Sunday, 24 July 2005

Wrod Odrer & Cmophernosin My blog stokes the flames of my self-importance, but I'm never mentioned by the good folks at Snopes. The same can not be said for the loyal reader of this blog and generally interesting person who masquerades as Mr. Language Hat. You should read his blog daily because I've listed it in my blogroll, but if that's not motivation enough, I bumped into a link to his site while tracking down the "Can You Raed Tihs Or Cotnempalte Taht Aynnoe Wtih Kownlegde Of Lnagauge Or Wahtont Can?" meme. Read his original post on the subject and then work through a few sentences on your own. I think you'll find, as I have, that it isn't simply a matter of first and last letters, but is related to syllabic units. For example, I doubt you can parse "wahtont" with the same ease with which you parse "raed." (Or maybe this is another example of the unusual way the deaf relate to language. I'm not sure. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether abandoning linguistics for purely practical reasons was a truly terrible idea.) The longer the word, the less likely you are to parse it quickly. Take, for example, that exemplar of long words antidisestablishmentarianism I'd wager that I can rearrange the word order of antidisestablishmentarianism such that it becomes impossible to parse quickly (which is the point of the study in question). In fact, I bet I can begin it with an "a" and conclude it with an "m" and stick pretty much any letters inbetween and you'll be as flumoxed as you would be if I inserted the actual letters. You probably couldn't even tell the difference. To wit: asinitareabishemnartiandtnm aartiantemenhsilbatesdistism
The Coarse Underwear of Some Minds It's official: if I read another word written by Jack London, I will hunt down his great-grandchildren and make them pay for his sins by shaking my fist with force and a countenance so unsubtle even their great-grandfather would understand it. Arguments about aesthetics often boil down to nebulous notions of complexity, but I think that wrong-headed. Boiled to the bone, it really is a matter of what familiarity breeds: contempt or contemplation. But the category of contempt needs to be considered more carefully. Does it breed a contempt for a particular author or for the written word itself? Does reading and re-reading a particular author drain from you the desire to ever read anything again? Does it make you doubt the value of the printed word? To counter the "London Effect" I'm re-re-reading Musil's The Man Without Qualities. I've read it through twice and both times I've been struck by the intensity of the experience of reading a 2,545-page unfinished novel. After 250 pages you begin to think like the narrator. I'm all of eleven pages into my re-re-reading, but its allure's already a comforting reacquaintance. Reading about the "the fine underwear of their minds," or what it's like to be "irritated by the subservience of a man who was, after all, a member of the intellectual aristocracy toward the owner of horses, fields, and traditions" reminds me that not all writers possess the "depths" of Jack London. I've been plumbing them and my forehead pounds from my results.

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