Monthly Archives: June 2008
Today is the last day you can vote in the gay-off. For those of you who have “voted” in the last two presidential “elections,” I must explain that this is a slightly different process, in that your vote will actually affect the outcome of the contest.
(I know I said the deadline was yesterday, but we’re working on gay time here.)
Speaking of ancient Greek, this semester I sat in on a class in Greek tragedy. The class comprised me and one actually registered student. We were originally supposed to to do philosophy rather than tragedy, but the one actually registered student said she didn’t like philosophy, so we read Sophocles’ Antigone.
Antigone is really fucking hard.
Really. The syntax is tortuous and the vocabulary is beyond obscure. But we stumbled through, though I suspect the one actually registered student cheated far less often than I by looking at the translation.
But none of this has anything to do with this post. Recall, please, that earlier in the year we got our dog A. a friend, E. Well, E., like many very young puppies, discovered that chewing up paper was the most fun thing ever in the entire world. Given the number of trees’ worth of paper I tend to leave on the floor, you can imagine how much fun she was having. Finally I wised up and put all the paper on shelves, thereby ensuring that it would never be found again, but not before E. had stumbled upon my copy of Antigone. I had two copies, actually; this one was different from the official class edition, and I used it mostly because it had a lot of commentary that didn’t overlap with the official class edition’s commentary.
But the next day, I brought both editions into class, fair bursting with excitement, because for the first time in my life I got to say that the dog had eaten my homework.
I meant to post yesterday [I actually started writing this a few weeks ago, on a day after an un-posted day; an explanation will come in time]. I spent most of the day, however, in a haze of bliss, because I began it by solving one of the most vexing, intractable linguistic problems facing current speakers of English.
I figured out what to do with “hoi polloi.”
A brief rundown to remind us of the problem:
The phrase “hoi polloi,” meaning essentially “the masses,” came into 19th-century English from ancient Greek, in which it means literally “the many (people),” usually though not always in a derogatory sense. (This in itself is interesting, given that the borrowing was almost certainly inspired by Pericles’ Funeral Oration, in which he used the words in high praise for the citizens of Athens in days marked not just by the Pelopponesian War but also by an outbreak of the plague, which eventually laid Pericles low too.) The difficulty in English comes because “hoi” is the Greek word for “the” in “the many.” People who wish to use the phrase are faced with two equally unsatisfactory options: say “the hoi polloi” (as in “we went outside to join the hoi polloi”) and be thought by some people to be saying “the the many,” or say “hoi polloi” (as in “we went outside to join hoi polloi”) and be thought by some people to be an insufferable snob. I myself end up doing what I always do with words and phrases the pronunciation of which is (correctly or incorrectly) disputed (“forte” as a noun, for example), which is simply to use different words (“strong point”).
There are reasonable arguments on either side. Members of the anti-the contingent point out that nobody says, “I was looking for the le mot juste” (French for “the right word). Members of the pro-the contingent counter that nobody says, “Put the vase in alcove” (in the Arabic word for “the vault,” “al” is “the”).
[A note to the reader: I wrote the above two weeks ago. I stopped where I stopped, mid-discussion, because I knew I had a great deal more to write, and my energy was flagging; I’d just pick it up again, I figured, a few days later. Now that it is a few days later, however, I have absolutely no idea what more I could possibly have had to discuss, so I’ll just cut to the chase.]
Obviously, we just have to treat “hoi polloi” as one word in English: hoipolloi. Then it becomes much closer, structurally, to things like “alchemy” than to things like “le mot juste,” and “the” feels much less incorrect.
So now that that’s decided, I just need to figure out how to convince the hoipolloi to go along with it.
In the category of “sentences you could never have convinced me in a million years I would write”:
I loved the new Adam Sandler movie.
Voting continues through 11:59 p.m. next Sunday, June 29 (the day of the gay pride parade in New York).
May the gayest person ever win.
In case anybody is in a mood to be amused. (Solve for some value of “amused.”)
No fucking WAY:
President Bush has admitted to The Times that his gun-slinging rhetoric made the world believe that he was a “guy really anxious for war” in Iraq. He said that his aim now was to leave his successor a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran.
In an exclusive interview, he expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. “I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric.”
Phrases such as “bring them on” or “dead or alive”, he said, “indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace”. He said that he found it very painful “to put youngsters in harm’s way”. He added: “I try to meet with as many of the families as I can. And I have an obligation to comfort and console as best as I possibly can. I also have an obligation to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain.”
(Thanks to him for the link.)
I wish I had figured out something else for #9, because now it strikes me as kind of gross, but what’s done is done.