You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
January 17, 2006
· Ben Franklin at 300 — Our Colonial PowerPoint Man ·
Did I say humble? Alas, only advisedly! For if you conduct Old Ben's virtue to ground in Quaker Philadelphia, you'll understand still another point: "Benergy" is only an electrifying figure for something more methodically stylish.
Consider this apt quotation from E. Philip Krider's recent Physics Today article (January 2006) — Benjamin Franklin and Lightning Rods:
So here's to Old Ben's style, still going strong at 300!Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
July 17, 2003
· Engendering the Science of Style ·
I was intrigued by Thompson's "He and She: What's the Real Difference?" because, in A Writing Teacher's Blog last June, John Lovas properly identified me as a male writer, "based on tones." But Thompson's piece identifies yet other criteria. Moshe Koppel, Anat Shimoni, and Shlomo Argamon of Israel's Bar-Ilan University, Thompson writes, "found that the single biggest difference is that women are far more likely than men to use personal pronouns — 'I', 'you', 'she', 'myself', or 'yourself' and the like. Men, in contrast, are more likely to use determiners — 'a,' 'the,' 'that,' and 'these' — as well as cardinal numbers and quantifiers like 'more' or 'some.'"
Naturally and properly, I was intrigued by Thompson's article. So trying their test informally on my own "This" Again — Thoreau "Revised," I concluded, to my surprise, that I was perhaps more like a woman there. But then again, since I identified "my wife" as "such a wife," maybe I'm a man, too. After all "this is," as Thoreau writes, my "father tongue," by "heroic," readerly revision.
Well, I'll let you decide. By the way, if you need more science on such matters, I'd suggest Hara Marano's fine Psychology Today article, The New Sex Scorecard. Some of you might even care to run "Hara" through the Israeli style-cruncher. Obviously, I'll have more to say on this theme.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 28, 2003
· Mudflats, Cruise Ships, and Casinos: Where the Wild Thing$ Are ·
Our Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that annual wildlife viewing generates $918 million, beating fishing by $64 million and hunting by $568 million. Although cash flows are often as skittish as passing birds, we Washingtonians like what we can get by way of pecuniary predation. We are like local mudflat raptors hereabouts — eyes fixed keenly on the muddy prize.
My raptor-expert friend Dan got a flock of 25 birders Saturday, for instance, to attend his PowerPoint lecture on Peregine Falcons. At $10 a head, Dan's monies have added to monies raised by others to help the state's principal Shorebird Festival. Even some eco-skeptics are impressed.
Since 1994, with a team of volunteers, Dan has banded 73 Peregrines. From a total of 427 field investigations, his discoveries have been truly helpful — particularly in fixing knowledge of migrants and residents. His statistics indicate emergent patterns: in summer migrant Peregrines apparently follow their prey northward. So, I might add, do passing Norwegian cruise ships.
But what, then, of our residents? Dan reports that 4/D (a Peregrine accounting for a full third of annual resightings) is seen mostly hanging out near our newest Indian Casino. It seems she's found something truly lucrative.
We naturally call her "Casino Girl."Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 16, 2002
· A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to . . . ·
I got to thinking about all this while I was writing Under the Weather Tuesday. You'll recall I was doing a deliberate double-take on weather/whether and a subtler, single-take on rafters. Although I felt like apologizing — even writing first, "Forgive my puns. I couldn't resist." — I decided to drop my sad pleading and, with the authority of James Clerk Maxwell behind me, stand up plainly and honestly for some electro-magnetic juice delivered straight. Maxwell, you say — literally or figuratively? Literally, though it's still, as you'll see, very tricky business.
What I have in mind is the witty first paragraph to his essay "Are There Real Analogies in Nature?" Included in Campbell and Garnet's 1882 biography of Maxwell, it remains a good literary-philosophical supplement to his more famous A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Although Maxwell's scientific equations aren't my subject, his speculations in that essay seem in some ways their equal, especially in the wisely affirmative answer he gives to his essay's leading question (not surprisingly given Maxwell's Scottish-Presbyterian style, the answer has a nice moral tinge — slightly shaded by Kantian reflections on the larger methodological-scientific questions that prompt it). In any event, since my present interests are stylistic, I'll just cite Maxwell's witty (I think you'll agree) first paragraph. The subject is the reciprocal relation of puns to analogies.
