Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Books (Book Review)

I've read countless books on the subjects of politics & war & I've found most of them interesting at some level but few have touched me & few have left me with absolutely nothing.

In this tale of two books, I read one of each category. Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" grabbed me by the throat while Nicole Wallace's "Eighteen Acres" was an un-adulterated waste of my time.

Why do these seemingly 'useless' books ever get published? Especially now when publishing a BOOK seems like a luxury. Why spend the publishing capital to bring out something like "Eighteen Acres", the story about a female president with a female cabinet who's husband has an affair, her favorite white house correspondent has an affair..... with the President's husband, etc, etc, etc. The story brought nothing -- including political issues -- to the table of life except "escapism" whose very existence must be explained by its popularity. I just don't get it.

On the other hand there are novelists who weave serious, practical, realistic, emotional, meaningful situations into their story telling. 
Tim O'brien's "The Things They Carried" is one such book. It's the story of Alpha Company in War. There's no philosophizing, no lecturing, hectoring or moralizing. It's just the story of Alpha Company, what they carried with them into war, what these things meant to them & the struggle the author had telling this tale.

It's an extraordianary work, recognized by the Pulitzer Committee, the National Book Critics Circle & other such elite organizations. It may even be assigned reading for some students. 
For me it was a down to earth emotional trip. It carried me into another reality, made me think, feel & wonder about the versatility of the human spirit while the state plunders the human body & soul.

If you haven't read this book, please do. If you see "Eighteen Acres" on the shelf, don't make it one of the books you carry out of the store with you.

Other Books by Tim O"Brien
  • Going After Cacciato
  • Lake of the Woods
  • Tomcat in Love
  • If I die in a Combat Zone
  • July, July
Other Books by Nicolle Wallace (thankfully)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Slate > The etymology of being "shit faced"

Slate Magazine

Dear Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary

Time to get your shittle together.

By Paul Collins

Some years ago, Slate contributor Paul Collins became curious about the history of the word bonkers. After a letter to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, its etymology was updated. Herewith, a sequel.

Dear Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary,

In my more hopeful moments, I like to think that drunken frat brothers everywhere are quoting Beat poetry to each other. It would be a fine vindication of our educational system. And it seems to be the implication of the definition of shit-faced—which, along with the other shit compound words, lives in the OED between shish-kebab and shiv.

Right now you attribute the term's first use to Allen Ginsberg:
shit-faced, adj. orig. U.S. (a) contemptible; ugly.... (b) intoxicated with alcohol or drugs; spec. extremely drunk. 1961 A. GINSBERG, Empty Mirror 19 "Why, you *shit-faced fool!"
It's a satisfying usage, but 1961 seems a bit late to me. And sure enough, delving into the wonderful 1948 linguistic study "North Texas Agricultural College Slang" reveals this earlier use: "S.F.C., n., An undesirable person. From shit-faced Charley."

The authors note that the students of the school, now the University of Texas at Arlington, were primarily WWII veterans. Charley had not yet come to mean Vietcong, but there's still a hint of military slang in the acronym itself. S.F.C., after all, can also stand for Sergeant First Class. So I think we might suspect the involvement of an officer named Charles—perhaps in the vicinity of Texas.

But why shit? And why on the face?

Shit's rich history reaches back to Old Norse skita, and by Chaucer's time a romance like Kyng Alisaunder could speak of wondrous snakes in the exotic East, where "the addres shiteth preciouse stones." A 1641 treatise addresses a braggart as "thou cracking shit-fire," and one 1766 dictionary entertainingly lists everything from shit-abed and shit-breech to shittenly and shittle-come-shites. Personally, I'd like to see that last one make a comeback.

