The Universe of Discourse

Fri, 15 Dec 2023

Recent addenda to articles 202311: Christenings in Tel Aviv

[ Content warning: extremly miscellaneous. ]

Wow, has it really been 7 months since I did one of these? Surprising, then, how few there are. (I omitted the ones that seemed trivial, and the ones that turned into complete articles.)

  • Back in 2018 I wrote an article that mentioned two alleys in Tel Aviv and quoted an article from Haaretz that said (in part):

    A wealthy American businessman … had christened the streets without official permission… .

    Every time I go back to read this I am brought up short by the word “christened”, in an article in Haaretz, in connection with the naming of streets in Tel Aviv. A christening is a specifically Christian baptism and naming ceremony. It's right there in the word!

    Orwell's essay on Politics and the English Language got into my blood when I was quite young. Orwell's thesis is that language is being warped by the needs of propaganda. The world is full of people who (in one of Orwell's examples) want to slip the phrase “transfer of population” past you before you can realize that what it really means is “millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry”. Writers are exposed to so much of this purposefully vague language that they learn to imitate it even when they are not trying to produce propaganda.

    I don't mean to say that that's what the Haaretz writer was doing, intentionally or unintentionally. My claim is only that in this one case, because she wasn't thinking carefully about the meanings of the words she chose, she chose a hilariously inept one. Because of an early exposure to Orwell, that kind of mischoice jumps out at me.

    This is hardly the most memorable example I have. The prize for that belongs to my mother, who once, when she was angry with me, called me a “selfish bastard”. This didn't have the effect she intended, because I was so distracted by the poor word choice.

    Anyway, the Orwell thing is good. Brief and compelling. Full of good style advice. Check it out.

  • In 2019, I wrote an article about men who are the husbands of someone important and gave as examples the billionaire husband of Salma Hayek and the Nobel prizewinning husband of Marie Curie. I was not expecting that I would join this august club myself! In April, Slate ran an article about my wife in which I am referred to only as “Kim's husband”. (Judy Blume's husband is also mentioned, and having met him, I am proud to be in the same club.)

  • Also, just today I learned that Antoine Veil is interred in the Panthéon, but only because he was married to Simone Veil.

  • In an ancient article about G.H. Hardy I paraphrased from memory something Hardy had said about Ramanujan. In latter years Hardy's book become became available on the Internet, so I was able to append the exact quotation.

  • A few years ago I wrote a long article about eggplants in which I asked:

    Wasn't there a classical Latin word for eggplant? If so, what was it? Didn't the Romans eat eggplant? How do you conquer the world without any eggplants?

    I looked into this a bit and was amazed to discover that the Romans did not eat eggplant. I can only suppose that it was because they didn't have any, poor benighted savages. No wonder the Eastern Roman Empire lasted three times as long.

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