Although I don't want to reciprocate the transposition here — by going astray into deconstructive excursions into catachresian takes on Paul de Man, say — it seems worth noting that, stylistically speaking, Maxwell's text seems to be onto something. In any case, as mine has expressly that aim, I thought to conclude with a good short story, one brought to my attention earlier this week in a widely-shared punny email. Slightly edited for dramatic emphasis, I give you
"Hot stuff," my dad would say. "Tell me, how much do we owe?"Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 28, 2002
· Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style ·
You may recall in Wetting a Line \ Whetting the Points that I first approved of Thoreau's view that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing. I still believe that, yet in Jacques Barzun "Takes On" Wayward Educationists, I confessed, I'm afraid — somewhat contradictorily — my regret in not literally "washing my hands" of educationists' styles. Now if you're like my philosophy students, you're likely asking with Martin Heidegger some question like this: "Hey, what gives?" since I ignored in Gardening and Writing the Point-Defiance Way how Marianne Binetti's style is, necessarily, if also insufficiently so, dirty-handed too. I mean: "How are you ever going to garden otherwise?"
So as not to be evasive, I'm going to go straight to right stuff on this question and cite Thomas DeQuincy, the great English writer and — in his treatise Style, published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1840-41 — a thoughtful student of style. DeQuincy focused on "pursuits" he thought "favorable to a culture of style" — that indeed "force[d]," he believed, "that culture . . . drawing much from our own proper selves, [but] little (if anything) from extraneous objects."
DeQuincy marks for us, it should be noted, an important philosophical difference, one drawing on a Kantian vocabulary implicitly tuned to such concepts as subjectively- and objectively-defined pursuits — that is, those drawn between ordinary common sense on the one hand, and modern science on the other: wherein a topic like "dirty hands" is considered metaphorically stylish in literature, but methodologically not in science. Although I admit it is a helpful distinction, I would add, too, it is indifferently spelled, in either case, "dirty hands" — and so may model, explicitly, like my italicized words, a slipperier, still more important truth.
My point turns on DeQuincy's common, but I think too-simplistic assumption that
Although initially tempting, DeQuincy's main assumption fails here since, though a scientist may of course find his point in matter, he must nonetheless communicate it still in words. Indeed, one of the most celebrated dirty-hand stories in history illustrates my point. Dr. Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis, the Hungarian discoverer of microbial pathogens, failed at first to report his discovery and so, for a time at least, lost public credit for it (although his discovery did happily save many lives, as anyone familiar with the story knows). But my real point lies deeper, for it can be argued that Dr. Semmelweis's reticence came not so much from his literary shyness as from a deep, subtle, stylishly philosophical understanding of the point of scientific discovery: namely, that it is less a matter of finding any "matter" as such than a "method" by which that matter's existence can be suggested but never proved per se (or an sich, as Kant would say).
What's called the Hempelian model of the scientific method explains as much. Attributed to philosopher Carl Hempel, it turns, simply, on the analysis of logical inference in scientific inquiry, wherein the results grasped by its research must rely on invalid formal arguments (on affirming the consequent, to be precise), yielding practical benefits but revealing theoretical traps, too. So whenever good scientists report results, they usually say: "The data suggest [but don't 'prove'] the matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, we have, in such phrasing, scientific style modeled — though Semmelweis had it, of course, in the extreme.
In extremis, indeed, if you followed my link above, for you know he finally died of the "matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, not only did he show that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing, but suggested, too, that not till we discover "'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'" — to borrow a different Marianne's words (Marianne Moore's in "Poetry") — can we ever hope to learn how to knock the "palaver" out of our lives. Perhaps that's the matter Thoreau also had in mind.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
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Ben Franklin at 300 — Our Colonial PowerPoint Man
Engendering the Science of Style
Mudflats, Cruise Ships, and Casinos: Where the Wild Thing$ Are
A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to . . .
Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style
Figures & Tropes
Grammar & Syntax