Tag Archives: words

Halfpenny thought no.1- stock markets

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Thoughts which aren’t even worth a penny

 

 

Whenever the stock markets slump, the news is always full of expressions like these ones I have collected:

“Apple fails yet again, $123B vanishes.”

“Investors’ billions vanish as NSE returns worst performance in four years.”

“Bad Year for Japan Banks as $95 Billion of Value Vanishes.”

 

If money vanishes, then the opposite should also be true. Why is it then that when stock markets surge no one ever writes anything like this ?

“$123B materialises overnight.”

“Investors showered by magically appearing billions.”

“$95 Billion of Value suddenly shows up.”

 

The Poetry of Google Translate

And the long road ahead, I go to bed
And the long road ahead, I go to bed
 

Google Translate is amazing when it works. Unfortunately, it only works about half of the time. Even more unfortunately, unless you already know the languages you are trying to translate, there is no way of knowing when it is accurate and when it is serving you up something non-sensical, inaccurate or downright offensive.

On the other hand, it is a wonderful machine for playing Chinese Whispers. I have already translated a Turkish menu into English, with what I think are fascinating results. Now, the time has come to see how well Google Translate can generate its own poetry.

Read more…

Zen and the Art of Taxation

Various shapes of “tax” to meditate on

Zen Buddhism has a number of koans, the most famous of which is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Reflect long enough upon riddles like these and you may reach enlightenment, it is suggested.

I would think that the same effect could be attained by meditating on section 509 (a) of the US Tax Code, which reads:

For purposes of paragraph (3), an organization described in paragraph (2) shall be deemed to include an organization described in section 501(c)(4), (5), or (6) which would be described in paragraph (2) if it were an organization described in section 501(c)(3).

If this is the kind of thing they have to think about it is surprising that more tax consultants aren’t Zen monks. Read more…

Signs for Pause

I read a lot and when I don’t have a book, I find it hard to avoid reading any of the signs and labels in my vicinity. Sometimes I come across one which makes me pause.

Here are a few examples

Dementia Bar


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Read more…

Reciprocating Soup – The Tantalising Cuisine of Google Translate

Squashes

They seem harmless but look out for avalanches

The last time I went to Istanbul I had supper at Çiya Sofrasi, a restaurant which is by now famous (a long article about it appeared in the New Yorker and it has also been mentioned by the New York Times). It serves traditional food from distant Turkish provinces which  is so different from the standard fare of Istanbul that the locals I was with couldn’t figure out what we were eating.

The day before I went I consulted the restaurant’s website, which had a huge list of dishes but, unfortunately, only in Turkish. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to use Google Translate to find out what was being served. What I found instead was that I was transported across a mental ocean into a new world of uncharted cuisine.  Read more…

Pop-tarts and Gutisk

One of the most attractive things about Wikipedia is its magmatic nature. Here is Nicholson Baker discussing the vicissitudes of just one of its pages:

The Pop-Tarts page is often aflutter. Pop-Tarts, it says as of today (February 8, 2008), were discontinued in Australia in 2005. Maybe that’s true. Before that it said that Pop-Tarts were discontinued in Korea. Before that Australia. Several days ago it said: “Pop-Tarts is german for Little Iced Pastry O’ Germany.” Other things I learned from earlier versions: More than two trillion Pop-Tarts are sold each year. George Washington invented them. They were developed in the early 1960s in China. Popular flavors are “frosted strawberry, frosted brown sugar cinnamon, and semen.” Pop-Tarts are a “flat Cookie.” No: “Pop-Tarts are a flat Pastry, KEVIN MCCORMICK is a FRIGGIN LOSER notto mention a queer inch.” No: “A Pop-Tart is a flat condom.” Once last fall the whole page was replaced with “NIPPLES AND BROCCOLI!!!!!”

Another reason, among the hundreds there are, why I love Wikipedia is the amazing number of languages it has embraced, including some like Bishnupriya Manipuri   বিষ্ণুপ্রিযা় মণিপুরী  or Gutisk, which I see as a row of empty boxes. Read more…

The many ways a minaret might be

Minarets fabricT The other day I came across an article in Le Monde about the political situation in Vorarlberg, a region of Austria. Together with Carinthia, Vorarlberg has adopted a law to prevent buildings being erected which aren’t “ortsüblich“. The best way I have found to render ortsüblich in this case is “typically local”.

And the aim of the provision was to make sure no one thought of puncturing the local skies with a minaret. So far, this seems to be just another of the many depressing stories you hear about nowadays. But now comes the interesting part: in the Vorarlberg town of Hohenems there is a small Jewish museum. The director is  called Hanno Loewy and in response to the provision he organised not one but two conferences  on “How to build a typically local minaret” (September 2008 and June 2009).
Read more…

Ounce Dice Trice

For some time now New York Review Books has been re-publishing books which have been out of print for a while. This seems to me to be an excellent idea. In fact, it might be good to have a one week moratorium on new books once a year, call it Reprint Week, and dedicate it solely to old books which have been needlessly forgotten.

A while ago they brought out a book I had been waiting for. It is OUNCE DICE TRICE by Alastair Reid and Ben Shahn (first edition 1958). It is a book for children and word-lovers. It is only fifty-seven pages long but the words are meant to be read aloud, one at a time, and they are so unpredictable and interact so well with the drawings that if you belong to one of the two categories above, you will find you go back to it again and again.  On the back cover Marianne Moore is quoted as having written when the book first appeared: “Reading Ounce Dice Trice aloud is the best way of separating the bores from
their airs and the squares from their snores
.”) Read more…

Thirty-seven ways of looking at a dervish

 A secret turning in us450px-Mevlevi-Derwisch
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning.

– Rumi

As everybody knows, the Mevlevi are an  order of dervishes founded  in Konya in the 12th Century  by the followers of the great mystical poet Rumi and who are best known for their practice of whirling as a form of “dhikr” (remembrance of God).

If you go to Turkey, people at home, before you  leave, might say that you ought to see dervishes and that if  you were to see dervishes you ought to take a picture. Perhaps you don’t give this much thought in the beginning, you don’t really keep an eye out for dervishes. But then one day you realise that time is running out and that you must see dervishes and you ask someone where you can see them. Read more…

How to say “extinction” in Chumyl: “The Linguists”, a film.

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If you are interested in language and languages you might like to see the film “The Linguists”.
The film, presented as “a very foreign language film”,  is about David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, two researchers who travel the world to document vanishing languages. Most of the action takes place in Siberia, India and Bolivia and focuses on the Chulym, Sora and Kallawaya languages. In one of the first scenes one of the linguists says that one reason to study language is to “figure out the possible ways the human mind can make sense of the world around it”.  Read more…