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Friday, 30 December 2005


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Hmm, I would have assumed Scott McLemee was short and stout.

ben wolfson

Because an Amardeep I went to middle school with had some serious thyroid condition which caused his eyes to swell out of their sockets. He was "encouraged" to wear them in the classroom.

He was encouraged to wear his eyes, or their sockets?

Scott Eric Kaufman

The perils of revision, Ben. "Them" was to supposed to have "sunglasses" as its antecedent.

MT, I know I'm a bigot of some sort, but what I want to know is why my bigotry takes this particularly nonsensical form. Why does McLemee set off my "tall-dar" and Matt Greenfield my "average-dar" . . . esp. since all my "dars" are so woefully inaccurate?


You were probably abused by average people as a child.


But seriously, as the sometimes serious say, my feeling is it's a fascinating but futile inquiry whose results are so like to be idiosyncratic as to make the mission ultimately and on reflection uninteresting.


MT: Uninteresting to whom? To you? Fair enough. To Scott? Well, that depends on what he finds interesting. If his refection includes some self-revelation it might be fascinating indeed. To me? I love hearing about other's little foibles and can reflect on them for hours.

If I find the writing attractive then the author is attractive physically until proven otherwise. No details mind you, just some vague notion that they'd be good looking. It isn't shocking anymore when they're not, but it was the first few times.

N. Pepperell

I had a similar experience (in reverse) when I used to do consulting work. When things got busy, I would often speak to clients on the phone, but send someone else on site to follow up. It would occasionally come up in casual conversation that I am very short (this was a source of endless amusement to some of my taller staff members...) and, periodically, a client - a client who had never *seen* me in person, mind you - would actually argue with my staff that they must be speaking of someone else, because the client was convinced that I am quite tall. Apparently, I "sound tall" on the phone... ;-P

I think we all unavoidably visualise the people we're reading - and those visualisations are inevitably going to be inaccurate. Just now, I had a bit of a start when you mentioned wondering whether you "write" with a southern accent, because this jarred with my sense of how your written voice "sounds" - this in spite of the fact that I know you've lived in Houston, and in spite of the fact that I used to live there myself, so I know full well what the local accent would be...


Yeah, I share that reaction when it comes to attractive writing of somebody of the appropriate gender. Sometimes I'll even Google image search the name. So don't write well if you don't wish to be oggled by me. That kind of reflexive association is bound to be common, what with so many people seeming to be interested in sex. Actually I suppose the tall short thing could be common too, or at least have a few common explanations. Writing that strikes you as forceful you're liable to imagine as authored by somebody who fits your idea of physical formidability. Writing that strikes you as charming...etc. But I think our paradigms and paragons of this or that personal quality must depend on who taught us algebra in 8th grade and who bullied us on the school yard, etc.


Just to be clear: I was responding to Coelecanth when N.Pepperell's comment snuck in front of mine--presumably only possible because the author is so short.


I'm used to hearing this phenomenon talked about in more pernicious contexts--prompting my pretended initial knee-jerk response of "Biggot!" I imagine most are familiar at least with the idea of being addressed "Oh I didn't expect you to be a woman" or "Oh I didn't expect you to be black." I don't actually think the expectation is as pernicious as people sometimes make it out to be, but it's a faux pas to voice it to a stranger. Likewise I feel voicing other expectations about height to be unseemly. Best to be cautious in allowing others to peak into your unconscious, unless you're sure you know what's in there.

Dr. Virago

When I saw Berube deliver a paper, I wasn't suprised that he read so fast, becasue I figured he'd written something characteristically voluminous and read at a speedy pace to keep in the time limit. However, I didn't expect him to speak like the academic version of Quentin Tarantino in casual conversation, too, and in multiple subordinate clauses, to boot. And on top of that his voice was softer in volume than I expected (partly due to his sore throat at the time). My hearing is a little damaged so I wonder, did *you* have a hard time keeping up with him? I know I did!

Oh, and somewhere I think he claimed he types 100 wpm. Or maybe I just think he must.

Thanks for all the MLA updates, Scott. I wasn't there this year, but I now feel as if I had been, only better, because I'm not as dead dog tired!

Scott Eric Kaufman


As I'll write in more detail either below or later, I'm not sure I associate fine prose with pretty faces . . . in large part because I know what so many authors look like. Joyce? Whitman? Woolf? Eliot (T.S. or George)? All of them capable of real eloquence but none of them a looker by any stretch of the imagination. (That said, I really wish I'd taken pictures while I was here. I meant to, but there's something tacky about turning everything into a photo op.)

