Friday, September 13, 2013

Horace on Writing Well

You've done it right, if a clever connection of phrases
Makes a good old word look new.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Today in Language: September 11

September 11, 911, 9/11, nueve-once, le 11 septembre. That date, those specific collocations have come to mean a lot to a majority of the world's population.

Since 2001, specifically, the phrase has taken on new meaning for many, especially Americans and their allies. Yet well before 2001 it was already a significant date, for at least the following two reasons:

September 11, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary since the University of South Carolina, my current employer and institution of higher education, matriculated its first black student in 1963, Henri Monteith. She helped bring desegregation to her state even as it was coming along, perhaps at a more national scale, elsewhere in the country.

September 11, 2013, also marks the 40th anniversary of the coup d'état in Chile that overthrew the government of the Marxist Salvador Allende and brought in the cruel dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Which was worse? This is one of those situations in life where humans simply have to throw up their hands and trust God. The powers that be were put there by him. So why two terrible governments back-to-back? How do we respond to state violence, especially when our own state (if we are Americans) was involved in the military coup?

Chileans have been commemorating September 11 longer than any other group of people probably, reliving the violence of September 11, 1973, and trying to wrestle with a twisted national history.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Aristotle on Defective Plots

From chapter 5 of Aristotle's poetics (5.6):
Of simple plots and actions the episodic are the worst. By an episodic plot I mean one in which the sequence of episodes is neither necessary nor probable. Second-rate poets compose this knd of their own accord; good poets do so on account of the actors. In writing pieces for competitive display they draw out the plot beyond its potential, and are often forced to distort the sequence.
Aristotle, of course, wrote this well before the time of Christ, meaning that critical taste in literature and drama (and, now, film) has not much changed. And yet, who doesn't appreciate a good ol' deus ex machina once in a while, or an implausibly fortunate character? Prescriptivism has its limits in literary theory as in linguistics.