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Thursday, December 7, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Although it's only marginally related to Cambric Tea, I like the word syllabub.

Today I think I will just say "syllabub" a number of times. Here we go!

Syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub, syllabub!

'What about pudding? Did you ask Mrs Lamb about pudding? About her frumenty?'

  'Which she is belching so and throwing up you can hardly hear yourself speak,' said Killick, laughing merrily. 'And has been ever since we left Gib. Shall I ask the gunner's wife?'

The Far Side of the World, apparently

Wednesday, December 6, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Ftrain is back! (Seems to have been back for awhile without my noticing, too; where are my faithful robot servants?) Paul Ford's not only posting his laudable writings again, but he's organized them in various useful ways. I always like reverse chronological, but you can choose your own favorite. I was going to plug one particularly insightful bit of writing, but I couldn't choose. They're all just very good.

(I frequently complain to myself that I, who purport at least in my interior dialogues to have some command of the language and its power and subtlety, have a hard time coming up with more specific and salient adjectives than "good" or "laudable", and more informative adverbs than "very". Paul's writing is by turns insightful, moving, mordant, funny, tending to arouse rightful anger, comforting, touching. I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on myself to have summed that all up as "laudable".)

Random blind links:

Speaking of naughty, let's talk about naughty words a bit.


Whew! Hope no one was seriously injured by that. I apologize up front to anyone who is offended by the mere utterance (so to speak) of those words in conversation, but that's exactly what I want to talk about, so...

Now of course George Carlin has been over this ground pretty well, but I'd like to attack it from a different (a less funny, and more pedantic and boring) perspective. I'm going to ramble, too; this is (again) more woolgathering than finished essay.

The basic issue came up once on an anti-virus mailing list. There was a virus that displayed a message with a Naughty Word in it (it was, as I recall, "An error has occurred because your ass smells bad"). There was some discussion on the list as to what to call the virus, how to talk about it, how to describe it, whether it was OK to put up a screenshot, and so on. The web pages that appeared describing the virus either didn't give the actual message at all (saying just "an obscene message"), or gave it without the Main Word ("your ___ smells bad"), or (in the case of graphic screenshots) blurred out the Main Word so it wasn't actually readable. Someone opined that we anti-virus people should avoid ever using "offensive language", whatever words might occur in or be displayed by a virus.

Most people sort of nodded in agreement; a few said that in this particular case an exception might be granted because it's important that people get accurate information about what the virus does. But (me being an alien from the Planet Zeeb on certain days) it got me to thinking: just what is it about these magic words in the first place?

It's not content. If the virus had said "your bottom smells bad", I doubt anyone would have decided to censor out "bottom". Some people that I've asked about this have said that it's important to keep children in particular from hearing or reading these naughty words. But that just pushes the question back one step; what's bad about children hearing or seeing them? Again, it's not content; we talk to kids about bottoms all the time (well, some of us do!), and no one considers that obscene. It's not (apparently not?) a religious thing, either; none of the Seven Words at least point in the direction of any particular deity.

One "it's the children" person that I talked to suggested that use of these words hurts children when they're used to denigrate, to insult, to express anger or ill-will. Well, that's certainly true! But if that were all, we'd have the same reaction to words like "stupid" or "hate" or "pig". There's more to it than that: saying "you're stupid" to a child is surely more damaging than saying "ow, fuck!" when you hit your thumb with a hammer in their presence. But the "stupid" is just bad parenting, while the "fuck" is obscene. Howcum?

I have some Theories. The theory I like the best at the moment is that the naughty words are markers. They give us ways to indicate who we are, what the conversational context is, what group we belong to, how we feel about the person we're talking to. In some groups and some contexts it's perfectly all right to say "what the fuck was that?"; saying that rather than just "what was that?" serves to affirm the informality of the situation, and likely a certain aura of rebellion.

"I'm talking like this because I'm comfortable with all of you, because we're in a laid-back situation, because we're all tough and strong and not bound by society's rules, boy howdy!"

