jests japes jokes jollies
Pedants delight in error, not in truth, and fall upon it like scavengers on a carcass. I have books, pre-owned—or even pre-loved, as dealers in secondhand objects are now inclined to call them—in which pedants have underlined or scored out words containing misprints, as if the search for such misprints had been their main reason for reading them in the first place. A missing apostrophe may drive a pedant into a paroxysm of pleasurable fury. With what righteous indignation may he (I imagine pedants to be mainly male) mark the page to alert future readers to this disgraceful error!
I could probably maintain a separate blog devoted entirely to documenting the tiny errors I discover in my reading. Thankfully, this has only ever been an idle thought. Most errors are neither egregious nor entertaining enough to call attention to them. One recent exception presented itself in Wallace Kaufman’s Coming Out Of The Woods: The Solitary Life Of A Maverick Naturalist, where Kaufman refers to the “plaintiff sounds of whales” in a section about animal communication. The Onion once joked about the apocalyptic consequences for humanity of dolphins developing opposable thumbs. I don’t want to think about the sort of reparations we’ll be looking at should whales discover the legal process.
Someone needs to sort all this out, because I don’t see how we can proceed unless we have someone to point to and say, “You ruined everything.”
As usual, Gary Larson foresaw this long ago.
One appealing aspect of dad jokes is how they can be self-mocking and teasing simultaneously. An ironic distance is baked into them. No wonder they’re popular among Generation X parents.
But they have deeper roots. Dad jokes tend to be clean, generic and short, requiring no context or explanation. In many ways, they are throwbacks to the days when comics leaned on bits that started with a trio of religious figures walking into a bar, or evergreen one-liners that began with, “Did you hear the one about … ?”
Professional comics once trafficked in these jokes, but they went out of fashion as stand-up became more ambitious, and also more personal, putting a premium on original material that reflected a specific point of view.
Dad jokes may not work within the context of stand-up anymore, but given that stand-up appears to be progressing toward its nadir, that’s probably not a bad thing. Political/therapy comedy is probably best suited to this histrionic age of sturm und drang self-expression, but for a placid and mature sensibility, the rococo flourishes of linguistic cleverness are good enough.
Then he subdued the Pisidians who made head against him, and conquered the Phrygians, at whose chief city, Gordium, which is said to be the seat of the ancient Midas, he saw the famous chariot fastened with cords made of the rind of the cornel-tree, which whosoever should untie, the inhabitants had a tradition, that for him was reserved the empire of the world. Most authors tell the story that Alexander finding himself unable to untie the knot, the ends of which were secretly twisted round and folded up within it, cut it asunder with his sword. But Aristobulus tells us it was easy for him to undo it, by only pulling the pin out of the pole, to which the yoke was tied, and afterwards drawing off the yoke itself from below.
— Plutarch, Life of Alexander
Arun and Esin finally got through the lines and to the Agora of Humanity, where we agreed to meet if we were separated. Next to the Agora stood a massive Che Rebel Spirit energy drink stand. I was thirsty. “Consumed iced, or mixed in revolutionary cocktails, Che Rebel Spirit perfectly combines that ‘Rebel’ feeling with a unique and ‘Delicious’ taste,” said the brochure. “Be the first to discover a new REBELICIOUS energy drink!”
Despite my best efforts, some of the earlier comments from my old home on Blogspot didn’t complete the migration here. However, I was able to go spelunking through the archives in order to reproduce this amusing exchange I had with a reader nearly nine years ago:
Noel: But grandiloquence in one’s nuncupation can make one appear supercilious, n’est pas?
Damian: Ah, but the true sesquipedalian spirit must not allow its inherent delectation in the myriad forms of badinage to be limned by the pedestrian fears and insecurities of the audience; must hold no truck with those philistines who insist on reducing it to mere fanfaronade.
Noel: I agree, I think. Is fanfaronade a drink?
Damian: No, you’re thinking of FrantzFanonade, the “revolutionary” sports drink designed to quench the most “wretched” thirst on earth.
As you can see, I was ahead of my time. But if any of my wealthy readers would like to provide a little seed capital, it appears there actually is a market for Communist-themed beverages. Even if we don’t get filthy rich, the ironic enjoyment alone would make it worthwhile!
The subject of this book is marginalia – what readers write in the margin and how readers underline and annotate books. Sherman describes a big historical shift. We tend to see writing in books as an act of defacement. For example, if you return your library copy of Sherman’s book with passages that have been highlighted you will receive a hefty fine. But readers in the Renaissance thought that if you didn’t leave notes in the margin of a book then you were being lazy and passive, because you weren’t doing the job of engaging with the text and answering back to it.
Sherman showed that until two or three hundred years ago, children were taught how to write in books. There were very conventional systems of how you were supposed to take notes in the margins. At the same time, until wood pulp was used in paper making in the 19th century, paper was a very expensive commodity, and because people didn’t have scrap paper lying about, books became a useful source of raw material. So you find books with shopping lists written in the front, or spaces where people practised their handwriting.
More evidence that the Gordian knots of moral conflict, rather than being unraveled, are simply severed by the sword of technology. New knots reappear in new circumstances, though. For instance, now that there are convenient alternatives to defacing one’s reading material, what is to be done with those who persist in their deviance? Are they to be offered therapy, the hemlock cup, or lifetime banishment to the land of audiobooks?
I would genuinely do this if someone wants to pay me. I’m not even joking https://t.co/ltAdiq7Qz4
— Ed West (@edwest) February 8, 2019
See, that kind of mercenary spirit is corrosive to the ornamental hermit ethos. We might be misanthropes, but we’re not greedy. I’m well-fed and left in peace to enjoy my scribbling in exchange for some basic chores. What more do we need? (For any interested readers, I also keep another blog, much less-frequently updated, where I collect quotations from my reading to meditate upon, usually centered on the theme of the tragic nature of existence.)
That feeling when you click through to read a review of a book about Greek philosophy, only to be jarringly reminded that you’re reading the Nation:
As Adam Smith noted, perhaps with a hint of melancholy, we seem to help each other best when we act selfishly. He may be wrong, but is Stoicism really going to help us overthrow capitalism?
Fulham play Tottenham today. It’s too bad Harry Kane is injured, because seeing him and Andre Schurrle in close proximity always makes me think of a certain cartoon duo: