Posts Tagged ‘U.S. history’
The first installment in illustrator and craftswoman Gemma Correll‘s reflection on British Cuisine:
[TotH to Curiosity Counts]
As we ponder our pantries, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that Thomas Paine first published (albeit anonymously) his pamphlet “Common Sense.” A scathing attack on “tyrant” King George III’s reign over the colonies and a call for complete independence, “Common Sense” advocated immediate action.. America, Paine argued, had a moral obligation to reject monarchy and declare independence. An instant bestseller in both the colonies and Britain (over 120,000 copies in just a few months), it greatly affecting public sentiment at a time when the question of independence was still undecided, and helped shape the deliberations of the Continental Congress leading up to the Declaration of Independence.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural (source)
Mark Liberman, professor of both linguistics and computational sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, took issue with an off-hand remark about the declining standard of discourse– then did some research to create some (mitigating) context for his objection:
A couple of days ago, The Telegraph quoted an actor and a television producer emitting typically brainless “Kids Today” plaints about how modern modes of communication, especially Twitter, are degrading the English language, so that “the sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us”, and “words are getting shortened”. I spent a few minutes fact-checking this foolishness, or at least the word-length bit of it — but some readers may have misinterpreted my post as arguing against the view that there are any on-going changes in English prose style.
So I wrote a script to harvest the inaugural addresses and state of the union addresses from the site of the American Presidency Project at UCSB, and some other scripts to (I hope) extract the texts of the speeches from their html wrappings, and to count word and sentence lengths. Why use these sources? Well, different kinds of writing have their own norms, and so it wouldn’t be good evidence of an overall historical trend to show (for example) that 20th-century sports reporting is stylistically different from 19th-century sermons, or that 21st-century blogging is different from 18th-century pamphleteering. U.S. Presidential addresses are one accessible example of a body of texts, spanning more than 200 years, which ought to be fairly consistent in genre and register.
The results suggest that mean word lengths have decreased slightly in these addresses over the past century — by 5% or so — while mean sentence lengths have been falling since the founding of the republic, and have undergone a cumulative drop of perhaps 50%.
Read the whole of Dr. Liberman’s fascinating report (replete with charts and text examples) on the always-illuminating Language Log in “Real trends in word and sentence length.”
* Dorothy Parker
As we continue our search for the soul of wit, we might recall that it was on this date in 1844 that Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay to become the eleventh President of the U.S. Polk was America’s first “dark horse” candidate, having scored his party’s nomination on the ninth ballot of the Democratic National Convention, after former president Martin Van Buren lost his bid due to his opposition to annexing Texas (a position abhorrent to Southerners and to the still-powerful former president Andrew Jackson.)
Spiked with long words, woven with elegant sentences, Polk’s campaign oration earned him the nickname “The Napoleon of the Stump.” And good thing too: while he took the electoral vote by 170 to 105, Polk won the popular vote by only 38,000.
Resolved to serve only a single term, Polk put his Western Expansionist policies into effect immediately. In just four years, he oversaw the annexation of Texas, the settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute with Great Britain (securing the Oregon Territory for the U.S.), and the reestablishment of an independent treasury system. The Mexican-American War began in April, 1846; at its conclusion in February, 1848, the U.S. acquired from Mexico the land that eventually became California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. In the end, Polk oversaw the addition to the U.S. of territory second in scope only to that of the Louisiana Purchase.
The first Cynics (we capitalize the name when we’re talking about the ancient ones) were students of a now-obscure philosopher named Antisthenes, who in turn was a student of the illustrious Socrates. Like Socrates, the Cynics believed that virtue was the greatest good. But they took it a step further than the old master, who would merely challenge unsuspecting folks to good-natured debates and let their own foolishness trip them up.
The Cynics were more blunt when it came to exposing foolishness. They’d hang out in the streets like a pack of dogs (“Cynic” comes from the Greek word for dog), watch the passing crowd, and ridicule anyone who seemed pompous, pretentious, materialistic or downright wicked. Fiercely proud of their independence, they led disciplined and virtuous lives. The most famous of the ancient Cynics was Diogenes, who reportedly took up residence in a tub to demonstrate his freedom from material wants. This cranky street-philosopher would introduce himself by saying, “I am Diogenes the dog. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy and bite scoundrels.” He’d use a lantern by daylight, explaining that he was searching for an honest man. Even Alexander the Great didn’t escape unscathed. When the young conqueror found Diogenes sitting in the marketplace and asked how he could help him, the old philosopher replied that “you can step out of my sunlight.”
Bayan, who believes that cynicism is as important today as ever, has created The Cynic’s Sanctuary, one of whose fascinating features is the Cynic’s Hall of Fame; arranged chronologically, by date of birth, it begins with…
Aesop (c. 600 B.C. ) Was he real or legendary? We’re not absolutely sure. Aesop may have been a slave who lived on the Greek isle of Samos; it’s said that he was slain by irate priests at the Oracle of Delphi. (He probably got himself into hot water by mocking their beliefs.) His works weren’t assembled into book form until about eight centuries after his time. No doubt numerous ancient storytellers added to the collection along the way. But the reputed author of the world’s most famous fables — man or legend — has to stand as literature’s great proto-Cynic. His brief moral tales are sharp allegories of human folly — even when the characters are foxes, crows, mice, tortoises and hares. Aesop’s Fables teem with the wisdom and gentle mockery of someone who knows the human animal inside and out (especially our weaknesses). If you think Aesop is just for children, think again — and read him again.
“Familiarity breeds contempt.”
The roster continues through the expected (e.g., Rabelais, Voltaire, Mark Twain) and the not-so-expected (Jesus, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer)…
In times like these, it’s comforting to know that one can take refuge in The Cynic’s Sanctuary.
As we memorize our Mencken, we might recall that it was on this date in 1780 that General Benedict Arnold betrayed the US when he wrote British General Sir Henry Clinton, agreeing to surrender the fort at West Point to the British army. Arnold, whose name has become synonymous with “traitor,” fled to England after the plot fell through. The British gave Arnold a brigadier general’s commission with an annual income of several hundred pounds, but only paid him £6,315 plus an annual pension of £360 because his plot had failed. After the Revolutionary War, Arnold settled in Canada, and turned his hand to land speculation, West Indies, trade, and privateering– none of them very successfully. He died in 1801.
The craftsmen at Holy Smoke will take the cremated remains of a loved one and pack them into firearm ammunition: one pound of human ash yields 250 shotgun shells, 100 rifle cartridges, or 250 pistol cartridges. The company’s website avers…
The services provided by Holy Smoke are a fraction of the cost of what most funeral burial services cost – oftentimes saving families as much as 75% of traditional costs.
The ecological footprint caused by our service, as opposed to most of the current funeral interment methods, is virtually non-existent.
Now, you can continue to protect your home and family even after you are gone.
Or, as one of the company’s founders suggests in recounting how he conceived the service, one can use the remains to “share the death”:
My friend smiled and said “You know I’ve thought about this for some time and I want to be cremated. Then I want my ashes put into some turkey load shotgun shells and have someone that knows how to turkey hunt use the shotgun shells with my ashes to shoot a turkey. That way I will rest in peace knowing that the last thing that one turkey will see is me, screaming at him at about 900 feet per second.”
[TotH to Gizmodo]
As we aim for the afterlife, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939 that physicists Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, urging him to begin develop a nuclear weapon. Their letter was delivered a couple of months later, and led to the formation of the Advisory Committee on Uranium (the “Briggs Uranium Committee”) and ultimately the Manhattan Project.
Einstein and Szilárd (source)