Friday, 22 July 2005

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A Most Manly and Anglo-Saxon Affliction I would be writing more, but I've had a painfully sore throat which has prevented me from even considering the production of speech. Spoken or written. "Can a throat be so sore its owner's reluctant to type?" I'd wager the answer's "Yes, a throat can be that sore." The reason's more complicated than you might imagine. First, the owner of the sore throat must contend with History. Both "sore" and "throat" originate in languages unpronouncable to anyone afflicted with a sore throat. Were I suffering such soreness in 897 C.E. and had the unenviable task of requesting assistance from the local barber, the odds of actual communication would be long. The word "throat," you see, derives from the world Old English verb "to swell." I would demand he somehow alleviate the pain in my sore swelling and point vigorously to my throat. But "sore" also means "inflammation," so the odds are I would point to my "inflamed swelling" with a redundancy almost designed to confuse and infuriate my barber who, after all, is only equipped to shave and slice. No matter how inflamed my swelling, I think my barber would be right to insist that there's no a damn thing he can do to alleviate it which won't also result in my death, his arrest, then his death. So this most manly affliction would've been painful to pronounce with recourse to only the rasp of Germanic phonemes; and even if I managed pronunciation, the odds of those phonemes cohering into an intelligible utterance are slim. But it's even more complicated still. When functionally deaf people write and type they often subvocalize. Linguists believe that this practice is the result of, well, the fact that unlike the members of the hearing community, the deaf have to learn to associate the phonemes on the page with the phonemes that they hear in order to reproduce them. When a hearing person learns to read, they associate the letters on the page with the sounds that they hear; when a deaf person learns to read, they associate the letters on the page with the hours and hours of endless toil in a speech therapy lab. I see the letters, but instead of hearing them inside my head I produce them, silently, with my mouth. I don't know why I do this, but it means that if I'm not careful I move my mouth and throat when I read and write. That folks is why writing with a sore throat hurts.
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Visible Evolution, or Visual Puns & the Logic of Concession Lindsay Beyerstein at the Washington Monthly registers her annoyance with the History Channel's ad campaign for Ape to Man, a new documentary series on the history of hominid evolution, evolutionary theory, and the evidence substantiating it. Beneath "a parody of a famous detail from the Sistine Chapel ceiling [in which] the hand of God has been replaced by a monkey's arm," the ad confronts the reader with the following question: "Has evolution made a monkey out of you?" Beyerstein responds: I was irritated to see such the conjunction of two misleading and inflammatory memes: evolution is usurping religion, and humans descended from monkeys. She nails two of my initial responses, but there's one implication of the visual pun she missed: the monkey's hand doesn't replace God's, it replaces Adam's. While that difference may not seem so significant, and while I know that I'm reading far too much into a single ad--especially given what will no doubt be a series larded with pro-evolutionary bias--I can't help but consider this ad in light of Intelligent Design. My annoyance extends from Spielberg's concessionary adaptation of Wells' decidedly anti-design novel War of the Worlds. (I detailed Wells' position elsewhere.) The problem with the visual pun isn't that it references Christianity, but that it (visually) concedes territory to the Intelligent Design community. Even if the concession is merely symbolic, that's damaging enough when the Intelligent Designers have close ties to the White House and the Young Earthers have clout and money enough to host the Creation Mega Conference. To put it another way: When the Reverend Jerry Falwell can triumphantly declare "The creation debate is being won!" without being laughed out of the room, even unintentional symbolic concessions worry me.

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