Switchback English
Entry for 2017-02-20


Some passages in English reverse the field repeatedly and get you coming and going. This, for example, was a front page headline in the New York Times a few years ago:

FEDERAL JUDGE EXTENDS BAN
ON END TO AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Is that good or bad?

Two wrongs do not make a right. Three lefts sometimes do. I try to sort out switchback expressions by charting each positive and negative reference as a "Yes" or a "No" and then counting them up.

FEDERAL JUDGE
EXTENDS (yes)
BAN (no)
ON END (no)
TO AFFIRMATIVE (yes)
ACTION (yes)

This would give the "yes" vote a 3-2 majority, so the ruling would favor affirmative action. But if "affirmative action" is taken as a single, redundant affirmative, then the tally is even at 2-2, so it's necessary to seek further clarification in the story under the headline.

In a preliminary (MAYBE)
injunction (NO)
issued (YES)
late this afternoon...
the judge ruled (YES)
that opponents (NO)
of the ban (NO)
would probably (MAYBE)
prevail (YES)
in their argument (MAYBE NOT)
that it violated (NO)
the Constitution by denying (NO)
equal treatment to women and minorities (YES)

That's a 5-4 vote against affirmative action, which would certainly surprise the judge and the Times editors. So much for that system of analysis.

I yearn for a simpler time when, as James Thurber recalled it, his enigmatic friend Christabelle (who had promised her butler that she would write him into her next novel as the uncharacter of a nonbutler) would respond to someone's assertion by saying, "That's not unmeaningless."


Finch Thing
Entry for 2017-02-18


A purple finch at the thistle feed
took a thurple pinch of fistle theed,
then, thoft thpoken,
thang but a withp,
and even that with a lithp.
(Thiffle feed puckerth your wipth.)


Mailers
Entry for 2017-02-14


Excerpted from Direct Mail (in the Encyclopedia of Advertising)

Coca Cola can afford to float a $45 million flight of ads and commercials to reach 200 million people, all of whom are potential customers. But if they were selling primary ore-crushers or backsizing latex instead of soda-pop, then they would have only a few dozen or a few hundred prospects, and they would just have to look them up, give them a call or play golf with them. If they were selling heat-resistant polyesters or drill pipe, there would be several thousand potential buyers -- too few for TV, too many for golf, but just a nice size list for a direct-mail piece offering free product literature and maybe a chance on a Lexus.

Mailers. The basic unit of industrial direct mail is the "mailer" or "mailing piece." This is often a simple card or folder with a reply card, but sometimes it's much fancier. To many art directors, a direct mail assignment is an invitation to an Origami festival, evoking spectacular folding circuses of multiple die-cuts, pop-ups, and wall-size scratch-and-sniff posters destined to win awards -- if not from the New York Art Directors' Show, then at least from a grateful paper company.

Littacher. Whoever sends in the reply card will receive "product literature" (pronounced littacher), usually a booklet or brochure. (The distinction between a brochure and a folder is highly theoretical, but generically speaking a brochure contains more product information, while a folder is more likely to have big headlines and a bird on it.)



Personages
Entry for 2017-02-12


Gutenberg
 
Pythagoras
 
Gibbon
 
Hopper
 
Puccini
 


Intercession
Entry for 2017-02-10


Good Saint Sister Solitary
up there in her hermity
shuns the dread idolitary,
prays for your infirmity.
Her grace, though in its infantry,
will grow, because of cavalry