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Hello all. Hopefully you found ‘The Botany of Desire’ an interesting peek into the manipulative world of plant evolution, and not a snorefest apace with watching plants grow. Do let me know any thoughts and opinions in the comments.

This week’s movie is ‘The Cat and the Canary’, a 1927 silent thriller featuring that ol’ chestnut of a plot – inherit a fortune…IF you spend the night in a HAUNTED MANSION! Wooooh! Here’s a taste of what we’re in for:

A friend of mine once said of silent films, what’s the point? Black and white was boring enough but no sound? I nearly had an apoplectic fit trying to explain the beauty of pure image as he went on to tout the awesomeness of 3-D.

This isn’t calling him a Philistine by any means; he has a damn good point. Why watch a style of movie we’ve long evolved past? Movies are supposed to be entertainment, not exercises in grim academia and historical stodginess.

To watch and appreciate silent movies is to learn a different language, a language of film preceding the use of recorded dialogue (to repeat the oft-mentioned obvious, silent films were never ‘silent’, often accompanied by live music, prerecorded sound effects, and live foley). Just like learning any new language, it’s a challenge rewarded by understanding a different point of view. Yes, the acting style is often histronic. Yes, the pace is far slower than today’s movies (although at an average runtime of 80 minutes they’re less bloated). Yes, they often lack the extended denouement we’re used to in modern storytelling (thank goodness, says I) and cut right to ‘THE END’. All these differences reflect the attitudes and mindset of the time they were created in, and aside from being fascinating historical documents in that right, are often pretty campy and entertaining once you get into them.

That being said, if you’re in the NYC area and still aren’t sold on silent, Film Forum is showing ‘Dial M for Murder’ in 3-D so you can have your multidimensional cake and eat your classy cinema studies too. You know what, that phrase ‘have your cake and eat it too‘, barely makes any sense. From now on I’m using the Italian vuoi la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca (“you want your bottle full of wine and your wife drunk”).

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I receive ‘Word of the Day’ emails from Dictionary.com. It’s a pleasant way to widen etymological knowledge and expand vocabulary, but occasionally I come across something like this, from Thursday, June 10:

ruth \ROOTH\, noun:

1. Compassion or pity for another.
2. Sorrow or misery about one’s own misdeeds or flaws.
3. In the Bible, a Moabite woman who married Boaz and became an ancestor of David: the daughter-in-law of Naomi.
4. Book of the Bible bearing her name.
5. A female given name.

Distinct from the Biblical figure, ruth is a descendent of the Middle English ruthe, from Old Norse hrygdh.

Wait, what was that last bit? The Old Norse part where it goes from comprehensible to ‘can I buy a vowel?’ I’m not fluent in Old Norse but was the whole language like badly written sci-fi’s ‘alien’ language or a cat walking across a keyboard?

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I came across this entertaining site containing the goofiest bits of student writing to hit paper. I’m compelled to work a few of these into some sort of story, perhaps a contest entry for the Bulwer-Lytton Worst Opening Sentence Contest. For those unaware, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton coined what is widely considered the worst and most infamous opening line in a story:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Paul Clifford (1830)

One of the student malapropisms, “The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t” is a semi-tribute to one of my favorite Douglas Adams lines, “The ship hung in the air much the same way bricks don’t.” Whether this was intentional or not remains unknown. I am constantly amazed, though all the exposure surely should have inured me at this point, how poorly students write. The act of communicating a simple thought via words on paper somehow overwhelms them, and what might make sense spoken out loud becomes garbled nonsense on the page. It’s excusable if English isn’t your first language, in fact there’s a certain charm in utilizing words you don’t fully understand. ‘Donkey Kong’ was named when the Japanese game writer looked up ‘stubborn’ and ‘ape’ in his Japanese-English dictionary. The literal use conveys the idea but just misses the vernacular mark in an entertaining way.

The above is a link to the most bizarre and disgusting Japanese ice cream flavors available. This one is Mint Garlic. Because Dracula has a weakness for mint.

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This book promises a great deal:

In 30 Profitable Days I can win Mastery with words* that spell- A Better Job! Popularity! Extra Fun!

*For those who wish to know those words are: ‘Fault booby trap jauntier expert.’

“Do you think you don’t have time to learn new words-or that you’re too old?”
My vocabulary shrinks with every second, and yet every second is a step closer to the grave!

“Would you like to know the words that mark you as brilliant?”
YES, damn you, YES!!!!

“Do you wish you could use the French phrases that make conversation lively?”
Oh my.

The main motivation behind increasing my verbiage was to better insult my enemies, that I may taste their bitter tears as they are cut down mercilessly by my taunting. That and to pep up my conversation skills. Chapters are organized by such vaguely naughty-sounding themes as ‘Word Building By The ‘Unfolding Process’’, ‘Words For Mature Minds’, and the far more basic ‘Words That End In -Ology’. I’m currently on a soon-to-be favorite: ‘Words For Human Faults’. Let me see if I can make a sentence using all the vocabulary from a random chapter:

“Though the intelligentsia derided the conservatives for their banal jingoism and braggadocio, their rationalization (a panacea for all evils) of what they viewed as minor peccadilloes with the elite parvenu of the media, in reality megalomaniacal chicanery of the highest order, was soon to grow from mere imbroglio to complete and utter fiasco.”

Yes!!! Soon my word power shall grow to a magnitude that would shame Lovecraft himself! Oh, who am I kidding; I wouldn’t even know how to use words like ‘chthonian’.

I am irked by the archaic, and on one occasion downright wrong, definitions of words- they claim ‘syzygy’ is “an immovable union between to brachials of a crinoid”, when it’s obviously “two points in the orbit of a celestial body where the body is in opposition to or in conjunction with the sun” or more loosely “the alignment of any three celestial objects.” It also happens to be the name of an X-Files episode and my favorite Hangman word(people may get the ‘s’ but freak out when there’s 3 ‘y’s.) Nyah.

Unfortunately, they don’t even begin to cover the really fun words- absolutely useless ones probably only used between the years 1896-1899. Words like:

Valetudinarian n. A hypochondriac; a sickly person.

Daedalist n. Aviator.

Absterge v. To wipe clean; to purify.

Lethonomia n. The inability to recall the names of people.

…which I suffer from. Then there are those wonderous words that are completely useless:

Fabaceous a. Like a bean; beanlike.

Hapax Legomenon n.(pl. legomena) A word or phrase of which there is only one recorded use.

Wonderous. And then of course, there’s the Germans:

Weltschmertz n.”World Sorrow”. Sadness at the world’s woes.

Hochmut n. Negative pride; pride as applied to something normally perceived as a detriment.

Schande n. Disgrace Shame; a form of shame wherein it is realized how low one has brought oneself and/or others(By the way they have over 20 different shades of ‘shame’, howzabout that).

Lebensversicherungsgesellschaftsangestellter n. Life Insurance company employee.

Ah, learning all these cromulent words shall increase my vocabulary, and a better vocabulary embiggens the smallest person.

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