Other contexts that allow the naughty words may have different connotational contexts. No one ever got in trouble saying "cunt" or "cocksucker" on alt.sex.stories.d!

"I'm talking like this because we're in a context that defines itself partly by having put aside certain societal rules, including the bans on talking about certain subjects and using certain words.

In some situations, a naughty word can be used to explicitly and intentionally break a rule, to show that you are so deeply moved, or so angry, or so convinced of the importance of what you're saying, that you want to shock your listeners, even at the price of putting yourself (however momentarily) beyond the pale.

"Aunt Lydia, you don't need to go back for your hatbox; the fucking house is on fire!!"

And of course here in this entry I can say those words for the obvious infinitely self-referential reasons. *8)

Now the important part of my Theory (which is mine and which belongs to me) is that the prohibitions on uttering the magic words in most contexts are founded almost entirely on the desire to have a way of delineating the exceptional contexts. The functional uses of the magic words, to underscore certain facts about the conversational environment, after all require that the words not be used in normal ("unmarked") environments.

How do you arrange for the words not to be used in normal speech? Everyone knows them, and they have meanings that are occasionally useful. People aren't going to avoid using them for the dry and formalistic reason that the context isn't right at the moment. ("Now Bob, you know you shouldn't say 'cocksucker' at the dinner table, or how will you underscore the informality and rough male comraderie of the locker room?")

So instead we look shocked, we gasp, we wash our kids' mouths out with soap, we make up stories about how hearing these words (magically) damages children. We overenforce, avoiding using the taboo words even where (as in describing a virus) avoiding them muddies important communication. We write angry Letters to the Editor, we fire people, we even pass laws, threatening to bring down the full power of the state on the head of anyone who says "piss" in the wrong context.

What odd creatures we are!

This theory is no doubt deeply incomplete, and flatly wrong in spots. There are after all various other words and constructs that similarly mark special contexts (contractions, non-obscene slang, various archaisms, professional jargons), and they seem to work fine without such heavy social sanction against using them elsewhere. It may be that there are jobs that the really naughty words do that the less stringently-enforced ones cannot do for various reasons yet to be discovered. Or it may just be (since this whole thing Just Growed, after all, and wasn't planned out by any rational agent) that the job can be done either by mild or extreme sanction, and we happened to end up with some of each. I need to think about that more.

But I like my theory, and I like the useful naughty words, and thinking about just how they fit into people and what they do. (If anyone knows of any similar theories floating around the universe, a pointer would be appreciated.)

Happy fucking Wednesday to all!   *8)

Tuesday, December 5, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Don't you know her when you see her?
She grew up in your back yard.
Come back to us, Barb'ra Lewis.
Hare Krishna,
Beauregard.   _

Dad read me talking about Cambric Tea on Saturday, and wrote to say that it was indeed "Cambric Tea", and that we made it with condensed milk and hot water, sweetened to taste. Which might explain why just warm milk with sugar (while pleasantly soporific) has never seemed to me quite the Right Thing.

So I looked around and found that we had no just-plain Condensed Milk, but we had some Sweetened Condensed Milk, so I put some of that in a mug with hot water, and stirred it around. The smell, ah the smell was perfect! From all the way down at the other end of the Halls of Time, it was still the smell of safety, of being comforted, of being Home. A good smell.

The taste, unfortunately, was horribly cloying sweet, and pretty much undrinkable. But I plan to score some Unsweetened Condensed Milk real soon, and then I should have a new Comfort Drug in the pharmacopoeia.

(Interesting that adding water back to condensed milk produces something perceptibly different from milk. As I recall from some John McPhee book, you similarly make concentrated orange juice by first removing a whole lot of the water from it, then adding back a bit of the water; this produces something different from just removing less of the water to start with.)

Monday, December 4, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Weekday readers note: we've had Saturday and Sunday entries this week, so keep on scrolling when you get to the bottom of this (and yes, Steve's mention of the eagles the other day may have had something to do with that).

(Steve also mentions casually that he's now in Camworld's list of blogs; so if you wanted to be able to say "ha, I was reading Plurp before it Hit the Big Time", it's now too late.)

