Thursday, October 30, 2008

I may as well admit it. I have become my sixth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Wills.

I realize I've become Mrs. Wills because I keep finding the word "crater" used as a verb in the New York Times, and all I can do is cluck my tongue. Not out loud, I mentally cluck my tongue. But very vigorously and at length.

Crater the noun and cratered the adjective I am familiar with, but since when did crater become a verb meaning "collapsing"? I blame John McCain, who David Letterman reported - over and over - that McCain had cancelled his appearance on the show because "the economy is cratering."

So why is everyone at the New York Times suddenly obsessed with cratering? Here and here, for instance.

Isn't it amazing that with everything happening in the world, I find myself complaining about some stupid little grammar point, as if it weren't actually me witnessing the birth of a new verb.

Please save me from my curmudgeonly self.

The Swedish word for the day is krater. It is the noun crater in Swedish. As far as I can tell, there is no verb form.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

So the big news this week in Sweden - other than deep economic woe - are the Nobel prize awards. This year, after the Secretary of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl made some snide remarks about Americans being too focused on American culture to be great writers, it came as no surprise that Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio won the prize - well, no great surprise to the many who bet that he would win at Ladbrokes.

"I have a strong suspicion there has been a leak in the system this time," said Horace.


And I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of Le Clézio until several days before the award was given out, when his name was bandied about in the Swedish papers, no doubt by book critics who were beneficiaries of the leak that Horace was talking about.

What I found most interesting was that Horace revealed to Sweden's No. 1 daily Dagens Nyheter that the Swedish Academy has in recent years used sort of "half-code" names for nominees: Chateaubriand for Le Clézio, Little Dorrit for Doris Lessing and Harry Potter for Harold Pinter.

Harry Potter?!?

Am I the only one that thinks that some of these names show a certain lack of imagination on the part of the committee? Surely, Horace, you could have come up with something better? Is such a group of lame namegivers really capable of choosing who should get such a fat prize so full of prestige?

I guess smart gamblers will be skulking about in Den Gyldene Freden - the restaurant where the Swedish Academy officially hangs out - in the future and listening in on conversations to see if anyone drops odd names in peculiar fashion.

Although to be fair, it isn't as easy at it seems to come up with clever code names. What would you use?

The Swedish word of the day, which is actually tangentially related to the topic if you look at it sideways while squinting your eyes, is illusionsmåleri, at the request of O., the daugher of C. the fashion photographer. Interestingly, English doesn't have a word for this, we borrow from the French: trompe l'oeil, we say.

- by Francis S.