Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Extraterrestial Rosetta Stone?

Rosetta Stone is a company that sells foreign-language courses in a box -- probably on CDs, maybe on DVD. The only print ad I've seen shows a teenage boy in jeans, a white tee shirt, and a baseball-style cap, against a backdrop of a field. He's holding a Rosetta Stone box, settling his cap firmly on his head, and looking determined. The caption says something along the lines of "He's a hard-working farm boy. She's an Italian super-model. He knows he has just one chance to impress her." I find the ad both funny and sweet -- and sort of wonder about the back story: just where is he going to meet her? How did he find out about her?

Being without a tv, I only recently saw a tv ad for the same product while channel surfing during a motel stay. The tv version of the ad lacked the story line, but instead had a surprise in its list of customers: along with the US State Department (that makes sense) and the Department of Defense (that also makes sense,) there was also NASA.

NASA? Do the available languages include some extraterrestial ones? Let's try a print ad on that one: He's only a dedicated astronaut from planet Earth; she's a Venusian princess with 12 arms. He knows he has just one chance to impress her before being mauled to death by Venusian sabre dogs."

I love advertising.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Spiritual Endeavours in Olden Times

I just stumbled across an 1886 publication by the London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: Vocabularies of the Niger and Gold Coast, West Africa.

This is a short publication, with a small number of words and just a few phrases in separate sections for the Yoruba, Nupe, Kakanda, Igibira, Igara, Ibo, Ga (Akra,) and Obutu languages. The vocabulary list and phrases reflect every-day communication, not religious terms, and translate the same English words/phrases in each language.

One approach to spreading Christian knowledge is hinted at by the prominent number of words/phrases involving to beat. The English list of words: beat, to beat, beating, having beaten, I beat, thou beatest, he beats, we beat, you beat, they beat, I am beating, I had beaten, I may beat, I shall beat, I am beaten, I was beaten, I shall be beaten, Beat him well and bind him with ropes, I have beaten his son with many stripes.

A handy verb list, presumably all in the imperative, consists of: go, eat, sit, come, beat, stand, die (!,) give, run.

It wasn't easy being the object of conversion activities in the past.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Author's affection for alliteration is annoying

On BART this morning I started reading American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century, by Paula Uruburu. (New York: Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group USA, 2oo8.) According to the book-jacket, the author is an English professor. My impression is that she may have spent too much time in grad school reading Victorian three-decker novels.

The book demonstrates both a mania for alliteration and a dedication to adjectives and adverbs that scream for an editor. The four-page introduction alone includes, in part, "a winsome, waif-like, and wide-eyed Evelyn Nesbit," "class of calculating Calvinists," "priapic city over which the preternaturally and passionately inspired [Stanford] White," plus a number of shorter alliterative phrases: betrayed and broken-hearted, purveyor and pillager, minted mansions, magnificent mansions, empires of excess, creator whose corrupted Garden, and tiled and terra-cotta confines. Chapter one includes this phrase in a longer (believe it or not) sentence: "a thrilling and ingenious decade of crusaders and con men, cakewalks and coon songs, contradictions and coincidences, class wars and conspicuous consumption ...." Unfortunately, all of the foregoing examples are only a small sample of what's available.

Chapter one also includes this sentence, for a change with few adverbs and little alliteration, but still plenty of adjectives: "The anticipation of a new millennium was absolutely electric as the last minutes of the withering 1800s hung suspended in the frigid air, overripe and ready to drop." I'm up to page 38 and am, without being withered, ready to drop my interest in the book due to the overripe prose.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Where's the Index?

My new phone book arrived in late December. Last week I needed to use the yellow pages to look for a smog check station, and that's when I discovered that the yellow pages index has been done away with. I'm not sure if it was called an index, but it worked like one: you could look up the term you wanted, and find out what heading the phone company was using. I did find the section: auto smog brake and lamp inspection and repair. Good luck, however, to someone looking for a shop that specializes in brake repair, as there is no heading autro brake, and no cross reference. Ditto for "lamp" repair, but there is auto electrical. My general impression is that the phone company is trying to jack up the number of yellow page listings by making it necessary for a company to buy listings under different headings.

A few years back I needed to use the index to look up services for the elderly, and the index was a big help in providing a lot of category headings. Looking in the phone book today, there's a heading for "Elderly Care Product and Services," with one company, and no cross-references. That's really too bad. I needed the information then as my mother had just started the two-year decline that preceded her death, and I was new to the whole field of services for -- well, I guess, the elderly. It was daunting finding information at first, but ultimately I discovered the care company I used for those two years, and without which I couldn't have managed or kept my sanity. I can't remember if I found it through the phone book, or from a flyer at a restaurant in an area surrounded by senior housing and nursing homes. I do know that for some reason, it's not listed under elderly care. Thinking about it today, I'm not sure what all the phone book categories were, so I'm not sure where I would start if I had to do it again, other than looking under nurses of various types. (Just thinking about this has my stress level rising retroactively in what I think of as post traumatic stress from that period.)