Lesee. A lull in the action finally occurred, and I was able to get out and dust off those three notebooks at the head of my bed that I mentioned the other day. It turns out that they aren't in fact the "Journal and Analysis" of my old teenage epiphany, but fun scribblings from slightly later years. Some good stuff (depending on your definition of "good stuff", of course) in them, which I may or may not get around to typing in as the days get ominously shorter.

Wonder what happened to those even older notebooks? Maybe they've been auctioned off on eBay.

I like this site: lotsa graphs and acronyms and stuff to help you get rich by predicting the future shapes of stock-market curves. What fun!

So easy to use!

I threatened some time back to put together a page of weblogs that have their own CafePress stores, but of course I haven't actually done that. Someone else has dome something similar, though; here's a page of online journalers who have Cafepress stores.

From Todd Larason: Cultural evolution among humpback whales:

Male humpbacks migrating along the east coast have stunned scientists by abandoning their signature mating song and adopting a new tune from a small group of visiting Indian Ocean whales.

From Steve who got it from rebecca who got it from rc3: some commemorative coins I might actually be willing to spend money on.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act is a horrible thing that should be cast into the fire at once. In the context of a world where it still exists, though, it's amusing and/or interesting to note that of the two exceptions that the Librarian of Congress has outlined to the "thou shalt not reverse engineer software" provisions of the DMCA, one of them covers reverse engineering in order to figure out what sites a Web filter is blocking. Hello, PeaceFire!

Matt Welch's "Time in the DEN of Iniquity": how not to run a dotcom in general, and how the Digital Entertainment Network was driven into the ground specifically.

And finally, what does "PGP" stand for? Public Genitals Project, of course!

Sunday, December 3, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

"Well, that turned out quite satisfactorily!"

"Indeed. But tell me, Grospater, how did you know we could trust Ichini? The front office had her pegged as a collaborator with ee-vil."

"We had a lucky break there, Sensei; in the performance art archive in Vienna I happened across a videotape in which Ichini, dressed as Ché Guevara, crouched on a platform, methodically lowering statuettes of XXth century intellectual figures, including Carl Jung, into vats of pigment."

"Ah. And...?"

"Well, you know what they say! Only the good dye Jung."

Lots of reader wisdom saved up over the days and weeks. I recommend writing these on index cards and slipping them under your boss's door.

Enter words here:

words here

I feel so not-different that I have to keep reminding myself that my "I have never" list is shorter today than it was yesterday. Is that all right?

Sure, that's just fine. There's no percentage in regretting one's own emotions.


Ruggles. Razorberries. Fruit bats covered with sesame seeds. Yum, they said, licking their sharp lips in obvious delight, yum.


ch qi st ee zo

That should be Haydn

True, in a sense. My original intent was in fact "Haydn", but as it is, pointing sort of sideways at the Planetarium guy, it's kind of endearing. I don't mind if people think I can't spell...

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Blog, blog, blog, blog, cheese and blog. Not much blog in that, now, is there?


David Chess

The Bicycle Pedaling Frog wishes you a Very Hoppy Forksgiving.

So there's this camel, see. He's traipsin' through the desert (as camels are wont to do) -- stocked fulla the good stuff. Water, I mean. This here camel is just a camel, he don't have a passenger or anything like that. Not even a payload of any kind; still, a pretty smart camel.

Always following the dune ridges, just to the windward side, our friend the camel is making a ragged line towards the only oasis for miles.

But suddenly, out of the sand comes jumpin' up a giant cock-roach! I'm not talking about some Samsa-style six-footer. Here we got a camel, stunned by the sight of a mile-high cock-roach. The camel doesn't back down though, no, no that's not what he does. He stomps and tromps right on up to that big beetle, opens his mouth, and yells upwards: "Blast you, God!" just before a big spiny leg rails down from the sky and crushes his hump, breaks his back, and bleeds the poor camel into the dunes.

God said to the winds, "Let this be a lesson to you: Don't mess with the Man that made the plan." And it was good.

Happy Thanksgiving!

