A Literal Giffing of the English Language?

ADoseofBuckley recently made a video called ‘The Literal Butchering of the English Language’.

In it, he references the common use of the word ‘literally’ in the hyperbolic sense, the way a lot of us are most likely to come across it. This is something a lot of people complain about, even people who feel assured they are not fixated on spelling or grammar. This is something that annoys all the ‘normal’ people out there.

Now, to say I am literally sickened by this video is not an improper use of the word literally, although it is the kind of thing he is being critical of in his video. At length. ADoseofBuckley has an angry reputation to uphold, but surely this isn’t something to get 5 minutes 36 seconds worth of upset about. It is true that the word ‘literally’ has the dictionary meaning of ‘in a literal manner or sense; exactly‘, but when using this word in a non-technical sense, the way most use it nowadays, have any of us ever been able to express ‘exactly’ what we meant? Using literal in this sense is actually very interesting, its using a universal specific for something that cannot be specified, it is calling attention to the nature of language, whether intentional or not.

I think what’s missed here is that humans communicate at least in a large part through the use of hyperbole. The English language simply doesn’t have the words for every specific situation of emotion. And if you were to make up words to suit it as you went along, this would garner even more of a rage from the grammar Nazis out there. ‘I literally shat myself,’ you might say, ‘when I realised One Direction were going to be playing in my home town’. Is there any better way of expressing such a mix of awe, home pride, sudden calculations over your available money mixed with the nagging feeling of a stunted maturity? I can’t think of one. You can use literally to combine the base, the mundane, the fantastical. Literally is just an enacted metaphor. This multiplicity of meaning is something more interesting that whatever exact meaning literally once had.

This argument also ignores the fact that languages survive and stay of use to us through adapting. Word meaning and usages change every day, it is only annoying when you cling to the old usage. If you say what you mean and people understand you, that’s all that language needs to do. If you use archaic words for no reason other than showing you knowing what these words meant before, you’re conversing with yourself, word wanker.

But if you carry on this idea, that whatever we use to communicate is language, we come up against all new kinds of communicating. This post titled ‘20 signs You Really, Really Hate People’ sums up one way in which the internet loves to communicate its difficult themes of introversion. Chances are, if you are introverted, you’re going to have trouble putting your feelings into words non-introverts can understand. That’s where GIFs come into it.

This list contains many popular GIFs used to represent social isolation. You will have seen many of them before. They take the difficult to express and put it into short-form. You may not have even seen the original source to know what the GIF means now. They do not even necessarily have any basis in the source anymore. GIFs are a way of communicating with someone else’s words, in the gaps between shared knowledge and speech. You can be as introverted as you like, but if you have a knowledge of these GIFs you can communicate easily, along with anyone else.

I’m sorry, I know it’s a meme.

You can create your own GIF before you can create your own word. GIFs open up an unending palette for expressing emotions, provided you can make the GIFs yourself, but with sites like makeagif.com that’ll practically do that for you, the limitations are few. What’s more they are shared on a world-wide level, not locally. There is so much potential out there, aside from re-using the same GIFs, universal as they are. That’s what ADoseofBuckley seemed most upset about, not that people were using literally in the wrong manner, but that they were all using literally. So whilst a greater adoption of GIFs in life may lead to a decline in text based ‘writing’ it provides a universal way for people to communicate and communicate in new ways.

This can only be a good thing, right?

 Sarah K.

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KeepYourEmailOpen

Live in the UK? You’ve probably seen this advert before your YouTube videos recently. This seems to be a slightly extended version (by 10 seconds). Anyway, yeah, have a gander.

It irritates me for reasons other than the fact I’ll be seeing it on every shared device I use that doesn’t have AdBlock for the next week or so. Consider what’s worse: the fact Google automatically advertises to you through an algorithm based on keywords you use frequently, or the fact Microsoft inherently assumes you’re a terrible person who has something they should be hiding.

