is wearing a crown! He thinks he’s people.

In my defence, the cover of the english version is hella lame. I mean, look at this:

I don’t especially want to carry around a book that reminds me of Grade 11 religion class, thank you kindly.

So, what have we learned here? I can think of two important lessons: 1) apparently I have francophone taste in cover design; and 2) apparently, my french is sufficient to read, understand and enjoy the first 4 pages of a french novel.

But can it hold up for 440 pages? Je pense que non, but it may be an excellent demon-facing challenge for myself.

Alright sheepie, it’s on.

*not a moron disclaimer: “egu” is intentionally spelled incorrectly for my amusement (based on a historical french class moment). Duh.


“The cure for boredom is curiousity. There is no cure for curiousity.”*
~ Dorothy Parker

I so enjoy And Sometimes Y. I was checking their website for a past show to stream when I realized I was only 6 minutes away from the live Monday re-airing of their Saturday show. That made me so happy (<-it’s very easy to make me happy).

Discussions of punctuation are very interesting to me — in part because I am so hedged in the conversation. There are extremely salient points to be made in defense of the enforcing the grammatical status quo. There are also extremely salient points to be made in defense of language as a dynamic, constantly evolving, shifty, masterless creature. I love sticklers, and while I have less love for the txt msgrs and experimental literarians, I also understand the need not to suffocate your communication in punctiliousness.

Though I always find one of the repeat arguments confusing (used both for and against correct grammar use). The argument is that emails are /never/** properly punctuated. Never? Whatthe? Mine are almost unfailingly properly punctuated. As are most of the emails I receive. I’m not saying that it’s perfection in my in and outboxes: sentence fragments abound and word usages are frequently and unabashedly bastardized. But there are commas and periods, full sentences, greetings, and closers. As there should be.


There’s a fair amount of grandstanding among sticklers. Not all sticklers stickle in private, and many are more intent on seeking out violators to prove their point than they are interested in setting a good example. As opposed to some of us mini-sticklers who mis-type an “its” in an IM window, and it makes a little muscle by our eye twitch in horror.

Ille dolet vere, qui sine teste dolet***

*If you’re quoting an American, should you use American English spellings?

**Interesting too that they were discussing (briefly) the use of punctuation marks in graphic design. Which makes me smirk when I look at my use of asterisks and forward slashes. Though in the case of this blog, my use of the forward slash has nothing to do with design, and everything to do with WordPress’s default use of (and conversion of the <i> tag to) the <em> tag for italics. Which actually translates to <b>, which makes my head explode. Though I’m usually too lazy to go through the code every time I save.

***He mourns honestly who mourns without witnesses. (Martialis)