Tuesday, January 23, 2018

National Handwriting Day

[Click for the same semi-legible view.]

With a little over four hours left to play, I remembered: January 23, John Hancock’s birthday, is National Handwriting Day.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Another discovery

[SwiftText at work. A life-size view.]

Better than Tyke: SwiftText, by Adam Preble, $1.99 at the Mac App Store. SwiftText has several advantages: you can move and resize its window, create a shortcut key, and append text from another app. Immensely useful if, say, one wants to collect text or URLs for near-future use: there’s no need to leave the browser.

SwiftText has been around for years (since 2011, at least): I wonder why I’m just finding out about it.

A discovery

[Tyke at work, with its icon in the menu bar. Click for a life-size view.]

Being able to change the font makes Tyke more appealing. The change though doesn’t persist if you quit the app.

Tyke, by Andre Torrez, is a free download.

Henry’s z s

[Henry, January 23, 2018. Click for a larger view.]

Written like a true ’toon: the z of sleeping and snoring appears to have originated in the comics.

I remember my dad remembering his work as a tileman in the pianist McCoy Tyner’s house. Tyner mentioned one day that he was going to bag some z s. Zzz.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Mystery actor

Do you recognize him? Leave your best guess as a comment, and enter as often as you like. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.


9:18 a.m.: The Crow called it. The answer’s in the comments. This mystery actor also appeared in a 2015 post, looking nothing like himself.

More mystery actors
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Domestic comedy


“In the bleak Midwestern. . . .”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Context here.]

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Oliver Kamm on The Elements of Style

Oliver Kamm, writing in The Sunday Times, exhorts his reader to “ditch the style guides and stop worrying about passives.” And he points to a usual suspect:

The prohibition on using the passive voice is, you see, very much a 20th-century phenomenon. As far as I know, it originated with The Elements of Style (1918) by William Strunk, an American volume that in a 1959 edition revised by the celebrated children’s author E.B. White has sold more than ten million copies. According to Strunk: “Many a tame sentence can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive [verb] in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is, or could be heard.”
Except that isn’t what Strunk wrote. From the 1918 Elements:
Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a verb in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is, or could be heard.
That advice follows Strunk’s injuction to “use the active voice.” Strunk has more to say about this injunction:
The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive. . . .

This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.
He offers a pair of examples:
The dramatists of the Restoration are little esteemed to-day.

Modern readers have little esteem for the dramatists of the Restoration.

The first would be the right form in a paragraph on the dramatists of the Restoration; the second, in a paragraph on the tastes of modern readers. The need of making a particular word the subject of the sentence will often, as in these examples, determine which voice is to be used.
The Elements of Style, in all editions, offers no prohibition on the passive voice. The book does offer the reminder that the active voice, again and again, works better. Student writers whose essays refer to theses that “will be argued” and poems that “will be analyzed” and topics that “will be discussed” can benefit, always, from that reminder.

Kamm catches Strunk using the passive voice — “Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic” — and concludes that Strunk didn’t know much about grammar. But the passive voice, “frequently convenient and sometimes necessary,” as Strunk says, works well in that sentence, in which emphasis falls on sentences as things to be operated upon and improved. To recast the sentence in the active voice — “A writer can make many a tame sentence of description or exposition lively and emphatic” — seems no improvement, suggesting a slightly comical image of a writer as a manic mechanic, fixing sentence after sentence.

Oliver Kamm follows Geoffrey Pullum and Steven Pinker in claiming that Strunk doesn’t understand the passive voice. And Kamm follows Pinker in claiming that The Elements of Style prohibits use of the passive voice. It doesn’t, as even Pullum acknowledges. Which is not to say that the book is free of problems: I think it has many. But fair is fair, except when it isn’t.

Related posts
Pullum, Strunk, and White
Pullum on On Writing Well
Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style
Pinker on Strunk and White
The Elements of Style, my review

[Does Kamm mean to be dismissive in describing E.B. White as a “celebrated children’s author”? Not as an essayist and New Yorker writer? Fans of Tom Waits might recognize “manic mechanic.”]

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Was or were ?

[Dustin, January 20, 2018. Click for a larger view.]

Fitch, you need to read this blog post: If I were, if I was. Know the difference!

See other Dustin strips for literally and figuratively, “rocket surgery,” your and you’re, and phrasal-adjective punctuation.

[Is it too late in the day to be reading the comics?]

Julius Lester (1939–2018)

The writer and cultural critic Julius Lester has died at the age of seventy-eight. The New York Times has an obituary.

Here is an excerpt from a brilliant essay, “Morality and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1984):

Twain’s notion of freedom is the simplistic one of freedom from restraint and responsibility. It is an adolescent vision of life, an exercise in nostalgia for the paradise that never was. Nowhere is this adolescent vision more clearly expressed than in the often-quoted and much-admired closing sentences of the book: “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

That’s just the problem, Huck. You haven’t “been there before.” Then again, neither have too many other white American males, and that’s the problem, too. They persist in clinging to the teat of adolescence long after only blood oozes from the nipples. They persist in believing that freedom from restraint and responsibility represents paradise. The eternal paradox is that this is a mockery of freedom, a void. We express the deepest caring for this world and ourselves only by taking responsibility for ourselves and whatever portion of this world we make ours. . . .

It takes an enormous effort of will to be moral, and that’s another paradox. Only to the extent that we make the effort to be moral do we grow away from adolescent notions of freedom and begin to see that the true nature of freedom does not lie in “striking out for the territory ahead” but resides where it always has — in the territory within.

Dorothy Malone (1924–2018)

The actress Dorothy Malone has died at the age of ninety-three. The New York Times has an obituary. Long before she moved to Peyton Place, Malone worked in a Los Angeles bookstore.