First, the advert itself. It’s annoying, sure, but also incredibly daft as a comparison. Would you really email a friend about how you’re planning to run off with another’s sister, or that you’d crashed his car? Admit it, email is a pretty hard medium to have serious emotional correspondance through. At least Facebook Messenger would probably get you quicker responses. Running off and crashing cars are the sorts of things you just need to have actual face-to-face contact to work out. Or, in these instances, preferably nothing at all, you scheming scumbag, you. Despite their efforts for a sleeker, more Apple-esque image, I still feel this is Microsoft putting a greasy arm around you and saying, “it’s okay, you can still deceive your friends through us”.

Secondly, consider the real point of all this – privacy in emails, or true lack thereof. Here’s another, older video you might have seen.

That’s KeepYourEmailPrivate (apparently the official channel of this campaign, which in itself is an offshoot of Scroogled) citing an example of an email that was about a cat and how Google offered an ad relating to cat toys, and then attacks its insensitivity when the email’s content is about how the cat had been recently put down. Sure, that’s private information, and the ad’s an upsetting coincidence, but if nothing else it demonstrates the very humanlessness of the algorithm’s keyword parsing. Google won’t tell anyone if you’ve crashed someone’s car, they just want to offer you insurance, if you want some. There’s no-one there, not right now. Unless you frequently and openly discuss, say, your plans to commit credit card fraud or acts of terrorism through your Gmail, you probably aren’t going to be setting off a red light at some Google employee’s desk, prompting him to rifle through every word of your account and speed-dial the police.

But say you’re not concerned about what you’re personally doing with the email; you’re just uncomfortable with the notion that a service provider is able to access the emails and their content whenever they choose. After all, the Royal Mail don’t have a record of every letter passed through, do they? Well, sorry – that’s just seemingly now the price you pay for the convenience of a free and easily accessible email account, and you’d be naive to think Microsoft are doing any different. Hell, compare the Microsoft Services Agreement with Google’s Privacy Policy:

Microsoft: ‘3.3. What does Microsoft do with my content? …we may occasionally use automated means to isolate information from email, chats, or photos in order to help detect and protect against spam and malware, or to improve the services with new features that makes them easier to use.’

Google: ‘Information we get from your use of our services. We may collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you visit a website that uses our advertising services or you view and interact with our ads and content.’ …followed by a small laundry list of how exactly they go about that.

So, really, once you know that both can have your information whenever they want – if they did – do you care that one stands to profit from it? In fact, maybe you appreciate that the ads you see are specifically tailored to you, or (like me) just find them irritating but are able to sort-of block them from view when scanning through an email? It’s a case of the more useful of two evils, I guess.

Our free and convenient digital lives have always had the capability to come back to haunt us. Now that we hear about the NSA every other day, though, we’re just that much more continually conscious of what we do. When we’re all down the Google salt mines, or Microsoft work camps, or at the mercy of whoever ends up ‘winning’, we’ll have all the time in the world to properly read our Terms of Service Agreements. For my own safety, my future posts will be cut-and-pasted from magazines and uploaded as scans from different devices several hundred miles from where I actually live before being destroyed. Talk soon, if They haven’t got me yet.

Rathe T.G.

Finnegans Cake

Oatmeal Apple Carrot Spiced Scones

recipe, for Ease and Atime, from simpleness of celebration to burden of birthday, brings us by a lot of stirring back to Honey Carrot and Apple scones.

Stir Briskly, flour, fr’over a short span, add milk and or be contrived from North Armorica omit the fattiness of Europe via to miler light this then isolate more: nor add white sugar blocks by the stream Possibly eggs added bated themselves to Laura Ashley for us while we wait rub in their numbers for a time: nor avoid for a time bowls to mix mix to toughtough tautballofstick: not yet, though verysoon after, add a salt and buttered add and all stick: not yet, though all’s fair in pastry, where sloppy section will with twone greaseelbow. Pot a peck of mash fruit add Them moved by armslight add raw currents to the mixingbowl whilst to be clean rinse on the surface.