N. Pepperell,

Have no fear: my parents live in Houston but I never have. I lived in Louisiana, which may be worse. That said, because I did eight years of speech therapy, I have one of those accents no one can place. They hear a "y'all" every once in a while, but that is mroe a class than regional marker at this point; they hear faint traces of Northern Jersey (where I lived until I was nine) and Southern Louisiana (where I lived until I was 21), but mostly I have that unidentifiable accent of television journalists. (I think it's called "The Iowa," but Google returns zip to back me up.) The other thing I could do is ask everyone who just met me to try to remember what I sound like and whether they identified it with a particular region. I doubt they would have, but I'm not them.


That kind of reflexive association is bound to be common, what with so many people seeming to be interested in sex.

I didn't realize my readers wanted to sleep with me. Or wait, do you not think me a fine writer?

Writing that strikes you as forceful you're liable to imagine as authored by somebody who fits your idea of physical formidability.

Not that I'm thinking about this right now, but Jack London believed the opposite (as did Hemingway, I believe): i.e. that only people who possessed physical formidability had the discipline to be good writers. But that's hypermasculine nonsense . . . and not at the heart of why I consider some bloggers tall and others short.

Another strange thought occurs to me: when you read a blog do you picture the blogger as being seated in front of his/her computer typing? I do, which may account for why all the tall people surprised me . . . but doesn't account for why I thought McLemee tall. I need to think about this more, because I'm not sure whether it's 1) wholly idiosyncratic or 2) tied to the scene of composition. It could certainly be the second one, because now that I think about it I distinctly remember McLemee saying that he wrote by hand then typed his essays, which means in my head I'd be imagining him hunched over a desk like Abe Lincoln in an elementary school desk, whereas if you're typing you're as erect as you would otherwise be, and thus, in the imaged scene of composition, you wouldn't seem distorted. Maybe.

Dr. Virago,

My hearing is a little damaged so I wonder, did *you* have a hard time keeping up with him?

If properly motivated, I can focus on catching every audible cue to 1) give myself a splitting headache and 2) understand pretty much everything in context. I had a more difficult time when we stood outside the bar, but once we went in and stole ourselves a back table, I could understand him fine with a little effort. I can't do that for prolonged periods of time without veering into migraine infested waters, but for a little over an hour I can do it without too deleterious an effect. Plus, I went to get a drink with a friend afterward, so booze effectively killed the headache.

N. Pepperell

My personal speech therapy experience seems to have left me even less regionally-specified (although it evidently did leave me sounding "tall", which I suppose is something...): I'll never forget the moment when an undergraduate professor pulled me aside to say, "I hope this isn't rude, but I've been wondering all term: is your native language German - or Dutch?" I sort of sat there, not knowing how to begin answering this question, and so he jumped to the wrong conclusion and tried to reassure me, "Now please don't worry - your English is really very good..." The poor man was mortified when I finally stammered that I was from Texas...

I personally don't tend to get much of a visual image of bloggers I read, but I do tend to get an auditory one - so it's reassuring to know that I don't need to imagine a twang when I read your posts... ;-)


"I didn't realize my readers wanted to sleep with me. Or wait, do you not think me a fine writer?"

Oh, what a can of worms I've opened. How do I put this? I prefer people with heads. Sorry. I do think you're a fine writer. Can we still be friends?

John Emerson

The height / style question was first stated by Matt Yglesias, who is tall by non-Dutch standards, when he asked why people assumed he was short. He asked whether he had a short-person writing style.

My own opinion is that we should renorm our standards on a thrifty, environmentally-aware, global, non-Eurocentric, non-Dutch standard, and declare 5'7" to be the top end of normal height.


I didn't expect Mark Bauerlein to be so tall.

By the way, Scott, Jonathan has a southern accent too (slight, like mine); did you expect that?

Scott Eric Kaufman


I never claimed to be original. I only claim to be the best.


I didn't expect Mark to be so tall, such a forceful speaker and, for lack of a better adjective, so dashing. (I also didn't expect I'd forget to include that in the original post. It says it right there in my notebook ... )

I wouldn't expect Jonathan to have a slight Southern accent either. By the way, if I have any trace of any accent, it's from Louisiana, so I'm not condemning people with one or anthing, only registering surprise. I suppose, given most of the people I knew growing up, my expectations for that accent are, well, given most of the people I knew growing up ... but then again, most of the people everyone knows growing up aren't that ...


Oh, I didn't take any offense to it. I love southern accents. And I agree with you, Mark Bauerlein really did look like he'd stepped right out of a Ralph Lauren ad.


"I think it's called "The Iowa," but Google returns zip to back me up.) "

aka a "clean" accent, i believe? because midwestern english was considered a "standard" for american english? i could be making this up.

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