He slept late, later than he intended, tossing, his face contorted, muttering something about Mia.

And a very Hippy Hanksgiving to Mia and the Frog and the shade of the camel, and everyone back at the Riptide Campus.

Respond to Today's Log:

why is vbscript a "theoretically innocous language"? liked the spears dream btw.

VBScript was originally put forth as being very secure (like JavaScript) because it has (had) no (for instance) file I/O library, so a script from a bad-guy website couldn't mess with your files even if it wanted to. It's listed as comparatively safe in the DoD document that I was discussing in that entry. The close integration of VBScript with ActiveX, though, and the proliferation of ActiveX controls, pretty much negates that advantage, since it's despressingly likely that there's some ActiveX control present on the user's machine that will let untrusted VBScript do file I/O or other nasty things, with or without the user's pushing an "OK" button on the way.

And that's my geek paragraph for the day!

It's a rolled-up piece of cloth that you stick in your ear and light on fire. And it, um, sucks the wax out of your ear. Or something. A Molotov eartail.

I agree

There is no truth. There is only argument.

This reporter is interviewing this 102 year old man, and of course he asks "To what do you attribute your great longevity?", and the man says "My secret is that I never argue with anyone," and the reporter says "What?? You never argue with anyone? That's ridiculous! You can't live to be over a hundred just by not arguing with anyone!!", and the man says, "Yeah, I guess you're right."

I really wish you wouldn't link to your 1DCA applet... every time you do that I lose at least a half hour. :)


There are currently 5 VHS and 2 DVD copies of "Fantastic Planet" for sale on eBay. Many sealed. I have very fond, very trippy memories of seeing that as a "first run" in the animation houses of Baltimore when it first came out...

They aren't real people. They're yahoo people.

That would explain a lot...

Saturday, December 2, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

I seem to have taken part in the Day without Weblogs mostly by accident this year, having taken the day off and been too lazy to touch a computer.

Today we went up to Abel's and cut our Tree, just like last year. Now it's all up and decorated, and we're sitting around being tired and listening to Christmas music. Very seasonal! Not an entirely idyllic Tree-picking; a certain amount of discord about which tree to pick, a slight disaster with some hot chocolate, an unplanned trip out to Wal-Mart to replace a non-lighting string of lights. But we muddle through somehow!

The kids are playing "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask", M's reading, and I'm sitting here typing and drinking warm milk with sugar. When I was little, my parents would make me warm milk with sugar; we called it Cambric Tea. At least I think it was warm milk with sugar. And I think it was "Cambric Tea".

The first week after we came home from the hospital with the little daughter, the neighbors (as was the custom) took turns bringing us stuff for dinner. One of the dishes we got this way was a delicious flat sweet oatbread that the folks making it called "Oldie's Bread", after some Oldies or other. We heard wrong, and now we make it every few weeks during the winter (M celebrates the start of the cold season by making it with pea soup), and we call it "Oaties Bread".

Speaking of Abel's Trees, a tiny story about the smallness of the Web and/or the world: last year when I mentioned Abel's in the log, I'm pretty sure I looked for it on the Web and didn't find it. This year, when we were trying to remember exactly how to get there, the little daughter suggested we look on the Web, so I typed "Abel's Trees" into Google, and there it was as the very first result. (And as the second. And the fifth result was my reference to Abel's last year.)

Think about that, now! The very first "Abel's Trees" to show up was our Abel's Trees. How odd is that? If the world were big, if the Web were big, shouldn't there be dozens of other Abel's Treeses? A pair of famous bars in Egypt, "Cain's Flowers" and "Abel's Trees"? An exotic arboretum outside Paris? A collection of odd surrealist nature stories by the retired eighteenth-century glassblower, Martin Abel? A conspiracy theory popular in southern Peru, about a sacred strain of trees sprung from the blood of Abel, and passed down through the generations by a cabal of wizards?

So this singularity of "Abel's Trees" sort of puzzles me. Is the world small? (See our various previous thoughts on the subject, for instance the question about clothing.) Or is the Web just small? Or am I misinterpreting this datum?


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