The food (dededeliciousrighttakeminorconfronteronthemwhowouldsoonhawkandtookallinonelook!) of a once wallstrait hourper is really easy in bowl and later on lips down though all crispy meltpastry.

Sarah K.

10 Tips for Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses

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The author of your doom.

1. Tackle it in chunks. I know you read the last Harry Potter book in a day but so did I. This is not the kind of book you can read in a day. I know the first chapter is relatively easy but they’re not all like that. Realistically your limit for reading and understanding the book is going to be about 100 pages a day.

2. Don’t expect to understand everything. If you’re reading this for an assignment, you are probably familiar with a few texts and the way they use allusion. But no matter how well read you are you are not going to ‘get’ everything. Many scholars believe there isn’t even any one thing to get, so don’t worry too much about the meaning, just keep reading.

3. Annotate your copy. Otherwise I doubt you’ll be able to find all the quotes you like again.

4. Don’t expect to get the same reading as everyone else. Dependent on how much you know going into your reading, how much you research as you read, you will get a different reading of the text, but again, there is no ‘right’ one.

5. Read aloud as much as possible. A lot of the meaning in Ulysses is in the sense, the feel of the words and how they interact. You’ll also no doubt enjoy it a lot more this way as much of the beauty and humour is lost if you read in your head.

6. If you can’t read aloud, listen to others reading it. Joyce created some of the best and funniest dialogue between everyday people in Ulysses. It helps to hear the relation between these words in conversations. There are many audio-book versions out there, if you find the right one you can’t help but enjoy the book.

7. Have a dictionary ready. Ulysses is full of words you probably won’t know the meaning of but haven’t seen before. Having a dictionary ready could help you feel less lost as well as giving you the chance to learn some cool new words along the way.

8. Use online study guides. It’s better to get help for a bit you’re stuck on and move on than to abandon the book altogether. Also, these guides are only going to give you a few interpretations of the text if they give you any, so as long as it makes you think about the text, it’s not cheating.

9. Read as much around it as you want to. If you want to read The Odyssey or Hamlet or Ovid, go ahead. That’s just as good a way of reading it as any. If it helps you understand or enjoy the book, if it makes you want to keep reading, it’s doing its job.

10. Enjoy it. You’re not going to get to read many books like this in your lifetime. Look forward to Molly Bloom’s soliloquy but don’t miss all the other great bits along the way.

 Sarah K.

Weird Japanese Vocab #1: 辻斬り and 傾奇者- Tsugijiri (crossroads killing) and kabukimono

DISCLAIMER: I’m learning, so my knowledge of this stuff is still shaky at best. I’ve tried to be thorough on the history and roots here without getting boring but feel free to shout at me if I get anything/all of it wrong.

Another thing I give up on with alarming regularity: trying to learn Japanese. Part of why I keep coming back to it, though, is the oddly compulsive element of picking up kanji, the logographic characters that make up the majority of their written word. It’s like collecting Pokémon, only you’re learning concepts you can build vocabulary from. Another great thing: this language has some really weird words. Some obsolete, some still used, but expressive of things that are either very hard to translate directly into another language, or are just bizarre that they even need words for it. Today we’re focusing on a couple of the more obsolete ones.

Definition from jisho.org:

辻斬り (tsu-ji-gi-ri):

killing a passerby in order to test a new sword

Yep. Let’s break this down. Assuming you know even less Japanese than I do, those first two characters are kanji (ignore the third, that’s hiragana for the ‘ri’ syllable and is there to modify/provide additional pronunciation for the kanji). The first is 辻 (the ‘tsu-ji’ for this word), which is used to express words to do with crossings, street corners, etc. The second is 斬 (the ‘gi’ for this word) and is a now an obscure term for murder, especially decapitation. So, taken literally, we have, ‘crossroads killing’. You can take the crossroads pretty liberally, too – you crossed the wrong road at the wrong time and that, as the old proverb goes, is that.