Actually, the shittle in shittle-come-shites hints at a complication, because while shites is pretty much what you'd think, shittle is not. Shit history is full false cognates like shittle—which proves to be related to shuttle, in the sense of inconstancy. That's why a 1448 letter-writer could worry that "I am aferd that Jon of Sparham is so schyttyl wyttyd." The same root later meant you could play badminton with a shittlecock. (This 1797 report of a Chinese "game of shittlecock... [played] with the sole of the foot" appears to be an early description of hacky-sack.) Even more shit gets slung around by chit, from the same root as kit or kitten—while another derivation from to shut accounts for a c. 1415 sermon's curious exhortation to "shitt ├że gates of heven."

Victorian lexicographers, as you might expect, present almost gingerbreadlike ornamentations upon shit. An 1857 dictionary features shitesticks and shiterags (both meaning a miser) and the delightful "exclamation of contempt" shittletidee, while a 1875 study notes the institution of Shit-Sack-Day, which seems to involve apples. Shit-Sack-Day, by the way, falls on May 29. I trust you will not confuse it with Shitten Saturday, which is another occasion altogether.

Somehow, among all this shit, I discovered a different previous usage of shit-faced—and for us to connect shit to face, the above history does help. Namely, I refer to the 1825 edition of John Jamieson's Dictionary of the Scottish Language. There are some real gems in there—it is a veritable adder full of precious stones—words like to shog, a verb that means "to shake from corpulence."
But in particular, I draw your attention to this entry:
SHIT-FACED, adj. Having a very small face, as a child, Clydes[dale].; q. chit-faced?
Instead of, say, a deeply unfortunate drunken pratfall, this shit-faced may come from the old Scottish fondness for referring to children as little shits; Jamieson's 1818 edition notes just such a "contemptuous designation for a child." One might imagine this usage arising late at night, while stepping on children's toys in the dark. But no—this shit, Jamieson writes, is indeed derived from the kittenish chit. 

Chit-faced, in fact, already had a long history. Thomas Dekker's 1622 play The Virgin Martyr includes this complaint: "I stole but a durty pudding, last day, out of an alms-basket, to give my dog, when he was hungry, and the peaking chitfaced page hit me int' teeth with it." There's nothing excremental about it—though, admittedly, it's immediately followed by a line about dropping a turd into a bowl of porridge.

All of which gets us no closer to the notion of drunkenness, but it does show that there's more than one way to get shit-faced in Scotland.

But perhaps you already knew that.

Best regards,
Paul Collins

Paul Collins teaches creative writing at Portland State University, and his latest book is The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. Follow him on Twitter.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dream Doctor: Help me out here > In January I dreamt about Tom Brokow


I was hired to write an article describing something which I had done & it was pretty good..... I thought. When I sent it off to person who hired me for job, s/he sent it back to me with a few cryptic notes at the bottom on two lines, very specific references which didn't make a lot of sense. There was no overall comment like I like it, I hate it, it needs a few tweaks, etc. These were suggestions like replace word #1 with word #2. Instead of fighting it, I was going to make the changes even though they didn't make much sense.

Tom Brokow stopped by for something & I asked him to read document for his comments. He made slight face indicating it was problematic & explained he was short on time. He was very polite but then he was dawdling. Tom was wearing a cowboy hat. 
Carol came home. Tom wanted to borrow a hammer, Carol started search. Meanwhile Tom agreed to look @ my article but I couldn't find it all of a sudden.

Can't remember who hired me but it surprised and pleased me. Don't remember why Brokow was at house but it was casual event & seemed natural. I respected his sageness.

Carol woke me up for breakfast.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A bit of history > eBook Tops All Trade Publishing Categories in February

aaplogo.jpgeBooks hit a major milestone in February. According to Association of American Publishers (AAP) sales figures, eBooks ranked as the top format “among all categories of trade publishing” that month.
eBook sales totaled $90.3 million for the month, expanding 202 percent compared to the same period  last year. Below, we’ve embedded the full release.

Here’s more from the AAP: “This one-month surge is primarily attributed to a high level of strong post-holiday e-Book buying, or ‘loading,’ by consumers who received e-Reader devices as gifts.  Experts note that the expanded selection of e-Readers introduced for the holidays and the broader availability of titles are factors.”