2000 Notebook: Transition XXVIII
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18 August 2000
The English language is always mutating, changing, and expanding. Sweet! Usually, the language evolves naturally, almost organically. Sometimes, though, humans attempt to engineer the changes with a heavy hand, and with mixed results.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a rich Brit hired dozens of street urchins to write “quiz” on walls all over London. At the time, the word “quiz” didn’t exist; journalists invented the definition for the nonsensical graffiti. At least that’s the story I heard. Since I can find no reference to the apocryphal tale, I assume it’s not true. That technicality doesn’t mean it’s not a good anecdote, though.

Today, I read a slightly better documented narrative about an even more ambitious attempt to alter the language. In this case, the would-be engineers didn’t attempt to coin a new word; they tried to add a new punctuation mark.

The new character was to be a combination of the question mark and the exclamation point—can you believe that?! The graphic combination was fairly straightforward, but the new sign needed a name. The symbol’s advocates organized a contest to find an appellation for their baby. Punters suggested “exclarotive,” “rhet,” and “exclamaquest.” The judges chose my favorite, “interrobang.”

The interrobang enjoyed some early successes. The New York Times editors deigned to use the interrobang in print, and the symbol was included as an option on Remington Rand’s 1968 typewriters. The staid manufacturers embraced the symbol, claiming the interrobang “expresses Modern Life’s incredibility.” Groovy!

Who did they think they were fooling?!

19 August 2000
Staggering Genius
When the Musicians’ Insider Review called Erin O’Mindy’s latest recording “A Creation of Staggering Genius,” I decided to have a listen. A respected publication’s assessment of one of my favorite singers couldn’t be wrong, could it?

Well, yes and no.

O’Mindy’s latest foray into the recording studio resulted in nothing less than an aural abomination. A Bridge to Far is completely unredeemable rubbish. Oh, O’Mindy, how could you?

Three bottles of vodka a day. That’s how much the “artist” consumed during the twenty-seven day (!) recording session, according to the Musicians’ Insider Review. It turned out that the publication’s “A Creation of Staggering Genius” headline referred to O’Mindy’s staggering attempts trying to reach the studio’s microphone.

I hate to be a pedant, but, when it comes to geniuses, from now on I’m going to carefully differentiate between “staggering” and “towering.”

20 August 2000
The Honor System Virus
I hear there are a lot of computer viruses going around, and today I finally got one in today’s email. And—be careful!—here it is:

    The Honor System Virus

    I am too lazy and stupid to program a real virus, so this is what you get. This virus works on the honor system. Please delete all the files on your hard disk, then forward this message to everyone you know. Thank you for your cooperation! Have a nice day.

Well, for one thing, no one tells me what kind of day to have. And secondly—and most importantly—I am not an honorable person.

I am, in fact, a scumbag, and an unrepentant scumbag at that. This is, of course, no secret, for my scumbagness was immortalized in music by the inestimable Doctor Hayes, whose first wedding I shall celebrate this Saturday.


    All the world’s full of scumbags,
    And Doctor Rinehart,
    Is certainly one of them.

    How many scumbags are there?
    How many do you want?
    I’ve got a laser printer,
    It’s got a scumbag font ...

    All the world’s full of scumbags,
    And Doctor Rinehart,
    Is certainly one of them.

In summary, I pooh-pooh the honor system virus.


21 August 2000
The Really Interesting Bits
When I walked past a book store en route to purchase a scrumptiously greasy cheese and onion pasty, I was struck by the clever title of one of the volumes on offer. The book in question was called The Bible: The Really Interesting Bits.

What a great idea!

The world needs more good editors. In an age where a sizable percentage of the six billion people on earth are cranking out unspeakable volumes of purportedly creative output, I’d bet that most of us would be better served if virtually every publication or recording had “The Really Interesting Bits” appended to the title.

Having said that, I’m not sure if I’d be pleased to be the author An Artist’s Notebook of Sorts: The Really Interesting Bits. I fear the publication would be uncomfortably slim.

22 August 2000
Grammar Uber Alles
In my seemingly endless war against grammar, I’ve found a bit of solace, the kind of relief only schadenfreude can provide. It turns out that the Germans have things even worse then I do!

German writers may or may not need to follow fifty-two rules governing the use of commas. That’s a rule a week! That’s just crazy!

Some Germans, who are as practical—or perhaps as lazy—as me, decided a couple of years ago that enough was enough, and proposed sweeping changes in grammar, including reducing the number of spelling rules from two hundred and twelve to one hundred and twelve. For example, the character “ß” was changed to a double “s,” so “straße” becomes “strasse.” The reformers also eliminated forty-three comma rules.

Every revolution spawns a counterrevolution, and the German reforms were no exception. The simplifiers have run into some stiff opposition, most notably from the august and crusty Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Like the reformers, the newspaper’s editors also decided that enough was enough, and declared that they were abandoning the Rechtschreibrefom to return to the archaic rules that had served them so well for so long.

The mostly right-wing periodical found an unlikely ally in the usually left-wing author, Guenter Grass. In a lovely example of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” Grass proclaimed that the Frankfurt daily “can continue to publish nonsense about me as long as it written according to the old rules.”

As for myself, well, I’m just glad that English has many fewer than fifty-two rules for commas, so few, in fact, that I can’t even count them.


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23 August 2000
Marching Ants
When I went out in the woods today, I was in for a big surprise: an ant hill as big as a clinically obese person’s coffin!

What a find!

I stood, mesmerized, before a teeming mound of forest detritus constructed by ambitious ants. The tiny insects were going every which way and, unlike myself, they seemed to know what they were doing.

Since a mere static photograph could not do justice to the tableau before me, I decided to call upon one of the more arcane features of my new fancy and ridiculously complex new digital camera and make a movie.

A forty-second film, if you will.

The result is, if I may say so, spectacular. Since my fancy and ridiculously complex new digital camera only makes “movies” at the minuscule scale of three hundred and twenty by two hundred and forty pixels, the resulting “film” of the ant hill looks like nothing more—or less—than visual noise.

I was quite pleased with the result, but then I would be, wouldn’t I? My piece, which is little more than visual noise, reminded me of a programmer’s trick, in which a selection of a graphic image is shown on the computer monitor bounded by a border of oscillating pixels, colloquially known as “marching ants.”

Marching ants galore!

24 August 2000
Forty-Four Year Old Eyes Minus Forty
Angelica sniffed at my recent piece, Monarch of the Glen and Skunk (Kentucky/Tennessee). “A four-year old could have done that,” she said.

“Thank you,” I replied, “It takes immense dedication to see the things a four-year old sees with my forty-four year old eyes.”

I could see my remark annoyed Angelica; that gave me a small amount of pleasure. Although I don’t generally like to bother others, I can’t deny it’s fun to exasperate people by simply agreeing with them.

25 August 2000
A Lot of Art is Boring
There’s a loud American in the Rich Bastards Club at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, and he is annoying me by talking at the top of his lungs into his mobile phone. Nevertheless, he managed to partially redeem himself with the text on his shirt: “A Lot of Art is Boring.”

At last! A universally agreeable critical statement. Who could disagree that a lot of art is boring?

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©2000 David Glenn Rinehart