So, yeah, basically, this was an actual thing, back in the late Sengoku (‘warring states’) period, when ‘samurai’ was gradually ceasing to mean a warrior that was part of, or fought for, the nobility and starting to more befit ‘any dude with a sword trying to make a living’. Rogues would test new swords on random people at night, and that was okay because there were other things for the ‘proper’ samurai to be worrying about – the massive social unheavals, constant war, and so on.

Most of these rogues were called kabukimono, in itself another interesting word when you break up its old-form kanji (傾奇者). To put it very roughly,  傾 = ‘lean/tilt’, 奇 = ‘strange/odd’, 者 = ‘person’. So, someone who leans away from the normal and toward the strange. You could say these were dispossessed samurai: without master or having fallen out of favour, they revelled in their status as outcasts. They wore unusual clothing, like women’s kimonos; carried around odd weaponry (this here‘s a kenka kiseru , a large, double-ended metal smoking pipe you could keep in your kimono and bludgeon people with), and sometimes enjoyed killing the odd random passerby. Because hey, if you’ve waited two months for a katana to be made, you’re probably like little Timmy on his birthday who’s finally been given the Game Boy he’d begged his parents for for ages.

Okuni_with_cross_dressed_as_a_samurai

Only Timmy probably wasn’t dressed like this.

So, to finish, there’s two pretty interesting things that kind of have their roots in kabukimono. First, one of the definitions my Chrome dictionary plugin gives for its modern spelling (歌舞伎者) is ‘the early-17th-century equivalent of the present day yakuza‘. Whether or not the actual yakuza evolved from this fashion isn’t quite that simple, but it’s sort of interesting to see a group analogous to them in this era. The second is kabuki theater – Izumo no Okuni, its originator, was purportedly influenced by kabukimono. The modern characters that make up kabuki (歌舞伎 – roughly meaning ‘sing’, ‘dance’, and ‘technique/skill’, respectively) aren’t the same as the ones that were used for kabukimono, but the word itself still comes from the same archaic verb for tilted/strange. It’s the magic of etymology, kids!

Rathe T.G.

I Will Desert You

Hello, this is the first post I’m going to make here personally, and I really don’t want it to be the last.

If you’ve read our first post, you might have some idea of what we’re like as individuals. We keep to ourselves, have a small number of close friends and people we genuinely care about, and tend to retreat from everything else. For my own part, this is probably because I’m selfish.

This will be the third blog I’ve sort-of started in two years. The other two have died slow, dwindling deaths. There was also a YouTube channel that was actually surprisingly popular at one point that I now don’t really upload anything to. Each time I told myself ‘this time, it’ll be different’, or something to that effect. Nowadays, all I really run is a music-based Facebook page and this blog. But for how long?

Lately I’ve just been thinking more and more about my digital footprint. Not in the ‘oh no, those years I spent as a teenager updating my status with racial slurs has come back to haunt me’ way, though. It’s more interesting to me that all these little interrupted ventures are basically fragments of me and what my interests were from age 15 or so, but they don’t really combine into any particularly satisfactory whole that represents me as a person. It makes me wonder, how much of the internet is like this? What percentage of it is effectively abandoned; how many blogs are sitting out there that will never be updated again, or were simply created and have never had a single post?

In the meantime, some light relief.

In the end, then, what is this? I guess I’m trying to not feel guilty any more. I’m going to stay and write for a bit. This is me getting my life together, hopefully.

Rathe T.G.

The Voynich Manuscript – ‘the world’s most mysterious book’

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A sample page showing the Voynich ‘script’ and a botanical illustration.

The moniker of ‘the world’s most mysterious book’ is a pretty impressive one to have, and according to BBC News and undoubtedly many others, this honour undoubtedly belongs to The Voynich Manuscript.

Dating back to (we believe) around 1400, the book is 240 pages long and highly illustrated, showing complex but unidentifiable fauna, astronomical shapes and human figures. It is named after the man who bought it in 1912, it’s original author unknown. The ‘Manuscript’ had baffled linguists, cryptographers and mathematicians for years. People have been able to get so far as to call it a ‘manuscript’, a coherent written piece, but that is pretty much all anyone knows about the document. It resists all modern code-breaking techniques, so much so that many call it a hoax.

Recently a study has been published by people who believe they have found strings of patterns within the text which may suggest words. The study identified the presence of a few ‘key words’, like how a book on trains would have a high frequency of the word ‘train’. Furthermore, these words are ‘clustered’ in such a way that they may show the explication of text’s meaning. But the definition of these words is still a mystery. It is thought that the theme may tally with the images, roughly grouped into sections throughout the text, but again, these images cannot be defined as anything humans know of. Nor can the purpose of the text. The words are written in a 40 letter alphabet that has never been seen before or since. It does not seem to have ‘evolved’ from any known language, causing many to believe it must be fabricated. But the structure of the text is similar to that of many ‘real’ languages. It appears to be a lot more than just arbitrary symbols or a string of made up words.

There is obviously a great story behind this text, whether written by one highly intelligent individual, a brilliant scientist, or simply as a very effective encoding of another language, people are constantly working to ensure that it cannot remain unsolved.

The Man Who Cracked the Mystery of The Voynich Manuscript

George Rugg, one of those purporting to have ‘solved’ the text, give one reason for it’s existence; ‘The Voynich is such a challenge, such a social activity. But then along comes someone who says ‘Oh, it’s just a lot of meaningless gibberish.’ It’s as if we’re all surfers, and the sea has dried up.’ The text may be nothing more than a challenge, something kept alive by our want to believe, and Rugg treated it as such, as a ‘grand hoax’. So many people wanted the text to be ‘true’ that they ignored his findings, the ways in which the text could be a hoax left relatively unexplored. Rugg came across a cheaply available coding device which could have been available at the time, the Cardan Grille, and found evidence to suggest that such mysterious manuscripts were highly collected throughout history. The age of the piece also meant that the author was unlikely to have been able to afford to start a page afresh after making a mistake, (unless they were rich themselves) and so the ‘words’ have even more power to resist code-breaking. The value of the piece, at least in the past, was based on it being indecipherable. And maybe so it is now, people ignore the fact it could be fake simply because its value to them is as something unsolved. Even Rugg isn’t totally satisfied with his own conclusion, saying;

“The rational part of me says it’s a hoax; another part says, yes, but what if 10 percent of it is cipher text, a real message mixed in with all the wattle and padding? It’s a lovely problem.” It’s a problem that we’ll maybe never allow ourselves to fully solve, and so The Voynich Manuscript will retain it’s power, maybe one of the greatest works of faith.

Sarah K.

What’s the Purpose for All This?

Dear reader,

it is unlikely that you know any of us. This is not just because this is the internet, but also because, in our experience, the chances of becoming friends with anyone you just so happen to come across are minimal. Generally, we don’t bother. Our friends (i.e., us) are great enough as it is. We would find it very hard to contain more friendships than this inside our tiny brains.

It’s nothing personal. You’re probably not racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, opinionist or a Dalek. Being friends is, of course, more than simply the absence of beliefs we don’t share. If we got to know you there’s a chance we could be friends. But, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, most people aren’t worth bothering with. If you thought otherwise, you’d stop every other person you encountered on the street and reel off a list of your interests and wacky anecdotes with the promise that eventually you’ll both become the best of chums. And for our part, perhaps each of us just has an exceptionally small Dunbar’s number.

So what is the purpose for all this? We (think we) are creative, well-read and opinionated, and think the best way to render these qualities respectable is to increase the chances of someone we don’t know reading about them. That’s how it works, right? It’s almost like being published. We have various interests among us, so you might well find something you’re interested in here, and we may even stretch ourselves to talking to other human beings about them, if you have something to say.

If you’re sort of person that will enjoy this blog, in its entirety or in part, we hope you bloody well do.

The Blanketeers.